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

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

Mantra recitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Protector Day: Requesting the accomplishment of our wishes

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 10 of a 12-part series aimed at helping us remember our Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden and increase our faith in him on these special days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Tara Day: May the Dharma and all good fortune flourish

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

May I strive in my practice of sacred Dharma and increase my realizations,
May I always accomplish you and behold your sublime face;
And may my understanding of emptiness and the precious bodhichitta
Increase and grow like a waxing moon.

Every once in a while, there are these people who show up to our Dharma centers for whom everything comes easily.  They seem to walk into the door with realizations and Dharma comes to them quite instinctively.  This happens when people have a lot of imprints from Dharma practice in previous lives.  But sometimes, because everything comes so easily, they never learn how to apply effort to their practice and at some point their imprints exhaust themselves.  Once it starts to get more difficult, they sometimes drift away or experience some sort of spiritual crisis.  With effort, eventually all attainments will come.  Without effort, we are just burning up our good karma.  It can also happen where we become complacent with our spiritual progress.  We have enough Dharma wisdom in our mind to be happy in this life, and that is good enough for us.  Of course we would never admit that this is the case, but our actions sometimes speak louder than our words.  To protect ourselves against this, we pray to Tara that we always feel inspired to strive in our practice of Dharma, and that we never become content with our spiritual progress until we have attained the final goal.

May I be born from a sacred and most beautiful lotus
In the excellent, joyful mandala of the Conqueror;
And there may I accomplish the prophecy I receive
Directly from Conqueror Amitabha.

Being born anywhere in samsara, even as a Dharma practitioner, is very dangerous.  There is always the risk that we become sidetracked or distracted by samsara’s pleasures and then waste our precious human life, burning up our virtuous karma, and then we die.  There is also the risk that powerful negativity could ripen, resulting is us engaging in negative actions or experiencing terrible misfortune.  The greatest danger is we die with a negative or deluded mind, and then fall into the lower realms, losing the path for possibly eons.  The only way to protect ourselves from these dangers is to attain rebirth in a pure land.  A Buddha’s pure land is like a Bodhsiattva’s training camp. We are able to receive teachings directly from Buddhas, are protected from strong negativity, and are able to progress along the spiritual path.  If we can remember Tara at the time of our death, she will bless our mind and take us to her pure land.  There, we can continue with our training and our eventual enlightenment is guaranteed.  While technically not free from samsara, from a practical point of view, it will be as if we have escaped from all uncontrolled rebirth.

O Goddess upon whom I have relied in previous lives,
Embodiment of the divine actions of all the Buddhas of the three times,
Bluish-green One with one face and two hands,
O Swift Pacifier, Mother holding an upala, may everything be auspicious.

We all have different biological mothers, but Tara is our common spiritual mother.  She cares for and nurtures our spiritual life in the same way our regular mother cares for our physical life.  But we need to create the causes for Tara to continue to be our spiritual mother in all of our future lives.  Tara will never stop loving us, but from our side we can drift away from her, making it harder for her to care for us.  If, in contrast, we always stay close to her, she will always care for us spiritually in this and all our future lives.  As explained earlier, every action we engage in creates four karmic potentialities:  tendency similar to the cause, effect similar to the cause, environmental effect, and the ripened effect.  The ripened effect is the potential to take a rebirth similar in nature to the action we engage in, for example an action of hot anger creates the cause for rebirth in a hot hell.  Whenever we engage in an action of pure faith and reliance upon Tara, such as engaging in our Tara practice, we create a ripened effect to be reborn with her as our spiritual mother.  If throughout our life, on every Tara day, we make a point to engage in Tara practice, we will create a rich reservoir of virtuous karma to have her continue to be our spiritual mother in all of our future lives.  For myself, in addition to engaging in Tara practice on the 8th of every month, I dedicate every day that Tara always be my spiritual mother.  If she will always be my mother, what will I possibly have to fear?

O Conqueror Mother Tara,
Whatever your body, retinue, life span and Pure Land,
And whatever your supreme and excellent name,
May I and all others attain only these.

Buddhas appear in many different forms, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist.  While I haven’t heard Geshe-la say so, I have heard many people say that Jesus’ mother Mary was also an emanation of Tara.  This does make sense and there is certainly no harm in believing this to be true.  Regardless, Tara’s emanations pervade the whole world and appear in many different forms to help living beings, and especially Kadampa practitioners.  Can we say with any certainty that the very device we are reading this post on is not emanated by Tara?  I would say as soon as we believe something is an emanation of Tara, it becomes that for us.  If we view everything as emanated by Tara, then for us, everything will be.  When we recite this verse, we should pray that we gain the wisdom to view everything as emanated by her for our spiritual training.

Through the force of my making these praises and requests to you,
Please pacify all sickness, poverty, misfortune, fighting and quarrelling,
Throughout all directions where I and others live,
And cause the Dharma and all good fortune to flourish.

Most of our experiences in samsara are difficult.  Occasionally, things go “well,” but most of the time, life is a constant struggle.  Sickness, poverty, misfortune, fighting, and quarreling come like waves of the ocean, one after the other, just in different forms.  It is true that we can learn to surf this suffering, but sometimes it is nice to not have constant problems so we can spend time building something good within our mind.  Just as our ordinary mother would create safe spaces for us to play, so too Tara can create safe spaces for us to develop our mind.  For example, we now have international retreat centers, international and national festivals, Dharma centers, facebook groups, etc.  All of these are spaces carved out of samsara where we can develop ourselves spiritually in relative peace, free from major obstacles or obstructions.  Internally, we may still need to battle our delusions in these spaces, but even that is easier than doing so out in the savage lands of samsara.  Understanding she can help us in this way, we pray that she protect us and our practice so that the Dharma and all good fortune can flourish.

Happy Protector Day: Helping the Pure Kadam Dharma Flourish

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 9 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.

All my harmful thoughts and actions
That have offended your mind, O Great Protector,
I confess from the depths of my heart.
Please purify them swiftly, and care for me with love, like a mother for her child.

With this verse, we can purify all the negative karma that obstructs our ability to receive the care and protection of Dorje Shugden.  Such negative karma is like interference preventing a reception of our mobile phones or junk clogging up the arteries of a person.  We can generate a regret for whatever we have done in the past which has created negative karma preventing us from receiving the care and protection of Dorje Shugden.  Then we strongly imagine from Dorje Shugden purifying light rays and nectars flow down and touch all the beings inside the protection circle, ourself included, purifying all of the negative karma obstructing us from receiving Dorje Shugden’s care and protection.  We then strongly believe that all of these being are now without obstruction.

I beseech you from the depths of my heart, O Supreme Deity,
Please cause the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa to flourish,
Extend the life and activities of the glorious Gurus,
And increase the study and practice of Dharma within the Dharma communities.

We can understand this as follows:  The key point here is we realize how the Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa is the solution to all the problems of all beings.  The reason why beings suffer is because they too are trapped in a dream-like world of suffering created by their own self-centered minds.  They need to wake up from this dream into the pure world of the Buddhas.  The Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa provides a solution for destroying this self-centered mind, thereby enabling all beings to wake up from their worlds of suffering.  This is the solution to all of their problems.

Please be with me always like the shadow of my body,
And grant me your unwavering care and protection.
Destroy all obstacles and adverse conditions,
Bestow favourable conditions, and fulfil all my wishes.

Here we request Dorje Shugden to accomplish his main function, namely to arrange perfect conditions and to eliminate obstacles to our practice.  There are two types of condition:   When we are confronted with a situation which we think could be better, we request Dorje Shugden to arrange whatever is best and imagine that a protection circle radiates out accomplishing this function.  If the external situation changes, then we know the situation was beyond our capacity and we can use that to develop bodhichitta, wishing later to have a capacity that can transform anything and everything.  If the external situation remains the same (or gets worse) then we can know that we need to work on the delusions that this situation generates for us.  We can equally do this with internal conditions.  An important thing worth noting at this point is Dorje Shugden will arrange what is best for our practice, not what is necessarily best for our worldly concerns.  We might even say Mick Jagger is actually part of Dorje Shugden’s mandala when he sung ‘you don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.’

Now is the time to show clearly your versatile strength
Through your four actions, which are swift, incisive, and unobstructed,
To fulfil quickly my special heartfelt desires
In accordance with my wishes;

Here we request Dorje Shugden to arrange whatever is best in general, in his own mysterious ways and imagine that a protection circle radiates out accomplishing this function. Ask people their Dorje Shugden stories when you are at festivals, and you will be amazed.  If our motivation is pure, he can arrange anything.

Now is the time to distinguish the truth and falsity of actions and effects;

Here we request him to make clear the relationship between cause and effect for all the beings within the protection circle.  At present, we think negativity is entertainment and exciting and we think virtue is boring.  In reality, negativity creates the cause for enormous suffering and virtue is the cause of all happiness.  Here we request that Dorje Shugden to bestow special wisdom blessings on all beings within the protection circle so they naturally, from their own side, make good choices.

Now is the time to dispel false accusations against the innocent;

Here we request Dorje Shugden to enable all beings within the protection circle to stop making mistaken and false imputations on others, but to correctly impute onto everybody ‘emanation of my spiritual guide’ and imagine that a protection circle radiates out accomplishing this function.  At present, we impute onto others ‘object of attachment’ ‘object of aversion’ or ‘irrelevant.’  These are false accusations we impute on others, and we relate to them as if they were really these things from their own side.  This creates all our problems.  The only valid imputation of anybody is ‘emanation of my spiritual guide.’  The ultimate nature of all things is the Dharmakaya, so it is correct to say that everybody is an emanation of my spiritual guide.

Now is the time to protect the pitiful and protectorless;

The reason why people are pitiful and protectorless is because we have been neglecting them.  Their experience is what we have karmically created for them in our empty dream.  So here we request that he provide protection for all the beings we have been neglecting and imagine that a protection circle radiates out accomplishing this function.

Now is the time to protect Dharma practitioners as your children.

It is particularly important to provide care and protection for Dharma practitioners because by helping them directly, indirectly it helps all living beings since they have vowed to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all.  It is like opening up a second cash register at the supermarket.  Everybody gets through the line twice as fast.

In short, from now until I attain the essence of enlightenment,
I shall honour you as the embodiment of my Guru, Deity, and Protector.
Therefore please watch over me during the three periods of the day and the night
And never waver in your actions as my Protector.

The biggest fear of a Dharma practitioner is the fear of losing the path.  If we do not lose the path, we have nothing to fear; but if we do lose the path, we have all of samsara to fear.  When we recite this verse, we are creating the causes to be able to meet Dorje Shugden and rely upon him again in all our future lives.  In this way, we maintain the continuum of our practice and go from joy to joy until we attain enlightenment.

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

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

Offering the mandala

When we make a mandala offering, we imagine the entire universe is transformed into a pure land.  The highest offering we can make is one of our practice. For me, a mandala offering is a promise that we will work for as long as it takes before we actually transform the world we normally see into the pure land we are offering.  We will not stop until all living beings have been delivered to the pure land.  Geshe-la explains in many places that mandala offerings are one of the best methods for attaining rebirth in a pure land.  If we are offering to deliver all living beings to a pure land, we create countless karmic potentialities to attain a pure land ourselves.  Just as Tara was born from the tears of the protector of the three worlds, and arose to tell Avalokitshvara to not worry, she would help him; in the same way, when we make a mandala offering, we are telling Tara to not worry, we will help her.  We share the same wish to lead all beings to the pure land, and we promise to work towards that aim.

Requesting fulfilment of wishes

O Venerable, Blessed, Compassionate Mother,
May I and all countless living beings
Quickly purify the two obstructions, complete the two collections,
And attain the state of complete Buddhahood.

All living beings have Buddha nature.  This means that if we purify our Buddha nature of everything that is not enlightened, our natural Buddhahood will emerge.  In some respects, we don’t need to construct our Buddhahood, we just need to uncover it.  Our very subtle mind, once completely purified, transforms into the enlightened mind of a Buddha.  There are two obstructions on our very subtle mind – our delusions and their imprints.  Every action creates four karmic potentialities:  a tendency similar to the cause, an effect similar to the cause, a ripened effect, and an environmental effect.  The first is a tendency to generate delusions again – basically our bad mental habits to respond in deluded ways.  These are our delusion obstructions.  The other three are the imprints of our past delusions, also known as obstructions to omniscience.  They are so called because they ripen in the form of ordinary appearances – things appearing to exist from their own side.  Another way to think about this is there are two types of karma: contaminated and non-contaminated karma.  Contaminated karma is of two types:  negative and positive.  Negative karma ripens in lower rebirth and positive karma ripens as upper rebirth in samsara.  Non-contaminated karma, or pure karma, ripens as a pure rebirth outside of samsara.  To close the door on lower rebirth, we need to purify all of our negative karma.  To close the door on our personal rebirth in samsara, we need to purify all of our negative karma and all of our delusion obstructions.  To attain full enlightenment, we need to purify all of our contaminated karma.  Tara can accelerate the rate at which we do all of this. 

The two collections refer to the collection of merit and the collection of wisdom.  The collection of merit arises primarily from our practices of the vast path (all of the Lamrim meditations up to bodhichitta), and the collection of wisdom arises primarily from our practices of the profound path (specifically the meditation on emptiness).  According to highest yoga tantra, the collection of merit also includes generating the very subtle mind of great bliss that we use to meditate on emptiness.  Once we have completed the collection of merit, we attain a Buddha’s form body. Once we have completed the collection of wisdom, we attain a Buddhas mind, or truth body. The union of these two is full enlightenment. Since Tara is the Buddha of Lamrim, she can help us complete both collections. Understanding this, when we recite this verse, we generate a strong wish to rely upon Tara understanding she can help us from where we are now all the way to full enlightenment.

Throughout all our lives before we reach Buddhahood,
May we attain the supreme happiness of humans and gods;
And so that we may accomplish the omniscient mind,
Please quickly pacify and eliminate all interferences,

It is said that it is easier to attain enlightenment once born human than it is to attain a human rebirth if we have been reborn in the lower realms. There is no guarantee we will attain enlightenment in this lifetime. Therefore, it is vital to ensure that we do not fall into the lower realms. If we do, there is a danger we may not re-find the spiritual path for countless eons. All of the beings who we would have otherwise been able to help if we had attained enlightenment earlier will have to continue to suffer for all that time. Not to mention the fact that we ourselves will have to experience all of the sufferings of the lower realms. Sometimes we think generating fear of lower rebirth is a meditation for beginners. We want to engage in higher meditations, and indulge ourselves in the fantasy that we are somehow exempt from lower rebirth. Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that the main reason why we have not yet generated qualified refuge is because we lack fear of lower rebirth.  If we do not have even qualified refuge, it goes without saying we have no chance of gaining higher realizations. Geshe-la further explains we should be as terrified of lower rebirth as we would be if we were trapped in a circle of fire. Understanding this, we should generate a very strong fear of lower rebirth and then, with faith in Tara’s ability to protect us from lower rebirth, we request her protection. In dependence upon this, if at the time of our death we remember Taro, she will bless our mind and we will avoid lower rebirth, and remain in the human and god realms until we reach Buddhahood.

Evil spirits, hindrances, epidemics and sickness,
As well as the various causes of untimely death,
Bad dreams, ill omens, the eight fears
And all other forms of danger.

Samsara is a dangerous place.  In the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Geshe-la says Samsara is like a vast ocean of suffering and at any point we can be eaten by the sea monsters of the Lord of Death.  We never know what sea monster may arise and pull us down into the deep ocean of suffering.  Even if we avoid death for awhile, we are nonetheless buffeted by the violent waves of suffering.  There is no safety anywhere in samsara.  Nobody saw the Coronavirus coming, but in a very short period of time, it changed everything.  It is just a question of time before we wind up with some incurable sickness.  Tara can protect us from all of these dangers.  How?  First, by generating faith in her, we open our mind to receiving her blessings which prevent the negative karma already on our mind from ripening.  Second, she can help us purify our negative karma directly, much in the same way Vajrasattva can.  And third, if adversity does strike (which is inevitable), she will bless us with the wisdom to know how to transform it into causes of our enlightenment. 

May all mundane and supramundane collections
Of good fortune, happiness, goodness and excellence increase,
And may every beneficial purpose without exception
Be effortlessly and spontaneously accomplished.

Supramundane collection, I believe, refers to spiritual collections as opposed to worldly ones.  Normally we differentiate between worldly vs. spiritual, the former referring to things of this life and the latter referring to our future lives.  For example, if we engage in our spiritual practice for the sake of this life, it is said to be worldly; but if we are training for the sake of our future lives, it is said to be spiritual.  In other contexts, supramundane refers to virtues attained by superior beings – those who have attained a direct realization of emptiness.  Regardless, this verse clearly calls for all good things to increase.  When we rely upon Tara, for us, it will be an increasing time when spiritual development comes easily, even if for the world it remains a degenerate time, when bad things come effortlessly.

Happy Protector Day: Fulfilling our Heart Commitment to Dorje Shugden

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 8 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.

Commitment, fulfilling, reliance, and appropriate substances,
Outer, inner, secret, attractive, and cleansing offerings, filling the whole of space,
I offer these to the entire assembly;
May I fulfil the heart commitment and restore my broken commitments.

This refers to an offering of our practice of the Heart Commitment of Dorje Shugden.  What does this mean?  It means to not be sectarian with our spiritual practice.  If we are sectarian in our practice, it will bring the Dharma into disrepute and it will create many problems for people being able to practice the path that leads to enlightenment, so it is very important for us to not be sectarian.  Gross sectarianism is when one tradition claims to have a monopoly on the truth and all the other traditions are wrong.  Many wars and much suffering have taken place due to this.  Subtle sectarianism is when we mix and match different traditions together.  Here, instead of saying one tradition is better than another in a general sense (as in gross sectarianism) we are saying that individual instructions from one instruction are better than individual instructions from another. 

To avoid sectarianism, Geshe-la encourages us to ‘following one tradition purely without mixing, while respecting all other paths as valid for others.’  Buddhas emanate many Buddhist and non-Buddhist paths depending on the karmic disposition of beings.  Different people will respond to different instructions, and so we are happy for anybody to follow any authentic spiritual path. 

This can be understood with an analogy of being trapped in a burning room.  If we were trapped in a giant burning room and there were many doors out, what would we do?  We would find the door closest to us and head straight out.  We would not start towards one door, then change to another, then change to another still because that keeps us trapped in a room.  We would not head towards the average of two doors because that would bang us straight into a wall.  We also would not judge other doors as being wrong for somebody else who is standing right next to it, instead we would encourage them to go out the door closest to them.  In the same way, if we are all trapped in the giant burning room of samsara and there are many different spiritual doors out, what do we do?  We find the one that is karmically closest to us and we head straight out.  We do not follow one path, then another, then another because then we complete none of them and remain in samsara.  We do not mix together two different traditions because this amalgam of our own creation does not lead to an actual door out.  We do not tell people who are closest to the door of another spiritual tradition, such as a Christian, that they should abandon their Christian path and follow our Kadampa path, instead we encourage them to go out through the emergency exit closest to them.  If somebody criticizes our practices and says that their practices are superior, we should not become defensive.  We can just say, ‘I am happy for you that you feel you have superior practices.  I hope you enjoy them.’ We then continue to do what seems best for us.  This avoids all problems.

So what is the Kadampa door?  It can be summarized in one sentence:  “relying upon guru, yidam and protector, I practice the path of Lamrim, lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.”  If we are doing this, if we have chosen this as our path and we are following it purely without mixing while respecting all other paths as valid for others, then we are keeping our heart commitment to Dorje Shugden.  Taking such a commitment is our personal choice.  Nobody can force this on us, we do so voluntarily.   This is not a commitment of the empowerment, it has to be something from our own side we decide to do.

One of the core principles of the NKT is while respecting all other traditions, to follow one tradition purely without mixing.  This is an extremely vast subject.  Venerable Geshe-la (VGL) explains in Ocean of Nectar that we need to be careful when introducing the subject of emptiness to those who are not ready because doing so can lead to great confusion.  I would say even more so, we need to be careful when introducting the subject of following one tradition purely without mixing, as this is a special spiritual instruction that can easily give rise to much confusion and doubt, including thinking that such an approach is closed-minded, anti-intellectual and sectarian.  The attached document attempts to explain the rationale behind this instruction so that people can be happy with putting it into practice. 

To provide you with a snapshot, the attached document is organized as follows:

  1. References within VGL’s teachings on this advice
    1. On following one tradition purely without mixing
    2. On sectarianism
  1. The mind with which we examine this question
  2. How to understand this instruction
  3. Rationale for the spiritual advice to follow one tradition purely without mixing
    1. Considering valid reasons
    2. Contemplating useful analogies
  4. Refutation of objections to not mixing
a.      Objection 1.  We can gain a better understanding of a subject when explored from multiple perspectives
b.     Objection 2:  We can gain a higher and deeper understanding of universal truth through synthesizing multiple systems of thought.
c.      Objection 3 :  All religions say the same thing, just with different metaphors and means.  So what is the problem with me studying and reading other traditions.  Does that not also take me in the direction of enlightenment ?
d.     Objection 4:  OK, I agree we should not mix traditions.  I am 100% committed to VGL, I know what we are all about and I don’t want to mix.  So what is the problem with me reading other sources ?
e.      Objection 5:  But I do not have freedom because I cannot be an NKT teacher or officer of an NKT center if I still want to go to other things.  So I am not free to choose.
f.      Objection 6:  But it can be argued that just because one is in a relationship with somebody else does not mean that they cease to be friends with other people and other women.  In the same way, it is not mixing or violating my commitment to my spiritual path by reading other books, etc., as long as I am clear as to who is my Spiritual Guide.
g.     Objection 7: But we are Buddhist, so everything depends upon the mind.  Reading other sources is not from its own side mixing, it depends upon the mind with which we do it. 
h.     Objection 8:  Come on !  Certainly you are exaggerating to say it is a fault to even read or be exposed to teachings from other traditions.  Don’t be so paranoid !
i.       Objection 9:  It still seems very closed-minded to be so categorical in shunning anything that is non-NKT.
j.       Objection 10:  OK, even if I agree with all of the above, certainly it is more skilful to say nothing, since people will misunderstand and leave the Dharma as a result of this misunderstanding.
k.     Objection 11:  OK, I agree, something needs to be said.  But why do you have to do it in such a foreceful way. 
l.       Objection 12:  OK, point taken.  But what makes an action skilful is whether the action does not undermine the faith of the other person when you engage in it.
m.   Objection 13:  OK, fine !  Just tell me what I can and cannot do.
n.     Objection 14:  If that is the case, then why do different teachers have different policies and standards on this one ?
o.     Objection 15:  But how does your standard compare to that of the NKT as a whole ?  Are you more strict ?
p.     Objection 16:  Wait a minute !  I can understand why there would be an issue with Tibetan Buddhism in general, but certainly it is not a problem with Mt. Pellerin.  After all, their teacher was also a student of Trijang Rinpoche, he is friends with VGL, and they are Dorje Shugden practitioners.  Are they not basically a Tibetan version of us, and we are a Western version of them ?  So their teachings can help improve our understanding of VGL’s teachings.  We are all talking about the same thing, so there is no mixing going on.  So it should be OK.  It seems we should at least make an exception with them.
q.     Question 17:  OK, I understand all of this and it makes sense.  How practically then are we to implement all of this at the center given the sensitivities involved ?

In the next post, I will continue to explain verse by verse my understanding of the meaning of the Dorje Shugden part of the sadhana.

Happy Tara Day: Bringing our seven-limb prayer to life

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

Prayer of seven limbs

To Venerable Arya Tara
And all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
Residing in the ten directions and the three times,
I prostrate with sincere faith.

Actual prostration is an inner wish to become just like whatever we are prostrating to.  When we prostrate to the good qualities of Buddhas, we are not trying to flatter them, rather we are humbly acknowledging that they have qualities we aspire towards, and our prostration is a commitment that we will rely upon them until we gain these same qualities ourself.  When we recite this verse, we should imagine that all of the countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of all three times are joining us in prostrating towards Arya Tara, our common spiritual mother.  Every Buddha and every bodhisattva is different, but we all share a common respect for our kind spiritual mother, and we pay respect to her wishing to become just like her.  We might wonder why Buddhas need to prostrate to other Buddhas since they have already attained every good quality.  They do so for two reasons, as a sign of respect recognizing all of the good that Tara does and to show a good example to everybody else by reaffirming that she is the spiritual mother of us all. 

I offer you flowers, incense, lights,
Perfumes, foods, music and other offerings,
Both actually set out and mentally imagined;
Please accept these, O Assembly of Aryas.

Buddhas do not need offerings from their own side since they already have everything they need.  We, however, need to make offerings because we need the merit, or good karma.  Gaining Dharma realizations depends primarily upon three conditions:  a mind free from negative karma, an abundance of merit, and a steady flow of blessings.  This can be likened to sea lanes free from obstacles, good sails, and plenty of wind.  When we recite this verse, we should imagine that ourself and all living beings surrounding us all fill the entire universe with countless breathtaking offerings.  We should imagine that the assembly of Taras accepts our offerings out of delight, knowing that we are now karmically closer to her and our minds our rich with merit she can subsequently bless.

I confess all negative actions,
The five heinous actions and the ten non-virtues,
That I have committed since beginningless time
Through my mind being overcome by delusions.

The strength of our purification depends upon the extent to which we generate the four opponent powers.  The power of regret is admitting that we have made mistakes and recognizing that if we do not purify, we will suffer the karmic consequences – not as a punishment, but more an issue of spiritual gravity.  This primarily purifies the effects similar to the cause.  The power of reliance means we turn to the three jewels for purification of our negative karma and to seek their help so that we can change our ways.  This primarily purifies the environmental effect of our negative karma.  The power of the opponent force is some virtuous action we engage in to counteract or oppose the negative karma we previously created.  Venerable Tharchin explains that negative karma is like tiny vibrations on our very subtle mind, but if we send an opposite wave towards it, we can neutralize our past negative deeds.  This primarily purifies the ripened effect, or the substantial cause of future lower rebirth.  The power of the promise is a personal commitment that we will not repeat our past mistakes, but instead do something positive.  This primarily purifies the tendency to engage again in negative actions.  If all four powers are assembled, we can quickly purify all of our negative karma, but if we fail to generate these four causes, then our purification will be incomplete.  Any virtuous action can be an opponent force if performed motivated by regret. 

To purification in this context, we should first generate regret for all the negative karma that remains in our mind which can result in lower rebirth, create obstacles to our practice of Lamrim, and interfere with our ability to generate pure faith in Arya Tara.  We then recall the assembly of Taras in front of us and generate faith and reliance in them.  When we engage in the opponent action of confession, we are coming clean with our mistakes acknowledging them as mistakes, without our typical rationalization or minimization for why they don’t matter.  Understanding them clearly as the wrong way to go, we then commit to both ourself and Guru Tara that we will change our ways.  We can then imagine that countless purifying nectars stream down from Tara’s heart, filling our heart and purifying all of our negative karma.

 We can sometimes confuse Buddhist confession with Catholic confession.  In Christian traditions, we confess our wrong deeds in the hopes that God will forgive us.  In Buddhism, we do not need some outside power to forgive us, but we do need to receive purifying blessings.  Receiving Tara’s purifying blessings does not depend upon her forgiving us, rather they will spontaneously come down every time the conditions for them to occur arise, just like sunlight will flood in each time we open the blinds without the Sun having to decide to fill our room with light.

I rejoice in the merit of all the virtues
Collected throughout the three times
By Bodhisattvas, Solitary Conquerors,
Hearers, ordinary beings and others.

When we rejoice in virtue we create a similitude of the virtuous karma we are rejoicing in, as if we engaged in the virtuous action ourself.  Since Tara is the Lamrim Buddha and she has committed herself to protecting the followers of Atisha, when we engage in this practice, we should particularly rejoice in all of the virtue of the Kadam lineage gurus and the millions of old and new Kadampa practitioners.  All of these virtuous deeds are inspired by Tara and rejoicing in these Kadampa virtues aligns us with not only her blessings, but the karmic current of the Kadampas.  We can then ride the “great wave” of their deeds all the way to enlightenment.

Please turn the Wheel of Dharma
Of the great, small and common vehicles,
According to the different wishes
And capacities of living beings.

Buddhas appear in countless Buddhist and non-Buddhist form depending upon the karmic dispositions of different disciples around the world.  We don’t in any way need more Buddhists per se, we are content with anybody moving in virtuous directions depending upon wherever they are starting from.  But here, since this is a practice of Tara, in particular we request the turning of the wheel of Kadam Dharma, the Kadam Lamrim.  Geshe-la says everyone needs Lamrim, whether we are Buddhist or not.  Lamrim is inseparable from living with wisdom.  If we look at the world and social media, we can find countless examples of Lamrim-like wisdom appearing in a variety of different forms that are acceptable to different audiences.  This is a wonderful thing, and is the direct result of Kadampa practitioners praying for the turning of the wheel of Kadam Dharma.  Likewise, Milarepa said he does not need Dharma books because everything reveals to him the truth of Dharma.  Part of the Buddhas turning the Wheel of Dharma includes blessing the minds of living beings to learn Dharma lessons from whatever arises in the world.  When we recite this verse, we should strongly request Tara continue to pour down the wisdom of the Kadam Lamrim in this world in whatever form living beings can accept – which usually means Facebook quotes or funny memes!

For as long as samsara has not ceased,
Please do not pass beyond sorrow;
But with compassion care for all living beings
Drowning in the ocean of suffering.

A Buddha is a deathless being.  They have quite literally conquered death and have the ability to remain in this world, life after life, gradually guiding living beings along the path to enlightenment.  They can do so without ever being subject to samsara’s sufferings.  Their emanation bodies will be born, age, get sick, and eventually pass away, but the actual Buddha remains in this world forever.  When we recite this verse, we pray that Buddhas emanations continue to appear forever.  Buddhas are everywhere, but whether they can help living beings depends upon whether they appear or not.  Them appearing helping living beings is a dependent arising, dependent upon our creating the karma for them to appear.  When we recite this verse, we create the karmic causes for them to continue to appear.  It is important that when we recite this verse we do so for the sake of others.  We can sometimes think, “well I’ve already found the Dharma, so why do I need to pray for this?”  The answer is (1) other living beings matter too, and (2) by praying that emanations continue to appear for others we create the karmic causes for them to continue to appear to us in all of our future lives.

May all the merit I have collected
Become the cause of enlightenment;
And before too long may I become
The Glorious Guide of migrators.

Dedicating our merit is like investing our money.  We put it away in for a particular cause and then it continues to work towards the fulfillment of that cause.  There is a big difference between investing our money and spending it on our present needs.  Here, we dedicate all our merit to our swiftest possible enlightenment so we can then help others attain the same state.  In this way, we ourselves become part of the great wave of Tara’s family.

Happy Protector Day: Tapping into Dorje Shugden’s Power

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 7 of a 12-part series aimed at helping us remember our Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden and increase our faith in him on these special days.

The remainder of the sadhana is largely making requests to Dorje Shugden.  Before we get into the specifics, I want to now explain some general advice on how to increase the power of our making requests to him.  These apply equally to the meditation break as well as the meditation session. 

First, the extent to which he can help us depends on the degree of faith we have in him.  If our faith is weak, his protection will be weak.  This is not because he is holding back it is because our mind remains closed so he has few points of entry for bestowing his blessings.  If our faith is indestructible and infinite, then his protection of us will be infinite.  If we understand this we will realize that our primary training in the practice of Dorje Shugden is increasing our faith in him.

Second, he can help us to the extent that our motivation is pure.  When our motivation is pure, it is like we align the crystals of our mind perfectly with the light of the deity.  To improve our motivation, we need to train sincerely in Lamrim.  The main function of Lamrim is to change our heart desires from worldly ones into spiritual ones.  Once we get our motivation right, everything else naturally falls into place.  It is the mental factor intention that determines the karma we create, so intention is the most important.

Third, he can help us to the extent that we realize that he, ourselves and everything else are empty.  The main point is this:  Dorje Shugden isn’t anything from his own side.  He is as powerful as we construct him to be.  We can construct him as an ordinary being or as an infinitely powerful protector.

After the invitation to Dorje Shugden, which has already been explained, we then make offerings and requests as follows:

HUM
Respectfully I prostrate with body, speech and mind. 

Here we imagine that from ourself and from all the beings we previously put within the protection circle, we emanate all of our past and future bodies.  Then with all of these past, present and future emanations of ourself, we prostrate.  This creates special merit with him so that he can provide us protection in all our past, present and future lives.  How Dorje Shugden protects us in our present and future lives is easy to understand.  But how can he provide us protection in our past lives when they have already passed?   He can bless our mind so that everything that happened to us in the past also becomes a cause of our enlightenment. We view our past differently in such a way that it teaches us lessons of Dharma.  In this way, no matter when we start our practice, even if it is when we are very old, it can be as if we effectively have practiced our whole life.  When we go to normal psychological therapists, they help us process our past so that it is no longer a drag on us.  In the same way, by requesting Dorje Shugden to transform our past experiences into a cause of our enlightenment, we receive special blessings to view these events differently.  We may even come to view our greatest past trauma as our greatest life blessing.  Such is the power of Dorje Shugden and the truth of emptiness.

I offer a mass of inner and outer offerings, blissful tormas,
Alcohol, tea, cakes, milk, and curd,
Both actually set out and mentally imagined, filling the whole of space.

The basic idea is this:  whatever we offer to Dorje Shugden, he can then use for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  For example, if I offer my house to him, then everything that happens in my house will be emanated by him for my practice, etc.  So mentally, we offer everything because we want to use everything for our attainment of enlightenment. 

Happy Tara Day: Tara can fulfill all our pure wishes

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

They will attain greatness here
And advance to the ultimate state of Buddhahood.

Greatness here does not mean high position, but rather the great scope of Lamrim, namely the precious mind of bodhichitta.  Atisha’s Lamrim has three scopes – initial scope, intermediate scope, and great scope.  In the initial scope, we abandon lower rebirth; in the intermediate scope, we abandon samsaric rebirth; and in the great scope, we abandon solitary peace.  In other words, we abandon merely seeking our personal liberation, and instead we seek to become a fully enlightened Buddha with the complete power to lead all living beings to the same state.  The essence of the great scope is bodhichitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the sake of all.  Since Tara is the Lamrim Buddha, we can be certain the greatness we will attain through our reliance upon her is becoming a great scope being.  Once we attain bodhichitta, our eventual enlightenment is guaranteed.  This is why it is said we prostrate to the new moon of bodhichitta, not the full moon of enlightenment because the former is the definite cause of the latter.

Their violent and great poisons,
Both stable and moving,
And even those that they have eaten or drunk,
Will be thoroughly eliminated by remembering her.

They will be able to prevent all suffering
That arises from spirits, diseases or poisons;
And be able to help others in the same way.

There are two types of poison – outer and inner.  Outer poisons, including intoxicants, pollution, and unhealthy food, are extremely destructive.  Every year, smoking kills 7 million people globally, alcohol kills 2.8 million, and drugs kill 750,000; bringing the global death toll from intoxicants to 10.5 million people every year.  Pollution each year kills 4.8 million globally.  Unhealthy food is even more deadly, with 2.8 million dying from obesity, 1.6 million dying from diabetes, and a whopping 17.9 million dying from heart disease, the overwhelming majority of which comes from unhealthy diets.  All of these are outer poisons, with a cumulative death toll of almost 38 million every year.  Outer poisons are the leading cause of death in the world by a significant margin.  But the reality is outer poisons only have the power to kills us due to our inner poisons of delusions that run towards these causes of death as if they were causes of happiness.  Our inner poisons of attachment and ignorance conspire to make us voluntarily consume or create outer poisons, which in turn kill tens of millions every year.  Thus, if we have any hope of actually preventing the suffering that arises from outer poisons, we must abandon their deeper cause – the inner poisons of delusions. 

But ultimately, outer poisons can only kill us in just this one life.  The inner poisons of delusions harm and kill us in all of our future lives without end.  The scale of the destruction is beyond imagination.  Delusions are the cause of all death, since beginningless time.  There will be no end to the slaughter until the inner poisons of delusions are abandoned once and for all.  Relying upon Tara ends the inner poisons, both for ourself and for all other living beings.  She not only blesses our mind to prevent them from ripening, but more definitively she bestows upon us Lamrim realizations which lead us to permanently abandon all delusions.  All delusions, directly or indirectly, find their opponent in the Lamrim.  Our gaining Lamrim realizations is the only lasting way to end samsara’s ongoing devastation.  People rightly dedicate their lives to fighting for justice in the world, but there will be no justice, no peace, no end to suffering until the tyranny of delusions has finally been defeated.  The only way to do that is through gaining Lamrim realizations, and reliance upon Tara supercharges our practice of Lamrim.  

If they recite these seven times, six times a day,
Those who wish for a son will attain a son,
And those who wish for wealth will attain wealth.

Typically at least once a year, most major Kadampa centers will do a 24 hour Tara puja, which involves a session every four hours engaging in this practice reciting the praises seven times.  When the Coronavirus broke out, Geshe-la encouraged us to rely upon Tara, and many centers started doing the 24 hour Tara Puja every month on Tara day.  For those unable to join such practices at a center, Manjushri center livestreams the practice on Tara day every month, so we can join in from anywhere in the world.  If we are unable to do all six sessions, it is perfectly good to do as many as we can.  Some is always better than none.  There is something particularly powerful about engaging in group pujas.  Venerable Tharchin says that every time we engage in a group puja, we create the causes to do the same thing with the same people again in the future.  It is like an insurance policy for refinding our Kadampa Sangha in life after life until we attain our final spiritual goals. 

“Son” here refers to the son or daughter of the Buddhas, namely becoming a bodhisattva.  We can wish to become a son or daughter of the Buddhas ourselves, and we can also wish for multitudes of sons or daughters of the Buddhas arise from our Kadampa centers around the world.  Wealth here refers to the inner wealth of Dharma realizations.  Outer wealth can be helpful if our motivation for using it is virtuous, but it can be dangerous if our motivation is not.  The inner wealth of Dharma realizations, in contrast, is an unalloyed good.  The more we give it away, the more it reproduces itself.  It makes us content in this life and provides for us in all our future lives.  The inner wealth of Dharma realizations is an inexhaustible fountain of good fortune.

All their wishes will be accomplished.
No more obstacles will arise for them,
And those that have already occurred
Will all be completely destroyed.

This refers to Tara’s ability to also function as a Dharma protector.  Dharma protectors arrange all the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  Normally, Dorje Shugden is the principal protector of the Kadam Dharma, but Tara also accomplishes a similar function.  There are two types of obstacle to our Dharma practice – outer and inner.  Ultimately, though, outer obstacles do not exist.  They arise only due to a lack of imagination or experience for how to transform adversity into the path to enlightenment.  But temporarily, outer obstacles can exist due to current limitations in our wisdom.  Tara can prevent outer obstacles from arising (or minimize the extent to which they do, based on our karmic possibilities).  Our job is to then use the space to practice she creates for us to then gain the inner wisdom necessary to transform any adversity into the path.  If we can succeed in doing that, then no more “obstacles” will arise for us because we will not impute anything as an obstacle.  Everything will push us towards enlightenment.  Existing obstacles are destroyed, either through purifying the karma giving rise to their appearance or through gaining the wisdom that knows how to see them all as causes of our enlightenment.

Happy Protector Day: Protector of the Bodhisattva’s Path

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 6 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.

And on his head he wears a round and yellow hat.

This symbolizes his ability to help us gain the correct view of emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality.  We can understand how all things are like a dream, and how if we change our actions, we can change our karma and that will change the dream that appears to our mind.  In this way, we can become the architect of our own destiny, and cause this world of suffering to cease and the pure world of the Buddhas to arise.  If ever we have difficulty understanding emptiness, we can recall his hat and request that he bless our mind to be able to gain a correct understanding of emptiness.  We then imagine we receive his blessings and return to our Dharma book (or the teaching we are receiving) and try again.  If we still do not understand, we once again request blessings and repeat the cycle.  We can continue like this for as long as it takes.  Eventually, through the power of his blessings, we will understand. 

His hands hold a sword and a heart of compassion.

This symbolizes his ability to help us engage in Lamrim meditation, in particular the union of the vast and profound path.  The vast path is all of the Lamrim meditations for developing a good heart, leading up to bodhichitta, the wish to lead all beings to enlightenment.  The profound path refers to the wisdom realizing emptiness, that everything is like a dream.  Just as we did with trying to understand emptiness, when we are having difficulty with our Lamrim practice, we can recall this function of Dorje Shugden, request his blessings, receive his blessings and then try again.  Practicing in this way dramatically increases the power of our Lamrim meditation. 

To his followers he shows an expression of delight, but to demons and obstructors he displays a wrathful manner.

This symbolizes Dorje Shugden’s ability to love and care for us while destroying our delusions.  We need to make a distinction between ourselves and our delusions.  Just as a cancer patient is not his cancer, we are not the cancer of our delusions.  Many people fear Dorje Shugden because they know he can be quite wrathful, but this fear only arises because they identify with their delusions.  So when their delusions are challenged, they feel like they are challenged.  Whenever we have a delusion arise strongly in our mind, we can immediately remember Dorje Shugden and request his blessings to be able to happily accept our difficult circumstances understanding that what is bad for our delusions is good for us. 

He is surrounded by a vast, assembled retinue,

Such as Kache Marpo and so forth.

Dorje Shugden is like the general of a vast army of Dharma protectors, each of whom accomplishes a different function.  These can be understood from the explanation of the nature and function of Dorje Shugden in the book Heart Jewel and the Praise to the five lineages of Dorje Shugden explained in the extensive Dorje Shugden sadhana Melodious Drum Victorious in All Directions.  It is customary for large Dharma Centers around the world to practice Melodious Drum on every Protector Day, or at least once a year.  We can do so on our own at any time, including every Protector Day.

The five lineages of Dorje Shugden refer to the five principal deities of his mandala.  Each one corresponds with one of the five Buddha families, the five completely purified aggregates of a Buddha, and the five omniscient wisdoms.  Each of the principal deities is like a specific protector for each one of the five Buddha families, and through relying upon them we will be led to attain the five purified aggregates and the corresponding five omniscient wisdoms.

The principal deity is Dorje Shugden himself, who is the protector of the Akshobhya family, will guide us to completely purify our aggregate of consciousness and attain the wisdom of the Dharmadhatu.  The wisdom of the Dharmadhatu is an aggregate of consciousness completely purified of all our past contaminated karmic potentialities (also known as the two obstructions) and that knows directly and simultaneously all phenomena as manifestations of bliss and emptiness.  Vairochana Shugden is the protector of the Vairochana family.  Through relying upon him, we will completely purify our aggregate of form and gain mirror-like wisdom, which sees directly all phenomena as manifestation of bliss and emptiness.  Pema Shugden is the protector of the Amitabha family.  Through relying upon her, we will purify completely our aggregate of discrimination and attain the wisdom of individual realization, which is able to discriminate all objects individually as manifestations of bliss and emptiness.  Ratna Shugden is the protector of the Ratnasambhava family.  Through relying upon Ratna Shugden, we will purify completely our aggregate of feeling and attain the wisdom of equality, which experiences all phenomena equally as bliss and emptiness.  Karma Shugden is the protector of the Amoghasiddhi family.  Through relying upon Karma Shugden, we will purify completely our aggregate of compositional factors and attain the wisdom of accomplishing activities, which enables us to use a Buddha’s completely purified and developed mental factors as if they were are own.  For a more in depth understanding of the five aggregates, see How to Understand the Mind.

Dorje Shugden is also surrounded by the nine Great Mothers, the eight fully ordained monks, and the ten wrathful deities.  The nine mothers arrange the secret conditions necessary for our Dharma practice.  They are comprised of Lochanna, Mamaki, Benzharahi, and Tara which arrange the earth, water, fire, and air elements respectively for our practice; and the five offering goddesses who transform all of the various forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile objects into conditions for our practice.  The eight fully ordained monks arrange the inner conditions necessary for our practice.  They are the eight main bodhisattvas, including Vajrapani, Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, and Maitreya.  They manifest whatever is needed to tame disciples and protect those with commitments like their only child.  The ten wrathful deities arrange all of the outer conditions for our Dharma practice.  They subjugate the malevolent and guard all directions with various guises.  Kache Marpo is like the commander of the Dharma protector special forces who directs all the oath-bound attendents (spirit kings, wealth gods, nagas, celestial spirits, and so forth) who perform a host of actions to help arrange the mundane conditions for our Dharma practice. 

Light rays from my heart

Instantly invite the wisdom beings
From the sphere of nature
And from all the different palaces where they abide.
They become inseparable from the commitment beings.

We visualize a vast array of mundane and supermundane Dharma protectors filling the whole of space, all working tirelessly under the direction of Dorje Shugden to arrange all the outer, inner, and secret conditions for our Dharma practice.  As Heruka, we then imagine that light rays radiate from our heart and invite the wisdom beings – the actual deities of Dorje Shugden’s mandala – to enter into the commitment beings (those we have visualized). We then strongly believe that all of these protector deities are actually in the space in front of us and filling the universe accomplishing their special function.