This is the ninth installment of the 12-part series sharing my understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.
Offering the mandala
When we make a mandala offering, we imagine the entire universe is transformed into a pure land. The highest offering we can make is one of our practice. For me, a mandala offering is a promise that we will work for as long as it takes before we actually transform the world we normally see into the pure land we are offering. We will not stop until all living beings have been delivered to the pure land. Geshe-la explains in many places that mandala offerings are one of the best methods for attaining rebirth in a pure land. If we are offering to deliver all living beings to a pure land, we create countless karmic potentialities to attain a pure land ourselves. Just as Tara was born from the tears of the protector of the three worlds, and arose to tell Avalokitshvara to not worry, she would help him; in the same way, when we make a mandala offering, we are telling Tara to not worry, we will help her. We share the same wish to lead all beings to the pure land, and we promise to work towards that aim.
Requesting fulfilment of wishes
O Venerable, Blessed, Compassionate Mother,
May I and all countless living beings
Quickly purify the two obstructions, complete the two collections,
And attain the state of complete Buddhahood.
All living beings have Buddha nature. This means that if we purify our Buddha nature of everything that is not enlightened, our natural Buddhahood will emerge. In some respects, we don’t need to construct our Buddhahood, we just need to uncover it. Our very subtle mind, once completely purified, transforms into the enlightened mind of a Buddha. There are two obstructions on our very subtle mind – our delusions and their imprints. Every action creates four karmic potentialities: a tendency similar to the cause, an effect similar to the cause, a ripened effect, and an environmental effect. The first is a tendency to generate delusions again – basically our bad mental habits to respond in deluded ways. These are our delusion obstructions. The other three are the imprints of our past delusions, also known as obstructions to omniscience. They are so called because they ripen in the form of ordinary appearances – things appearing to exist from their own side. Another way to think about this is there are two types of karma: contaminated and non-contaminated karma. Contaminated karma is of two types: negative and positive. Negative karma ripens in lower rebirth and positive karma ripens as upper rebirth in samsara. Non-contaminated karma, or pure karma, ripens as a pure rebirth outside of samsara. To close the door on lower rebirth, we need to purify all of our negative karma. To close the door on our personal rebirth in samsara, we need to purify all of our negative karma and all of our delusion obstructions. To attain full enlightenment, we need to purify all of our contaminated karma. Tara can accelerate the rate at which we do all of this.
The two collections refer to the collection of merit and the collection of wisdom. The collection of merit arises primarily from our practices of the vast path (all of the Lamrim meditations up to bodhichitta), and the collection of wisdom arises primarily from our practices of the profound path (specifically the meditation on emptiness). According to highest yoga tantra, the collection of merit also includes generating the very subtle mind of great bliss that we use to meditate on emptiness. Once we have completed the collection of merit, we attain a Buddha’s form body. Once we have completed the collection of wisdom, we attain a Buddhas mind, or truth body. The union of these two is full enlightenment. Since Tara is the Buddha of Lamrim, she can help us complete both collections. Understanding this, when we recite this verse, we generate a strong wish to rely upon Tara understanding she can help us from where we are now all the way to full enlightenment.
Throughout all our lives before we reach Buddhahood,
May we attain the supreme happiness of humans and gods;
And so that we may accomplish the omniscient mind,
Please quickly pacify and eliminate all interferences,
It is said that it is easier to attain enlightenment once born human than it is to attain a human rebirth if we have been reborn in the lower realms. There is no guarantee we will attain enlightenment in this lifetime. Therefore, it is vital to ensure that we do not fall into the lower realms. If we do, there is a danger we may not re-find the spiritual path for countless eons. All of the beings who we would have otherwise been able to help if we had attained enlightenment earlier will have to continue to suffer for all that time. Not to mention the fact that we ourselves will have to experience all of the sufferings of the lower realms. Sometimes we think generating fear of lower rebirth is a meditation for beginners. We want to engage in higher meditations, and indulge ourselves in the fantasy that we are somehow exempt from lower rebirth. Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that the main reason why we have not yet generated qualified refuge is because we lack fear of lower rebirth. If we do not have even qualified refuge, it goes without saying we have no chance of gaining higher realizations. Geshe-la further explains we should be as terrified of lower rebirth as we would be if we were trapped in a circle of fire. Understanding this, we should generate a very strong fear of lower rebirth and then, with faith in Tara’s ability to protect us from lower rebirth, we request her protection. In dependence upon this, if at the time of our death we remember Taro, she will bless our mind and we will avoid lower rebirth, and remain in the human and god realms until we reach Buddhahood.
Evil spirits, hindrances, epidemics and sickness,
As well as the various causes of untimely death,
Bad dreams, ill omens, the eight fears
And all other forms of danger.
Samsara is a dangerous place. In the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Geshe-la says Samsara is like a vast ocean of suffering and at any point we can be eaten by the sea monsters of the Lord of Death. We never know what sea monster may arise and pull us down into the deep ocean of suffering. Even if we avoid death for awhile, we are nonetheless buffeted by the violent waves of suffering. There is no safety anywhere in samsara. Nobody saw the Coronavirus coming, but in a very short period of time, it changed everything. It is just a question of time before we wind up with some incurable sickness. Tara can protect us from all of these dangers. How? First, by generating faith in her, we open our mind to receiving her blessings which prevent the negative karma already on our mind from ripening. Second, she can help us purify our negative karma directly, much in the same way Vajrasattva can. And third, if adversity does strike (which is inevitable), she will bless us with the wisdom to know how to transform it into causes of our enlightenment.
May all mundane and supramundane collections
Of good fortune, happiness, goodness and excellence increase,
And may every beneficial purpose without exception
Be effortlessly and spontaneously accomplished.
Supramundane collection, I believe, refers to spiritual collections as opposed to worldly ones. Normally we differentiate between worldly vs. spiritual, the former referring to things of this life and the latter referring to our future lives. For example, if we engage in our spiritual practice for the sake of this life, it is said to be worldly; but if we are training for the sake of our future lives, it is said to be spiritual. In other contexts, supramundane refers to virtues attained by superior beings – those who have attained a direct realization of emptiness. Regardless, this verse clearly calls for all good things to increase. When we rely upon Tara, for us, it will be an increasing time when spiritual development comes easily, even if for the world it remains a degenerate time, when bad things come effortlessly.