Happy Tsog Day: Training in the Initial Scope of Lamrim

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 27 of a 44-part series.

How to rely upon our spiritual guide, the root of spiritual paths

Through the force of my making offerings and respectful requests
To the venerable spiritual guide, the holy, supreme Field of Merit,
I seek your blessings, O Protector, the root of all goodness and joy,
So that you will gladly take me into your loving care.

In truth, the entire practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide explains how to rely upon our spiritual guide. The main point is to develop conviction that our spiritual guide is indeed a Buddha and the source of all good in our lives. To develop conviction in the former, we need to understand the emptiness of the spiritual guide. Sometimes when we hear teachings explaining that the spiritual guide is a Buddha, we misunderstand this to me we are to try view him as inherently a Buddha. But obviously that is not correct since nothing is inherently existent. Instead, we need to understand that by viewing him as a Buddha, Buddha will enter into him and we will receive Buddha’s blessings through him.

More profoundly, viewing our spiritual guide as a Buddha does not mean viewing him as a Buddha from his own side, rather it is a special way of relating to everything the spiritual guide does so that it functions to provide us with pure Dharma teachings. So even if our spiritual guide, or any living being for that matter, engages in manifestly negative or destructive actions, we can nonetheless view all these as powerful teachings of our spiritual guide. Nothing is pure from its own side, rather things become pure by viewing and relating to them in a pure way. Pure view does not exist on the side of the object, rather it exists on the side of the subject mind viewing things. Thus, if we want to generate pure view of our spiritual guide, regarding him as a Buddha, it suffices to relate to everything that he does as something confirming or revealing the truth of Dharma. We can apply this same logic to any living being, and therefore view anyone as an emanation of our spiritual guide. But we begin by first doing it with the person in our life who is so manifestly engaging in the actions of a Buddha, namely our spiritual guide. Once we can do it with our spiritual guide, it becomes easier to do it with other living beings.

To gain conviction in the latter, that the spiritual guide is the source of all good, it suffices to recall the teachings on karma that all happiness comes from virtuous actions. Then we look honestly into our mind and realize that all the habits that we have effortlessly move in a negative direction, and it takes effort for us to engage in virtuous actions. This shows that the current of our mind is moving in a negative direction. If this is true even once we have found the Dharma, it is obviously true for all our past lives. Thus, it is safe to say that the only time we engaged in any virtuous action was when we received the blessings of a Buddha to encourage us to do so. Thus, any happiness we enjoy comes from our past virtue, which comes from receiving the blessings of Buddha.

Developing the aspiration to take the essence of our human life

Realizing that this freedom and endowment, found only once,
Are difficult to attain, and yet decay so quickly,
I seek your blessings to seize their essential meaning,
Undistracted by the meaningless activities of this life.

It is important to make a distinction between having a human life and having a precious human life. To have a precious human life means to have a human life plus also have an interest in Dharma and an opportunity to meet pure teachings. It is exceedingly rare for us to attain a precious human life. For me, the most powerful analogy is likening the odds of a precious human rebirth to the odds of a blind turtle surfacing only once every 100 years putting its head through a golden yoke floating on an ocean the size of this world. The earth’s surface is 149 trillion square meters, so we can say we have a one in 149 trillion chance of attaining a precious human rebirth. Amongst humans, very few have an interest in practicing the Dharma and have found a pure path that they can practice. Thus, objectively speaking we can say it is almost impossible to attain a precious human rebirth. Yet we have attained one. That is undeniable. The question we all face is what do we do with the opportunity we have been given?

The actual method for gaining the happiness of higher states in future lives

Fearing the blazing fires of the sufferings of bad migrations,
From the depths of my heart I go for refuge to the Three Jewels,
And seek your blessings to strive sincerely
To abandon non-virtue and practise the entire collection of virtue.

When you look at the population of just this world, we can see that animals and insects far outnumber humans, probably by a factor of at least a million to one. Some scientists estimate much much higher than that. If we assume the same proportions into the hungry ghost and the hell realms, we can see that the overwhelming majority of living beings in samsara are in the lower realms. When we take rebirth in the lower realms, we engage in almost exclusively negative actions. This means that virtually all the karma on our mind is negative. To attain a human rebirth, positive karma needs to ripen. That is exceedingly rare simply because such karma is exceedingly rare. Whether we take a human or a lower rebirth in our next life depends upon the quality of mind we have at the time of death. If we die with a negative mind, it will activate negative karma throwing us into the lower realms. If we die with a positive mind, it will activate positive karma throwing us into the upper realms. If we die with a pure mind, it will activate pure karma enabling us to escape from samsara and take rebirth in a pure land. Typically, when we encounter adverse circumstances, we react with a negative deluded mind. We can observe this in our daily behavior. There is no experience more adverse than death. If we respond to even minor inconveniences with negativity, it goes without question that we are most likely to respond to our death with a negative mind. This means unless we thoroughly train our mind, it is almost certain we will fall into the lower realms.

The truth of the matter is samsara is almost entirely the lower realms. The upper realms are like a tiny island surrounded by an ocean of fire. The island we stand on is sinking into the fire. This is not a metaphor, this is our actual karmic situation. We tend to think it is highly unlikely we will take lower rebirth, but the reality is the exact opposite. We need to let this truth touch our heart and frankly become terrified at the prospect of our almost certain lower rebirth. Virtually everybody we know and everybody we see will all fall into the lower realms. We are all bound for hell. Hell is our natural home in samsara.

Sometimes we reject these teachings because we think it is a religious institution trying to manipulate us. While of course we need to check to see if this is the case, we also need to check to see if this is in fact our samsaric situation. There are many valid reasons establishing the existence of past and future lives. It is also a manifest truth that we very rarely engage in virtuous actions despite having found the Dharma. So how often do we create the karma to attain another rebirth compared to how often in our countless past lives we have created the causes for lower rebirth? Do the math. The truth is inescapable. The only question is whether we allow this truth to touch our heart and then become extremely motivated to engage in purification practice.

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