New Years for a Kadampa

New Year’s Day is of course preceded by New Year’s Eve.  The evening before is usually when friends get together to celebrate the coming of the new year.  Sometimes Kadampas become a social cynic, looking down on parties like this, finding them meaningless and inherently samsaric.  They mistakenly think it is somehow a fault to enjoy life and enjoy cultural traditions.  This is wrong.

If we are invited to a New Year’s party, we should go without thinking it is inherently meaningless.  Geshe-la wants us to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  New Year’s Eve parties are part of modern life, so our job is to bring the Dharma into them.  Venerable Tharchin said that our ability to help others depends upon two things:  the depth of our Dharma realizations and the strength of our karmic connections with living beings.  Doing things with friends as friends helps build those karmic bonds.  Even if we are unable to discuss any Dharma, at the very least, we can view such evenings as the time to cultivate our close karmic bonds with people.  Later, in dependence upon these bonds, we will be able to help them.

One question that often comes up at most New Year’s Eve parties is what to do about the fact that most everyone else is drinking or consuming other intoxicants.  Most of us have Pratimoksha vows, so this can create a problem or some awkward moments for ourself or for the person who is throwing the party.  Best, of course, is if you have an open and accepting relationship with your friends where you can say, “you can do whatever you want, but I am not going to.”  It’s important that we don’t adopt a judgmental attitude towards others who might drink, etc.  We each make our own choices and it is not up to us to judge anyone else.  We might even make ourselves the annual “designated driver.”  Somebody has to be, so it might as well be the Buddhist!

If we are at a party where we can’t be open about being a Buddhist, which can happen depending upon our karmic circumstance, what I usually do is drink orange juice or coke for most of the night, but then at midnight when they pass around the glasses of Champagne I just take one, and without a fuss when it comes time, I just put it to my lips like I am drinking but I am not actually doing so.  If we don’t make an issue out of it, nobody will notice.  Why is this important?  Because when we say we don’t drink, they will ask why.  Then we say because we are a Buddhist.  Implicitly, others can take our answer to mean we are saying we think it is immoral to drink, so others might feel judged. When they do, they then reject Buddhism, and create the karma of doing so. We may feel “right,” but we have in fact harmed those around us. What is the most moral thing to do depends largely upon our circumstance. It goes without saying that others are far more likely to feel judged by us if in fact we are judging everyone around us! We all need to get off our high horse and just love others with an accepting attitude.

Fortunately, most Kadampa centers now host a New Year’s Eve party.  This is ideal.  If our center doesn’t, then ask to host one yourself at the center.  This gives our Sangha friends an alternative to the usual New Year’s parties.  We can get together at the center, have a meal together, do a puja together and just hang out together as friends.  We are people too, not just Dharma practitioners, so it is important to be “exactly as normal.”  If our New Year’s party is a lot of fun, then people will want to come again and again; and perhaps even invite their friends along.  It is not uncommon to do either a Tara practice or an Amitayus practice.   Sometimes centers organize a retreat weekend course over New Year’s weekend.  For several years in Geneva, we would do Tara practice in six sessions at the house of a Sangha member.  The point is, try make it time together with your Sangha family.  Christmas is often with our regular family, New Year’s can be with our spiritual family.

But it is equally worth pointing out there is absolutely nothing wrong with spending a quiet evening at home alone, or with a few friends or members of your family. Just because everybody else is making a big deal out of it and going to parties doesn’t mean we should feel any pressure to do the same. I personally have never enjoyed them party scene, even when others are not getting drunk, etc. I much prefer a quiet evening or a solitary retreat. There is nothing wrong with this, and if that is how we prefer to bring in the New Year, we should do so without guilt or hesitation.

What I used to do (and really should start doing again), is around New Years I would take the time to go through all the 250+ vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism and reflect upon how I was doing.  I would try look back on the past year and identify the different ways I broke each vow, and I would try make plans for doing better next year.  If you are really enthusiastic about this, you can make a chart in Excel where you rank on a scale of 1 to 10 how well you did on each vow, and then keep track of this over the years.  Geshe-la advises that we work gradually with our vows over a long period of time, slowly improving the quality with which we keep them.  Keeping track with a self-graded score is a very effective way of doing this.  New Years is a perfect time for reflecting on this.

Ultimately, New Year’s Day itself is no different than any other.  It is very easy to see how its meaning is merely imputed by mind.  But that doesn’t mean it is not meaningful, ultimately everything is imputed by mind.  The good thing about New Year’s Day is everyone agrees it marks the possibility for a new beginning.  It is customary for people to make New Year’s Resolutions, things they plan on doing differently in the coming year.  Unfortunately, it is also quite common for people’s New Year’s Resolutions to not last very long.

But at Kadampas, we can be different.  The teachings on impermanence remind us that “nothing remains for even a moment” and that the entire world is completely recreated anew every moment.  New Year’s Day is a good day for recalling impermanence.  Everything that happened in the previous year, we can just let it go and realize we are moving into a new year and a new beginning.  We should make our New Year’s resolutions spiritual ones.  It is best, though, to make small changes that you make a real effort to keep than large ones that you know won’t last long.  Pick one or two things you are going to do differently this year.  Make it concrete and make sure it is doable.  A former student of mine would pick one thing that she said she was going to make her priority for the coming year, and then throughout the year she would focus on that practice. I think this is perfect. Another Sangha friend of mine would every year ask for special advice about what they should work on in the coming year. This is also perfect.

When you make a determination, make sure you know why you are doing it and the wisdom reasons in favor of the change are solid in your mind.  On that basis, you will be able to keep them.  Making promises that you later break creates terrible karma for ourselves which makes it harder and harder to make promises in the future. We create the habit of never following through, and that makes the practice of moral discipline harder and harder.

Just because we are a Kadampa does not mean we can’t have fun like everyone else on New Year’s Eve.  It is an opportunity to build close karmic bonds with others, especially our spiritual family.  We can reflect upon our behavior over the previous year and make determinations about how we will do better in the year to come.

I pray that all of your pure wishes in the coming year be fulfilled, and that all of the suffering you experience become a powerful cause of your enlightenment.  I pray that all beings may find a qualified spiritual path and thereby find meaning in their life.  I also pray that nobody die tonight from drunk driving, but everyone makes it home safe.  Since that is unlikely to come true, I pray that Avalokiteshvara swiftly take all those who die to the pure land where they may enjoy everlasting joy.

Happy Protector Day: May the Doctrine of Losang Dragpa Flourish Forevermore

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is the last part 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 most effective way of increasing the power of our reliance is to engage in sincere dedication prayers.  When we dedicate the merit we have accumulated it is like putting our spiritual savings in the bank where they can never be destroyed and they can earn spiritual interest.  Each sadhana has a different dedication prayer which summarizes the main function of the spiritual practice.  In the case or Dorje Shugden, the dedication prayers are as follows:

By this virtue may I quickly
Attain the enlightened state of the Guru,
And then lead every living being
Without exception to that ground.

This is the first effect of this practice.  This is the explicit strategy of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition for emptying samsara.  Je Tsongkhapa is a spiritual guide who trains others to also become spiritual guides.  These new spiritual guides then train others still and so on.  In this way, generation after generation, the beneficial effects of Je Tsongkhapa’s deeds continue forever.  This is the “great wave of Je Tsongkhapa’s deeds.” 

The person who got me into spirituality was a close friend in college.  He opened the door for me and encouraged me to step through.  After several years of practicing, I thought back to the fact that without the kindness and encouragement of this one friend I would not have a spiritual life at all.  When I later saw him, I asked him, “how can I pay you back?”  His answer was a very powerful teaching:  he said, “do the same for others.  And when others ask you how they can pay you back, give them the same answer.  In this way, the kindness keeps going forever.”  Venerable Tharchin says that the highest spiritual goal to aspire to is to take our place in the lineage.  At some point, we will be the lineage guru whose responsibility it is to carry forward the lineage.  We must prepare ourselves for that responsibility in much the same way people prepare themselves for big missions or assignments.

Through my virtues from practising with pure motivation,
May all living beings throughout all their lives
Never be parted from peaceful and wrathful Manjushri,
But always come under their care.

This is the second effect of this practice.  If beings are never separated from peaceful and wrathful Manjushri, in other words Je Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden, then their enlightenment is just a question of time.

The following two verses, known as the Prayers for the Virtuous Traditon, were actually written by a previous incarnation of Dorje Shugden, and we recite them after every practice. 

So that the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa,
The King of the Dharma, may flourish,
May all obstacles be pacified
And may all favourable conditions abound.

This should be fairly self-explanatory by now.  It is the essential meaning of the entire Dorje Shugden part.

Through the two collections of myself and others
Gathered throughout the three times,
May the doctrine of Conqueror Losang Dragpa
Flourish for evermore.

The two collections are the collections of merit and wisdom, and the three times are the past, present and future.  In other words, we mentally invest all of the merit every accumulated into the flourishing of Je Tsongkhapa’s Dharma (Losang Dragpa is another name for Je Tsongkhapa). 

To summarize, the practice of Dorje Shugden can be reduced to the following:

  1. We renew our motivation as a spiritual being – we realize that the only thing that matters is the causes we create because they are the only things we can take with us.
  2. We request with infinite faith that Dorje Shugden provide us with perfect conditions for our swiftest possible enlightenment.
  3. We then accept with infinite faith that whatever subsequently arises is the perfect conditions for our practice that we requested.
  4. We then practice in these conditions to the best of our ability.  It doesn’t matter what appears, what matters is how we respond.  So we try to respond well.

If we do these four things, I guarrantee that we will be gradually lead to enlightenment.  It will just be a question of time.

There is much much more to say about the practice of Heart Jewel, but I wanted to keep things simple.  I strongly encourage everyone to read again and again the book Heart Jewel, which Geshe-la has said is his most important book.  We should also take advantage of the opportunity to speak with some senior practitioners about how to establish a daily practice and we should request teachings and empowerments on this practice from our local teacher.

I dedicate any merit I accumulated from doing this series of posts so that every living being joyfully establishes a daily practice of Dorje Shugden.  I pray that everything that happens to every living being is perfect for their swiftest possible enlightenment.  I request the wisdom to be able to understand how whatever happens to anybody is perfect for their enlightenment and I request that all of the conditions be arranged for me to share this perspective with others in a way that they can accept it.  In this way, we can all happily accept everything that happens in our life and swiftly make progress to enlightenment.  OM VAJRA WIKI WITRANA SOHA!

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Being in Love with Everybody

Gen Tharchin said that at Tharpaland, everybody is in love with everybody else.  You know that feeling of being totally in love with somebody.  We need to feel that for one another.  For everyone really, but of course in a non-sexual, non-creepy way!  We need to do the same with everybody in our life.  As we try to do this, we will make many mistakes and attachment will creep up, but that is OK.  Gen-la Dekyong said we don’t abandon our relationships with others because our motivation is mixed, rather we redouble our efforts to truly love them without attachment.

To develop a feeling of love for others, we should focus all of our mental energy on their good qualities.  When they are kind and nice, we should understand that this is the true person acting.  When people make mistakes, we need to realize that they do so because they are confused.  They just do not know any better.  They don’t realize that their actions are counter-productive.

We need to think of our relationships in terms of what we can give them, not what we can get from them.  We need to leave the people in our life completely free to do whatever they wish, without trying to control them in the slightest.  We do not need others to do or act in any particular way, but we wholeheartedly accept them regardless of what they do. 

We need to help people take charge of their own life and own mind, and help them gain the confidence that they can do so.  We need to make a commitment to others that we will always be there for them, no matter what they do and no matter how long it takes.  We commit we will never abandon them.  We try to take personal responsibility for the other person, saying we will keep working to help this person for as long as it takes.

Our love should be like the sun, which shines equally on everyone and everything.  Our love is not tied to certain objects of love, rather our love is centered in our heart and it touches everyone and everything.  We need to keep searching for the middle way between attachment and non-loving, accepting that we will make mistakes, but eventually we will get it right.

We also need to look at what do we do when others develop attachment for us.  As we become a loving person, people will naturally start drawing closer to us and develop attachment and dependence on us.  From one perspecitve, this is OK, because it is better that they be drawn towards us than samsaric things.  But ultimately, we need to help them abandon this because this attachment will cause them to be separated from us and the Dharma.  Our job is to empower those around us.  Our job is actually to become irrelevant.  In the beginning, people need us for everything; but if we do our job right, they will later need us for nothing.  We help people not need us anymore to make good decisions.

What should we do to not fall under the influence of the worldly ourselves?  Shantideva described all the disadvantages of relating to the worldly and we came to the conclusion that we need to sever all contact with them.  There are no people who are inherently worldly from their own side, they become worldly when we relate to them with a worldly mind.  The only way to sever all contact with the worldly is to stop relating to them with a worldly mind and instead do so with a spiritual mind.

How can we do this?  We need to adopt special views of others.  The view we adopt determines the qualities we draw out.  Whatever we relate to and pay attention to we draw out.  We see this process with children and with everybody.  View is a creative action, not a passive observation.  Karmically, because others do not exist from their own side, the view we adopt of others determines the karma we create.  People appear to us to be ordinary because we have assented to ordinary appearance in the past.  To reverse this, we need to make a distinction between the person’s Buddha nature and their delusions.  The real person is the Buddha nature, and the delusions are what is obscuring the Buddha nature.  By maintaining this view, it will draw out their pure potential.  Gen Tharchin views each person who walks into a Dharma center as the future holder of the lineage for all beings.  By relating to this reality, we will naturally treat others with respect and draw out these qualities.   We can and should view others as emanations of our spiritual guide in the aspect of worldly beings to teach us something.  We can learn from everything we perceive if we adopt such a view.  Others will appear in an ordinary aspect for us to relate to them in a normal way and to learn how to skillfully draw out their pure potential. 

Teachers in the Rudolph Steiner tradition view each new student they meet as an opportunity to work on overcoming one of their weaknesses as a teacher.  We can do the same with everyone we meet.  We can view them all as emanations of Buddhas sent into our life to help us improve our realizations and skillful means.  At a deep level, since beings are empty, viewing others in this way karmically reconstructs them until they actually begin to appear to engage themselves in enlightened actions and become Buddhas.  Eventually, through viewing people in this pure and perfect way we can come to inhabit the pure land.  Our world will seem to be more and more the pure land.

We can also help them by showing a good example.  Atisha’s Advice from the Heart explains the sort of example a Kadampa shows.  Through this example, we will naturally encourage and inspire others to adopt a spiritual way of life.  Why?  Because they will see it works better than their ordinary ways.

Happy Tsog Day: Making the Actual Tsog Offering

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 22 of a 44-part series.

Making the tsog offering

HO This ocean of tsog offering of uncontaminated nectar,
Blessed by concentration, mantra, and mudra,
I offer to please the assembly of root and lineage Gurus.
OM AH HUM
Delighted by enjoying these magnificent objects of desire,
EH MA HO
Please bestow a great rain of blessings.

When we make the tsog offering itself we do so in successive rounds to the different parts of the field of merit. In this verse we make the tsog offering to the assembly of root and lineages Gurus. With the first line, we recall the outer aspect of the offerings we previously blessed. With the second line, we recall their cause, namely our concentration on emptiness, the mantra of all the Buddhas OM AH HUM, and our hand mudras performed during the blessing of the offerings. With the third line, we should imagine that countless offering goddesses holding skull cups scoop up the nectar of our offerings and fly to the assembly of root and lineages Gurus. With the fourth line we should imagine that the root and lineages Gurus partake of the offering through straws of wisdom light. With the fifth line we imagine that the root and lineages Gurus experience great bliss in dependence upon enjoying the offerings. With the sixth line we recall that ourselves, the offerings, the deities, and their experience of great bliss all lack inherent existence and are of one nature, like water mixed with water, or like different waves on the ocean of bliss and emptiness. With the last line, we request the root and lineages Gurus to perform their primary function, which is to bestow a great rain of blessings to realize all the stages of the path to enlightenment. Venerable Tharchin explains that a blessing is like a subtle infusion of the Buddha’s mind into our own. In modern terms, it is like we are downloading the Guru’s realizations into our own mind. By requesting that we receive the Guru’s blessings, we create the causes to do so. We should then strongly imagine that light rays and nectars descend from all the root and lineages Gurus and dissolve into our root mind at our heart.

HO This ocean of tsog offering of uncontaminated nectar,
Blessed by concentration, mantra, and mudra,
I offer to please the divine assembly of Yidams and their retinues.
OM AH HUM
Delighted by enjoying these magnificent objects of desire,
EH MA HO
Please bestow a great rain of attainments.

Here, we are making the tsog offerings to the assembly of Yidams and their retinues. The first, second, fourth, fifth, and sixth lines can be understood in exactly the same way as the first verse above. With the last line, we request the Yidams to perform their specific function which is to bestow a great rain of attainments.

There are a few different types of attainments that the Yidams bestow upon us. The first is according to the types of enlightened actions that a Buddha engages in, namely pacifying, increasing, controlling, and wrathful actions. The ability to engage in these types of actions are four different types of attainment.

A second set of attainments is mundane and super mundane attainments. Mundane attainments are the ability to accomplish things in this life. These are important because the more effective we are in this world, the greater the benefit we can bring causing the Dharma to flourish. Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path of Good Fortune the eight attributes of a fully endowed human life. These are: long life, beauty, high status, wealth and resources, persuasive speech, power and influence, freedom and independence, a strong mind, and a strong body. These eight mundane attainments all help us accomplish the ultimate purpose of human life, namely to attain enlightenment and to lead others to the same state. Geshe-la explains these attainments provide us “the very best opportunity to attain liberation and enlightenment in one lifetime.” A long life gives us the time we need to complete our Dharma practice. Beauty helps us attract disciples and makes it easier for them to generate faith in us. High status makes people more inclined to listen to our advice. Wealth and resources provide us with the means of benefiting living beings and Dharma centers in material ways. Persuasive speech makes others trust what we have to say so that our good advice is taken to heart. Power and influence enables us to operate at a higher scale and therefore bring greater benefit in all our actions. Freedom and independence enables us to be free from interferences with our Dharma practice. A strong mind enables us to easily understand the Dharma and help others do so as well. A strong body enables us to be healthy and also to live a long life.

The supermundane attainments are the realizations of the stages of the path, namely renunciation, bodhicitta, the correct view of emptiness, generation stage, and completion stage of Highest Yoga Tantra. All the supermundane attainments can be understood from the explanation of the stages of the path that follows.

HO This ocean of tsog offering of uncontaminated nectar,
Blessed by concentration, mantra, and mudra,
I offer to please the assembly of Three Precious Jewels.
OM AH HUM
Delighted by enjoying these magnificent objects of desire,
EH MA HO
Please bestow a great rain of sacred Dharmas.

With this verse we make the tsog offering to the three precious jewels. After making the tsog offering to the three precious jewels, we request them to accomplish their specific function which is to bestow a great rain of sacred Dharmas. The Buddhas bestow Dharma jewels through their teachings and blessings. Sangha bestow Dharma jewels through their good example and wise advice. The Dharma itself is both the teachings and also, more importantly, the actual realizations of the stages of the path inside our mind. In Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Geshe-la explains there are two types of refuge: simple and special. Simple refuge is simply requesting blessings that the three jewels help us. Special refuge is our actual refuge in the form of the realizations of the stages of the path within our mind. These realizations protect us from lower rebirth, rebirth in samsara, or becoming trapped in the solitary peace of a Hinayana Foe Destroyer.

HO This ocean of tsog offering of uncontaminated nectar,
Blessed by concentration, mantra, and mudra,
I offer to please the assembly of Dakinis and Dharma Protectors.
OM AH HUM
Delighted by enjoying these magnificent objects of desire,
EH MA HO
Please bestow a great rain of virtuous deeds.

In this verse we make off the tsog offering to the assembly of Dakinis and Dharma protectors, and we request them to accomplish their specific function, which is to bestow a great rain of virtuous deeds. As explained above, the Dakinis refer primarily to the deities of Heruka’s and Vajrayogini’s body mandala. These deities attained enlightenment for the express purpose of healing the subtle body of living beings in order to help them engage in completion stage practices. Our subtle body is comprised of channels, drops, and winds. At present our subtle body is a mangled mess with blockages and imperfections everywhere. As a result, our drops and winds are not able to flow freely and unobstructedly throughout our subtle body.

When blockages in our subtle body occur, we develop both outer and inner sicknesses. Outer sickness can take the form of things like cancer, infections, and other diseases. Inner sickness includes developing different types of delusions. When we heal our subtle body, our drops and inner energy winds can flow effortlessly without obstruction, resulting in the healing of both outer and inner sickness. Additionally, by virtue of healing our subtle body, when we engage in completion stage practices, all our inner energy winds can gather, absorb, and dissolve into our central channel at our heart. It is only through causing our winds to dissolve into our central channel that we can experience the eight dissolutions culminating in a qualified experience of clear light. Once we have generated the mind of clear light, we can then meditate on emptiness and quickly purify our mind of all delusions and their karmic imprints, thereby attaining enlightenment.

The Dharma Protector’s job is to arrange all the outer, inner, and secret conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment. Buddhas can only work with the karma on our mind. Their blessings can function to activate different karmic potentialities on our mind in specific ways that are conducive to our enlightenment. The principal Dharma protector of the New Kadampa Tradition is Dorje Shugden. He is a manifestation of the wisdom Buddha Manjushri. In dependence upon receiving his blessings, we come to see how whatever karma ripens is perfect for our spiritual training. There is no such thing as an inherently existent obstacle to our Dharma practice. Everything can be a condition for training our mind. Because we are currently strongly attached to certain things and averse to others, we think somethings are good for our practice and other things are obstacles. This is ignorance. Dorje Shugden’s blessings enable us to understand how everything is perfect for our training, therefore nothing is an obstacle to our Dharma practice. Things may still be a problem for our worldly concerns, but they are not a problem for our spiritual path. In this way, he removes all obstacles. Understanding this, we request him to perform this function for our self and for all living beings.

Christmas for a Kadampa

For those of us who live in the West, or come from Western families, Christmas is often considered the most important holiday of the year.  Ostensibly, Christmas is about the birth of Christ, and for some it is.  For most, however, it is about exchanging gifts, spending time with family and watching football.  Or it’s just about out of control consumerism, depending on your view.  Kadampas can sometimes feel a bit confused during Christmas time.  It used to be our favorite holiday as kids, but now we are Buddhists, so how are we supposed to relate to it?

It’s true, Christmas time has degenerated into a frenzy of buying things we don’t need.  It is easy to criticize Christmas on such grounds.  Of course, as Kadampas, we can be aware of this and realize its meaninglessness.  We can correctly identify the attachment and realize it’s wrong.  But certainly being a Kadampa means more than being a cynic and a scrooge.  Instead, we should rejoice in all the acts of giving.  Giving is a virtue, even if what people are giving is not very meaningful.  There is more giving that occurs in the Christmas season than any other time of the year.  Yes, the motivations for giving might be mixed with worldly concerns, but we can still rejoice in the giving part.  Rejoice in all of it, don’t be a cynic.

Likewise, I think we should celebrate with all our heart the birth of Christ into this world.  Why not?  Our heart commitment is to follow one tradition purely while appreciating and respecting all other traditions.  Instead of getting on our arrogant high horse mocking those who believe in an inherently existent God, why don’t we celebrate the birth of arguably the greatest practitioner of taking and giving to have ever walked the face of the earth?  The entire basis of Christianity is Christ took on all of the sins of all living beings, and by generating faith in him, believing he did so to save us, we open our mind to receive his special blessings which function to take our sins upon him.  He is, in this respect, quite similar to a Buddha of purification.  By generating faith in him, his followers can purify all of their negative karma.

Further, he is a doorway to heaven (his pure land).  If his followers remember him with faith at the time of their death, they will receive his powerful blessings and be transported to the pure land.  In this sense, he is very similar to Avalokiteshvara.  Christ taught extensively on being humble, working for the sake of the poor, and reaching out to those in the greatest of need.  Think of all the people he has inspired with his example.  Sure, there are some people who distort his teachings for political purposes, but that doesn’t make his original intent and meaning wrong.  In many ways, one can say he gave tantric teachings on maintaining pure view, and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven into this world.  Who can read the Sermon on the Mount and not be moved?  Who can read the prayers of his later followers, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, and not be inspired?  Think of Pope Francis.  You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate his positive effect on this world and the church.  All of these things we can rejoice in and be inspired by.  A Bodhisattva seeks to practice all virtue, and there is much in Jesus’ example worth emulating.  Trying to be more “Christ-like” in our behavior is not mixing.  If we can see somebody in our daily lives engaging in virtue and be inspired to be more like them, then why can we not also do so for one of the greatest Saints in the history of the world?  Rejoicing in and copying virtue is an essential component of the Kadampa path.

Geshe-la has said on many occasions that Buddhas appear in this world in Buddhist and non-Buddhist form.  Is it that hard to imagine that Christ too was a Buddha who appeared in a particular form in a particular place in human history for the sake of billions?  Surely all the holy beings get along just fine with one another, since they are ultimately of one nature.  It is only humans who create divisions and problems.  Geshe-la said we do believe in “God,” it is just different people have a different understanding of what that means.  Christians have their understanding, we have ours, but we can all respect and appreciate one another.

Besides celebrating Christ, Christmas is an excellent time for ourself to practice virtue.  Not just giving, but also patience with our loved ones, cherishing others, training in love and so forth.  It is not always easy to spend time with our families.  The members of our family have their fair share of delusions, and it is easy to develop judgmental attitudes towards them for it.  It is not uncommon for some of the worst family fights to happen during the holiday season.  Christmas time gives us an opportunity to counter all of these delusions and bad attitudes, and learn to accept and love everyone just as they are.

When I was a boy, Christmas was both my favorite time of year and my worst time of year.  My favorite time of year because I loved the lights, the songs and of course the presents.  It was the worst time of the year because my mother had an unrealistic expectation that just because it was Christmas, everything was supposed to work out perfectly and nothing was supposed to go wrong.  This created tremendous pressure on everyone in the house, and when the slightest thing would go wrong, she would become very upset and ruin the day for everyone.  This is not uncommon at all.  People’s expectations shoot through the roof during the Christmas season, and especially on Christmas day.  These higher expectations then cause us to be more judgmental, to more easily feel slighted, and to be quicker to anger.  We can view this time as an excellent opportunity to understand the nature of samsara is for things to go wrong, and the best answer to that fact is patient acceptance and a good laugh.

As I have grown older, Christmas has given rise to new delusions for me to overcome.  When I was little, I used to get lots of presents.  Now, I get a tie.  Not the same, and it always leaves me feeling a bit let down.  I give presents to everyone, yet nobody seems to give me any.  As a parent, I cannot help but have hopes and expectations that my kids will like their presents, but then when they don’t I realize my attachment to gratitude and recognition.  During Christmas, even though I am supposed to be giving, I find myself worrying about money and feeling miserly.  I find myself quick to judge my in-laws or other members of my family if they don’t act in the way I want them to.  Since I live abroad, far away from any family, I start to feel jealous of the pictures I see on Facebook of my other family members all together and seeming to have a good time while we are alone and forgotten on the other side of the planet.  When kids open presents, they are often like rabid dogs, going from one thing to the next without appreciating anything and I can’t help but feel I have failed as a parent.  Trying to get good pictures is always a nightmare, and getting the kids to express gratitude to the aunts and grandmas is always a struggle.  The more time we spend with our family, the more we become frustrated with them and secretly we can’t wait until school starts again and we can go back to work.  None of these are uncommon reactions, and these sorts of situations give rise to a pantheon of delusions.  But all of them give us a chance to practice training our mind and cultivating new, more virtuous, habits of mind.

Christmas is also a time in which we can reach out to those who are alone.  Suicide and depression rates are the highest during the holiday season.  People see everyone else happy, but they find themselves alone and unloved.  Why can we not invite these people to our home and let them know we care?  Make them feel part of our family.  There are also plenty of opportunities to volunteer to help out the poor and the needy, such as giving our time at or clothes to homeless shelters.  People in hospitals, especially the old and dying, suffer from great loneliness and sadness during the Christmas season.  We can go spend time with them, hear their stories, and give them our love.

Culturally, many of us are Christian.  People in the West, by and large, live in a Christian culture.  Geshe-la has gone to great lengths to present the Dharma in such a way that we do not have to abandon our culture to understand the Dharma.  Externally, culturally, we can remain Christian; while internally, spiritually we are 100% Kadampa.  There is no contradiction between these two.  On the whole, Christmas time gives us ample opportunities to create virtue, rejoice in goodness and battle our delusions.  For a Kadampa, this is perfect.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Where do all these worldly people come from?

(8.13) As a result of associating with the childish,
We naturally engage in unwholesome actions
Such as praising ourself, disparaging others,
And discussing the importance of worldly pleasures.

(8.14) The relationships I have made with the childish
Have been completely deceptive,
For the childish have done nothing to fulfil my wishes
And I have done nothing to fulfil theirs.

When we associate with the worldly, it brings out the worst in us and the worst in them.   We are very easily influenced by those we hang out with, and when we surround ourselves with worldly people, we become just like them.  When we behave in worldly ways, we cause others to become just like us.  We wind up doing all these things Shantideva describes.

Where do all these worldly people come from?  They come from our own worldly mind.  It is our mind projecting them.  We are the creator of all these worldly beings. Nobody is worldly and childish from their own side, rather it is our own worldly and childish mind that projects a world filled with worldly and childish people.  So yes, we should want to have absolutely nothing to do with worldly and childish people, but we need to understand very clearly where they come from – our own mind.  People or situations or activities are worldly and meaningless only if we relate to them in a worldly and meaningless way with a worldly and meaningless mind.  This is what we need to stop and stop completely.  Shantideva is a wisdom Buddha, so we can be certain that this is his meaning here.  It is really worth looking over these verses in this light and we will discover a deep, hidden meaning.

But Shantideva makes a vital point – others have done nothing to fulfill my wishes and I have done nothing to fulfill theirs.  We sometimes confuse superior intention – the mind that takes personal responsibility for the happiness and freedom of others – and co-dependency, thinking it is our job to make others happy.  We have no power whatsoever to make others happy.  Whether they are happy or not depends on what they do with their own mind, and we have no control whatsoever over what they do with their mind.  We think we are being compassionate, but in fact we are mistakenly appropriating responsibility for making others happy and then we think it is our fault if they are not.  Because we think this way, they start to think this way too – that they can’t be happy without us and that we are responsible for solving their problems for them, and if we don’t, they can’t be happy.  We create a dependency on us, which just serves to disempower them to solve their own problems and find their own happiness within themselves.  We can help others by setting a good example, offering wise advice if asked, and praying for them.  We cannot solve their mind for them.  And they cannot solve our mind for us.  We are each responsible for our own experience of life.  Others have done nothing to fulfill my wishes and I have done nothing to fulfill theirs.

(8.15) Therefore, I should withdraw to a great distance from the childish.
If I should subsequently meet them, I should please them by being happy
And, without becoming too close,
Act in agreeable ways according to convention.

(8.16) Just as a bee takes pollen from a flower,
So should I gather only what I need to sustain my practice
And then, without clinging, return to abide in solitude
As if I had never met anyone.

Sometimes we get so sick of being with the worldly and the deluded that we just want to get away from them.  Many people when they are in the early years of their Dharma practice develop a strong aversion for deluded people and do not want to have anything to do with them.  The thought of spending time with the family or ordinary friends is like torture.  Later in our Dharma practice, when we have a love of retreat, we develop an aversion for being anywhere near worldly life and we want to do as Shantideva says and get away from it all so we can focus on our practice.  As our bodhichitta and skillful means develop, there will come to be hundreds and hundreds of people who have relationships with us.  We need to think carefully about how we should approach all of these relationships.

We need to find balance.  One extreme is the extreme of attachment to others.  We view others as causes of OUR happiness, and we pursue our relationships with them towards this end.  The problem with this is it creates the cause for us to be separated from them in the future.  Since we are their access to the Dharma, our attachment to them creates the causes for them to be separated from the Dharma.  Terrible!  The other extreme is the extreme of non-loving.  We are so afraid of attachment to others that we become distant with others, indifferent, and there is no emotional connection in our relationships.    The problem with this is we cannot really help anybody if there is not a close relationship.  We need to develop extremely deep and meaningful relationships with others, where they have the closest relationship with us as they do with anybody.   And we need to have this with hundreds, indeed thousands of people.

One of our difficulties is we do not know how to love people, really love people, without it becoming mixed with romantic attachment.  These types of minds can become real obstacles to our developing close relationships.  Why does this occur?  Because we so admire the other person and see so many good qualities, that the only time we normally do that is when we have strong romantic attachment to somebody, so it winds up triggering these sorts of minds.  We need to learn to cultivate a pure love free from all attachment.  I think we need to start with each other. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Our Relationships Cannot Save Us

(8.8) While we preoccupy ourself with the things of this life,
Our whole life passes without any meaning.
For the sake of impermanent friends and relatives,
We neglect the Dharma that leads to permanent liberation.

(8.9) By behaving in such a childish way,
We definitely create the causes of lower rebirth.
Since worldly beings lead us to unfortunate states,
What is the point of relying on them?

We need to think carefully about these things.  What does it mean to be preoccupied with things with no meaning?  What is something without meaning?  Are we to never rely upon or try to relate to the worldly?  Should want to have nothing to do with the worldly and the meaningless?  It is very easy to misunderstand the meaning here to think relationships with others are objects of abandonment.  No, we only need to abandon our attachment. 

But at the same time, Shantideva’s verses help us reduce our inappropriate attention towards relationships with others.  All delusions harm us primarily through exaggeration.  The more we exaggerate, the more we suffer.  One of the principal means by which delusions develop is through exaggerating the good or bad qualities of something.  When we have attachment, we romanticize how wonderful it would be to have this object of our desire.  Shantideva cuts this down.  What good are others from a worldly point of view?  In truth, most people are a pain in the butt!  Those who are in relationships wish they could be alone because others are so damn needy and they can never be pleased.  It is exhausting being with other people.  How much better it would be to be alone!  Not inherently of course, but if our mind is suffering from an exaggerated sense of how important it is to be with somebody, we can contemplate these things to reduce our exaggeration.

I think mainly we must be identifying and striving to overcome our attachment to those people who we are with each day of our life, whoever that might be. We need to develop an equanimity with respect to the people of our life, not preferring to be with some over others.   If there is imbalance in our mind towards the people in our life, then there is definitely attachment present. 

(8.10) One moment they are friends,
The next moment they become enemies;
And even while they are enjoying themselves, they become angry –
How unreliable worldly beings are!

(8.11) If I tell them about something that is meaningful, they become angry
And even try to prevent me from engaging in that meaningful action;
Yet if I do not listen to what they say, they become angry with that
And in so doing create the causes of lower rebirth!

(8.12) The childish are jealous of anyone superior to them,
Competitive with their equals, and arrogant towards their inferiors.
They are conceited when praised but get angry if criticized.
There is never any benefit in being attached to them.

Again, the goal here is to apply an antidote to our attachment to wanting companionship.  Jean-Paul Sarte said, “hell is other people.”  Shantideva is explaining why.  They can never be pleased and always complain.  They never do what they are supposed to do, and expect us to do everything for them.  They fail to live up to their responsibilities, then blame us for it.  When we help them, they criticize us for not helping them enough or doing a bad job at it.  They take, take, take, and never think of giving anything in return.  They get jealous of our happiness and create obstacles to everything we want to do.  They find fault in everything we do, and are impatient when we don’t satisfy their every want.  Even if we dedicate our whole life to fulfilling their every wish, they will criticize us in the end and offer nothing back.  We will have spent our whole life trying to make them happy, only to realize we have failed and they are as miserable as ever. 

Shantideva gives a clear description of worldly people.  We all know people like this in our life.  Worldly relationships are by nature childish and dysfunctional.  There are always problems in them.  Have we ever had a close relationship with somebody that was not problematic?  Why are relationships with these people so bad?  It is because they act in such childish and worldly ways?  Because they are all full of delusions?  Yet, bizarrely, we would like to have a relationship with one of them.  And our mind is so funny, our mind is saying, “this one will be different. All the relationships I’ve had so far, yeah, they haven’t worked out, but things will be different this time.  They’ll be different for me, and this person is very different from any other person I’ve met.”  We are convinced that this time it will work because now this other person is good.  We feel lucky that we found such a great person.  Of course, we have thought this before, and later we found out that the person was in fact not trustworthy or problematic in some way.  Yet, this time it will be different.  Or so we fool ourselves.

But at a deeper level, isn’t Shantideva also describing our own behavior?  If we examine our own behavior honestly, we will realize we are just as worldly as these people Shantideva describes.  Or at least there is an extent to which we are.  Perhaps all of our relationships have failed not because everyone we have been with has been so bad, but because we ourselves remain just as worldly, deluded, and selfish as before.

Happy Tsog Day: Enlightened Party Preparation

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 21 of a 44-part series.

The Tsog Offering

If we wish to make a tsog offering to emphasize the swift attainment of the realizations of the stages of the path, we should do so after reciting the mantras.

As explained in the first post of this series, we are encouraged as part of our Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments and commitments to make a tsog offering on the two 10th days. Doing so with faith and imagination is a guaranteed method for attaining the pure land. What is a tsog offering? Essentially, it is an enlightened party in which we accumulate merit, develop close connections with the Buddhas, and create the causes to generate the qualified great bliss of completion stage.

Within the context of Offering to the Spiritual Guide, we can perform the tsog offering in a variety of different places in order to emphasize different aspects of the practice. For example, we can do so before purification practice, receiving blessings, and so forth. Here, in order to emphasize the importance of Lamrim meditation, I am explaining the tsog offering just prior to the prayer of the stages of the path in the sadhana. Wherever we do the tsog offering, we can believe that it supercharges whatever comes afterwards and our mind becomes specifically blessed to gain the realizations of what comes next in the sadhana.

The Kadampa Buddhist tradition takes the Lamrim as our main practice. Everything we do, in sutra and in tantra, are all part the Kadam Lamrim. Geshe-la explains in Mirror of Dharma that there are three different prayers of state of the stages of the path. The short prayer is the one in Prayers for Meditation, the middling prayer is the one from Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land according to Highest Yoga Tantra explained in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, and the extensive Lamrim prayer is in Offering to the Spiritual Guide. In many ways, the extensive Lamrim prayer is the most comprehensive yet synthesized explanation of the entire New Kadampa Tradition path. Just as we are encouraged to memorize the middling prayer, so too we should strive to memorize the long Lamrim prayer.

Blessing the offering substances

OM AH HUM  (3x)

By nature exalted wisdom, having the aspect of the inner offering and the individual offering substances, and functioning as objects of enjoyment of the six senses to generate a special exalted wisdom of bliss and emptiness, inconceivable clouds of outer, inner, and secret offerings, commitment substances, and attractive offerings, cover all the ground and fill the whole of space.

EH MA HO Great manifestation of exalted wisdom.
All realms are vajra realms
And all places are great vajra palaces
Endowed with vast clouds of Samantabhadra’s offerings,
An abundance of all desired enjoyments.
All beings are actual Heroes and Heroines.
Everything is immaculately pure,
Without even the name of mistaken impure appearance.

Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path of Good Fortune that there is no difference between making offerings to a statue or making offerings to the living Buddha. The reason for this is twofold: first, both the statue and a living Buddha are equally empty, meaning they are equally mere karmic appearances of mind. Second, wherever we imagine a Buddha, a Buddha goes, so when we imagine a Buddha in the space in front of us, he is present and receives our offerings. In the same way, there is no difference between making actual offerings and imagined offerings, because once again both are equally empty and Buddhas are present to receive our offerings.

It is quite difficult to fill the universe with Samantabhadra’s offerings, but it is easy to do so with our faith and imagination. In this section of the tsog offering, we bless the offerings, environment, and world. We first dissolve everything into emptiness, and then from the space of emptiness generate pure offerings and a pure world as described in the sadhana. We should strongly believe that the entire world has transformed into a pure land and all space is filled with exquisite offerings that would delight the gods. We recognize all these offerings and the pure world to be the nature of indivisible bliss and emptiness appearing in the aspect of the offerings and pure world.

HUM All elaborations are completely pacified in the state of the Truth Body. The wind blows and the fire blazes. Above, on a grate of three human heads, AH within a qualified skullcup, OM the individual substances blaze. Above these stand OM AH HUM, each ablaze with its brilliant colour. Through the wind blowing and the fire blazing, the substances melt. Boiling, they swirl in a great vapour. Masses of light rays from the three letters radiate to the ten directions and invite the three vajras together with nectars. These dissolve separately into the three letters. Melting into nectar, they blend with the mixture. Purified, transformed, and increased,

EH MA HO They become a blazing ocean of magnificent delights.

OM AH HUM  (3x)

Here, we are specifically blessing the tsog offering itself. Externally, we imagine that from the space of emptiness appears a large skull cup inside of which are the offerings, we then imagine that a wisdom fire burns beneath the skull cup causing all the offerings to melt, and then we imagine the seed letters OM, AH, and HUM all dissolve into the offerings blessing them and purifying them as described explicitly in the sadhana. Internally, we can engage in tummo meditation inside our central channel. We imagine that our inner tummo fire at our secret place blazes, it causes the drops within our central channel to melt, giving rise to an experience of great bliss. An extensive explanation for how to do this can be found in Guide to Dakini Land and Essence of Vajrayana. Someone who is able to train in tummo meditation while blessing offerings will make very swift progress to enlightenment.

Inviting the guests of the tsog offering

O Root and lineage Gurus, whose nature is compassion,
The assembly of Yidams and objects of refuge, the Three Precious Jewels,
And the hosts of Heroes, Dakinis, Dharma Protectors, and Dharmapalas,
I invite you, please come to this place of offerings.

With this verse we invite all the deities of Highest Yoga Tantra to join us for the tsog offering. There are three points in particular we should emphasize. First, that all the invited deities are in essence our spiritual guide, who himself is the nature of compassion. Buddhas themselves have no need for emanation bodies, rather they generate them out of compassion to be able to communicate with living beings such as ourselves. Second, we should understand the different functions of the spiritual guide emanating these different forms. Our Yidams provide us with the actual Buddha we strive to become. The three precious jewels help us by bestowing blessings, setting a good example, and revealing to us the stages of the path to enlightenment. The Heroes and Dakinis bless our subtle body – our channels, drops, and winds – enabling us to easily cause our inner winds to dissolve into our central channel, giving rise to the appearances of the eight dissolutions, resulting finally in the mind of the Clear Light of Bliss. The Dharma protectors and dharmapala’s arrange all the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment. Understanding the value of receiving all this benefit from our spiritual guide, we imagine all these deities come into the space in front of us. And third, we strongly believe we are in the living presence of all these deities. We should not think they are simply objects of our imagination, but rather that the holy beings themselves have entered into our mind and we are directly communing with them when we make the tsog offering.

Amidst vast clouds of outer, inner, and secret offerings,
With light radiating even from your feet,
O Supremely Accomplished One please remain firm on this beautiful throne of jewels
And bestow the attainments that we long for.

Here we recall all the offerings that we previously generated and the reason why we invited all the holy beings, namely so that they can bestow all the attainments that we long for. It is important to remember that the Buddhas want nothing more than to bestow blessings and attainments upon us. The reason why they attained enlightenment was to be able to do so, so we should feel that they are overjoyed to come into our presence to receive our offerings and to bestow their blessings.

Happy Tara Day: May there be the auspiciousness of her presence

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

Dedication

By this virtue may I quickly
Become Arya Tara,
And then lead every living being
Without exception to that ground.

The dedication of any sadhana indicates the practice’s main function.  By engaging in the practice, we create the karmic causes for the ends we dedicate towards in the dedication.  Then, when doing the dedication, we “seal” the karma we have created through doing the practice so that it continues to work without interruption until the dedication is realized.  For me, the best analogy is dedication is like putting our savings into a retirement account, where it will continue to accumulate interest until eventually we have reached our retirement goals.  Geshe Chekhawa says there are two activities:  one at the beginning and one at the end.  In the beginning, we establish our motivation for engaging in the practice; and in the end, we dedicate our merit towards the accomplishment of our desired spiritual goals.  As Mahayanists, our motivation and our dedication are the same – we wish to become a Buddha for the sake of all living beings and then we dedicate at the end towards the same end.  Thus it is important that we recall our bodhichitta motivation for having engaged in the practice, and now we solidify it by dedicating our merits towards the same goal.

Sometimes it is easy to get lazy and distracted with our dedications, but this is a big mistake.  By the end of our practice, we are tired and we are also anticipating everything that we will have to do once our practice is over.  Our mind is already positioning itself for what comes after.  Shantideva explains that anger can quickly destroy all undedicated merit, but dedication functions to protect our merit from subsequent anger.  Given how easily we get angry, it is safe to say that any merit we have not dedicated has already been destroyed by our past anger.  In other words, the only merit we have left on our mind is that which we have dedicated.  Whenever good karma ripens, we should recall that the only reason why we are able to enjoy our present good circumstance is due to our past practice of dedication.

Here, we dedicate to become Arya Tara and to lead all living beings to the same ground.  We are Kadampas, so it is only natural for us to wish to become a Lamrim Buddha just like Tara.  Her special power is to bestow Lamrim realizations and her uncommon mission is to care for all Atisha’s future disciples.  We wish to do the same. 

Through the virtues I have collected
By worshipping the Blessed Mother,
May every living being without exception
Be born in the Pure Land of Bliss.

Here, we specifically recall that she is our blessed spiritual mother, who cares for and nurtures our spiritual life to maturity.  When we recite this dedication, we should mentally generate the wish that she be our spiritual mother in all of our future lives until we attain enlightenment.  Geshe-la once said that the mind of Lamrim is Akanishta Pure Land.  In other words, if we transform our mind into Lamrim, the world which will naturally appear is Akanishta Pure Land.  When we help others develop Lamrim minds, we are in fact bringing them into our Pure Land.  We do not have to wait until others die for them to be reborn in the Pure Land of Bliss, they can do so now through generating Lamrim minds.

Auspicious verse

You, who having abandoned all bodily faults, possess the signs and indications,
Who having abandoned all verbal faults, possess a heavenly voice,
Who having abandoned all mental faults, realize all objects of knowledge;
O Lady of blessed, glorious renown, may there be the auspiciousness of your presence.

This verse reveals how we should rely upon Tara in the meditation break.  We generate faith by considering the good qualities of a Buddha, but sometimes we forget to connect that to our own life.  In this verse, we bridge the gap by praying that we always be in the living presence of Tara and experience firsthand her good qualities.  A Buddha’s body is not just their form, such as a Green Deity with an outstretched leg; rather, their body pervades the entire universe and we can correctly view all things as her emanations.  With the first line, we pray that we “see” her in every form we encounter, and that we understand what we see as the signs and indications of her presence in our life.  To strengthen this experience, during the meditation break, we should take the time to view everything that appears to us as her bodily emanations in our life.  In particular, we can view the food we eat, the home we live in, the clothes we wear, etc., all as provided by our spiritual mother caring for us.

With the second line, we pray that every sound we hear – even the rustling of the leaves in the wind – is recognized by us as her heavenly voice teaching us the Kadam Lamrim.  During the meditation break, we hear countless sounds, but whether those sounds teach us Lamrim depends upon our familiarity with the Lamrim teachings and the blessings we receive from the Buddhas.  By practicing pure view recognizing every sound as Tara’s heavenly voice, she will enter into every sound and our mind will be blessed to hear everything as Lamrim teachings.  Then, day and night, it will be as if we are in her holy temple at her lotus feet.

With the third line, we pray that every thought that arise in our mind arise from her omniscient wisdom.  Thoughts arise in our mind like bubbles from the bottom of the sea, but the majority of them are contaminated, deluded views.  If we can unite our mind with Tara’s, then every thought we have will be a manifestation of her omniscient wisdom arising in our mind.  Venerable Tharchin says a blessing is like a subtle infusion of a Buddha’s mind into our own.  When we feel the presence of Arya Tara’s mind within our own, then we will receive a steady stream of her blessings.  Throughout the meditation break, we should recall Tara has mixed inseparably with our root mind at our heart, and view every thought that arises as her quick wisdom.  By maintaining this view, she will enter every thought we have and bless us to have a Lamrim perspective with respect to every appearance.  In this way, everything that arises, both externally and internally, are all viewed as Tara.  In short, our practice during the meditation break is to always remember we are in her presence in these three ways.

Dedication:  I dedicate all of the merit I have accumulated through sharing my understanding of Tara practice so that in all our future lives she remains our spiritual mother, who gives birth to us as Kadampas and nurtures us to spiritual maturity on the Kadampa path.  Through her blessings, may our every experience give rise to Lamrim minds, and may we always feel ourselves to be in her holy presence.  May every person who reads this series of posts make the firm determination to engage in the Liberation from Sorrow practice the 8th of every month for the rest of their lives, and may Tara appear to them at the time of their death and lead them to her Pure Land. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Attachment Separates us From What We Desire

Shantideva first looks at our attachment to people.  

(8.5) I, who am decaying moment by moment, have attachment to others
Who are also decaying moment by moment.
As a result of this, I shall not be able to see
Pure, attractive objects for thousands of lifetimes.

The beauty that we perceive in others and the relationships that we have cannot last and do not last.  Such things are impermanent.  One of the easiest ways to overcome our attachment is to consider how attachment itself functions to separate us from the objects of our attachment.  It is because we want these things that we must let go of our attachment to them.  There are two reasons why this is so.  First, the mind of attachment grasps at a separation between ourselves and the object we are attached to – we are here, the object of our attachment is there.  The more we develop attachment, the more we strengthen this perceived gap of being separated from the object in our mind.  Second, attachment functions to burn up the merit we have to even be able to see objects of attachment.  Once the merit is gone, such objects cannot appear.

Acting out of attachment functions as a cause to be separated from those things that we presently enjoy, such as the people we find attractive.  Beauty disappears, and certainly as a result of our deluded actions, it will not reappear. Our attachment to people we find attractive will lead to our being with people we find unattractive.  Interesting isn’t it how, how grasping at permanence is such a strong foundation for our attachment.  It leads to the disappearance of attractive things.

(8.6) If I do not see someone whom I find attractive,
I become unhappy and cannot place my mind in concentration;
Yet, when I do see that person, I find no satisfaction
But am just as tormented by attachment as I was before.

This is the classic story of attachment.  We are convinced that the satisfaction of our desires can be accomplished by having the object of our attachment, so we go in search of it.  But even when we get it, we do not find the satisfaction we seek, and in fact are left with even more attachment because we fed the beast.  The solution here is to pierce the illusion that there is happiness in the object, and instead reprogram our mind to think that happiness lies in the cultivation of virtuous minds.  Then, we will naturally be drawn to that.  We also need to realize that every time we feed the beast of our delusions, we do not avoid the suffering of not having the object of our attachment, we guarantee having to experience it again. 

For example, when people try to quit their addictions, their mind of attachment tells them that they suffer because they are depriving themselves of the object of their attachment and it lies to them that they will feel better if they indulge in it.  No!  The reason why they suffer from withdrawal now is because in the past they did indulge; and if they indulge now, they simply guarantee that they will once again have to experience the suffering of withdrawal later.  Our attachment tricks us into thinking something that is exactly backwards from the truth.

(8.7) Having strong attachment to other living beings
Obstructs the correct view of emptiness,
Prevents renunciation for samsara,
And causes great sorrow at the time of death.

How can we understand this?  When we have strong attachment for somebody, we are necessarily grasping at them as existing externally to us and ourselves as existing independently of everything else.  This obstructs the view of emptiness.  Also, when we have attachment, we are assenting to there being happiness in samsara, and this belief is the exact opposite of the mind of renunciation which does not seek to find a ‘good part’ of samsara, rather it seeks exclusively to wake up from this contaminated dream.  Whatever attachment we have not conquered during life, it will manifest strongly at the time of our death tempting us to turn towards it and thus once again go back into samsara.

This attachment particularly manifests in the form of our relationships with others.  We think that we can find happiness if we had a relationship with somebody else.  It is true that we can have much happiness in a relationship but not from the relationship.  The happiness comes from our mind in that relationship, not from the relationship itself.  Relationships can also be a source of great misery and frustration.  It all depends upon our mind.  Whether we are with somebody or not with somebody, in truth, makes absolutely no difference.  If we are unhappy without somebody, we will be unhappy when we are with somebody because we will bring our unhappy mind with us.  If we are happy alone, we will be able to be happy with somebody for the same reason.  Being confused about this, we grasp at relationships and then are never happy, either in one or without one.