Happy Tara Day: How to increase the power of our mantra recitation

This is the 11th installment of the 12-part series sharing my understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.

Mantra recitation

OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SÖHA   (21x, 100x, etc.)

The meaning of this mantra is: with ‘OM’ we are calling Arya Tara, ‘TARE’ means permanent liberation from the suffering of lower rebirth, ‘TUTTARE’ means permanent liberation from samsaric rebirth, ‘TURE’ means the great liberation of full enlightenment, and ‘SÖHA’ means please bestow. Together the meaning is: ‘O Arya Tara, please bestow upon us permanent liberation from the suffering of lower rebirth, permanent liberation from the suffering of samsaric rebirth, and the great liberation of full enlightenment.

The power of our mantra recitation depends upon four key factors: the degree of our faith, the purity of our motivation, the single-pointedness of our concentration, the depth of our wisdom.  The stronger we make these four factors, the more powerful will be our mantra recitation.  This is true for all mantra recitation.  These will now be explained in turn.

The degree of our faith:  Faith is to Dharma practice like electricity is to our electronic devices.  Without power we say our devices “are dead.”  The same is true for our spiritual practices.  But it is not like an on/off switch, but rather more like a volume knob, where the more we turn it up, the more powerfully the Dharma will resonate in our mind.  As discussed at the beginning of the 21 homages, there are three types of faith:  believing faith, admiring faith, and wishing faith.  Believing faith believes in the good qualities, admiring faith develops a sense of wonder understanding their meaning, and wishing faith wishes to acquire these good qualities for ourselves.  When we recite the 21 homages, we are building up the strength of our faith.  We should carry it with us into our mantra recitation.  The mantra is the condensation of the 21 homages.  By reciting the mantra with faith, we accomplish the same function as reciting the 21 homages.  We should believe in Tara’s amazing good qualities, develop a feeling of wonder and amazement that she is in our presence, and then wish to acquire all of her good qualities ourselves. 

To increase our faith in the mantra of Tara, we need to consider its primary function.  As Geshe-la explains in the sadhana, the primary function of Tara’s mantra is to protect us from lower rebirth, rebirth in samsara, and to bestow full enlightenment.  In other words, her mantra functions to bestow upon us the realizations of Lamrim.  This is why she is called the Lamrim Buddha.  For this function to move our mind, we must first understand our samsaric situation:  we are barreling towards lower rebirth, where we will become trapped experiencing unimaginable suffering for countless aeons.  This is our present destiny, our inevitable fate if we do not change course.  It is not enough for us to just avoid lower rebirth, because even if we attain upper rebirth, we risk falling back down into the lower realms; and even while born in the upper realms, we continue to experience problems like waves of the ocean.  And it is not enough for just ourselves to escape from samsara, but all our kind mothers are likewise drowning in its fearful ocean, and if we do not rescue them, they will continue to suffer without end.  As it says in the Lord of all Lineages Prayer, “if we give no thought to their pitiful suffering, we are like a mean and heartless child.” 

The purity of our motivation:  Our motivation for mantra recitation determines the final karmic effect of our recitation.  According to the Lamrim, living beings can be divided according to the scope of our motivation.  Specifically, it explains there are three types of being:  beings of initial scope, beings of intermediate scope, and beings of great scope.  Being of initial scope are of two types – those who wish only for happiness in this present life and those who wish to avoid lower rebirth in their future lives.  Beings of intermediate scope wish to not only avoid all lower rebirth, but to permanently free themselves from any type of samsaric rebirth.  Samsaric rebirth occurs when we uncontrolledly impute our I onto the contaminated bodies and minds of the six realms of samsara – hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, demi-gods, or gods.  Beings of great scope are not satisfied to merely attain their own liberation from samsara, but they wish to gain the ability to gradually lead each and every living being to the ultimate state of full enlightenment.  Any virtuous action can be performed with any of these motivations. Generally speaking, we say that our motivation becomes “pure” if we engage in the action for the sake of our own or others future lives.  Somebody whose primary motivation is to attain happiness in this life is considered a “worldly” being, and those who are looking to attain happiness in their own or others future lives are considered “spiritual” beings.  This does not mean spiritual beings do not also wish to be happy in this life, rather they wish for happiness in this life AND all of their future lives.  In this way, as we expand the scope of our motivation, we subsume the lower levels of motivation with our higher level of motivation.  There is no contradiction between being entirely dedicated to the enlightenment of all and being happy in this life. 

The teachings on karma explain it is primarily the scope of our motivation that determines the type of karma we create.  If we recite the mantra with a motivation of initial scope, the karmic effect of our recitation will be to avoid lower rebirth in our future lives; if we recite the mantra with a motivation of intermediate scope (otherwise known as renunciation), the karmic effect of our recitation will be to escape from samsara; and if we recite the mantra with a great scope motivation (otherwise known as bodhichitta), the karmic effect of our recitation will be not only our own full enlightenment, but the full enlightenment of all.  This does not mean with one recitation, we will attain enlightenment.  Rather, it means the karma we create will continue to function until the final goal is attained.  It is like a locomotive gradually building up momentum – the more power we add, the more momentum is built up moving it down the tracks.  Great scope karma keeps powering us along the path until its final goal is realized.  As we recite the mantra, we can request blessings that Tara expand the scope of our motivation for reciting her mantra, thus greatly increasing the power of our recitations.

The single-pointedness of our concentration:  The definition of meditation is the mixing of our mind with virtue.  The more we mix our mind with virtue, the more we create the causes for future inner peace.  Inner peace is the inner cause of happiness – when our mind is peaceful, we are happy, regardless of our external circumstance.  The more thoroughly we mix our mind with virtue, the more peaceful our mind will become.  There are three levels at which we can mix our mind with virtue:  listening, contemplating, and meditating.  Venerable Tharchin explains when we listen to or read the Dharma, we come to understand a spiritual perspective; when we contemplate the Dharma, we transform our own perspective into a spiritual perspective; and when we meditate on the Dharma, we become ourselves a spiritual being.  In other words, whatever we mix our mind with, we become.  Applied to the practice of mantra recitation, when we read about Tara’s mantra, we can come to understand that it functions to bestow upon us Lamrim meditation.  When we recite the mantra understanding its meaning, strongly believing we are requesting her to bestow these realizations on our mind, we are reciting while contemplating.  When we understand by mixing our mind with the mantra we are mixing our mind directly with Tara’s Lamrim realizations so that her realizations become our own, we are reciting while meditating. 

It is important that we try recite the mantra with single-pointed concentration.  Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that according to Sutra there are three types of faults to our concentration:  mental wandering, mental excitement, and mental sinking.  Mental wandering is when our mind wanders to some object of Dharma other than the mantra.  While still virtuous, this other object is not our object of meditation.  Mental excitement is when our mind moves towards some object of attachment – typically any object that is not our mantra and not some other object of Dharma.  Mental sinking is when our mind sinks into a degree of non-awareness of anything, an extreme form of which is falling asleep.  Concentration free for mental wandering, excitement, and sinking is calm, collected, relaxed, and absorbed into our object of meditation – in this case the mantra. 

In Sutra, we concentrate with our gross mind, in Tantra we learn how to concentrate with our subtle and very subtle minds.  The key to understanding how is to understand the relationship between our mind and our inner energy winds.  Our inner energy winds are like the deep currents of our mind that flow through our inner channels.  The channels of our subtle body are like the scaffolding of our mind – the structure which holds it all up and together.  Our channels and winds are not physical phenomena that can be detected with x-rays or microscopes, but are rather mental phenomena that are experienced energetically primarily in the aggregate of feeling.  Wherever we direct our mind, our winds follow.  Since our mind is scattered around countless object of samsara, our winds scatter everywhere outside of our central channel.  If the object of our mind is contaminated, the wind it is mounted on also becomes contaminated.  Conversely, if our winds are pure, the minds mounted upon them also become pure.  There are two ways to purify our winds.  The first is to bring them within our central channel.  Our central channel is like a purifying bath for our winds.  As our contaminated winds cease, our contaminated minds – including all of our delusions – cease as well.  The second way is to mix our mind with pure objects.  If the object of our mind is pure, then it functions to purify the wind that is its mount.  Pure objects are those that exist outside of samsara – such as Buddhas and motivations that wish to get ourself or others outside of samsara. 

Mantras are, by nature, the purified wind of the Buddha.  When we recite Tara’s mantra, we mix our mind with her pure winds.  A Buddha’s mantra is like a subtle emanation of the Buddha.  Their pure winds appear in the aspect of their mantra.  When we recite the mantra, we mix their pure winds with our own, like water mixing with water.  In effect, their pure winds become our own.  The minds mounted on Tara’s pure winds are the Lamrim realizations of the initial, intermediate, and great scope.  By bringing her pure winds into our mind, mixing them with our own, the realizations of Lamrim will naturally arise in our mind.  Gathering mantra into our winds and our winds into mantra is how we concentrate on mantra recitation according to highest yoga tantra.  The highest form of mantra recitation is called “vajra recitation.”  Geshe-la explains in Tantric Grounds and Paths and Clear Light of Bliss that with vajra recitation we don’t “recite” the mantra with our gross mind, rather we “hear” it emerge within our mind, recognizing it as Tara infusing her pure winds into our very subtle mind. 

The depth of our wisdom:  The goal of mantra recitation is to mix our winds with Tara’s pure winds.  The primary obstacle to being able to do so is grasping at the inherent existence of her, her mantra, our winds, and ourself.  We grasp at these things as being four distinct things, completely separate from one another, like there is some chasm between them and they cannot interact.  This grasping prevents us from seeing Tara as inseparable from her mantra, her mantra as mixed with our winds, and all of this as our own.  When we let go of this grasping, we experience her mantra as her pure winds mixed inseparably from our own, arising within our mind.  The duality between her mantra and our pure winds dissolve completely, and her vajra speech becomes our own.  Single pointed concentration explained above brings our mind to the mantra recitation, realizing the emptiness of Tara, her mantra, our winds, and ourself is how we mix completely with her mantra.  When our absorption into mantra recitation is complete, it will feel as if we are her mantra being recited, accomplishing the function of bestowing Lamrim realizations.  It is like the whole world is absorbed into or, more deeply, appears as her mantra.

These four key factors for powerful mantra recitation are equally true for all mantras – Vajrayogini, Heruka, Dorje Shugden, and so forth.  When we engage in close retreats, while our primary practice is engaging in mantra recitation, most of our inner work is building up the strength of these four factors.

Happy International Temple’s Day: Building the Embassies of the Pure Land in this World

The first Saturday of every November is International Temples Day where we celebrate the creation and maintenance of Kadampa temples around the world.  On this day we principally try to recall why temples matter.  On this basis, we become inspired to do what we can to become part of the International Temple’s Project – and don’t worry, there are many other ways we can help besides just donating money.

What is the International Temples Project?

One of the central legacies of Geshe-la in this world is the International Temples Project.  Launched in the mid-1990s, it is Geshe-la’s vision for there to eventually be a qualified Kadampa temple in every major city of the world.  Geshe-la’s wish is for the Kadam Dharma to pervade everywhere, and these temples are like iron frames upon which buildings are built.  They provide the basic structure sustaining and supporting the development of Kadam Dharma in the minds of the beings of this world.

The very first temple was opened in 1997 at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Center in Ulverston, England.  It is the mother center of the NKT, and this temple is the mother temple for all the others.  Later, another temple was opened in Glen Spey, New York.  I was fortunate enough to be at the opening of both temples.  Since then, temples have sprung up in Brazil, Arizona, Spain, and more are planned until eventually, they will be everywhere.

Gen Losang once told me, “temples are like Embassies of the Pure Land in this world, and our Dharma teachers are like the Ambassadors of all the Buddhas.”  An Embassy is like a portal through which another country can express its culture and share its experience in a foreign land.  The goal is to improve relations between the two countries and their peoples.  By coming into contact with temples, the beings of this world are introduced to the pure worlds of the Buddhas.  Through temples, the wisdom of all the Buddhas is brought into this world.  Those who are interested can enter into these spiritual Embassies and be transported to new worlds.

Geshe-la explained that each temple is by nature Heruka’s celestial mansion in this world.  One of our refuge commitments is to regard any statue of a Buddha as an actual Buddha.  We are supposed to see past the craftmanship, no matter how beautiful it may be, and with our eyes of faith see a living Buddha.  In exactly the same way, when we see or enter into a temple, we should recognize it as an in essence Heruka’s celestial palace in this world, where we are transported to the pure land, can receive the blessings of all the Buddhas, and can learn all of the stages of the path.  Without a portal, we cannot enter.  Temples are an outer portal that leads us to the inner portal to lands of eternal peace.

Geshe-la has said that our Kadampa temples are our places of pilgrimage.  We are not always able to make it to every Kadampa festival or Dharma celebration, but we should make an effort to go at least once in our life.  One of the commitments of Muslims is to make a pilgrimage to the Haaj at least once in their lifetime.  Personally, I think this would also make a wonderful commitment for all Kadampas.  One cannot help but be moved by the experience, and karmically speaking the experience quite literally stays with us our whole life.

Geshe-la explains that the karma we create by helping a Dharma center continues to accumulate for as long as that center exists, and it continues to expand as the center expands.  In the early days, there was no center in Los Angeles, just a small, rented house in Santa Barbara.  There was a woman who lived in the center named Lea, who helped keep the center afloat financially with her rent payments and who dedicated her time to organize classes and other center activities.  In the beginning, it was basically just her, and without her, the center would have never gotten off the ground.  Later, a branch was opened in Los Angeles, which grew and grew until eventually now there is a vibrant spiritual community.  Eventually, I have no doubt, there will be a Manjushri-style temple there.  I don’t know whatever happened to Lea, she was likely just an emanation of Tara sent to help, but the karma she accumulated from that initial help continues to multiply today.  The temples we build are built to last.  There are churches in Rome that are over a thousand years old.  We are at the very beginning of the International Temples Project, and the help we provide now will be like Lea’s, and the karma we accumulate will serve us in all our future lives.

Why do temples matter?

Everyone appreciates a beautiful temple, even non-religious people.  All over the world, tourists flock to churches, temples, mosques, and other sites of worship.  They are living testaments to the faith of the practitioners who built them and serve as a point of focus for practitioners.  Normally we might think it is a sign of degeneration that these places of worship become tourist attractions, but Geshe-la explains this is one of their greatest advantages.  Why?  Every time we see a Buddha image, it creates a non-contaminated karmic potentiality on our mind which can never be destroyed and will eventually become a seed of our future enlightenment.  Angulamala had killed hundreds of people and when he went to ordain, seers said he could not because they could find no virtue on his mind.  Buddha, however, looked into his mind and saw that in a previous life he was a fly who landed on some dung next to a stupa (a representation of Buddha’s mind).  This seed could not be destroyed, even by all his evil deeds, and later became the foundation for his spiritual life.  When busloads of children and tourists come and visit our temples, they behold hundreds of images of Buddhas, each time planting the seeds of their future enlightenment on their minds. 

Geshe-la once famously asked who is more important, those who come to the center and stay or those who come to the center and leave?  If we look at how centers are organized, it seems our implicit answer is those who come and stay.  But Geshe-la said it was those who come and leave who are more important because they are more numerous.  Some practitioners might think they don’t need temples and they wonder why so much emphasis is placed on creating them, but this is because they are thinking primarily about their own needs and not the larger function temples serve in the world.

Kadam Lucy said the most important thing people discover when they come to a temple or Dharma center is not the building, but the people.  Everyone is looking for happiness but rarely do we find genuinely happy people.  If when people come to visit our Dharma centers they find happy people, others will naturally want to stay and find out what the secret to their happiness is.  Everyone is looking for unconditional love and lightness, and we can provide that.  Seen in this way, we – the practitioners of this tradition – are equally part of the Temple’s project simply through the force of our example and our welcoming attitude.  The essence of the Kadampa Way of life is “everybody welcome.”  This does not just mean nobody is excluded, it means everyone is made to feel welcome as if they are coming home.

My teacher in Paris said when we work to flourish the Dharma, we need to avoid the extremes of external and of internal flourishing.  The external extreme is when we focus exclusively on external developments, like buildings, temples, ritual objects, and other external manifestations of being a “Dharma practitioner.”  The internal extreme is when we completely neglect these things and only focus on gaining inner realizations, thinking the external manifestations are unnecessary or even anti-spiritual.

Venerable Tharchin said the real temple is the inner realizations and interpersonal connections of the practitioners who practice there.  While of course, outer temples are important, inner temples are their main cause.  He explains that since our minds are not separate from others, our inner realizations are like a beacon of light in the darkness of the minds of the beings of our community.  All living things are naturally drawn towards the light, and the more realizations we gain and the closer the karmic connections we create with our fellow sangha, the brighter our light shines.  The spiritual light in each one of us is like a single candle flame, but when we put our lights together, it creates a blazing spiritual sun in our communities.  Venerable Tharchin explains that when the inner temple is right, the outer temple will spontaneously appear, almost like magic.

Venerable Tharchin also explains that every time we do a spiritual practice with others we create the causes to do the same spiritual practice with the same people again in the future.  When we do a puja in a temple, for example, we create not only karmic connections with the Buddha of the given practice, but we create karma with all of the other practitioners engaging in the practice with us.  This karma will ripen in the future in the form of us reuniting with these same people engaging in the same practice.  It is in Temples that our international Kadampa family gathers together as a global sangha to engage in teachings and practices together.  Without the temples, we could not gather together and create this karma.  Seen in this way, temples are also like an insurance policy for finding the Dharma and our spiritual family again and again in all our future lives. 

How Can We Celebrate International Temples Day?

The main way we celebrate this day is by contemplating why temples are so important to generate an appreciation for them.  Sometimes we might hold ourselves back from doing so because we are afraid if we do so, we might then have to give some of our money, and we are extremely reluctant to do that.  We wonder whether all of this talk about temples and the International Temples Project is really just a clever scam to get our money!

There are many ways we can contribute to the flourishing of Kadampa temples in this world without having to part with any of our money.  Many people volunteer their lives and their skills to building temples.  They travel the world offering their labor and their time to help build the temples the rest of us enjoy.  How wonderful it would be to let go of our worldly concerns and live the life of an international temple builder!  But even if that is not possible for us, we might be able to offer a Saturday afternoon using whatever skills – be they building skills or office skills – we might have to help advance the project.

All of us can rejoice in those who can donate their money or their time to the project.  Rejoicing costs us nothing, but in doing so we create very powerful karma similar to that of those who are actually doing it.  This karma will ripen in many ways.  The ripened effect will be to be reborn either as a temple benefactor or a temple builder.  The environmental effect will be to have temples appear in our lives in all our future lives.  The effect similar to the cause will be to have the means in the future to be able to more easily give to the project.  And the tendency similar to the cause will be to always appreciate the good qualities of Kadampa temples and those who make them happen.

We can additionally dedicate the merit we accumulate from our spiritual practices to the realization of Geshe-la’s vision for a Kadampa temple to appear in every major city of this world.  One of the uncommon characteristics of pure wishes is the karma we dedicate towards them can never be destroyed and never ceases to work until our pure wish is fulfilled.  This does not mean one prayer alone is enough, but each dedication we make adds energy towards the realization of this wish, and this energy can never be destroyed.  When enough energy has been created, the result will spontaneously arise.  All of us engage in spiritual practices every day, but how often do we decide to dedicate that merit to the fulfillment of Geshe-la’s vision for international temples?  At a minimum, International Temple Day gives us an opportunity to make such dedications; and even better, to decide to start making such dedications every day.

Perhaps our city doesn’t yet have a temple.  We might even become jealous of those cities that do have one or think we can’t advance in our practice unless we too have a temple, transforming them from an object of refuge into an object of attachment.  Or perhaps we think our city is far away from having a temple because our Sangha is so small, so why should we help support the development of temples somewhere else where we won’t receive any benefit from it ourselves?  None of us would admit to having any of these minds, but they do arise and they are as ridiculous as they sound.  So what should we do?  First, we can recall that by helping others have temples, we create the causes for ourselves to have one.  That’s how karma works.  Second, we can imagine that, even though our center might currently be a classroom we rent out one night a week in a local massage school, our actual center is Heruka’s celestial palace, a fully qualified temple.  While our physical eyes might see plastic chairs in a room, our eyes of faith can imagine we have gone to the pure land and are receiving teachings in a temple.  This imagination is very similar to generation stage of highest yoga tantra and creates the causes for our correct imagination to eventually become a reality.

One of the best ways we can contribute to the International Temples Project is to build within ourselves the inner temple of realizations Venerable Tharchin refers to.  We can become the kind-hearted happy Kadampa who makes everyone feel welcome that Kadam Lucy extols.  We can build close karmic connections with our Sangha friends so we can unite our candles together into a blazing spiritual sun.  We can make a point of attending classes and putting our guru’s teachings we have received in temples or centers into practice.  All of these actions create the deep substantial causes for temples to appear in this world.  Without them, we fall into the extreme of the external flourishing of Dharma. 

And yes, some of us can donate money. 

The reality is temples cannot appear in this world without financial resources.  It is not a scam or a cult, this is simply a fact about how the world works.  Yes, the Dharma should be made freely available to all, but how is that to happen if nobody gives to them?  There is a very special offering called a torma offering.  The meaning of a torma offering is we are mentally willing to give everything we have for the sake of Dharma realizations because we recognize them as that valuable.  Geshe-la’s books are filled with examples of practitioners willing to cut off their flesh or undergo incredible hardship for the sake of gaining access to teachings.  He tells us these stories not to encourage us to do the same but to realize that it would be worth it even if we had to do so.  Such practitioners, from their own side, value the Dharma more than they do their material belongings, including their own bodies. 

Perhaps we don’t have any money now to give.  No problem, we can give in all the other ways described above, or at a minimum, we can rejoice in those who do have such ability.  We can also think about including the International Temples Project in our last will and testament so that when we die, whatever resources we have accumulated go towards spiritual purposes.  In Joyful Path, Geshe-la tells the story of somebody who was extremely attached to their money when they died and was later reborn as a snake inside their money jar.  He encourages us to give everything away before we die so that we are not attached to anything.  Of course, we need to provide for our families, but we can also use some resources we have for spiritual purposes.  Universities around the world accumulate vast endowments from such giving, which continues to support opportunities for students for generations to come.  Why can we not do the same?  Similarly, if our parents or relatives pass away, instead of keeping the money for ourselves, we can give some or all of it away to the Temples’ Project.  Why keep it for ourselves when we can create so much better karma by giving it away?  Such giving also helps our deceased relative because they get a fraction of the good karma of our giving away their money to spiritual causes.

My teacher in Paris once said, “We should give until it hurts.”  Wow!  What a statement.  While it is perhaps unskillful to say, she makes a valid point.  It is easy to give away things we don’t need or don’t use anymore, but it cuts into our self-cherishing to give more than that.  What is bad for our self-cherishing is good for us.  Geshe-la explains in the teachings on emptiness that an effective way to identify the self that we normally see is to think of it in a situation where it is particularly manifest, such as imagining we are standing on a high precipice.  At such times, we clearly see our I.  In the same way, sometimes we are forced to confront our demon of self-cherishing straight in the face, and others asking for donations is usually one of the most manifest examples.  Our self-cherishing roars in protest and comes up with a thousand reasons why we shouldn’t give or feels like we are being spiritually manipulated out of our money, so we reject doing so as a matter of principle. 

But are we being manipulated here?  Is that the motivation and goal?  Or are we merely being given an opportunity to accumulate amazing merit while benefiting countless future generations?  Is our resistance to giving a matter of principle, or is it our self-cherishing rationalizing our miserliness?  We need to be honest with ourselves.  We talk all the time about the evils of our self-cherishing mind, but when we are presented with an opportunity to go against its wishes, how do we feel about that?  Venerable Tharchin says it is better to give one penny a day for 100 days than $1 on one day.  Why?  Because the point is not the money, it is training in the mind of giving.  There is something we can give, so why not do so?  If we can’t part with our money, then no problem, there are still so many other things we can do that cost us nothing.  We shouldn’t feel guilty or beat ourselves up for not being able to give money, it is just where we are at.  No problem.  We can recognize that and do what we can.  When we do, we will find helping in greater and greater ways becomes easier over time. 

In any case, we can meditate on the many good qualities of international temples and rejoice in their arising in this world.  This is the essence of International Temples Day.  The rest flows naturally from this.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to practice taking and giving

(8.160) I am happy but others are sad;
I have a high position but others are lowly;
I benefit myself but not others –
Why am I not jealous of myself?

(8.161) I must give my happiness to others
And take their suffering upon myself instead.

This is one of the many references to the practice of taking and giving.  It is a natural extension of our exchanging self with others. We would rather it be us who suffers than them.  We would rather that they be happy rather than we ourselves. If others are suffering, then we take it from them, and if we are experiencing any happiness, then we give it to others.

How do we take the suffering of others? How do we give our happiness to others?  In exactly the way it is described in the Meditation Handbook, or as it is explained in Universal Compassion for how to mount taking and giving upon the breath during our daily activities.  Due to our identifying so strongly with others’ suffering and happiness of course we want to relieve them from suffering and give them whatever happiness we have.  

We can also do so practically.  We need to ask ourselves how practically can we give our happiness to others?  How practically can we take away others suffering?  There are countless examples that come up in our daily life:  for example, we can give to others our portion of cake, we can take upon ourself the hardest tasks of work, we can let others go first in line, we can carry their groceries for them, etc., etc., etc.  If we look for opportunities, we will find them.  By training in these small practical examples throughout our day and life, it will eventually become habit for us to do so.

Once again, training in exchanging self with others will greatly accelerate our motivation to engage in this practice.  What do our delusions normally want?  They want the best for ourself and they want to pass all burdens onto others.  If we impute “self” onto others and “others” onto ourself, then we train in being as “selfish” as possible.  We will naturally take anything good from “others” and give it to our “self.”  This swap of imputation of self and others completely disorients our self-cherishing mind.  It’s a way of tricking our self-cherishing into destroying itself.

I should constantly examine my behaviour for faults
By asking, “Why am I acting in this way?”

Why do we act the way we do?  We act out of habit. We have a lot of habits. Many of our actions are habitual.  The question is are they habits arisen from self-cherishing, or are they habits arisen from cherishing others.  Most of our habits are coming from self-centeredness, aren’t they?  We do not possess many virtuous habits — thoughts, speaking, and so forth.  We are training in virtue because it does not come naturally, we have to apply effort.  It has not become habitual yet.  But delusions come effortlessly.  They are habitual.  It is important that we constantly examine our behavior, as Shantideva suggests, so that we become aware of how we are acting.  Then, we can change.  Through applying enough effort, cherishing others will eventually become our habit.  Gen-la Losang said what is natural is simply what is familiar.  By changing our habits to be virtuous, cherishing others will become natural for us.  Then, enlightenment will come easily and quickly.    

Is it enough to just have our actions not harm others?  Perhaps we should ask ourself with respect to our actions, “do they help anyone?” There is a difference, isn’t there?  Our current behavior may not harm anyone, but does it help anyone?  Surely we have to reach a point where all of our actions are directly or indirectly helping others.  

Is it that hard to examine our own behavior?  We do it all the time with respect to other’s behavior, which has no value. Once again, exchanging self with others comes to the rescue.  If we impute “others” onto ourself, then we can use our natural ability to examine the behavior of “others” to become aware of our own faults.

Happy Protector Day: Requesting the accomplishment of our wishes

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 10 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 reason why we make offerings and requests, which was explained in the previous two posts, is to accumulate a special merit which will ripen in the form of Dorje Shugden being able to respond to our requests.  In the next part of the Sadhana, we actually make specific requests and prayers to Dorje Shugden.  These prayers reveal what Dorje Shugden can accomplish for us through our faithful reliance.

Whenever your followers with commitments
Request any of the four actions,
Swiftly, incisively, and without delay, you show signs for all to see;
So please accomplish the actions that I now request of you.

The first line indicates how if we choose to keep the heart commitment of Dorje Shugden (which was explained in a previous post) we become uniquely qualified to be able to make requests to Dorje Shugden to accomplish the specific actions we request of him, not just that he arrange things in general.  This is like a special qualification that gives us special power.  By requesting that Dorje Shugden causes the Dharma to flourish, we create the karma for it to flourish within our own mind.  In the context of the sadhana, what we are requesting of him is what follows in the sadhana, but outside of the sadhana, we can request him anything.

The stainless sun of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition
Shines throughout the sky of samsara and nirvana,
Eliminating the darkness of inferior and wrong paths;
Please cause its light to spread and bring good fortune to all living beings.

Path in a Dharma context refers to believing a thought in our mind.  If we believe our delusions to be true, we are following an inferior path.  If we believe our wisdom to be true, we are following a correct path.

May the glorious Gurus who uphold this tradition
Have indestructible lives, as stable as the supreme victory banner;
May they send down a rain of deeds fulfilling the wishes of disciples,
So that Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine will flourish.

Through increasing the study, practice, pure discipline, and harmony
Of the communities who uphold the stainless doctrine of Buddha,
And who keep moral discipline with pure minds,
Please cause the Gedän tradition to increase like a waxing moon.

There are two methods for growing a Dharma center, external and internal. The external methods include doing good publicity making the center known, working for the center in the running of the center, improving the facilities, etc.  Internally, a Dharma center is actually the collection of spiritual realizations of its practitioners.  If the practitioners have no realizations, it is a small center, even if it has hundreds or thousands of members and many external temples.  If the practitioners have rich realizations, it is a large center, even if there are only a few practitioners and the external conditions are limited.

Venerable Tharchin explains the way to grow a center is for the practitioners of that center to gain authentic spiritual realizations and then form karmic bonds between them.  We are given the problems of the community we serve.  We then use the Dharma to solve these problems.  Then, Dorje Shugden arranges for people who have these problems to come to the center.  He does not do it beforehand because he doesn’t want people to come to a center and not find the answers they are looking for.  So he waits until we gain experience and that we have something useful to share.  In particular, we can gain such realizations if people in Dharma centers study, practice and maintain pure discipline and harmony. 

Through your actions please fulfil the essential wishes
Of all practitioners who uphold the victory banner
Of practising single-pointedly the stages of the paths of Sutra and Tantra,
The essence of all the teachings they have heard.

Here we make special requests that whenever any practitioner makes requests to Dorje Shugden that he respond.  In this way, we put our karma behind it, and we each help one another in our requests.

Beings throughout this great earth are engaged in different actions
Of Dharma, non-Dharma, happiness, suffering, cause and effect;
Through your skilful deeds of preventing and nurturing,
Please lead all beings into the good path to ultimate happiness.

This is an important verse.  Dorje Shugden has the ability to transform any action or any experience into a cause of enlightenment.  For example, if somebody falls ill with cancer, we can request that it become a powerful cause of his enlightenment.  Or if our child starts using drugs, etc., we can request that this become a cause of their enlightenment.  Through this, Dorje Shugden will bless their minds where the condition will function as a cause of enlightenment.  It may not be immediately obvious how, but over the years with our sincere requests, it will definitely happen.  The feeling is that he gradually shepherds all the beings within the protection circle onto and along the path to enlightenment.  It will take time, but through our persistent and faithful requests, eventually everyone without exception will be lead along the path to enlightenment.  Again, note that this doesn’t mean that they are all brought to the Kadampa path, though certainly some will.  We are happy for them to be brought to any authentic path.

In particular, please destroy the obstacles and unfavourable conditions
Of myself and other practitioners.
Increase our lives, our merit, and our resources,
And gather all things animate and inanimate to be freely enjoyed.

Again, we make specific requests for practitioners, understanding their importance.

Please be with me always like the shadow of my body,
And care for me always like a friend,
By accomplishing swiftly whatever I wish for,
And whatever I ask of you.

If you want to receive the protection of Dorje Shugden like a true spiritual friend, the best way to do so is to become a true spiritual friend for others.  This creates the karma necessary for you to receive his protection in this way. The same is true for receiving his protection like a spiritual father.  Become a spiritual father (or mother) for others.  Take responsibility for others in your life, do not just do the minimum.  We should take worldly responsibility and spiritual responsibility for others. 

Please perform immediately, without delaying for a year, or even for a month,
Appropriate actions to eliminate all obstacles
Caused by misguided beings with harmful minds who try to destroy Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine,
And especially by those who try to harm practitioners.

It is possible that some people may oppose our practice of Dharma.  Dorje Shugden can dispel all such obstacles through external and internal blessings. He can do this by blessing our mind to see the other person’s ‘interference’ as perfect for our practice.  Then it is no longer an obstacle. He can also do this by blessing the minds of others so that they no longer create obstacles for us.  We do not request this for selfish reasons, rather we do so to protect others from creating the bad karma of interfering with the pure spiritual practice of another.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: It’s all about gaining familiarity

In the remaining verses I feel Shantideva is saying essentially just one thing, and that is, practice.  We need to actually do this meditation to get a feel for it, otherwise it isjust an interesting intellectual exercise.  We should practice in meditation as has been described, and practice out of meditation too, until we complete this exchange of self with others. Just keep practicing.

Countless times in samsaric rebirths,
This self-cherishing attitude has caused me harm.

(8.155) O mind, because you wish to benefit yourself,
All the hard work you have done
For countless aeons in samsara
Has resulted only in suffering.

(8.156) Therefore, I will definitely engage
In working for the benefit of others;
And because Buddha’s teachings are non-deceptive,
I shall experience excellent results in the future.

(8.157) If in the past I had practised
Exchanging myself with others,
I would not now be in this situation –
Devoid of the excellent happiness and bliss of Buddhahood.

(8.158) Just as I am familiar with developing the thought “I”, “I”,
When perceiving my body, which arose from others’ sperm and blood,
So should I become familiar with developing the thought “I”, “I”,
When perceiving others’ bodies.

It is simple, really.  We just need to keep thinking I, I, with respect to others’ bodies and minds.  That is it.  Just keep thinking “me” when observing others’ bodies.  In order to bring about some deeper experience of this practice, simply think I, I, with respect to others.  “I” is just a thought.  Other than the thought, there is no I. We will see later on, in the next chapter, other than the thought “I” there is no I.   We think the I is one with our body and mind, which is why when somebody points at our body we feel they are pointing at us.  But we also think that our I is somehow separate from our body and mind, because we say, ‘my body’ and ‘my mind’ as if there was some independent part-possessor.  If our I were inherently existent, this is completely impossible, but this is exactly what we think.  In reality, our I is not one with its basis, nor is it entirely separate from it.  It is just the opposite of what we think.  When we see this, then there is no problem imputing our I onto the basis of others.  Until we realize this, we will feel anchored and fixed to this body, and we will remain self-centered.

We believe that others’, the self of others, exists within their body, too, don’t we? We conceive an inherently existent other within their bodies.  We naturally conceive an inherently existent other within the bodies of others.  They are inherently others, so they cannot be me!   This is also a mistaken belief.  There is no other there. There is no other there within their body.  Other, like I, is just mere imputation.  So we can impute “I” on others and “others” on ourself.

Once we realize it is possible, afterwards, it is just an issue of training and familiarity.  All we need to do is become more and more familiar with imputing “I” upon this different basis, the body or bodies of others. Thinking I whenever we observe or perceive others’ bodies.  Just keep doing it. Think “I” when perceiving others — so we can do that at all times, when we are with others and when we are just thinking about them, just keep thinking I, I, I.  Eventually, they become a basis of imputation, and this body eventually will cease to be for us the basis of imputing I, it will become the basis of imputing other.

It is clear if we cannot exchange self with others in this way, we won’t achieve much success in the Tantric practice of generation stage.   In generation stage we try to become familiar with the thought “I” when perceiving the body of the deity, the body of Vajrayogini for example.  Right now, the body of Vajrayogini is not our body, it seems to us to be a different body.  We feel it is someone else’s body.  But we know through training in generation stage, Vajrayogini’s body gradually comes to feel to be our body.    Our training in exchanging self with others is an excellent preparation for our ability to engage in our tantric practice.  In fact, it is part of our self-generation practice, because when we self-generate as the deity, we generate ourselves as all living beings in the aspect of Vajrayogini.

(8.159) Examining myself thoroughly
To make sure I am working for others,
I will take whatever I possess
And use it to benefit them.

Venerable Tharchin explains for as long as we impute ‘mine’ on any object within our possession, we continuously burn up our merit.  If instead we impute, ‘belongs to others’ on the objects within our possession, and we view ourself as the guardian of these things until we hand them over to others, then we do not burn our merit.  If we use these things for the sake of others, then we accumulate merit by having them.  In this light, it doesn’t matter what we have, it matters entirely what our imputation is.  This is equally true of ourself, our human body and mind, our time, everything.

If we have exchanged self with others, this practice becomes automatic.  If when regarding ourself, we think “others,” then naturally everything we own or possesses belongs to “others.”  With one simple switch of imputation, we are able to automatically give away everything we have to others without changing a thing.  Likewise, if we impute I onto others, then everything they have is felt by us to be “ours,” so there is no basis for jealousy or attachment to arise.  We already have everything.  Like magic, this one practice inverts all of our delusions into virtues.  

Happy Je Tsongkhapa Day: I Rejoice in the Great Wave of your Deeds

In many ways, October 25th, or Je Tsongkhapa Day, is my favorite day of the Kadampa calendar.  Why?  Because he is the founder of our tradition, our living spiritual guide, and the source of all good.  On Je Tsongkhapa Day, we can remember his great kindness, strive to emulate his example, and ultimately decide to mix our mind inseparably with his.  I pray that all those who read this develop unchanging faith in Guru Tsongkhapa, and in dependence upon this faith, effortlessly follow his joyful path.

Understanding How Holy Days Work

There are certain days of the year which are karmically more powerful than others, and the karmic effect of our actions on these days is multiplied by a factor of ten million!  These are called “ten million multiplying days.”  In practice, what this means is every action we engage in on these special days is karmically equivalent to us engaging in that same action ten million times.  This is true for both our virtuous and non-virtuous actions, so not only is it a particularly incredible opportunity for creating vast merit, but it is also an extremely dangerous time for engaging in negative actions.  There are four of these days every year:  Buddha’s Englightenment Day (April 15), Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day (June 4), Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day (September 22), and Je Tsongkhapa Day (October 25).  Heruka and Vajrayogini Month (January 3-31), NKT Day (1st Saturday of April), and International Temple’s Day (first Saturday of November) are the other major Days that complete the Kadampa calendar. 

A question may arise, why are the karmic effect of our actions greater on certain days than others?  We can think of these days like a spiritual pulsar that at periodic intervals sends out an incredibly powerful burst of spiritual energy, or wind.  On such days, if we lift the sails of our practice, these gushes of spiritual winds push us a great spiritual distance.  Why are these specific days so powerful?  Because in the past on these days particularly spiritually significant events occurred which altered the fundamental trajectory of the karma of the people of this world.  Just as calling out in a valley reverberates back to us, so too these days are like the karmic echoes of those past events.  Another way of understanding this is by considering the different types of ocean tides.  Normally, high and low tide on any given day occurs due to the gravity of the moon pulling water towards it as the earth rotates.  But a “Spring tide” occurs when the earth, moon, and Sun are all in alignment, pulling the water not just towards the moon as normal, but also towards the much more massive sun.  Our holy days are like spiritual Spring tides.

Je Tsongkhapa is the Founder of the New Kadampa Tradition

Buddha Shakyamuni is the founder of Buddhism in this world, and all of the different types of Buddhism (Zen, Theravadin, Kadampa, etc.) are all different presentations of his teachings.  Buddha gave 84,000 different instructions, but different traditions will place different emphasis on different aspects to correspond with the karmic dispositions of those who follow that tradition.  We cannot say one tradition is better than another in some absolute sense, rather we can say, “this tradition is better for me,” and “that tradition is better for her,” etc.  In this way, we can each cherish our own traditions while respecting all others.

Atisha is the founder of the Kadampa tradition.  ‘Kadam’ means a special presentation of Buddha’s 84,000 teachings called the “Lamrim,” which the Buddhist Master Atisha introduced when he went from India to Tibet in 1042 AD.  ‘Pa’ means somebody who puts into practice.  A Kadampa, therefore, means somebody who takes Atisha’s Lamrim as their main practice.  Atisha is primarily known for uniting the vast and profound paths together.  The vast path refers to the accumulation of merit, the principal cause of a Buddha’s body; and the profound path refers to the accumulation of wisdom, the principal cause of a Buddha’s mind.  By practicing the union of the two, our practices of the vast and profound paths reinforce each other and we create the causes to attain a Buddha’s body and mind simultaneously.  His path is generally presented as the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, namely renunciation, bodhichitta, and the correct view of emptiness.  Renunciation is the wish to escape from samsara ourselves, bodhichitta is the wish to become a Buddha to lead others to liberation, and the correct view of emptiness eradicates the root of samsara, self-grasping ignorance.

Je Tsongkhapa (1357 to 1419 AD) is the founder of the New Kadampa Tradition. Just as Atisha presented the union of the vast and profound path, Je Tsongkhapa introduced the union of Sutra and Tantra. Like the old Kadampas, practitioners of the New Kadampa Tradition also take Atisha’s Lamrim as their main practice. The difference is New Kadampas can practice the Lamrim at the gross level (Sutra) and the subtle level (Tantra) as completely non-contradictory. Sutra is how we practice Buddha’s instructions with our gross mind, Tantra is how we do so with our subtle and very subtle minds, but both are methods of practicing Lamrim.

Ultimately, Tantra is much quicker than Sutra because our gross minds arise from our subtle and very subtle mind. If we pull weeds but fail to take out the roots, the weeds will grow back; in the same way, if we pacify our gross minds but fail to purify our subtle minds, the delusions will keep coming back. Tantra is a special spiritual technology for purifying our root mind, or our very subtle mind, of all of our delusions and their karmic imprints, thus eradicating samsara at its root. We purify our very subtle mind by meditating on its emptiness. This one meditation functions to simultaneously uproot all of the contaminated karma we have accumulated since beginningless time. Je Tsongkhapa showed how the paths of Sutra and Tantra are not only completely non-contradictory, but are mutually reinforcing, and by practicing them together in the context of Atisha’s Lamrim, we can quickly attain enlightenment.

The New Kadampa Tradition has five main aspects of the path: renunciation, bodhichitta, the correct view of emptiness, generation stage, and completion stage. These can be understood as there is one action on the path: changing the basis of imputation of our I from our ordinary samsaric body and mind to the completely pure body and mind of a Buddha. There are two reasons why we do it, renunciation (for ourselves) and bodhichitta (for others). And there are two levels at which we do it, the gross body and mind of a Buddha (generation stage) and the subtle body and mind of a Buddha (completion stage). Je Tsonkghapa is the founder of this way of practicing.

Since Je Tsongkhapa, there has been an unbroken lineage of his teachings down to our present-day lineage gurus, including Je Phabongkhapa, Trijang Rinpoche, and our very own Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.  There is no difference in meaning between the Dharma Je Tsongkhapa taught and what we currently practice, the only difference is the cultural presentation, analogies, and languages used to express that meaning.  Everything we practice, directly or indirectly, comes from Je Tsongkhapa.  We are Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition.  The New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT-IKBU) was founded by Geshe-la to present Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings to the modern world. 

Je Tsongkhapa is our Living Spiritual Guide

One of the hardest parts of the Buddhist path for modern people is relying upon a “guru.”  At first, it all seems very “cult-like.”  I remember telling my first teacher Gen Lekma once, “I’m down with all of the Dharma teachings except this whole reliance upon the spiritual guide thing!”  When I told her this, she was in the middle of swallowing some tea, and she nearly spit it out in a laugh.  After collecting herself, she looked at me and said, “I have found that the things we struggle the most with at first later become the things that have the biggest transformative impact on our mind.”  Truer words have never been spoken. 

To understand why reliance upon the spiritual guide is the root of the path, we have to back up a bit.  Why do we need teachers in general?  Because we are ignorant and don’t know.  Why do we need spiritual teachers?  Because we are ignorant of the spiritual path, not knowing its destinations nor how to follow the path to these destinations.  Why do we need a root guru or root spiritual guide?  Because we need somebody who has completed the path and can guide our mind to the same state.  It takes humility to learn from any teacher, it takes great humility to rely upon a Spiritual Guide. 

Normally, we say Geshe-la is the root guru, or Spiritual Guide, of the NKT.  It is true everything we study and practice comes from him, and he has created for us all of the conditions we now enjoy for our practice, such as temples, centers, teachers, sangha friends, books, sadhanas, and so forth.  But what does he say?  He says don’t look at me, rather look at Je Tsongkhapa at my heart.  We view Geshe-la as an emanation of Je Tsongkhapa, but Je Tsongkhapa is our actual Spiritual Guide.  What does Je Tsongkhapa say?  He says don’t look at me, rather look at Buddha Shakyamuni at my heart.  What does Buddha Shakyamuni say?  Don’t look at me, rather look at Heruka at my heart.  Guru Heruka is our actual spiritual guide.  He appeared as Buddha Shakyamuni to introduce the Dharma to the people of this world.  He later appeared as Je Tsongkhapa, who in turn is now appearing as Geshe-la.  From one perspective, it is the same person – the same mental continuum – appearing at different points in time according to the karmic dispositions of the people of this world.

But from another perspective, Je Tsongkhapa is still our Spiritual Guide today. His emanation bodies may change, but the jewel in the lotus remains the same person. When Buddhas attain enlightenment, they become deathless beings. Their emanation bodies may pass away, but they do not, they continue to live. We can continue to develop a living relationship with these holy beings because they are still with us today. He is still here, guiding us, teaching us, blessing us, and so forth. Geshe-la, the Gen-la’s, and all of our other spiritual teachers are essentially spiritual telephones which connect the pure world of Je Tsongkhapa with our present samsaric reality. When we rely upon our outer spiritual teachers they explain to us how to develop a relationship with our inner spiritual teachers who then take us to enlightenment. The outer teachers and the inner teachers are not separate beings, but different layers of the same being appearing to different levels of purity of mind.

Whenever we engage in any Guru Yoga practice, our main job is to feel we are in the living presence of our spiritual guide – seeing all of the Buddhas as inseparable from our guru and our guru as inseparable from all the Buddhas.  Every practice we engage in is about creating a close karmic relationship with our spiritual guide in his different karmic aspects.  In dependence upon this karmic relationship, we gain greater and greater access to our spiritual guide’s blessings, until eventually, it is almost as if we gain the ability to download their enlightenment into our own mind.  In the end, we mix our mind with our guru’s mind, where we make no distinction between our mind and his enlightened mind.  From one perspective, it is like a mind transplant where his mind becomes ours; from another perspective, it is like removing the obstructions to our own root mind and discovering that our actual mind was his enlightened mind all along. 

Because Je Tsongkhapa is the embodiment of his Dharma, by mixing our mind with his, we mix our mind with his special union of Sutra and Tantra and eventually come to see ourselves as a wave inseparable from the ocean of his omniscient mind.  We view all phenomena as arising from emptiness, all emptinesses as the nature of our mind of great bliss, and the union of our realization of great bliss and emptiness as inseparable from our guru’s Truth Body, or Dharmakaya. 

Je Tsongkhapa is the Source of all Good

This is somewhat harder to understand.  All good things come from good karma.  All good karma comes from virtuous actions.  All virtuous actions arise due to receiving blessings from the holy beings.  Je Tsongkhapa is the synthesis of all the Buddhas, therefore he is the source of all blessings, virtuous actions, good karma, and ultimately good results. 

Sometimes, we like to take credit for our good deeds, therefore we think Je Tsongkhapa is not the source of all good, we are. Or maybe it is a mixed affair, where he helps us with his blessings, but mostly it comes from our own effort. This doubt comes from grasping at a duality between ourselves and our ultimate nature. Our good deeds arise from our good intentions, but where do they arise from? They pour into our mind when we open it up to the sun of our pure potential. Just as the sun pours in whenever the blinds are opened, so too virtuous intentions come into our mind when cracks in the layers of the karmic obstructions on our mind appear. But what is our pure potential? By nature, it is Guru Tsongkhapa. All Buddhas impute their I onto the truth body or Dharmakaya. What is this? It is a mind of great bliss that realizes directly and simultaneously the emptiness of all phenomena. A Buddha’s body and mind are the same entity, the same nature, which means their truth body pervades all phenomena. Because we too are empty, we have a pure potential. This pure potential fully realized is Je Tsongkhapa. Every time we access or ripen this potential, we are releasing some of Je Tsongkhapa into our mind. Thus, he is inseparable from all of our good intentions – he is our good intentions manifesting in our mind.

There are many prayers to Je Tsongkhapa, but the most famous is the Migtsema prayer, which explains that Je Tsongkhapa is the synthesis of Buddha Shakyamuni, Vajradhara, Avaolokitehsvara, Manjushri, and Vajrapaini. There is also the single-pointed request which explains he is the guru, he is the yidam, he is the daka, and the Dharma protector. If all of the goodness in all of the universe were gathered together, it would produce the appearance of Je Tsongkhapa. Put another way, Je Tsongkhapa is a holy being who has managed to successfully impute his I onto the synthesis of all goodness. Thus it is perfectly correct to say he is the source of all good because he is all goodness itself.

But how can we understand he is the source of all good, including that of non-Buddhists?  Everything we perceive is ultimately created by our mind, arising from our mind.  There is no creator other than mind, and there is nothing that exists outside of our mind (if it did, that thing would be inherently existent).  This means that everything is part of our karmic dream. Any good we perceive in the world is a reflection of the goodness in our mind.  We created the karma for that goodness to appear.  We already established that all goodness that arises in our mind comes from Je Tsongkhapa, thus any goodness that arises in our karmic dream also arises from him. 

Remembering Je Tsongkhapa’s Kindness

On Je Tsongkhapa Day, our main practice should be to remember his kindness.  We can do this by contemplating what Geshe-la said about Je Tsongkhapa Day.  I find it particularly helpful to remember his kindness in my own life.  He has given me my spiritual life.  Without my Dharma practice, I don’t know how I would have turned out in the wake of my mother’s suicide on my wedding day or all of the other challenges I have faced in my life.  Je Tsongkhapa’s way of thinking has come to dominate my way of thinking, and I am much happier for it.  It suffices to ask myself what my life would be like if I had never met his Dharma to see the profound impact it has had. 

More importantly, he has provided me with the spiritual tools I need to close the door on ever taking lower rebirth again through purification and refuge practice.  Through his kindness, I have found the door to liberation that will enable me to once and for all cease the samsaric nightmare I have been trapped in since beginningless time.  He has shown me not only that I can attain enlightenment and thereby be in a position to help all those I love who are also drowning in samsara, but he has provided me with incredibly simple step-by-step instructions for how to do it.  In what can only be described as a miracle, I have found qualified tantric teachings of generation and completion stage through which it is possible to attain enlightenment in one life or barring that, at least getting to the pure land where I can complete my spiritual training.  His blessings flow into me day and night, even while I sleep, holding me back from quite literally going insane.  Without him, I would be lost.  With him, I have been found.  By relying upon him, I can fulfill all my own and other’s pure wishes.  He is a true wish-fulfilling jewel who has kept alive the holy Kadam Dharma in this world, and it is my job to do all that I can to internalize it and then pass it on to future generations.

Emulating his Example

If I were trapped on a desert island and only allowed one book, it would be Great Treasury of Merit. Normally we say Joyful Path of Good Fortune is like the hub of the wheel of Dharma, and all of the other books are like spokes of that wheel. But the axis around which Joyful Path turns is Great Treasury of Merit which presents the very synthesis of Je Tsongkhapa’s Dharma by showing how all the essential meanings of his teachings fit together with exactly the right proportionalities of how important each teaching is. In truth, the book is about 70% how to rely upon the Spiritual Guide and 30% everything else, which is exactly correct. The sections on visualizing the spiritual guide explain the meaning of his holy form. Buddhas can manifest their inner realizations as outer forms, and Je Tsongkhapa’s body is quite literally all of his realizations as form. By generating faith in his holy form, we mix our mind with all of his realizations. The sections on prostrations, praises, and making requests explain his many good qualities and special functions in our life. Reading these with faith, one cannot help but be amazed.

There are two aspects of his example which appeal to me most.  The first is how he demonstrates the practice of moral discipline and the second is the great wave of his deeds. 

His outer form is of a fully ordained monk, revealing the practices of the vows of individual liberation. His inner form is Buddha Shakyamuni, revealing the moral discipline of a Bodhisattva. And his secret form is Vajradhara, demonstrating the moral discipline of a tantric master. At my very first Kadampa festival, when Geshe-la first opened the temple in Manjushri, he gave a three-day teaching on essentially one subject – overcoming distractions. He explained that we have everything we need to attain enlightenment, the only thing that is missing is our practicing these instructions without distraction. The practices of moral discipline are how we overcome our gross distractions by letting go of each object of abandonment. Moral discipline is not wishing to engage in negativity, but holding ourselves back from doing so. Rather, it is realizing we no longer wish to do so, and so we “let go” of wanting the objects of our transgressions. Normally, we think moral discipline is a list of ‘don’ts’ that deprives us of our freedom. We have everything backward. The practice of moral discipline is a profound shift in our mind that is experienced as a “release” into greater and greater levels of inner freedom by leaving behind the chains of samsara.

Every day in our Heart Jewel practice, we rejoice in the great wave of Je Tsongkhapa’s deeds. What exactly is this great wave? We can say it is his special method for eventually liberating all beings. He attained enlightenment. What did he do with his enlightenment? He formed new spiritual guides for carrying forward the tradition. What did those spiritual guides do? Create more spiritual guides still. In this way, his virtuous deeds multiple exponentially until eventually the wave of his kind actions will carry every single living being to the state of full enlightenment. He has set in motion a spiritual self-perpetuating machine whose function is to liberate all beings from all suffering forever. In one short life, he initiated a wave that will never stop until all of his pure wishes are fulfilled.

We have the incredible good fortune to not only receive benefit from him but to become ourselves part of his great wave. He has laid at our feet exactly the same Dharma he taught and realized. By picking up the Dharma he has given us and bringing it into our mind, we too can become a fully qualified spiritual guide able to carry forward this great lineage for the benefit of all those we have a close karmic relationship with. If we do not do this for those we love, who will? It may be aeons before his wave comes around again to these beings, but we can carry them with us right now. Venerable Tharchin says the beings who we generate bodhichitta towards as bodhisattvas are among the first we lead to enlightenment when we attain the final goal. Look around at everyone you love, see how they are drowning, and now remember Je Tsongkhapa has given you the means to do something about it by becoming part of his great wave.

Deciding to Mix our Mind with His

In the final analysis, attaining enlightenment is very simple:  all we need to do is mix our mind inseparably with somebody who has already attained enlightenment.  In this way, the duality between their mind and our mind vanishes, and their enlightened mind becomes our mind and our mind becomes their enlightened mind.  Everything else in the Dharma is why we should do this and how to do it.  As practitioners of the New Kadampa Tradition, whose mind do we mix ours with?  Lama Tsongkhapa’s.  It’s as simple as that.

Every object of meditation is an aspect of his mind.  Every instruction we practice comes from his mind.  Every realization we gain is an infusion of his mind into our own.  Every practice we do is changing the basis of imputation of our I from our ordinary contaminated body and mind to his completely pure body and mind.  Every deity we rely upon is like a facet on the diamond of his mind.  Every phenomenon we see is a wave on the ocean of his mind.  He is everything.  Our job is so simple:  just mix our mind with his.  Whatever we mix our mind with, we become.  Since he is the synthesis of all the Buddhas, all Dharmas, and all Sanghas, by mixing our mind with his, we too become the source of all good.

The only thing that is missing is deciding to dedicate our lives to this goal.  There are so many things we do in life, but how many of them do us any good?  Only deciding to mix our mind with his will free us.  We can reach the point where our every thought, word, and deed is him working through us.  We need not struggle in our spiritual practice, we merely need to request his blessings.  We need not invent the path, we can simply follow the one he has laid out for us.  We need not ever doubt, we can internally request his wisdom.  There is nothing he cannot provide us, all we need to do is decide to rely upon him.

Today is Je Tsongkhapa Day.  Every decision we make today is karmically equivalent to making that same decision ten million times.  What better way to mark this holy day than making the firm internal decision to dedicate our life to mixing our mind with Lama Tsongkhapa’s, our living Spiritual Guide.  I pray that everyone who reads this transforms their life in this way.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Practice the Perfection of Wisdom

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 40 of a 44-part series.

How to practise the perfection of wisdom by sustaining space-like meditative equipoise

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of wisdom
Through the yoga of the space-like meditative equipoise on the ultimate,
With the great bliss of the suppleness
Induced by the wisdom of individual analysis of thatness.

Emptiness is the ultimate nature of all things. It is the way in which things truly exist as opposed to the way they appear. Emptiness is what is called a non-affirming negative phenomena. What this means is we realize emptiness by negating its opposite, inherent existence. Thus, it is a negative phenomena. But it is also non-affirming in the sense that by establishing emptiness we do not then subsequently establish some other existent object. An example of an affirming negative phenomena would be saying “not male” to someone who still grasps at binary gender identities.

What is the object of negation of emptiness? Geshe-la gives many different explanations to help us understand. His most famous explanation is saying it is “the things that we normally see.” What we normally see are objects that appear to exist from their own side independent of our mind. It seems as if our mind has no role in the creation of the objects that we perceive, but rather that they exist out there waiting to be experienced. This is sometimes also called inherent existence or true existence. Inherent existence means the object exists inherently, from its own side, or objectively existent. Objectively existent means existent on the side of the object. Normally, when ordinary beings say something exists, they mean it exists objectively, not subjectively. True existence means that objects exist in the way that they appear. They appear to exist inherently, and we grasp at believing that they in fact do. For myself, I find that inherent existence, objective existence, and true existence work better to gain a conceptual, intellectual understanding of emptiness. But to gain an experiential understanding of emptiness in meditation itself, for me at least, nothing surpasses simply saying, “the things I normally see do not exist,” and then dissolving them all into emptiness. This phrase, the things we normally see do not exist, is specifically an instruction for the meditation session. It works perfectly for bringing us to our object of meditation. All the things that we normally see simply do not exist. We then perceive the clear light, the absence of all the thing that we normally see.

The supreme object of concentration is the emptiness of all phenomena, in particular the emptiness of our very subtle mind of great bliss. When we meditate on the emptiness of phenomena, it purifies the contaminated karma giving rise to that appearance. When we meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena, it purifies all the contaminated karma on our mind to perceive samsara. When we meditate on the emptiness of our very subtle mind, it directly and simultaneously uproots all the contaminated karmic potentialities to perceive any contaminated appearance. With this one concentration we are able to uproot eons worth of samsaric contaminated karmic imprints. Once we have completely purified our mind of the two obstructions, in other words all our past karmic imprints, we attain enlightenment. This is irreversible because there is no longer any basis for us to generate delusions, and therefore impossible for us to generate new contaminated karma.

For more detailed explanations of emptiness, we can read the chapter on ultimate bodhicitta in Modern Buddhism, Chapter 8 of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, the book Heart of Wisdom, or the book Ocean of Nectar.

How to practise the perfection of wisdom by sustaining illusion-like subsequent attainment

Outer and inner phenomena are like illusions, like dreams,
And like reflections of the moon in a clear lake,
For though they appear they do not truly exist;
Realizing this, I seek your blessings to complete the illusion-like concentration.

Sometimes the easiest way to understand the conventional nature of phenomena is through analogies. Appearances are like dreams, in the sense that they appear to mind but we do not go looking for them when we wake up. We understand they were just mere appearances to our mind. Phenomena are also like illusions. It appears that something is there, but in fact the way things exist do not correspond with the way they appear. Conventional phenomena are also sometimes likened to hallucinations, where our mind projects a distorted image of what is there and we mistakenly believe what is appearing to our mind to be what is actually there. A schizophrenic believes they are talking to other people, when in fact they are just projections of their mind. I find it helpful to consider these analogies as I am going about my day, in particular traveling from one place to another. As I see phenomena move around me, I keep reminding myself that all this is just a mere karmic dream, hallucinations, illusions, and in fact all the things that I normally see do not exist. They are simply mere karmic appearances to mind.

We might mistakenly think if things do not exist inherently and are just mere karmic appearances to mind, then it does not matter what happens to others. But if we are hurt in our dream, we experience pain. The dream is still a mere appearance to mind, but because we believe it to be true, we experience suffering. In the same way, all samsara is nothing more than a dream, but we believe it to be true, and as a result we suffer from it. To attain enlightenment means essentially to wake up from the dream of samsara. And to lead others to enlightenment is to help them wake up from their samsaric dream. As long as they remain trapped in the dream, they remain frightened and experience pain and suffering. We seek to relieve them from their suffering not because it is real, but rather because it is painful.

How to train the mind in the profound view of the middle way

I seek your blessings to realize the meaning of Nagarjuna’s intention,
That there is no contradiction but only harmony
Between the absence of even an atom of inherent existence in samsara and nirvana
And the non-deceptive dependent relationship of cause and effect.

Once we realized that the things we normally see do not exist there is a danger that we could fall into the extreme of nothingness, thinking that if things do not exist inherently then they do not exist at all. Je Tsongkhapa explains the correct view of emptiness is taught by Nagarjuna in his commentary Guide to the Middle Way. The middle way refers to the middle way between the two extremes of existence and non-existence. The extreme of existence is believing that objects exist inherently. And the extreme of non-existence is thinking if things do not exist inherently then they do not exist at all. The middle way is things do exist as mere karmic appearances to mind.

This phrase mere karmic appearance to mind has great meaning. “Mere” means that the appearances are nothing more than appearance, and if we looked for something behind the appearance, we would find nothing. In this sense it is like a dream or a hallucination. “Karmic” means that the appearances themselves arise from the ripening of karma. Karma ripens in the form of appearance. “Appearance” implies exactly that, things appear. There is an appearance of something there, not something actually there. What is there is an appearance of something being there. “To mind” means that the appearance is appearing to our mind. Sometimes we think that objects appear to our senses, but in fact they are appearing to our mind through the medium of our sense powers. Sometimes we say, “appearance of mind.” “Of mind” in this context implies that mind itself assumes the form of appearance.

We have arrived at a correct understanding of the middle way when our understanding of emptiness confirms the truth of karma, and our understanding of karma confirms the truth of emptiness. Sometimes we might think if things do not exist inherently, how can they do anything? There is nothing there to push on anything else to cause something to happen. And so for us it seems as if emptiness and karma negate each other. But the opposite is the case. To be inherently existent means to exist from its own side, on the side of the object, independent of all other phenomena. If something is independent of all other phenomena, how can it come into contact with anything else and therefore do anything? If it can come into contact with other objects, then the object does not exist independently of all other phenomena, and its nature changes from not being in contact with something else to being in contact with something else. Further, we can all observe that as things come into contact with other things they change. The mere existence of change shows that these objects do not exist inherently, independent of other causes. Once we understand objects are dependently related, then we understand it is impossible for them to exist inherently. Dependently existent and inherently existent are opposites. It is easy to understand how an object that is a mere karmic appearance of mind can come into contact and influence another object that is a mere karmic appearance of mind because both objects are the same nature, mere appearances to mind. They are part of the same dream, so therefore can interact with one another. In this way we can understand that the laws of cause and effect establish emptiness, and emptiness establishes karma.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Looking down on our former self

Lastly, Shantideva explains how to change places with someone whom we regard to be superior to us in some way.  This one is particularly interesting.

(8.151) “It is said that this deluded being
Is vying to be my equal,
But how can he compare with me in learning or wisdom,
Or in looks, status, or wealth?

(8.152) “When others hear of my good qualities
As they are proclaimed to the world,
May they experience so much delight
That their hair pores tingle with excitement.

(8.153) “And as for whatever he owns,
Since he is supposed to be working for us,
We will allow him just what he needs
And take the remainder by force for ourselves.

(8.154) “Thus, may his happiness decline,
While we continue to burden him with our problems.”

With this meditation we become happy, very happy, to be the servant of others.  We want to become merely the servant of others, all others.  We are ready to do whatever we can for others to the best of our ability without ever becoming discouraged, unhappy, worried.  It seems to me that we worry and become discouraged because we are not accepting our weaknesses.  Just as we can acknowledge our strengths without being proud, so too we can accept our weaknesses without becoming discouraged.  If we don’t learn how to do this, how can we improve?  Our self-cherishing and our pride will not allow us to look at and accept our own weaknesses.  We have strengths, each one of us, but also weaknesses.  We do not need to become unhappy or discouraged when we become aware of them.  At present we struggle with this due to a non-acceptance of where we are at.  This is why there is so much concealment and why there is so much pretension.   Why we hide our faults from others.

In an earlier post, we talked about how important it is that we take down our barriers if we are to help others to take down their own barriers.  We need to remove concealment and pretension and be perfectly open with others.  Of course, if we have a good reason, as Geshe-la described in the Bodhisattva Vow, if we have a very good reason, there can be an apparent concealment, but generally we don’t have a good reason.  In general, we should try to be as transparent as possible.  Kadam Morten said there are two types of spiritual guide, those that show the final result and those that show the path of how to get there.   We are not very good at many things, and we are not very important.  We can either be unhappy about that, or happy, can’t we?  We can either be discouraged or encouraged by this.  There are many things that I’m not very good at.  I have many weaknesses, and that’s OK. I am no one important.  This meditation helps us to develop this kind of acceptance.  

In particular, I think this meditation helps us develop consideration for others.  We are generally so self-absorbed that we are only thinking about our own experience of things, and then we find it intolerable when anybody who does not respect or take into consideration our views or needs.  In such situations, we feel the need to ‘fight to defend our justified position.’  Kadam Bjorn said there is not a single Dharma mind that feels ‘justified.’  If we ever find ourself feeling justified, then we can know for sure we are already wrong.  When we have consideration for others, we make sure that our own behavior does not disturb others, especially their spiritual practice.  For example, if there is a new person present in the center, we think about how our behavior might be interpreted by the other person and we make sure that we do not do anything that might put them off.  We refrain from talking to them about things they are not ready to accept or judging them for what they do.

We should also show consideration for one another.  People’s lives are difficult, and they want to be able to come to the center or come home after a long day at work and find a place of peace where they can recharge their batteries and get themselves reset for the week ahead.  We should also think about why people are coming to our Dharma centers, namely to listen to classes and so forth.  Our questions may seem important to us, but perhaps they are not important to others. 

We should also show consideration for the Buddhas.  Sometimes we think, the Buddhas love me unconditionally so I can do whatever I want and they will always love me.  This is true.  But this does not mean they are happy with everything we do.  If we respect others, we naturally show consideration for them and watch our behavior to make sure it is correct.  When we are in the gompa we should recall that we are in the living presence of all the Buddhas. 

Remembering Why We Don’t Mix Traditions and that We Are Not the Same as Tibetan Traditions

Now that VGL has passed, we need to be very clear about who we are as a tradition and who we are not. We are not a Tibetan tradition. We are not the same as those Tibetan traditions that still practice Dorje Shugden. We are not the same as those Tibetan traditions that take Lamrim as their main practice. We are our own thing. We may share some past with these spiritual cousins, but we have our own trajectory.

When I was in Geneva, there was a center there with the supposed reincarnation of Trijang Rinpoche. They were Dorje Shugden practitioners and they took Lamrim as their main practice. There were many people, including the former Resident Teacher, who thought we were the same. This is ultimately how I came to be Resident Teacher.

Geshe-la said we need to be very clear that we are not the same. He said after he died, there could be confusion among many students about this question – with them going to other traditions thinking it was the same. He said there would also be attempts to poach our students away and even to try inherit the tradition entirely, bringing it into Tibetan hands.

We are our own tradition with our uncommon characteristics. The internal rules of the NKT deliniate many of these. We can absolutely respect these other traditions and rejoice in their practices, but we need clear blue water in our mind between them and us. We do not mix traditions. This is our heart commitment.

Students of course have choice and can go wherever they want, but we need to be clear these other traditions are not the same. It can be misunderstood that not mixing traditions is being sectarian, but the truth is the exact opposite. Here is a blog article I’ve written on the topic in the past.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Developing competitiveness with ourself

We can now put ourselves in the place of someone we regard to be equal to us, and we look back at our former self with competitive thoughts.

(8.147) “This Bodhisattva is regarded as my equal,
But so that I might outshine him
I will acquire wealth and reputation,
And defeat him in debate.

(8.148) “I will proclaim my own good qualities to the whole world
By whatever means I can,
But I will make sure that no one ever hears
Of any good qualities he might possess.

(8.149) “I will hide my own faults but make his known.
I will be venerated by others but ensure that he is not.
I will acquire a great deal of material wealth
And encourage others to honour me, but not him.

(8.150) “For a long time, I will take pleasure
In seeing him be humiliated.
I will make him the laughing stock of all
And an object of ridicule and blame.

Again, there are two main ways we can take this meditation:  We learn a lot about ourself – we see ourselves from the point of view of the other person, and this helps us realize how we act so that we can change.  We can also see how we ourselves have such competitive thoughts towards others.  The conclusion is we need to accept defeat and offer others the victory.

When we engage in this meditation, we try consider our self to be within others, then we be ‘as competitive as possible’ towards our old self.  What does this mean?  We want our new ‘self’ to win and we want ‘him’ (our old self) to lose.  From the perspective of our old self, we want to accept defeat and offer the victory.  We want to spread our ‘own’ reputation far and wide and make sure that everybody knows only good things about ‘us.’  We want to hide ‘others’ qualities and successes, so that nobody knows about them.  As a bodhisattva, we want to be humble, and if possible, help people anonymously.  Then our motivation is free from many worldly concerns.  We want our ‘self’ to be considered higher and for ‘him’ to be considered the lowest of all.   As a bodhisattva, we want to be humble, and view ourselves as a servant of all.  We will take great pleasure in seeing ‘him’ humiliated and we will do everything so that he alone is blamed for all problems.  As a bodhisattva, we know that what is bad for our delusions is good for us.  We also want to take on others’ suffering and burdens so that they do not have to have them.

We might object, but why would we want to put ourselves down in this way, why would we want to overburden our old self and harm his reputation. The only limitation on this is for our own ‘selfish’ ends (in other words, our new self, all living beings).  We want our former self to have a good reputation and not be overburdened to the extent that it is necessary so he can better serve us.  Smart slave owners adequately fed their slaves, and so forth, for the exclusive purpose of extracting more labor and service out of them, because otherwise they would be too weak to do anything for the slave owner.  In fact, we are so cunningly ‘selfish’ in wanting to use this other person, that we want to make him into a Buddha so that he can serve us eternally!  So far from destroying the other person, we will try maximize him as a resource.  In this light, we will take great joy in smashing his delusions because we know what is bad for his delusions is good for “us.”

It seems strange at first to identify with these kind of thoughts.  If we had such thoughts from the perspective of our old self, they would be absolutely awful delusions, which would completely destroy our inner peace.  But when we have these thoughts from the perspective of others, they are actually virtues within our mind – humility, taking and giving, accepting defeat and offering the victory, etc.  In this sense, the totally selfish way of looking at things is perfectly correct, we are just completely wrong about who we are and who we are not! 

I think we are naturally quite competitive, or at least I am.  We can always find something in others that will bring them down a notch or two.  Even if we do not say it to them, we think it to help us maintain our prideful view of ourselves.  Even if we become aware of others good qualities that are similar to our own, we will find something, won’t we, some bad quality that is not as good as our own, that will mean that we are still competitive or superior. When someone is praising another individual, we may think “yes they’re right,” we may even say “yes you’re right, but…”  There’s always a but there in our mind. 

Generally when we are speaking with others, we are competitive.  Usually, the conclusion we are trying to reach in every conversation is how wonderful we are.  And even just speaking to others, in a conversation, it seems we are in competition with them?  We are trying to assert our view over theirs, trying to speak over them, trying to “one up them” in everything they say.  We always have to be the precious, the important one.  Of course, that’s the function of self-cherishing, isn’t it?  We find it difficult to accept defeat and to offer the victory.  Even when we are speaking with someone, let alone in other cases, it is so difficult to accept defeat and to offer the victory to others.

In this meditation, something quite unusual happens.  If we do it right, it has the effect of wanting to accept defeat and wanting to offer the victory.  Through this meditation we work hard for others’ gain so that they win.  We work hard for our loss.  That is what happens, isn’t it?   We work hard for the loss for our self-cherishing.   It is like using our competitive streak against our delusions.  Others always win, we lose.  From our side, we want to be defeated and we want the other person to always win.  We strive, through this meditation, to accomplish the greatest possible results for others, with no concern for our own.