At the core of it, our success in our spiritual path comes down to a very simple question: which is more powerful, your delusions or your virtues? When our delusions are stronger than our virtues, they will overwhelm us even if we don’t want them to. If our virtues are stronger than our delusions, we will gradually overwhelm them and free ourselves in the process. It is not enough to know the opponents, we need power in applying them.
One may ask, “if spiritual power is so important, why does Geshe-la speak so little of it in his books?” The answer to this is Geshe-la does talk extensively about spiritual power, he just doesn’t explicitly label it as such. In fact, we can say that all of his teachings can be viewed from the perspective of they are methods for increasing our spiritual power. There is a particular pole in Geneva that has metal bent in such a way that when you look at it from one point of view it reads “oui” (yes), but when you go around to the other side and look at it that same metal reads “non” (no). So what does the pole “really” say? It does not say yes, it does not say no, but it says both simultaneously depending on how you look at it. In the same way, all of the Kadampa teachings can be viewed from multiple points of view. For example, we can consider all of the lamrim from the point of view of emptiness, or we can consider our Tantric practice from the point of view of lamrim. Looking at the teachings through different lenses reveals different interconnections between the teachings. Exploring these myriad interconnections is the essence of contemplation. Eventually, through looking at the teachings from many different spiritual vantage points, we build an intricate web of interconnections between the teachings that has the benefit of every time we deepen our experience of any one instruction, it ripples out deepening our experience of all of the other teachings. The purpose of this series is to explain my understanding of how we can view all of Geshe-la’s teachings from the perspective of how they are methods for increasing our spiritual power.
Why would we want to do this? Spiritual power is a force that pervades all of our spiritual practices. If our body is strong and powerful, we can harness that power for any physical activity. In the same way, if our mind is spiritually strong and powerful, we can harness that power for any mental activity. In many ways, Dharma knowledge without spiritual power is essentially useless. Mere knowledge will not be sufficient to change our mental habits. We need to give that knowledge force by infusing it with spiritual power. In this light, there are few qualities we need to develop more than spiritual power. We live in degenerate times. If the rate of degeneration is greater than the rate at which our spiritual power increases, we will never attain escape velocity from samsara. When our practice is infused with power, we become the Barry Bonds of Kadampa practitioners that can hit out of the park every delusion that comes our way (sorry to the non-American readers for the baseball analogy). When we have spiritual power, we have great confidence that attaining enlightenment is something entirely doable. Venerable Tharchin explains that the key to effort lies not in hard work but in realizing that the goals of the path are entirely doable. When we see it is doable, effort comes naturally – and indeed it comes effortlessly.
So how can we understand all of Geshe-la’s teachings as methods for increasing our spiritual power? In general, we can say divide all of Geshe-la’s teachings into two categories: those which are primarily focused on developing the subject mind and those which are primarily focused on realizing certain objects. Ultimately, of course, mind and its object arise in mutual dependence upon one another. A pure mind will perceive all objects purely through the power of the pure mind. Focusing on a pure object will render the mind pure through the power of the pure object. According to Sutra, the most powerful subject mind is bodhichitta realized with a mind of tranquil abiding (technically, the bodhisattva grounds and paths explain more powerful minds, but I set that aside for now for the sake of simplicity). Likewise, according to Sutra, the most powerful object one can realize is the wisdom realizing emptiness according to the Madhyamika-Prasangika school. According to Tantra, the most powerful subject mind is the very subtle mind of great bliss. Likewise according to Tantra, the most powerful object one can realize is the wisdom realizing emptiness according to the Tantra-Prasangika school (don’t worry, all of this will be explained in the course of this series). To increase our spiritual power, therefore, we need to cultivate both powerful minds and realize powerful objects. The extent to which we can do so is the extent to which our practice will have power.
Breaking this down a bit, the main contributors to a powerful subject mind are faith, renunciation, cherishing others, concentration and the extent to which we can cause our winds to enter, dissolve into and abide inside the indestructible drop at our heart. Of these, faith is actually the most important, in particular the faith of guru yoga. A very good friend of mine once told me the greatest line of Dharma I have ever heard. He said, “stop telling your spiritual guide how big your problems are and start telling your problems how big your spiritual guide is!”
The main ingredients of a powerful object, emptiness, are realizing correctly the object of negation, understanding things are mere projections of mind and understanding that these projections themselves are the nature of our mind of great bliss (waves on the ocean of the emptiness of our mind of great bliss). Of these, realizing correctly the object of negation is actually the most important. If we can do that, everything else comes naturally.