Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: The struggles of the path are a small price to pay

Our spiritual guide is creating for each one of us a perfect teacher out of his supremely skillful means and he is encouraging us to follow the Bodhisattva’s way of life leading to enlightenment.  We are being forged right now into the Buddhas we need to become.  We can view all of the problems we have now as those of our future students that we have taken on.  We have been given the problems of our future students now so we can learn how to overcome them.  By learning how to overcome our problems with Dharma wisdom, we gain the realizations we will need to help our future students be able to do the same.  We should view our difficulties as emanated by Dorje Shugden to forge us into the Buddha we need to become. 

We have everything we need.  If we do the math on the analogy of the blind turtle from the teachings on our precious human life, we see that the opportunity we have now comes only once every 475 trillion lives.  We have it all, the only thing we lack is the decision to do it.  Geshe-la has said this on many occasions.  To attain enlightenment, we only need one thing:  a stubborn refusal to ever give up trying, no matter what.  If we have this, since we have perfect methods, we will definitely get there.  It is guaranteed.  If we never give up, we will definitely succeed.  This is worth meditating on.  As Shantideva asks, “why should I, who am human and who understands the meaning of spiritual paths not attain enlightenment by following the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life?”

(7.20) Some people might be discouraged out of fear
Of having to sacrifice their flesh,
But this is due to not understanding
What we should give, or when.

(7.21) In our previous lives, over countless aeons,
We have been cut, stabbed, burned,
And flayed alive innumerable times;
But we have not achieved anything from these hardships.

(7.22) Yet the hardships we must forbear to attain enlightenment
Are insignificant compared to these.
It is like enduring the lesser suffering of surgery
So as to stop much greater pain.

(7.23) If doctors have to use unpleasant medical treatments
To cure people of their illnesses,
I should be able to forbear a few discomforts
To destroy the many sufferings of samsara.

(7.24) But Buddha, the Supreme Physician, does not use
Ordinary treatments such as these;
Rather, he uses extremely gentle methods
To eliminate all the great diseases of the delusions.

So perhaps we may become discouraged because we may feel that the hardships that we have to undergo to make progress along the path are too great. When we think of the sacrifices a Bodhisattva makes, even those we have to make right now, we can become discouraged thinking it is too much.  It’s too much work to do.  And a lot of things we feel we just cannot give up. We cannot give them up now, we cannot even see ourselves giving them up in the future. Many we do not even want to give up. We may think, “I can’t do it, I just can’t do it.  The Dharma is asking too much of me. It’s just overwhelming.” If we begin to feel like this or even if we feel overwhelmed right now, overwhlemed, then there is a danger that we turn to other things.  We give up on the idea of trying to follow purely the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life for a more modest goal.  Or maybe we give up on spiritual pursuits entirely.  We turn to other things that we feel perhaps could be more fulfilling with more immediate and seemingly attainable results.  Since Dharma seems so unrealistic, we turn to things that we feel will be just as beneficial to ourselves and to others – perhaps even more so. And importantly, we feel the need to turn to other things that we might find a lot easier.

We do not like to experience hardship. We like things to be easy and comfortable for us. There are many things perhaps we could do that are fulfilling for us, they are beneficial for ourselves and others, and that are a lot easier.  Seeing this, there is some danger we have to be aware of.  Perhaps such thoughts are lurking in our mind and we are tempted to give in to them and abandon our bodhisattva path.

We do exaggerate. Compared to what people in this world have to endure, let alone what people have to experience in other worlds such as the world of hell beings, it is nothing.  In comparison, it is nothing.  Even in this world we can think of – even in this country, in this town – we can think of the mental and physical suffering people experience every day of their life. Every day. And then we think of the suffering we have to experience every day of our life. Really, really, what do we suffer from? Compared to most people what do we suffer either mentally or physically by putting in effort to travel the path? It is insignificant, really. Almost laughable to even complain about.  And the medicine of Dharma, is it really that hard to swallow?  Venerable Geshe-la said that compared to the hardships yogis like Milarepa had to experience to purify their mind, we follow a much more comfortable path. The meditations that we are given are quite easy to swallow, really. Geshe-la has indicated many times we travel a comfortable path.  As Shantideva says, “But Buddha, the Supreme Physician, does not use ordinary treatments such as these; rather, he uses extremely gentle methods to eliminate all the great diseases of the delusions.”

Happy Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day: Taking our Place in the Lineage

Today is Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day when we celebrate and remember Buddha’s kindness in teaching Dharma to the beings of this world.  Today is a particularly blessed day when the karma we create is multiplied by ten million times, so it is a good idea to make every second count.  As Kadampas, June 4th is also Venerable Geshe-la’s birthday.  Of course it is, what other day would he be born on?  To mark this day, I would like to share my thoughts on why it is important to pray for Geshe-la’s long life, how we can appreciate Buddha’s kindness in turning the Wheel of Dharma, what it means to turn the Wheel of Dharma over time, and the many different ways we can choose to take our place in the lineage.

Understanding How Holy Days Work

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

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

Why it is Important to Pray for Geshe-la’s Long Life

Not only is today important because it is Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day, but also because today is Geshe-la’s birthday.  At Kadampa Festivals, special events, and perhaps also in our daily practice, we frequently pray for the long life of our precious spiritual guide, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.  Sometimes, if we are honest with ourselves, we are tired towards the end of these long teaching or meditation sessions, and so we internally groan a bit at the thought of doing the long-life prayers because we want the session to end, etc.  There is nothing wrong with admitting these thoughts arise in our mind, what matters is that when they do, we recognize them as deceptive and recall why it is important to pray for Geshe-la’s long life.

The Spiritual Guide plays an indispensable role in our spiritual life.  It is helpful to consider why different realms appear to different beings.  Generally speaking, with the exception of humans, animals, and some gods, beings of one realm can’t see beings of other realms.  Why is this?  Because the world that appears to any one being depends upon that person’s karma.  Hell beings don’t see other realms because their minds are so impure they only see impurity.  We do not see god realms for the same reason.  The world of the Buddhas is completely pure, and so utterly beyond our scope of appearance.  As a result, even though pure lands pervade everywhere, we are completely blind to them and the teachings and enlightened actions of the Buddhas are essentially beyond our reach.  But the spiritual guide bridges the pure world of the Buddhas and our impure human world.  Despite their mind being in the pure land, they are nonetheless able to appear in our world and to our minds.  Through developing a relationship with the spiritual guide, we are able to learn about and ultimately gain access to the pure lands and all the blessings of the Buddhas.  Without the spiritual guide appearing in our world, and more specifically in our lives, we would have no idea about the existence of pure worlds, much less the paths for reaching them. 

In Great Treasury of Merit, Geshe-la says:

“It is very important to keep a pure view of our Spiritual Guide’s outer aspect and not to be misled into thinking that just because he appears as an ordinary being he is an ordinary being. We must always remember that his apparent ordinariness is itself a manifestation of his enlightened qualities. If he were to display extraordinary qualities and miracle powers these would not benefit us in the least, but by appearing in a form to which we can relate and giving us unmistaken advice he gives us immeasurable help. Indeed, it is this very ability to appear in an ordinary form while performing the actions of a Buddha that reveals his real miracle powers and skilful means.”

It is also important to remember that the spiritual guide appearing in our life is a dependent-arising.  If we do not create the causes for him to appear in our life, he simply won’t.  There are billions of people on earth who have no idea who Geshe-la is, much less having him appear directly in their lives.  The difference is we have created the karma for him to appear in our lives and others have not.

I once asked Geshe-la, “I realize that if I continue to find you in all of my future lives without interruption, my eventual enlightenment is guaranteed.  Please give me a method to 100% guarantee that I meet you in all of my future lives without interruption.”  He replied, “concentrate on practicing Dharma and always keep faith.”  The Dharma we practice comes from his instructions.  When we put it into practice, we do two things.  First, we create a closer karmic relationship with him because every instruction functions to take us closer to its origin.  Second, we actually mix our mind with his.  His instructions are not separate from his mind but are rather aspects of his mind.  When we put his instructions into practice, we quite literally are bringing his mind into our mind, or more precisely, we are making his mind manifest in our own.  Geshe-la’s answer also says we need to keep faith.  It is not enough to meet him again in our future lives, but we also need to continue to have faith in him.  Keeping faith now creates the tendencies in our mind to continue to have faith in him when we meet him again in our future lives.

But the supreme method for having him appear in our life is to pray for his long life.  Why?  When we pray for his long life, we are requesting him to continue to appear in this world and that he continues to turn the wheel of Dharma for ourselves and all others.  This mental action directly creates the cause for him to appear in our life.  There are two levels at which we can engage in the long-life prayers – for ourselves and for others. 

For ourselves, we can consider without him appearing in our life, we would have no spiritual life at all.  We wish for that to continue and so we pray that he remains in this world forever.  We might think, “Geshe-la is already appearing in my life and he isn’t teaching any more, so it really doesn’t make much difference whether he continues to live a long life – he is not teaching anyways!”  Such a way of thinking is completely wrong.  Many people enter the path, but then their enthusiasm for practicing wanes until eventually what was the passion of their life becomes a hobby and eventually becomes something they did before.  Some people even generate negative minds towards Geshe-la or the NKT and then lose everything.  In this way, he ceases to appear in their lives and they lose all faith.  Sincerely praying for his long life is like a spiritual insurance policy against such an outcome.  Further, even if we continue to have deep faith in him, our praying for him to remain in this world forever creates the causes for him to be reborn in this world and for us to find him again in our future lives so we can pick up where we left off. 

For others, we can think, “it is not enough for him to appear in my life, but he needs to remain forever in this world for the sake of others.”  We have already found him and we know what a difference that has made in our lives, we wish him to continue to appear in this world so he can bring similar benefit to others.  Look at how many hundreds of thousands of people Geshe-la has touched in just his time in the West.  Now imagine him remaining until samsara ends.  As long as he remains in this world, he will tirelessly work to lead others to enter into, progress along, and complete the path to enlightenment.  This is how they can escape their samsaric suffering.  Not only do such prayers help others, but by praying that he appears for them, we also create the karma for him to appear in all of our future lives because whatever we pray for others, we create the causes to obtain also for ourselves. 

I encourage everyone to take advantage of this holy day by engaging sincerely in Geshe-la’s long-life prayers.  If we don’t have them or we don’t know them, we can download them for free.  We can also download for free a special prayer called Request to the Holy Spiritual Guide Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche from his Faithful Disciples that accomplishes similar functions.  What better way to mark his birthday than to pray for him to remain in this world forever turning the Wheel of Dharma?

Appreciating Buddha’s Kindness in Turning the Wheel of Dharma

When Prince Siddhartha left the palace, he promised his parents that he would return to share with them what he learned for how to overcome birth, aging, sickness, and death.  He could have just attained liberation for himself and enjoyed eternal peace, but instead, he decided to attain full enlightenment so he could lead all living beings – including ourselves – to the same state.  In other words, he had us specifically in mind when he attained enlightenment.  He did so for us.  It is for us that he came out of meditative equipoise and began teaching.

If Buddha hadn’t turned the Wheel of Dharma, nobody in this world would have ever even heard of Buddhism, much less had the opportunity to practice it.  How many billions of people over thousands of years have been beneficially touched by his decision to come out of meditation and teach for the rest of us. 

When we consider these things, we need to make it personal.  We need to take the time to imagine what our life would be like if we had never met the Dharma – if Buddha hadn’t turned the Wheel of Dharma.  For me personally, life has been one extremely difficult episode after another, but because I have met the Dharma, I have been able to transform all of these experiences into a rewarding spiritual journey.  When we see how our own lives have been transformed, and how those who are close to us have benefited from our having found the Dharma, we can begin to personally internalize Buddha’s great kindness.  With a feeling of personal appreciation, we can then consider we are just one being, he has done the same for billions.

What does it Mean to Turn the Wheel of Dharma Over Time?

Conventionally speaking, we say there were four turnings of the Wheel of Dharma by Buddha.  As it explains on the Kadampa website

“Forty-nine days after Buddha attained enlightenment, as a result of requests he rose from meditation and taught the first Wheel of Dharma. These teachings, which include the Sutra of the Four Noble Truths and other discourses, are the principal source of the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle, of Buddhism.  Later, Buddha taught the second and third Wheels of Dharma, which include the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras and the Sutra Discriminating the Intention, respectively. These teachings are the source of the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, of Buddhism.”

In the Kadampa Play, which takes place at the end of the Summer Festival every year, we are shown that there was a fourth turning of the Wheel of Dharma when Buddha taught the Vajrayana teachings or the Tantric quick path to enlightenment.  These four turnings of the Wheel of Dharma set Buddhism in motion in this world.

But the turning of the Wheel of Dharma is not limited to just Buddha’s lifetime.  We can also understand the turning of the Wheel of Dharma from a most cosmic scale.  Each founder Buddha engages in the Twelve Deeds of a Buddha, from descent from a pure land, through birth, attaining enlightenment, turning the Wheel of Dharma, and eventually dying.  Our world is just one world and Buddha Shakyamuni was just one founder Buddha.  There are countless worlds and countless founder Buddhas doing the same thing.  It is said in this fortunate aeon, there will be 1,000 founder Buddhas who come in cycles to reestablish the Dharma after it fades from the previous founder Buddha.  All of these are different turnings of the Wheel of Dharma.  On this day, we can rejoice in all of this and create literally infinite merit.

Within just this current cycle of the Dharma of Buddha Shakyamuni in this world, we can also identify very clear major re-turnings of the Wheel of Dharma.  These are special times when new energy and new momentum was created to push the Dharma forward into future generations.  For example, Atisha (980-1054 AD) was viewed by many as the Second Buddha, and his teaching of the Lamrim reignited the Dharma in this world by founding the Kadampa tradition.  Later Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419 AD) united the Dharma of Sutra and Tantra and founded the New Kadampa Tradition.  And most recently, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (1931 – present) represented the teachings of Je Tsongkhapa for the modern world.  These great masters also engaged in major turnings of the Wheel of Dharma, each in their own way.  And this is just within the Kadampa lineage – there are countless other Buddhist lineages, such as Theravada, Zen, and so forth.  No doubt each of these lineages has its own major turning points.  We can rejoice in all of these major turnings of the Wheel of Dharma.

But the turning of the Wheel of Dharma is not limited to these seminal masters, but to each and every lineage guru along the way.  Since Je Tsongkhapa alone, there has been an unbroken lineage of 37 different lineage gurus, who each kept the lineage alive – turning the Wheel of Dharma for future generations.  Why is lineage important?  Buddha’s blessings only transmit through lived experience, not mere intellectual understanding of his teachings.  A lineage is considered a “living lineage” if there is an unbroken series of gurus who have personally realized all of the teachings of that lineage.  When we are part of a living lineage, the lineage gurus serve as an intact pipeline for the unobstructed flow of blessings from Buddha Shakyamuni straight into our heart.  Through the immeasurable kindness of Venerable Geshe-la, the Kadampa lineage remains intact and alive in this world.  This means we can gain direct access to the lineage blessings of our precious instructions, making realizing them infinitely easier. 

Taking Our Place in the Lineage

It is good to rejoice in all of the past turnings of the Wheel of Dharma, but it is not good enough to stop there.  We ourselves need to realize we have a personal responsibility to carry forward the Kadampa lineage for future generations.  If we do not do so, who will?  If we do not do so, this precious lineage that has been kept alive for thousands of years will die in this world.  It is our personal responsibility to carry this lineage forward.  In short, we must each assume our personal place in the lineage.

Venerable Tharchin said when somebody new comes into the Dharma center, he views them as “a future holder of the lineage,” and cherishes and respects them accordingly.  When we consider the “great wave” of Je Tsongkhapa’s deeds, we realize that his basic strategy for eventually liberating all living beings is to form new spiritual guides, who in turn form the next generation of spiritual guides, and so forth until eventually every living being has been touched by them.  We are currently on the receiving end of Venerable Geshe-la’s turning of the Wheel of Dharma.  But we ourselves need to assume our place in the lineage.

At first, we might think this is not our job – we have Gen-la Dekyong, Gen-la Khyenrab, Gen-la Jampa, and Gen-la Thubten for that.  We are not going to become a lineage guru ourselves, so this doesn’t mean anything for us personally.  We can rejoice in their deeds, but we have no personal responsibility to carry forward the lineage ourselves.  This way of thinking is completely wrong.  Geshe-la said in one of his last teachings before he retired that, “you are all lineage gurus now.”  How can we understand this? 

At one level, we can say even if we are not likely to be a lineage guru in this life (though, we never know…), at some point in our future lives it will be our turn to assume our place in the lineage.  Just as Venerable Tharchin views us, so too we should view ourselves as future holders of the lineage and orient the trajectory of our mental continuum towards assuming that role.  Venerable Tharchin also says we have the ability to design our own enlightenment by virtue of the type of bodhichitta we develop as bodhisattvas.  Why is Avalokiteshvara the Buddha of Compassion and Manjushri the Buddha of Wisdom?  Because as bodhisattvas they generated the specific intention to become that type of Buddha.  I have a dear friend who wants to become a deity in Dorje Shugden’s mandala.  Venerable Tharchin said he wants to be a Buddha specifically capable of helping the beings in the hell realms because that is where most living beings reside.  My wife wishes to become the Buddha of Joy.  We should think about what sort of Buddha we want to become, and begin our long march to assuming our place in the lineage with those special abilities.

At another level, we can say we have internalized a degree of the lineage even if we haven’t realized all of it.  Therefore, we do have the ability to pass on what we have personally realized.  Kadam Bjorn said if two teachers gave the exact same teaching – word for word with exactly the same intonation and everything – but one of the teachers had personal experience of their truth and the other did not, the lineage blessings would only flow through the one who had personal experience, and so those listening would receive infinitely more benefit from the teaching.  Ultimately, he said, teachings are only as powerful as the blessings passing through the person delivering it.  How many blessings pass depends primarily upon the pure view of those listening, but also on the degree of personal experience of the person transmitting the wisdom.  We see this same phenomenon in daily life – those who “speak from experience” are so much more powerful than those who do not.  Each one of us has a degree of personal experience, which means we have the ability to pass on at least those portions of the lineage to the next generation.  Passing on the lineage can occur through many forms, not just formal teachings.  Merely setting a good example is a method for passing on the lineage.

At a much deeper level, we can consider a much broader understanding of a Buddha’s body, speech, and mind.  Normally, we think these are limited to the individual human being who was Buddha or to a specific deity or lineage guru.  Geshe-la once said, “I am the NKT.”  His meaning of course is not Louis XIV-style “l’etat c’est moi,” but that his actual body is not just the cute little Tibetan we all know and love, but all of our bodies.  His speech is not just the words that come out of his mouth or written in his books, but all of our Dharma speech in this world.  His mind is not just the thoughts within him, but all of our Dharma thoughts in our minds.  The spiritual guide is so much more vast than one Tibetan monk, but he is working through all of us every day.  He is turning the Wheel of Dharma through our every Dharma action of body, speech, and mind.  When we see our body, speech, and mind as an extension of his in this world, then we can start to see how we are – at this very moment – assuming our place in the lineage.  The closer we draw towards him, the more we emulate him, the more we come into alignment with his enlightened actions in this world.  His impact in turning the Wheel of Dharma depends, fundamentally, on us.  This is why he thanks us every time he sees us and says without us helping him fulfill his vision, he is almost nothing. 

Buddha’s turning the Wheel of Dharma Day is our opportunity to not only celebrate Geshe-la’s birthday, recall Buddha’s kindness, or even that of the lineage gurus, but an opportunity to also see ourselves as an indispensable part of the lineage, and see our spiritual lives as part of the turning of the Wheel of Dharma, not only in this life but for generations to come.  In this way, we ourselves become part of the very Wheel of Dharma the enlightened beings turn. 

Happy Protector Day: The nature and function of Dorje Shugden

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 5 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.

In this post, I will explain the nature and function of Dorje Shugden.  In the subsequent posts I will explain how to rely upon him outside of formal meditation and then I will explain how to rely upon him during the formal meditation session. 

What is the nature and function of Dorje Shugden?  In short, his nature is the same as our Spiritual Guide, but in particular he is by nature the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri.  Manjushri assumes two forms, Je Tsongkhapa to lead us along the path and Dorje Shugden to arrange the conditions for our practice of the path.  His function is to arrange all the outer, inner and secret conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment.

To understand this in more detail, we can consider the meaning of the invitation prayer to Dorje Shugden that we recite every day in the context of our Heart Jewel practice.  The Sadhana beings by saying,

HUM, I have the clarity of the Yidam.

With HUM we dissolve everything into the clear light Dharmakaya and recall that the definitive nature of Dorje Shugden is the Truth Body of our Spiritual Guide.  ‘I have the clarity of the Yidam’ means we engage in our Dorje Shugden practice self-generated as our personal deity.  We do this for two reasons.  First, it is more effective.  Heruka is much closer to Dorje Shugden than we are, so by requesting Dorje Shugden as Heruka we tap into their close karmic connection.  It is similar to knowing somebody who knows somebody very powerful.  We may not know the powerful person ourselves, but if we know somebody who does know them, if they ask the powerful person to fulfill our wishes on our behalf, it is far more likely we will get the response we want.  The second reason why we do this is the practice of Dorje Shugden can be engaged in for the sake of ourself or for the sake of others.  When we eventually become Buddha Heruka our work is not finished – we will still need to lead all other beings to enlightenment.  At that time, we will need powerful allies who can help living beings, such as Dorje Shugden.  Training in the practice of Dorje Shugden while maintaining divine pride of being the deity is a very powerful method for having Dorje Shugden accomplish his function for all those that we love.

Before me in the center of red and black fire and wind.

Here, we imagine that encircling all the living beings we are visualizing around us is a large proection circle of Dorje Shugden made out of five-colored wisdom fires.  It is like a giant sphere which completely envelopes all of these beings and the entire universe.  I like to imagine that all living beings are now inside of the protection circle and everything that happens to them is perfect for their swiftest possible enlightenment. 

On a lotus and sun trampeling demons and obstructors is a terrifying lion powerful and alert.

The function of Dorje Shugden’s lion is to dispel all fear.  It is a bit like in the movie Narnia, when people were in the presence of Aslan, they knew they were safe and they had nothing to fear.  If ever we are in a situation where we are afraid, we can remember the protection circle of Dorje Shugden and we can remember his lion and strongly believe that we are protected and that we receive his blessings which pacify all of our fear. 

Upon this sits the Great King Dorje Shugden, the supreme heart jewel of Dharma protectors.

Dorje Shugden is the principal deity of the visualization.  There are a couple of different analogies we can consider to get a feeling for who he is.  He is our karma manager.  Rich people give their money to money managers to manage their money in an optimal way.  In the same way, Dorje Shugden is the supreme karma manager.  He will manage our karma in an optimal way for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  He is also our personal spiritual trainer.  When people want to get their bodies in shape, they go to a personal physical trainer who gives them the specific exercises they need to get in the peak of physical health.  In the same way, Dorje Shugden is our personal spiritual trainer who gives us the specific exercises we need to put ourselves in the peak of spiritual health, full enlightenment.  He is our spiritual father.  Our father protects us from danger and provides us with everything we need.  In the same way, Dorje Shugden is our spiritual father, who will protect us from all danger and provide for us everything we need to accomplish our spiritual goals.  He is the director of our spiritual life.  When people make movies or plays, there is a director who organizes and puts together all the appearances.  In the same way, Dorje Shugden is the director of our spiritual life, who will create a play of appearances around us for the rest of our life that are perfect for our spiritual path.  In a future post, I will explain how he has the power to help us not just in this life and right now, but in all our past and future lives as well.  Yes, we can go back within our past and transform what happened into a cause of our enlightenment!

His body is clothed in the garments of a monk.

This symbolizes his power to assist us with our practice of moral discipline.  We all have bad habits we are trying to abandon, such as smoking, getting angry at people, and so forth; and vows we are trying to keep, such as our refuge, pratimoksha, bodhisattva, and tantric vows, but we are not very successful in doing so.  Dorje Shugden can give us the strength and wisdom we need to abandon these bad habits.  Whenever we feel tempted to break our moral discipline, we can recall Dorje Shugden in front of us dressed in the garments of a monk and request his special blessings to give us the strength to keep our moral discipline. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to overcome discouragement

We often seek to justify our laziness by convincing ourselves that those activities are meaningful or beneficial in some way. We must be honest with ourselves. It is so easy to out of laziness fool or deceive ourselves.  Atisha gave us some good advice when he said:   “Until you attain stable realizations, worldly amusements are harmful, therefore abide in a place where there are no such distractions.”  He then went on to say, “If you engage in many meaningless activities your virtuous activities will degenerate, therefore stop activities that are not spiritual.”

What does he mean by “spiritual?”  Geshe-la said something spiritual is necessarily focused beyond this life.  Something is worldly if it concerns this life.  There are many people who spend their whole lives “doing Dharma” – engaging in their practices, going to teachings, working for the center, spending time with Sangha friends, etc. – but in their mind, their motivation remains worldly.  Even though they are “doing Dharma,” they are not actually engaged in spiritual practices.  And there are others who spend their whole day at work, taking care of their families, and a million other seemingly “worldly” activities, but in their mind they view them all as spiritual trainings emanated by Dorje Shugden.  Whether our life is spiritual or worldly depends upon which life we are working for – this life or our future lives.  Whether our life is spiritual or worldly, therefore, fundamentally depends upon whether laziness remains in our mind – laziness to put in the effort to engage in our activities with a spiritual mind. 

Now Shantideva turns to the laziness of discouragement.

(7.16) Without being discouraged, I should collect wisdom and merit
And strive for self-control through mindfulness and alertness.
Then I should equalize self and others
And practise exchanging myself with others.

(7.17) I should not discourage myself by thinking,
“How shall I ever become enlightened?”
For the Tathagatas, who speak only the truth,
Have said that it can be so.

(7.18) It is said that even flies, bees, gnats,
And all other insects and animals
Can attain the rare and unsurpassed state of enlightenment
Through developing the power of effort;

(7.19) So why should I, who am born a human,
And who understands the meaning of spiritual paths,
Not attain enlightenment
By following the Bodhisattva’s way of life?

We can so easily become discouraged. I think we all suffer sometimes quite badly from discouragement.  For example, thinking that we do not have the qualities, the skills, and so forth of a good Dharma practitioner, and because we are not able to do the things that Dharma says, we become discouraged and abandon trying.  Many of us fall into the trap of thinking if we can’t do things “perfectly” we are somehow doing them “badly.”  We judge our practice as not good enough, and even say we are a bad practitioner.  There is always “more” we could be doing, and because we could be doing more but are not, we think what we are doing is bad or not worth anything.  We may have been practicing the Dharma for many years, but still delusions get the better of us, so we feel like a failure.  We think there is no way we will be able to accomplish great things along the spiritual path, we can barely wait in line at the grocery store without becoming impatient.  We know how we “should” be responding to difficult situations with Dharma minds, and everytime we see that we are unable to do so, we judge ourselves a failure.  When we look into the mirror of Dharma with our mind of guilt, all we see is the myriad ways we are falling short and we quickly become discouraged.

Once again, this shows how patient acceptance is the foundation for the practice of effort.  We need to accept where we are at.  It is neither good nor bad, it is just simply where we are at.  It doesn’t matter where we are at, the only thing that matters is are we moving the ball forward by trying.  It doesn’t even matter of we succeed, simply trying creates the karma we are after.  Vajryaogini’s mandala is an inverted double tetrahedron to show how the highest attainments are all built of the foundation of our smallest efforts.  We need to cherish and rejoice anything we do do, not beat ourselves up for everything we are not doing but think we “should” be.

What is the source of our discouragement?  Fundamentally, it is because we grasp at a permanent ordinary self.  We think our ordinary self is our real self and that it is unchangeable.  We often say, “that is not me.”  What are you, anyway?  We project expectations on ourself of already having the results of our practice (patience, compassion, selflessness, wisdom realizing emptiness, etc.) without having created the causes for such attainments.  It is not enough to know how a Buddha acts, we need to train to be able to do so.  We do not believe our spiritual guide.  He has seen our qualities and he knows we can do it, otherwise he wouldn’t have activated our Dharma karma.  But we choose to listen to our whining voice inside.  We should trust our guru and believe we can do it.  And then, we go for it.

Happy Tsog Day: Offering the outer offerings

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 8 of a 44-part series.

O Guru, Refuge, and Protector, together with your retinue,
I offer you these vast clouds of various offerings:

When I first started practicing Dharma, I had a big problem with making offerings. There were several layers of resistance. First, I grew up in Oregon at the time of the Bhagwan Rajneesh. He taught love and all the right things, but he was systematically duping his followers, using money to buy Rolls Royces, engaging in secret orgies, mass poisonings, attempted assassinations, you name it – everything that one worries about in a cult. When I encountered making extensive outer offerings in the Dharma, I was like, “no way!” Second, one of the biggest fears Westerners have about Eastern spiritual guides is they are conning us out of our money. There are many examples of so-called spiritual teachers doing exactly that, so the fear is not irrational. Third, it made no sense to me why we should make such offerings – if the Buddhas had already attained everything, why offer to them and not to people in need? And fourth, I have deep imprints of miserliness and the way I was raised reinforced this. My father had millions, but mentally felt himself a pauper and was extremely miserly with how he spent his money; my mother was a single mom working two low-paying jobs just to pay the rent and we grew up on second-hand clothes and Value Village canned food. To this day, I tend to be very miserly as a result. All these obstacles together created many obstacles to embracing the practice of making outer offerings. If I am honest, I still have reluctance on this front.

So how can we overcome these objections? First, these offerings are just imagined, we are not physically giving our spiritual guide these things. Second, anything we do physically give our spiritual guide, he immediately turns around and gives it to somebody else (regifting is a virtue!). Third, we do not make offerings because the Buddhas need these things, but rather we need the merit or good karma of making these offerings. Each type of offering has a different karmic function, and we can want the karmic fruits of these offerings for selfless reasons. Fourth, Geshe-la is very clear that the offering that pleases him the most is an offering of our spiritual practice, showing his real intention is not to scam us. Fifth, it is normal to want to check these things, but after we have conducted a thorough investigation and found nothing to justify our fears, we need to leave them behind and not hold on tightly to baseless doubts. And sixth, it is precisely because I have tendencies for miserliness that I need to train in giving, lest I know the poverty I so fear.

Practically speaking, for each of the outer offerings, we should imagine ourself as Heruka emanates countless offering goddesses from our heart filling the universe with the corresponding offering, which our spiritual guide receives and generates great bliss. We should recall the specific karmic benefits of the specific type of offering with a bodhichitta motivation. Then we reabsorb the offering goddesses and make the next offering. Therefore, what will follow is an explanation of the specific karmic benefits of each type of offering.

The purifying nectars of the four waters gently flowing
From expansive and radiant jewelled vessels perfectly arrayed;

Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that if we make water offerings, we attain eight special benefits:

“(1) Offering cool water causes us to develop pure moral discipline.
(2) Offering delicious water ensures that we shall always find delicious food and drink in future lives.
(3) Offering light water causes us to experience the bliss of physical suppleness.
(4) Offering soft water makes our mind calm and gentle.
(5) Offering clear water makes our mind clear and alert.
(6) Offering sweet-smelling water brings easy and powerful purification of negative karma.
(7) Offering water that is good for the digestion reduces our illnesses.
(8) Offering water that soothes the throat makes our speech beautiful and powerful.

When we offer water to Buddha we should regard it as pure nectar because that is how it is perceived by Buddha. We can also arrange many sets of seven offering bowls filled with pure water, symbolizing our future attainment of the seven pre-eminent qualities of embrace of a Buddha.”

All these things are qualities we would want to attain. Sometimes we develop some resistance to thinking about the karmic benefits we will receive from our spiritual actions, thinking it is self-cherishing. But we can want all these good qualities for the sake of others. We need moral discipline to attain upper rebirth so we can continue with our spiritual practice, we want to find delicious food and drink so we can stay healthy and engage in the yoga of eating. We want a calm and clear mind so we can help others attain a similar state, etc.

When we make these offerings, we should imagine that we are Heruka and countless offering goddesses fill the entire universe making extensive water offerings while recalling the karmic benefits of making such offerings with a bodhichitta motivation.

Beautiful flowers, petals, and garlands finely arranged,
Covering the ground and filling the sky;

When we make flower offerings, it creates the karmic causes for everything and everyone to appear to us as beautiful and pleasing. This enables three main benefits. First, we are able to keep a balanced mind of equanimity because everything appears to us as beautiful and pleasing, so we are free from strong attachment and aversion. Second, we can easily develop affectionate love towards all beings because they all appear to us as beautiful and pleasing, like they would to a loving grandma. And third, we will easily generate great bliss for our tantric practice; thus, accelerating our quick path.

The lapis-coloured smoke of fragrant incense
Billowing in the heavens like blue summer clouds;

Geshe-la explains in Great Treasury of Merit that offering incense enables us to always encounter pleasant smells and to always be reborn in pleasant places. The value of pleasant smells can be understood from the above explanation on flowers. We want to be reborn in pleasant places so we can focus on our spiritual practice and not basic survival and also because those who are likewise born into pleasant places will be more receptive to spiritual practice.

The playful light of the sun and the moon, glittering jewels, and a vast array of lamps
Dispelling the darkness of the three thousand worlds;

Light offerings temporarily make our mind sharp; thus, making contemplation and meditation easier. Ultimately, light offerings create the cause for great wisdom to dawn in our mind, dispelling the darkness of ignorance. We need both of these things for our bodhisattva training.

Exquisite perfume scented with camphor, sandalwood, and saffron,
In a vast swirling ocean stretching as far as the eye can see;

Perfume offerings create the causes to attain pure moral discipline. Pure moral discipline is the primary cause of fortunate rebirth. If we fall into the lower realms, it will be impossible for us to continue our spiritual training until we are lucky enough to take another upper rebirth, and only then if we refind the Dharma. But the practice of moral discipline ensures that we maintain an uninterrupted continuum of precious human rebirths between now and our eventual enlightenment. We need never attain lower rebirth again.

Nutritious food and drink endowed with a hundred flavours
And delicacies of gods and men heaped as high as a mountain;

Food offerings have two main benefits. First, in the future we will always easily find nutritious food, which we will need to remain healthy and sustain our precious human life. The truth is nutritious food is a luxury good in the modern world. It is expensive and difficult to find, whereas junk food is cheap and plentiful. Second, food offerings create the causes for us to attain pure concentration. Concentration on virtue is like healthy food for the mind. At the beginning of virtually every Dharma book and at the beginning of virtually every introductory course, we explain the cause of happiness is inner peace. Inner peace comes from mixing our mind with virtue. Mixing our mind with virtue depends upon concentration. Without concentration, our mind and virtue will not mix; but with concentration, they will mix inseparably like water mixed with water. The more they mix, the more we create the causes for inner peace, and the happier we will be – in this life and in all our future lives.

From an endless variety of musical instruments,
Melodious tunes filling all three worlds;

By making music offerings we create the causes to only hear pleasant sounds, never hear bad news, and always hear Dharma. The value of only hearing pleasant sounds can be understood from the explanation on flower offerings above. Never hearing bad news has two aspects – external and internal. The external aspect is things simply do not go wrong in the world we inhabit because we have so much merit, so there is not a lot of bad news to hear. Internally, it is a special wisdom that can hear any news as good news because we see how it teaches us the truth of Dharma or gives us an opportunity to train in Dharma. Always hearing the sound of Dharma is essential if we are to continue with our spiritual practice in the future. We have found the Dharma in this life, but there is no guarantee we will find it again in our future lives. Being born human is not enough, we need to be born human where we can hear the sound of pure Dharma. There is no guarantee we will attain enlightenment in this life, so we need to make sure we find the path again in our future lives. Further, there is no guarantee we will continue to hear the sound of Dharma even in this life. Many people come to teachings, even for many years, but then they fade away and gradually lose their practice. They then come to inhabit a private world in which they do not hear the sound of Dharma, which then reinforces their separation from the path until eventually their previous spiritual life they were so enthusiastic about becomes nothing but a fond memory of their past.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: We are all going to hell (unless we reverse course)

(7.8) With some things not yet started
And others half-finished,
The Lord of Death will suddenly strike
And I shall think, “Oh no, this is the end for me!”

(7.9) When I become a victim of the Lord of Death,
My relatives – their eyes red and swollen with sorrow
And their faces flushed with tears –
Will finally give up hope.

(7.10) Tormented by memories of my previous non-virtues
And hearing the sounds of impending hell,
Out of terror I shall cover myself in excrement!
What shall I be able to do in such a pathetic state?

(7.11) If even in this human life I shall experience terror
Like that felt by a fish being cooked alive,
What can be said of the unbearable sufferings of hell
That I shall experience as a consequence of my non-virtuous actions?

(7.12) As a result of the non-virtues I have committed,
I shall be reborn in the hot hells
Where my tender, young flesh will be scalded by hot, molten metals;
So how can I remain at ease under the control of laziness?

(7.13) I wish for higher attainments without having to make any effort,
Permanent freedom without having patiently to endure any pain,
And to remain like a long-life god while living in the jaws of death.
How foolish I am! When death comes, I shall be overwhelmed by suffering!

(7.14) By depending upon this boat-like human form,
We can cross the great ocean of suffering.
Since such a vessel will be hard to find again,
This is no time to sleep, you fool!

When we read such verses, we need to make them personal.  These things will happen to me.  It is guaranteed I will experience such suffering if I don’t purify and I don’t get out of samsara.  Such immense suffering inevitably and inescapably awaits us, yet we’re not prepared to give up our attachment to pleasure and to a comfortable life.  We agree that spiritual attainments, freedom, long life, and so forth would be great, wonderful! But in reality, we want these things as long as we do not have to put any effort in to get them. 

This is primarily due to our attachment to worldly concerns.  Why can we not even be bothered to even try to abandon this laziness of indolence?  When we think of the suffering that lies ahead of us. And if we think of the extraordinary happiness that could lie ahead of us, why do we not want to abandon this laziness of indolence?  We need to ask ourselves these questions and actually come up with answers – why exactly do we still do almost nothing?

The truth of our spiritual life is it is now or never. With the conditions we have now, we can achieve all the higher attainments, we can achieve permanent freedom, we can make it to the pure land.  We can achieve all these things with the conditions that we have.  We lack nothing.  Wo why do we allow this reluctance or resistance to practice to remain in our mind?  Why instead can we not see our laziness as one of our very worst enemies? This inner demon is preventing me from applying myself.  It is obstructing my joyful effort that would otherwise naturally give rise to such great results.

In this next verse, Shantideva addresses the laziness of being attracted to meaningless and non-virtuous actions.  There are many actions born of attachment that we would consider to be harmless, but they actually are by nature non-virtuous. For example, covetousness is a non-virtuous action. Idle chatter is a non-virtuous action.  Perhaps we feel these non-virtuous actions are harmless, but actually they are quite harmful because of the alternative we have.  They cause us to do nothing when we could be using our precious human life to do something.  Such meaningless and non-virtuous activities cause us to develop the habit of wasting our precious human life.  There are so many meaningless activities we distract ourselves with.  Why do we do it?

(7.15) Why do I forsake the joy of holy Dharma,
Which is a boundless source of happiness,
Just to seek pleasure in distractions and meaningless pursuits
That are only causes of suffering?

This is worth memorizing.  We have to think carefully about this.  Perhaps we feel many of our distractions or meaningless pursuits are not causes of suffering.  There are so many things that we do to distract ourselves, and we are not hurting anybody by doing them, are we?  Rather than focusing on virtue, we turn to other things for our pleasure.  We turn to the same things again and again, habitually.  This becomes a form of idle chatter.  We do not really enjoy those activities, but we also do not want to do anything virtuous, so we turn to these distractions instead. We are not actually getting much pleasure from them, but we would rather do such things than focus upon any virtuous activity.  It seems our biggest distractions are our mobile phones, the internet, and television.  How much time do we waste with these things?  This is our precious human life slipping away.  We should try spend a week without these things and we will see how much attachment we have for them.  We will also discover how much time letting go of these things frees us up to engage in virtuous activities.

This is not to say our phones, the internet, or television are inherently meaningless.  They only become meaningless if we do them with a meaningless mind.  But just because in theory they can be transformed into our spiritual practice does not mean we ourselves actually do so.  We have to be honest with ourselves.  This also does not mean we don’t sometimes need to rest.  Of course we need to rest to recharge our batteries, and sometimes doing these things is a good form of rest.  The fault lies when we do them beyond resting enough to be able to return to our spiritual practices refreshed. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Viewing our pets as our actual Yidam

The laziness in our mind is no doubt one of our biggest obstacles. It is also extremely dangerous.  Right now our Dharma karma is ripening, but if we don’t learn how to enjoy creating new good causes for ourselves, then we will eventually burn it all up and lose everything.  Usually what happens is we enter into a slow-motion drift.  We start doing less and less because we do not enjoy it anymore.  If we notice this pattern in our mind, we need to be careful.  It will not be long before we lose everything.  We will start to do the Dharma because we think ‘we should’ as opposed to ‘we want to’, and then this will lead to resentment towards the Dharma, our teaches, the center, our practices, etc., and eventually we will have the worst of both worlds – no enjoyment in samsara because we know none can be found there and no enjoyment of Dharma because we don’t pour ourself into it – we simply don’t want to do it.

(7.4) Why do we not realize that while we are caught
In the snare of delusions such as laziness,
We are trapped in the net of samsara
And held within the jaws of the Lord of Death?

(7.5) If I check carefully, I can see that the Lord of Death
Is systematically slaughtering everyone;
Yet still I am not concerned about my death,
Just like an animal unconcerned about being butchered.

(7.6) The Lord of Death is looking for his next victim
So that he can prevent him from travelling the path to liberation,
And that victim might well be me;
So how can I just indulge in worldly pleasures?

We do not realize our predicament. We are, frankly, not that different from animals.  Cats and dogs are attracted to the life of ease, aren’t they? Look at cats and dogs, they sleep so much of the time. Occasionally they get up to drink or to eat, or to go for a walk.  Once they have done so, they stretch themselves once again and go back to sleep. Such is a cat’s life – sub-consciously, there is part of us that thinks this is our ideal life.  Dogs are just the same. There is an attraction to it – an easy life. It is what we want.  We want a comfortable life. At no time does a cat or dog turn its mind to virtue.  If they had their choice, they would just relax throughout their life, oblivious to the fact that death is coming.  When they die, they then take another samsaric rebirth, probably a worse one.  How are we any different?  Of course, there is part of us that is different, but there is still part of our mind that wishes to live like our pets.  We are attached to a life of ease, unconcerned about our future.

(7.7) The time of death will come quickly,
So accumulate wisdom and merit while you can.
Do not wait until the time of death to abandon laziness,
For then it will be too late!

If we suffer from this laziness and make no effort to abandon it, then we will waste one opportunity after another.  How many opportunities do we have in one day to create virtue, to create the cause for liberation and enlightenment?  We can fill the whole of our day and make every moment of our day meaningful.  But due to laziness, we don’t.  There are so many things we can do in one day, turn to the field of merit, apply our understanding of lamrim in the circumstances we find ourselves in, recite mantras, send out emanations, accept things joyfully as purification.  All of these things we can do comfortably, joyfully. But we do not, due primarily to our laziness.  We know the methods, we just choose not to do them.

We can spend an hour, two hours, the whole morning, doing many different things, but none of them particularly meaningful. None of them leading to our attainment of liberation and enlightenment.  We can even be ‘doing’ Dharma things all day – working for the center, listening to teachings, etc. – but we are not actually practicing because we are not trying to change our mind and overcome our delusions and cultivate virtuous thoughts.  We just go through the motions out of some past momentum, but there is no new joyful effort in our mind.

Happy Tsog Day: Prostrating to the Spiritual Guide’s Pervasive Nature

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 7 of a 44-part series.

Prostrating to the spiritual guide as the Truth Body

Abandonment of all faults together with their imprints,
Precious treasury of countless good qualities,
And sole gateway to all benefit and happiness,
O Venerable spiritual guide I prostrate at your lotus feet.

Our spiritual guide’s Truth Body is the ultimate nature of all phenomena. All things are equally empty. From the point of view of their lacking inherent existence, all emptinesses are the same nature. There is no object that is any more or less empty than all the others. Our spiritual guide imputes their I onto the emptiness of all things, which is why we can correctly say that he is the ultimate nature of everything. Everything that we see or perceive, including whatever device we are reading this post on, is ultimately our spiritual guide. With this understanding, when we look at any object, we can see our spiritual guide looking back at us. What appears is a form, but this form is by nature emptiness – it is the emptiness of our spiritual guide appearing as form. With this verse, we prostrate to our spiritual guide as the Truth Body of all the Buddhas. With the first line, we prostrate to both the cause and function of the Truth Body. The way we attain enlightenment is by meditating on the emptiness of our very subtle mind. This concentration functions to purify our very subtle mind of all contaminated karmic imprints. When our mind is free from them all, it naturally transforms into the omniscient clear light mind of a Buddha. The second line explains that all good qualities emerge from the Truth Body, just as all waves arise from an ocean. The third line indicates that the realization of the Truth Body is the gateway to all happiness for ourself and all living beings. By realizing it, both ourself and all living beings can enjoy eternal joy. And the last line reminds us that even though the Truth Body is very subtle and does not assume any particular form, we should remember it is our spiritual guide. Sometimes we can think of emptiness as a “state” and forget that the Truth Body is a person.

Prostrating to the spiritual guides as the synthesis of all Three Jewels

Essence of all Guru-Buddhas and Deities,

Source of all eighty-four thousand classes of holy Dharma,

Foremost amongst the entire Superior Assembly,

O Kind spiritual guides I prostrate at your lotus feet.

There are two ways we can understand that our spiritual guide is the synthesis of all three jewels. The first is to understand that he is the source of all three jewels, they are all his emanations. He emanates all Buddhas, all Dharma teachings, and all Sangha, like limbs of his body. The second way is to understand that our spiritual guide is an “I” imputed upon all the Buddhas, all the Dharmas, and all the Sanghas. Geshe-la has said on numerous occasions that “I am the NKT.” His meaning is that he imputes his “I” onto all the Buddhas in the NKT, all the Dharma in the NKT, and all the Sangha of the NKT. When we look at any of these, it is our spiritual guide. Practically, this means our bodies are Geshe-la’s bodies in this world, our speech is Geshe-la’s speech in this world, and our Dharma realizations are his wisdom in this world. Where does his body, speech, and mind come from? Lama Tsongkhapa’s. In exactly the same way, in the first line of this verse, we recognize that our spiritual guide is all the Buddhas and deities. The second and third lines reveals he is the source of all Dharmas and all Sangha. Recognizing our spiritual guide in this way, we prostrate to him.

Prostrating to the lineage Gurus and Three Jewels

To the Gurus who abide in the three times and the ten directions,
The Three Supreme Jewels, and all other objects of prostration,
I prostrate with faith and respect, a melodious chorus of praise,
And emanated bodies as numerous as atoms in the world.

Our spiritual guide, who we have been prostrating to, did not emerge out of nowhere, but arose out of an unbroken lineage of realized masters all the way back to Buddha Shakyamuni. To be a lineage Guru means to have attained all the realizations that are taught within that lineage – to have personal experience of the truth of the instructions. Within the Kadampa Lineage, the principal lineage Gurus are Buddha Shakyamuni, Atisha, Je Tsongkhapa, Je Phabongkapa, Trijang Rinpoche, and our own Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Each lineage Guru taught the Dharma and had Sangha followers. Towards this great ocean of three jewels moving through the three times, we prostrate. This verse also indicates that when we engage in this practice of prostration, we should imagine that every one of our hair pores emanates bodies, and each one of those bodies emanates countless more, filling the entire universe. All these countless bodies prostrate.

Mother’s Day for a Kadampa

As Kadampas who practice the Lamrim, every 21 days is Mother’s Day.  We are all quite familiar with the various contemplations of how all living beings are our mother and how kind they were to us as our mother, therefore we should develop a profound feeling of gratitude towards our mother of this life and all our mothers of our past lives.  Very often though, primarily because we make our meditations intellectual exercises of recalling certain points as opposed to exercises of the heart where we change our feelings, these contemplations on the kindness of our mother no longer really move our mind.  We might recall them, but we don’t internalize them and let them touch our heart.  On actual Mother’s Day, we should take the time to reflect deeply and sincerely upon them so that our heart moves and we genuinely feel gratitude and a wish to repay our mother’s kindness.

Have we always neglected our mothers?

I sometimes wonder if ancient Tibetan culture was the same as our modern culture.  In modern culture, particularly in modern psychology, the trend is to blame our mother for all of our problems.  We are encouraged to go back into our childhood and find all the different ways our mother made mistakes and how that is “the underlying cause” of why we are the way we are today.  We likewise completely take for granted everything our mother has done for us.  As kids, we are completely blind to it. 

We think it is “normal” that our mothers do everything for us, and we feel “justified” in getting angry with them when they don’t do it perfectly.  In truth, our mother could have just abandoned us on the street.  She owes us nothing.  Nobody owes us anything.  It is our expectation that they do that actually prevents us from appreciating all that she did for us.  It is the very nature of modern motherhood to give everything you have to your kids only to have them take your kindness for granted, blame you for all of their problems, and want to have nothing to do with you because you are such an embarrassment.  Perhaps it has always been such, which is why the meditation on the kindness of our mothers has always been taught.

It’s time to apologize for being such a jerk

On Mother’s Day, I think it is important to not just express our gratefulness, but to sincerely apologize for what a jerk we have been to her over the years.  Explain that when you were a kid, you didn’t understand, and now it is only as an adult (and perhaps a parent yourself) that you are beginning to realize all she did for you.  Apologize for yelling, apologize for disobeying, apologize for being embarrassed by her, apologize for ignoring her, and apologize most of all for taking for granted all that she has done for you.  Explain to her that all of your good qualities now come from her. 

My father once said about his mother, “everything good in our family comes from Grandma.  That’s the truth.”  This is a perfect attitude.  It is the truth.  The truth is mother’s really struggle with the fact that everything they do is taken for granted and that they are blamed for everything.  Yes, it is good for them in terms of being able to learn how to give love unconditionally, but it is hard.  All it takes is one honest conversation where you admit you were a real butt with her, and where you express sincere gratitude for everything you previously took for granted.  Such a conversation can heal decades of grief.

No, our mothers aren’t perfect, but why should we expect them to be?

Sometimes when we encounter the meditation on the kindness of our mothers we develop all sorts of objections because it is true, our mother did make a lot of mistakes.  My mother had all sorts of serious mental health issues, we had an off and on terrible relationship until eventually she likely killed herself on my wedding day.  I had all sorts of resentments towards her for years, then I had guilt after her suicide, and now I find it difficult to think anything good about her.  All I see is her many faults and delusions.  Most of us have problems of one kind or another with our mothers.  I personally feel it is vital that we identify the delusions we have towards our parents, in particular our mother, and work through them.  We need to get to the point where our mind is completely healed of all delusions towards them.  This is not only a way of repaying the kindness of our mother, it is a way of healing our own mind.

Our mothers were not perfect, they made many mistakes, and they were full of delusions.  This is also true, and acknowledging that fact is not a denial of their kindness.  We can hold the view that they were emanations of Buddhas who appeared to make the mistakes that they did to give us a chance to grow.  Every child grows up cataloging the many mistakes their parents make and resolves when they are parents they won’t do the same thing; only to find when they do become parents they wind up making many of the same mistakes.  The power of osmosis with our parents is the most powerful force shaping our lives and shaping our mind.  It is not enough that we heal our mind of all the delusions we have towards our mother, we also need to look into our mind and identify all the delusions we received from her. 

Venerable Tharchin once told me the only reason why the people in our life appear to have delusions is because we ourselves possess the same delusions within our own mind and we therefore project beings who have the same faults.  Our task, therefore, is to identify within ourselves the delusions that appear in others and then root them out completely.  When we do so, he said, several amazing things will happen.  First, our relationship with the person will improve.  Second, we will have less delusions in our own mind.  And third, the faults we see in the other person will gradually “disappear.”  Why?  Because they were never coming from the other person in the first place.  He concluded by saying, this is how Bodhisattva’s ripen and liberate all beings.  When we attain Buddhahood, he said, it appears to us as if everybody attains Buddhahood at the same time with us.  In fact, we see that they have always been so.  If we love our mother, this is essential work.

Tara is our eternal mother

Mother’s Day, though, is about much more than just our relationship with our own mother of this life, or even recalling the kindness of all our past mothers.  I think on Mother’s Day we need to recall the kindness of our Spiritual Mother, Guru Arya Tara.  Tara promised Atisha long ago that she would care for all Kadampas in the future.  The fact that we have a spiritual life today is due to her kindness.  She gave birth to our spiritual life.  Like all mothers’ kindnesses, we don’t even see it.  She operates unseen, and we take it for granted.  But there is no doubt, it is thanks to her that we have a spiritual life.  She gave birth to it, she has nurtured it, and she cares for us now even if we never think of her.  For some, she appears herself as Vajrayogini, and therefore serves as our Highest Yoga Tantra Yidam.  Tara is one of the Buddhas who often appears early in our spiritual life.  Almost everybody has a very positive experience with encountering her.  But then, over time, we tend to forget about her as we move on to other practices.  But like any mother, she never forgets her spiritual children.  We should remember this, and generate our thanks to her for it.

Viewing all living beings as our children

Finally, I think it is worth recalling that just as all living beings have been our mother, so too we have been the mother of all living beings.  We can correctly view all living beings as our children, and love them as a good mother would.  The contemplations on the kindness a mother shows to her child are not there just to help us develop gratitude towards our mothers, they are also examples of the attitude we should have towards all of our children.  How many of us would be willing to remove the mucus from a stranger’s nose?  Our mother did that for us.  We should love others so much that we would gladly, and without hesitation do the same for others.  Of course, we shouldn’t go around offering to others to do so, but training in the mind that is willing to help any living being in any way we can is the real meaning of Mother’s Day.

Happy Tara Day: Causing the three worlds to shake

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

Praising Tara by the light that radiates from the letter HUM

Homage to you who strike the ground with the palm of your hand
And stamp it with your foot.
With a wrathful glance and letter HUM,
You subdue all seven levels.

This also refers to Tara’s ability to engage in wrathful actions and can be understood from the above.  I’m not sure what the seven levels are.

Praising Tara by her Dharmakaya aspect

Homage to you who are happy, virtuous and peaceful,
Within the sphere of the peace of nirvana.
Fully endowed with SÖHA and OM,
You completely destroy heavy evil actions.

This verse refers to definitive Tara.  The conventional Tara is the green deity we know and love.  She manifests this form so that living beings can more easily develop a relationship with her.  But actual Tara is Dhamakaya Tara, or Truth Body Tara.  This is definitive Tara.  The Dharmakaya is a Tara’s realization of great bliss mixed inseparably from the emptiness of all phenomena.  She is referred to as the mother of all Buddhas because all Buddhas arise out of her Dharmakaya – she gives birth to them from her realization of bliss and emptiness.  What does the Dharmakaya feel like?  Happy, virtuous, and peaceful.  This is her inner pure land, and anytime we ourselves feel happy, virtuous, or peaceful, we are experiencing a similitude of her pure land.

Praising Tara by her divine actions of peaceful and wrathful mantras

Homage to you who completely subdue the obstructions
Of those who delight in the Dharma Wheel;
Rescuing with the array of the ten-letter mantra
And the knowledge-letter HUM.

Peaceful actions refer to a Buddha’s ability to pacify negativity, delusions, or their imprints in either ourselves or in others.  All living beings possess Buddha nature.  What does this mean?  It means we all possess within ourselves the potential for an enlightened mind, and all we need to do is purify our mind of all that defiles it and our natural enlightened state will be unleashed or uncovered.  What is our mind defiled by?  Principally three things:  negative karma, delusions, and their imprints.  Technically negative karma is also an imprint of a delusion which is why we normally say the “two obstructions,” referring to delusions and their imprints.  But from a practical point of view, we place particular emphasis in the early stages of our practice on purifying our negative karma (lower scope meditations), then overcoming our delusions (intermediate scope meditations), and finally the remainder of our contaminated karma (great scope meditations).  Tara can help us pacify all three of these, as explained by her ten-letter mantra whose principal function is to bestow all of the Lamrim meditations.  According to Tantra, the two main objects to be pacified are ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions.  Ordinary appearances are phenomena appearing to exist independently of our mind (the things we normally see), and ordinary conceptions are grasping at the wrong belief that objects do in fact exist in the way that they appear.  For example, when we think of ourself, we see our ordinary body and mind.  This is an ordinary appearance.  When we grasp at them actually being ourselves, this is an ordinary conception.  Tara also has the power to pacify all our ordinary appearances and conceptions.

Praising Tara by her divine actions of wrathfully shaking the three worlds

Homage to TURE, stamping your feet,
Born from the seed in the aspect of HUM,
Who cause Mount Meru, Mandhara and Vindhya,
And all the three worlds to shake.

Buddhist cosmology is incredibly vast.  The universe as we know it actually only one world system.  There are the thousand worlds, which is a thousand world systems or universes as we know them.  There are the two thousand worlds, which is a thousand of the thousand worlds, or one million universes.  And there are the three thousand worlds, which is a thousand of the two thousand worlds, or one trillion universes.  In truth, there are countless universes, and the three thousand worlds is a shorthand for implying countless that makes it somewhat easier to grasp.  Just as the stars in the sky form galaxies, super clusters, and so forth, the three thousand worlds also cluster together and are arranged in different ways, so too the three thousand worlds cluster together and are arranged in particular way.  In the center of the three thousand worlds is Mount Meru, which is actually comprised of countless different pure lands at different levels of purity, such as the Land of 33 Heavens where Buddha went to teach his mother after she took rebirth there.  At the top of Mount Meru is Heruka’s celestial mansion.  Surrounding Mount Meru are the four major and eight minor continents, like an archipelago of different clusters of universes – they can be likened to superclusters of galaxies.  The universe that we live in is simply one of many universes in what is known as the Eastern continent, but is in reality just a cluster of universes.  Traditional cosmology as we know it just talks of our one universe where the Big Bang unfolded, but this one universe is as insignificant as our own planet is in our universe.  The vastness of Buddhist cosmology is almost beyond comprehension.  Interestingly, some astrophysicists have a similar view arguing we live in a multiverse, or a n-dimensional multiverse, but they have no idea how these universes are shaped.  Just as the science of quantum physics is gradually catching up with Buddha’s teachings on emptiness, it is only a question of time before science catches up with Buddha’s teachings on cosmology.  Tara’s blessings and power pervade everywhere.  Vajrayogini and Tara are actually the same being, just appearing at two different levels – Action Tantra version as Green Tara and Highest Yoga Tantra version of Red Vajrayogini.  Vajrayogini is in union with Heruka inside his celestial mansion atop Mount Meru and her wisdom is able to cause all three thousand worlds to shake!

Praising Tara by her divine actions of dispelling internal and external poisons

Homage to you who hold in your hand
A moon, the lake of the gods;
Saying TARA twice and the letter PHAT,
You completely dispel all poisons.

Conventionally, Tara’s blessings are particularly powerful at dispelling external poisons, such as those we might ingest.  I personally suffer from terrible allergies, some of which are deadly.  When I have a strong allergic reaction to something I eat, I of course take my Benadryl or other allergy medications, but I also recite with great faith Tara’s mantra requesting that she protect me.  Those who have allergies can do the same, even allergies as light as hay fever.  But principally, Tara’s blessing dispel the inner poisons of our delusions.  Outer poisons can at most harm us in this one life, but the inner poisons of our delusions harm us in all our future lives.  Considering our delusions to be inner poisons is a particularly powerful way of thinking of them.  If we ingested an external poison, we would do everything we can as quickly as we could get rid of it from our body or to take an antidote.  But we would never think that the poison is us, we see clearly the difference between the poison and ourselves.  In the same way, our delusions are not us, but they do terrible harm to us, and we should feel great urgency to purge them from our system.  Tara is the antidote to all of the inner poisons of delusions.  She is known as the Lamrim Buddha because she helps Atisha’s followers and her blessings specifically function to bestow Lamrim realizations.  Lamrim is like a net of virtuous minds that functions to oppose all delusions directly or indirectly.  By weaving the Lamrim within our mind, we protect ourselves against any possible combination of delusions, and thus achieve protection from all inner poisons.