Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Taking an Honest Look at Disgusting Human Bodies

(8.57) If your main interest is in attractive forms,
Why do you not prefer to touch such things
As beautiful young flowers
Rather than desiring others’ bodies, which are just cages of filth?

We might object, we like to engage in sexual activities with others bodies because they are beautiful.  We are attracted to their beauty.  But flowers are also beautiful.  But they just don’t do it for us in the same that bodies do, do they?  We might like a pretty flower, but we don’t wish to engage in sexual intercourse with it. So it’s not the attractive form that pulls us in, is it? It cannot be just the attractive form because a young flower is an attractive form, it’s a beautiful form.

So what is it then? Again what is it about bodies? Compare that beautiful young flower with a cage of filth, we still go for the cage of filth. The cage of filth does it for us, flowers do not. Why? What is it that we’re actually interested in? Fascinating, isn’t it?  When we look and try find what exactly we are so attracted to, we find nothing.  When we try find what is worth copulating with, we find nothing.

(8.58) If you do not want to touch a place
Covered with impurities such as vomit,
Why do you want to touch the body
From which these impurities come?

(8.59) If you are not attached to what is unclean,
Why do you embrace others’ bodies,
Which come from impure blood and sperm
Within an unclean womb?

(8.60) You have no desire for the body of an insect, however small,
That emerges from a pile of dung;
So why do you desire a gross, impure body
That is produced from thirty-six impure substances?

(8.61) Not only do you not disparage
The impurity of your own body,
But, out of attachment to what is unclean,
You desire other bags of filth!

(8.62) Even pure medicinal herbs
And delicately cooked rice or vegetables
Will defile the ground on which they land
If they are spat out after having been in the mouth.

(8.63) Although the impurity of the body is obvious,
If you still have doubts, go to a burial ground
And reflect on the impurity of the corpses
That have been abandoned there.

(8.64) Once you have understood
That, when the skin is removed,
The body gives rise to great aversion,
How can you ever derive pleasure from it again?

We dislike anything, don’t we, that is filthy, unclean, contaminated, in some way. Such as the unpleasant things that come out of the body.  Yet the body is the very source of these things, the body is unclean, impure, contaminated. Again why do we like bodies that are by nature impure, unclean?   Why do we laugh when we hear these descriptions? Because we all do. … Why? Shantideva is just describing what our body is actually like. It’s filthy, it’s unclean. Why do we laugh?  We think perhaps the way Shantideva puts it seems absurd.  But is it?  Or is this not objective and our actual view is the one that is absurd.  I think reading descriptions like this make us nervous – we don’t want to take them on board because we don’t want to let go of our attachment, but we have to have some reaction, so we nervously laugh.  I think our self-cherishing feels cornered by Shatideva’s words.  I think we laugh because we don’t want to accept it, and we don’t want to look at it.  His words are true, and we try and spend our whole life pretending that they are not.

(8.65) The fragrance of another’s body comes from other sources,
Such as the sandalwood with which it is anointed;
So why are you attracted to a body
Because of scents that are not its own?

(8.66) Since in its natural state the body smells foul,
Would it not be better to have no attachment for it?
Why do those who crave the meaningless things of this world
Anoint this body with perfume?

(8.67) If the scent comes from perfume, such as sandalwood,
How can it come from the body?
Why be attached to others
Because of a scent that is not theirs?

(8.68) When left naked in its natural state,
The body is hideous, with long hair and nails,
Foul-smelling, yellowing teeth,
And a pervasive stench of dirt.

So perhaps it is the smell of the body that we’re attracted to?  No, that can’t be, bodies generally stink.  Perhaps it is the perfume on it. But if we like the perfume, then why are we attached to the body?  If we put perfume on a pillow, we wouldn’t be as attached. 

It is not the smell, so what is it, really?  We can see that Shantideva is engaging in a wisdom search for what, exactly, are we so attached to.  It is like trying to find an inherently existent object, when we search, we find nothing.  Here, Shantideva is using wisdom to search for what exactly it is we are attached to.  When we look with wisdom, we find nothing. 

Happy Tsog Day: How to Practice the Song of the Spring Queen (part 3)

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 26 of a 44-part series.

HUM All you Tathagatas,
Heroes, Yoginis,
Dakas, and Dakinis,
To all you I make this request:
Like a lotus born from the centre of a swamp,
This method, though born from attachment, is unstained by the faults of attachment.
O Supreme Dakini, through the bliss of your lotus,
Please quickly bring liberation from the bonds of samsara.
AH LA LA, LA LA HO, AH I AH, AH RA LI HO
May the assembly of stainless Dakinis
Look with loving affection and accomplish all deeds.

The fifth and sixth lines of this verse emphasize that the spontaneous great joy we generated with the previous verse is by nature completely free from any grasping or attachment. Sexual bliss is very pleasant, but is characterized by a strong grasping at the experience. If we check our mind when we are experiencing sexual bliss it is not a peaceful mind. The great bliss of completion stage is by nature inner peace. Enlightenment is sometimes called the supreme inner peace of enlightenment. Great bliss is an inner peace that is so peaceful it is blissful. It is completely relaxed and spacious without the slightest trace of tension or grasping. It feels as if our mind has settled into a complete stillness and has no need or desire whatsoever to arise from that stillness because any movement would be away from the most pleasant experience possible to something less pleasant. This is why the mind of great bliss is the supreme mind of concentration that far surpasses tranquil abiding. There is no better mind for concentrating on virtue.

In all our tantric practices of transforming pleasant circumstances into the path the procedure is the same. We can take eating ice cream as an example. When we eat ice cream, we generate a pleasant experience on our tongue. Normally we then grasp at the ice cream as an external cause of our pleasant experience and generate attachment for ice cream as a result. But if we were to transform the pleasant experience of eating ice cream into the path using tantric methods, we would then mentally imagine we dissolve both the ice cream and our tongue into their ultimate nature emptiness while retaining the pleasant experience we are enjoying. When we are able to retain the pleasant experience without the appearance of the external object that we mistakenly thought was giving rise to the pleasant experience, we are able to meditate on the union of the pleasant experience and emptiness. Instead of giving rise to attachment, we realize we can generate pleasant experiences from within our mind and hold them regardless of what external objects we are exposed to. In exactly the same way, we can transform any pleasant experience, including the pleasant experiences of sexual activities.

When we recite this verse, we can mentally imagine that we dissolve our self, Vajraygoini, and the entire pure land generated around us into the clear light emptiness while retaining the spontaneous great joy we experienced and generated through the previous verse. This is exactly the same as we would do if we were transforming eating ice cream using tantric methods. This meditation on the experience of spontaneous great joy mixed inseparably with emptiness, like water mixed with water, functions to purify all the contaminated karma on our mind. As explained before, there are two types of obstruction to our enlightenment: delusion obstructions and obstructions to omniscience. Delusion obstructions are the tendencies similar to the cause to generate delusions from our past delusions. Obstructions to omniscience are the effects similar to the cause, environmental effects, and ripened effects of our past deluded actions. Once we have freed our mind from all the delusion obstructions, we attain liberation. This comes first. We then continue to meditate on the union of bliss and emptiness and gradually purify all the obstructions to omniscience. When that happens, we attain full enlightenment. In this verse, we imagine that in dependence upon our experience of the union of spontaneous great joy and emptiness we completely purify all our delusion obstructions and therefore attain liberation. The lotus referred to in the eighth line is once again Vajrayogini’s bhaga.

When we recite the ninth line, we do not directly visualize ourselves engaging in union with Vajrayogini as we have done in the previous verses, rather everything has been dissolved into clear light emptiness. In Understanding the Mind, Geshe-la explains there are two types of object, manifest and hidden. Manifest objects are objects that appear directly to our sense consciousnesses or to our mental consciousness. Hidden objects are objects that do not appear directly but can nonetheless be established through inferential valid cognizers. With this verse, when we recite the ninth line, we imagine that we are focusing on the emptiness of engaging in union with Vajrayogini. It does not appear directly to our mind, but we nonetheless experience its effect of spontaneous great joy. The experience of spontaneous great joy is the valid reason supporting the inferential cognizer establishing that we are engaging in union with Vajrayogini. In this way, we can understand that the meditation on the union of clear light bliss and emptiness is in fact the definitive version of engaging in union with a wisdom mudra. Normally when we talk about Buddhas we say there is the interpretative Buddha and the definitive Buddha. Interpretive Heruka, for example, is the blue deity with four faces and twelve arms. Definitive Heruka is the union of bliss and emptiness. In exactly the same way, interpretive reliance upon a wisdom mudra is everything we have been describing up to this verse, and definitive reliance upon a wisdom mudra is described in this verse.

HUM All you Tathagatas,
Heroes, Yoginis,
Dakas, and Dakinis,
To all you I make this request:
Just as the essence of honey in the honey source
Is drunk by swarms of bees from all directions,
So through your broad lotus with six characteristics
Please bring satisfaction with the taste of great bliss.
AH LA LA, LA LA HO, AH I AH, AH RA LI HO
May the assembly of stainless Dakinis
Look with loving affection and accomplish all deeds.

With this last verse, we continue to meditate on the union of spontaneous great joy and emptiness as in the previous verse. But here, we purify completely all our obstructions to omniscience. And thereby attain full enlightenment. When we attain enlightenment, we are able to perceive appearance directly as a manifestation of bliss and emptiness. Prior to enlightenment, we can meditate on a direct realization of bliss and emptiness, but when appearances once again appear to our mind, they appear to exist from their own side. When we attain enlightenment, this duality falls away and objects appear to us directly to be manifestations of their underlying bliss and emptiness. One way of thinking about it is we penetrate so deeply into emptiness that we find appearance. This is similar to the meditation on the clarity of mind. Clarity is so clear it can know any form. In the same way, the emptiness we perceive is so empty it can appear as any form. When we recite this verse, we strongly believe that we purify completely all our obstructions to omniscience and, as a result, the mandala of our self-generation as Heruka and Vajrayogini begins to appear directly to our mind as a manifestation of the bliss and emptiness we have been bathing in. We attain the resultant union of appearance and emptiness. We strongly believe that we have attained full enlightenment in dependence upon relying on the wisdom mudra Vajrayogini through the practice of Song of the Spring Queen, and we generate a feeling of profound joy experiencing the entire mandala as our body of great bliss and emptiness.

The fifth through the eighth line of this verse describe the practice of relying upon a wisdom mudra from the perspective of someone who has already attained the union of Heruka or full enlightenment. At present, when we engage in self-generation practice, we first generate the basis of imputation of our self as Heruka in Keajra in union with Vajrayogini. We then imagine that we identify with this Heruka and Vajrayogini as if it was ourselves. Wherever we imagine a Buddha, a Buddha appears. And certainly Heruka and Vajrayogini always abide in their pure land. Now try imagine how our engaging in self-generation practice is experienced from the perspective of Heruka and Vajrayogini in Keajra. From their perspective, it is as if countless tantric practitioners are like a swarm of bees who come and partake of the honey source that is their union of Heruka and Vajrayogini. They allow all living beings to enter into them and they share their great bliss with all of them. Here, when we recite this last verse, we imagine that we are Heruka and Vajrayogini in Keajra and that we invite all living beings to enter into us, like a swarm of bees, to enjoy the honey of great bliss that we are offering to them. In other words, we imagine we are experiencing things exactly as Heruka and Vajrayogini do. This way of practicing is incredibly profound and creates countless causes for us to be able to one day become a Heruka able to do this for others. It also creates the karma for us to more easily engage in the practices described by Song of the Spring Queen ourselves in the future. It is almost impossible to imagine how amazing all this is. We are so fortunate!

Five Meditations to a Perfect Blissful Experience of the Emptiness of the Self-Generation

The emptiness section of the Three Principal Aspects of the Path takes us through a series of five meditations we can do with respect to any phenomena. To illustrate, I will use the self-generation of ourself as the deity:

1. Meditate on non-dual appearance and emptiness. We can do this by meditating on the four profundities. To meditate on the first two profundities, we think the self-generation we normally see does not, but the self-generation does appear, exist and function. To meditate on the second the second two profundities, we specifically meditate on non-dual appearance and emptiness. The self-generation is not other than emptiness, emptiness appears as the self-generation.

2. Meditate on dependent relationship. This has four levels: the self-generation arises in dependence upon causes and conditions, such as having received an empowerment; listened to, contemplated, and meditated upon correct instructions; and engaged in the mental actions of generating the mandala. It exists in dependence upon its parts, such as the charnel grounds, Mount Meru, the Celestial Mansion, the five wheels of deities, etc. The parts can also be divided into what appears – the mandala, what is understood – its emptiness, what is experienced – great bliss, what it is held by – our mind; and what is known – ourself as the deity. It also exists in dependence upon its basis of imputation, namely the collection of the parts, but the phenomena itself is not its basis of imputation. We make a distinction between the basis of imputation and the imputation and the imputation itself. It finally exists in dependence upon its mere name – Heruka is what we call ourself generated as the deity. At a more profound level the Dharmakaya in the aspect of the basis of imputation makes the expressive sound Heruka. It is the Dharmakaya speaking that is the mere name. The sign we have done this correctly is our self-grasping reduces or ceases, but our divine pride increases.

3. Meditate on negating the two extremes in a special way. We negate the extreme of existence by realizing it exists as a subtle dependent relationship, a mere name. The extreme of existence says if things exist, they must exist inherently. By seeing how something can exist as mere name/appearance, we realize how it doesn’t have to exist inherently to exist. We negate the extreme of non-existence by realizing when we see the self-generation we normally see does not exist, we are not left with nothing, we are left with a non-dual appearance of the self-generation and its emptiness. The extreme of non-existence says if things do not exist inherently, they do not exist at all. No, we can strip away the mistaken appearance and conception of inherent existence and something remains, namely the non-dual appearance and emptiness of the supported and supporting mandala.

4. Meditate on non-dual karma and emptiness. The self-generation arises from karma but there is no karma other than emptiness. The laws of karma describe how the emptiness of our person shape-shifts from a samsaric being into the self-generation (changing the basis of imputation of our I). The laws of karma are like the laws of fluid dynamics that explain how emptiness shape-shifts appearance. In economics, we make a distinction between static and dynamic analysis. Static analysis is how things appear in a snapshot of time, dynamic analysis explains how things change over time. Non-dual appearance and emptiness is static analysis, non-dual karma and emptiness is dynamic analysis. Each of the four main aspects of karma (ripened effect, environmental effect, tendency similar to the cause, and effect similar to the cause) are the laws governing this motion of the ocean of non-dual appearance and emptiness. Interestingly, when you look at the actual laws of fluid dynamics, you see these four effects.

5. Meditate on the non-dual bliss and emptiness (Tantra Prasangika view). This is not explicitly mentioned in the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, but since the uncommon characteristic of Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine is the union of sutra and tantra, I would say it is implied. The Tantra Prasangika view combines the Prasangika view that all phenomena lack inherent existence with the Chittamatrin view that all phenomena are by nature our mind, while recognizing that our very subtle mind itself is the nature of great bliss. In the context of the self-generation meditation, what appears is the self-generation of ourself as the deity, what is understood is its emptiness, what is experienced is great bliss, all this is known/held/by nature our very subtle mind of great bliss. The emptiness of our very subtle mind of great bliss appears in the aspect of the self-generation. This object is non-dual with the subject mind of great bliss – they are two aspects of the same phenomena, like the gold and its coin.

We can do these same five meditations with any phenomena. This is how we cut the root of samsara. In this way, we realize the emptiness of samsara and nirvana. On the basis of these understandings, we can then reshape emptiness from samsara and its inhabitants into a pure land and all the deities.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Why Are We Attached to Bags of Filth?

(8.52) We might feel that what we are attracted to is not impure;
And yet we want to copulate with others’ bodies,
Which are just cages of bone tied together with muscles
And plastered over with the mud of flesh!

(8.53) We have enough impurities of our own
That we constantly have to contend with;
So why, out of an obsession with the unclean,
Do we desire other bags of filth?

From an objective point of view, a human body is just that – a bag of filth.  Can we deny this truth?  They are just cages of bone tied together with musles and plastered over with flesh.  This is manifestly obvious, and when put in these terms, absolutely disgusting. 

Yet our attachment makes us believe that these objects are pure.  And non-attachment informs us that they are not, that they are impure.  Yet we do not want to hear that.  We don’t even want to think about that because we think doing so will ruin our enjoyment.  So which is the mind that we are relying upon – our wisdom or our attachment? The attachment or the nonattachment? Attachment arises from ignorance, nonattachment from wisdom. Why is it that we do not even want to accept any reasoning that Shantideva is putting forward, why don’t we want to accept the absurdities that Shantideva is pointing out? Why not? Even though our wisdom is saying actually Shantideva is right, he is right.

Perhaps some people think that they are practicing Tantra by having sexual attachment. People say all the time, ‘look at those Dakinis’.  When somebody says this, they are just revealing that they don’t know what Tantra is all about.  Such a view of Tantra actually results in the most horrible of karmas – it creates the cause for the degeneration of Tantra in this world.  People who teach so-called Tantra classes are creating the karma that every time they find a pure spiritual path that teaches Tantra that they will take it for worldly reasons.  Or worse, they will encounter false teachers.  Such people will be amongst the last to be liberated from samsara.

It is impossible to practice Tantra on a basis of anything other than non-attachment.  Tantra is a transformation of the impure into the pure.  How can such a transformation take place when you are conceiving the impure to be pure?  It is our disgust for the contaminated objects of samsara that cause us to wish to generate pure forms with our minds. 

We can distinguish the mind of attachment from the mind of non-attachment by the direction it moves.  The mind of attachment moves outwards, towards the object, and becomes glued within it.  The mind of non-attachment is a withdrawing inwards as we let go.  This enables our mind to stabilize.

OK, now we look at the question, “what is it about bodies that we are so attracted to?”

(8.54) “It is the flesh that I enjoy.”
If this is what you like to see and touch,
Why do you not want it in its natural state –
When it is devoid of mind?

We already looked at this one above.  It is not the flesh we enjoy, if it was, we would equally enjoy having sex with a corpse. 

(8.55) Any mind that you desire
Can be neither seen nor touched,
And anything you can see or touch cannot be mind;
So why engage in meaningless copulation?

So then we say, we are attracted to their mind.  But if we are attracted to their mind, then we would wish to mix our thoughts with theirs in a conversation or think deeply about their writing, why bother with the sexual activity?  Why do we find their bodies attractive when what we are appreciating is their mental qualities?  It doesn’t make any sense.  Further, we may know people who have many mental qualities, yet we don’t find them to be attractive.  If it is their mental qualities we find attractive, then why do we not wish to have sex with “ugly” people with beautiful minds?

(8.56) Perhaps it is not so strange
That you do not realize others’ bodies are impure,
But it is very strange
That you do not realize your own is.

Do we think of our own body as impure?  No.  As a result, we have attachment to it.

If we were to contemplate the nature of our own body then of course we would realize it is impure.  We don’t typically see others bodies at their worst, such as when they are going the bathroom or when they stink.  But we do know what our own body is like.  It’s gross, really.  Yet others bodies are the same.  And even if they are not, since we know our own body is disgusting, why would we wish to do things with it?  Do we typically play with unclean, disgusting things?  And why would we want to rub something as unclean as our own body onto something else that we find to be beautiful?  Do we rub or excrement all over a clean marble countertop?

How many people reading this actually want to think in these ways.  There is so much resistance in our mind to even thinking this way because we know if we do, we will no longer derive the same sort of enjoyment we used to out of sexual activities.  But Shantideva already pointed out that the pleasure we get from sexual activities is not even remotely worth the effort or the negative karma. 

A Pure Life: Putting the “Mahayana” in Precepts Days

This is part three of a 12-part series on how to skillfully train in the Eight Mahayana Precepts.  The 15th of every month is Precepts Day, when Kadampa practitioners around the world typically take and observe the Precepts.

This practice is called training and the eight mahayana precepts. The eight precepts themselves are specific moral disciplines that we train in. What makes them mahayana precepts is we train in this moral discipline with a bodhicitta motivation. Any virtuous activity can become a buddy safas perfection by engaging in that virtue with a bodhichitta motivation.

What is bodhichitta? Bodhichitta is a mind that spontaneously wishes to attain enlightenment for the sake of protecting all living beings from their suffering. It observes that all living beings are suffering, drowning in the ocean of samsara, and wishes to do something to help them. But it recognizes that at present we currently lack the ability to help living beings. We ourselves remain trapped within samsara, controlled by our delusions, and limited in our capacity to do much good to help people over a sustained period of time. We also frequently have no idea how to actually help people, and all we can do is perhaps offer them a shoulder that they could cry on. Observing this, we conclude it is not enough to simply wish others did not suffer, but we must ourselves do something to free them from their suffering.

If a mother saw her child drowning in a river, she would not merely wish the child not drowned but would actively dive in to try save her. But the problem is at present we do not know how to swim. So even though we would want to help others, we lack the ability to actually do so. We then ask ourselves, who does have the ability to help all living beings and lead them out of the ocean of samsara onto the island of enlightenment? Only a Buddha does. A Buddha possesses the omniscient wisdom that always knows how to help others, is able to continue to help others life after life without interruption unimpeded by their own death or the death of those they are trying to help. A Buddha is also able to emanate countless forms for each and every living being trapped within samsara. They are not limited by simply one body and one voice, but can emanate as many forms as living beings need to always be there with them 24/7 life after life. Buddhas also possessed the skillful means necessary to guide complicated samsaric beans how to enter, progress along, and eventually complete the path. Let us face it, most people reject the advice that they receive even if it’s exactly what they need to hear. Having skillful means knowing how to encourage people to engage in spiritual practices makes the bodhisattva’s task possible.

Understanding that only a Buddha has the ability to actually fulfill the compassionate wish to protect others from their suffering, we then make the firm determination that we ourselves must become a Buddha in order to help all other living beings. The primary wish of bodhichitta is the wish to help others, and the wish to attain enlightenment is the secondary wish we need to do in order to fulfill our primary wish. Geshe-la gives the analogy of wanting a cup of tea. If we generate the intention that we would like to have a cup of tea, we naturally get a cup, a tea bag, and hot water. This happens almost automatically and is a natural consequence of our primary wish to have a cup of tea. In the same way, when we wish to protect all living beings from their suffering, we then naturally get the body, speech, and mind of a Buddha that enable us to fulfill our primary wish. This happens almost automatically and without our having to give it much thought, we are simply driven by the desire to protect others and we naturally do what is necessary in order to fulfill that wish.

Each of the eight precepts by itself is a practice of world discipline. What makes it a mahayana practice of moral discipline is we engage in them with a bodhicitta motivation. When we explore each of the eight precepts themselves, I will attempt to explain how our observing that precept specifically helps us gain the ability 2 protect others from their suffering. But generally speaking, how does our practice of moral discipline help us attained enlightenment? 

To attain enlightenment, we need to purify our very subtle mind of the two obstructions. The two obstructions are the delusion obstructions and the obstructions to omniscience. Delusion obstructions are simply the delusions of our mind, and the obstructions to omniscience are the imprints of our past solutions and past deleted actions. Once we have purified our very subtle mind of the two obstructions, we will naturally attain enlightenment. In other words, enlightenment is already within us, we simply need to uncover it.

How do we purify our mind of the two obstructions? We do so by meditating on the emptiness of our very subtle mind where all of our delusions and their imprints are stored. When we directly realize the emptiness of our very subtle mind, it functions to uproot directly and simultaneously all of the contaminated karma we have accumulated since beginningless time.

How do we then gain a direct realization of emptiness? That depends upon our ability to concentrate our mind. In the Sutra teachings on tranquil abiding, we learn how to concentrate our gross mind. And in the tantric teachings regarding controlling our inner winds, we learn how to concentrate our very subtle mind. It is impossible to concentrate with our very subtle mind if we are incapable of concentrating with our gross mind.

Concentration is primarily a training in overcoming distractions. Distractions cause our mind to move away from our chosen object of meditation towards something else. If we do not mix our mind with the Dharma, it will have no power to transform our mind. Distractions are the thief that robs us of our spiritual life.  Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path of Good Fortune that distractions are of three types: mental excitement, mental wandering, and mental sinking. Mental excitement is when our mind moves to an object of attachment. Mental wandering is when our mind moves to another object of Dharma other than our chosen object of meditation. Mental sinking is when we lose the clarity or grip of our mind on our chosen object, but our mind has not necessarily gone to something else. In the beginning, our primary obstacle is mental excitement.

Why does our mind go to objects of attachment instead of our object of meditation? The reason why is our mind is naturally more interested in objects of attachment because we still believe them to be causes of our happiness and we have not yet realized that our objects of meditation are causes of happiness, rather we find them to be quite distance or perhaps even boring. Our mind will naturally go to wherever it feels it will be happiest. Why does our mind believe objects of attachment are causes of happiness? Simply habit. The habit of believing the lies of our attachment that external objects are indeed causes of our happiness. We are so accustomed to these lies that we do not even call them into question. If we are to overcome our mental excitement, we must stop being fooled by our attachment.

A good example is spam. We have all received the emails from the Nigerian Prince who promises to transfer us a bunch of money for safekeeping if only we give him our bank account numbers. When we first receive this email, we wonder maybe it is true, and we are tempted to send our bank information. But when we know clearly that this is a scam and a lie, we are no longer fooled and do not feel tempted to send our information. In fact, simply receiving such an email reminds us of the need to be careful to not be fooled by the many scams that exist out there. We may not be able to prevent such spam from arriving in our inbox, but we can cut the power or the danger of such messages by seeing them as the lies that they are. In the same way, our minds of attachment are like spam. They promise us all sorts of happiness if only we follow their advice. When we first encounter such lies, we are tempted and often do follow their advice. When we fail to find the happiness that they promised, our attachment then lies to us again and says we did not experience it because we did not do it well enough. So once again we believe the lie and follow it. We start to do this again and again, until eventually we have no choice and we follow such lies blindly believing them to be the truth.

But with Dharma wisdom, we can recognize attachment for the lie that it is. It is the spam of our mind. When the thoughts of attachment arise in her mind, we then see them for the lies that they are. The more they come, the more we strengthen our determination to not be fooled. Like with our spam, we might not be able to prevent such thoughts from arriving in our mind, but with wisdom we can cut the power of such thoughts over us in terms of controlling our behavior.

How do we game such wisdom and such power? Through training in moral discipline. The practice of moral discipline is quite simply seeing the dangers of engaging in negative behavior and then making the determination to not do so. It is a wisdom that is no longer fooled by the lies of our attachments. It sees through these lies and recognizes them as deceptive, trying to trick us into engaging in negative behavior thinking it will bring us happiness when in fact it only brings us more suffering.

So how then do we train in moral discipline? When the temptation to break our moral discipline arises in our mind, we remind ourselves of the wisdom that caused us to take the vow or precept in the first place. We recall how the minds of attachment encouraging us to break our moral discipline are in fact deceptive, promising us happiness but simply guaranteeing more suffering. The practice of moral discipline is not an exercise in willpower. If in our heart we still want to engage in the negativity, we may for a short period of time be able to refrain, but all we will actually be doing is repressing our attachment wanting to do the opposite until eventually our attachment grows in strength and it overwhelms our willpower.

Rather, moral discipline is the practice of changing our desires. By contemplating again and again how are delusions are deceptive and how our wisdom and virtues are non-deceptive, we gradually change our desires to no longer want to chase the objects of our attachment and be fooled by their lies, and rather we want to train in the opposite virtues which we know are reliable methods for bringing us the happiness that we seek.  It is easy to take the Eight Mahayana Precepts, but the actual training is keeping them in the face of our deluded temptations to break them.

When the temptations arise in our mind, we then recall the disadvantages of breaking our moral discipline, the deceptiveness of the attachments lying to us, and the benefits of observing our moral discipline and following pure conduct. Through engaging in these contemplations again and again and again, we gradually change our desires. We no longer want to follow attachments, we instead want to follow our wisdom and virtues. By gaining experience with these contemplations and in keeping our vows, we gradually build up tendencies similar to the cause within our mind that are familiar with this way of thinking. Then, when we are in meditation itself and objects of distraction, or objects of mental excitement, arise in our mind, we are not tempted to go follow them but rather we see them as deceptive. We are then able to more easily renew our determination to not follow our distractions and instead to keep our mind focused on our object of meditation.

It is for this reason that Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path of Good Fortune that the practice of moral discipline overcomes gross distractions and the practice of concentration overcomes our subtle distractions. We first need to overcome our gross distractions through the training in moral discipline and then we can overcome our subtle distractions through our training and concentration. By training in concentration, we can gradually gain control over our gross mind, which then creates the space for us to gradually gain control over our subtle mind through the trainings of learning to control our inner winds. Once we can control our inner winds, we will eventually be able to make manifest our very subtle mind of clear light. Once this mind is manifest, we can then engage in the meditation on the emptiness of our very subtle mind and purify our mind of the two obstructions and thereby attain enlightenment.

In this way, we can see the very clear connection between our training in the practice of the Eight Mahayana Precepts and our eventual attainment of enlightenment. When we see this connection, we can easily generate the bodhicitta motivation to take the Mahayana precepts. In this way, our practice of the eight precepts becomes training in the eight Mahayana precepts.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Having Sex with Pillows?

(8.45) Although we jealously guard our lover from others’ advances,
The Lord of Death will take him from us
And his body will be burned or buried in the ground;
So what is the point of our jealousy and attachment?

Where there is a strong attachment, usually there will arise some jealousy, too. When we see someone whom we are attached enjoying other people’s company, we become jealous. As bodhisattva’s or as Dharma teachers, we need to be particularly careful because if we develop attachment towards some, we will make others who come to us for help jealous.  We need to have equanimity for others. 

Meditation on death always works, doesn’t it?  Venerable Tharchin said we should view our life from the perspective of our death bed.  If it will not matter on our death bed, then why does it matter now?  If it will make it harder on our death bed, do not do it now.  What is the point of generating jealousy towards anybody.  At the time of death, we will be separated from all of them.

(8.46) Others’ bodies to which we are very attached
Are just collections of flesh and bone.
At any moment, they could be destroyed by the Lord of Death;
So why develop attachment to them?

(8.47) When we see a human corpse, which is a mere collection of flesh and bone,
We develop fear even though it does not move;
So why are we not fearful of living bodies, which are also just collections of flesh and bone
Moving here and there like zombies?

(8.48) Since both dead bodies and living bodies
Are mere collections of flesh and bone,
Why am I attracted to living bodies but not to dead ones?
Thinking in this way, I should stop attachment to others’ bodies.

It’s just bodies, just bodies, with holes and protrusions, here, there.  We need to remind ourselves of this, all day long, not just when we are tempted by objects of attachment.  We are all just collections of flesh and bone.  This is equally true when they’re living and when they’re dead.  So why do we prefer collections of flesh and bone when they’re living? From a physical perspective, there is no difference.  We are just collections of flesh and bone. Why do we prefer ones that move to ones that don’t? 

We need to check, what exactly is it that we are attracted to in other’s bodies.  We would happily have sex with a beautiful person when they are living; but if one minute later they died, would we still want to have sex with them?  It’s the same body.  Our engaging in sex with them is physically exactly the same.  Why the difference? 

And now on to the uncleanliness.

(8.49) Both saliva and urine come from the same source –
The intake of fluids into the body –
So why is it that we like saliva when kissing
But have no desire for urine?

Or anything else excreted from the body, for that matter.  Why do we like to one person’s excretions and not another’s.  Why do we like some types of excretions and not others?  If it is the saliva we like, then why not anybody’s. If it is the saliva we like, then why not the saliva we see on the ground?  Would we drink a cup of spit?  Would we even want to put our tongue to it, thinking it disgusting?  Yet we eagerly do so in somebody else’s mouth.  Why? 

(8.50) Although cotton is also soft to touch,
You find no sexual pleasure in a pillow.
Rather, you think the body does not emit foul smells –
O desirous mind, you are so confused about what is unclean!

(8.51) Just as we sometimes get angry at other people,
Why don’t we also get angry at pillows?
For, although they too are soft to touch,
We cannot copulate with them!

What is it about bodies? This is the question Shantideva is getting us to ask ourselves.  What is it precisely about bodies we are so attached to? What is it about the body? What is it? He’s pushing us, isn’t he, to actually acknowledge the absurdity of being attached to such an object. Is it the touch, the smell, what is it?  He is pushing us to recognize the absurdity of being attached to the body so we can drop our attachment. 

Here, he is helping us realize it is not the softness we are attached to.  There are many soft things, like pillows or flowers, but we don’t go around looking to have sex with them. 

Happy Tsog Day: How to Practice the Song of the Spring Queen (part 2)

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 25 of a 44-part series.

HUM All you Tathagatas,
Heroes, Yoginis,
Dakas, and Dakinis,
To all you I make this request:
With a mind completely aroused by great bliss
And a body in a dance of constant motion,
I offer to the hosts of Dakinis
The great bliss from enjoying the lotus of the mudra.
AH LA LA, LA LA HO, AH I AH, AH RA LI HO
May the assembly of stainless Dakinis
Look with loving affection and accomplish all deeds.

The first four lines and the last three lines can be understood in exactly the same way as the verse above. With the fifth line of this verse, we recall our mind has been completely aroused by great bliss from the previous verse and we are experiencing joy at our throat chakra. With the sixth line, we imagine that ourself and our consort Vajrayogini are in fact a single body of inseparable bliss and emptiness engaged in a dance of constant motion – our act of engaging in spiritual union. Here, we offer this experience of great bliss to the host of Dakas and Dakinis of the body mandala. There are two ways of engaging in Heruka’s body mandala. In the first, as explained in Essence of Vajrayana, we imagine the deities of the body mandala surround us in concentric circles. In the second, as explained in the sadhana New Essence of Vajrayana, we imagine all the deities of the body mandala at the twenty-four places of our body. In both cases, we imagine that the deities of the body mandala are by nature our channels and drops of our subtle body at these places. By mixing the deities of the body mandala with our channels and drops at the twenty-four places, we receive powerful blessings that function to heal our subtle body enabling all our winds to more easily find their way into our central channel at our heart and not become blocked by imperfections or blockages within our subtle body.

In the context of the practice of Song of the Spring Queen, we can imagine either the deities of the body mandala around us in concentric circles or at the twenty-four places of our body. In either case, we offer our experience of great bliss arising from engaging in union with the wisdom mudra Vajayogini to the Dakas and Dakinis, and as a result of them experiencing great bliss, we imagine that our subtle body is completely healed. The Dakas and Dakinis are then able to unobstructedly transmit their blessings through the principal channels of our subtle body causing all our inner winds to travel through them into the central channel at our heart. When we recite the ninth line, we imagine that once again Vajrayogini’s pure winds are blown up into our central channel, re-igniting our tummo fire, and causing the white bodhichitta at our throat to descend to our heart chakra, where we experience the second joy called supreme joy. It is as if all the pure winds from throughout our subtle body and the white bodhichitta descending from our crown all converge into our heart chakra in a concentration of indescribable bliss. 

HUM All you Tathagatas,

Heroes, Yoginis,

Dakas, and Dakinis,

To all you I make this request:

You who dance with a beautiful and peaceful manner,

O Blissful Protector and the hosts of Dakinis,

Please come here before me and grant me your blessings,

And bestow upon me spontaneous great bliss.

AH LA LA, LA LA HO, AH I AH, AH RA LI HO

May the assembly of stainless Dakinis

Look with loving affection and accomplish all deeds.

In this verse, with the fifth line, we recall that the great bliss everyone is experiencing around us is by nature emptiness. There is nothing more beautiful nor peaceful than the emptiness of all phenomena. With the sixth and seventh lines, we invite the wisdom beings of all the deities of Heruka’s body mandala to enter into the commitment beings that we have been visualizing up to this point. We imagine that from the ten directions come countless collections of the 64 deities of the body mandala that all dissolve into ourselves as the self-generation. When they do so, we imagine that they bestow spontaneous great bliss upon us, mixed inseparably with a direct realization of the emptiness of all phenomena. When we recite the ninth line, we once again imagine Vajrayogini’s pure winds enter into us, strengthen and further power the tummo fire at our navel. This causes the white bodhichitta, which is still experiencing supreme joy at our heart from before, to descend to our naval channel where it mixes in separably with the tummo fire itself. As a result, we experience the third of the four joys, extraordinary joy, which is even more profound and intense then the supreme joy we generated before.

HUM All you Tathagatas,
Heroes, Yoginis,
Dakas, and Dakinis,
To all you I make this request:
You who have the characteristic of the liberation of great bliss,
Do not say that deliverance can be gained in one lifetime
Through various ascetic practices having abandoned great bliss,
But that great bliss resides in the centre of the supreme lotus.
AH LA LA, LA LA HO, AH I AH, AH RA LI HO
May the assembly of stainless Dakinis
Look with loving affection and accomplish all deeds.

Normally when we speak of liberation, we are referring to abandoning all our delusions for ourselves. This is the final result of the Hinayana path and also the middle scope of the Lamrim teachings. However, as explained above, the mind of bodhichitta is the substantial cause of the mind of great bliss, and the practices of generation stage and completion stage are these circumstantial causes that enable us to transform the mind of bodhicitta into the very subtle mind of great bliss. Thus, with the fifth line, we recall that Vajrayogini, who we are engaged in union with, is by nature bodhicitta, which is the uncommon characteristic of the liberation of great bliss. The liberation of great bliss is an experience of great bliss that is equal to or greater than the bliss of individual liberation from samsara, otherwise known as nirvana, but whose special characteristic is to retain the bodhicitta motivation that prevents us from being content with solitary piece.

With the sixth and seventh line, we recall the importance of completely abandoning all attachment if we are to engage in qualified completion stage practice. Aesthetics principal practice is abandoning attachment, and they do so primarily through renouncing all pleasant experiences and achieving a mind that is completely at peace despite that. Aesthetic practices are similar to the practices of physical yoga. When we engage in physical yoga, we put our body into all sorts of extremely uncomfortable positions and stretches, but then we learn how to relax completely into that discomfort and tension completely fades away and we experience it as blissful relaxation of letting go into discomfort. In our practice of tantra, we do not abandon pleasant experiences, rather we learn how to transform them into the spiritual path of generating the mind of great bliss that we then use to meditate on emptiness. The sixth and seventh lines, therefore, remind us that our practices of generation stage and completion stage must be completely free from every trace of attachment just like the practices of an aesthetic must be. The difference is we do not need to renounce the pleasant experience, instead we use it spiritually. With the eighth line, we recall that great bliss can only be found through tantric practice, and in particular through completely loosening all the knots at our central channel as described above. It is only through tantric technology that we can attain enlightenment in one lifetime. This can only be done through relying upon both a wisdom and an action mudra. The supreme lotus refers to Vajrayogini’s bhaga.

When we recite the ninth line, we once again imagine that Vajrayogini’s pure winds flow up into our central channel where they envelop our white bodhichitta now at our navel chakra, and then they draw our white bodhichitta down to the tip of our sex organ. Technically speaking, the center of the chakra at the tip of our sex organ is slightly outside the tip, so we should feel as if the white bodhicitta is now residing inside the center of our lower door and we experience the fourth joy, spontaneous great bliss joy.

Happy Tara Day: How to increase our faith in Tara

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

Homage to the Twenty-one Taras

OM Homage to Venerable Arya Tara

The main purpose of reciting the twenty-one homages is to generate faith in Arya Tara.  Faith is what gives Buddhas power to help us.  It is not they hold back their help waiting for our faith and respect, rather when we generate faith we open the blinds of our mind to allow the sunlight of their blessings to pour in.  There are three types of faith:  believing faith, admiring faith, and wishing faith.  Believing faith believes in the qualities and abilities of holy beings.  Admiring faith generates a feeling of wonder, amazed at their incredible good qualities.  Wishing faith wishes to be the beneficiary of such power, and superior wishing faith wishes to gain these good qualities ourselves so we can do for others what the holy beings can do for us.  The more faith we have, the more powerfully we will receive the blessings of the given Buddha.  To paraphrase Lord Acton, faith empowers and absolute faith empowers absolutely. 

When we recite the twenty-one homages, we can train in increasing our faith.  Typically, we recite the twenty-one homages three times.  With the first recitation, we can primarily train in believing faith; with the second recitation, we can focus on admiring faith; and with the final recitation, we can emphasize wishing faith.  In this way, we will build up powerful potential energy in our mind for the remainder of the practice.

Praising Tara by her life story

Homage to Tara, the Swift One, the Heroine,
Whose eyes are like a flash of lightning,
Who arose from the opening of a lotus,
Born from the tears of the Protector of the Three Worlds.

Each time we receive a Tara empowerment, we hear Tara’s life story.  She has both a common and an uncommon life story.  Her common life story is as a bodhisattva, some sexist monk said if she continues in this way, she can pray to be reborn as a man so she can become a Buddha.  Upon hearing this, she vowed to always take rebirth in a female form and ultimately attain enlightenment in a female form.  She was the first feminist.  Her uncommon life story is Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, wept as he looked at how many beings remained to be liberated.  His tears fell into the clear light emptiness, and Arya Tara arose telling him to not worry, she would help him free all living beings.  When we recite this verse, it is important to make this personal – she became Tara for us, and so we should generate a feeling of closeness and gratitude.

Praising Tara by the brightness and radiance of her face

Homage to you with a face like a hundred full moons in autumn
Gathered together into one;
Blazing with brilliant light
Like a thousand constellations.

Sometimes people wonder how it is Buddhas can help all living beings directly and simultaneously.  There are so many living beings, how exactly can we understand their emanations pervading all worlds?  For me, there are two analogies that help, both of which are illustrated by this verse.  First, while there is only one moon in the sky, it nonetheless spontaneously reflects on the surface of every body of water in the world without its light being diminished in the process.  In the same way, the wisdom moon of Mother Tara shines in the sky of our mind, and spontaneously appears on the surface of every mind of faith in the world.  Second, imagine a wheel with countless straw-like spokes.  If you shined a light inside any one spoke, it would illuminate just that spoke, but if you moved the light into the hub of the wheel, it would illuminate all of the spokes directly and simultaneously.  In the same way, Tara’s brilliant light shines into the spokes of our minds like a thousand constellations.

Praising Tara by her colour, what she holds and her causes

Homage to you who are bluish gold,
Your hand perfectly adorned with a lotus flower;
Who arose from practising giving, moral discipline,
Patience, effort, concentration and wisdom.

Blue generally represents Buddha Akshobya, the completely purified aggregate of consciousness of all the Buddhas; and gold (yellow) represents Buddha Ratnasambhava, the completely purified aggregate of feeling of all the Buddhas.  A purified aggregate of consciousness is one that is free from the two obstructions, and a purified aggregate of feeling experiences all phenomena equally as manifestions of bliss and emptiness.  By praising Tara as being bluish gold, we recall her purified consciousness and feeling and generate faith.  A lotus flower generally symbolizes how an object of complete beauty and purity (a lotus flower) emerges from a contaminated source (the mud in the pond).  In the same way, our eventual enlightenment will emerge despite our origin being contaminated.  Tara holding a lotus flower symbolizes her power to lead contaminated beings such as ourselves to enlightenment.  All Buddhas attain enlightenment in exactly the same way – through training in the six perfections of giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom.  We sometimes think Buddhas were always enlightened and they are somehow different than the rest of us, but they were suffering sentient beings once as well just like us, and through their practice of the six perfections they attained enlightenment.  If we do the same, we too will attain the same results.  Recalling Tara’s causes reminds us of that and shows her power to help us train in the six perfections ourselves. 

Praising Tara by her being honoured by the Conquerors and the Bodhisattvas

Homage to you who surmount the Tathagatas’ ushnishas,
Whose victorious actions are limitless;
Who are greatly honoured by the Sons of the Conquerors,
Who have attained every perfection.

The primary purpose of this verse is to increase our faith in Tara as an enlightened being.  Normally, we view our spiritual guide on our crown.  Tara being on the crown of all the Tathagatas indicates that she is the spiritual guide of all the Tathagatas.  Victorious actions refer to her victory over the four maras, delusions, and all other objects of abandonment along the path.  She is honoured by all the Bodhisattvas (Sons of the Conquerors) because she is their mother, and she has attained every perfection.  Considering these qualities, we generate deep faith in her.

Praising Tara by her subduing unfavourable conditions

Homage to you who with the letters TUTTARA and HUM
Fill the realms of desire, direction and space.
With the seven classes of evil spirits beneath your feet,
You are able to draw all beings to bliss.

Here, we imagine that from the mantra rosary at her heart, countless light rays radiate out in all directions, filling the entire universe and dispelling all unfavorable conditions and obstructions to our practice of Dharma.  We imagine she is doing this for the benefit of ourself and all living beings.  There are countless evil spirits (all empty) who wish to obstruct our Dharma practice, but she is able to overcome them all single-handedly.  Through her powerful actions, we then imagine she draws all living beings into the bliss of her Dharmakaya where they are perfectly freed from all unfavorable conditions.

Praising Tara by her being worshipped by the great worldly gods

Homage to you who are worshipped by Indra, Agni,
Brahma, Vayu, and the other mighty gods;
And before whom the host of evil spirits,
Zombies, smell-eaters and givers of harm respectfully offer praise.

Normally living beings look up to the worldly gods, but worldly gods worship Tara.  If we bow to them and they bow to her, then we certainly should also bow to her.  Normally we fear evil spirits, but they too offer praise and respect to Tara.  We would think evil spirits would also fear Tara since she is the opposite of evil and has the power to overcome them, but she is so loving and skillful, even her would-be enemies respectfully offer her praise.  By relying upon her, we too can gain the ability to earn the respect of those who oppose our virtuous wishes.

How to Transform the War in Ukraine into the Path

The war currently unfolding in Ukraine is, in many ways, the biggest geopolitical event in most of our lifetimes. It’s the first ”great power conflict“ since the Cold War. Thousands of people are dying, millions are fleeing in terror, tens of millions are either trapped or choose to stay and fight, cities are being destroyed, and the geopolitical order that has (more or less) maintained the peace since WWII is potentially unravelling, with the risk of ushering in a 21st century version of the Cold War between Russia/China and the other major world powers. The rest of us can seemingly only watch on helplessly. All of this is coming on the heals of global pandemic which has killed millions. It’s hard to not feel like the world is falling apart and going to hell. So what do we, as Kadampas, do with all of this? How can we help? How do we transform such appearances into the path? What follows is my answer. How do we help? Geshe-la says our job is to pray. How do we transform these appearances into the path? Geshe-la says we should learn from this that the Dharma is the truth. But our ability to do this will depend on not falling into either of the two extremes associated with mixing Dharma with politics.

Our Job is to Pray

Gen-la Dekyong asked Geshe-la if he had a message to the Kadampa community regarding the war that is unfolding. During a special global Prayers for World Peace, she shared his answer. For those interested, they can hear her teaching and engage in the prayers by following the recording, which can be found here:

He said, “Our job is to pray.” My understanding is he then referred to the teaching he gave when he opened the temple in New York in which he said, “Nowadays, we can see in the world so many problems, people experiencing so many difficulties. Storms, famines, floods, incurable diseases, wars, earthquakes, etc. People are asking me, what should we Buddhists do to help these problems? I replied, we cannot be involved in any political problem or it becomes worse. Our job is, we pray, we pray for these obstacles to be pacified. We pray for people to pacify their negativity, wrong views, their extreme views, through prayer. Our job to solve these kinds of problems is we pray for everybody to become friends. To have harmony, good relationships, to pacify their wrong views of selfish intention. This is our job. I believe it is the best method to help. It is the best method to benefit. This is our job. If we try physically, verbally, it makes things worse. We pray for every area to pacify negative attitudes and intentions and for people to experience correct views and correct paths. So through receiving blessings our wishes will be fulfilled. I promise. This is our Buddhist way of helping; this is our Buddhist way of benefiting to solve these kinds of problems. I believe you will solve the world’s problems gradually through these methods. Our prayers work for three reasons. First is our pure intention. Second, the power of the prayers themselves. Third, the powerful blessings of the holy beings.”

Gen-la Dekyong then asked what particular prayers we should make for this situation? Geshe-la’s answer: “Of course, we engage in Prayers for World Peace – Tara prayers. It is very clear without compassion and wisdom, there is no possibility to be released from this kind of tragedy. We should learn from this that the Dharma is the truth.”

I don’t have a transcript of it, but when the Iraq war broke out, Geshe-la gave two main pieces of advice. First, he said ”we should pray that our leaders receive wisdom,” and “love is the nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.”

How to Increase the Power of our Prayers

There was so much good advice in Gen-la Dekyong’s talk that I won’t try to paraphrase it. Those interested can listen to it. Instead, if our job is to pray, I want to say a few words about how we make our prayers powerful. We do so through our pure intention, our karmic connection with those we are praying for, our karmic connection with the Buddhas we are praying to, and the extent to which we can mix our prayers with the correct view of emptiness. All four of these factors can be strengthened. Buddhas primarily accomplish all of their deeds through the power of their prayer. Wishing to become a Buddha practically means wishing to gain their power of prayer. It is our main training.

Our pure intention, of course, is great compassion. Compassion is the wish to protect others from their suffering. Great compassion is vaster than normal compassion along two axes: first, it is compassion for all living beings. In this specific case, that means praying of course for the victims of the war, but also praying for those perpetrating the war (on both sides), and also praying for everyone else in the world looking on, generating delusions and negativity with regards to what they are seeing. The second axis is the three different types of suffering. Of course we pray for the alleviation of the manifest suffering of the war itself, but also the changing suffering realizing cease fires or even the end of the war is not happiness, but just a reduction in the suffering of war. Further, we pray for freedom from the pervasive suffering of being born with contaminated bodies and minds in realms where things like war happen.

The strength of our karmic connections with those we are praying for and with the Buddhas essentially determines the bandwidth through which the blessings can flow from the Buddhas to the objects of our prayers. The more karma we have (and the more pure that karma is), the greater the bandwidth and the more powerful the blessings. We can pray, for example, that wisdom enter Putin’s mind, but if we were his closest advisor or his mother and we made that prayer, it would be much more powerful due to our closer karmic connection. Likewise, if we almost never build karmic connections with the Buddhas, our prayers to them will not be as powerful as they would be if we are praying to them all the time and we have very close karma with them. We can strengthen our karma with those directly involved with the war by reading their stories or thinking about the situation and what they are experiencing. We can strengthen our karma with the leaders by trying to understand their respective perspectives and understanding how their decisions will shape the evolution of this. We can strengthen our karma with all those looking on by talking to people about it or simply thinking about the karma they are creating due to their views of the situation. Everyone in the world is creating karma with respect to the war right now.

We can strengthen our karma with the Buddhas by engaging in our practices in general and self-generation in particular. Every time we put any Dharma instruction into practice, we are creating karma with the source of that instruction (as a side note, this is how we find Geshe-la again in our future lives – by putting the instructions he has given us in this life into practice). Finally, we can purify our negative karma with respect to those directly involved in the war, those looking on, and all the Buddhas through purification practices such as Vajrasattva, 35 Confession Buddhas, etc. The more we purify our negative karma with respect to these three groups, the less obstructed our prayers will be.

And we infuse our prayers with the wisdom realizing emptiness by contemplating the emptiness of the three spheres – those we are praying for, those we are paying to, and ourselves doing the praying. Grasping at these three spheres as being inherently separate from one other essentially cuts completely the power of the prayers by erecting mental barriers to the blessings ever being able to reach their intended targets. How can the blessings flow if there is no point of intersection between the Buddhas, ourselves, and those we are praying for? In truth, all three spheres of our prayers are parts of our mind. None of the three spheres are separate from our mind, but rather different places within our mind. There is no creator other than mind, so all three spheres are created by and are parts of our mind. We are directing one part of our mind (the Buddhas) to channel the flow of their pure winds (their blessings) to another part of our mind (the objects of our prayers). It is like we are a magician who has the power to direct the currents of water within the ocean of our mind, which is itself, not separate from us. We, in effect, transform the aspect of our mind itself from the state of war to the state of eternal peace. In my view, prayer is emptiness in action. The more we understand the non-duality between appearance and emptiness and the non-duality between emptiness and the laws of karma, the more powerful and effective our prayers will be.

Some people are very engaged with this issue – reading updates on line many times a day – others are simply aware it is happening, but not too engaged. Regardless of what is our case, each time we engage we should recall Geshe-la’s advice: our job is to pray. With respect to everything you read, pray; every person in the story, pray for them; pray, pray, pray while strengthening our intention, our karma with the Buddhas, our karma with those we are praying for, and our wisdom realizing the emptiness of the three spheres. We are not limited to doing this with regard to the war in Ukraine, but can likewise do this with regard to every tragedy we see unfolding before us while we remain in samsara – pandemics, famines, sexual violence, racism, homophobia – whatever animates us and we feel passionate about.

Avoiding the Extremes of Mixing Dharma and Politics

Geshe-la says when we see things like the war, we should learn how the Dharma is the truth. What appears is the war, but what we understand is the truth of the Dharma. In addition to praying, this is also our job.

Before we can get into how to do this, we first need to say a few words about mixing Dharma with politics. We all know we should not mix Dharma with politics, so sometimes the question arises as to how we can think about political developments in a Dharma way without mixing Dharma with politics? This especially becomes complicated when different Kadampas have different political opinions about what is happening in the world, such as different views about the pandemic, about masks, about the war, about political leaders, about racism, etc., etc., etc.

Knowing we should not mix Dharma with politics, sometimes Kadampas go to the extreme of saying we should not talk about political developments or politics at all. They say talking about political developments is ”non-Dharma” and therefore have no place in Dharma discussions. Other people think Kadampas need to be neutral on all political developments – some form of spiritual ”both-sidesism” or some sort of “false equivalency” with respect to every situation saying, ”everyone is equally bad.” For them, to be a Kadampa means to be some uber-Centrist on all things condemning everyone equally. Geshe-la says our job is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life. Political developments, such as wars, elections, protest movements, pandemics, whatever, are all part of modern life. Therefore, our job is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and these developments. How? Geshe-la says by having these developments teach us the truth of Dharma. Milarepa said he does not need Dharma books because all phenomena teach him the truth of Dharma. We should not run away from engaging with political developments in the world, we should view them clearly and learn Dharma truths from them.

There is absolutely NOTHING WRONG with Kadampas having political views – whatever they may be. Some people will be conservative, some liberal, some far right, some far left, some anarchist, some communist, whatever. It doesn’t matter. We should have political opinions about what is going on because our opinions matter for shaping the world around us. We have to have opinions about what is happening in the world because we have to act in the world. We should not renounce all political power we might have fearing it is somehow inherently tainted, we need to use whatever political power we have (our voice, our vote, our professional position, our activities, whatever) in virtuous, compassionate, and wise ways. This is part of attaining the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.

The other extreme sometimes people fall on is saying ”if you believe in the Dharma, then you need to have XYZ political view,” or its cousin, ”holding that political view is contrary to the Dharma.” We see this all the time about the controversial issues in the world – race, the pandemic, wars, elections, whatever. This can become a real problem when Dharma practitioners of different political stripes start discussing political matters. Divisions can quickly arise in the Sangha, with both sides thinking, ”how can you possibly be a Kadampa and think that way?” This is why some people say, ”let’s not discuss divisive political matters at all to avoid creating divisions in the Sangha,” and they fall right back into the first extreme described above. It’s an understandable position to take because certainly no political issue is worth creating a division in the Sangha for. But simply silencing the conversation just pushes the division under the carpet where it festers and continues to divide. It doesn’t actually solve the division. Instead, we need a framework to allow for Kadampas to have a wide variety of political views, yet all remain equally, 100% Kadampas.

In my view, the middle way is understanding we each occupy a different karmic positionality, and as a result, the world will appear to us in different ways. The political views that make sense to us will be entirely dependent upon how the world appears to us. With the war, for example, some people will blame Russia, others will blame Ukraine, others will blame the United States, others will blame China, others will blame Europe, and from these perceptions, different political solutions will seem appropriate. The same is true for racism in society, the pandemic, whatever. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. We don’t all need to see the world in the same way. What matters is that whatever political views we have be infused with wisdom and compassion relative to how we see the world. We need to respond to the world as it appears to us with wisdom and compassion. Since the world will appear to us in different ways, what is ”wise” and what is ”compassionate” policy will differ. There is nothing wrong with that at all.

In this way, we can all have different political views (based upon our karmic positionality) but we are all equally responding to how the world appears to us in wise and compassionate ways. This creates the space for ”everybody welcome” to also include everyone regardless of their political point of view. We don’t need to try convince others to see the world as we see it, we only need to help others respond to how they see the world in wise and compassionate ways. We can completely disagree in how we see the world and what political conclusions we arrive at, but be in total agreement that we all need to respond to whatever appears in wise and compassionate ways. It doesn’t matter how we see the world, it only matters that whatever is appearing teaches us the truth of Dharma. This, in my view, is how we attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life with respect to politics. No problems. No contradictions. No divisions.

We should learn from this that the Dharma is the truth

With this background in mind, how then can we have things like the war teach us the Dharma is the truth? It’s simple: We pray! We pray, ”please reveal to me how the war (as it appears to me) teaches the Dharma is the truth?” We apply the suggestions on praying above to our prayer that what appears reveals to us the truth of Dharma. We can contemplate and pray, ”how does this teach me the truth of the lower realms, karma, samsara, the faults of delusions (in particular self-cherishing), bodhichitta, emptiness, etc.” We can quite literally go through each of the 21 meditations of the stages of the path and ask ourselves (and ask our guru at our heart) how the war reveals the truth of each of the stages of the path of Sutra and Tantra. Then, as Geshe-la suggests, we can ”write our own commentary.” Then the war will be, for us, a Dharma book – just like Milarepa.

If we want, we can then share our perspective with others. But when we do, there is a risk some people may then start to ”debate” with us about differences of opinion with respect to how they see the war, so therefore they learn different Dharma lessons from what appears. Our answer to that should be, ”It doesn’t matter to me how you see the war, as long as how you are seeing it is teaching you some Dharma truth.” We can try understand their perspective and learn the Dharma lessons they are learning from how it is appearing to them, even if it is different than our own point of view. What matters is that we maximize the Dharma lessons we learn from what is appearing. If we refuse to learn the Dharma lessons those with different political views are learning, we are, in effect, prioritizing our political views over the Dharma. We are depriving ourselves of learning a Dharma lesson because we are unwilling to politically see the situation in the way the other person is. This is also mixing politics with Dharma. Instead, we should learn whatever Dharma lessons we can from our political view and then try to understand other’s political points of view and learn what Dharma lessons can be learned from that view as well. Then, no problems, just learning the truth of Dharma. And in the process, we may heal some political divides as well.

How Does the War Teach Me the Truth of Dharma?

So how do I see this? What Dharma lessons am I learning?

We can metaphorically say the vast ocean of samsara is comprised of countless water drops, each of which is a living being. Some are drops on the surface (humans), some are in the clouds (upper realms), but most are beneath the surface (lower realms). In the center of this ocean is the island of enlightenment which is by nature the wheel of Dharma. On its shores are all our Dharma temples, centers, teachers, sangha, Dharma books, etc. They are conventionally appearing in samsara (which is their true miracle power, since by nature they exist outside). The water drops that wash up onto the shore (a microscopic number of the total) are like refugees from the ocean of samsara that make it to our Dharma centers. Once somebody goes for refuge and starts embarking on the path, they enter the charnel grounds. The charnel grounds are like the foothills of Mount Meru. They are the bridge between where we are now and the pure land. From one perspective, they are still part of samsara, from another perspective they are part of Keajra pure land.

From a practical point of view, practitioners primarily remain in the charnel grounds from after they go for refuge until they reach the pure land. Within the charnel grounds, the primary practice is overcoming ordinary conceptions. Once we reach the pure land itself, the primary practice is overcoming ordinary appearances. To keep it simple, pure appearances are things that appear to be emanations of Buddhas and ordinary appearances are things that appear to be something other than an emanation of a Buddha. Pure conceptions are we understand appearances to be emanations of Buddhas and ordinary conceptions are we think things are something other than emanations of Buddhas. The function of a Buddha is to reveal the path and bestow blessings.

In the charnel grounds (where we are now), we are surrounded by seemingly ordinary appearances – things appear to us to be samsaric-like (wars, famines, disease, drug addiction, birth, aging, sickness, death, etc.). At the very beginning of the charnel grounds, we conceive of these appearances as mostly being ordinary; but then by the time we reach the end of the charnel grounds, we conceive of every appearance as mostly being pure, and indeed, things start to appear differently. Instead of seeing samsaric bodies, we see zombies, smell-eaters, etc. What is a samsaric body other than a walking corpse anyways?

In the early stages of the charnel grounds, we mostly overcoming our ordinary conceptions through the Lojong training of transforming adverse conditions into the path. In the latter stages of the charnel grounds, we mostly overcome our ordinary conceptions through the practices explaining in the tantric texts of how to practice during the meditation break of both generation stage and completion stage (the explanation in Tantric Grounds and Paths for how to train in isolated body during the meditation break is particularly sublime). The point is it’s like a volume knob in which we turn down our ordinary conceptions and turn up our pure conceptions. But all of it – Lojong and tantric meditation break practice – is fundamentally about changing our conceptions regarding what appears, while what actually appears gradually shifts. If we make it through the charnel grounds, it is quite easy to enter into Keajra Pure Land itself. It’s simply our next step along the path. It is not some distant place, but gradually starts to become our lived experience until it is stable and irreversible. This is how I see the charnel grounds. I believe all of us Kadampa practitioners currently are in the charnel grounds – sometimes we forget, but more and more we remember.

So where is the war taking place? Is it in Ukraine? Is it in samsara? For me, it is happening in the charnel grounds? The charnel grounds are like a hologram – from one perspective, it looks like samsara; from another perspective, it looks like the pure land. When I see it from a samsaric perspective, I generate delusions – such as hatred for Putin or frustration with China enabling the war. When I see it from a pure perspective, I generate virtues – such as compassion for the victims, gathering all blame into one, seeing how karma plays out in the world, etc. When I read the news, I at first wind up generating delusions, but then I try pray and contemplate what Dharma lesson this can teach me. When I discuss it with others, out of attachment to my views, at first I try get them to see the world the way I see it, but then I try help them respond to how they see it with wisdom and compassion. If all sides are responding to how they see the war with wisdom and compassion, we may all start out in different places, but we will all wind up in the same destination – peace.

For myself, I am a diplomat with the U.S. government stationed in China near the Russian border. Korea, Japan, Australia, France, and Germany are all diplomatically present here. I stand at the intersection of all of these forces. I’m engaging in conversations about the war with all of these different parties. The views I have will shape how they think about things and how they advise their governments how to respond. I view this as a profound responsibility. I need to make sure what I say is wise and compassionate, and conducive to peace not just in Europe, but in East Asia as well. This summer I will transition to India. The war or its aftermath will continue. Relations between great powers will forever be altered by this. I view my job as to be a Kadampa in the middle of all of this. I believe we need bodhisattvas in all walks of life, each bringing wisdom and compassion to their respective professional domains.

I have not found it helpful to debate the political aspects of the war with my fellow Kadampas. With them, I want to focus on the Dharma lessons (of which this entire post is what Dharma truth I’m learning from all of this). With my diplomat friends or with my old college debate buddies, I engage in different discussions. There, I try help everyone view this situation with greater wisdom and compassion. This is what I feel I need to do because this is my karmic positionality. Whether we are a Kadampa in the UK or a Kadampa mother in Russia or wherever we may find ourselves, we will all have different karmic positionalities and therefore need to respond in different ways depending upon what is appearing to us. There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, this is us assuming our place in Geshe-la’s mandala. Our job is to pray. Our job is to learn how this situation reveals the truth of Dharma.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Overcoming Attachment to Porn

(8.43) When we are very attached to someone,
We want to see their face again and again;
But, whether we see their face or not,|
The real face always remains covered with skin.

(8.44) If we were to remove that skin,
We would realize that they are not an object of desire
But an object of aversion;
So why do we develop attachment for others’ bodies?

Appearances!  Appearances are so deceptive, but we cannot ignore them, we are not prepared to ignore them because they can be so, so attractive.  Advertisers know we just cannot look away.  It does not matter what somebody is selling, put a near naked beautiful woman next to it, and we’re glued.  We cannot resist attractive forms.  Why else do they put naked women on billboards to sell anything and everything.  If we are honest, we do not want to turn our mind away.  We want to mix our mind even further with the object, feeling like there is happiness there.  We think, “what is the harm,” “it doesn’t matter.”

And it is not just billboards.  Pornography is huge business.  Porn addiction is a huge problem.  The two most popular porn sites get more monthly traffic than Amazon, Netflix, Twitter and Reddit.  It’s estimated that 5-8% of all Americans suffers from porn addiction.  That’s 15-24 million people.  This is not just people who watch porn, but are addicted to it.  That’s roughly the same number as those addicted to alcohol and drugs combined!  Yet nobody talks about it because there is so much shame.  And because it seems so harmless.  And because it seems so good.     

I wonder if we considered the suffering of the people we watch whether we would still want to look.  We frankly do not want to even consider that because it might ruin our fun.  Many of them are victims of trafficking.  Many more have other serious problems with money, drugs, self-esteem, broken families, abuse (prior and current), and so forth.  What drives somebody to become a porn model?  Sure, some of them might just really like sex.  But what percentage, really, do we think that is.  Maybe it started for them that way, just like drug and alcohol use seemly starts with just wanting to have a little fun.  But how does it proceed, how does it end? 

Many of them are victims of child abuse who feel unclean, and who perversely seek to recreate their experiences voluntarily to feel as if they are reclaiming what was taken from them.  Many of them are poor or on drugs and are exploited terribly by the people in this industry.  We may think that they do things voluntarily, but we have to ask how lost they are to voluntarily allow themselves to be treated like a piece of meat or an object of exploitation and often abuse.

We also need to think about their suffering from a karmic perspective.  They are provoking attachment in people, perhaps millions and millions of people.   Look how much you suffer from people provoking attachment in you.  They will suffer like that millions of times over in the future.

We also need to think about the karma that we create by being attracted to such things.  I had a dream once where I was the sex toy of powerful people who did not even know that I was a living being.  Certainly this is our future if we consume things like this.  What realm do you think this sort of activity ripens in for rebirth – there is a special hell called the swamp of excrement.  Is it worth a rebirth there just to get a few moments of contaminated pleasure.   It is also worth recalling the moment of our death.  Whatever attachments we have not resolved in life will flare up at the time of death, tempting us to come back into samsara.  I had a lucid dream once where I was at the time of my death and I was tempted by various things to see if I would abandon my practice.  I knew I was dreaming and I knew exactly what was going on.  First, I was tempted by money, but I did not budge.  Then, I was tempted by power.  I hesitated, but did not move.  Then, there were three beautiful women inviting me to their bed.  I dived right in.  If this was the time of my death, all the effort I had put into my Dharma practice to prepare for the moment of death would have been thrown away in an instant.  And I knew what I was doing, but did it anyways.  I woke up and thought, “for me, devaputra mara, no problem; tempting demonesses, big problem.”  We need to think about these things.  We need to force ourselves to consider their suffering and our own.  If we do, eventually we will not be able to do this anymore – at a minimum, we might be able to reduce our attachment and cut our addiction.  Compassion for their suffering will definitely put a dent in such bad habits. 

In the end, it’s just bodies. As Shantideva goes on to describe, just moving bodies, collections of flesh and bone, moving here and there.

I think it’s a perfect example of how stupid attachment makes us. Really. How stupid.  We are almost worse than an animal, so stupid.