Happy Tsog Day: Transforming Adverse Conditions into the Path (part 2)

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 33 of a 44-part series.

In short, whether favourable or unfavourable conditions arise,
I seek your blessings to transform them into the path of improving the two bodhichittas
Through practising the five forces, the essence of all Dharmas,
And thereby maintain a happy mind alone.

The two bodhicittas refer to conventional bodhichitta and ultimate bodhicitta. Conventional bodhicitta is the wish to become a Buddha for the sake of others. Ultimate bodhicitta is meditating on ultimate truth emptiness with a motivation of conventional bodhicitta. With respect to conventional bodhichitta, when favorable conditions arise, we can view them as the result of our past virtuous actions which remind us that we need to continue to engage in virtue. Further, we can use the favorable conditions to make rapid progress in our spiritual path because things are easy at that time. When unfavorable conditions arise, we can view it as motivation to become a Buddha so that we can be free from all such unfavorable conditions and help others attain the same state. With respect to ultimate bodhicitta, when both favorable and unfavorable conditions arise, we can view them both as equally mere karmic appearances to mind. Both types of appearance are equally empty. Their mere appearance reminds us of their emptiness.

The five forces make all our practices more effective. The five forces are the force of motivation, the force of familiarity, the force of white seed, the force of destruction, and the force of aspirational prayer. The force of motivation is the motivation with which we engage in a virtuous action. The karmic effect of our actions depends upon the scope of our motivation. If our motivation is that of a worldly being, the karma will at best ripen in worldly ways either in this life or in a future life. If our motivation is that of a spiritual being, then the merit will ripen in our future lives. If our motivation is renunciation, the wish to escape from samsara, then the karmic effect of the action will be to enable us to take rebirth outside of samsara. And if our motivation is bodhichitta, the karmic effect of the action will ripen in the form of us attaining full enlightenment. This is true regardless of what kind of virtuous action we engage in. For example, just giving flowers to someone else can be performed with any one of these motivations, but have radically different karmic effects.

The force of familiarity is simply becoming more and more familiar with our virtuous actions. Gen-la Losang said what is natural is simply what is familiar. The reason why non-virtuous actions come so naturally is because we have deep familiarity with them, and the reason why virtuous actions are so difficult is because we have very little familiarity. But through the force of effort, we can change what is familiar and therefore what comes naturally. We remain in samsara simply due to bad habits. We can change these habits with effort, and therefore escape.

The force of white seed is accumulating merit. All good things come from merit, or good karma. Good karma depends upon engaging in virtuous actions. If our wishes are not being fulfilled, the reason is we lack merit. Instead of complaining or wondering why things never work out for us, we can use this as a reminder to accumulate merit. The supreme method for accumulating merit is to make mandala offerings. This was explained extensively in earlier posts during this series. There are many different types of merit, and each virtuous action produces its own specific type of merit that will ripen in a specific way. Therefore, as we learn to understand karma more deeply, and we understand the virtuous reasons why we want different outcomes, we can then engage in the specific types of actions to create the karma that we desire. The attributes of higher status explained earlier explain how this works, for example from giving comes wealth, from patience comes beauty and so forth.

The force of destruction refers to purifying our negative karma. The reason why things are difficult is because we have negative karma that remains unpurified. In particular, the most pernicious form of negative karma is that associated with holding onto wrong views denying Dharma. Due to this negative karma, we find it difficult to gain Dharma realizations and make progress along the path and as a result we remain trapped and even run the risk of giving up. Therefore, it is vital that we purify our negative karma. This was also explained extensively before.

The force of aspirational prayer refers to making specific prayers and requests to the Buddhas that they bless our mind in specific ways to gain the realizations of the stages of the path. If we check, the vast majority of our prayers are simply requests to the Buddhas to bestow upon us the different realizations. The mental action of making a request prayer with faith creates the karma to be able to receive blessings, which then activate the virtuous karma that exists on her mind and ripens in the form of realizations. Requesting blessings is the principal method for receiving them. While the Buddhas are constantly bestowing blessings on all living beings just as the sun shines equally on all phenomena, whether we receive these blessings depends upon whether or not there are clouds in the sky of our mind. Making aspirational prayers clears the clouds and allows the blessings to flow directly into our mind.

To rely upon a happy mind alone, does not mean to simply force ourselves “to be happy,” rather it means we only take as reliable and trustworthy the conclusions are mind reaches when it is happy and peaceful. For example, when our mind is very agitated, we are likely to send an email we will later regret. If instead, we wait until our mind is calm and then draft our email, we will avoid a great deal of problems. In the same way, every time our mind is under the influence of delusions our mind is necessarily unpeaceful, and the conclusions we reach when our mind is unpeaceful will always make our situation worse. Therefore, we should wait until our mind is calm and peaceful, and then make decisions about how to proceed.

I seek your blessings to make this freedom and endowment extremely meaningful
By immediately applying meditation to whatever I meet
Through the skilful means of the four preparations,
And by practising the commitments and precepts of training the mind.

We established before that we have a precious human life with all the freedoms and endowments. This gives us the ideal opportunity to train in Dharma and accomplish the real meaning of our human lives. We do this quite simply by responding to whatever arises with a Dharma mind. Before we found the Dharma, we encountered countless different objects and responded to them in countless different ways. After we found the Dharma, we still encounter countless different objects, but we can respond with a limited number of Dharma minds such as renunciation, compassion, patience, and bodhicitta. This greatly simplifies our life and enables us to transform every moment into the path. Many of us engage in the cycle of the 21 Lamrim meditations. If we do, we can then respond to everything that happens to us during the day with the conclusion of the Lamrim meditation we did in the morning. In this way, we are putting into practice the Lamrim meditation of the day all day long. Even if we do not engage in the 21 Lamrim meditations formally, we can still do the 21 Lamrim meditations as our meditation break practice. For example, no matter what happens, review it as a reminder of death, or as a lesson in karma, and so forth.

The commitments and precepts of training the mind are explained in the book Universal Compassion and are listed in the booklet on the vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism. They are methods for ripening our bodhichitta and for transforming adverse conditions into the path. For more information, please see the extensive series of posts I earlier did about how to practice all our vows and commitments and integrate them into our modern life.

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