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 34 of a 44-part series.
How to meditate on superior intention and generate bodhichitta
Through love, compassion, and superior intention,
And the magical practice of mounting taking and giving upon the breath,
I seek your blessings to generate the actual bodhichitta,
To free all migrators from this great ocean of samsara.
This verse explains how all the previous verses combined together into the practice of generating bodhicitta. Love refers to the mind of cherishing others, considering their happiness and freedom to be important. Compassion is the wish to protect other living beings from their suffering. Superior intention is the mind that assumes personal responsibility to protect others from their suffering. The magical practice of taking and giving up on the breath is a method for ripening our bodhicitta by bringing the future result of liberating all living beings into the path. In this verse, we request blessings from the spiritual guide to generate the actual bodhicitta in our mind. Bodhichitta has two wishes. The principal wish is to free all migrators from the ocean of samsara. The assistant wish is the wish to become a Buddha so as to be able to fulfill our principal wish. Geshe-la gives the analogy of wishing to have a cup of tea. Our principle wishes to have a cup of tea, and the assistant wish is to get a cup. If our principal wish is strong, we naturally get a cup without giving it much thought, and certainly without forgetting our principal wish to have a cup of tea. Our principal wish is not to get a cup, it is to drink tea. We need the cup in order to do so. In the same way, our principal wish is to free all living beings from samsara. Since this wish is so burning within us, we naturally attain enlightenment because that is the only means of being able to do so.
An often overlooked ingredient of generating the mind bodhicitta is accepting our present inability to help others. As our compassion grows, we naturally want to protect others from their suffering, but as a result we come face to face with our current inability to do so. This can cause us to become frustrated and discouraged. This discouragement or frustration comes from our failure to accept that for as long as beings remained in samsara, they will continue to suffer. The mind of compassion wishes that living beings not suffer. The mind of attachment to others not suffering has the same wish. But these are two fundamentally different minds. The former is motivated by cherishing love, wishing others to be happy; whereas the latter is motivated by attachment, wishing ourselves to be happy while thinking that others need to be happy in order for us to be happy. We need to abandon our attachment to others being happy and free from suffering in order to generate authentic love and compassion for others. This depends upon us being able to fully accept beings will continue to suffer for as long as we do not attain enlightenment. We have to come to peace with this fact before we will then be able to not be crushed by the suffering around us. What enables us to be at peace with the fact that others suffer is the knowledge that we have found a final solution that will enable us to in the future once and for all free all living beings from all their suffering. Seen in this way, accepting our present powerlessness and helplessness is an essential foundation for the exalted mind bodhicitta.
Sometimes we also doubt it is possible for a being such as ourselves to become a Buddha. Bodhichitta simply becomes words we say, not something we feel in our heart. We struggle to even get through the day, much less take on their personal responsibility to free all living beings. We see how despite having been around the Dharma for many years, we remain highly deluded. This causes us to doubt our ability to become a Buddha, and if we do not think it is possible to become one, it will be impossible for us to generate authentic bodhicitta. To overcome this doubt, we need to have unshakable faith in our pure potential. Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that our indestructible wind and our indestructible mind at our heart are our indestructible body and mind. They are our deathless body and mind that go with us from life to life, and will eventually transform into the body and mind of a Buddha. The ultimate nature of this indestructible wind and indestructible mind, in other words the emptiness of these two, is our naturally abiding Buddha nature. Because it is empty, it can become anything. If we create the karma to become a Buddha, we will. All it takes is sufficient patience and perseverance to continue for as long as it takes. We all have experience of having changed ourselves a little. If we can change ourselves a little, we can change ourselves completely. It is only our attachment to results and our impatience with wanting to be farther along than we are that causes us to become discouraged. We need to accept where we are at and then grow from there. This is the well-balanced mind of a steady practitioner.
How to take the vows of aspiring and engaging bodhichitta
I seek your blessings to strive sincerely on the sole path
Traversed by all the Conquerors of the three times –
To bind my mind with pure Bodhisattva vows
And practise the three moral disciplines of the Mahayana.
Once we have generated the wish to become a Buddha, we then need to do something to become a Buddha. The foundation of the Mahayana path is the practice of the bodhisattva vows. These vows and commitments provide us with guidelines for how to ripen our Buddha nature and to put into practice our bodhichitta wish. An extensive explanation of the vows the body sought for vows could be found in the book The Bodhisatta Vow. You can also read about how to integrate these into our modern life through the series of posts I did earlier. Every Buddha attained enlightenment independence upon generating the mind of bodhichitta, maintaining their bodhisattva vows, and practicing the six perfections.
It is important to renew our vows daily. In general, we can say we only break our vows if we make the decision to no longer follow them. But practically speaking, if we do not remember them, we will not be able to practice them. It is also not sufficient to generate the intention to observe the bodhisattva vows once, we must become deeply familiar with this wish. For this reason, we should retake our bodhisatva vows every day. In Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Geshe-la explains how to do this in the context of the practice Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land according to Highest Yoga Tantra. Each time we retake our bodhisattva vows, we should strongly believe that we have purified all the negative karma associated with transgressions of our vows, and that we have received fresh vows upon our mental continuum.
It is particularly important to die with fresh vows upon our mind. As explained before, our vows function to maintain the continuum of our Dharma practice without interruption between now and our eventual enlightenment. When we are on our deathbed, it is important to refresh all our vows – our refuge vows, our pratimoksha vows, our bodhisattva vows, and our tantric vows. We can restore our refuge vows and our bodhisattva vows with the practice of Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land. We can restore our pratimoksha vows with the short sadhana for doing so. And we can restore our tantric vows through engaging in self-initiation. In order to engage in self-initiation we have to have previously completed a close retreat of either Heruka or Vajrayogini. Once we have engaged in a close retreat, we can retake our tantric vows anytime we wish. This is one of the principal advantages or reasons for engaging in a close retreat. When one of Venerable Tharchin’s students was about to die, he went to the hospital and engaged in self-initiation with the person so that they could die with fresh tantric vows on their mental continuum. Within the context of the self-initiation practice, we can retake all our vows. I pray that all Kadampas are able to engage in self-initiation just prior to the moment of their death. If we are able to do so, we can be guaranteed to find once again the tantric path to enlightenment in our next life.