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.  

Happy Protector Day: Preliminary practice of the Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 4 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.

Within the Kadampa tradition we are advised to practice the sadhana Heart Jewel as our daily practice as explained in the book by the same title.  If we are a Tantric practitioner, we engage in the Tantric version of this practice known as Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land According to Highest Yoga Tantra as explained in the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra.   In either case, the sadhana begins with the Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa.  I will explain things from the perspective of Heart Jewel since it is a common practice. 

In general, the practice of Heart Jewel is the method for practicing the entire path to enlightenment.  There are three main parts – affectionately called a ‘Heart Jewel Sandwich.’  The first part is the Je Tsongkhapa part – the function of this part of the practice is to be able to draw closer to Je Tsongkhapa, the founder and source of the Dharma of the New Kadampa Tradition.  Through reling upon him, we receive his external and internal guidance to be able to realize his Dharma of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  The second part is our Meditation on Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  We do this in the middle of the practice.  And the final part is the Dorje Shugden part – this creates the causes to be able to receive Dorje Shugden’s care and protection for being able to gain the realization of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  This series of posts is primarily about how to rely upon Dorje Shugden, but I will nonetheless give a brief explanation of how to engage in the first two parts of the Heart Jewel sandwich. 

To actually engage in the Je Tsongkhapa part, we do as follows.  First, we generate the mind of refuge and bodhichitta – here we establish our motivation for engaging in the practice:  “With the wish to become a Buddha so I can help all the beings around me attain the same state, I will now engage sincerely in the practice of Heart Jewel, trying to generate the minds indicated by the words.”  Then, we engage in the prayer of the seven limbs and the mandala.  This accomplishes two main functions:  First, we accumulate merit – merit is positive spiritual energy.  It is like gasoline in our spiritual car.  Second, we purify negativities – negative karma prevents us from engaging in spiritual practices and is the substantial cause of all our suffering.  It is like lots of traffic and debris on the roads.  On this basis, we then recite the Migtsema prayer and prayer of the stages of the path.  These two enable us to receive the blessings of all the Buddhas through our living spiritual guide Je Tsongkhapa.  Blessings are like spark plugs which ignite the gas of our merit to push us along the road to enlightenment.  The migtsema prayer draws us closer to Je Tsongkhapa and enables us to receive the blessings of the wisdom, compassion and spiritual power of all the Buddhas.  The prayer of the stages of the path is a special prayer for requesting the realizations of the Lamrim.

At this point in the sadhana we typically engage in meditation on Lamrim.  Usually people use the book the New Meditation Handbook and cycle through the 21 Lamrim meditations explained there, one each day.  Alternatively, we can practice the 15-day cycle explained in Mirror of Dharma.  Instead of engaging in a daily Lamrim meditation, it is also possible for us to recite with deep faith one of the longer prayers of the stages of the path.  There are three main Lamrim prayers – the short prayer as explained in Heart Jewel, the middling prayer as explained in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, or the extensive prayer as explained in Great Treasury of Merit.  When we recite the Lamrim prayers as our main Lamrim practice, we should do so slowly and from memory, trying to sincerely generate in our heart and without distraction the Lamrim minds indicated by the words.  For more information, we can also attend classes on the Lamrim at our local Dharma centers, including Foundation Program on the book Joyful Path of Good Fortune, which is our principal Lamrim text.  After our meditation, we recite the dedication prayer from the Je Tsongkhapa part of Heart Jewel.

For more detailed information, we can read in the book Heart Jewel which provides an extensive commentary.  Geshe-la has said that this is his most important book, yet sadly it is often overlooked.  It is available for sale at www.tharpa.com

We should also take advantage of the opportunity to attend courses on Heart Jewel at our local Kadampa center, and we should make many requests that our local teacher grant the empowerments of Je Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden.  What is an empowerment?  An empowerment in general is method for establishing a very close connection with a particular enlightened being.  The closer our karma with a given enlightened being, the more ‘bandwidth’ they have for being able to help us.  It is a bit like making a connection with a very special friend.  When we meet somebody very powerful and we have a close connection with them, we can more easily call upon them and ask them for help.

An empowerment is like receiving a personal deity within our mental continuum.  We can all appreciate the qualities of the different Buddhas, and think how wonderful it would be to know them and be able to call upon them.  But how much more wonderful would it be to have a personal emanation of a Buddha who is available for us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  During the empowerment, we receive our own personal emanation of Dorje Shugden into our mental continuum.  We will be able to develop a personal relationship with this Dorje Shugden and he will care for us.  Geshe-la once told a very senior teacher about the Dorje Shugden empowerment, “people need this empowerment, they need this protection.”

Happy Tara Day: How to ignite Tara’s fierce and raging fire in our life

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

Praising Tara by her destroying opponents

Homage to you who by saying TRÄ and PHAT
Completely destroy the obstructions of enemies.
You suppress with your right leg drawn in and your left extended,
And blaze with a fierce and raging fire.

I think there are two ways we can understand this.  First, her wisdom blessings act like a fierce and raging fire that radiate out in all directions like a protection circle, dispelling all obstructions of enemies, keeping them at bay.  Second, because she is a Buddha she has universal compassion even for those who would oppose the Dharma.  To destroy the obstructions of enemies means she has the power to destroy the delusion obstructions and the obstructions to omniscience of her would-be enemies.  Geshe-la once famously said in Toronto that “Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.”  In the same way, Tara completely destroys opponents by destroying the obstructions to enlightenment on their minds.  This shows her skill in loving living beings while directing wrathful energy against their delusions.

Praising Tara by her purifying demons and the two obstructions

Homage to TURE, extremely fearsome one,
Who completely destroy the chief of demons.
With the wrathful expression on your lotus face
You vanquish all foes without exception.

Where do demons come from?  They are mere karmic appearances to mind, ripening from our negative karma.  The way to actually destroy all demons is to purify the negative karma that sees or appears anybody as a demon.  Nobody is a demon from their own side, they only become such when we view them with a deluded, contaminated mind.  This is how she purifies all demons.  It also says she vanquishes all foes without exception.  In Buddhism, there are no outer enemies, only inner enemies.  To vanquish all foes without exception, therefore, refers to her ability to vanquish the inner enemies of the two obstructions – delusions and their imprints.

Praising Tara by the objects she holds in her right and left hands

Homage to you whose fingers perfectly adorn your heart
With the mudra symbolizing the Three Precious Jewels.
Adorned with a wheel of all directions
Whose radiant light outshines all.

Buddhas hold different implements in their hands to symbolize their inner qualities and abilities.  Her hand in the mudra symbolizing the Three Precious Jewels indicates that she is the synthesis of all three jewels, and that she also performs the function of all three jewels.  She blesses our mind like a Buddha, she teaches and protects the Kadam Dharma, and she helps us like loving Sangha.  I’m assuming the wheel here refers to the Wheel of Dharma which outshines all because it enables us to escape from samsara.

Praising Tara by her crown ornament and the sound of her laughter

Homage to you whose very joyful and shining crown ornament
Radiates a garland of light;
Who, with your mirthful laughter of TUTTARE,
Subdue the demons and worldly gods.

Here, we can imagine that infinite light rays radiate out from Tara’s crown ornament, bestowing blessings and peace on all living beings.  We can then rejoice in her enlightened actions, wishing to gain the ability to do the same ourselves.  Mirthful laughter means a merry or amused laugh.  We should never underestimate the power of laughter.  More often than not, we take everything too seriously.  This makes us tight and our grasping stronger.  But when we can laugh at the absurdity of samsara, then it takes the sting out of it.  Samsara makes me laugh!  In particular, it is important to be able to laugh at ourselves and our delusions.  This is one of the most powerful ways of cutting the power of our delusions over us because we are able to view them from a distance and laugh at how ridiculous they are.  Being able to laugh at others in a way that also enables them to stop taking themselves or their samsara too seriously is a whole other level of skill at mirthful laughter.  Normally, people can take it wrong that we are laughing at them or their plight, and they can become quickly offended.  But Tara has the ability to use skillful mirthful laughter to even subdue demons and worldly gods, disarming their ill intent or pretension. 

Praising Tara by her accomplishing divine actions through the ten directional guardians

Homage to you who are able to summon
All the directional guardians and their retinues.
Frowning and shaking, with the letter HUM,
You rescue all from their misfortune.

In the Tsog offerings, we invite the directional guardians, evil spirits, zombies, givers of harm, smell-eaters and other such beings from the charnel grounds, offer them Torma and Tsog offerings, bless their mind, and effectively “enlist them” to help Dharma practitioners and flourish the Dharma instead of oppose them.  From a deeper point of view, we imagine that all of these beings are actually emanations of the principal deity sent into the realms of samsara to help the beings in every terrifying corner of the six realms.  From the letter HUM at the heart of the principal deity, light rays radiate out and invite these beings to come before the deity to then work on the deity’s behalf.  When we recite this verse, we can imagine Tara does the same, inviting all such beings from the charnel grounds who come before her, and then commit to working on her behalf to rescue all beings from their misfortune.  In this way, she also rescues these beings themselves from their misfortune by inspiring them to engage in virtuous actions of protecting practitioners.

Praising Tara by her crown ornament

Homage to you with a crescent moon adorning your crown,
And all your ornaments shining brightly;
With Amitabha in your top-knot
Eternally radiating light.

Here we can imagine different details of Tara’s form, recognizing them all as manifestations of her inner realizations.  Buddhas have the ability to manifest their mind as form.  When we engage in checking meditations of different deities, we focus on different aspects of their form recalling the inner realization it represents.  A moon in Buddhism symbolizes the realization of emptiness.  The ornaments of a Buddha’s body typically symbolize their inner realizations of the six perfections.  Amitabha in her top-knot indicates Amitabha is her spiritual guide.  Amitabha is the Vajra Speech of all the Buddhas, and is the same nature as Geshe Langri Tangpa, the author of Eight Verses of Training the Mind, our root text for Lojong practice.  Recalling this, we can generate faith that through our reliance on Tara we will be able to realize emptiness, complete the six perfections, and train in transforming adverse conditions into the path.

Praising Tara by her wrathful posture

Homage to you who dwell amidst a garland of flames
Like the fire at the end of the aeon.
With your right leg extended and left drawn in,
You destroy the hosts of obstructions of those who delight in the Dharma Wheel.

Buddhas engage in four types of enlightened action – pacifying, increasing, controlling, and wrathful actions.  Wrathful actions are forceful actions that skillfully differentiate between the person and their delusions or faults.  They are able to be ruthless with delusions while being loving with the person.  They are like a wisdom anger against the inner objects to be abandoned along the path.  If we fail to make the distinction between the person and their delusions, our wrathful actions are just ordinary anger and usually wind up harming living beings.  Pacifying and increasing actions are relatively easy to do without delusions, controlling actions can be done if we are free from attachment to the other person doing what we want, and wrathful actions can only be performed with compassionate wisdom differentiating clearly the person from their faults.  They also typically require the other person to have faith in us to receive well our wrathful actions, but this isn’t always necessary.  Buddhas are often surrounded by blazing wisdom fires indicating their ability to burn through negativities and protect others with great power.  When we recite this version, we imagine Tara radiates such powerful energy around her like the fire at the end of the aeon.  Her right leg extended symbolizes her ability to swiftly come to the aid of living beings.  Because she is the completely purified wind element, she can move as fast as mind to any object.  If we think of the moon, our mind is instantly there.  But how does it get there?  By being mounted upon winds.  Tara is the wind all virtue is mounted upon.  Her right leg extended shows her swift ability.

Happy Protector Day: Viewing Our life as a Training Ground

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 3 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.

We are continuing with our discussion of how to rely upon Dorje Shugden during the meditation break.  In the last post we discussed how we can take personal responsibility for removing the faults we perceive in others.  In this post we will discuss how to view our life as a training ground for becoming the Buddha we need to become.

How can we understand this?  Dorje Shugden knows who we have karma with to be their Spiritual Guide.  We each have the karma to be the spiritual guide of certain beings.  Dorje Shugden knows this and he knows what karma we have with them.  If we ask him to do so, Dorje Shugden can manage our karma in such a way that he forges us into the Buddha we need to become.  Primarily Dorje Shugden provides us with favorable conditions and arranges everything to be perfect for our practice. 

But he is so powerful, he is also able to ‘use’ our negative karma and ‘transform’ it into the spiritual path.  We can adopt the wisdom view that he “gives” us now the problems that our future students will have so that we can learn how to use the Dharma to overcome these problems.  We have the negative karma on our mind to experience anything and everything.  Dorje Shugden is able to manage the flow of the ripening of our negative karma so that the negative karma which does ripen is that of our future students and it ripens in a context where we will be able to transform it into the path.

What are the benefits of relying upon Dorje Shugden in this way?  It will create indestructible karmic links between ourselves and our future students that will ripen in the form of us being their spiritual guide in the future.  We will gain the realizations we need to be able to help the beings with whom we have the closest spiritual karmic connections.  It will enable us to find great meaning in all of our inevitable difficulties in life.  Life will still be difficult, but these difficulties will be part of a larger project to forge us into the Buddha we need to become. 

Practically speaking, how do we view our life in this way?  The key lies in viewing everyone as an emanation of Dorje Shugden for our practice.  The view we adopt of others determines the qualities we draw out.  This is so because view itself is a creative action, it is not a passive observation.  We do not view others in a particular way because they ‘are’ that way (they are not any way), rather we view others in a particular way because it is most beneficial to them for us to do so.

The view we adopt is to view others as emanations of the Spiritual Guide.  We can maintain pure view of others.  We consider them to be Buddhas appearing in the aspect of ordinary beings so we can act normally with them.  By acting normally with them, we gain the realizations we need to attain enlightenment.  We can maintain pure view of their actions by considering all of their actions to be the supremely skillful actions of a Buddha.  For example, if they make some big mistake, we can view it as they make mistakes to teach us things.  If we assent to the appearance of others as being ordinary, engaging in ordinary actions, we will simply plant the karma which will give rise to the appearance of ordinary beings engaging in ordinary actions.   In this way, we re-imprison others into contaminated aggregates engaging in non-Dharma actions and us into a world of ordinary appearances.

If instead we imagine that others are by nature emanations of Dorje Shugden engaging in supremely skillful actions to lead us to our swiftest possible enlightenment we plant karma which will give rise to the appearance of others as emanations engaging in the actions of a Buddha.  In this way, we free others from contaminated aggregates and we create the causes for them to engage in the actions necessary to lead themselves to enlightenment. 

But how do we do this, especially when we see others acting in deluded and unskillful ways.  There are two key questions we can ask ourselves to be able to maintain this view:  First, what do their actions teach me?  Second, what do their actions give me in terms of an opportunity to practice?  Our answers to these questions point us to the wisdom that is able to receive perfectly reliable Dharma instructions and opportunities to practice from whatever others do. 

We can even do this same practice with our own body and mind.  If we assent to ourselves as being an ordinary being engaging in ordinary actions, it will creates the karma for the recreation of that appearance.  But if we view our ordinary body and mind as emanated for us to practice overcoming in order to forge us into the Buddha we need to become, it will plant the karma for that appearance to arise in the future.  For example, if we get sick, it is for us to practice with.  If we have a delusion, it is for giving us an opportunity to practice the opponents, and so forth.

This view is extremely beneficial for both ourselves and for others.  We are able to transform whatever happens to us into the path to enlightenment and we are able to receive the blessings of the spiritual guide through everyone.  It also karmically reconstructs others and ourselves into pure being.  By imagining that they are Buddhas engaging in a Buddha’s actions, it karmically reconstructs them so that they will later actually engage in enlightened actions and become a Buddha. 

In sum, the practice of Dorje Shugden can be reduced down into four simple ideas:

  1. Renew our spiritual motivation, that what matters to us is creating good causes for spiritual progress.
  2. Request with infinite faith that whatever happens to us (or others) is perfect for our swiftest possible enlightenment.
  3. Accept with infinite faith whatever subsequently arises as the perfect conditions we requested.
  4. In those perfect conditions, practice to the best of our ability.  To practice means to try to send our mind in the direction of enlightenment by striving to abandon our delusions and by cultivating virtuous minds.  It does not matter whether we succeed in actually doing so, what matters is that we try.  If we try, we create good causes which will ripen in the future in our ability to do it. 

We can use our reliance on Dorje Shugden to overcome all our delusions.  This practice was explained to me by the great Gen Togden many years ago.  He said we can overcome our anger through relying on Dorje Shugden by considering that anger wishes things to be other than they are.  When we rely on Dorje Shugden, we know they are perfect, so there is no basis for wishing they are otherwise, thus there is no basis for anger.  He also said we can overcome our attachment through relying on Dorje Shugden.  We think we need something for our happiness, but we do not know.  So we make requests to Dorje Shugden that if this is what is best, then please arrange it; if not, then we request him to please sabotage it.  Finally, he explained we can overcome our ignorance through relying on Dorje Shugden.  Dorje Shugden is a wisdom Buddha, so we can request him to bestow his blessings so we will always know what to do in all situations.

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.

Happy Protector Day: Removing the Faults We Perceive in Others

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 2 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.

We can learn to be happy all the time, regardless of our external circumstances.  Normally, we are happy when things go well, but unhappy when things go badly.  When we are a spiritual being, all situations, good or bad, equally provide us with an opportunity to train our mind and create good causes for the future, so we are equally happy with whatever happens.  In this way, we can develop a real equanimity with respect to whatever happens in our life.

We have the power to free all the beings we know and love from this world of suffering.  We have the opportunity to become a fully enlightened Buddha who has the power to lead each and every living being to full enlightenment.  So eventually we can save everyone we know and love.  We can understand this at a deeper level by understanding that we are dreaming a world of suffering.  By purifying our own mind, we dream a different dream, a pure dream, and thereby free all these beings.

With this background in mind, in this series of posts I will explain a special practice we can do to make the most out of our precious human life, namely surrendering our life completely to the protection and guidance of the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden. 

Normally we explain what to do in the meditation session first, but I wanted to explain how we rely upon Dorje Shugden in the meditation break first because this is where we first gain experience of him and see how useful he is.  Then, we naturally want to deepen our practice of him in the meditation session.

I would like to explain two key practices for the meditation break:  taking personal responsibility to remove the faults we perceive in others and viewing our life as a training ground for becoming the Buddha we need to become.  I will explain these over the next two posts.

Taking personal responsibility for removing the faults you perceive in others

Normally, we think it is the responsibility of others to remove the faults we perceive in them, but if we think about this carefully, we will realize that actually we are uniquely responsible for all the faults we perceive in others.  At a simple level, we can say that the world we experience is the world we pay attention to.  If we pay 90% of our attention on the 10% of faults in the other person, then it will seem to us that the person is 90% faulty.  This is how we will experience the other person.  This is how we make ‘enemies,’ ‘friends,’ ‘sangha,’ and even ‘Buddhas.’  In the same way, we ‘make’ faulty people. 

We can also understand this by considering emptiness.  If we consider emptiness according to Sutra, we understand that everything is just a dream-like projection of our mind. Where does this faulty person come from?  Our own projections of mind.  There is no other person other than emptiness. Are we responsible for the appearance of faults in the people of our dreams?  If yes, then we are likewise responsible for the faults in the people of the dream of our gross mind.  If we consider karma and emptiness together, we realize that others are mere appearances arising from our own karma. We engaged in actions in the past which are now creating the appearance of a ‘faulty’ person.  So it is our own past faulty actions which created this appearance of a faulty person. 

If we consider emptiness according to Tantra, we understand that these faulty people are actually different aspects, or parts, of our own mind.  We consider our right and left hands to be aspects or parts of our body.  In the same way, when we understand emptiness according to Tantra, we realize that others are merely aspects or parts of our mind.  Just as I am an appearance in my mind, so too is the ‘faulty’ person.  Both are equally appearances to my mind inside my mind.  They are different aspects of my mind.  So this is the ‘me’ part of me and that is the ‘faulty’ part of me.  When we meditate deeply on these things, we will come to the clear realization that there is no ‘other person’ other than the one created by my mind, so we are uniquely responsible for all the faults we perceive in others.

Given this, how do we actually remove the faults we perceive in others?  There are several things we can do.  First, we should make a distinction between the person and their delusion.  Just as a cancer patient is not their cancer, so too somebody sick with delusions is not their delusions. By making a separation between the person and their delusions, we no longer see faulty people, rather we see pure people sick with delusions.  We see faulty delusions, but pure beings.

Second, we need to develop a mind of patient acceptance that can transform everything.  The mind of patient acceptance is a special wisdom that has the power to transform anything into the spiritual path.  This wisdom enables practitioners to ‘accept’ everything without resistance because the bodhisattva can ‘use’ everything.  When we have this mind, what would otherwise be a fault is considered to us to be perfect because it gives us a great opportunity to further train our mind.  If we can learn to use whatever others do for our spiritual development, then their otherwise ‘faulty’ actions for us will be perfect.

Third, it is also very helpful to create a space of 100% freedom and non-judgment of others, and in that space, set a good example.  A bodhisattva does not try or need to change others.  When people feel controlled or judged, they become defensive.  If they are defensive, then it blocks them from changing because they are engaging in a process of self-justification.  For change to take place, it has to take place from the side of the person.  Internal change can only come from the inside.  Therefore, in the space of not controlling or judging others, we set a good example.  This will naturally inspire people to change from their own side.

Fourth, Venerable Tharchin once explained to me that we need to “own other’s faults as our own.”  Since the faults of others are projections of our own mind, the only reason why others appear to have any faults is because we possess those faults ourself.  Our job then is to find these faults in ourselves and purge them like bad blood.  We take the time to find where we have these same faults, and then we use the Dharma to eliminate them from ourself with a bodhichitta intention to be able to help the other person, and anyone else, who appears to have this fault.  If we practice like this, there are many different benefits.  We will gain the realizations we need to be able to help the other person overcome their problem because we have personal experience of having done that ourselves.  We will show the perfect example for the other person of somebody striving to overcome and eventually becoming free from what troubles them the most.  Our example often helps much more than our words.  More profoundly, the problem will actually disappear in the other person because it is coming from our own mind anyways.  And at the very least, we ourselves will have one less fault.  

Finally, we can adopt a pure view of others as emanations of Dorje Shugden.  I will explain this is greater detail in the next post.

Happy Tara Day: Why we turn to Tara

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

Going for refuge

I and all sentient beings, until we achieve enlightenment,
Go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.   (3x)

Je Tsongkhapa explains the primary causes of going for refuge are fear and faith.  Fear of lower rebirth, samsaric rebirth, or solitary peace; and faith in the three jewels to provide us protection from these fears.  When we engage in Tara practice, even though the refuge prayer we recite is the same as in so many of our other practices, we should mentally generate a specific faith in Tara, understanding her function.  In particular, Tara promised Atisha that in the future she would provide special care for all of his followers.  Atisha is the founder of the Kadampa tradition, and all Kadampas take his Lamrim as our main practice.  Tara is, in many ways, the Buddha of Lamrim.  Her mantra reveals that her main function is to bestow upon our mind the realizations of the initial, intermediate, and great scope of Lamrim, thus protectingus from lower rebirth, samsaric rebirth, and solitary peace.  Viewing her as our spiritual mother and the Buddha of Lamrim, we go for refuge to her with deep faith.

Generating bodhichitta

Through the virtues I collect by giving and other perfections,
May I become a Buddha for the benefit of all.   (3x)

The way we generate bodhichitta is different for each practice we engage in, even if the words we recite are exactly the same.  Of course, our compassionate wish to become a Buddha for the sake of all living beings is the same, but the specific flavor of the bodhichitta we generate will depend upon the practice we are doing.  The difference is identified in how the practice we are about to engage in contributes to our enlightenment based on its uncommon function.  Tara helps us in ways that are different than say Manjushri or Avalokiteshvara, and so generating bodhichitta for Tara practice is different because it is informed by how she helps us.  The more clearly we understand her function, the more precisely we will understand how reliance upon her will help move us towards enlightenment, giving our bodhichitta prayers a unique Tara-like flavor.  What is Tara’s function?  She is our spiritual mother, she helps us gain Lamrim realizations, and she swiftly helps us dispel all fears.  We need a spiritual mother, the lamrim realizations, and fearlessness in order to progress swiftly towards enlightenment.  Wanting these things and understanding her power to help us attain them, we generate bodhichitta.

Generating the four immeasurables

May all sentient beings possess happiness and its causes,
May they be free from suffering and its causes,
May they never be separated from the happiness that is without suffering,
May they abide in equanimity, without feeling close to some out of attachment or distant from others out of hatred.

As with bodhichitta practice, our practice of the four immeasurables should also have a Tara-like flavor when we recite them.  To do so, we should not just generate the four immeasurable wishes in a generic sense, but we should try align ourselves with Tara’s four immeasurable wishes for all living beings.  How Tara feels and experiences these four immeasurable wishes will be informed by her own understanding of her function and how she helps people realize these four wishes.  If we are to align ourselves with Tara’s blessings, we need to not only generate faith in her, but we need to align our motivation with hers.

When Tara thinks may all sentient beings possess happiness and its causes, she does so as a spiritual mother would.  When she thinks may they be free from suffering and its causes, she does so as somebody who has the power to dispel all fears would.  When she wishes everyone never be separated from the happiness without suffering, she does so as somebody who has the power to bestow the lamrim realizations of freedom from lower rebirth, samsaric rebirth, and solitary peace would.  When she wishes everyone abide in equanimity, she does so as a mother would who loves equally all her children and wishes only that they also love each other.  As you engage in the four immeasurables, ask yourself, “how would Tara feel these wishes,” and then try to feel them in the same way she would.  This will make your practice particularly powerful and align your mind more precisely with her blessings.

Inviting Arya Tara

From the supreme abode of Potala,
Born from the green letter TAM,
You who liberate migrators with the light of the letter TAM,
O Tara, please come here together with your retinue.

Potala is her Pure Land.  Definitive Potala is the clear light Dharmakaya of all the Buddhas.  An enlightened mind is the union of the completely purified wind and mind.  The completely purified very subtle wind is the vajra body of the Buddha, and the completely purified very subtle mind is the vajra mind of the Buddha.  When bodhisattvas are progressing along the Tantric grounds, they imagine that out of the Dharmakaya their vajra body (or illusory body) emerges out of the Dharmakaya.  Their very subtle wind takes the form of a seed letter of the future Buddha they are to become.  For Tara, her seed letter is the green letter TAM.  Once a Buddha attains enlightenment, they send out countless emanations and blessings to help all living beings – these are their emanation bodies.  Taken together, this verse means from her inner pure land of Dharmakaya Potala, she emerges as her enjoyment body in the aspect of a letter TAM, which then sends out infinite light rays in all directions ripening and liberating all living beings, who then appear in the aspect of countless Taras surrounding her and the twenty one Taras.

Prostration

Gods and demi-gods bow their crowns
At your lotus feet;
O Liberator from all misfortune,
To you, Mother Tara, I prostrate.

Typically, gods and demi-gods bow to nobody thinking themselves superior to all, but when they are in Tara’s presence, they spontaneously bow their crowns out of respect a her lotus feet.  They do not do so out of fear or political loyalty, but deep respect understanding her to be the Holy Mother of all the Buddhas.  When we recite that she is the Liberator from all misfortune, we understand that she has the power to liberate all beings who are now around us in the aspect of Taras, and we imagine that all beings spontaneously bow down to her out of love and respect to her as our spiritual mother. 

The feeling this evokes for me is like in Game of Thrones with Daenerys Stormborn liberated countless slaves from their masters, and tens of thousands of them spontaneously started calling out to her as Mhysa, their liberating mother.  Tara is our Mhysa, and we imagine all living beings surrounding us feel the same loving respect. 

Happy Protector Day: Introduction to series

The 29th of every month is Protector Day, when we emphasize our reliance upon the Dharma Protector for the New Kadampa Tradition.  In order to strengthen our connection with him, increase our faith in him, and learn how to practically rely upon him, on the 29th of every month, I will explain my understanding of how to rely upon Dorje Shugden, our Dharma protector.  All of Dharma essentially has one purpose:  to bring the mind under control.  Delusions are that which make our mind uncontrolled.  For me personally, I overcome about 90% of my delusions “merely by remembering” Dorje Shugden.  In this series of posts I will explain how.

Our ability to rely upon Dorje Shugden depends primarily upon one thing:  are we a worldly being or a spiritual being.  If we are a worldly being, reliance on Dorje Shugden will not work.  If we are a spiritual being, reliance on Dorje Shugden will change everything for us – we will never be the same again.  All fear, all anxiety, all grasping will vanish.  Our mind will become smooth, balanced, flexible and peaceful all of the time. 

There is one question we need to ask ourself:  what kind of being do I want to be, a worldly being or a spiritual being?  A worldly being is somebody who is primarily concerned with securing happiness in this life.  Their actions are aimed at securing worldly happiness in this life.  A spiritual being is somebody who is primarily concerned with securing happiness of future lives.  Their actions are aimed at laying the foundation for happiness in future lives, up to the supreme happiness of full enlightenment.

It is important to understand whether our life is a worldly one or a spiritual one does not depend on what activities or job we do, rather it depends on what mind we do these activities with.  Sometimes we think that our families, jobs, vacations and so forth are necessarily ‘worldly’, but this is not the case.  They are only worldly if we engage in them with a worldly mind.  If we engage in these same activities with a spiritual mind, then they become spiritual activities and part of our spiritual life. 

What does it mean to live our life with a spiritual mind?  It means what we are looking to get out of a situation is different.  For example, I have a close friend who is a very successful businessman.  He views everything through the lens of the business opportunity.  We went to Magic Mountain together once (Magic Mountain is an amusement park with very big roller coasters, etc.).  For my friend, because he looked at things through the glasses of a businessman, what he took home from his trip to Magic Mountain was lessons in business. 

For a worldly being, what they are looking to get out of a situation is external happiness in this life.  Their actions are aimed at improving their reputation, increasing their resources, receiving praise and experiencing pleasure (and avoiding the opposite of these things).  For a spiritual being, what they are looking to get out of a situation is opportunities to train their mind and create good causes.  They view situations from the perspective of the opportunity they afford the person to train their mind and create good causes for the future.  To be a spiritual being doesn’t mean we do not care about this life, rather it means we also care about future lives.  We include future lives in our calculations for how we use today and how we use this life.

Before we can actually become a spiritual being, we have to have at least some belief in future lives.  Without such belief, it is difficult to view our life as a preparation for them.  So how can we develop some conviction, or at least some virtuous doubt, about the existence of future lives?  The definitive reason which establishes everything in the Dharma is emptiness.  Emptiness explains that all phenomena, ourselves included, are mere karmic appearance of mind.  ‘Mere’ means they are like appearances in a dream, and ‘karmic appearance’ means that these appearances arise from karma.  This life and all its appearances are just mere karmic appearances of mind that were triggered by previous minds.  The quality of our mind determines the quality of the karma activated.  Every karmic seed has a certain duration, and when it exhausts itself the appearance supported by that karma will cease.  It is just like during a dream. 

The nature of the mind is clarity and cognizing.  Clarity means our mind itself is without form, shape, color, etc.  If our mind had a color, for example, then everything that appeared to our mind would be that color.  It is because it lacks any color that it can perceive or know any color; because it lacks any form, it can know any form and so forth.  Cognizing means it has the power to know objects.  Lacking form alone is not mind – there are many things that lack form, but do not know.  Only something that both lacks form and knows is a mind.  Our mind is like a formless field of knowing.  It is like a giant container in which new karmic appearances are projected.  Think back to two hours ago.  What is appearing to our mind now is completely different.  What used to appear no longer appears at all, yet our mind itself remains clarity and cognizing.  In the same way, when the appearances of this life and this body cease, our mind itself will remain clarity and cognizing, it will just know new appearances.

If none of these ideas work for us, then it is useful to consider even if we are not sure, it is nonetheless better to live our life as if there are future lives.  Why?  If there are future lives, but we assume there are not, then we won’t be prepared for them when they come and our future will be uncertain.  It is like somebody denying that there is a tomorrow.  If there are not future lives, but we assume there are, then we will at least be able to have the happiest possible life during this life because a spiritual outlook on life is simply a happier way to relate to the world.  Why is this so?

Why is it a good idea to adopt a spiritual way of life?  Doing so can make every moment of our life deeply meaningful.  Our lives are as meaningful as the goals towards which we work.  If our goal is to lead each and every living being to the complete freedom of full enlightenment, then since this is the most meaningful goal, our life in pursuit of this goal will be felt to be full of great meaning.  We can find a true happiness from a different source – the cultivation of pure minds. 

External happiness, if we check, is really just a temporary reduction of our discomfort.   Even if it does provide us with temporary moments of happiness, we have no control over it and so our happiness is uncertain.  We feel we cannot be happy without our external objects.  In Buddhism, we have identified a different source of happiness – a peaceful mind.  If our mind is peaceful, we are happy, regardless of what our external circumstances are.  The cause of a peaceful mind is to mix our mind with virtue, such as love, compassion, etc.  When we engage in the actions of mixing our mind with virtue, we plant the karmic seeds on our mind which will ripen in the form of the experience of inner peace.  Understanding this, we have an infinite source of happiness just waiting to be tapped.  When our mind is at peace, we can then enjoy all external things, not just the ones we like.

We are all going to die, and the only things we can take with us are the causes we have created for ourself.  Everything else we have we need to leave behind.  The only riches we can take with us into our future lives are the karmic causes we have created for ourself.   When we think about this carefully, we realize that only they matter.  The rest of this life is not guaranteed to happen, but our future lives are, and they are very long.  Now is the time to assemble provisions for our future lives.  We do not know when we are going to die. 

Happy Tara Day: Getting to know our spiritual mother

The eighth of every month is Tara Day.  Geshe-la once said during a commentary to Tara practice that, “we should make our own commentary” based on our experience.  As my offering to her and to help celebrate her day and to deepen my own relationship with her, over the next twelve months, I will provide my own understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.  Nothing I say should be taken as definitive in any way, I am simply sharing my personal experience of this practice.  I hope others might also share their own experience and understandings of the practice in the comments.  Then, we can all learn from each other.

In the introduction to the Sadhana, Geshe-la says:

Tara is a female Buddha, a manifestation of the ultimate wisdom of all the Buddhas. Each of the Twenty-one Taras is a manifestation of the principal Tara, Green Tara. Tara is also known as the ‘Mother of the Conquerors’.

The ultimate wisdom of all the Buddhas is the wisdom directly realizing the emptiness of all phenomena.  Sometimes we think of emptiness as a state that somehow exists on it’s own – everything is empty – but in reality, it does not exist without a mind realizing it.  Emptiness is also dependent upon the mind realizing it, and so is also empty.  Tara is a being who has imputed her “I” onto the ultimate wisdom of all the Buddhas – she is this ultimate wisdom.  She appears in the aspect of the twenty-one Taras, just like a single diamond can have twenty-one facets to it.  All other Buddhas arise from her ultimate wisdom, just as waves arise from an ocean.  In this sense, she is the Mother of all the Buddhas – they literally emerge from her, she gives birth to them all.

Tara is our common mother, our Holy Mother. When we are young we turn to our worldly mother for help. She protects us from immediate dangers, provides us with all our temporal needs, and guides and encourages us in our learning and personal development. In the same way, during our spiritual growth we need to turn to our Holy Mother, Tara, for refuge. She protects us from all internal and external dangers, she provides us with all the necessary conditions for our spiritual training, and she guides us and inspires us with her blessings as we progress along the spiritual path.

Our spiritual life can begin at any point in our life, sometimes when we are young or sometimes when we are older; but in either case, Tara is our spiritual mother.  She cares for us in the earliest stages of our spiritual life, nurturing it to make sure we eventually ripen into an independent, functioning spiritual adult able to sustain our practice on our own for the rest of our life.  This is why it is especially important for new practitioners to take Tara practice as their main deity practice.  Establishing an early relationship with Tara will ensure that we ripen onto the math in a mature and stable way.  All we need to do is put our faith in her and request that she nurture our spiritual life into spiritual adulthood.

In some New Age circles, they talk about us choosing our parents in this life.  Generally speaking, according to the Kadampa teachings at least, we are trapped in samsara, which means we necessarily take uncontrolled rebirth.  We did not “choose” our parents, we we karmically thrown into rebirth as their child.  It is true that we may have generated attachment for our mother as she was engaging in intercourse with our father, but that is quite different from “choosing” our mother.  Despite this, through reliance upon Tara in this life, we can choose to have her as our spiritual mother in all of our future lives.  The paths of future lives are very uncertain and samsara’s distractions and deceptions are endless, but our spiritual mother can care for us and guide us to the spiritual path, help us enter it, and then once again ripen us into spiritual adulthood.  People buy insurance policies all the time to protect themselves against eventualities.  Reliance upon Tara is like a spiritual insurance policy for making sure we once again find and enter the path in all of our future lives until we attain enlightenment.  Every day, I pray, “May Guru Tara be my eternal mother in all my future lives.” 

Tara’ means ‘Rescuer’. She is so called because she rescues us from the eight outer fears (the fears of lions, elephants, fire, snakes, thieves, water, bondage and evil spirits), and from the eight inner fears (the fears of pride, ignorance, anger, jealousy, wrong views, attachment, miserliness and deluded doubts). Temporarily Tara saves us from the dangers of rebirth in the three lower realms, and ultimately she saves us from the dangers of samsara and solitary peace.

There is a close relationship between the eight outer fears and the eight inner fears – indeed, the eight inner fears create the eight outer fears.  The eight outer fears are not just literal lions, elephants, snakes, and so forth.  Rather, these animals are symbolic of types of outer circumstances which give rise to fear.  Through relying upon Tara, we pacify the eight inner fears, and as a result we no longer fear the eight outer fears.

For example, pride is a mind that thinks we are better than we actually are, or that takes some characteristic we have about ourselves and generates a feeling of superiority over others due to this trait.  Lion-like outer fears are situations that call our exalted view of ourselves into question.  We fear others criticizing us or discovering that we are a fraud.  We try exert our domination or superiority over others and feel threatened by those who challenge our authority or position.  All of the outer things we fear as threats to our status, reputation, or position are fearful to us only because we have the inner fear of pride.

Ignorance has two types, conventional ignorance of not knowing what to do and ultimate ignorance of not knowing how things truly exist.  People’s lives are plagued by the elephant of insecurity and uncertainty.  We don’t know what the day will bring, and we have no idea what karma will ripen.  To try control against these fears, we try gain control and reduce uncertainty, and we fear anything that could increase our insecurity or uncertainty.  All of our outer fears associated with insecurity and uncertainty come from the inner fear of conventional ignorance.  If we knew clearly what objects are to be abandoned and what objects are to be attained, we would not fear an uncertain world because we would always know what to do and how to respond.  We would have confidence in the laws of karma that if we responded wisely to whatever arises, our karmic circumstance would definitely get better, so we would fear nothing.  Further, ultimately, the only reason why we fear anything is because we still grasp at things existing from their own side, independently of our mind as causes of our happiness or suffering.  But if we understood that everything depends upon how we look at it and everything can be transformed into a cause of our enlightenment, we would quite literally have nothing to fear at all.  Thus, eliminating the inner fear of ignorance removes all of our outer fears.

All of the other outer fears are likewise born from the inner fears of anger, jealousy, wrong views, attachment, miserliness, and deluded doubts.  We can think about all of the things that give rise to our anger, jealousy, wrong views, attachment, miserliness, and deluded doubts.  Normally we view these things as our “problems” because they give rise to feelings in our mind.  But if we eliminated these delusions from our mind, then we would no longer have outer fears.

If we rely upon Mother Tara sincerely and with strong faith, she will protect us from all obstacles and fulfil all our wishes. Since she is a wisdom Buddha, and since she is a manifestation of the completely purified wind element, Tara is able to help us very quickly. If we recite the twenty-one verses of praise, we shall receive inconceivable benefits. These praises are very powerful because they are Sutra, the actual words of Buddha. It is good to recite them as often as we can.

The power of any Buddha to help us depends almost entirely upon the strength of our faith.  Faith is like electricity for our spiritual life.  The entire modern world would come to a screeching halt without electricity, in the same way our spiritual life is inert without the electricity of faith.  Faith can also be likened to our sails, and the Buddhas blessings to winds filling our sails.  If our sails are raised and aligned with the pure winds of the Buddhas, we will be blown swiftly towards enlightenment.  Tara is the completely purified wind element, which means the winds of her blessings are particularly powerful and swift.  Through generating faith in her, we will enjoy all of the benefits and protections explained in the sadhana.  Through faith in her, we will come to feel her presence in our life and enjoy her protection, which will increase our faith further in her in a self-fulfilling cycle of enlightenment.

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

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

Mantra recitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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