Happy Tsog Day: Remembering our Spiritual Guide’s Surpassing Qualities

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 17 of a 44-part series.

Requesting by remembering that he is a supreme Field of Merit

Even just one of your hair pores is praised for us
As a Field of Merit that is superior to all the Conquerors
Of the three times and the ten directions;
O Compassionate Refuge and Protector, to you I make requests.

What is the field of merit? Just as farmers can plant seeds in fields that later produce crops that can nourish our body, spiritual practitioners can plant seeds of virtue in the field of merit which will later ripen in the form of a rich crop of Dharma realizations. We can understand how our spiritual guide is a supreme field of merit by understanding how he is kinder than all the Buddhas as explained above. Here, we emphasize how all three jewels are in fact emanations of our spiritual guide. Every Buddha, bodhisattva, and so forth are all emanated by our spiritual guide. The ultimate nature of our spiritual guide is an I imputed upon the bliss and emptiness of all things. In this way, we can say that everything is an emanation of our spiritual guide. Thus, any virtuous action we perform towards the three jewels or towards all living beings is an offering to our spiritual guide and the planting of seeds in his field of merit. Without this field, we would never be able to have our virtuous seeds ripen in the form of Dharma realizations, just as seeds alone cannot grow without the ground they are planted in. In this sense, our spiritual guide is truly indispensable for our attainment of enlightenment.

Requesting by expressing his outer qualities

From the play of your miracle powers and skilful means
The ornament wheels of your three Sugata bodies
Appear in an ordinary form to guide migrators;
O Compassionate Refuge and Protector, to you I make requests.

We can understand how important the outer aspect of our spiritual guide is by considering what our life would be like if we had never met Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. If he did not exist in this world, we would not have our Dharma books, our Dharma centers, our Dharma festivals, our global sangha, and so forth. We would have nothing. Because we met the outer form of our spiritual guide, he has introduced us to all sorts of enlightened beings such as Heruka, Vajrayogini, and Dorje Shugden. Through reliance upon these deities, we are quickly making progress towards enlightenment. But none of this would be possible without having encountered the outer form of our spiritual guide. With this verse, we request that our spiritual guide, who we understand to be the living Je Tsongkhapa, continue to appear in this world to guide living beings along the path to enlightenment. Without the outer form of the spiritual guide, there would be no bridge between our world of suffering and the pure worlds of the Buddhas. It would be as if the doorway to the Buddha lands was permanently closed to us.

Typically, at the end of our practices, we make prayers for the long life of our spiritual guide, requesting that he remain in this world for countless eons until samsara has ceased. Sometimes we think this request is impossible because our present spiritual guide will certainly die. But we can understand that the present appearance of our spiritual guide is really an outer emanation of our living spiritual guide Je Tsongkhapa. When we make this request, and when we pray for the long life of our spiritual guide, in truth we are requesting Je Tsongkhapa to continue to emanate outer spiritual guides in this world. When we make this request, we create the karma to have the spiritual guide appear to us in all our future lives between now and our eventual attainment of enlightenment. Further, by making this request with faith, when we meet our spiritual guide in our future lives, we will continue to have faith in him and be able to pick up where we left off on our spiritual path.

Requesting by expressing his inner qualities

Your aggregates, elements, sources, and limbs
Are by nature the Fathers and Mothers of the five Buddha families,
The Bodhisattvas, and the Wrathful Deities;
O Supreme spiritual guide, the nature of the Three Jewels, to you I make requests.

Samsara is sometimes best understood as being trapped within the cycle of the five contaminated aggregates – contaminated discrimination, contaminated feeling, contaminated compositional factors, contaminated consciousness, and contaminated form. Contaminated discrimination conceptually discriminates objects as inherently good, bad, and neutral. On the basis of these discriminations, we develop contaminated feelings where we experience objects as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. On the basis of these feelings, we then develop contaminated compositional factors, or different delusions and other mental factors related to the objects we are experiencing. These contaminated mental factors in turn lead us to engage in contaminated actions, in other words actions motivated by delusions or deluded minds. These actions subsequently plant contaminated karmic potentialities on our consciousness, which is the aggregate of contaminated consciousness. When this karma ripens, it appears as contaminated forms or contaminated appearances. These appearances appear to be inherently good, bad, or neutral, which our contaminated discrimination then discriminates objects as such, causing the cycle to continue forever.

To escape from samsara then, we need to develop the five omniscient wisdoms – the wisdom of individual discrimination, the wisdom of equality, the wisdom of accomplishing activities, the wisdom of the dharmadhatu, and mirror-like wisdom. The wisdom of individual discrimination discriminates every object individually as a manifestation of indivisible bliss and emptiness. The wisdom of equality then experiences all objects equally as great bliss unfolding in emptiness. The wisdom of accomplishing activities then generates pure minds in relation to every object it experiences, so that every action that subsequently follows is pure. These pure actions in turn, place pure karmic potentialities on our consciousness which is the wisdom of the dharmadhatu. The dharmadhatu is also a completely purified aggregate of consciousness, in other words there are no contaminated karmic potentialities on such a mind. Since there are only pure karmic potentialities on the mind, every karmic seed that ripens does so as pure forms which appear as manifestations of bliss and emptiness. Since all objects appear as manifestations of bliss and emptiness, the wisdom of individual discrimination is able to effortlessly discriminate each object as a manifestation of bliss and emptiness, and so the cycle continues indefinitely.

These five omniscient wisdoms correspond with the five Buddha families. The wisdom of individual discrimination arises independence upon reliance on Buddha Amitabha. Put another way Buddha Amitabha appears in the minds of living beings as the wisdom of individual discrimination. In the same way, Ratnasambhava appears as the wisdom of equality, Amoghasiddhi appears as the wisdom of accomplishing activities, Akshobya appears as the wisdom of the dharmadhatu, and Vairochana appears as mirror-like wisdom. By generating faith in and relying upon the five Buddha families, we can develop the five omniscient wisdoms. And then, instead of identifying with the five contaminated aggregates, we identify with the five omniscient wisdoms. Once we have changed the basis of imputation of our “I” from the five contaminated aggregates to the five omniscient wisdoms, we will have attained enlightenment.

In this verse, we recognize that the spiritual guide’s inner qualities are the five Buddha families, or the five omniscient wisdoms. By making request to our spiritual guide recognizing his inner qualities, we create the causes to receive the blessings of the five Buddha families, and thereby experience and develop within our own mind the five omniscient wisdoms. In completion stage practice, we likewise rely upon the five Buddha families in the form of a collection of five wisdom drops that are the essence of each of the five Buddha families. When we engage in these completion stage practices, we should recall the meaning of the five Buddha families and the five omniscient wisdoms, strongly believing that by mixing our mind with the collection of five wisdom drops, we are mixing our mind with the wisdom of the five Buddha families.

In is this verse we also recognize that our spiritual guide’s inner qualities include all the deities of Guhysamaja’s body mandala. There are three principle Highest Yoga Tantra yidam: Heruka, Yamantaka, and Guhysamaja. When we engage in the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide, we generate ourselves as Heruka, we recognize Lama Tsongkhapa as Yamantaka, and inside his body are the deities of Guhysamaja’s body mandala. In this way, we accomplish all the attainments of all the principal yidams of Highest Yoga Tantra in one single practice.

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