Happy Tsog Day: Remembering our Spiritual Guide’s Profound 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 18 of a 44-part series.

Requesting by expressing his secret qualities

You are the essence of the ten million circles of mandalas
That arise from the state of the all-knowing exalted wisdom;
Principal Holder of the Vajra, pervasive source of the hundred families,
O Protector of the Primordial Union, to you I make requests.

Our spiritual guide’s secret qualities are him being by nature Vajradhara, the principal deity and spiritual guide of tantric practice. When Buddha Shakyamuni taught sutra, he appeared as Buddha Shakyamuni; but when he taught tantra, he appeared as Buddha Vajradhara. According to Highest Yoga Tantra, we regard all deities as emanations or manifestations of our spiritual guide. Here, it explains there are ten million circles of mandalas and one hundred Buddha families that all arise from and are manifestations of Buddha Vajradhara. In this way, we recognize our spiritual guide as the synthesis of all the Buddhas. But at the same time, we do not make a distinction between an emanation and the Buddha doing the emanating. Just as you cannot separate a wave from its underlying ocean, so too you cannot separate the waves of any of the countless Buddhas from the underlying ocean of Vajradhara.

Sometimes we think Vajradhara was an historical figure that existed in the past. But in truth he still lives and is guiding us today. Buddha Vajradhara emanates Buddha Shakyamuni, who later appeared as Atisha, who later appeared as Je Tsongkhapa, and who is appearing today as our present spiritual guide. These are all the same person continuing to appear at different points in time according to the karmic dispositions of the people of the different worlds they inhabit. Thus, when we think of our spiritual guide, we think of all the Buddhas. And when we think of all the Buddhas, we think of our spiritual guide. While there is no doubt the outer aspect of our present spiritual guide is important in that he serves as a bridge between our “I”mpure world and the pure world of the Buddhas, we should recognize that he is just an appearance inside of our samsaric dream, but in reality, our actual spiritual guide is Vajradhara. Understanding this, we make requests to our living spiritual guide Vajradhara requesting that he continue to emanate the ten million circles of mandalas and the hundred Buddha families for our benefit.

Requesting by expressing his suchness qualities

Pervasive nature of all things stable and moving,
Inseparable from the experience of spontaneous joy without obstructions;
Thoroughly good, from the beginning free from extremes,
O Actual, ultimate bodhichitta, to you I make requests.

The spiritual guide’s suchness qualities are his ultimate nature of bliss and emptiness. Once again, the analogy of waves and oceans is helpful. The definitive spiritual guide is an I imputed upon the bliss and emptiness of all phenomena. This is the ocean. Every phenomena is a wave on this ocean. This bliss and emptiness is the pervasive nature of all phenomena that is both stable, in the sense that it always remains equally empty, and moving in the sense that phenomena are in constant change. The ocean always remains the ocean, but the waves take on different shapes and forms. The experience of spontaneous joy without obstructions experiences the entire universe as our body of great bliss and emptiness rippling as waves according to the currents of karma. This ultimate nature has always been and always will be and it has always been completely pure, hence it is thoroughly good from the beginning free from the two extremes. Here, the two extremes refer to the extreme of inherent existence, thinking that somehow waves can exist separately from their underlying ocean; and the extreme of nothingness, thinking if things do not exist inherently, they do not exist at all.

Here, we direct our request to ultimate bodhichitta recognizing the suchness nature of our spiritual guide is ultimate bodhichitta. According to Sutra, ultimate bodhichitta is the realization of the emptiness of all phenomena motivated by the mind of conventional bodhicitta, or the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of all. According to tantra, ultimate bodhichitta is the union of great bliss and emptiness. What is the relationship between these two understandings of ultimate bodhicitta? The emptiness according to sutra and the emptiness according to tantra are exactly the same. The difference is in the subject mind that realizes the emptiness of all phenomena. In sutra, we realize it with the mind of bodhichitta; and in tantra, we realize it with the mind of great bliss. Therefore, the proper question is what is the relationship between the mind of bodhicitta and the mind of great bliss? In science, we say there are necessary and sufficient causes. In Dharma, we say there are substantial and circumstantial causes. The substantial cause is the acorn and the circumstantial causes are the sunlight, soil, and water. The effect is an oak tree. The acorn is called the substantial cause because it is the thing that transforms into the next thing in dependence upon the circumstantial causes. In exactly the same way, bodhicitta is the substantial cause of the mind of great bliss. It is impossible to generate the mind of great bliss without first having generated the mind of bodhichitta, just as it is impossible to have an oak tree without an acorn. The practices of generation stage and completion stage of tantra are the circumstantial causes that transform our mind of bodhicitta into the mind of great bliss. The mind has three levels, gross, subtle, and very subtle. Bodhichitta is a gross level mind and great bliss is a very subtle mind. Put another way, great bliss is the very subtle version of bodhicitta, and bodhicitta is the gross version of the mind of great bliss. It is vital that we understand the relationship between these two minds. If we do, we will then understand the union of sutra and tantra. Recalling all this, we make requests to our spiritual guide’s suchness qualities recognizing them as the very subtle version of all the other qualities we have previously requested.

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