Happy Tsog Day: Making Our Spiritual Life Practical

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 12 of a 44-part series.

Offering medicines, and ourself as a servant

I offer many different types of excellent medicine
That destroy the four hundred and four diseases of the delusions,
And to please you I offer myself as a servant;
Please keep me in your service for as long as space exists.

We have met Geshe-la in this life and he has taught us the stages of the path to enlightenment. If we are lucky and apply full effort with great faith and a pure heart, we may attain enlightenment in this life. But it is also possible we will not complete the path before we die. At that point, it becomes vital that we find the path again in all our future lives without interruption so we can continue on with our spiritual training. Venerable Tharchin explains that “if we do our honest best to train in the stages of the path throughout our life, it will be enough to ensure we find the path again in our next life.” But the supreme method to always meet Geshe-la again and again in all our future lives is to offer ourself as a servant for as long as space exists. What does it mean to offer ourself as a servant? It means to promise to dedicate our life to the fulfilment of our Guru’s wishes. What does our Guru wish? He wishes that we attain enlightenment and that we help others to do the same. His special method for leading all beings to enlightenment is to form fully qualified spiritual guides who in turn train other fully qualified spiritual guides, as a “great wave” of virtuous deeds that will – generation after generation – eventually wash over all living beings. To offer ourself as a servant is to make ourselves part of this great wave. Practically speaking we can do this by becoming a qualified Kadampa teacher, a center administrator, or even just a humble practitioner. The point is we do what we can to help cause the Dharma to flourish in this world. It is obvious that if we spend this life fulfilling our Guru’s wishes to cause the Dharma to flourish we will create the karma necessary to refind the Dharma in all our future lives.

Confession

In the presence of the great Compassionate Ones I confess with a mind of great regret
All the non-virtues and negative actions that, since beginningless time,
I have done, ordered to be done, or rejoiced in;
And I promise that from now on I shall not commit them again.

Infinite negative karma is the biggest problem we do not realize we have. Logically, this is not difficult to establish. First, the vast majority of our previous lives have been spent in the lower realms, where we engaged almost exclusively in negative actions. Animals may occasionally engage in virtuous actions, but almost every other action a lower being engages in is negative – each one creating negative karmic seeds on our mind. Second, engaging in virtue takes effort, whereas engaging in negativity comes effortlessly. This shows not only that we have powerful negative tendencies on our mind, but that in the past we have mostly engaged in negative actions and very few virtuous ones. And third, we have made almost no effort to purify our negative karma, even after having been in the Dharma for many years. Before we met the Dharma, we did not engage in purification at all, and since we have found the Dharma, we have done precious little purification. There are only two ways negative karma can be removed from our mind, either by ripening in the form of suffering or through sincere purification practice. Since we have not purified, all these countless negative karmic seeds remain on our mind. Intellectually, this logic is inescapable proof.

But it still does not move our mind. Why? Primarily because we still have on our mind negative karma of holding wrong views rejecting the truth of karma and past and future lives. These negative seeds prevent us from believing the unavoidable truth of our negative karma. So even though intellectually, we know it must be true, we do not really believe this in our heart, and therefore we never generate the appropriate levels of fear for the negative karma that remains. Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that the primary reason we have not yet sincerely put the Dharma into practice is because we have neglected generating rational fear of samsara. In other words, the fact that we do not feel fear of our negative karma is itself a perfect sign that we have much left to purify.

I find it helpful to consider I (and everyone I know) am destined for the lower realms. We are en route for them right now, and if we do not purify, we will inevitably fall. I find it helpful to consider some analogies, such as I am on an island that is rapidly sinking into an ocean of molten fire of the lower realms. I am chained to the deck of the Titanic, and if I do not free myself, I will go down with the ship. I carry in my heart countless karmic time bombs that can explode at any moment.

To purify our negative karma, we need to apply the four opponent powers. The power of regret admits to ourself that we have untold quantities of negative karma remaining on our mind, and if we do not purify it, we will get sucked into a vortex of endless suffering. The power of reliance is turning either to the three jewels or to all living beings to purify our negative karma. The power of the opponent force is any virtuous action motivated by regret and is directed towards either the three jewels (such as Vajrasattva practice of the 35 Confession Buddhas) or living beings (such as engaging in virtuous actions for their benefit). The power of the promise is making internal commitments to refrain in the future from similarly engaging in negative actions. The power of regret purifies the effects similar to the cause. The power of reliance purifies the environmental effects. The power of the opponent force purifies the ripened effect. And the power of the promise purifies the tendencies similar to the cause to engage again in negativity.

I find it helpful to understand how this works by considering how we apologize. When we have wronged someone in some way, if we check, we follow a very clear formula when we apologize. First, we honestly admit what we did and the harm that it caused the other person. Then, we express our apology to whoever we harmed. Then, we do something kind to make amends. Finally, we promise to not do it again. The truth is we have been harming the three jewels and living beings since beginningless time. But we now have an opportunity to correct for this by engaging in sincere purification practice.

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