This is the tenth installment of the 12-part series sharing my understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.
May I strive in my practice of sacred Dharma and increase my realizations,
May I always accomplish you and behold your sublime face;
And may my understanding of emptiness and the precious bodhichitta
Increase and grow like a waxing moon.
Every once in a while, there are these people who show up to our Dharma centers for whom everything comes easily. They seem to walk into the door with realizations and Dharma comes to them quite instinctively. This happens when people have a lot of imprints from Dharma practice in previous lives. But sometimes, because everything comes so easily, they never learn how to apply effort to their practice and at some point their imprints exhaust themselves. Once it starts to get more difficult, they sometimes drift away or experience some sort of spiritual crisis. With effort, eventually all attainments will come. Without effort, we are just burning up our good karma. It can also happen where we become complacent with our spiritual progress. We have enough Dharma wisdom in our mind to be happy in this life, and that is good enough for us. Of course we would never admit that this is the case, but our actions sometimes speak louder than our words. To protect ourselves against this, we pray to Tara that we always feel inspired to strive in our practice of Dharma, and that we never become content with our spiritual progress until we have attained the final goal.
May I be born from a sacred and most beautiful lotus
In the excellent, joyful mandala of the Conqueror;
And there may I accomplish the prophecy I receive
Directly from Conqueror Amitabha.
Being born anywhere in samsara, even as a Dharma practitioner, is very dangerous. There is always the risk that we become sidetracked or distracted by samsara’s pleasures and then waste our precious human life, burning up our virtuous karma, and then we die. There is also the risk that powerful negativity could ripen, resulting is us engaging in negative actions or experiencing terrible misfortune. The greatest danger is we die with a negative or deluded mind, and then fall into the lower realms, losing the path for possibly eons. The only way to protect ourselves from these dangers is to attain rebirth in a pure land. A Buddha’s pure land is like a Bodhsiattva’s training camp. We are able to receive teachings directly from Buddhas, are protected from strong negativity, and are able to progress along the spiritual path. If we can remember Tara at the time of our death, she will bless our mind and take us to her pure land. There, we can continue with our training and our eventual enlightenment is guaranteed. While technically not free from samsara, from a practical point of view, it will be as if we have escaped from all uncontrolled rebirth.
O Goddess upon whom I have relied in previous lives,
Embodiment of the divine actions of all the Buddhas of the three times,
Bluish-green One with one face and two hands,
O Swift Pacifier, Mother holding an upala, may everything be auspicious.
We all have different biological mothers, but Tara is our common spiritual mother. She cares for and nurtures our spiritual life in the same way our regular mother cares for our physical life. But we need to create the causes for Tara to continue to be our spiritual mother in all of our future lives. Tara will never stop loving us, but from our side we can drift away from her, making it harder for her to care for us. If, in contrast, we always stay close to her, she will always care for us spiritually in this and all our future lives. As explained earlier, every action we engage in creates four karmic potentialities: tendency similar to the cause, effect similar to the cause, environmental effect, and the ripened effect. The ripened effect is the potential to take a rebirth similar in nature to the action we engage in, for example an action of hot anger creates the cause for rebirth in a hot hell. Whenever we engage in an action of pure faith and reliance upon Tara, such as engaging in our Tara practice, we create a ripened effect to be reborn with her as our spiritual mother. If throughout our life, on every Tara day, we make a point to engage in Tara practice, we will create a rich reservoir of virtuous karma to have her continue to be our spiritual mother in all of our future lives. For myself, in addition to engaging in Tara practice on the 8th of every month, I dedicate every day that Tara always be my spiritual mother. If she will always be my mother, what will I possibly have to fear?
O Conqueror Mother Tara,
Whatever your body, retinue, life span and Pure Land,
And whatever your supreme and excellent name,
May I and all others attain only these.
Buddhas appear in many different forms, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist. While I haven’t heard Geshe-la say so, I have heard many people say that Jesus’ mother Mary was also an emanation of Tara. This does make sense and there is certainly no harm in believing this to be true. Regardless, Tara’s emanations pervade the whole world and appear in many different forms to help living beings, and especially Kadampa practitioners. Can we say with any certainty that the very device we are reading this post on is not emanated by Tara? I would say as soon as we believe something is an emanation of Tara, it becomes that for us. If we view everything as emanated by Tara, then for us, everything will be. When we recite this verse, we should pray that we gain the wisdom to view everything as emanated by her for our spiritual training.
Through the force of my making these praises and requests to you,
Please pacify all sickness, poverty, misfortune, fighting and quarrelling,
Throughout all directions where I and others live,
And cause the Dharma and all good fortune to flourish.
Most of our experiences in samsara are difficult. Occasionally, things go “well,” but most of the time, life is a constant struggle. Sickness, poverty, misfortune, fighting, and quarreling come like waves of the ocean, one after the other, just in different forms. It is true that we can learn to surf this suffering, but sometimes it is nice to not have constant problems so we can spend time building something good within our mind. Just as our ordinary mother would create safe spaces for us to play, so too Tara can create safe spaces for us to develop our mind. For example, we now have international retreat centers, international and national festivals, Dharma centers, facebook groups, etc. All of these are spaces carved out of samsara where we can develop ourselves spiritually in relative peace, free from major obstacles or obstructions. Internally, we may still need to battle our delusions in these spaces, but even that is easier than doing so out in the savage lands of samsara. Understanding she can help us in this way, we pray that she protect us and our practice so that the Dharma and all good fortune can flourish.