Cultivating true self-confidence: How to fully seize the opportunity you now have (final post in series)

In this series of posts, I have done my best to explain my understanding of how we generate a reliable basis for generating self-confidence and then how we actually practice cultivating self-confidence.  In this last post, I will try explain what helps me overcome my laziness and indeed light a fire in my heart.

The first thing to do is to meditate again and again upon dying full of regrets.  Imagine that you arrive at your deathbed and your spiritual guide shows you what all you could have accomplished if only you had been motivated enough.  You could have accomplished all spiritual goals and lead countless others to the same state.  You could have caused your local center to flourish and enabled countless people to make contact with the Dharma – actually engaging in a Bodhisattva’s actions.  But instead you listened to and followed your laziness and attachment and anger, and accomplished nothing.  You have used up all the Dharma karma and now will fall into the lower realms where you will remain for aeons once again saving up your spiritual pennies.  Use this meditation to arrive at the conclusion that you will not let this happen to you.

Second, we need to realize that this moment is the one in which we can fulfil our spiritual destiny.  We wouldn’t go to school for years and years only to at the last minute not finish.  We wouldn’t run for political office our whole career and win the election to presidency and then not show up for the job.  Allow yourself to really feel this epic opportunity.  Meditate again and again on the opportunity you now have and that you have everything in front of you to accomplish everything.  The only thing you have to do is pick up what Geshe-la has given you.  The only thing standing in your way is the strength and purity of your motivation.  If you work on that, then you will have everything.

Third, we should appreciate the high stakes for the success of your practice, our local center and our tradition.  If you don’t attain enlightenment, everyone you know and love will fall into samsara and be lost for as long as it takes you to get out.  All the people who are depending upon your future students are also depending upon you, and so forth.  There are literally countless beings whose fate depends upon your actions in this life.  Our local Dharma centers are like an Embassy for all the Buddhas in our area.  It is our job to make it happen for the people of our respective areas.  If we don’t make it happen, it won’t happen for them at all.  When you see others you should think, ‘this person is depending upon me.’

On this basis, we should cherish our local Dharma center.  Through our local Dharma center we can accomplish everything.   Geshe-la has put everything at our feet.  We simply need to pick it up and use it.  We can accomplish with our local center what Geshe-la has accomplished with Manjushri center.  And we will have it much easier than he did because he has already written all the books and practices, established the study programmes, etc.  We just need to use it.  Venerable Tharchin says every person who walks into the center he views as the future saviour of all.  This is true.  This is a very literal statement.  We need to adopt this view, and cherish others accordingly.  The karma we accumulate working for the center continues to accumulate for as long as the center exists.

At a personal level, we need to quit hedging and holding ourself back.   Normally we have one foot in our practice and one foot in samsara – hedging our bets. What are we hedging on samsara for.  We already know enough Dharma to know it is a dead end and has no prospect for giving us anything.  Do something different with your life.  Really make a decision to go for it with all you’ve got.  Burn all the bridges to samsara and never look back.

With our relationship to our tradition, we need to allow ourself to be influenced by the three jewels and especially Shantideva.  We need to be careful about what we allow to influence us, so we need to check carefully that these things are of quality and value.  But once we have done that, then we need to make the decision to allow them to influence us.  Allow them to change us.  Yes, this will mean changes which are sometimes difficult, but this is a small price to pay for unspeakably fantastic goals.  In particular, you need to allow yourself to be influenced by Shantideva.  He pulls no punches and if you allow yourself to be influenced by him nothing will ever be the same.  You will leave behind your meaningless worldly life and embark upon a spiritual journey beyond your wildest dreams.

The choice is yours.


I dedicate any merit I may have collected from doing this series of posts so that all Kadampas may generate a vajra-like confidence in themselves, their practice, their tradition and our larger purpose.  Our tradition has been reborn into the modern world.  We have been reborn into our vajra family.  Now let us go do what we came here for.

Cultivating true self-confidence: Fulfilling your spiritual destiny

This series of posts combines together much of my understanding of what it means to be a Kadampa and how that serves as the basis for an infinite self-confidence.  In the first few posts we learned how to construct a reliable basis for self-confidence:  our virtuous actions, our overcoming of our delusions and our pure potential.  In the subsequent posts, we learned how to practice self-confidence by learning how to wholeheartedly accept everything and everyone, how to embark upon the Bodhisattva’s path by making a vajra commitment to others and how to become a qualified member of the vajra family.

In the next two posts we will talk about where to go from here.  What do we do with all of this?  To answer this question, I will first try explain how all our past spiritual practices over countless previous lives have ripened in the form of this one moment.  Then, in the final post of this series, I will talk about how to fully seize the opportunity we now have.

Understanding how all our past spiritual practices over countless previous lives have ripened in the form of this one moment

How can we understand this? We currently have everything:  We have a precious human life.  We were not born a hell being, we were not born a hungry ghost, we were not born an animal, we were not born a demi-god, we were not born a god, we have all our mental and physical faculties, we live in a country where religion is tolerated, we live in a country where there is the pure Dharma, we live at a time when Tantra is being taught, we have a strong interest in spiritual matters, we have the resources necessary to practice.  We have access to Dharma centers.  We have found a pure spiritual tradition with a robust spiritual community and pure instructions, we have the opportunity ourselves to work to cause the Dharma to flourish and engage in a bodhisattva’s actions.  We have all the books, all the sadhanas, the study programs, a qualified spiritual guide, everything.

None of this happens without a cause.  Essentially all the karma on our mind is negative.  We have spent 99% of our previous lives in the lower realms where we engaged almost exclusively in negative actions.  When we were in the upper realms we rarely if ever engaged in virtue, but instead just burned up our merit.  It is extremely difficult for us to engage in virtue. Look how easy it is for us to get angry versus how hard it is to love somebody else unconditionally without expecting anything in return.  Psychologists estimate that for most humans, it is 9 times easier to generate a negative thought than a positive one.  To create the cause for just a human rebirth, you need to engage in a pure action of moral discipline together with stainless prayer for an upper rebirth.  How often do we do that?  And we are Dharma practitioners.  I did the math once, and karmically speaking a life like this happens roughly only once every 475 trillion lives!

But look at all that we have.  We have created the cause for every single thing we are currently experiencing.  We have been saving up our spiritual pennies for countless lives, and they have all ripened in this life.  Dorje Shugden has caused it all to ripen in this one opportunity.  It is, for all practical purposes, now or never.  Essentially all of our Dharma karma is ripening right now.  If we waste this opportunity, the causes which created it will exhaust themselves and then we will have nothing left.  This should cause our heart to crack open with fear.  If, however, we use this opportunity to the fullest, then we will create the causes to continue and eventually get out.  It is as if we are in a line hundreds of billions of people long, and we are third in line.  Now is not the time to get out of line because we see some shiny object of attachment.

For all practical purposes, our choice at the end of this life is the pure land or hell.  These are basically our only two options at the end of this life.  Why?  If negative karma ripens at the time of our death, we will fall.  What activates negative karma at the time of our death?  If we respond to the death process with delusion and a negative mind, it will activate negative seeds and we will fall.  Right now, when we encounter just the smallest of inconvenience or discomfort we respond with negative minds.  Death is the loss of everything.  Everything will be taken away from us.  We will realize how almost everything we worked for in this life was for naught.  Our body will likely be in pain perhaps from cancer.  Our mental faculties will be dulled, whether it is from old age or all the medicine we will be on.   As we die, there is a good possibility we will feel as if we are suffocating.  If we can’t deal with the check out line at the grocery story without delusion, how will we manage death?

We must not allow the laziness of indolence to cause us to waste this precious opportunity.  We must actively seek out and destroy our delusions, like a resistance fighter living under occupation.  I know a practitioner who calls delusions warlords who have seized control of the field of our mind.  We must not allow objects of attachment to distract us.  Spirits can give you everything to keep you distracted and then at the time of death they reveal themselves saying ‘gotcha’ as you fall into hell having wasted this opportunity.

We need to realize what all you can accomplish with this life.  We can solve all the problems of this life, we can prevent ourself from ever having to fall into the lower realms again, we can permanently wake up from the nightmare of samsara, we can gain all the abilities of a Buddha.  We have a local Dharma center with which right now we can engage in a bodhisattva’s actions.  Through the center we can cause the Dharma to flourish and directly engage in a bodhisattva’s actions.  If all of this didn’t exist, we could only intellectualize about the Dharma.  So what are we going to do with the opportunity we have?

Cultivating true self-confidence: Unity born from being part of the same entity.

What is the unity born from being part of the same entity?  Here, we realize that we are all ultimately the same entity.

The correct meaning is we don’t say everything everyone does in the NKT  is perfect, rather we say I can transform everything they do, the good, the bad and the ugly, into something that is perfect for my own practice.  We can learn much more from people’s mistakes than their successes because people generally make many more mistakes than they do things right.  Each mistake we observe teaches us something, so even though it is a mistake in a conventional sense, for us it is perfect for our practice.  When we extend this understanding, we start to see the guru as the synthesis of all three jewels.  We see the Deities of our tradition as our personal Buddha Jewels, we see the books and teachings of our tradition as our family Dharma Jewels, and we will see the teachers and practitioners of our tradition as our close Sangha Jewels.  Since we are teachers and practitioners of the Kadam Dharma, it is correct to say that we are the same entity as the guru.  He gave birth to us and everything we have comes from him.  To see our Sangha as the spiritual guide appearing in the aspect of all Sangha Jewels means to make no distinction between Sangha and Geshe-la.  When we think Geshe-la, we think our Sangha.  When we think our Sangha, we think Geshe-la.  Our relationship with our Sangha is our relationship with Geshe-la, and vice versa.  If our relationship with even one member of the Sangha is not good, then our relationship with one aspect/part of our spiritual guide is not good.  The same logic applies to our relationship with each instruction in the tradition and each deity in our pantheon.  If we extend this view deeply, we come to feel our bodies as being Geshe-la’s body in this world.  Our speech will become Geshe-la’s speech in this world.  Our thoughts will become Geshe-la’s mind in this world.  We are all part of the same entity.   If we have unity born from same entity, we will naturally have unity born from a common view and from this common purpose and being polite and considerate to one another.  In my view, unity born from the same entity is our final goal and what Geshe-la is encouraging us to arrive at.

So what should we do concretely?  We shouldn’t keep our focus just our local center or teacher, but we should try understand how they fit within the larger picture of the tradition (we act locally, but we think globally).  We should try develop relationships with members of our extended vajra family.  For me, for example, my main teachers have been Gen Lekma, Gen Lhamo, Kadam Bjorn, Venerable Tharchin, Gen-la Samden (when he was Gen-la), Gen-la Khyenrab, and Gen-la Dekyong.  I likewise feel very closely connected with Kadam Lucy, Kadam Morten and my dear friend Kadam Olivier.  Spiritually speaking, these people have been my principal spiritual influences.  My home Sangha will always be the Sangha of Santa Barbara in the mid-1990s because that is where I spent my spiritual childhood.  We are almost all still around somewhere.  It was a great group.  The Sangha where I was really a member of a spiritual home is the Sangha of the Suisse Romande (French-speaking Switzerland).  This is when I was with my spiritual family of my own.  They are all each practicing in their own way now.  What I find is I naturally seem to form easy friendships with students of my main influences.  I think we should actively seek to build bridges across the entire vajra family by meeting and developing relationships with those in other parts of the vajra family.  This is why those who go to the festivals year after year feel like they are going back to a family reunion.  Our center, teachers, our courses and our Sangha are simply microcosms of the larger universe of our tradition which we should rely upon entirely as inseparable from the guru Geshe-la, who himself is nothing more than how Je Tsongkhapa is appearing in this world for us.  Because our center is a microcosm we lack nothing and have all we need, but because it is a reflection of a bigger picture, we can have so much more…


Cultivating true self-confidence: Uniting with our vajra family

In the last post in we talked about what is the vajra family and some methods for becoming a qualified member of the vajra family.  Here I continue with some additional ways we can become more qualified.

  1. We need to abandon all attachment to others changing.  Because we have patient acceptance, we find others to be perfect for our practice, just the way they are.  If we have a personal vested interest in the other person changing and we are attached to them doing so, they will reject our advice even if it is exactly the advice they need.  What good is it to be right if nobody will listen?  People will only listen when they trust us, and they will only trust us when they know we are not going to try use them in some way for our own purposes, rather they know we are only there to support them in fulfilling their pure purposes.
  2. We also need to make it a priority to abandon all attachment to any member of our vajra family.  Attachment is the mind that views others as a cause of our own happiness.  Attachment’s sole function is to separate us from the object of our attachment.  In the context of the Vajra family, the means it functions to create divisions and undermine the unity of the Sangha.  Since our relationships together are so important, the stakes are so high, we cannot allow ourselves to allow our attachment towards each other to go unchecked.  How do we deal with this?  We try learn to love each other purely.  Gen-la Dekyong said we do not abandon relationships because there is attachment in them, rather we redouble our efforts to love the other person purely.  The normal distinction we draw between love and attachment is attachment says ‘I love you because you make ME happy’ whereas true love says, ‘I love you, how can I make YOU happy.’  A senior teacher once gave me a very clear test for whether our love for others is pure:  we check whether we are thinking about and working towards the happiness of the other person in their future lives.  If it is, then it is definitely not mixed up with interests of ourself and it is spiritually pure.
  3. We should abandon any attachment to results, individually, as a center or even as a tradition.  It does not matter whether we see any results from our efforts, what matters is that we keep a happy mind of joyful effort.  From joyful effort, good results will always come.
  4. We need to rejoice fully and often in whatever others do do, and not be unhappy about whatever others don’t do.  For others, we need to just ignore what they don’t do and be genuinely grateful for what they do do.  For ourself, we need to accept our weaknesses as weakness – accept that is simply where we are at and we then happily try to do better.  We actively cultivate a feeling like we are all on the same side, the same team with no competition between us.  The success of one is a success of all.
  5. Finally, we should strive to unite with the vajra family.  This last one I would like to elaborate in more detail.

There are four levels of unity with the vajra family:

  1. Unity born from being polite and considerate to one another.  From one perspective, this is very superficial and very external, but it is nonetheless a vital foundation for living harmoniously with your vajra family.  Within any grouping, whether it is at work or at home or in a center, we should strive to meet all of the group expectations without anybody having to ask us to do so.  We should always make a point of imposing zero cost on others and always give much more to the community than we ask of it.  And above all, we need to never get angry at anyone – ever.  If we do, we should sincerely apologize as soon as we have returned to a space where we can admit our mistakes.
  2. Unity born from a common purpose.  We all share the same common purpose of wishing to liberate all living beings from samsara and lead them to enlightenment.  We will each do this in our own way, but we all share the same purpose.  Our purpose is necessary non-worldly.  A fully qualified member of the vajra family will leave behind worldly conceptions, concerns and goals.  We have nothing to accomplish in a worldly sense, but are focused exclusively on the accomplishment of spiritual goals.  Worldly conceptions means viewing others or situations in a worldly way.  We view everyone as Dakas and Dakinis and everything as the magical dance of Dorje Shugden.  Worldly concerns themselves are the 8 worldly concerns.  We are not interested in these, but only interested in creating good causes for ourselves and others.  If we have unity of a common purpose, we will naturally be polite and considerate to one another because we understand we are all ‘members of the same family.’
  3. Unity born from a common view.  A common view is attained when we discuss the Dharma, debate it and so forth amongst each other until we arrive at a commonly held view.  We aggressively try address and work through all differences of view (as opposed to sweep them under the rug).  By doing so, we all eventually come to the same final conclusions.  This is one of the essential purposes of the different International Teacher Training Programs (the other being building strong karmic bonds of relationship with the other teachers, which serves as a karmic net holding the global tradition together).  This is when everyone gets together and has these discussions.   Since purpose derives from view, if we have a unity born from a common view, we will necessarily have unity born from a common purpose.

The fourth level of unity, the unity of being part of the same entity, I will explain in the next post in this series.


Cultivating true self-confidence: Becoming part of an epic revolution

In this post I will explain my understanding of how to become part of something bigger than ourselves.  When we consider ourselves as this small, ordinary individual, then we are correct in feeling like we are nothing.  But if we are part of something bigger than us, we are able to generate confidence from that larger entity – for example, being part of some large, powerful organization everybody benefits from that power.  It is the same thing in the spiritual realm.  The bigger thing we can become a part of is the vajra family.  It is like we put our individual candles together, and we each benefit from the blazing sun this creates.  First I will talk about what is the vajra family, then I will talk about how we can become a part of it – become a qualified member of it.  In the next post I will elaborate more on how to become a qualified member of our vajra family by uniting with it.

What is the vajra family?

First, we need some background on the vajra family.  Who is the head of the vajra family?  It is Buddha Vajradhara, who is currently appearing to us as Geshe-la. What is the purpose/mission of the vajra family?  Its ultimate purpose is to help all beings awaken themselves into the eternal, pure happiness of the Dharmakaya.  The temporary purpose is to solve all the problems of all living beings for all their lives.  What is the principal means by which this mission is accomplished?  By changing our own mind – we seek to change the external by changing the internal, not the other way around.  If I change my mind, I change the world since my mind projects it.  We focus simply on practicing Dharma purely and helping others to do the same.  Who are the members of the vajra family?  They are the Spiritual guide, our teachers, our sangha, past, present and future; our students, past, present and future; our close karmic circle of family, friends, colleagues, and the people we interact with in our area.  In short, the are in the broadest possible sense, the field of merit of all living beings.

How do we become a qualified member of the vajra family?

The Vajra family is open to everyone who wishes to be a part of it, so to become part of it, you simply have to want to do so.  The relevant question then becomes what do we need to do to make ourselves a qualified member of this family?

So how do we become a qualified member of the vajra family?  I this post I will discuss five different things we can do, and in the next post I will explain five more:

  1. Make a vajra commitment to take personal responsibility for the eventual enlightenment of each member of your vajra family.  To our Spiritual Guide and teachers, we need to make a commitment to strive to fulfil their pure wishes that you share, the ones that resonate in our heart.  This last point is very important.  The Spiritual Guide has countless good wishes for living beings.  At our current stage of development, we do not equally feel all of his good wishes.  There are some of his pure wishes that particularly “speak to us” and “move our heart.”  These are the ones we share with him.  These are the ones we should focus our efforts on.  We should not try force ourselves to work on wishes that we don’t (yet) share, because that can lead to all sorts of tension and resentments.  Rather, we pursue the wishes we share, and in doing so the scope of our own wishes will expand until eventually we share all of his good wishes.
  2. We should strive to align our personal aspirations with those of the Spiritual Guide – make his aspirations your aspirations.  Make what you want be what he wants.
  3. We should also strive to gain the realizations that we need to fulfil our commitment to our vajra family.  For example, if we see those around us suffer from anger, we should gain the experience of using the Dharma to overcome our own anger.  If we see those around us suffer from pride, we should gain the experience of using the Dharma to overcome our own pride.  By practicing in this way, you will naturally gain the realizations that your vajra family will need, and then almost by osmosis of being in regular contact with the Sangha, everyone will benefit from your realization, which will help them overcome the same problems in their minds.
  4. It is also vitally important to accept yourself and others fully without guilt or judgement to create a space in which yourself and others can change and allow your good qualities to flourish.  In an earlier post we talked about how the way our parents treated us influences how we treat ourselves which influences how we treat others.  In the same way, we should study how our vajra father, the head of our Vajra Family, Buddha Vajradhara appearing as Je Tsongkhapa appearing as Venerable Geshe-la treats us.  We should then treat ourself that way and then treat others accordingly.  Remember it is a delusion to think that the members of your vajra family are anything other than perfect for our practice just the way they are.  This doesn’t mean they are objectively perfect from their own side, rather this means that all of their faults and limitations are perfect for our practice, just the way they are.  We don’t need them to change because we appreciate how they are perfect.  If they do change for the better, then that is perfect too!  It is all good.  Basically, we need to have zero expectations and indeed desire that the members of our vajra family be any different.  For me, the easiest way to accept everyone is to view them all as extensions of the body, speech and mind of the guru manifesting as Dorje Shugden’s enlightened deeds.
  5. If we are a teacher or a more senior member of a local Sangha, it is very important that we strive to help others accomplish their personally chosen spiritual goals, not manipulate them with the Dharma to get them to accomplish ‘our’ spiritual goals for them.  We should not try to change others, rather we should just focus on changing ourself.  We need to 100% respect people’s freedom to do as they choose, and in that space we demonstrate our good heart and intention.  If we do this, people will naturally come and ask questions without us having to seek them out.  When they do ask of us, we seek only to give them the information they need to use their freedom wisely – we help them understand the consequences of their actions.  Because we have patient acceptance, we do not resist anything and do not need them to make any particular choice because we know how to use it all for our practice.  When we have this mind, we amazingly no longer feel the need to push anybody away because they are faulty or deluded.  What freedom!

Cultivating a true self-confidence: How do we make our life a samsaric purification system?

In the last post we examined how to make our life the synthesis experience of all living beings.  Now the question is how do we then make our entire life a method for purifying the samsara of all living beings.  How do we practice this?  The core of it is we exchange self with others, where we are identifying with their minds.  When we have done this, then what arises in our mind is actually what is arising in their mind.  First we say, “their delusions are my delusions” – we impute ‘my delusions’ onto the basis of the aggregate nexus of their delusions.  Second, we say “my delusions are their delusions” – we impute ‘their delusions’ onto the basis of the delusions arising within our own mind.  We know we have done it correctly when we experience life as both of these simultaneously and without any contradiction.  My experiences are their experiences – their aggregate experiences are my experiences.  Both of these simultaneously and without any contradiction.  My mind is their mind, their mind is my mind, both simultaneously and without any contradiction.  My subtle body is their subtle body, their subtle body is my subtle body, both simultaneously and without any contradiction. There is simply no longer any independent self or Ryan – “Ryan” becomes ‘nothing other than’ a microcosmic reflection of my vajra family.

With this recognition, we use all of the Dharma we have against ‘my delusions’ (the delusions arising within our mind).  We work exclusively on our own mind.  There are two different ways we can practice this:  King-like bodhichitta (or Christ-like bodhichitta) – it feels like I am treating directly my delusions, and by doing so I am indirectly treating their delusions that I have taken on (so directly me, indirectly them).  Christ took on the negative karma of all living beings, and then his suffering was actually the negative karma of others ripening on him so others didn’t have to experience it.  By generating faith in him, one gains access to his special blessings which function to free our from our negative karma by allowing him to take it upon himself.  In the same way, we take on the negativities, delusions and obstructions of our vajra family, and then the negative karma, delusions and obstructions that we experience are actually those of others ripening on us so that others don’t have to experience it.  By others generating faith in us, they gain access to our special blessings which function to free them from their negative karma, delusions and obstructions by allowing us to take them upon ourself.  We design our own enlightenment in this way.  With divine pride thinking I am Heruka doing this we generate the feeling like we are treating directly their delusions in their mind for them, and by doing so we are indirectly treating our own delusions by creating the karma to have Buddhas do the same for us.  Eventually these two methods will collapse into the same thing without any contradiction.

Technically speaking, how can we do this?  We essentially take on the contaminated karma of our vajra family.  This includes all the negative karma, deluded tendencies similar to the cause and their obstructions to omniscience.  This is possible to do directly if we have sufficient compassion/superior intention, concentration and understanding of emptiness.  We can more easily also accomplish this through requests to Dorje Shugden.  We have on our mind the contaminated karma for virtually any experience.  So we are essentially requesting Dorje Shugden to activate the karma in our mind that corresponds with the delusions and negative karma of our vajra family. We make requests to Dorje Shugden and dedicate, “may the delusions that arise in my mind be those of my vajra family; and when I overcome them in my mind may they be eliminated from their minds.”

What are the benefits of this practice?  First, it will give our suffering meaning, so we will gladly accept it.  Second, it will eliminate all of ‘our’ delusions in one fell swoop.  We will no longer have any delusions, they will be those of our vajra family.  Third, it will help us cut our identification with the delusions arising within our mind.  They are not our delusions, they are the delusions of others that we have taken on.  Fourth, with this practice, Bodhichitta comes naturally.  We see the direct connection between overcoming our delusions and negative karma and benefiting others.  The distinction between ourselves becoming a Buddha and our leading others to enlightenment disappears.  When we engage in our practices, we are directly working on the delusions arising in our mind, but we understand them to be those of our vajra family.  Finally, by overcoming the delusions arising in our mind, we gain the realizations we need to help those with these delusions overcome them.

This practice also enables us to create a special karmic connection with these beings which will ripen in the form of them being our disciples in the future.  This practice will karmically draw you closer to these beings in the form of you having a special relationship with them as your disciple.  This practice and this faith enables them to appear in your life.  Dorje Shugden does not activate the karma for them to come into our life before we have the realizations necessary to actually help them.  When we overcome their delusions in our mind, then we will know how to help them.  It is at this time that Dorje Shugden activates the karma for them to appear.  It is in this way that centers grow, and why Venerable Tharchin said that what we need to do to make the center grow is for ourselves, the members of the center, to gain realizations.

By eliminating others’ delusions in our mind, we eliminate them in their minds.  This is so because their faults and delusions come from our mind anyway.  If we understand this deeply, we will see we can directly engage in the actions of a Buddha right now.  We can carry the entire vajra family forward in proportion to their karmic connection with us simply by working on our own mind.

Cultivating a true self-confidence: Embarking upon the bodhisattva’s path

In this post we will discuss how to embark upon the bodhisattva’s path by making a vajra commitment to others.  A vajra commitment is a commitment to take personal responsibility for the eventual enlightenment of somebody else.  We promise somebody that we will do everything we can to help them attain enlightenment as quickly as possible.  We promise that we will continue working for their behalf for as long as it takes, even if that means countless lifetimes.  We will never abandon them.  We don’t have to directly do this with them, but internally we make such a commitment.

Who do we make these vajra commitments to?  Our vajra family.  Who is our vajra family?  Our sangha, our future students, our close karmic circle of friends and family.  Why do we start with our vajra family?   Because they are closest in our spiritual karmic proximity.  We can help people spiritually in proportion to our karmic connections with them.  Making a vajra commitment to somebody is the highest possible commitment we can make to another living being.  There is no higher commitment.  Helping people spiritually is the method for providing the greatest possible benefit.  If we can help somebody else attain enlightenment, we double the number of Buddhas working for others – like opening a second cash register at the supermarket.

Why do we make vajra commitments to others?  Because doing so puts ourselves in perfect alignment with the Buddhas, so their power flows through us, and as a result, we naturally and easily have self-confidence.  We credibly feel as if we can accomplish anything.  Making such commitments to others is the best possible thing we can do for our practice.  It changes everything in our life, like somebody having a child.  But it is much more than being a parent, because we are concerned for others’ spiritual welfare and our commitment is for all their future lives. Vajra commitments make our bodhichitta real, not abstract.  Bodhichitta is the wish to become a Buddha for the sake of others.  When we have others who we are personally responsible for, we need to get serious about gaining realizations to be able to help them.

As unattainable as such commitments may seem, they are in accordance with reality.  Things are empty, which means others are nothing other than projections of our own mind.  They are a part of us, like our right hand.  Anything we would do for ourselves, we do for others because we see no difference between us and them – everyone is ‘us’.  We are their creator – we created them, so of course it is our responsibility to take care of them like any good creator should.  We need to lead every appearance in our mind to enlightenment.  This is the meaning of a ‘great enlightenment.’

How to fulfill our vajra commitment to others

There are several different means by which we can fulfil our vajra commitment to others, but I will explain two:  ‘owing others faults as your own’ and ‘viewing your faults as those you have taken on’.

The first method is to own others faults as your own.  When you see faults in others, ‘own their faults as your own.’  The only reason why others appear to have any faults is because we ourselves possess the same fault within our mind.  When we see a fault in somebody else, we should see that person as a ‘mirror-like’ Buddha who reflects back to us our own faults.  Then we should find that fault within ourself and purge it like bad blood.  If we have difficulty identifying it within ourself, we can rest assured it is there.  We can also make requests to Dorje Shugden, please help me clearly identify this fault in my mind.

When you do this, several things happen:  First, you will gain the realizations you need to be able to help the other person overcome their fault because you do it yourself.  Second, you will show the best possible example for the other person, namely the example of somebody overcoming, or being free from, their biggest fault. Third, you will be able to maintain pure view of the other person, or at the very least find them to be precious for you so you will cherish them.  Fourth, amazingly, the fault will actually disappear in the other person.  The fault in the other person actually comes from your own mind, when you eliminate it from your mind, it will disappear from the other person.  In this way, a Bodhisattva gradually leads all beings to enlightenment.  And fifth, even if none of the above occur, at the very least, you will have one less fault in your own mind!

The second method is to view your delusions and negative karma as those you have taken on (from your vajra family).  When a delusion arises in your mind, imagine that it is one that you have taken on – that of your vajra family or your future students.  Imagine that as you overcome it in your mind, you are eliminating it in their mind.  For example, when you are sick, imagine you are removing their sickness; when you have a delusion, imagine you are overcoming all of their delusions, etc.  We take on the delusions of our vajra family because we realize we are in a better position to work through them than they are.   Our mind becomes like a computer monitor which reflects the aggregate nexus of the delusions arising in the minds of our vajra family.  We become like a contaminated mind treatment facility.  We bring in delusions and negative karma, we treat it within our mind and then return it back purified.

In the next post we will explore how we actually put this into practice.

Cultivating a true self-confidence: Abiding in a pure land right now

During the first several posts under this series, we looked at how to meditate on self-confidence by constructing a reliable basis for confidence.  In this post we will explore how to actually practice self-confidence by looking at (1) What it means to wholeheartedly accept others just the way they are, (2) how we can wholeheartedly accept others just the way they are, and (3) some special considerations on practicing within our capacity.

What it means to wholeheartedly accept others just the way they are

To accept wholeheartedly means to welcome.  Right now we have a problem with everything.  There are certain people or situations which we would rather avoid and we push them away or resist them.  We live in samsara.  We resist these things because we think they cause us suffering.  If we can instead learn to use all of these situations, then we wouldn’t need to resist them but we could accept them wholeheartedly.  As our ability to use difficult people to accomplish our spiritual goals increases, so too does our confidence because difficult situations no longer pose a problem for us.  We will fear nothing.

So what does it mean in practice to wholeheardly accept others just the way they are?  It means to abandon attachment to others changing.  We have attachment to others changing when we feel that our happiness depends on others changing.  In reality, if you think that others are anything other than perfect just the way they are, you are wrong.  This is worth repeating like a mantra.  Normally we try change others, even sometimes motivated by concern for their interests, but we cannot change others – only they can change themselves.   We can help them change in the way they want to, but we shouldn’t try change them the way we want them to.  When we accept someone as they are, we create the space for them to change.  When we don’t accept others, they become defensive and self-justifying and this blocks all change.

It means to respect 100% their freedom to choose their own actions.  Normally we ask ourselves how much freedom we should give others, but the reality is they already have all the freedom.  Our job is to respect that and give them the information they need to use their freedom wisely.  It means we push nothing away and resist nothing. We accept the situation as it is without resistance, and then deal with it.  It does no good to live in denial of how things are   We do not resist the situation or others because we don’t need to.  We can use everything.  This doesn’t mean we don’t do what needs to be done, but we just accept reality as it is.  Like a cancer patient who accepts their cancer and then deals with it.  It means we create around ourselves a zone of total acceptance without any judgement.  We don’t judge others, but accept them as perfect just the way they are.

How can we wholeheartedly accept others just the way they are?

There are several different things we can do that will enable us to do this:  First, we need to learn to accept ourself without judgement.  A very senior teacher explained to me once that the way we treat ourselves determines how we treat others.  If we are hard on ourselves, we will be hard on others.  If we accept ourselves, we will accept others.  A strong influence of how we treat ourselves is how our parents treated us.  Usually people motivate and chastise themselves as their parents did to them.  So we need to check this.  To accept ourselves is to accept that we will have delusions.  Just as a body farts, an ordinary mind has delusions.  We accept this as it is, without judgement.  It is just the nature of things.  We don’t expect it to be any different.    When we accept ourselves without judgement, then we create the space for ourselves to change.  I am sick, time to get better.

We can consider everyone to be an emanation of your spiritual guide who has come to teach you different spiritual lessons.   We can accept others because they are so useful for our practice.  So it depends upon our ability to transform whatever others do into an opportunity for us to practice.  We can view ourselves as being on solitary retreat right now, inside our heart, and everything is emanated by your spiritual guide.  We can view these as opportunities to purify.  Problems are the ripening of our negative karma.  If we happily accept them as purification it purifies our negative karma.  We can view it as a lesson in karma – we need to avoid negative actions and engage in virtuous.  We can view it as a lesson in renunciation – samsara is the nature of suffering, so let go of any expectation that it be any different.  Use the fact that by nature broken to make the decision to ‘get out of this dump.’  We can use it as a lesson in cherishing others – all problems come from cherishing ourself, all happiness comes from cherishing others.  Lesson in compassion, bodhichitta and emptiness.

We need to learn to accept and indeed cherish others faults.   We need to accept that they are deluded.  We usually have anger wishing that they were different.  We don’t want to deal with their delusions.  The belief that they are anything other than perfect is a delusion.  We will talk more next post about how to respond to others being deluded.  The greatest quality others have is their faults because these are the most useful thing for us as Dharma practitioners.  If we see their faults of others as qualities, they are no longer faults!  We can practice pure view with respect to their faults.  Pure view does not say what the other person is doing is perfect, rather is asks ourselves the question, “how can I receive perfect benefit from what this person is in fact doing?”  When we receive perfect benefit, then we can honestly think perhaps this person is a Buddha with just very skilful means.

We should rejoice in whatever others do do, and ignore the rest.  Rejoicing in others should be our main practice.  The world you pay attention to is the world you experience.  If you pay attention to others’ faults, you will live in a faulty world; if you pay attention to others’ good qualities, you will live in a pure world.  Whatever you relate to, you draw out.  If you relate to people’s faults, you will draw them out; and if you relate to their good qualities, you will draw them out.  So this is a real act of compassion.  Rejoicing creates the cause to acquire whatever good quality you are rejoicing in.  Criticizing creates the causes to acquire the faults that you criticize.  Rejoicing is the root of the Mahayana path.  Enlightenment depends upon bodhichitta, which depends upon compassion, which depends upon cherishing others, which depends upon finding others precious, which depends upon our finding them attractive/useful.

How does this mind of acceptance enable us to be in a pure land right now?  A pure land is a place where there is no manifest suffering and everything leads us to enlightenment.  Through the mind of acceptance, we can use everything, so nothing is a problem for us – just an opportunity to grow.  In this way there is no manifest suffering.  Everything functions to push us out of samsara.  Everything confirms the Dharma and propels us further on our path, so all energy put into the system gets channeled into pushing us out.  So it is just like a pure land.  We can then be like the Buddhas who are able to remain in samsara and joyfully use everything to help beings get out.

Capacity considerations for engaging in this practice

Here are some considerations for being able to practice this:  First, we should know when we should practice it.  We practice it on unavoidable suffering.  If we can deal with some situation through normal means, we do so; but for the unavoidable stuff, we practice patient acceptance.  Geshe-la gives the example of a headache:  take an asprin and practice acceptance until it kicks in.  Second, we need to be aware of our capacity of what we can transform and what we cant.  The test is not whether a situation is difficult, but rather whether remaining in it destroys our capacity to practice.  Third, we need to find a middle way between being a doormat and being a jerk.  This is done by learning how to establish clear, fair limits.  We don’t set limits for others, we set limits for ourself.  “I am incapable of being in a relationship where you are going off with somebody else, etc.”  We then respect completely the freedom of the other person to decide.  Our limits should not be aimed at having the other person change, but on our own ability to change and what is best for our practice.  Fourth, we need to accept our mistakes.  We will make many mistakes, but we need to accept them (in other words, use them).  It’s normal that we will make mistakes, so we accept this without guilt.  We then learn from our mistakes and try do better next time.


Cultivating true self-confidence: A magical method for unlocking the limitless power of your true self

In the last post we examined the mistake of basing our confidence on something external to ourselves – namely other’s opinion of us or what we do, the mistake of basing our confidence on our contaminated aggregates – our ordinary body and mind, and who we really are and what we are capable of.  We ended with the question of how do we gain the power right now to be able to engage in any of the pure deeds of a Buddha.  In this post, I will explain a magical method for unlocking the limitless power of our true selves.

What is the most important question – the question that if answered would answer all your other questions?  When we were kids, we would ask each other questions like:  if you had three wishes, what would you wish for.  Eventually we figured out that the best thing we could wish for was more wishes.  In that way, we could accomplish all our wishes.  Along exactly the same lines, the most important question we can ask is:  “what do I need to do to be able to make internal requests to you and receive perfectly reliable responses every time?”  I had this question in my heart for years, saving it for whenever I would hope to have a meeting with Geshe-la.  But he answered it through the teacher of the Summer International Teacher Training Program without my ever asking it!

The teacher said, “Geshe-la handed me a strange note.  It says, some of you might be wondering how to make requests and receive perfectly reliable responses every time.  So here is Geshe-la’s answer:  ‘It is important to develop a good heart, a Buddhist intention, a beneficial intention, day and night, even during our sleep.  We will perceive a special idea, a mental image or plan as our intention is maintained.  Through blessings, imprints, receiving teachings and so forth, a special understanding or idea will develop.  Then our teachings will be perfect.  If we follow the writings alone, we will maintain just an intellectual understanding.  It is most important that we improve our motivation.’”

The ITTP then discussed this in great detail about what it means and how we practice it.  I could write endlessly on just this advice, but here are the main ideas.

  1. First we dissolve everything into the Dharmakaya.  This eliminates all the interference from our ordinary mind.
  2. We then align our motivation with that of the Spiritual Guide.  His final intention for everyone is the Dharmakaya, so this is an additional value of dissolving everything into the Dharmakaya.  We generate a specific beneficial motivation with respect to the specific request we have for specific people by asking ourselves the question:  “what does Geshe-la want for this person/these people?”
  3. With strong faith that he is there and that he has the power to respond, we make our request.
  4. We then wait, maintaining our pure motivation for wanting a response to our request.
  5. Through this, a special image or plan will appear to our mind which will be the perfectly reliable answer to our request.
  6. This likewise works when invoking the Buddhas to accomplish their function for ourselves or for others.

How does this work?  We can understand this by an analogy.  Dissolving everything into the Dharmakaya is like having a clear space within which to project an image.  Aligning our motivation with that of the Spiritual Guide is like aligning the crystals of our karma with the direction of the light of our Spiritual Guide.  The crystals themselves are our own karmic potentialities which when a special light is shined through them they project, like a hologram, the future experiences they hold or what is possible.  These are created through our practice, study, etc.  The more faith we have that our Spiritual Guide is there the more it opens the blinds in our mind by purifying the obstructions of his presence being manifest in our mind.  The more faith we have that he has the power to respond to our request, the greater the power is the source of light.  Our request creates the cause for him to actually shine the light through our karmic potentialities.  The special idea that arises is the reflection of the light through the crystals that reflects the constellation of our karma.  This is our perfect response individually tailored to our karma.

Through mastering this technique, we can receive perfect inner guidance from our spiritual guide at any moment, and always know what to do.  With this ability, we will have nothing to fear and have infinite self-confidence.


Cultivating a true self-confidence: Unlocking the limitless power of our true selves

One of the main reasons why we lack self-confidence is because we don’t know who we really are.  If we try develop self-confidence in something we are not, obviously it won’t work.  In this post we will look at (1) the mistake of basing our confidence on something external to ourselves – namely other’s opinion of us or what we do, (2) the mistake of basing our confidence on our contaminated aggregates – our ordinary body and mind, and (3) who we really are and what we are capable of.  In the next post I will explain a magical method for unlocking the limitless power of our true selves.

Overcoming the mistake of basing our confidence on something external to ourselves

There are all sorts of external things we base our self-confidence on, such as our wealth, our jobs, etc., but the most common one that gives us the most trouble is what others think of us.  Since these things are outside of our control, if we base our confidence on them, then our confidence will be outside of our control.

But let’s talk specifically about seeking approval from others.  This is the cruel truth of attachment:  If you have a need for the approval of others, then it will function to activate the karma which projects situations which cause this need to go unfulfilled.  In other words, the more attached to others’ approval you are, the less approval you will get.  We then respond by becoming even more needy for their approval, and so the downward spiral continues until we are singing that childhood classic, ‘nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I am going to eat some worms…’  This is pathetic childish behavior — that sadly we all do!

Kadam Bjorn once explained to me a special method for dealing with this attachment of wanting to feel loved or approved of.  What he said was every time we feel the need for approval or love from others, we should take this as a sign from the spiritual guide that we need to offer approval to and love those around us (our students, our friends, family, etc.) (in other words, change the object of needing approval and  love from self to others).  He said what we need to clearly realize is that needing to feel loved is a delusion.  We need to recognize this clearly for what it is:  a deceptive mind which results in only suffering that is not to be believed.

We don’t need to feel love, we need to love.  We need to align ourselves with the directional gradient of the spiritual guide – from self to others.  Kadam Bjorn said by aligning ourselves with his intention to love others – in other words instead of seeking approval and love from others we seek to give approval and love to others – then we get the winds (pure winds at that) of our spiritual guide in our sails and he loves others through us.  When he loves others through us, he satisfies their need for approval and love and likewise fills us with his approval and love.  In other words, the way in which we can feel the unconditional love of our spiritual guide is not to seek it from him for ourselves, but rather is for us to unconditionally give that love others.  Then he fills them and fills us with his unconditional love.

Overcoming the mistake of basing our confidence in our contaminated aggregates

Here we accept the fact that our ordinary body and mind are permanently and irreparably broken, and so give up on them.  This seems strange – how can we generate self-confidence when that our body and mind are permanently broken?  This seems to shatter our self-confidence. The answer to this paradox is quite profound – just as we are not our delusions, so too we are not our ordinary body and mind.  As we will discuss soon, we are our pure potential.  By realizing this, we stop basing our confidence on what we are not and start basing it on what we are.

How can we understand that our contaminated aggregates are hopelessly broken.  Our ordinary body – it gets sick, gets old and will eventually die.  It is the Titanic after it has hit the iceberg.  It is going down and it is only going to get worse, no matter what we do.  Our ordinary mind – this is all of our delusions.  If left unchecked, what would our ordinary mind have us do?  It would get us into all sorts of trouble.  It always leads us in exactly the wrong direction – deeper into samsara.  If we base our self-confidence on these, then we will necessarily be basing our self-confidence on quicksand.  I mentioned before the example of my mother and her looks; and for those who take refuge in their ordinary intelligence, there is always somebody smarter.

Who we really are, and what we are capable of

Our true self is our pure potential – our Buddha seed.  It is completely beyond defilement, no matter what delusions we might have.  Its nature is the same as the Spiritual Guide.  In other words, our true self fully developed is the spiritual guide and the Spiritual Guide is our own future enlightenment.  The definitive Spiritual Guide is not the cute little Tibetan we call Geshe-la, it is the Dhamakaya.  The Dharmakaya has all the powers and abilities of all the Buddhas.  This is who we really are.  A Buddha is simply an aspect or a reflection of our own pure potential.  Our pure potential is like a diamond, and each Buddha is like a facet of it.  The conventional aspects of Buddhas are tools which help us understand the good qualities of the Dharmakaya.

We might think, well that is nice, but I have no access to all this power, no access to myself, so what good does it do me?  It is possible to gain access to all of this power and all the abilities of a Buddha right now.  All it takes is faith and imagination.  An easy way to think about this is to think we have two selves:  our external self and our internal self.  Your external self is your ordinary body and mind.  Of course they are very limited in the sense that you have only one body and so can only do so much, and the ordinary mind is quite weak and so can’t do that much.  But nonetheless, things can and should be done with them. But it is your internal self that does the real work.  We can imagine that our inner self is already fully manifest and abiding at our heart in the aspect of Je Tsongkhapa, for example.  Je Tsongkhapa at your heart has, as we will talk about in a later post, all the power and abilities of Buddha Shakyamuni (source of all Sutra attainments), Vajradhara (source of all tantric attainments), Manjushri (bestower of wisdom and emanator of Je Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden), Avalokiteshvara (bestower of compassion and performer of powa), and Vajrapani (bestower of spiritual power and destroyer of maras).  He also shows the best example (outer, inner and secret), gives the most lucid and clear explanations and teachings, and engages in unequaled activities for the flourishing of the Dharma.  He emanates all the countless Tantric mandalas, including Heruka and Vajrayogini.  His body mandala is the synthesis of the spiritual power of all the Buddhas.  There is nothing any Buddha can do that he cannot do.   Since there is nothing he can’t do, and he is who we really are, there is nothing we can’t do.  On this basis we can generate infinite self-confidence.

So the question is how can we use this right now?  You know how to get your right hand to do something – you simply request it to go do something and it does so.  It is exactly the same with your internal self.  If you want to bestow wisdom on somebody, just request Manjushri to do it, and so forth.  If we check carefully, there is really no difference between requesting our right hand to do something and requesting one of the Buddhas abiding within us (which arise from our own pure potential) to do something.  When we see this, we realize we can use the enlightened beings’ bodies and minds as our own by simply faithfully requesting them to do the correct things.  When we can do this, we can engage in the actions of an enlightened being right now – long before we ourselves are an enlightened being.  We can right now do and accomplish any pure deed simply by knowing how to ask.  So the question now is ‘how to ask?’  In the next post, we will answer this question.