Activating the inner Spiritual Guide: Motivation for doing series

Reliance upon the Spiritual Guide is the root of the path.  Gen-la Losang said that there is only one activity on the spiritual path, and that is mixing our mind with that of the Spiritual Guide.  Since his mind is already enlightened, by mixing our mind with his, we too become enlightened.  Geshe-la said at the Summer Festival several years ago that he will take us by the hand internally and guide us every step of the way to enlightenment.  Kadam Bjorn explains that we can literally ask the Spiritual Guide to do our practice for us in our mind, so he will do all the work, all we need to do is know how to ask him.  A very pure senior teacher once said we need to allow ourselves to become completely under the influence of the Spiritual Guide, both externally and internally.  In this series of posts, I will explain my understanding of how to do all of these things.

This series of posts will principally discuss three things:  First, how do we get our relationship right with the outer Spiritual Guide; second, how to leave behind our ordinary mind, and why we should want to; and finally, how do we align ourself with and ultimately surrender ourselves completely to the Spiritual Guide.  We can do this with respect to our wishes, our thoughts, our actions and ultimately ourselves.

Getting our relationship right with the outer Spiritual Guide

There is no relationship more important to get right than the one with your spiritual guide.  There is no relationship more important that you can have because it is eternal and promises limitless fruit.  There are several reasons why we need to get our relationship right with the Spiritual Guide.  Your relationship with the outer spiritual guide is like your lifeline in your spiritual practice.  Many people think they can have bad relationships with everybody externally but a good one with Geshe-la inside, but generally everything falls apart when our external relationship with our spiritual guide is bad.  We lose everything.

If we can’t get our relationship right with our spiritual guide, then our future students of Dharma won’t get it right with us when we are their teacher, and then we won’t be able to really help them.  The faith we have in our spiritual guide determines the faith our students will have in us.  We don’t want our students to have faith in us because we like that sort of thing, rather we want our students to have faith in us so that we can help them.  This is a very important point.  We need to make it a priority to cultivate good, honest, working relationships with our teachers.  If our relationships are bad, even if we have perfect Dharma, we will be unable to help anybody.  By getting it right with the outer spiritual guide, you will be able to get it right with the inner spiritual guide.  The outer spiritual guide will help you identify your delusions that specifically get in the way of you having a good relationship with the inner spiritual guide.  By clearing these, you clear away the internal interference until eventually you realize he is with you all of the time.

So who is the outer spiritual guide?  There are three different levels.  The first, and most obvious, is he is the little Tibetan guy.  This is the individual who assumes the aspect of a Spiritual Guide and appears to accomplish the function of a Spiritual Guide, namely to lead us along the path of Sutra and Tantra.  We first learn how to get our relationship right with him – this is the easiest.  Second, we come to understand the spiritual guide as the synthesis of all three jewels, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – in other words, we come to view the totality of the tradition, externally and internally, as one giant Spiritual Guide with many aspects, like many facets of a diamond.  We view all the teachers, our Sangha friends, the books, the centers, all the different Buddhas, everything as emanations of the Spiritual Guide.  These are like his mind.  We view all the instructions and teachings that are given as emanations of the Spiritual Guide.  This is his speech.  We view all the practitioners and Sangha as emanations of the Spiritual Guide.  These are his body.  If our relationship with even one part of this is not good, then our relationship with one aspect/part of our spiritual guide is not good.  The third and final level is we come to understand him as everybody and everything.  The ultimate nature of all things is bliss and emptiness, so it is correct to say that everybody and everything ultimately arises from and is an emanation of the Spiritual Guide. A senior teacher once explained how we can view ourselves as we are on solitary retreat right now, and everything we see is an emanation of your Spiritual Guide, like one big Truman Show.

Learning to trust the Spiritual Guide

I was recently helping my daughter with her math homework and in doing so I realized how supremely patient the Spritual Guide is.  I know math quite well.  My daughter is struggling to understand.  She is convinced she does not and cannot get it.  Even when I explain it to her, she does not trust me that I am right.  So even though what I am explaining is correct and all she needs to do is trust me and do what I say and she will get it right, because she is seized by doubt and confusion she refuses to take it on board, so she never gets it which then feeds back into her lack of self-confidence making her discouraged and doubtful in a vicious cycle.  I found myself growing very impatient thinking, “if you would just trust me and do what I suggest, I guarrantee you it will all work out and you will get it right.”  If the Spiritual Guide was deluded, this is exactly how he would feel about us!  After working on my daughter’s homework, I realized how supremely patient he is!  Venerable Tharchin once said that Venerable Geshe-la told him, “if you would just fully believe me, you would attain enlightenment in an instant!”  But because we ignorantly believe we are right and he is wrong, we continue to hold back or even do the opposite of what he suggests.

For each and every stage of the path, we must make the transition from deluded doubt to personal wisdom.  This transition is like a ladder with definite steps that we need to go through.  Each stage has its own challenges.  The steps we need to take are as follows:

  1. Wrong views.  We start here without effort!  Here we firmly believe the opposite of what we need to realize in order to attain enlightenment.  To overcome these we have to want to realize the truth more than we want to believe we are right.  Often times it is only after metaphorically banging our head into the wall several times with our wrong views that we can begin to put them into question.
  2. Deluded doubt.  This is a doubt that tends away from the truth.  If this is combined with an arrogance thinking we are right, it is particularly troublesome.  To overcome this we need the openness of mind to question whether we are right or not and to be open to other ways of looking at things.
  3. Virtuous doubt.  This is doubt that tends towards the truth.  Here, we are not certain about things, but we suspect that what is in fact the truth is correct.  We are like a scientist who has a hypothesis, but has not yet done any experiments to verify whether the hypothesis is true.
  4. Correct belief.  Here, we believe what is in fact true is true, but we are doing so either through the force of our karmic imprints from previous lives or through a faith that the Spiritual Guide is correct without any particularly valid reason to support the belief.
  5. Believing faith.  Here we have not fully realized the truth of the subject, but we firmly believe it to be true based upon valid reasons that we have realized to be truth.  We don’t yet “get it”, but we believe it to be true and we are right about that.
  6. Inferential valid cognizer.  An inferential valid cognizer is when we know something is true through a valid reason.  The example given is we see smoke coming our of a chimney, so we correctly infer that there is a fire in the fireplace.  The truth of the subject is still a hidden object for us, but by observing the signs and indications we can affirm with certainty that it is true.  This is the first step of wisdom.  Wisdom is when we know from our own side something is true and we are right.  We realize it, we get it, we understand it.  Everything falls into place and makes sense, and we know (not just believe) it is right.
  7. Direct perceivers.  A direct perceiver is when we know something is true directly.  The truth of the subject is no longer hidden from us, we know it directly.  At this point we realize the object fully, what remains is increasing the power of the subject mind which realizes directly this truth.
  8. Yogic direct perceivers.  Here we know directly the truth of the subject with a mind that has attained superior seeing.  Superior seeing is a mind that has attained the union of tranquil abiding and a realization of emptiness.  The truth is still realized directly, but the mind realizing this truth directly is more powerful.
  9. Realizing the truth with our subtle minds.  Our mind has three levels:  gross, subtle and very subtle.  Everything I have described up until now has been realizing objects with our gross mind.  Our gross minds are, roughly speaking, our waking minds.  Our subtle minds are, roughly speaking, our dreaming minds.  And our very subtle mind is our deepest root mind which only arises at the time of death or through the force of completion stage meditations.  Just as we have to go through the above 8 stages with our gross minds, we likewise have to do this with each of our subtle minds.  We can do so either through the yoga of sleeping (where basically we learn to meditate with our dreaming minds) or through tantric meditations which enable us to generate these subtle minds in meditation.  We then use these subtle minds to meditate on and eventually realize the truth of each object of meditation.
  10. Realizing the truth directly with our very subtle mind of great bliss.  Eventually we must realize the truth of each and every stage of the path directly with our very subtle mind of great bliss.  This is our most powerful mind.  It says in the texts that this mind is thousands of times more powerful than the mind of tranquil abiding (basically perfect concentration with our gross mind) in Sutra.

We need to go through this progression with each and every stage of the path.  First the 21 lamrim meditations, then the 6 perfections.  Then the generation stage meditations of Highest Yoga Tantra.  Then the body mandala meditations.  Then the various completion stage meditations, such as the central channel, the indestructible drop and the indestructible wind and mind.  Then with the mind of the union of great bliss and emptiness, and finally with the union of great bliss and emptiness and conventional truth directly and simultaneously.  This final stage is enlightenment!

Lots of work to do, but there is a definite path with definte steps.  It is simply up to us to do what is required, step by step.  But as it says in the prayer of the stages of the path, “the path begins with strong reliance.”  But for now, back to the math homework!  🙂

You turn:  Describe a situation where you were not sure Venerable Geshe-la was right, but you then trusted him and later came to realize he was right all along.

Reflections on the lower realms

If we do not take control of our uncontrolled mind, we will be a slave to it, and it will no doubt take us to the lower realms.  There is only one destination our ordinary mind is trying to take us and that is the lower realms.  It really is the devil.  It will trick us with all sorts of lies and illusions trying to convince us that it is taking us to heaven.  Because we buy into its lies, we happily follow it to hell.  
As basic as it sounds, it really is like bugs bunny.  There are two minds within us, our ordinary mind (which is the devil in disguise as our closest friend) and our pure mind (which is the angel of our guru who has come to guide us to the pure land).  We need to decide who we are going to listen to and who we are going to follow.  What our ordinary mind promises seems so much more appealing, but it is all deceptive lies designed to ensnare us into its traps from which we will never escape and be literally dragged to hell.  Worse yet, we will go there of our own seeming volition completely oblivious to the fact that we march to our doom.  

Reflections on reliance upon the Spiritual Guide

I need to completely surrender control to my spiritual guide at my heart.  It is like I transform myself into a puppet which he controls.  It is almost like I make myself an inanimate object, like a car or a robot, but he is the one controlling me.  He is the life within me.  The goal is to have my every action be his.  I need to completely abandon any self-will.  I have no agenda other than to surrender myself to him.  He then takes over and uses me to liberate all beings.  
There is a difference between ‘surrendering control to the guru’ and ‘doing nothing.’  I am engaging in an action, and the action is to create the conditions so that I hand over control to him.  I am not handing over control to my delusions and letting them run wild.  When my delusions are functioning, I am their puppet.  I need to create a stillness within me, a stillness of my delusions and ordinary mind, so that he may take over.  I must ‘maintain’ the stillness on an on-going basis, which requires tremendous mindfulness in every moment.
To surrender control to my guru, internally, I must do the following:
1.  I need to actively align my motivation with his.  His motivation is to liberate all beings.  To accomplish this, his motivation is to forge me into a Buddha so that I may be an instrument of his peace.  I need to make active within my own mind this same wish.  
2.  I need to abandon my own plans and agenda.   I let him decide what I do next, what I need to work on, etc.  I adopt a mind of adventure, ready to see what he has in store next for me.  
3.  I must make and maintain my ordinary mind completely still.  My ordinary mind creates interference and it also takes over.  When my ordinary mind is manifest, it takes control of me and does deluded things with me.  If it is in control, how can my guru be in control?
4.  In an active way, I must wish him to work through me.  Depending on the circumstance, I make requests such as ‘reveal to me what I need to do now’, ‘what should I understand from this situation?’, ‘please speak through me, fill me with your words’, ‘what do you want me to do?’, ‘what next?’, etc.
We need to dissolve the guru into our heart, and completely surrender to him.  Our goal is to become his puppet.  “My only wish is for you to take over completely my life.”  We abandon any independent self-will, and surrender ourselves completely to his control.  He takes over, and controls us like a puppet.  To effectively do this, we need to:
1.  Make our ordinary mind completely still.
2.  Abandon any independent self-will or plan or agenda of what we think is best, and instead surrender completely to him.
3.  With deep faith, wish for him to take control of us and to do with us what he wishes.  
4.  Most importantly, we need to align our motivation with his.  One effective way to do this is to generate simply the wish to serve him, to help him accomplish his wishes.  We become his servant.  What does he wish for?  He wishes for us to improve our qualifications so that we can be of greater and greater benefit to living beings, eventually being able to guide them to enlightenment.
I need to become like an Avatar, and GSBH is the one controlling me.  I am a tool to be handed over to the guru so that he can do with me what he wishes, use me in the best possible way.  I need to not only surrender myself in this life, but I need to surrender all my future lives so that from this time forward, he is in control.  
When we start our practices or sadhanas, we are starting from the space of our ordinary self.  With the refuge contemplations, we become aware of the fact that our mind is under the control of the devil of our ordinary mind and it will drag us to hell from which there is no escape.  We then visualize the guru, who seems like an ‘other’ but is actually our true self.  We then wish to draw closer to and come under the influence of our guru so that he may deliver us to the pure land.  Our sense of I is currently indistinguishable from our ordinary mind.  We think they are one and the same.  This is an aspect of our self-grasping ignorance.  We fail to make the distinction between our I, which is a mere name a label which is not the problem, and our ordinary mind, which is its current basis of imputation.  We think we ARE our ordinary mind.  We need to break this identification, and long to and make effort to transfer our sense of I to the guru’s mind, which is in reality our pure mind.  Then, through our tantric practice, we dissolve the guru into our heart, into our root mind, and train in identifying with his mind as our own until we feel this to be our living experience.  We then must familarize ourselves with this experience again and again over a long period of time, both in meditation and outside of it, until it feels to be us more than our old ordinary self.  We will come to relate to this purity as ourselves, who we are.  Then, when we fall back into our ordinary self, we will think, ‘this is not me, this is not who I am.’  
We are currently trapped in the spell of our ordinary mind, and we must wish to break free.  We do so by allowing ourselves to be drawn to the guru, staying focused on his voice, his wisdom, and applying effort to move towards him.  We need to turn our back on our negativity and delusions.  We need to leave them behind.  We can do this by confessing them, acknowledging them as misguided and wrong and deceptive and taking us in the wrong direction combined with wishing to now turn towards the light of our guru.  
I need to completely submit myself to my guru at my heart.  I need to want for him to completely take over and I do whatever he says without questions, with total faith, like a good soldier.  We submit internally, not externally.  My guru wants to take me to the pure land, but to get there I have to allow him to take me there.  I do not have the power to get there on my own, I need to be taken there by him.  I need to have deep experience of submission and doing exactly what he says without hesitation and allowing him to completely take over.  If I have this experience, then at the time of my death I dissolve him into my heart, I generate the pure wish to go to the pure land, and then I submit myself to him requesting, ‘please take me to the pure land.’  As long as I am trying to retain even a slight degree of control by my ordinary self, I can’t get there.  I need to renounce the control of my ordinary self completely and surrender it completely to my guru.  Since my ordinary self is a false self fabricated by my distorted and deluded mind, to hold on to its control is, paradoxically, what leaves me uncontrolled.  It tricks me into thinking my freedom depends on it retaining control, but by holding on to such control I reinforce and feed that which makes my mind uncontrolled in the first place.  The point is if I am going to be able to completely surrender myself to the guru to take me to the pure land at the time of my death, I need deep experience of doing this during my life.  Retaining control with my ordinary self, believing this is what makes me free, is actually what makes me a slave to my deluded mind and what leaves me out of control.
Externally, we surrend ourselves completely to Dorje Shugden that he arrange whatever needs to be.  Internally, we surrend ourselves completely to our guru at our heart, to use us as his avatar in this world, to guide us, to act through us, to reveal to us what we need to do, to teach us, etc. 

How to become an Avatar for your spiritual guide

Within our daily life, and indeed throughout all aspects of our spiritual life, we need to hand over control to the Spiritual Guide, where we essentially become a puppet that he controls.  He then uses us as a tool or an instrument for helping all living beings.  We invite him into us, request him to take over and work through us for the benefit of all living beings.  Essentially, we try transform ourselves into an emanation of him.  We provide the body, he is the one at the helm, in control.

DJ told me recently that the Sanskrit translation of Avatar is “emanation body of God”.  In short, we want to transform ourselves into an Avatar of the Spiritual Guide.  Once we have some deep experience of the Spiritual Guide working through us, essentially living and working through us, then on that basis we can develop some qualified divine pride, where we identify with him working through us.  Once our divine pride becomes more and more qualified, we come to identify more and more with the guru-deity until eventually we become or we are the guru deity, and our ordinary body and mind are like ‘our’ costume or vehicle or Avatar or emanation body.

The question is how do we do this, how do we first become an Avatar of the SG?

  1. We have to want to do this.  We need the humility to realize that when it is our ordinary mind in charge, it is really our self-cherishing which is in charge and it just makes a mess of things and binds us deeper into samsara.  But when it is the spiritual guide who is in charge, our every action functions to lead ourselves and others to enlightenment as swiftly as possible.  He is omniscient, has perfect compassion and perfect skilfull means.  By allowing him to take over, we put him at the helm or in the controls and these qualities come to animate our life.  It will be as if we possess these qualities in our own life, and he will engage in his enlightened actions through us.  The really cool thing about that is then we get the karma as if it was us who is engaging in these enlightened actions.  This then will swiftly take us to enlightenment.  We can also increase our desire to do this by understanding how it is an essential step along the way to a qualified divine pride.
  2. Dissolve the guru into our heart.  We can do this either through a formal practice or just instantly throughout the day.  The point is you remember that wherever you imagine a Buddha, a Buddha actually goes.  So with our believing and wishing faith, we dissolve the guru into our heart, strongly believing the living SG has entered into us and strongly wishing for him to take over.
  3. We need to ‘cease’ or ‘make silent’ our ordinary mind.  Our ordinary mind and its ramblings are like static noise operating in the background that interfere with the spiritual guide taking over.  Either our ordinary mind is in control of the Spiritual Guide’s mind is in control.  The one directly competes with the other.  They are mutually exclusive.  The former has only one intention – to send us into the deepest hell; and the latter only has one intention – to lead ourselves and all beings to the highest enlightenment.  They go in completely opposite directions.  So on the basis of wanting our SG to take over, we intentionally make silent our ordinary mind to create the space for him to take over.
  4. We then align our motivation with his, wishing to help all those around us or wishing that he live through us and use us to accomplish his enlightened intention, and we request him to do so.  We then hold our ordinary self in silence and allow him to come forth.

We have to gain living expeirence of how this works.  Then, it makes sense.

The main point is this:  by generating one virtue, the wish for him to take over, we are able to accomplish all virtues.  By neglecting this one virtue, our SC mind remains in control and sabotages all of our spiritual activities and our spiritual path and all virtues become nearly impossible.  I would go so far as to say that the extent to which we can do this is the extent to which we can lead a virtuous life.  The extent to which we neglect to do this is the extent to which we plunge headlong into the lower realms (even if we don’t realize it).

Your turn:  Would you like to become an Avatar for your Spiritual Guide?  Why or why not?

How the Spiritual Guide can “be there” for each and every being all of the time

From an external point of view, I have very bad karma when it comes to being able to be with my spiritual guide.  It is hard for me to go to festivals, everytime I have tried to physically meet with him in the past, something has happened where it hasn’t been possible.  It is even very difficult for me to have much interaction with those teachers he has formed.  It is very easy to become discouraged thinking we must be doing something wrong or feel like we have insurmountable obstacles and we will never be able to attain enlightenment because we can’t receive this direct interaction. 

Other times we can have the doubt, how is it possible for him to help directly each and every being all of the time.  Yes, he can help those around him and they in turn can help others like ripples on a pond, but that is him helping all beings indirectly – not directly. 

When I did my Heruka close retreat, my main conclusion was the answer to these doubts – and I need to remind myself of this conclusion again and again so that I never lose it.  The way in which it is possible for the spiritual guide to be able to “be there” for each and every living being all of the time is he resides at the center of the sphere of all living beings.  Technically speaking, and perhaps more poetically, he resides simultaneously in the heart of each and every living being.  How? 

All hearts of each and every being have a common intersection point, like the hub of a wheel or the center of a sphere (of emptiness).  Each being is like a spoke on this wheel.  If you are inside an individual spoke, you can only see what is inside that spoke.  But if you can move yourself to the hub, then you can simultaneously reflect yourself inside every spoke.  This is where the Spiritual Guide resides.  By being present there, he is present everywhere for everyone all of the time.  Beings can even die and be reborn, and he remains equally “right there the whole time.”  For him, it is like a parent watching their child fall asleep and then waking up again.   He is able to stay with us in life after life.

If we can understand this, then we will never feel alone, we will feel we can always access him, and that he has never and will never abandon us in life after life.  Even when the reflection that is Venerable Geshe-la’s present body dies, it is really our karma to have that appearance which has exhausted itself, but he is still there.  He will never abandon the NKT and he will always be there because he is not the body of VGL, rather he is the eternal Je Tsongkhapa, like the Living Christ for Christians.  The body of VGL is an echo or a reflection of a much deeper, eternally abiding being.  We do not need to fear, he will always be with us.  In fact, he will always be within us eager to fill us with his wisdom and respond to our prayers.

While it is beyond the scope of this blog, this understanding also has tremendous benefits for our self-generation practice.  We are able to feel as if we are doing our practice inside the hearts of each and every living being, directly and profoundly blessing and healing them.

The power of prayer

Bodhisattvas and Buddhas accomplish most of their virtuous and enlightened actions through the power of prayer.  This is one of the most important abilities we need to develop on the spiritual path.  Very often we neglect this, thinking it superstitious or not really believing that it works.  But if we can understand how it works, then we will see that it is possible to develop this power, and then we will be very motivated to do so.  The power of prayer lies behind most miracle powers, we become a spiritual “magic-user” (sorry, I did too much Dungenons and Dragons when I was a kid!!).

What is the power of prayer?  A Buddha has the ability to have all of their prayers fulfilled, whatever they pray for becomes a reality (within the constraints of how it works which will be described below).  It is the principle means by which bodhisattvas and Buddhas help living beings.

So how does it work?

  1. Deep and stable realization of emptiness, specifically the tantra-prasangaika view.  The TP view has two main recognitions:  first, like the standard prasangika view, that all objects are mere mental projections of the mind; and second, like the Chittamatrins, that the nature of these projections of the mind itself (all things are only mind).  When we have an experiential understanding of this view (how things actually exist), when we experience the entire universe as the body of our mind.  The entire universe is a single, fully integrated organism of our mind.  We experiences all objects, the whole universe, as parts of the body of our mind.  Our mind is in the shape of the world, and we realize by changing the shape of our mind we can change the shape of the whole world.
  2. Rich in merit.  Rich people have lots of resources, and with these resources they can make a lot happen.  They simply spend or deploy their resources to bring about whatever it is they want to see happen.  Some rich people only spend their resources on themselves, fulfilling the wishes of their self-cherishing mind.  But some rich people become philanthropists who spend their resources on helping others as much as they can.  They actively acquire more wealth so that they can use this wealth to help others.  Bill Gates is a good example of this.  A bodhisattva is a spiritual philathropist, but instead of external wealth, they rely upon internal wealth of merit and realizations.  They actively acquire as much inner wealth as they can so that they can share it and give it to others.  Just as externally rich people can accomplish their external wishes, internally rich people can accomplish their external and internal wishes.  Why?  Because ultimately all things are mere karmic appearances of mind.  Their merit gives them the karma to make any good thing appear.
  3. A pure motivation.  At present, we lack the power of prayer.  But Buddhas already have this power.  We can, in effect, have this power as well by tapping into and harnessing their power of prayer towards the ends of our own prayers.  But this will only work if our motivation is aligned with theirs.  They will not fulfill any non-pure prayers, because that is not their function.  They will, however, spontaneously fulfil all pure prayers because that is their function.  So our job is to align our motivation with theirs.  It is like aligning the sails of a sail boat.  If the sails are aligned right with the winds, then the boat will move forward.  In the same way, if our motivation is aligned with that of the Buddhas, then their pure winds will push our spiritual prayers forward.  To align our motivation, we simply need to think about a given situation we would like to pray for, and then ask ourselves “what would the Buddhas want from this situation?”  Then, once we understand what they would want, we then from our own side try to generate the same wants and desires in the situation.  In general, what do Buddhas want?  They want living beings to gain realizations.  Worldly beings want to be free from unpleasant feelings.  This is what sometimes puts our motivation at odds with that of the Buddhas.  For them, unpleasant feelings are an important condition for many different Dharma realizations (patience, renunciation, compassion, the wish to purify, etc.).  But we do the internal work to want what they want, realizing that what they want out of the situation is more infused with wisdom.  In terms of how to generate merit, the three most important things to do are:  (1) generate a bodhichitta motivation for your every action which multiplies the power of your actions by the number of countless living beings, (2) engage in every action conjoined with guru yoga, seeing all aspects of the situation as aspects of your spiritual guide, the synthesis of all the Buddhas – this multiplies the power of your action by the number of countless Buddhas, and (3) make mandala offerings, recognizing the pure world you are offering as an offering of a promise that you will work for as long as possible to transform your dream into the pure world you offer for the benefit f all of the beings in your dream.  Mandala offerings in particular are powerful in that they lay the karmic potentialities on your mind to transform your world into a pure world, where everything that arises is perfect for the enlightenment of all beings.
  4. Deep faith.  Buddhas are as powerful as we make them.  Their power for us does not exist from its own side, but arises in dependence upon the power of our faith.  The more pure faith, the more power they have to fulfil our prayers.  To develop a qualified faith, we primarily need to understand the mechanism by which Buddhas can accomplish their deeds.  When we understand how it works, it seems perfectly doable.  When it seems doable, we believe they can do it.  Then faith is not fantasy wishful thinking, it is a knowledge of what is possible.  So what is the mechanism by which they work?  First, they are empty, in other words, they are not separate from our mind but are rather parts or aspects of our mind.  Second, they have the power to activate karmic potentialities.  This is their essential function.  Just as water and sunlight will activate ordinary seeds to produce a crop of plants, the water and sunlight of our pure motivation and faith spontaneously function to activate the pure karmic seeds we have planted on our mind (see above in the section on merit).  When this karma activates it produces karmic appearances that are the nature and function of our prayers.

If we can develop the power of prayer, there will literally be nothing we cannot do.  It is the primary means of helping living beings, and thus should be our primary focus in terms of building up the skills of a Buddha.

Middle way between excessive freedom and obedience

As a father, I have tended to give my kids a lot of freedom to make their own choices.  The primary reason for this is I feel it is important that they learn to make their own correct decisions, and they only way they can do this is with lots of experience of having to make their own decisions.  But when our kids are making the wrong decisions, it is our job as their parents to help them make the right ones.  This involves discipline.  I have avoided this because I feel getting angry at my kids does more harm than whatever mistake they have been making.  I have also avoided this because I myself really dislike it when other people tell me what to do and it invites rebellion.  But I have gone too far to the extreme of granting excessive freedom to my kids, and this is doing them a disservice.  Because our kids lack sufficient experience or understanding of what is important, it is our job to provide them with limits for those areas where they are not yet capable of making the right decisions.

I think the key is creating very clear rules, that are fair and reasonable, and these rules need to be applied consistently with clear and proportionate natural consequences when they are violated.  The rules do not need to be enforced with anger – ever.  Anger destroys the constructive value of the rules.  In life, people need the skill of respect for authority, but this is different than obedience.  Obedience is you obey out of fear, respect for authority is acknowledging that the other person is an authority (be it through superior knowledge, experience or legitimate power of decision-making), and this authority needs to be respected.  There is nothing wrong with teaching our kids respect for authority, but there is something wrong with “breaking them” like some horse that needs to be trained so that they “obey”. 

Rules should be clear, reasonable and process based.  It should be crystal clear what is expected and what is not allowed.  The rules should be reasonable, fair and not arbitrary.  Most importantly, they should be focused on the question of “how” things are done.  When we do things, we do them right.  We focus on hard-work, diligence, thoroughness, doing things properly, not specific outcomes.  For example, a rule we are needing to teach our 4 year old is “if you cry/get angry for it, you don’t get it.”  Yes, we should have taught that at 2, but like I said, we have been too far to the extreme of excessive freedom.

When applying rules (I like the word applying better than enforcing), I have found it is vital to eliminate any trace of doubt.  This is how it is going to be.  Kids, even small babies, can sense your doubt a mile away and they will exploit it and test it.  But if they know it is unamigiously as you say, then they don’t test it.  This is why it is very important for the rules to be fair and reasonable, because what is more obnoxious and counter-productive than the strict application of unreasonablness!

It is likewise important to teach our kids how to interact with others.  We are thinking of introducing a rule that our kids have to play together at least 1 hour a day on the weekends.  We are establishing a rule of limiting the number of hours per day our kids can be in front of a screen of some kind (TV, xbox, computer, etc.).  We are establishing a rule that nobody leaves the dinner table until everyone is done (or at least the other kids).  We have a rule that after snack homework is done before we play (“do what you have to do before what you want to do”).  And even on Christmas, today, we try apply certain rules:  we don’t start until after 8:30, each person opens their presents one at a time in order, you always say thank you, etc. 

Finally, it goes without saying that “those who make the rules must follow the rules.”  Nothing is more self-defeating than breaking your own rules.  In the end, our kids need to learn moral discipline, which depends on self-discipline, which depends on having good habits.  Those habits are formed by following good examples and having been raised in a family that “does things right.”  Success in life depends upon discipline, and as parents this is a skill we need to cultivate within our kids.  Discipline does not mean punishment, it means self-control to do the right things.