Happy Protector Day: Tapping into Dorje Shugden’s Power

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 7 of a 12-part series aimed at helping us remember our Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden and increase our faith in him on these special days.

The remainder of the sadhana is largely making requests to Dorje Shugden.  Before we get into the specifics, I want to now explain some general advice on how to increase the power of our making requests to him.  These apply equally to the meditation break as well as the meditation session. 

First, the extent to which he can help us depends on the degree of faith we have in him.  If our faith is weak, his protection will be weak.  This is not because he is holding back it is because our mind remains closed so he has few points of entry for bestowing his blessings.  If our faith is indestructible and infinite, then his protection of us will be infinite.  If we understand this we will realize that our primary training in the practice of Dorje Shugden is increasing our faith in him.

Second, he can help us to the extent that our motivation is pure.  When our motivation is pure, it is like we align the crystals of our mind perfectly with the light of the deity.  To improve our motivation, we need to train sincerely in Lamrim.  The main function of Lamrim is to change our heart desires from worldly ones into spiritual ones.  Once we get our motivation right, everything else naturally falls into place.  It is the mental factor intention that determines the karma we create, so intention is the most important.

Third, he can help us to the extent that we realize that he, ourselves and everything else are empty.  The main point is this:  Dorje Shugden isn’t anything from his own side.  He is as powerful as we construct him to be.  We can construct him as an ordinary being or as an infinitely powerful protector.

After the invitation to Dorje Shugden, which has already been explained, we then make offerings and requests as follows:

HUM
Respectfully I prostrate with body, speech and mind. 

Here we imagine that from ourself and from all the beings we previously put within the protection circle, we emanate all of our past and future bodies.  Then with all of these past, present and future emanations of ourself, we prostrate.  This creates special merit with him so that he can provide us protection in all our past, present and future lives.  How Dorje Shugden protects us in our present and future lives is easy to understand.  But how can he provide us protection in our past lives when they have already passed?   He can bless our mind so that everything that happened to us in the past also becomes a cause of our enlightenment. We view our past differently in such a way that it teaches us lessons of Dharma.  In this way, no matter when we start our practice, even if it is when we are very old, it can be as if we effectively have practiced our whole life.  When we go to normal psychological therapists, they help us process our past so that it is no longer a drag on us.  In the same way, by requesting Dorje Shugden to transform our past experiences into a cause of our enlightenment, we receive special blessings to view these events differently.  We may even come to view our greatest past trauma as our greatest life blessing.  Such is the power of Dorje Shugden and the truth of emptiness.

I offer a mass of inner and outer offerings, blissful tormas,
Alcohol, tea, cakes, milk, and curd,
Both actually set out and mentally imagined, filling the whole of space.

The basic idea is this:  whatever we offer to Dorje Shugden, he can then use for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  For example, if I offer my house to him, then everything that happens in my house will be emanated by him for my practice, etc.  So mentally, we offer everything because we want to use everything for our attainment of enlightenment. 

Happy Tsog Day: Making Our Spiritual Life Practical

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 12 of a 44-part series.

Offering medicines, and ourself as a servant

I offer many different types of excellent medicine
That destroy the four hundred and four diseases of the delusions,
And to please you I offer myself as a servant;
Please keep me in your service for as long as space exists.

We have met Geshe-la in this life and he has taught us the stages of the path to enlightenment. If we are lucky and apply full effort with great faith and a pure heart, we may attain enlightenment in this life. But it is also possible we will not complete the path before we die. At that point, it becomes vital that we find the path again in all our future lives without interruption so we can continue on with our spiritual training. Venerable Tharchin explains that “if we do our honest best to train in the stages of the path throughout our life, it will be enough to ensure we find the path again in our next life.” But the supreme method to always meet Geshe-la again and again in all our future lives is to offer ourself as a servant for as long as space exists. What does it mean to offer ourself as a servant? It means to promise to dedicate our life to the fulfilment of our Guru’s wishes. What does our Guru wish? He wishes that we attain enlightenment and that we help others to do the same. His special method for leading all beings to enlightenment is to form fully qualified spiritual guides who in turn train other fully qualified spiritual guides, as a “great wave” of virtuous deeds that will – generation after generation – eventually wash over all living beings. To offer ourself as a servant is to make ourselves part of this great wave. Practically speaking we can do this by becoming a qualified Kadampa teacher, a center administrator, or even just a humble practitioner. The point is we do what we can to help cause the Dharma to flourish in this world. It is obvious that if we spend this life fulfilling our Guru’s wishes to cause the Dharma to flourish we will create the karma necessary to refind the Dharma in all our future lives.

Confession

In the presence of the great Compassionate Ones I confess with a mind of great regret
All the non-virtues and negative actions that, since beginningless time,
I have done, ordered to be done, or rejoiced in;
And I promise that from now on I shall not commit them again.

Infinite negative karma is the biggest problem we do not realize we have. Logically, this is not difficult to establish. First, the vast majority of our previous lives have been spent in the lower realms, where we engaged almost exclusively in negative actions. Animals may occasionally engage in virtuous actions, but almost every other action a lower being engages in is negative – each one creating negative karmic seeds on our mind. Second, engaging in virtue takes effort, whereas engaging in negativity comes effortlessly. This shows not only that we have powerful negative tendencies on our mind, but that in the past we have mostly engaged in negative actions and very few virtuous ones. And third, we have made almost no effort to purify our negative karma, even after having been in the Dharma for many years. Before we met the Dharma, we did not engage in purification at all, and since we have found the Dharma, we have done precious little purification. There are only two ways negative karma can be removed from our mind, either by ripening in the form of suffering or through sincere purification practice. Since we have not purified, all these countless negative karmic seeds remain on our mind. Intellectually, this logic is inescapable proof.

But it still does not move our mind. Why? Primarily because we still have on our mind negative karma of holding wrong views rejecting the truth of karma and past and future lives. These negative seeds prevent us from believing the unavoidable truth of our negative karma. So even though intellectually, we know it must be true, we do not really believe this in our heart, and therefore we never generate the appropriate levels of fear for the negative karma that remains. Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that the primary reason we have not yet sincerely put the Dharma into practice is because we have neglected generating rational fear of samsara. In other words, the fact that we do not feel fear of our negative karma is itself a perfect sign that we have much left to purify.

I find it helpful to consider I (and everyone I know) am destined for the lower realms. We are en route for them right now, and if we do not purify, we will inevitably fall. I find it helpful to consider some analogies, such as I am on an island that is rapidly sinking into an ocean of molten fire of the lower realms. I am chained to the deck of the Titanic, and if I do not free myself, I will go down with the ship. I carry in my heart countless karmic time bombs that can explode at any moment.

To purify our negative karma, we need to apply the four opponent powers. The power of regret admits to ourself that we have untold quantities of negative karma remaining on our mind, and if we do not purify it, we will get sucked into a vortex of endless suffering. The power of reliance is turning either to the three jewels or to all living beings to purify our negative karma. The power of the opponent force is any virtuous action motivated by regret and is directed towards either the three jewels (such as Vajrasattva practice of the 35 Confession Buddhas) or living beings (such as engaging in virtuous actions for their benefit). The power of the promise is making internal commitments to refrain in the future from similarly engaging in negative actions. The power of regret purifies the effects similar to the cause. The power of reliance purifies the environmental effects. The power of the opponent force purifies the ripened effect. And the power of the promise purifies the tendencies similar to the cause to engage again in negativity.

I find it helpful to understand how this works by considering how we apologize. When we have wronged someone in some way, if we check, we follow a very clear formula when we apologize. First, we honestly admit what we did and the harm that it caused the other person. Then, we express our apology to whoever we harmed. Then, we do something kind to make amends. Finally, we promise to not do it again. The truth is we have been harming the three jewels and living beings since beginningless time. But we now have an opportunity to correct for this by engaging in sincere purification practice.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Don’t be complacent with your current ways

Sometimes we are afraid of changing because what we are doing is working out alright for us.  Not perfectly, not as good as it could be, but seemingly good enough.  We know if we change we might lose that good enough and it will be harder for us in the short-term before we get to the long-term when things start to get better.  Our objects of attachment or our present worldly life, for example, are giving us some modicum of happiness now; but our meditations on lamrim aren’t really doing that much for us. 

Sure, in the long-run, if we gain deep realizations of lamrim we will be happy all the time, but if I have to give up my enjoyments in the short-term, I will be more unhappy then until I reach the long-term.  I’m not willing to do that, so I never get serious about my practice.  There are two main faults with this way of thinking.  First, there is nothing about our future happiness that makes it any less important than our present happiness.  Indeed, the reason why we suffer now is because in the past we didn’t work for our future happiness.  Our goal should be to maximize the happiness of the totality of our mental continuum, not just this one life, and certainly not this one present moment. 

Second, it grasps at there being a tension between happiness in this life and spiritual practice.  We mistakenly think we need to sacrifice our happiness in this life in order to be happy in our future lives.  This is completely wrong.  We travel the Joyful Path of good fortune.  By adopting a spiritual outlook on life now, we will both be happier in this life and in all our future lives.  Someone who has a spiritual life is able to find great meaning in everything that happens – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and so they are able to enjoy and be happy all the time regardless of what happens.  When we hang on to our worldly outlook on life, then we can be happy for those few moments when things go well, but then we suffer all the rest of the time when things go badly.  And let’s face it, things go wrong in samsara far more than they go right.

Shantideva says the root of Dharma is the intention to practice.  This is why virtually all the lamrim meditations have as their object of meditation, therefore I must practice Dharma.  This intention will never come on its own.  We need to cultivate it.  If we don’t cultivate it, it will never come and we will remain the same (or worse) forever.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: The root of Dharma is the intention to practice it

(7.39) In my previous lives I held views
That denied Buddha’s teachings
And, as a result, I am now very poor in spiritual realizations.
Knowing this, how can I give up the practice of Dharma?

Previously we lacked the aspiration to practice Dharma, which is why we are poor in spiritual realizations.  If we do not develop the aspiration, what will be the result in the future?  I think one of the worst results is that we will not meet Buddhadharma again. If we are given the Dharma and all the conditions for practicing the Dharma, and we make no effort due to lacking any genuine aspiration, then how will we meet Buddhadharma again in the future?  Of course we won’t.  For example, we have been given the Meditation Handbook and the opportunity to practice and meditate on lamrim.  If we do not do it, what will happen to that opportunity?

To help us strengthen our aspiration and intention to practice Dharma, Shantideva over these next few verses describes the results of both non-virtue and virtue.  The purpose of this is to help us develop the desire to abandon non-virtue and the desire to practice virtue.

(7.40) Buddha, the Able One, has said
That the root of Dharma is the intention to practise it.
We can generate this intention by meditating
On the law of karma, or actions and their effects.

(7.41) All physical suffering and mental unhappiness,
All the different types of fear,
And the suffering of being separated from what we wan
Arise from non-virtuous actions.

(7.42) Through committing non-virtuous actions,
Even though we may wish for happiness
We shall be pierced by the weapons of suffering
Wherever we find ourself;

(7.43) But, through performing virtuous actions with a pure intention,
We shall be sustained by a happiness
That results from that merit,
Wherever we are reborn.

(7.44) Those born in Buddha’s Pure Land arise from the lotus of pure actions performed through receiving the light of Conqueror Buddha’s blessings.
They are completely pure, uncontaminated by delusions, like a lotus unstained by mud.
Nourished by hearing Conqueror Buddha’s speech directly, they experience supreme inner peace.
All this happiness and goodness is the result of virtuous actions, such as the six perfections, prayer, and dedication.

(7.45) By contrast, those born in hell, on the fiery ground of red-hot iron, suffer at the hands of the henchmen of the Lord of Death,
Who tear open their skin and pour molten copper into their bodies
And then, piercing them with flaming swords and spears, cut their flesh into hundreds of fragments.
Such sufferings, which are experienced for many aeons, are the result of non-virtuous actions.

(7.46) Therefore, I should always keep the intention to accumulate virtues, not non-virtues,
And put this intention into practice with strong effort.

Gaining a general understanding of cause and effect is not difficult.  But that is not enough.   We must allow that understanding to affect us, to influence us. Then, naturally, our intention will change. It will become a Buddhist intention, a basic Buddhist intention.  If Shantideva’s words, such as verses 44-45, cannot motivate us more strongly to practice Dharma, to abandon non-virtue, and to cultivate virtue, then what can? What can?  We need to make this real.  This is our inevitable future if we do not purify and change our ways.

We need to check why do we not allow that understanding to influence us? Why not? Why don’t we want to accept it?  Usually it is because we still believe that these negative things we are attracted to are causes of our happiness and we think virtue is boring.  We are so confused.  We think we have to give up something that is good and eat our bad tasting spiritual vegetables.  We do not think about the long-term.  We only think about the happiness of this life.  But future lives are like tomorrow.  In fact, it is certain future lives will come, it is not certain tomorrow will!  We are afraid because we know if we internalize this understanding, it will destroy our ordinary way of life.  We don’t want that to happen, it scares us.  Everything must change, mustn’t it?  Why do we want to hold on to what we have got? 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Assuming full responsibility for ourself and others

We first need to take personal responsibility for ourself – seriously, fully, and completely.  We like to blame others for our experience of life, the ripening of our karma, or the delusions arising in our mind.  We think it is other’s responsibility to make us happy or care for us, and their fault if they do not.  We need to assume responsibility not just for our experience in this life, but for all of our future lives.  Because our past self did not purify our negative karma, we inherited a limitless supply of suffering.  Likewise, because our past self made no effort to overcome all our delusions, we remain a puppet on their strings.  Are we going to do the same to our future self?  If we neglect to purify now or neglect to overcome our delusions, we guarantee we will have to experience endless suffering in the future.  Nobody can purify our negative karma for us.  Nobody can overcome our delusions for us.  We either do it or we don’t, and we will have nobody to blame but ourselves if we don’t.  A good friend of mine said we need to stop trusting our self-cherishing.  We need to try now to stop trusting our self-cherishing. We stop following its wishes.  We need to decide ourselves to attain enlightenment.  Nobody can do it for us.  We need to decide ourselves to solve our problems.  Nobody can do it for us.  The responsibility is 100% on us.

Once we have taken personal responsibility for ourselves, then we can take personal responsibility for others.  At the end of the day, it is a question of what do we trust:  our spiritual guide’s wishes for us or the wishes of our self-cherishing for us?  What does my spiritual guide what for me?  What does he want for those around me?  Why don’t I want that as well?  It is not enough for us to assume personal responsibility for others because that is Geshe-la’s wish for us, we need to make this our own wish.  Others are depending on us.  Without us, what do they have?  Just samsara, just endless suffering.  It is not enough to hear this, we need to look around us and see that it is true, and realize that it is up to us.  I find the easiest way to think about it is of course it is up to me, after all it is my karmic dream!

We can start by taking more responsibility for one another.  Sangha is our real family. We spend the rest of eternity with them.  We need to support one another, because nobody else will encourage us to do what we are doing.  Take the time for each other.  Doing so creates the cause for others to support your practice.

And we need to really start loving our family and close friends.  We need to become somebody special in their lives, somebody who they can count on, and somebody who just loves them unconditionally.  It actually doesn’t take much because somebody who genuinely loves is so rare that they naturally stand out and have a huge influence on other’s lives.  It all starts by accepting people as they are.  Quit judging them and realize that they can’t help the way they are.  When we see others who we find difficult, we can recall that Geshe-la loves this person.  This person is an object of love and care for all the Buddhas.  Then, we will naturally love accordingly.

But assuming personal responsibility for other’s welfare does not mean it is then up to us to solve all their problems for them, nor does it mean it is our fault if they suffer.  Each person is responsible for their own experience in life.  The only way others can overcome their suffering is if they too purify their negative karma and overcome their delusions.  This is work only they can do.  We can’t do it for them.  We can encourage them to do so, we can set a good example, and we can pray for them, but they have to do the work.  In other words, it is not enough to just cherish others unconditionally, we need to do so with wisdom.  If we just go around and solve everybody’s problems for them, we will only create dependency of them on us.  They will come to think the way to solve their problems is to manipulate us into doing so for them.  They will come to think they can’t solve their own problems, they need us to do it for them.  This disempowers them to assume responsibility for their own problems for themselves.  We all know the saying “give somebody a fish and you feed them for a day, teach them to fish and you feed them for life.”  This is true, but sometimes we go to the extreme of thinking we shouldn’t also give them a fish.  It is hard to learn how to fish if you are starving.  We can do both – give them a fish and teach them to fish, but we do the former in support of the latter.  Again, it is not enough to have compassion, we also need to have wisdom.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Make Secret and Suchness Offerings

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 11 of a 44-part series.

Secret offering

And I offer most attractive illusory mudras,
A host of messengers born from places, born from mantra, and spontaneously-born,
With slender bodies, skilled in the sixty-four arts of love,
And possessing the splendour of youthful beauty.

As explained above, the karma we create from the secret offerings is activated in the wisdom-mudra empowerment, sustains our completion stage practice of the clear light of Mahamudra, and terminates in the attainment of the Truth Body of a Buddha. It was also explained above that there are two ways of making offerings of the five objects of desire – by transforming our objects of the senses and offering beautiful knowledge women. When we engage in the secret offering, we emphasize this second method.

To make the secret offering, we imagine countless knowledge goddesses who are sublimely beautiful and skilled in the sixty-four arts of love emanate out, fill the universe, then gather together and dissolve into the consort of Buddha Vajradhara at Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang’s heart, giving rise to spontaneous great bliss in his mind. Offering great bliss creates the karmic causes for us to experience it ourself.

At this point it is probably necessary to say a few words about tantra and sex. In popular culture, “tantra” means how to have better, more sensual sex with an aura of spirituality thrown in. We have all seen the ads for the classes, the only requirement for attendance not being a tantric empowerment but rather loose-fitting pants. This popular understanding of tantra not only has nothing to do with tantra, it leads to the degeneration of pure tantric instructions in this world. Simply attaining a precious human life is as likely as a blind turtle putting its head through a golden yoke floating on the surface of an ocean the size of this world when the turtle only rises once every 100 years. But meeting the path of tantra is rarer still. Of the 1,000 founder Buddhas of this fortunate aeon, only the 4th, 11th, and last will teach qualified tantric practice. This means only 0.3% of the time we meet the Dharma will we encounter the tantric path. If we practice – or worse teach – these so-called tantric sex methods mistaking them for Buddhist tantric practice or presenting them as the tantric path to enlightenment, we are almost guaranteeing we will never meet a qualified tantric path in the future. Destroying sacred things is heavy negative action, but destroying pure tantric teachings is arguably the heaviest possible negative action. We must be careful.

But when we see instructions on secret offerings, action mudras, and hear lines like “skilled in the sixty-four arts of love,” we quite naturally start to wonder. If we check, we generally have two types of experience – unpleasant and pleasant. Normally, we generate aversion to the former and attachment to the latter. As such, we need methods for transforming these two types of experience into the path. We transform unpleasant experiences into the path through the Lojong teachings on transforming adversity into the path, and we transform pleasant experiences into the path through tantra. Sometimes it is explained as transforming attachment into the path, but this is not technically exact. Attachment is a delusion and can never be a stage of the path. To be precise, we transform pleasant experiences into the path.

All tantras are methods for transforming pleasant experiences into the path of great bliss of tantra. The method for doing so is always the same. We generate a pleasant experience, we recognize the pleasant experience comes not from the object of attachment, but from inside our mind. We then dissolve the object giving rise to our pleasant experience into emptiness while retaining the pleasant experience. Then we use the pleasant experience (which has now been purified by dissolving the object we mistakenly thought gave rise to it into emptiness) to meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena. Recall from above that the bliss we generate in tantra is nothing other than inner peace so pleasant, it is blissful. This is quite a different experience than the normal grasping we have when we indulge in objects of attachment. Needless to say, if our attachment to these objects exceeds our pure spiritual motivation for engaging in these practices, they very quickly can degenerate into indulging in our objects of attachment. Most people attending so-called “tantra” classes in popular culture do not have the slightest spiritual motivation. A spiritual motivation, by definition, is motivated primarily by securing happiness in our future lives. Worldly motivations are primarily concerned with securing happiness in this life.

There are four classes of tantra – action, performance, yoga, and Highest Yoga Tantra. These four classes of tantra are differentiated by the type of pleasant experience we transform into the path. Each of these four classes can be engaged in at two levels – inner and outer. With the inner level, we imagine our objects that give rise to pleasant feelings; and with the outer level, we engage the actual objects that normally give rise to pleasant feelings. The imagined objects are called “knowledge women (or men)” to signify they are imagined objects. With action tantra, we behold beautiful knowledge deities, and simply observing them gives rise to a pleasant feeling which we then purify and use to meditate on emptiness. With performance tantra, we imagine the knowledge deities are flirting with us, this gives rise to pleasant feelings, which we then purify and use to meditate on emptiness. With yoga tantra, we imagine the knowledge deities are caressing us; and with Highest Yoga Tantra, we imagine we engage in union with the knowledge deities. Generally speaking, we are unable to train with outer objects purely if we have not first been able to manage training with inner imagined objects purely.

When it comes to engaging with an action mudra, Geshe-la is very clear we are not ready to do so until we have some experience of causing the inner winds to enter, abide, and dissolve into our central channel motivated by bodhichitta, which is a very advanced completion stage realization. Why do we need to engage with an action mudra? Traditionally, we need to do so to fully loosen the knots at our central channel. Once loosened, we no longer need to rely upon one. But the blessings of the uncommon Ganden Oral Lineage instructions are so powerful, we do not need to engage in union with an actual action mudra, but can fully loosen the knots at our central channel with a knowledge deity alone. This is important to know because sometimes people think they should not get ordained because they will one day need to rely upon an action mudra; whereas some others might think it is not a downfall for an ordained person to engage in sexual activities if they are doing so with a bodhichitta motivation as part of their “tantric” practice. Sadly, the latter mistake has happened a number of times in the past.

Suchness offering

I offer you the supreme, ultimate bodhichitta,
A great, exalted wisdom of spontaneous bliss free from obstructions,
Inseparable from the nature of all phenomena, the sphere of freedom from elaboration,
Effortless, and beyond words, thoughts, and expressions.

With the suchness (or thatness) offering, we offer the experience of a direct realization of the Clear Light of Bliss. Our Guru of course never leaves his concentration on great bliss, but our remembering he is always experiencing it may be unstable. When we make the suchness offering, we are not so much imagining we are offering him great bliss, but rather recalling that his mind is never separated from the Clear Light of Bliss. This is an offering in the sense that it delights our Guru that we remember this. Practically speaking, we should recall that ourself as the deity, the pure land, and our Guru are all like waves on the ocean of our Guru’s mind of great bliss, which our own mind is mixed inseparably with. We do not simply imagine he experiences great bliss at his heart, but we feel as if all phenomena, including ourself, are the Clear Light of Bliss appearing as form. What appears is the pure form, but what is experienced is great bliss. This offering creates powerful causes for us to eventually realize the union of the bliss and emptiness of all phenomena.

Happy Tara Day: Tara can fulfill all our pure wishes

This is the seventh installment of the 12-part series sharing my understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.

They will attain greatness here
And advance to the ultimate state of Buddhahood.

Greatness here does not mean high position, but rather the great scope of Lamrim, namely the precious mind of bodhichitta.  Atisha’s Lamrim has three scopes – initial scope, intermediate scope, and great scope.  In the initial scope, we abandon lower rebirth; in the intermediate scope, we abandon samsaric rebirth; and in the great scope, we abandon solitary peace.  In other words, we abandon merely seeking our personal liberation, and instead we seek to become a fully enlightened Buddha with the complete power to lead all living beings to the same state.  The essence of the great scope is bodhichitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the sake of all.  Since Tara is the Lamrim Buddha, we can be certain the greatness we will attain through our reliance upon her is becoming a great scope being.  Once we attain bodhichitta, our eventual enlightenment is guaranteed.  This is why it is said we prostrate to the new moon of bodhichitta, not the full moon of enlightenment because the former is the definite cause of the latter.

Their violent and great poisons,
Both stable and moving,
And even those that they have eaten or drunk,
Will be thoroughly eliminated by remembering her.

They will be able to prevent all suffering
That arises from spirits, diseases or poisons;
And be able to help others in the same way.

There are two types of poison – outer and inner.  Outer poisons, including intoxicants, pollution, and unhealthy food, are extremely destructive.  Every year, smoking kills 7 million people globally, alcohol kills 2.8 million, and drugs kill 750,000; bringing the global death toll from intoxicants to 10.5 million people every year.  Pollution each year kills 4.8 million globally.  Unhealthy food is even more deadly, with 2.8 million dying from obesity, 1.6 million dying from diabetes, and a whopping 17.9 million dying from heart disease, the overwhelming majority of which comes from unhealthy diets.  All of these are outer poisons, with a cumulative death toll of almost 38 million every year.  Outer poisons are the leading cause of death in the world by a significant margin.  But the reality is outer poisons only have the power to kills us due to our inner poisons of delusions that run towards these causes of death as if they were causes of happiness.  Our inner poisons of attachment and ignorance conspire to make us voluntarily consume or create outer poisons, which in turn kill tens of millions every year.  Thus, if we have any hope of actually preventing the suffering that arises from outer poisons, we must abandon their deeper cause – the inner poisons of delusions. 

But ultimately, outer poisons can only kill us in just this one life.  The inner poisons of delusions harm and kill us in all of our future lives without end.  The scale of the destruction is beyond imagination.  Delusions are the cause of all death, since beginningless time.  There will be no end to the slaughter until the inner poisons of delusions are abandoned once and for all.  Relying upon Tara ends the inner poisons, both for ourself and for all other living beings.  She not only blesses our mind to prevent them from ripening, but more definitively she bestows upon us Lamrim realizations which lead us to permanently abandon all delusions.  All delusions, directly or indirectly, find their opponent in the Lamrim.  Our gaining Lamrim realizations is the only lasting way to end samsara’s ongoing devastation.  People rightly dedicate their lives to fighting for justice in the world, but there will be no justice, no peace, no end to suffering until the tyranny of delusions has finally been defeated.  The only way to do that is through gaining Lamrim realizations, and reliance upon Tara supercharges our practice of Lamrim.  

If they recite these seven times, six times a day,
Those who wish for a son will attain a son,
And those who wish for wealth will attain wealth.

Typically at least once a year, most major Kadampa centers will do a 24 hour Tara puja, which involves a session every four hours engaging in this practice reciting the praises seven times.  When the Coronavirus broke out, Geshe-la encouraged us to rely upon Tara, and many centers started doing the 24 hour Tara Puja every month on Tara day.  For those unable to join such practices at a center, Manjushri center livestreams the practice on Tara day every month, so we can join in from anywhere in the world.  If we are unable to do all six sessions, it is perfectly good to do as many as we can.  Some is always better than none.  There is something particularly powerful about engaging in group pujas.  Venerable Tharchin says that every time we engage in a group puja, we create the causes to do the same thing with the same people again in the future.  It is like an insurance policy for refinding our Kadampa Sangha in life after life until we attain our final spiritual goals. 

“Son” here refers to the son or daughter of the Buddhas, namely becoming a bodhisattva.  We can wish to become a son or daughter of the Buddhas ourselves, and we can also wish for multitudes of sons or daughters of the Buddhas arise from our Kadampa centers around the world.  Wealth here refers to the inner wealth of Dharma realizations.  Outer wealth can be helpful if our motivation for using it is virtuous, but it can be dangerous if our motivation is not.  The inner wealth of Dharma realizations, in contrast, is an unalloyed good.  The more we give it away, the more it reproduces itself.  It makes us content in this life and provides for us in all our future lives.  The inner wealth of Dharma realizations is an inexhaustible fountain of good fortune.

All their wishes will be accomplished.
No more obstacles will arise for them,
And those that have already occurred
Will all be completely destroyed.

This refers to Tara’s ability to also function as a Dharma protector.  Dharma protectors arrange all the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  Normally, Dorje Shugden is the principal protector of the Kadam Dharma, but Tara also accomplishes a similar function.  There are two types of obstacle to our Dharma practice – outer and inner.  Ultimately, though, outer obstacles do not exist.  They arise only due to a lack of imagination or experience for how to transform adversity into the path to enlightenment.  But temporarily, outer obstacles can exist due to current limitations in our wisdom.  Tara can prevent outer obstacles from arising (or minimize the extent to which they do, based on our karmic possibilities).  Our job is to then use the space to practice she creates for us to then gain the inner wisdom necessary to transform any adversity into the path.  If we can succeed in doing that, then no more “obstacles” will arise for us because we will not impute anything as an obstacle.  Everything will push us towards enlightenment.  Existing obstacles are destroyed, either through purifying the karma giving rise to their appearance or through gaining the wisdom that knows how to see them all as causes of our enlightenment.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Why are we holding back?

(7.33) In the past, I have accumulated
Countless non-virtuous actions,
Even just one of which can cause me
To experience many aeons of suffering,

(7.34) But, because of my laziness,
I have not purified any of these evils
And so I remain as an abode of infinite suffering.
Why does my heart not crack open with fear?

(7.35) I need to attain the good qualities of a Bodhisattva
For the sake of myself and others,
But it might take me many aeons
To accomplish just one of these.

(7.36) Up to now, I have not familiarized myself
With even a fraction of these good qualities.
How tragic it would be if I were now to waste
This rare and precious rebirth on meaningless pursuits!

Let us make this life one that is different from the rest, different from the ones that we have had until now.  Let us make a heartfelt decision to actually follow now the spiritual path of a Bodhisattva.  Why are we holding back?  What do we have to fear?  We have so many bad seeds in our mind just waiting to ripen and we could lose this opportunity.  We do not know what karma we have created.  Anything can happen.  We could get caught by some doubt, it carries us away and we lose everything.  We do know that we right now have an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the Dharma, virtue, and creating new habits. 

If we check, rather than familiarizing ourself with virtue, we tend to give in to our selfish wishes, don’t we?  Every day, we give in to our selfish wishes. We are often more concerned with fulfilling our selfish wishes than we are with making spiritual progress. Our self-cherishing is an evil spirit, really, such an evil spirit.  We need to check and see what kind of being we are:  are we an ordinary small being, a special small being, a middling being, or a great being. 

I believe Venerable Geshe-la is empowering us to achieve quite extraordinary results, for ourselves and for others. We can accomplish internal results as well as external results. He is empowering us.  He has given us everything, indeed made it easier for us than any other generation that came before us.  The question we have to ask ourselves is what do we do with it?  We have everything we need, except one thing – the aspiration to do it.  If we cultivate the aspiration, we will then have everything and it is guaranteed we will accomplish great results.  Let us not look back later on in our life and ask ourselves, what could we have done? What could I have done in my life?  Rather, let us look back and see all that we did.  Our spiritual guide knows what we can achieve. How sad, how tragic really, it would be if we show up at the end of our life and realized all that we could have done, but didn’t.  Imagine the regret to realize we had the potential to achieve all of these things, but we never generated a strong enough wish or aspiration.  How tragic that would be.

(7.37) Do I have faith and respect in Buddha?
Have I practised his teachings, the Dharma?
Do I rely upon the supreme spiritual friends, the Sangha?
Have I fulfilled the wishes of the poor and needy?

(7.38) Do I give help to those in danger
Or relief to those who are suffering?
No! All I have done is experience the discomforts
Of being in my mother’s womb, and all the subsequent sufferings.

What distinguishes the Hinayana from the Mahayana path is the mind if superior intention.  Superior intention says it is not enough to just wish living beings were free from suffering, we need to assume personal responsibility to free them from their suffering.  There are two fundamental reasons why we need to assume personal responsibility.  First, according to the method teachings, because we have equalized and exchanged self with others, and so there is nothing about our suffering that makes it any more important than their suffering and there is nothing about their suffering that makes it any less important than our own.  Indeed, when we have completed the exchange of self with others, we cherish only others as if they were ourself.  Second, according to the wisdom teachings, since everything is equally empty, all living beings are equally mere projections or creations of our mind.  The beings we see are part of our karma dream – we created them.  Surely we are responsible for everything we create and everything taking place in our own dream.  We should care for all of creation, not because it is God’s creation, but because it is our own.  We should cherish all living beings and assume personal responsibility for their welfare in the same way a good God would.

Happy Protector Day: Protector of the Bodhisattva’s Path

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 6 of a 12-part series aimed at helping us remember our Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden and increase our faith in him on these special days.

And on his head he wears a round and yellow hat.

This symbolizes his ability to help us gain the correct view of emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality.  We can understand how all things are like a dream, and how if we change our actions, we can change our karma and that will change the dream that appears to our mind.  In this way, we can become the architect of our own destiny, and cause this world of suffering to cease and the pure world of the Buddhas to arise.  If ever we have difficulty understanding emptiness, we can recall his hat and request that he bless our mind to be able to gain a correct understanding of emptiness.  We then imagine we receive his blessings and return to our Dharma book (or the teaching we are receiving) and try again.  If we still do not understand, we once again request blessings and repeat the cycle.  We can continue like this for as long as it takes.  Eventually, through the power of his blessings, we will understand. 

His hands hold a sword and a heart of compassion.

This symbolizes his ability to help us engage in Lamrim meditation, in particular the union of the vast and profound path.  The vast path is all of the Lamrim meditations for developing a good heart, leading up to bodhichitta, the wish to lead all beings to enlightenment.  The profound path refers to the wisdom realizing emptiness, that everything is like a dream.  Just as we did with trying to understand emptiness, when we are having difficulty with our Lamrim practice, we can recall this function of Dorje Shugden, request his blessings, receive his blessings and then try again.  Practicing in this way dramatically increases the power of our Lamrim meditation. 

To his followers he shows an expression of delight, but to demons and obstructors he displays a wrathful manner.

This symbolizes Dorje Shugden’s ability to love and care for us while destroying our delusions.  We need to make a distinction between ourselves and our delusions.  Just as a cancer patient is not his cancer, we are not the cancer of our delusions.  Many people fear Dorje Shugden because they know he can be quite wrathful, but this fear only arises because they identify with their delusions.  So when their delusions are challenged, they feel like they are challenged.  Whenever we have a delusion arise strongly in our mind, we can immediately remember Dorje Shugden and request his blessings to be able to happily accept our difficult circumstances understanding that what is bad for our delusions is good for us. 

He is surrounded by a vast, assembled retinue,

Such as Kache Marpo and so forth.

Dorje Shugden is like the general of a vast army of Dharma protectors, each of whom accomplishes a different function.  These can be understood from the explanation of the nature and function of Dorje Shugden in the book Heart Jewel and the Praise to the five lineages of Dorje Shugden explained in the extensive Dorje Shugden sadhana Melodious Drum Victorious in All Directions.  It is customary for large Dharma Centers around the world to practice Melodious Drum on every Protector Day, or at least once a year.  We can do so on our own at any time, including every Protector Day.

The five lineages of Dorje Shugden refer to the five principal deities of his mandala.  Each one corresponds with one of the five Buddha families, the five completely purified aggregates of a Buddha, and the five omniscient wisdoms.  Each of the principal deities is like a specific protector for each one of the five Buddha families, and through relying upon them we will be led to attain the five purified aggregates and the corresponding five omniscient wisdoms.

The principal deity is Dorje Shugden himself, who is the protector of the Akshobhya family, will guide us to completely purify our aggregate of consciousness and attain the wisdom of the Dharmadhatu.  The wisdom of the Dharmadhatu is an aggregate of consciousness completely purified of all our past contaminated karmic potentialities (also known as the two obstructions) and that knows directly and simultaneously all phenomena as manifestations of bliss and emptiness.  Vairochana Shugden is the protector of the Vairochana family.  Through relying upon him, we will completely purify our aggregate of form and gain mirror-like wisdom, which sees directly all phenomena as manifestation of bliss and emptiness.  Pema Shugden is the protector of the Amitabha family.  Through relying upon her, we will purify completely our aggregate of discrimination and attain the wisdom of individual realization, which is able to discriminate all objects individually as manifestations of bliss and emptiness.  Ratna Shugden is the protector of the Ratnasambhava family.  Through relying upon Ratna Shugden, we will purify completely our aggregate of feeling and attain the wisdom of equality, which experiences all phenomena equally as bliss and emptiness.  Karma Shugden is the protector of the Amoghasiddhi family.  Through relying upon Karma Shugden, we will purify completely our aggregate of compositional factors and attain the wisdom of accomplishing activities, which enables us to use a Buddha’s completely purified and developed mental factors as if they were are own.  For a more in depth understanding of the five aggregates, see How to Understand the Mind.

Dorje Shugden is also surrounded by the nine Great Mothers, the eight fully ordained monks, and the ten wrathful deities.  The nine mothers arrange the secret conditions necessary for our Dharma practice.  They are comprised of Lochanna, Mamaki, Benzharahi, and Tara which arrange the earth, water, fire, and air elements respectively for our practice; and the five offering goddesses who transform all of the various forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile objects into conditions for our practice.  The eight fully ordained monks arrange the inner conditions necessary for our practice.  They are the eight main bodhisattvas, including Vajrapani, Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, and Maitreya.  They manifest whatever is needed to tame disciples and protect those with commitments like their only child.  The ten wrathful deities arrange all of the outer conditions for our Dharma practice.  They subjugate the malevolent and guard all directions with various guises.  Kache Marpo is like the commander of the Dharma protector special forces who directs all the oath-bound attendents (spirit kings, wealth gods, nagas, celestial spirits, and so forth) who perform a host of actions to help arrange the mundane conditions for our Dharma practice. 

Light rays from my heart

Instantly invite the wisdom beings
From the sphere of nature
And from all the different palaces where they abide.
They become inseparable from the commitment beings.

We visualize a vast array of mundane and supermundane Dharma protectors filling the whole of space, all working tirelessly under the direction of Dorje Shugden to arrange all the outer, inner, and secret conditions for our Dharma practice.  As Heruka, we then imagine that light rays radiate from our heart and invite the wisdom beings – the actual deities of Dorje Shugden’s mandala – to enter into the commitment beings (those we have visualized). We then strongly believe that all of these protector deities are actually in the space in front of us and filling the universe accomplishing their special function.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Is there something you want more than enlightenment?

Now we can look at the four powers that help us to increase our joyful effort:

(7.31) The four powers that assist us in working for the benefit of others
Are the powers of aspiration, self-confidence, joy, and rejection.
The power of aspiration is generated by contemplating the benefits of virtuous actions
And developing fear of the cycle of suffering.

(7.32) Having overcome all three types of laziness,
I should continuously strive to increase my effort
Through aspiration, self-confidence, joy, and rejection,
And through the force of familiarity and mental suppleness.

We will look at each of these four powers in turn now, but first we need to return to a very basic fundamental:  why am I here in the Kadampa tradition?  Why do I practice?  If we do not have a good answer to this question, then it is guaranteed we will not be able to sustain our effort and make it all the way.  We are desire realm beings, which means we have no choice but to work for whatever we want.  This is unchangeable for as long as we are in the desire realm.  Even if we intellectually know better, if in our heart we want something, that is what we will work for.  The trick, therefore, is to change what we desire.  We need to want to make spiritual progress more than we want to indulge our worldly concerns.

What is a good answer to this question of why am I here?  First, we should look at what are not good answers.  It is not a good answer to say, “I don’t know why.”  If we do not know why, when the karma for us being here exhausts itself we will be blown to the next place.  It is also not a good answer to say, “because I know I should be.”  I “should” be is a thought of the head, and one typically motivated by guilt.  When our “shoulds” come in conflict with our samsaric wishes in the heart, coming to class, doing our practice, etc., will be torture, and eventually we will not come anymore and we will stop practicing.  It is also not a good answer to say, “because I want others to think good of me.”  If this is our answer, then our motivation will be worldly, and even if we “do” a lot of Dharma actions, they won’t be spiritual actions.  There is only one good answer:  Because “I want to be.  I need this.”  We need to realize that we have freedom and nobody is putting any pressure on us.  I shouldn’t do our practice, go to the center, attend festivals, etc., for any other reason than we want to.  We realize we need it.  If we don’t have this reason in our heart, we need to engage in sincere lamrim practice until our desires change.  Lamrim functions to change our desires into spiritual ones.  With spiritual desires, everything else will naturally fall into place.

If I asked you “do you want to attain enlightenment,” I am sure everyone reading this would say yes.  But that is not the right question.  The right question is, “is there something you want more than enlightenment?”  If there is, I guarantee you that you won’t make it all the way.  If there is not something you want more than enlightenment, I guarantee that you will make it.

Some teachers or Dharma administrators mistakenly think, “people are lazy, so we need to oblige them to do things to get them to do them.  Otherwise, they will do nothing (or less).  We are doing them a favor by making things obligatory.”  My answer to them is this:  The middle way between freedom and laziness is personal responsibility while being fully informed of our situation.  It is up to us to attain enlightenment.  We need to realize that this is something we need to do from our own side.  We can not be convinced, pressured or manipulated into doing traveling the path to enlightenment.  If we do not enlighten yourself, it won’t happen.  Nobody can do it for us.  We need to take personal responsibility for our own enlightenment.   Geshe-la’s teachings explain to us our samsaric situation and they explain to us how all the various Dharma tools work.  But it is up to us to pick them up and decide to use them. 

Geshe-la understands clearly that we must improve our motivation. We need to change now, seriously change our intention.  We need to familiarize ourselves with Buddhist intention, a beneficial intention, a good heart.  A good intention will help us to take responsibility, full responsibility, and enjoy that responsibility.  We will enjoy engaging in our practices because we are doing them for heartfelt spiritual reasons.  We will enjoy our work in developing the Center and  we will enjoy our work helping other people, especially our work helping other people to meet and practice Buddhadharma.

It seems without that beneficial intention and good heart, it is not going to work for us.  Our enjoyment and enthusiasm will decrease until finally there is none. We start to not look forward to going to the center and doing our practice.  We start to see these things as work, as a job.  We start living up to other people’s wishes, instead of our own.  This eventually collapses and we come to resent these other people.  We can free ourselves from this danger by trying to improve our motivation.  We need to seriously try to change our intention from a selfish one to a beneficial one.