Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  Conclusion and dedication


As we go through our spiritual life our karma will be in a state of constant change.  Sometimes we will have easy access to centers, Sangha and teachings for many years; other times we will find ourselves in the spiritual wilderness all alone.  This too is part of Geshe-la’s plan for us.  As Venerable Tharchin says, we each must “assume our place within the mandala.”  The life experiences we have are all part of our formation into the specific Buddha we need to become.  Our Spiritual Guide knows the beings with whom we have the karma to be their Spiritual Guide in the future and the problems we have today are similar in nature to the problems the beings who will be our students will have in their lives.  By learning how to respond with wisdom and compassion to whatever happens in life, there is great hope we can bring them some lasting benefit.

Dharma centers are the most sacred and precious places in this world.  They provide us with a venue for receiving pure Dharma teachings, give us the opportunity to forge karmic ties with our Sangha friends, and lay at our feet the tools with which we can become the Bodhisattvas of this world.  Geshe-la has given us everything, we merely need to start picking it up and using it.  But sometimes, we will not have the karma to have regular access to a center.  We should not despair nor think as a result we are unable to practice.  Through the methods explained in this series of posts, we can feel as if our life transforms into our Dharma center and even the rustling of the leaves in the wind will become the whisperings of Dharma teachings into our heart.  This can be our experience day and night until the day we are once and for all reunited for eternity in the Pure Land.


I dedicate any merit I created from doing this series of posts so that all beings may receive a constant stream of pure Dharma teachings wherever they go in life.  May the entire world transform into a holy Temple filled with eloquent explanations of Dharma and where we all feel like we have found home.












Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  Creating the conditions for inner revelation

Our ability to receive reliable inner guidance from the Spiritual Guide as explained in the previous post depends upon many different causes and conditions.  First, we need to offer to him all of our karma.  Every karmic seed on our mind is a potential for a particular experience.  If we offer him all of our karma, requesting that he use it all for the enlightenment of all beings, he then has a good deal of material to work with.  Each karmic seed is like a magic crystal through which we can see the experience implicit within the seed.  Since we each have a unique constellation of karma, the plan our guru will have for each of us will likewise be unique.  We essentially shine the light of our faith through the crystals of our individual karma which reveals to us an image of our guru’s plan for us.

Second, we need deep faith that our guru is actually with us, hears our requests and is eager to provide us the answers we seek.  His mind knows all phenomena, past, present and future; he understands exactly our situation and knows precisely what we need to do.  Part of this faith is a willingness to do as he reveals.  The Bible and biographies of ancient masters are filled with stories of how revelation works and what is required to have continued access to it.  But in short, it requires an almost unquestioning willingness to follow the path laid out before us.  This does not mean we should not seek clarification to understand, but it does mean we should be ready to act on his advice even if it not entirely clear to us how things might unfold.

Third, we need to purify our negative karma obstructing our receiving inner guidance.  We can generate a specific regret for all of the negative karma we have previously accumulated with respect to our spiritual guide, such as showing him disrespect, disregarding or even rebelling against his advice, misusing his teachings for worldly purposes and so forth.  Just as a field needs to be cleared of rocks and weeds before crops will grow, so too the field of our mind must be cleared of negative karma before revelation will cleanly blossom within our mind.

Fourth, we need to improve our motivation.  The scope of what will be revealed to us is limited by the scope of our motivation for asking the question.  If our motivation is worldly, we will receive no guidance at all.  If our motivation is wishing for happiness in this life, but we understand our problem is our own delusions, then we will receive advice for how to overcome the delusions preventing happiness in this life.  If our motivation is to escape the lower realms, to escape from samsara or to become a Buddha capable of helping all other things, then the scope of what will be revealed will reflect our underlying motivation.  The essential function of the Lamrim is to change what we desire into that which is spiritual.

If these four causes and conditions are assembled and we request guidance in the way Geshe-la explains, it is definite we will receive answers.  At first, it won’t work so well, but with familiarity and experience it will become easier and increasingly reliable.

A doubt may arise, “how do I know if what is revealed to me is in fact reliable or just my delusions fooling me into thinking I am receiving advice from my guru?”  This is an important question.  There are several things we can do to test the validity of what is revealed.  First, we can ask ourselves whether what has been revealed contradicts any known instruction.  Second, we can check to see if what is revealed is consistent with all known instructions, in other words does our new understanding naturally follow from everything else we know.  Third, we can check and see if our mind is made more peaceful and calm.  All Dharma functions to make the mind more peaceful and calm, and all delusion functions to make it more uncontrolled and agitated.  Fourth, it should feel as if everything “falls nicely into place,” where things that used to seem in tension now seem to fit together in perfect harmony.  We understand and know clearly how everything fits together and why what is being proposed makes sense.  Fifth, we should request Dorje Shugden that he “sabotage any wrong understandings” we might have.  He is a “Protector of the Dharma.”  The real Dharma is our inner spiritual views, so his primary job is to dispel our wrong understandings.  This is why he is called a “Wisdom Buddha.”  Finally, we can ask our teachers for clarification to make sure our understanding makes sense.

If we can learn to rely upon the internal Spiritual Guide in this way, we will be able to receive a constant stream of teachings and guidance from him day and night, even in our sleep.  It is a particularly good idea to go to sleep in this way, asking that our questions be answered in our dreams.  We may not remember our dreams, but when we awake we may find we have the answers we are looking for.  This advice is Geshe-la’s promise and gift to us.  He stands ready to help us and guide us every moment of every day if we would but ask.


Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  How to receive perfectly reliable inner guidance every day

How to receive perfectly reliable inner guidance every day

In popular culture, we often hear about relying upon the inner Spiritual Guide, but what is meant is relying upon our intuition or instincts.  The problem with this is our instincts are all wrong!  As Gen-la Losang explains, “what is natural is simply what is familiar.”  Delusions seem like the entirely natural response to things because we have always responded in this way.  Our habits cannot be trusted because our habits are all wrong.  At the same time, we don’t want to fall into the other extreme of being incapable of thinking for ourselves, always paralyzed by doubt having to seek affirmation from an external source whether our understandings are correct.  We need to learn how to rely upon the inner Spiritual Guide, and fortunately we have been given the method how.

As I have written about before, for whatever reason I do not have the karma to be able to meet Geshe-la in person (except at large teachings).  For many years I wished for this very much, and I was saving a special question that I would ask if ever I met him.  My question was, “what do I need to do to be able to make internal requests to you and receive perfectly reliable responses every time?”  I figured if I had an answer to this question, it would provide me with the answers to all of my other questions for the rest of my life.  Within my heart, I would ask him this question nearly every day.

Then, one year at the International Teacher Training Program, the teacher began his teaching by saying, “Geshe-la just passed me a strange, but very special note.  It says the following:

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.”

As this advice was being read out, I was struck very clearly with the feeling, “this is the answer to my question.”  I felt, “even though I never got the chance to ask him this question, he heard it and is now providing me the answer I seek.”  After receiving this advice, I was finally able to let go of my attachment to wanting to meet with him and I realized, “I now lack nothing.”  If we find ourself in a situation where access to a Dharma center is difficult, gaining experience of this special method for making internal requests is vital.  When we are able to do this, we will quite literally feel as if our Guru is always with us, guiding us every step of the way.  We never feel alone and always have him to turn to.

How does this work?  First, we need to mentally align our motivation with that of the Spiritual Guide.  Just as sails need to be properly aligned with the winds to push the boat forward, so too the sails of our mind must be properly aligned with the pure winds of the Spiritual Guide to push our spiritual life forward.  When we are confronted with some situation or problem that we need answers for, we first ask ourselves the question, “what does Geshe-la want for this situation?”  He always wants the same thing, for delusions to decrease and for virtues to increase.  He wants us and all living beings to use every situation for spiritual progress.  But we should make it more personal and specific by asking, “what do you want in this situation?”  “What is your motivation in this situation?”  We then mentally do the work to try align our mind with that same motivation so that we sincerely want the same thing.

Once we have this motivation, we then ask, “what would you have me do?”  Or, “what spiritual lesson are you trying to teach me here?”  Or, “please reveal to me how I can help.”  Or, “please reveal to me the meaning of this instruction.”  Any pure spiritual request will work.  Then, while maintaining our pure motivation for wanting an answer to our question we make our mind completely still, like a clear pond at dawn.  With deep faith, we hold our question while maintaining our pure motivation for wanting an answer.  It is important at this point to completely silence our ordinary mind.  Our ordinary thoughts are like noise which prevents us from hearing or seeing what our Spiritual Guide wishes to reveal.

As we are maintaining this faithful silence, eventually an idea, image, plan or understanding will “appear” in our mind.  This is the beginning of our answer.  When we start to receive some understanding, we should continue to remain mostly silent, asking as necessary, “is there anything else” as we let him reveal to us his plan.  Once we have an initial answer, we can ask questions of clarification, such as, “I am not clear what you mean here, can you please clarify.”  If we have doubts, we can ask questions like, “but what about XYZ obstacle.”  In short, you should mentally feel like you are having a direct, one-on-one meeting with Geshe-la where he is there patiently answering all of your questions and providing you with the guidance you desire.  Then, after your “meeting” with him, you go out and act upon the advice you have received.

Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  View everything as emanated for your training

View everything as emanated for your training

Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “things are neither good nor bad, but thinking makes them so.”  The same is true in life.  Geshe-la explains that anger is an inability to accept things as they are and patience is the ability to do so.  How do we acquire this ability to not only accept things as they are, but to wholeheartedly welcome them as they are?  By knowing how to use everything for the accomplishment of our purposes.  If we found a $100 bill on the ground, we certainly would not view this as a problem because we know very clearly how to use money for the accomplishment of our purposes.  In exactly the same way, somebody with a mind of patient acceptance knows how to use everything they encounter for the accomplishment of their spiritual purposes.  Therefore, nothing is a problem, indeed everything is fuel for their eventual enlightenment.

At present, every situation we encounter gives rise to different delusions, such as attachment, anger, miserliness, jealousy and so forth.  The entire purpose of Dharma is to train our mind.  Every situation that gives rise to a delusion likewise gives rise to an opportunity to train in that delusion’s opponents.  The hot babe gives us a chance to train in non-attachment, the annoying person gives us a chance to train in patience, the beggar gives us a chance to train in giving, the person who has got it all gives us a chance to train in rejoicing, and so forth.  For a spiritual practitioner, all of these delusion-provoking objects are $100 bills lying around just waiting to be picked up.  Because there is nothing that doesn’t presently give rise to delusions within our mind, there is nothing that does not provide us with an opportunity to train our mind.

Indeed, we can view everything we encounter as being specifically emanated for our training.  This is why Dorje Shugden is so important for modern practitioners.  If we all lived in monasteries, it would not be hard to practice Dharma all of the time.  But in the modern world, most of us work, take care of our kids, and we go out to dinner, the movies and on vacation.  Dorje Shugden’s job is to arrange all of the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  What does that mean?  It means when our boss comes into our office and yells at us, we can say his coming in was an outer condition emanated by Dorje Shugden.  Dorje Shugden sent him into our office to give us an opportunity to train.  Inner conditions means Dorje Shugden blesses our mind to know what we need to practice when he comes in.  With these two – the outer and inner conditions – everything is giving us an opportunity to train, and every situation is teaching us some aspect of the Dharma.  The prayer to Dorje Shugden ends with, “all the attainments I desire arise from merely remembering you.”  All we need do in any situation, good or bad, is just remember Dorje Shugden.  When we do so, we will view whatever is happening as an outer condition being emanated by him and we will receive the inner blessings to know what it is we need to be practicing at that given point in time.

If we are in doubt how a given condition is perfect for our enlightenment, we can simply ask, “help me understand how this situation reveals the truth of Dharma,” or “please reveal to me what I should be practicing now.”  With faith, a close karmic connection to Dorje Shugden and familiarity with these types of requests, we can quickly get to the point where we get answers to these questions almost immediately.  Instead of being buffeted by life’s waves, we learn how to always maintain our spiritual balance no matter how extreme those waves might be.  We can do this with anything, from winning the lottery to losing our job, from stubbing our toe to getting cancer, and even unto the death of a child.

The doubt may arise, if my boss has already come into my office, how can I still view it as emanated when I wasn’t remembering Dorje Shugden beforehand?  The answer is Dorje Shugden has the power to enter into any situation, even ones that started long ago.  Unlike us, a Buddha’s mind and their body are the same nature, so wherever their mind goes, their body goes too.  A Buddha’s mind is omniscient, which means they know all objects of knowledge, past, present and future, directly and simultaneously.  Since a Buddha’s mind pervades all phenomena, so too does a Buddha’s body.  In this vein, Dorje Shugden doesn’t actually enter into the situation, rather he has been with every aspect of it from the very beginning.  By “remembering him” we “make manifest” to our mind the realization that everything is emanated by him for our training.  Dorje Shugden has the power to control what karma ripens, when and how.  If we offer him all of our karma, then he has all of it to play with.  He is not limited to just causing good things to ripen and to holding back the ripening of our negative karma, rather he has the special ability to make even the ripening of our negative karma propel us towards enlightenment.  Our faith in him opens our mind to receive his special wisdom blessings that enables us to “see” how everything that happens to us, even those uncomfortably situations we would rather avoid, are in fact “perfect” for our practice.

In short, if we view everything that happens in our life as emanated by Dorje Shugden, we quite literally live within his mandala.  Everything becomes our Dharma center.  Then we too can be like those who live in a monastery able to easily practice Dharma all of the time, even as we go about our working, shopping and taking care of our families.

Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  “All things teach me the truth of Dharma”

“All things teach me the truth of Dharma.”

Milarepa once famously said, “I do not need Dharma books, everything teaches me the truth of Dharma.”  This can seem like a contradiction – didn’t we just say Dharma books are the most precious objects in the world, and now we are saying we don’t need them?  How can we understand this?  What are the main causes of developing the Milarepa-like special wisdom where all things teach us the truth of Dharma?  It seems to me, there are two main causes:  (1) learning to “connect the dots” and (2) following one tradition purely without mixing.

Prior to meeting the Dharma, in life we encountered countless different objects and we would respond to them with countless different minds.  How exhausting!  Once we discover the Dharma, we learn how to internally respond to the countless different objects we encounter with the 21 minds of the Lamrim.  Eventually, we can reduce these into the 14 minds presented in How to Understand the Mind, eventually these can be reduced into the three principal aspects of the path, eventually these can be reduced into the union of the two truths according to Sutra, and then finally the union of the two truths according to Tantra.  How can we make this progression?  By realizing the interrelationships between the different minds of Dharma and realizing how by generating the 21 minds directly we realize indirectly all 84,000 instructions, by realizing the 14 directly we realize the 21 indirectly, by realizing the three we realize the 14 and so on.   Vide Kadampa once did a multi-year series on his fabulous blog Daily Lamrim where he explored the interactions between each Lamrim meditation and all the others.  I highly encourage people to read his extraordinary exposition.

It is worth considering why Geshe-la has given us “everything we need and nothing we don’t.”  Besides what was explained earlier, there is a deeper purpose:  he wants us to do the internal work to connect the dots.  When we were in Kindergarten, our teachers would give us “connect the dots” exercises, which both helped us learn the sequence of the numbers and provided us with an art project.  At the beginning, the page just had a bunch of dots with numbers on it, and it wasn’t always clear what the final picture would be.  But as we connected the dots, an image started to take place and when we were delighted to discover it was a Panda!  Then, we started coloring it in, and in the end we had a nice picture of a Panda.  In exactly the same way, each of the core meditations are like the principal dots on the canvass of the Dharma.  In the beginning, they seem like individual dots, but when we start to connect them we are delighted to discover an image of our own enlightenment.  We complete the outline with Sutra, and then add in the color of Tantra until finally in the end we have a nice image of ourselves as a Buddha.

Some people get very nervous about this, fearing that as we connect the dots we are inventing our own lineage.  They are very fearful of anything that is not explicitly enumerated in Geshe-la’s books, and they will dismiss qualified Dharma wisdom with thoughts like, “Geshe-la never said that.”  But Gen Atisha explains, “there is the lineage that arises from listening, and there is the lineage that arises from contemplation.”  The Dharma is not just something we read about, it is something we discover within ourselves.  Geshe-la gets us started with his books, but then we complete the work by contemplating and meditating upon their meaning – not just individually, but collectively.  As we do this, we weave together a net of Dharma within our mind that is able to encounter any object, and it leads our mind inexorably to deeper and deeper realizations of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.

The second principal cause of developing Milarepa-like wisdom is to follow one tradition purely without mixing.  When my daughter was about two years old, she made a startling discovery.  She would take an orange balloon and put it up to her eyes, then take it down again.  When she first did so, she gasped, “Daddy, everything just turned orange!”  In her mind, all the objects around her suddenly became orange, and then when she would take the balloon down again, they would go back to a myriad of different colors.  Then they would all become orange again.  It didn’t dawn on her that their “orange-ness” depended upon the lens through which she was looking at things, she thought the objects themselves were changing color.  Buddha is telling us we are no different.  We look at the world through the lens of our delusions and see a contaminated world of samsara, filled with causes of happiness and misery.  It doesn’t even dawn on us that the world appears this way because we are looking at it through a deluded lens.  Like my daughter, we think the objects we see actually exist in the way that they appear to us.  If we change the lenses through which we view the world, it will appear entirely differently.

When we follow one tradition purely without mixing we build such lenses within our mind.  I have a friend who is a very successful businessman.  Because his mind is so familiar with business, everywhere he goes, “everything teaches him some lesson of business.”  In exactly the same way, as our mind becomes more and more familiar with looking at the world in a particular way – the Kadampa way, for example – then we too will reach the point where everything we see teaches us the truth of the Kadam Dharma.  There is nothing unique about the Dharma in this regard, the same would be true for a Christian where everything teaches them the truth of the Gospel, or to a physicist where everything teaches them the truth of physics.  Business, the Dharma, the Gospel and Physics are more than just a grab bag of good ideas, rather each, in their own way, is a system of thought that has the power to understand anything from a given perspective.  Someone with a business mind, for example, could look at the Dharma, the Gospel and Physics and learn lessons of business.  Likewise, somebody with a Dharma mind could look at business, the Gospel and Physics and learn lessons of Dharma.  Paradoxically, the more clearly we look at the world through a single lens, the more we can view any object without fear of confusion.  But if we have no single lens through which we view the world then we can only learn Dharma when we look at Dharma, business when we look at business, the Gospel when we look at the Gospel and Physics when we look at Physics.

Of course it is entirely our choice which lens we use to understand the world.  But if we wish to be like Milarepa and have all things teach us the truth of Dharma, we would be wise to train ourselves in following one path purely without mixing.


Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  Dharma books are magical telephones

Develop a personal, spiritual relationship with your Dharma books

Dharma books are, without a doubt, the most precious objects in this world.  Everything everyone does in this world has a single purpose:  to avoid suffering and to find happiness.  Universities and libraries are filled with explanations, yet the sad truth is none of them work because they fail to correctly identify what, exactly, is our problem.  Dharma is distinct from worldly knowledge in that it provides a solution to our problem, which is our deluded, negative mind.  Worldly knowledge teaches how to change the external world, Dharma teaches how to change the internal world.  If we solve the internal world, we will be happy regardless of our external circumstance.  This does not mean we should not also apply effort to improve our external circumstance if the opportunity to do so arises, and it also does not mean we should not still get a good education.  Rather, it means we should do so with a clear understanding of the limitations of worldly knowledge and the limitless potential of Dharma.

Dharma not only helps us find happiness in this life, but it helps us discover within ourselves an ultimate happiness which will never end in this life and in all our future lives.  And it does so, not only for ourself, but it provides us with the means by which we can eventually help every other living being secure for themselves the same eternal joy.  Through the teachings on karma and emptiness, we are given the tools with which we can quite literally construct any world we wish.  In this way, Dharma not only solves our inner problems, but it also provides a long-term means of also solving all of our outer problems.  Dharma is, quite literally, the solution to all of the problems of all living beings in all of their lives.  What could be more valuable than this?  Geshe-la frequently tells the story of people going through great hardship, even being willing to sell their own flesh, for the sake of Dharma teachings.  Yeshe O sacrificed his life so that we may have the Dharma.  The people of this world are in a buzz every time a new iPhone comes out, but of what use will an iPhone be on our deathbed and what lies beyond?  If we think deeply about our samsaric experience we will realize there is nothing more valuable than Dharma.

Dharma books contain the crystallization of the essential meaning of Dharma presented in a perfectly reliable form.  Buddha presented 84,000 teachings; countless volumes, Sutras, biographies and the like have been written ever since.  Geshe-la has condensed and synthesized all of this down into his set of books.  By reading and internalizing the essential meaning of the Dharma presented in Geshe-la’s books, we are able to bring within our mind all of the essential Dharma.  Put simply, the miracle of Geshe-la’s books is they contain “everything we need and nothing we don’t.”  They are a “complete” set of teachings that lack nothing we need.  By gaining deeper and deeper experience of what he has provided us we can enter, progress along and indeed complete the path to enlightenment.

Sometimes people worry about what Geshe-la has “left out” of his books.  No doubt, more extensive explanations exist, so we can’t help but doubt, “perhaps I am still missing something I need.”  But as Gen-la Losang said, “it is unthinkable Geshe-la would withhold from us something we need.”  It’s all there, and anybody who takes the time to learn how the system works will quickly realize we lack nothing.  All that remains is for us to do it.  At the same time, his books contain nothing we don’t need.  Time is short and we are easily distracted by the non-essential.  By stripping away all of the clutter and non-essential we are able to see directly what really matters and what it is we need to focus on.  Why waste time on the non-essential when we can invest our time in what matters?  It is far better to gain deep experience of the essential than superficial experience of every interesting avenue of Dharma thought.  We should never be dissatisfied thinking we lack something, rather we should develop great confidence realizing we have been provided exactly what we need.  Our “attachment” to receiving new instructions makes us constantly wanting something more and new and leaves us disappointed when we find sections which are reprinted from other books.  The more something is reprinted, the more Geshe-la is trying to tell us – “this in particular really matters.”

Geshe-la said that he has especially blessed his books so that they can function for us as magic telephones to communicate directly with him and receive personalized instructions and Dharma advice.  From their own side, the words in the books are the same year after year.  But if each time we read the books we do so with a new mind, then we will discover something new every time.  The key to reading Dharma books is to “read them with your problems in mind.”  Say, for example, you are having a particular problem with a member of your family.  Bring this problem to your reading, requesting that you find the answers you seek for that specific problem.  If you read with a mind of faith and clear understanding of the difference between your outer problem and your inner problem, it is definite you will find the answers you are looking for.  Geshe-la said we can, “ask the books a question, and then open the book randomly to some page, and the answer to your question will be on that page.”  I have tried this many times.  It is not always obvious at first how the teachings on the lower realms are the answer to your problem with your boss, but if you contemplate the teachings with faith trusting that they are the answer, all with eventually be revealed.  When we read Dharma books we should not feel like we are reading dead words on a page, but rather we should feel like we are having a personal conversation with Geshe-la and his words are him talking directly to us.  If we make reading in this way our daily habit, there is no doubt we will develop a very special relationship with our Dharma books and we will feel like they are giving us personalized teachings every day.

Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  View life’s challenges as “on the job training”

Consider the challenges in your life as “on the job training.”

The second thing we can do to receive Dharma teachings all of the time is to view the challenges we face in life as our “on the job training.”  There is a profound difference between learning by listening and learning by doing.  The progression of learning is always first realizing we don’t know something we need to know, then it is listening to those who do know how to do it and then finally it is doing it ourselves.  It is only when we can do it ourselves that we actually know what we are talking about it.  Educationalists encourage us all to become lifelong learners.  Learning should not stop when school does, rather schools should teach us how to learn from life.  It is exactly the same for Dharma centers.  We go to Dharma centers because we realize we don’t know something we need to know, namely how to control our mind and create reliable causes of happiness.  At the center we listen to those who have more experience with training their mind explain how it is done.  Then when we leave the center our job is to go put it into practice in our daily lives.  It is only when we do so that we come to discover the real meaning of what was taught.

In the beginning of our schooling, we spend most of our time in the classroom, but the higher we go in our studies the more we are expected to learn on our own.  In Primary school, we spend all of our time in the classroom and have virtually no homework.  By the time we get to college, this is reversed where we have several hours of homework for each hour spent in class.  Then, we are kicked out into the real world and expected to start actually doing things.  If we later go to graduate school, we then are guided how to do research ourselves and generate new knowledge or experience which can then be shared with others.  It is exactly the same with our Dharma studies.  When we first go to General Program classes, we spend almost all of our time listening and nothing is expected of us when we go home.  We come, we go, we do our thing.  When we are on Foundation Program we are expected to do homework, studying before class, reviewing for the exams, memorizing the root texts and leading discussions in the class.  We are then kicked out into the real world of our lives and are forced to actually put the Dharma we have learned into practice.  More and more of our Dharma training becomes learning by doing.  If we later want to become a Dharma teacher, we then might go to the graduate school of Teacher Training Program where we are guided how to do spiritual research ourselves to generate new knowledge or experience which can then be shared with others in our teachings.  This does not mean we invent our own Dharma – not at all – rather it means we go through the week putting the Dharma into practice and gaining new insight within our own mind as to its meaning, and when we share that insight and experience with others during our teachings.

Our job as Kadampas is to become the bodhisattvas of this world.  We all know the technical definition of a bodhisattva is somebody who strives to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all.  But that can sometimes be a bit abstract and we lose the feeling for what it means.  I read a newspaper article once about Buddhism, and the journalist explained that a bodhisattva is basically a “Buddhist Saint.”  That pretty much sums it up in ways that we can understand.  Modern Kadampas, therefore, are those striving to be modern Buddhist Saints.  For whatever karmic reason, I have a lot of Mormon friends.  Mormons often refer to themselves as “LDS,” which stands for “latter-day Saints.”  I asked a particularly pure Mormon friend of mine what this means.  He said, “a Saint is somebody who tries to do everything right, abandon everything wrong, and they have dedicated their life to the service of others.  A latter-day Saint is somebody who does that today.”  Pretty much sums the modern Kadampa path up nicely.  Modern Kadampas are to Buddhism what Mormons are to Christianity.  The parallels between the two are striking for those willing to learn from the experience of Mormonism in this world.

As we go through our life, we will be confronted with an endless variety of challenges, some short and easy, others long and very hard.  Our job as we go through these challenges is to attempt to be a “latter-day Saint.”  We are “learning by doing.”  We are thrown out into the world as baby bodhisattvas and we can view the rest of our life as our “on the job training.”  A former student of mine was a personal physical trainer.  His job was to work with people one-on-one to help them design and engage in the physical exercise regime they needed to get in shape and be in good health.  In the beginning, his clients wouldn’t exercise if he wasn’t there.  Going to his sessions was what motivated them to actually exercise.  But during his sessions, his focus was training them so that they could perform their regime on their own without him being there.  This required transmitting to them not just what they need to do but why they needed to do it.  He measured his success by no longer being needed – in other words, his clients were able to carry on regularly without them.  In Germany today and throughout history, most learning occurred through a system of apprenticeships.  Young apprentices would study under some master craftsman.  The craftsman job was to train the apprentice, teaching them everything they knew, until eventually the apprentice is able to set out on their own as a craftsman.  They would then work for many years until they too became a master craftsman, and then they would start taking on new apprentices themselves.

We are exactly the same.  Each challenge is, for us, a Dharma teaching on how to apply the Dharma we have previously learned.  If we have put our faith in the spiritual master craftsman of Dorje Shugden, he will take us on as his young spiritual apprentice.  He will give us spiritual tasks, exercises or jobs to do with the express purpose of giving us the experience we need to be able to do things ourselves.  Eventually he forges us into spiritual craftsmen ourselves, and sometimes even master spiritual craftsmen who can then help train others ourselves.  Dorje Shugden will make sure we get to the center or festival when we need to.  In between those times, our job is to apply the Dharma we have learned.  Sometimes we will receive formal teachings daily, sometimes it may be years between our formal teachings, but regardless we can be confident we are being given the challenges we need and by learning to apply the Dharma to whatever arises we will be gaining the realizations we need.  Our mind and our habits will change.  Because of this, when we do go back to the center, we will understand the Dharma at a whole new level.  If our karma then shifts where we once again have regular access to teachings, it will be because it is time, once again, to go back to school or back to the workshop for more instruction.


Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  Embrace your responsibilities

Receiving constant Dharma teachings through your life

The teachings on refuge explain that the Dharma is our ultimate refuge.  Why?  Because our real problem is our deluded mind and the actions we engage in under the influence of delusions, and Dharma realizations function to bring our mind under control and our actions in line with the causes of happiness.  Buddha and Sangha help us to gain Dharma realizations by providing us teachings and inspiration.  The principal function of a Dharma center is to provide Dharma teachings.  The main reason why we go to Dharma centers is to receive teachings on how to change our mind and become a better, happier person.  But if we do not have regular access to a Dharma center, what can we do?  Even if we do have regular access to a Dharma center, we still are only able to receive Dharma teachings perhaps a few hours a week.  What about the rest of the time?  What follows is an extensive explanation for how we can receive Dharma teachings all of the time, anywhere and in any circumstance.  If we can learn how to do this, there is no doubt we will make swift progress along the path.  How can we do so?

Embrace all of our responsibilities as our Dharma teachings. 

Je Tsongkhapa says in the Three Principal Aspects of the Path that if we understand emptiness correctly, it will confirm the truth of karma; and if we understand karma correctly, it will confirm the truth of emptiness.  What is the bridge between these two?  The answer is personal responsibility for everything. 

The teachings on karma explain that our every experience is an effect of which our previous actions are the cause.  It explains that the laws of karma are definite, specific causes produce specific effects and without the cause being created an effect will never arise.  Everything that happens to us is the result of our karma.  Some people misunderstand karma to mean everything is pre-determined and there is nothing we can do.  But Kadam Bjorn once said, “if you don’t like your karma, change it.”  If we change our actions, we will change our karma, and therefore change our experience.  Instead of blaming others for our plight, we accept full responsibility for our own experience.  We can quite literally karmically engineer any future of our choosing.  The conclusion of an understanding of karma is we need to assume full responsibility for everything.

The teachings on emptiness explain that everything is a projection of mind, like a dream, a hologram or a hallucination.  Nothing is actually there.  The things we normally see do not exist at all.  We normally see a world that exists out there, functioning and existing in a way completely independent of our mind and the way we perceive it.  We think if our mind wasn’t there, the world would continue to exist and function just as it is and nothing would actually change.  We think changing our mind about things changes nothing since things are as they are.  Such a world does not exist at all.  In reality, the way we project the world is the world itself.  There is no world other than the one we project.  The teachings on emptiness reveal that the only difference between last night’s dream and our waking existence is which mind is doing the dreaming.  Our subtle mind dreams last night’s dream; and our waking mind dreams our waking “reality.”  Both are equally, and 100%, mere projections of mind – both are mere dreams to different levels of mind.  Other than that, there is no difference at all.  Geshe-la says there is no creator other than mind.  Normally we think his point is to refute the theistic conceptions of God.  But his meaning is much deeper.  If there is no creator other than mind, it means our own mind is the creator of all.  What does this mean?  It means we are responsible for everything.  If last night we dreamt of somebody in a wheelchair, who put them there?  Surely we did because we are the one who dreamt them that way.  In the same way, if we saw somebody in our waking reality in a wheelchair, who put them there?  Surely we did because we are the one who is dreaming them that way.  At present, we have mentally constructed a samsara.  But samsara and nirvana are equally empty – both are merely different ways of projecting the world, one projected by delusion which is the nature of suffering, the other projected by wisdom and compassion which is the nature of great bliss.  If we can construct a samsara, we can reconstruct a pure land simply by projecting the world differently.  We are personally responsible for all the suffering of all the beings in our dream.  We are responsible for everything.

What distinguishes great compassion from bodhichitta is assuming personal responsibility for freeing others from their suffering.  In reality, the real nature of bodhichitta is not compassion, it is the superior intention willing to assume responsibility for everything.  Thus we see assuming personal responsibility for everything is the point of intersection between the vast and the profound path, and between Sutra and Tantra.  Things that conventionally appear to be our responsibility are, in a very real sense, the same nature as all of the Dharma.  Assuming responsibility for what appears to be our responsibility is, in a very real sense, the very meaning of Dharma practice.  When our father talks to us about assuming responsibility for things, this is quite superficial compared to what our Spiritual father is talking about.  Assuming personal responsibility for everything runs completely counter to every delusion within our mind.

While we are ultimately responsible for everything, it suffices to begin by assuming personal responsibility for those things that appear to be our responsibility, whether that is taking care of our kids, paying the mortgage, servicing our clients or doing the dishes.  We have responsibilities to our homes, our work, our Dharma centers, our local community, the environment, our society and even our country.  Our delusions will resist assuming these responsibilities with a myriad of excuses.  Learning how to see through these deluded excuses and mustering the inner strength to assume our responsibilities is, as we have seen, the very meaning of putting the Dharma into practice.  Each responsibility, therefore, is our personal Dharma teaching.  Like with our love, we begin by assuming small responsibilities for things around us, but we gradually expand the scope of our feeling of personal responsibility until it encompasses everything.  Since there is never a time when we are not responsible for something, there is never a time when we do not have access to Dharma teachings.  Like with our local centers, the only real question is whether we show up to the teaching or not.  Like with any Dharma teaching, the only real question is whether we take on board its lessons or not.

The doubt may arise, “but how do I distinguish between those responsibilities which are my Dharma teachings and samsara’s endless tasks?”  This is an important question.  There are two answers.  First, a task is a samsaric one only if our objective in engaging in it is deluded.  In and of themselves, every task is equally empty.  If we think the external outcome of the completion of the task is, in and of itself, a cause of our happiness and we seek to complete the task for that reason, then we are engaging in one of samsara’s endless tasks.  We are chasing the end of Samsara’s rainbow.  In contrast, if we view the process of completing the task as an opportunity to work on overcoming the delusions in our mind that arise as we do the work, then that same task becomes receiving a Dharma teaching.  Second, Dorje Shugden’s job is to arrange for us all of the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  If we request him to, he will arrange things in such a way that whatever appears to be our responsibility are the very tasks we need to do.  Externally, what we are doing is often of little consequence, but internally our doing it is providing us constant teachings about our mind and about the meaning of putting the Dharma into practice.

Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  Keep your daily practice alive

Sometimes our family or partner may create obstacles to our doing our meditation practice, feeling we should be spending time with them instead.  There are several solutions to this problem.  First, wake up earlier and do your practice when everyone else is asleep.  The reason why we are exhausted at the end of each day is because our delusions tire us out.  We will be far more rested sleeping seven hours and meditating one hour than sleeping eight hours for the simple reason that we won’t be carrying around as heavy of a burden of delusions throughout the day.

Second, we should ask ourselves, “what does my partner/family want from me?”  Then, show with your actions, not your words, that the more you practice the more you become what they want from you.  They want you to be a good spouse, parent or whatever.  Show them that when you do your practice, you are able to be a better spouse, parent, etc.  When they make the connection between your practice and what they want from you, then you doing your practice will become a priority for them.  Then, your wife will go from being an obstacle to your practice to becoming the Dharma police making sure you did your practice that day!  Third, you should save up all of your relationship capital for one purpose alone – the ability to do your practice.  Ask for nothing else other than time to do your practice.  Let the rest of your family choose where you go out to dinner, what movies you watch, what you do on the weekends.  If the only thing you ask for is the time to do your practice, your family will come to understand that it is important to you and they will come to respect it.

Outside of our formal meditation session, we should try make effort to practice Dharma all day long.  Make a list of all of the routine things you do every day, such as getting ready in the morning, transporting your body from one place to another, eating, going to the bathroom, going to bed, sleeping, etc.  Then, make it a habit to always do the same mental practice every time you engage in this daily activity.  For me, when I am getting ready in the morning, I mentally engage in purification practice.  When I am transporting my body around, I recite either the “single pointed request” or the “Eight lines of praise to the Father.”  When I am eating, I imagine I am making offerings to my Spiritual Guide at my heart.  When I am going to the bathroom I imagine I am dispelling delusions and impurities from my body.  When I go to bed, I usually read my Dharma books, and as I go to sleep I contemplate what I just read and then engage in the yoga of sleeping.  The point is make it routine.  When it is routine, we remember to practice; when it is not, we don’t.  Every time we practice Dharma we create the cause to encounter it again in the future.  Where do we encounter it?  Usually in a Dharma center.

Christians, Jews and Muslims all have a tradition of keeping the Sabbath.  The Sabbath is a special day set aside for receiving spiritual teachings, remembering their meaning and making a special point to put them into practice.  Some people criticize saying people are spiritual on Sunday, but then act like a jerk the rest of the week.  But isn’t it better to set one day aside for spiritual practice than none at all?  Again, some is always better than none.  While as Kadampas we do not have a tradition of the Sabbath, I see no reason why we cannot also make this a tradition of our own.  Even if we do not go to the center on this day, we can mentally dedicate at least one day a week to primarily focusing on our spiritual trainings, or at least focus more so than we usually do on other days.  We should likewise come to view our gompa area in our home as our personal Dharma center.  It does not matter if we do not have a special room for our meditation practice, even a small corner of our bedroom can be mentally transformed into a holy place.  Just this one mental recognition alone enables us to have a daily relationship with our Dharma center.

Many years ago when the New York Temple was being finished, Geshe-la gave Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments at a hotel nearby.  During that festival, I met a guy named Jerry.  Jerry had spent the last several years in a nearby Federal prison, and he had many years left to go on his sentence.  For most people, prison is hell on earth.  For him, his prison cell was Milarepa’s cave.  Somebody, at some point, made an offering of Ocean of Nectar to the prison.  For those not familiar with this book, Ocean of Nectar is by far the hardest and least accessible of all of Geshe-la’s books.  But Jerry was seized by the book.  He studied it thoroughly, memorized the root text and the condensed meaning, and spent many hours each day mixing his mind with and meditating on its meaning.  He told me, “there is no prison.”  Somehow, he found out that Geshe-la was giving Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments, and he worked really hard to be a model inmate to earn a furlough to be able to attend the empowerments.  At the end of the festival, with a copy of Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Meaningful to Behold and Essence of Vajrayana in hand, he eagerly looked forward to going to back to spending 20+ hours a day in his prison cell so he could put his newly acquired Dharma into practice.  Prior to coming to that Festival, Jerry had never stepped foot in a Dharma center, but I think we would all agree he had spent more time in a “Dharma center” than most of us.  If Jerry could view his cell as his center, surely we can do the same with our meditation corner at home.

Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  Doing the best we can to approximate a center

If there is a center in our area but for other reasons we do not have regular access to it, there are many things we can still do.  First, we should try, if we can, to make it to at least one big festival per year; or every other year, or every fifth year, something, anything, whatever our karma will allow.  Going to a festival when we haven’t been to one for some time functions to put our spiritual train back on the tracks and realigns ourselves with the general flow of the tradition in this world.  We are able to receive oral transmission blessings (vitally important and vastly underappreciated), reconnect with our spiritual friends, have one-on-one meetings with our Dharma teachers, rediscover our love of Dharma, remember why spiritual practice is important, receive profound teachings and of course let go of attachment to a warm shower!  We should never make the mistake of thinking if we can’t do it all we shouldn’t do anything.  A little is always better than nothing.  Likewise, in our local area, we should try make it to the center whenever our karma allows, even if that is only once a year – even if it is just to touch base.  If we have strained relationships with everybody at the center, go when nobody is around, do the offering bowls in the gompa, sit and have a private conversation with Geshe-la’s picture, clean the bathroom and then slip out before anybody even knows you were there if you have to.  The point is make it a priority to keep the link alive.

For whatever reason, many people are unable to keep all of the different commitments of the study programs; and some teachers and center administrators will unskillfully tell such people if they can’t do it all they can’t do anything.  But even if that is the case, we can sometimes still do classes by correspondence.  When we do do classes by correspondence, we should try to make it to the center at least once a year, or even just do a Skype meeting with our teacher for the oral transmission blessings of the condensed meaning of the text.  We can also perhaps do the Special Teacher Training Program through London.  There are also quite a few YouTube videos of excerpts of festival teachings.  Fortunately, there are now a wide variety of Facebook groups for Kadampas, such as Students and Followers of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Kadampa Prayer Request and Kadampa Rejoicing Group.  These groups enable us to maintain daily karmic connection with our Sangha friends around the world, ask Dharma questions, make prayer requests and rejoice in the spiritual practices of fellow Kadampas worldwide.  Social media websites are not inherently good or bad, it is how we use them that determines their meaning in our lives.

The function of training in our refuge vows is to maintain the continuum of our spiritual practice without interruption between now and our eventual enlightenment.  Keeping our vows karmically functions to place a spiritual safety net underneath us so that we do not fall from our precious human life.  What makes our life precious is the opportunity it affords us to practice Dharma.  It is perfectly possible for our spiritual life to die before our physical life does, but keeping our refuge vows protects us from that fate.  Geshe-la has synthesized our refuge commitments into three:  make effort to receive blessings from Buddha, make effort to put the Dharma into practice and make effort to receive help from Sangha.  How to receive blessings will be discussed extensively in later posts.  Here, I will focus on practically what it means to make effort to practice Dharma and to receive help from our Sangha friends in the context of not having regular access to a Dharma center.

Our ultimate refuge is our own practice of Dharma.  Buddha and Sangha are like special helpers.  Broadly speaking, to practice Dharma means to use the Dharma to solve our inner problems of delusions and negative karma.  Every time we put effort into practicing Dharma we create the causes to encounter it again in the future.  This is the most valuable karma we can create for ourselves, because only Dharma can provide us with a lasting solution to our problems.  Our most important Dharma practice is our daily, formal meditation practice.  We should view this as the core activity of our life.  We would scarcely go a day without eating or sleeping, in a similar way we should almost never go a day without engaging in our formal meditation practice.  We almost never neglect to charge our mobile phone for the day, how much more so should we not neglect our daily practice.  In the final analysis, either we organize our meditation practice around our day or we organize our day around our meditation practice.  If we do the former, it is almost impossible to maintain a consistent daily practice; and without a consistent daily practice, progress along the path is nearly impossible.  The Grand Canyon was carved by a small amount of water running consistently over a very long period of time.