In the last post we discussed the benefits of a daily meditation practice. We can now turn to what we actually do for our daily practice.
We are called Kadampa Buddhism. A Kadampa is someone who takes as their main practice the Lamrim, the stages of the path. Kadam means ‘all of Buddha’s instructions’ and pa means ‘practitioner’, so a Kadampa is someone who puts all of Buddha’s instructions into practice within the context of the Lamrim.
The essential practice of Kadampa Buddhism is to do Heart Jewel with Lamrim meditation. This is the defining characteristic of a Kadampa Buddhist. It has three parts known as ‘the Heart Jewel sandwich.’
- Je Tsongkhapa part. Here we establish a close connection with Je Tsongkhapa. All of Geshe-la’s teachings come from Je Tsongkhapa. Je Tsongkhapa was the founder of the New Kadampa Tradition. The essential point of the first part is by establishing a close connection with Je Tsongkhapa, we establish a close connection with all of his teachings.
- Lamrim part. The Lamrim is the synthesis of all of of Buddha’s instructions. It is a special presentation. So in the Lamrim part we engage in Lamrim meditation.
- Dorje Shugden part. Dorje Shugden is the Dharma protector of Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings. His job is to arrange all the conditions for the pure Kadam Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa to flourish in our mind and the mind of others. His job is to arrange all the outer and inner conditions we need for our attainment of enlightenment in this lifetime.
The most important point to keep in mind is these deities are real (though non-inherently existent, of course) people. We can develop very genuine, personal and intimate relationships with these enlightened beings, and my goal with this series of posts is to explain to how.
Heart Jewel is a sadhana. The translation of sadhana is ‘a method for receiving attianments.’ There are three main mistakes we generally make when doing sadhanas:
The first mistake, is when we think that sadhanas are someting we do as opposed to something we transform ourselves with. We think sadhanas do something to us. We treat them like any other ordinary samsaric object. In the beginning it tastes great, but if we treat it like an ordinary samsaric object, after the thousandth time we have done it, it will be dry and stale. But when we view it as a mental gymastics routine that we need to master, then we can easily spend a lifetime on these practices, and still have more work to do.
The second mistake we make is we make a distinction between meditation and recitation. We think that meditation (strictly defined to the formal meditation part of our session) is where we really make progress on the path, and that recitation is just that thing we have to do before we can get to the actual meditation. We just zip along without paying much attention to what we are doing, half of our mind is on the sadhana and the other half is wandering about. We need to acknowledge that this is exactly what we are doing.
The third mistake we make is when, on the basis of practicing in the way described in the second mistake, we don’t achieve good results or good feelings, and we then conclude that recitation of sadhanas has no power and is a waste of time. Then, since we have commitments to do these things, we start to view our recitation of sadhanas as an obstacle to our progressing along the path. We think that it is getting in the way of what really matters, formal meditation (strictly defined). We feel obliged to do the practices, and so they become a chore. After we have done the same sadhana 1,000 times, unless we are practicing very skillfully, it will get very dry. This feeling of drynes and flatness causes us to falsely conclude that the sadhanas don’t work. We falsely conclude that the mistake lies on the side of the sadhana, and not in the way in which we are doing the sadhana. This mistake is probably the number one reason why people wind up abandoning their practice after many years. We can usually just ride on our previously accumulated potentialities for a good 3-7 years, but after that, if we are not practicing skillfully, everything goes flat. At this time there is a great danger that we make some false conclusions and wind up leaving the Dharma altogether. There are many many people who have done this.
I would say that these three mistakes are amongst the main causes of people quitting the Dharma after having practiced for several years. The relevant question we need to ask ourselves is are we going to let this happen to us? The biggest thing we have to fear is losing the path altogether, because if we do that, then we have no hope. So we should be VERY afraid of making these mistakes (and we are all making them to a greater or lesser extent) and we need to do what we can to avoid them.
So with that said, what is the proper way of viewing and practicing sadhanas? I will answer this in two parts. First, I will describe what is the proper view to have of our sadhanas, and then in the next post I will describe how we actually practice them.
So what is the proper view of our sadhanas? The literal translation of a sadhana is a method for accomplishing attainments (or realizations). The name itself reveals its purpose. The Buddhas call these practices the methods for accomplishing realizations.
It is important to remember that these practices have lineage. These sadhanas have been practiced for hundreds and hundreds of years by thousands and thousands (if not millions and millions) of practitioners. They have been handed down from one lineage guru to the next, and each guru became a lineage guru in dependence upon these practices. Lineage tells us two things. First, that the practices are authentic. This is not something that somebody made up along the way, but they come down through a series of fully realized masters. Second, we know that they work. They have worked for everyone in the past who has practiced them purely. From knowing they are authentic and that they work can give us great confidence that if we too practice them sincerely, we too will accomplish realizations.
In reality a sadhana is a guided meditation. We will talk in the next post about who it is guided by (the guru — the synthesis of all the Buddhas), but it is important to understand that it is a guided meditation. Just as in formal meditation we go through a series of contemplations to arrive at a conclusion, the same is true with our sadhana practice. Each conclusion we reach is actually a line of reasoning within our future contemplations, so there is actually no hard and fast delineation between objects of analytical and objects of placement meditation. A sadhana is actually a sequence of minds that we need to generate which lead us to a certain result. The results of this sequence of minds are the benefits which are described in the commentaries. Just as if we want to make a car, we have to go through a series of steps, adding parts, assembling them together in just the right way, etc., so too when trying to transform our mind into that of an enlightenend being, we have to go through a series of steps, adding parts (different minds) and assembling them together in just the right way (the sadhana). A sadhana is a method for manufacturing enlightenment in our mind. The words of the sadhana are not mere words we say, rather they are minds we are to generate. Our mouths cannot attain enlightenment, so no matter how many times we say the words, if we don’t generate the minds behind them, we will never attain enlightenment.