The Prayer of the Stages of the Path is the condensation of the entire path of Sutra and Tantra. Everything is included within it. By practicing the Lamrim we are directly or indirectly practicing all of Buddha’s instructions, so by reciting this prayer we are directly or indirectly practicing all of Buddha’s instructions.
The goal when we recite the prayer is to generate each of the Lamrim minds that it is referring to as you go through the prayer. If we don’t have time to do formal Lamrim meditation, we can pay special attention to our recitation of the Prayer of the Stages of the Path and consider this our Lamrim meditation.
At the end of the prayer we recite:
From the hearts of all the holy beings, streams of light and nectar flow down, granting blessings and purifying.
A blessing is a subtle infusion of your guru’s mind into your mind. It is like downloading the guru’s realizations into your mind. Here we imagine that he sends down his blessings in the form of nectar which bestows upon us all the realizations of sutra and tantra and purifies all our negative karma and obstructions. We especially imagine that we receive the blessings of the realization we are about to meditate upon. We strongly believe that we now have within our mind our guru’s realizations.
This last point merits some elaboration. We are very often advised to “strongly believe” various things in the Dharma. Unless we understand the relationship between emptiness and karma over time, “strongly believing” things will seem superficial at best or false at worst. There will be this little voice in the back of our head saying things like, “I am not really the deity,” or “other beings aren’t really liberated” or “I did not really receive these blessings.” In short, we won’t actually believe it, and so the practice will have no power to transform our mind. Many people can spend decades going to all of the festivals, reading all of the books, and knowing the Dharma inside and out, but if they don’t know how to “strongly believe” something they will make no progress. Even though they would never admit it, their participation in the tradition is more one of being part of a club of really nice people and not an actual process of self-transformation. Year by year will go by with very little to show for our time and effort. Our opportunity to practice is too short for us to allow this to happen to us.
So what does it mean to “strongly believe.” We do not strongly believe the various things in the Dharma because they are somehow objectively true because nothing is objectively true. Rather, we strongly believe these things because the mental action of believing them to be true completes the karma which will ripen in the future in the form of them conventionally appearing as being true. This is an important point. Emptiness explains everything is a creation of mind, and that our mental creations are no more separate from our mind than a wave is from its underlying ocean. In many of our official documents, there are these special stamps which literally are a reshaping of the paper in the form of a given seal. In exactly the same way, our strongly believing something to be true conjoined with an understanding of karma and emptiness literally reshapes the fabric of our mind into the shape of what we believe. What is a karmic imprint? It is a subtle impression made on the fabric of our very subtle mind. When these imprints are activated, they take on increasingly gross aspects within our mind until eventually they take on appearances to our gross mind.
It is no different than an earthquake happening deep in the sea. The force of the earthquake will displace the water up and throughout, rippling through the ocean creating a myriad of different waves on the surface of the ocean. Right now, the ocean bottom of our mind is one violent karmic earthquake after another creating violent storms on the surface that are our living experience of this world of suffering filled with war, famine, and endless suffering. The objects that we strongly believe to be true in the Dharma function to create counter-forces in the ocean of our mind which effectively neutralize the waves of samsara and replace them with the perfect clarity and stillness of the clear light mind. Each conventional object, such as a lamrim object or a particular type of blessing, is a counter-current or a counter-impression which undoes the samsara we have created for ourself and for all the beings we have trapped in our dream.
Many people do yoga. Yoga is essentially the process of putting our body in initially uncomfortable and unfamiliar positions and then learning how to relax into them. The positions themselves orthogonally oppose all of our previous self-defeating physical actions, and thereby it heals or undoes the damage we have done to our body, and by extension to our mind. In exactly the same way, the mental “yogas” of the Kadam Dharma are the different postures we put our mind into. Initially, they are uncomfortable and unfamiliar, but when we learn to relax into them they gradually hear our subtle body and mind of all defilements we have accumulated through aeons of past contaminated action. We gradually karmically reshape the ocean of our mind from a samsara into a nirvana, not just for ourself but for all beings.
In the end, there is no objective reality. It is true that when we arise from a meditation in which we strongly believed something the world will largely appear as it did before. But that is only because the karma giving rise to the appearances of such a world haven’t yet exhausted themselves. But one thing is certain, through our new mental action of strongly believing we are the deity or we have received the blessings we requested, we are planting new karma on our mind which will ripen in the future in a new set of appearances in which we are the deity and others are freed.
We may object, but others will still see themselves as suffering, so what good does it do for them to appear this way to my mind? We only have this objection because we haven’t yet fully grasped the profundity of the emptiness of others’ minds. We still grasp at there somehow being some being out there, independent of our mind who has some form of existence other than what we are karmically dreaming for them.
We may then object that surely this is falling into the extreme of solipsism which says that nobody else exists at all – it is just us dreaming. But no, we don’t exist either. There is just a dream called samsara which we all share and from which we all can wake up. Within the dream, beings suffer. That is why we must commit ourselves to freeing them by awakening ourself.