Samsara is uncontrolled rebirth. The main point of virtually all of our Dharma practices is to gain control of our mind so that we can gain control over the process of death and rebirth. Our main practice in Tantra is to bring death, intermediate state and rebirth into the path through the three bringings in Generation Stage and through the various mixings of completion stage. But our ability to do any of these depends upon sufficient preparation. Luna Kadampa said our ability to go to the pure land at the time of our death depends upon our ability to bring the pure land into our living reality every day. In short, in order to do the three bringings at the time of death we need to first “bring life into the path.” We can call this the fourth bringing!
Our job in life is to bring the Dharma fully and completely into every aspect of our life. Virtually all of us still grasp at a gap between our Dharma lives and our normal lives, like they are two separate things. This dicotomy must eventually fade away to where our normal life is our Dharma life and our Dharma life is our normal life. Our normal life can take any aspect, from the lowest beggar to the highest king, from the ordained person in solitary retreat to the working parent. Regardless of our external circumstance and vocation, our task is always the same – to bring the Dharma fully and completely into every aspect of our life.
We all know “the path begins with strong reliance,” but at a deeper level we can say not only does the path begin with strong reliance, the entire path is strong reliance. The Guru is the synthesis of all Buddhas, all Dharma and all Sangha. Many people misunderstand this to mean the appearing form of Venerable Geshe-la that we normally see is the synthesiss of all Buddhas, Dharma and Sangha. Despite our best efforts, the Spiritual Guide that we normally see appears to be an ordinary being (though wise, cute and cuddly, to be sure). It would be wrong to say that this ordinary form that we normally see is the synthesis of all three jewels. Rather, what we need to do is first gain a complete understanding of all of the Buddhas, all Dharma and all Sangha, and then we just “name” that entire collection “my Guru” or “my spiritual Guide.” We take the entire collection of the three jewels as they are appearing in our life, and we think this entire collection is “my Guru.” Once we have some experience of conceiving of the collection of all three jewels in our life as that which is guiding us to enlightenment (our Guru), then we start to delve deeper and we begin tracing the source of all of the three jewels in our life, and we find the source to be Venerable Geshe-la. Then, we will see all of the three jewels emanating from him and we will understand him to be the projector of the three jewels into our mind (karmically appearing world). He will be, for us, the synthesis of all three jewels.
At Venerable Geshe-la’s last Summer Festival before he retired, he spoke of how we can view our resident teachers as “temporary emanations”, where when they are on the throne and when they are teaching, we can view it as the living Guru Je Tsongkhapa enters into the teacher, gives the teaching through them like they are a stereo speaker, and then after the teaching, our teacher goes back to being a normal being. This will enable us to receive the blessings as if we are receiving teachings directly from Je Tsongkhapa without falling into a wierd cult-like extreme out of the sessions. We relate to our teachers as normal people in normal circumstances. We had all heard this before. But then he said something new (or at least new to me) – that we should do the same with Venerable Geshe-la. This was a pivotal moment in my understanding of the spiritual guide. My Spiritual Guide is Je Tsongkhapa – the living Je Tsongkhapa. The appearing form of VGL is simply his tool for projecting the three jewels into my karmically appearing world. The form of VGL will eventually die, but my guru, the living Je Tsongkhapa, will always be there simply projecting through different forms. When I conceive of all the three jewels, as appearing in my life, to be my guru, then even when the form of VGL dies, my guru is still with me, helping me, guiding me, blessing me in the aspect of the entire collection of the three jewels as appearing in my life. Viewed in this way, the Spiritual Guide never dies, he just changes aspect according to the evolution of karma. This is the real meaning of the Kadampa tradition. This is the real meaning of our spiritual lineage. It is the continuum of Je Tsongkhapa in this world.
What is the essence of reliance on the Spiritual Guide? It is to regard our Spiritual Guide as a perfectlyreliable Buddha and to put their instructions into practice. When you check this closely, the essence is faith. But what is the essence of faith? It is “trusting.” When we trust, we let go of our fears, we let go of holding ourselves back, and we just “go with it” into the unknown confident in the knowledge that we are entering into a joyful water slide whose end is the ocean of the Dharmkaya. The Dharma is completely trustworthy and reliable. It will never deceive us, never lead us down the wrong road. We may misinterpret or misunderstand the Dharma, but that is not the fault of the Dharma. The Dharma itself is perfectly reliable. We can trust it. The Buddhas and the Sangha, as appearing in our life, are like road signs pointing us in the direction of how to practice the Dharma. This doesn’t mean they do things perfectly, rather it means we can learn perfectly from everything they do – some show us what to do, and some show us what not to do. But in doing so, all show us the way.
Eventually, our practice will lead us to the point where we come to the conclusion that it would be far better to have the Spiritual Guide live our life than for our ordinary selves to do so. When we reach this conclusion, we can then begin “bringing life into the path.” In the normal three bringings, we dissolve the guru into ourself, then identify with the guru in various aspects like a life boat guiding us through each stage of the death process. We need to do exactly the same thing when we bring life into the path. For me, for example, I ask myself the question: who would make a better U.S. diplomat – ordinary me or my Spiritual Guide? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if living Guru Je Tsongkhapa were influencing and guiding U.S. diplomacy? In a similar way, who would make a better father? Clearly, he would do a better job on both counts than ordinary Ryan! So I generate the strong wish that he take over, that he enter into me and work through me and my circumstance.
On the basis of that wish, I then dissolve him into me, engage in self-generation, and try to let go and indeed forget ordinary Ryan. It is like I put my ordinary self in the back seat, I withdraw my ordinary self from the picture and create the space for the guru to arise and act. The more we forget our ordinary self (and I mean completely forget) and the more we identify with the guru-deity being the actor in our life, at some point we will make a transition where we actually “feel ourselves as being the guru-deity living our life” (every word here has meaning). It is very subtle, very blissful and very magical. Eventually, this feeling refines further and further, functioning to gather and purify more and more of our reality into the guru-deity’s body, mind and deeds. Eventually we merge completely into the clear light Dharmakaya while simultaneously the reliquary we have created as a bodhisattva continues to function to liberate beings in the world.
If we practice in this way, doing the three bringings during our morning meditation, doing the fourth bringing during our daily life, then once again doing the three bringings as we go to sleep, then soon enough our entire life will be one continuum of bringing the pure land into the here and now. Once we have attained some experience of this, death will have no hold on us – we will have already passed beyond. Death will be no different than discarding some old clothes or an old car. Of course we will need new “clothes” and a new “car” (our next life, or our next emanation body), but we will continue as an extension of the transcendental being, the living guru, Je Tsongkhapa.
Happy Je Tsongkhapa Day everyone!
Your turn: Describe how through relying upon Je Tsongkhapa you can solve the biggest problem you are facing in your life today.