Happy Tsog Day: How to Train in Generation Stage Tantra

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 41 of a 44-part series.

Becoming a suitable vessel for the profound path of Secret Mantra, and keeping the vows and commitments purely

And then the swirling ocean of the Tantras is crossed
Through the kindness of the navigator, the Vajra Holder.
I seek your blessings to cherish more than my life
The vows and commitments, the root of attainments.

It was explained above how the practice of our vows and commitments are the foundation of our Buddhist, Mahayana, and Vajrayana paths. Keeping them also creates the causes to find the path again in all our future lives between now and our eventual enlightenment. The essence of our refuge vows is to rely upon the three jewels to solve our inner problem. The essence of our pratimoksha vows is to not harm living beings, our self or others. The essence of our bodhisattva vows is to put others first. And the essence of our tantric vows is to maintain pure view out of compassion. All the individual vows are simply aspects of these main practices. We cannot properly maintain our tantric vows if we are not keeping our bodhisattva vows, and we cannot keep our bodhisattva vows if we are not keeping our pratimoksha vows, and we cannot keep any of our vows properly if we are not keeping our refuge vows. Therefore, we should see our refuge vows as the foundation for our pratimoksha vows, which are the foundation of our bodhisattva vows, which in turn are the foundation of our tantric vows.

The primary benefit of keeping and maintaining our vows is to create the causes to attain a higher rebirth. Our refuge vows create the causes for us to attain a rebirth in the upper realms of samsara. Our pratimoksha vows create the causes to take a higher rebirth outside of samsara. Our bodhisattva vows create the causes for us to attain full enlightenment. And our tantric vows create the causes for us to quickly attain enlightenment as the Highest Yoga Tantra deity. In short, maintaining our vows is the method for redirecting the trajectory of our mental continuum towards enlightenment.

Geshe-la explains that the practice of moral discipline helps us overcome our gross distractions of mind. Concentration helps us overcome our subtle distractions of mind. And our completion stage practices enable us to overcome the very subtle distractions of mind. In this way, we can understand how the practice of moral discipline is the beginning of our ability to concentrate our mind on the Dharma. Why is it important to concentrate our mind on the Dharma? Because the cause of inner peace is mixing our mind with virtue. The more we mix our mind with virtue, more peaceful our mind will become and the happier we will be. Our vows specifically oppose any tendency in our mind that is contrary to virtue. Keeping her vows enables us to gradually weaken the power of our negative tendencies over our mind and strength and positive habits of mind that move us in the direction of virtue.

The most important aspect of this verse is the phrase that we cherish our vows more than our life. This may seem extreme but that is only because we value our happiness of this life more than we value the happiness of our countless future lives. By maintaining our vows, we ensure we remain on the spiritual path until we attain enlightenment and we protect ourselves against any form of unfortunate rebirth. It would be better to die with our vows intact and continue with the path in our next life than it would be to break our vows, live a long life, and never find the path again. But we do not need to worry. It is almost unthinkable that there could be a situation where we have to choose between maintaining our vows and continuing to live. The point is in our mind we should consider maintaining our vows to be even more important than preserving our life. This is a mental attitude, not a choice we will likely ever have to make.

How to meditate on generation stage

Through the yoga of the first stage that transforms birth, death, and bardo
Into the three bodies of the Conquerors,
I seek your blessings to purify all stains of ordinary appearance and conception,
And to see whatever appears as the form of the Deity.

According to sutra, the root of samsara is self-grasping ignorance. According to tantra, the roots of samsara are ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions. Ordinary appearances are all the things that we normally see. They appear to exist from their own side in all sorts of ordinary samsaric ways. Ordinary conceptions are when we assent to these appearances and believe them to be true, thinking things do exist in the way that they appear. In this sense, we can understand how self-grasping ignorance is simply an example of ordinary conceptions. There is no contradiction between sutra and tantra, tantra simply has a more expansive view.

Our practice of generation stage is a powerful method for overcoming both our ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions. We learn how to dissolve all ordinary appearances into emptiness and then in their place generate pure appearances. We then, through the power of correct belief, believe that these appearances are true. We do not believe that they are inherently true because nothing is inherently true, rather we believe that they are conventionally true and correct beliefs in the sense that it is beneficial to believe and we understand that the ultimate nature of all phenomena is mere imputation to mind. By mentally generating pure appearances with our imagination and then believing them with our faith, we create the karma to later have pure appearances appear directly to our mind.

In the beginning, ordinary conceptions are more dangerous than ordinary appearances. For example, if our spiritual guide appears to us to be an ordinary being but we mentally conceive of him as a fully enlightened Buddha, then we receive the blessings of a Buddha through our spiritual guide. During the meditation break, we perceive all sorts of ordinary appearances, but we train in viewing them in a pure way as emanations of our spiritual guide or manifestations of bliss and emptiness. In this way, in both the meditation session and the meditation break we gradually purify all our ordinary appearances and conceptions and thereby escape from samsara.

From another perspective, generation stage is a method for generating the gross body of the deity. On the basis of generating the gross deity body, we are then able to complete the picture by engaging in completion stage where we attain the subtle deity body. It is also the principal method for attaining rebirth in the pure land. By attaining rebirth in a pure land, we are then able to continue with our spiritual practices and complete the tantric path.

We can find a general explanation of the difference between generation stage and completion stage in the book Modern Buddhism. Extensive explanations can be found in Essence of Vajrayana, Guide to Dakini Land, Clear Light of Bliss, Tantric Grounds and Paths, and the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra.

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