Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: Practice during the meditation break

Our main practice during the meditation break is to maintain pure view out of compassion.  The guru is a portal between ordinary worlds and the pure worlds of the Buddhas.  Wherever we imagine a Buddha, a real Buddha goes, and accomplishes this function.  Thus out of compassion for all living beings we generate the guru everywhere.  It is valid to impute guru on everything since the definitive guru is the bliss and emptiness of all things, the ultimate nature of all things.  So he pervades everything. 

We maintain pure view out of compassion by imagining that everything takes place within the guru’s Truth Body, and that our mind is mixed inseparably with the guru’s mind.  We generate the guru at our heart so that when others interact with us it is the same as them interacting with the living lama Tsongkhapa.  We request the guru to work through us to liberate those around us.  Further, we have no idea how to help people ourselves.  We cannot read the minds of others; from our own side, we have nothing particularly worthwhile to say. Our guru however, knows perfectly.  He sees the mind of the other person, knows exactly what their difficulties are, and knows exactly what they need to hear to get better.  So instead of trying to help people ourself, it is far wiser (and more compassionate) to ask our guru to work through us to help the other person.  What we need to do is get out of the way and allow our guru to work through us to help those around us.  Our pride in our own abilities is obstructing our guru from working through us to help others. We need to actively get out of the way and stop relying upon ourself and start relying exclusively upon the guru.

We also should generate the guru at the heart of all living beings to draw out their pure potential.  We relate to their pure potential and this functions to draw it out.  We don’t pay attention to others faults but relate to their pure potential. 

We should finally generate Dorje Shugden’s protection circle around all living beings in order to lead all living beings into the good path to ultimate happiness.  We transform everything into offerings which we offer to the guru at the heart of everyone giving rise to great bliss.  We generate Tushita Pure Land around everyone to create the cause for them to take rebirth in Tushita Pure Land.  We maintain the string of clouds from their hearts to the heart of Maitreya, so that when they die, they take rebirth in Tushita.  We generate in their minds for them the minds they should be generating.  We do all of this with the guru’s mind.  We bestow upon them the realizations they need.

We should also put into practice the specific meditation break practice explained in the New Meditation Handbook that corresponds with our lamrim meditation of the day.  Even if we don’t have a formal Lamrim practice, we should still practice in the meditation break the meditation break practice and cycle through this.

When we are studying, we should do so with the guru’s mind.  When we don’t understand something, we can request the guru to reveal to us the meaning of the instructions.  We then close the book, request blessings, receive them, then re-approach the subject until we understand.

Most of us don’t realize that we can use our guru’s mind as if it were our own.  This is because we think that our mind is inherently separate from the mind of the guru.  We think there is this impenetrable wall that stands between our mind and his.  This impenetrable wall is merely a figment of our own deluded mind.  We need to tear down this wall, and then allow our guru to literally pour his mind into our own.  It takes deep faith in the guru to be willing to let him enter our mind, but once we do, he only does good.  We can come to bathe in his blessings day and night.  We have nothing to fear from having the guru in our mind, but we have everything to fear with having delusions in our mind.  With our admiring faith we create the space within our mind for our guru to enter.  With our wishing faith we wish that we had his good qualities within our mind.  With our believing faith we understand that he can emanate his mind in our own mind and that we can use his mind as if it were our own.  Without faith, such practices are impossible.  Faith is the beginning, middle, and end of the spiritual path.  Some people are so afraid of faith.  They are so afraid of letting go.  They are so afraid of allowing someone else to help them.  They are so afraid of relying upon anyone other than themselves.  I know these fears because I suffered from all of them.  But I can say, from my own experience, that from the day I opened my heart to my guru, and allowed myself to come under his influence, I have enjoyed a peace and protection which I cannot even begin to describe. His only wish is to lead us to perfect happiness.  We need to just trust him.

But this takes time.  We need to build up this trust.  We need to build up our awareness of how he is more reliable than ourselves.  Only when these understandings grow over time will we be able to eagerly grant him our trust from our own side.  We eagerly place ourselves into his loving care.  It is only by fully admitting that we have problems and he has the solutions that we can extend this trust from our own side.  To some, this may appear to be blind faith, but we should not be fooled into thinking it is.  Blind faith is faith without a valid reason.  We have a very valid reason, and that reason is our own acute awareness of how his mind is more reliable than our own.  If we do not have this awareness then allowing ourselves to come under the influence of our guru would be blind faith.  With this awareness it is simply the most intelligent and logical thing to do.

I dedicate the merit I have accumulated by doing this series of posts so that my every action of body, speech and mind may become my guru working through me to liberate others.  I dedicate that all living beings come to realize the inexhaustible fountain of goodness that comes from relying upon the guru’s mind alone.


Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: Concluding Practices

We begin by reciting the dedication prayer.

By this virtue may I quickly
Attain the enlightened state of the Guru,
And then lead every living being
Without exception to that ground.

Through my virtues from practising with pure motivation,
May all living beings throughout all their lives
Never be parted from peaceful and wrathful Manjushri,
But always come under their care.

Again, dedication functions to protect the virtue we have created.  This indicates the function of the sadhana.  The sadhana functions to make all of this happen.

‘I’ refers again to our very subtle mind.  ‘Enlightened state of the guru’ refers to the enlightenment we are striving for is to become a tantric spiritual guide, the highest of all the Buddhas.  Geshe-la said that he would rather one of his students become a spiritual guide than a hundred become Buddhas.  ‘Lead every living being’ means the reason why we become a Buddha is to lead all others to the same state.  So we dedicate not just to our own enlightenment but the enlightenment of all living beings.  Also, it is their very subtle minds that attain enlightenment.  ‘All living beings throughout all their lives’ indicates we need to learn to think three dimensionally:  all suffering, all living beings, all lives.  So everything.  ‘Never be parted’ means just as before we dedicated that we are never parted from this path and the guru, we make this dedication for others.  By making the dedication for all living beings we create countless causes for this to happen to ourselves.  ‘Peaceful and wrathful Manjushri’ refers to Je Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden.  ‘Always come under the care’ means we imagine that Je Tsongkhapa is at the heart of all living beings, and they are all inside of Dorje Shugden’s protection circle.  We dedicate so that they will remain forever with all living beings leading them to full enlightenment.

We then recite the prayers for the virtuous tradition:

So that the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa
The king of the Dharma may flourish
May all obstacles be pacified
And may all favourable conditions abound

Through the two collections of myself and others
Gathered throughout the three times
May the doctrine of Losang Dragpa
Flourish for evermore.

The essential point of this prayer is to make requests that the Dharma flourish.  The effect of such dedication is it flourishes in our own mind by the number of beings upon whose behalf we dedicate.

‘Tradition of Je Tsongkhapa’ means his tradition, namely the New Kadampa Tradition.  We are not requesting that it flourish for ourselves but for others.  This is not doctrinal, we want the minds to flourish, and this may take place in non-dharma ways as well.  ‘May flourish’ reminds us that the only place it flourishes is in the minds of living beings, so this is what we are dedicating for.  ‘All obstacles be pacified’ refers to outer, inner, and secret obstacles as explained above.  Most importantly are the inner and secret obstacles.  We make this request on behalf of ourself and others.  ‘All favourable conditions’ means whatever living beings need for their practice.  So these two are mostly requests to Dorje Shugden that he do his magic for everyone. ‘Two collections’ means the collection of merit and the collection of wisdom.  We need to make these two collections to become a Buddha.  The collection of merit produces the form body of a Buddha, and the collection of wisdom produces the mind of a Buddha.  ‘Gathered throughout the three times’ means we dedicate all of this that has ever been collected, is being collected now, and will ever be collected. ‘Doctrine’ refers to the Kadam Dharma, namely Lamrim, Lojong, and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  ‘Flourish forevermore’ is our principal wish, that the Dharma flourishes in the minds of living beings so that they may be freed.

Next, it is customary to recite the nine-line Migstema prayer:

Tsongkhapa, crown ornament of the scholars of the Land of the Snows
You are Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara, the source of all attainments
Avalokiteshvara, the treasury of unobservable compassion
Manjushri, the supreme stainless wisdom
And Vajrapani, the destroyer of the host of maras
O Venerable Guru Buddha, synthesis of all Three Jewels
With my body, speech, and mind, respectfully I make requests
Please grant your blessings, to ripen and liberate myself and others
And bestow the common and supreme attainments.

This is a more extensive version of the Migtsema prayer we did earlier.  This can be done in one of three ways, either to the Je Tsongkhapa in the space in front of us, to the Je Tsongkhapa at our heart that we dissolved earlier, or to a Je Tsongkhapa that we imagine at the heart of all beings surrounding us, where we are in effect praying that he do for them what he has done for us.

To practice in this third way, we can reciting the prayer to the Je Tsongkhapa and imagine that we are emanating a Je Tsongkhapa into the hearts of each and every living beings as an act of wishing love.  Specifically, when we recite “Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara” we can send an emanation of these two into the heart of Je Tsongkhapa who is in the heart of each and every living beings.  We recall that they are the source of all Dharma.  Avalokitesvhara, Manjushri, and Vajrapani are the same as before, but this time with respect to these emanations in the hearts of others.  ‘O Venerable Guru Buddha’ recalls that all of this is our spiritual guide, the synthesis of all Three Jewels.  ‘With my body, speech, and mind’ means with Manjushri’s, Avalokitehsvara’s, and Vajrapani’s body, speech, and mind we make these requests.  ‘Respectfully I make requests,’ here the most important thing is maintaining the conviction that your guru hears your requests, and that he has the complete power to fulfil your request.  ‘Please grant your blessings’ means please transform all these minds into the enlightened mind of the guru-deity.  ‘And bestow’ means the guru emanates these realizations in the minds of all these beings.  ‘Common and supreme attainments’ refers to the common attainments are all realizations short of enlightenment and supreme is enlightenment itself.

We can likewise finish our session by making personal prayers and dedications for the problems we are experiencing in our life at that time and for others in our life, such as our family and friends.

Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: How to rely on Dorje Shugden

Understanding from the last post what faith is and how we cultivate it, we can now turn to the question of how do we actually practice Dorje Shugden?  There are three main parts:

  1. Make requests out of infinite faith that he provide us with the perfect conditions we need for our attainment of enlightenment in this lifetime.  We need to let go of all doubts that he can do this.  We need to let go of all doubts we have about our own ability to attain enlightenment in this lifetime.  It is possible.  We have the methods, we have the Dharma protector, we have the guru, the only thing we are missing is us going for it.  We do not make worldly requests related to the wishes of this life, rather we make spiritual requests for wisdom and compassion.  We can make requests either for ourself or for others.
  2. Accept with infinite faith whatever subsequently arises as the perfect conditions we asked for.  He won’t always give us what we want, but he will give us what we need.  The whole trick is changing what we want to be what we need.  We accomplish this through sincere Lamrim practice.  The guru will knock us on our butt, but never so much that we can’t pick ourselves back up again.  He is especially good at creating situations that reveal to us our delusions.  We should make requests that he do this in a way that we can overcome them.  An obstacle is only an obstacle to the mind that imputes obstacle.  A perfect condition is a perfect condition only to the mind that imputes perfect condition.  Reliance on Dorje Shugden enables us to impute perfect conditions on everything, and so everything becomes an opportunity for us to practice Dharma, train our mind, and gain the ability to lead all beings to perfect freedom.
  3. Then, in these perfect conditions, we practice to the best of our ability.  We see what delusions the situation gives rise to and we attack them.  Different situations will present different opportunities to practice.  If we don’t know what to practice in a given situation, we should make requests that it be revealed to us what we need to practice.  Need to be skillful and content to practice within our limits and our abilities.  Dorje Shugden knows our abilities and constraints and is working with them.  He is not expecting us to do more than we can.  Often situations will seem beyond our ability, but that is only because we are trying to work through the situation with our ordinary mind.  These situations are encouraging us to use our guru’s mind which has infinite power.

Within the context of the Sadhana, how do we practice?  Geshe-la provides precious little commentary.  The reason for this is he wants us to develop a personal relationship with Dorje Shugden and for us to engage in the practice with the request that he personally reveal himself to us.  This makes it much more personal.  So I will follow that example.  I will, however, explain some essentials.


HUM is the seed letter for the mind of all the Buddhas, which is the bliss and emptiness of all things.  It is from the Dharmakaya that Dorje Shugden arises.

I have the clarity of the Yidam

In my view, this is the most important line of the whole Dorje Shugden part.  What it says is that when we engage in Dorje Shugden practice, we are doing so as the Yidam.  If we haven’t received HYT empowerments, we can do this as the guru at our heart.  The guru-deity has infinitely more power and ability to invoke the protection of Dorje Shugden.  So we use the guru-deity to make the requests.

Light rays from my heart instantly invite the wisdom beings from the sphere of nature, and from all the different palaces where they abide. They become inseparable from the commitment beings.

When it says ‘my heart’ it is referring to our heart as the guru deity.  ‘Wisdom beings’ are actual Buddhas which we invite to enter into the Dorje Shugden imagined in front of us, recalling that wherever you imagine a Buddha, a real Buddha actually goes.  ‘Sphere of nature’ refers to the Dharmakaya.  We are in the Dharmakaya of our guru inseparable from our own mind.  ‘Different places where they abide’ in particular refers to Keajra and Tushita Pure Land.  ‘Become inseparable’ means we imagine that all the wisdom beings dissolve into the commitment beings, infusing them with the power of all the Buddhas.  The ‘commitment beings’ are the visualized deities.  We then recite the rest of the sadhana, which I explained in a previous series of posts.

At the end we make the prayer,

All the attainments I desire
Arise from merely remembering you.
O Wishfulfilling Jewel, Protector of the Dharma,
Please accomplish all my wishes.   (3x)

This is a very blessed prayer.  We can use it at anytime, especially when we need protection.  It more or less is the meaning of Dorje Shugden’s mantra (OM VAJRA WIKI WITRANA SOHA).  The reason why merely remembering him accomplishes all the attainments is because by remembering him he infuses himself into the situation and accomplishes his function.  At this point in the sadhana we pause and make personal requests to Dorje Shugden for the flourishing of the pure Kadam Dharma in the minds of living beings.


Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: Who is Dorje Shugden and what is his function?

Who is Dorje Shugden?  Dorje Shugden and Je Tsongkhapa are actually the same Buddha, just two different aspects and two different functions.  Je Tsongkhapa accomplishes the function of bestowing blessings and leading us on the path of Lamrim, Lojong, and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  Dorje Shugden accomplishes the function of arranging all the outer, inner, and secret conditions we need for our attainment of enlightenment as swiftly as possible.

Outer conditions refer to all the external things we need to support our practice, such access to teachers, centers, Dharma books, adequate housing, food, and so forth.  He arranges the external conditions we need to practice in.  He is like our personal trainer.  Like one big Truman Show.  Inner conditions refer to the conditions within our mind.  Dorje Shugden is actually 1,000 times more powerful at arranging inner conditions.  Inner conditions are things like dispelling wrong views, having faith in Je Tsongkhapa’s Dharma, easily gaining the realizations of Lamrim and Lojong, etc.  Secret conditions refer to the conditions within our subtle body.  He is actually 1,000 times more powerful at arranging secret conditions than he is at inner conditions.  Secret conditions are removing obstructions within our subtle body and arranging all the conditions we need to generate spontaneous great bliss.

Like with Je Tsongkhapa, we need to develop a personal relationship with Dorje Shugden, where he is our best friend.  We feel his presence in our life at all times.  He is a real person, and we need to bring him into our lives.

The practice of Dorje Shugden is actually quite simple, but it is very vast.  Really there is only one part to Dorje Shugden practice, and that is faith.  It was explained at a festival once that from Dorje Shugden’s side he has infinite power.  He is the spiritual power of all the Buddhas.  If all of samsara somehow got coordinated together to cause a certain outcome to come about, he could just blow on it and send everything tumbling the other way.  He is not limited on his side, but we are limited on how much we can receive his help.  Our first constraint in having him help us is our karma.  He can’t cause us to experience things that we haven’t created the causes for.  He is like a karma manager.  He manages our karma in the optimal way for our swiftest possible enlightenment, but he can’t invent karma we don’t have.  His second constraint in helping us is the amount of faith we have in him.  If we have a little bit of faith in him, he will be a little bit helpful; if we have infinite faith in him, then he will be infinitely powerful for us.

So how do we develop faith in Dorje Shugden?

To understand this, we need to examine what are the types of faith?   Blind faith is faith without a valid reason.  We completely reject this is Buddhism.  Blind faith is better than no faith only when we happen to get lucky and place our blind faith in something that is perfect.  But with blind faith there is the risk that we could place our faith in something not worthy of faith.  And even if we did put blind faith in a worthwhile object, we wouldn’t get very far because from a Buddhist perspective we need to realize all the stages of the path from our own side.  We are not training to be followers, we are training to be leaders, those who lead others to perfect freedom.  We can never do this if we don’t understand everything perfectly ourself in our heart.

The second type of faith is admiring faith.  Here we appreciate the good qualities of enlightened beings, or their teachings, or our spiritual friends.  Our mind naturally becomes very clear and free from disturbing conceptions.  This creates the space within our mind to allow ourselves to come under the influence of what we admire.  Normally we keep a distance between ourselves and other objects because we fear coming under their influence.  But by contemplating and realizing their good qualities from our own side helps us to break down this fear, and thereby enables us to open our mind up. 

How many people in this world can we honestly say are looking out exclusively for our own welfare, with no hidden agenda?  Do we have any examples in our lives of really trusting someone?  Probably not.  This is difficult stuff for us, but it is only by investigating deeply for ourselves that we can gradually break down this resistance.  When we trust somebody completely, there is a peace of mind that comes over us that is literally overwhelming.  All tension and stress go away when we think about that person.  We feel great confidence in knowing that their advice is completely reliable.  Finally, we can drop our guard, and let ourself be taken care of.  It is so beautiful.  It is especially useful to develop admiring faith for the mind of faith.  This is in fact the most important thing to develop admiring faith for, because with this admiring faith, all of the rest of the path comes quickly and easily.

The next type of faith is wishing faith.  Here we wish to acquire for ourselves the good qualities that we admire with our admiring faith.  This compels us to engage in practice.

The final type of faith is believing faith.  This is the strongest type of faith, and it is a faith based on valid reasoning.  Even though it does not fully understand the given subject, it engages the topic without doubt.  Believing faith accomplishes a similar function as wisdom.  Wisdom knows its object thoroughly from one’s own side, and it functions to dispel doubt.  Believing faith accepts the truth of the subject even while uncertainty remains, and so therefore functions to dispel doubt.  It enables the practitioner to practice fully even when they don’t yet fully understand. 

How do we develop believing faith?  We can use the logical reasoning contained within the Lamrim to convince ourselves by weight of argument.  We can also be a good scientist by suspend our doubts about whether it works or not, put the instructions into practice purely, and then see if they in fact work.  We can actually “choose to believe.”  Faith is a choice to believe.  What do we choose to believe?  That which is most beneficial to believe.  So we simply investigate whether it is beneficial to think in a particular way, and then we choose to do so.  If we have previously gained conviction that our spiritual guide is a Buddha, and therefore completely reliable, then we can use the perfect logical syllogism which says, ‘the spiritual guide is omniscient and therefore completely reliable, he says X, therefore X is true.’  This is not blind faith because it is based on the valid reason that the spiritual guide is completely reliable.  We then use our powers of reasoning to fully understand from our own side.



Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: Meditating with the Guru’s mind

In my view, this post is the deep inner core of this entire series of posts.  If you read only one of these posts, this is the one.

The fundamental issue of reliance upon the spiritual guide is asking ourselves the question:  upon whose mind do I rely?  If we are relying upon our own mind alone, then we will never get anywhere since we are not already enlightened.  We would be like a blind person trying to lead ourself.  It is precisely because the guru has attained enlightenment and we haven’t that we need to rely upon his mind.  But this does not mean that we blindly follow.  We have a huge habit of relying upon our own mind to understand things, to reason and so forth.  We may think we are intelligent, but if we are choosing to rely upon our own mind and not the mind of the guru, then in fact we are quite foolish.  If we have a choice to use a nail gun or a hammer, which do we choose?  Obviously the nail gun. In the same way, if we have the choice of relying upon the guru’s mind or our own, which one do we choose?  Obviously the guru’s mind.

In the Heart Jewel practice just before we engage in our Lamrim meditation, we dissolve the guru into our heart, and imagine that our mind is mixed indistinguishably with our guru’s mind.  We don’t then forget this and engage in our Lamrim meditation!  We dissolved our guru into our heart and mixed our mind with his precisely so that we can then meditate with his mind. 

It begins by learning how to reason using our guru’s mind.  One of the unique abilities of a Buddha is their ability to manifest their realizations in form.  The Guru’s mind is not inherently separate from our own, which means he can manifest his mind inside our own, and we can use his mind as if it were our own.  I have a choice of which mental factors I use to engage in my spiritual practices.  I can use my own limited mental factors, or I can use the fully developed mental factors of my guru.  We can literally use his concentration, his mindfulness, his compassion, his attention, his powers of reason, and so forth as if they were our own.  Wherever we visualize a Buddha, they actually go.  If we imagine that we are ‘using’ or ‘relying upon’ our guru’s mental factors, then literally his mental factors enter our mind and we can use them as if they were our own.  I have difficulty understanding topics, I have difficulty holding my object with single pointed concentration.  My guru doesn’t.  I don’t have to rely upon (use) my ordinary mental factors, there is nothing preventing me (except my own lack of faith) from relying upon or ‘using’ my guru’s mental factors as my own.

His mind has already gained all the realizations of the stages of the path perfectly.  Since we have mixed our mind with his, we can validly say that all of his realizations are inside our mind.  He is emanating his realizations perfectly inside our mind. 

So if we are meditating on compassion, for example, we imagine that his perfect compassion is emanated inside our mind.  We ask ourselves, what would his compassion be like?  What would it be like to have his compassion?  How would I view this situation if I had his compassion?  etc.  Then, like an actor playing a part, we then imagine that this is our compassion, and we come to identify with it as our own compassion. 

Identifying with a realization is a powerful way of ‘downloading’ the guru’s realizations into our own mind.  This is very similar to our divine practice in highest yoga tantra.  Kadam Bjorn calls practicing like this, ‘resultant Lamrim practice.’  We bring the result of our Lamrim practice into the path, we imagine that we already have mixed our mind indistinguishably from our guru’s realizations, and then we ‘try it on’ to ‘see what it is like.’ 

It is important to recall the logic of wherever you imagine a Buddha, a Buddha actually goes. Wherever you imagine your spiritual guide, all the Buddhas go.  Wherever a Buddha goes, they accomplish the function of a Buddha, namely to bestow blessings.  A blessing is something that transforms our mind into a more positive state, it moves our mind in the direction of virtue.  If we imagine that we are meditating with our guru’s mental factors of mindfulness, altertness, and concentration, then as a result of this correct imagination, he literally will enter our mental factors of mindfulness, alertness, and concentration, and transforms ours into his.  Then we can ‘use his mental factors as if they were our own.’  His power enters our mental factors.  This takes a while to get used to, but it makes all the difference in the world to our meditations. 

To meditate with our guru’s mind all we need really do is ‘call upon’ his mind to understand and generate our object instead of calling upon our ordinary mind to do the same.  If we check the thinking process carefully, what we find is that when we think we ‘call upon’, or ‘make requests to’ our ordinary mind.  We are confronted with some problem and we are trying to understand.  What do we do?  We ‘make requests’ to our ordinary mind.  We ‘call upon’ our ordinary mind for a response to our question.  It then thinks, and gives back to us some type of response (namely, an  unreliable one).  This is how we ‘think’ with our ordinary mind. 

The only difference between thinking with our ordinary mind and thinking with our guru’s mind is not the process of thinking (making requests, calling upon) but the mind that we make requests to or the mind that we call upon.  Instead of making requests to our ordinary mind, we generate our guru at our heart imagining that he is mixed indistinguishably with our root mind (we feel his living presence inside our mind), then we ‘call upon’ his mind, ‘make requests to’ his mind to understand (‘Please reveal to me X’, ‘Please help me understand Y’, ‘Please bless me to find this object’, ‘Please bless me to hold this object with single pointed concentration’).

All of these practices take some time to get used to, but with familiarity, it makes all the difference in the world. It is no coincidence that all of the most senior teachers say the same thing:  in the end, the path comes down to reliance.  It is no coincidence that reliance on the spiritual guide is considered the root of the path.  It is no coincidence that all that is really required in our Tantric meditations is faith and imagination.  Yet, we hold ourselves back, we try do things with our ordinary mind.  Of course we are free to do so, but why drive a wooden soap box when you can drive a Ferrari?

We conclude the Je Tsongkhapa part of Heart Jewel with its dedication:

Through being cared for throughout all my lives
By Conqueror Tsongkhapa as my Mahayana Guru,
May I never turn away, even for an instant,
From this excellent path praised by the Conquerors.

This reveals two things:  (1) the function of the Je Tsongkhapa and Lamrim parts of our practice, and (2) what we should dedicate our merit towards.  This is the goal we should be striving for.

‘Cared for throughout all my lives’ means if we practice sincerely our spiritual guide will find us in our future lives as he has found us in this life.  I asked Geshe-la once how to guarantee to always meet him in all my future lives, and he said to “concentrate on practicing Dharma and always keep faith.”  ‘Mahayana Guru’ means we rely upon him as our guru.  He is at our heart, and he will lead us to any virtuous destination we want to go.  ‘Never turn away’ means by some amazing good fortune we have found a way out of samsara, there is a big danger that we could get swept away by samsara and lose the path for aeons remaining trapped for all that time.  It is just too dangerous.  So we need to remain with our guru and maintain the continuum of our practice.  If we don’t seize this opportunity while we have got it, we will not get it again for close to forever.  

Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: Engaging in Lamrim meditation, part 2

In the last post I explained the first two of five things I try use to maximize the power of my lamrim meditations.  In this post, I will explain the next two.

3. Meditate on the interrelationships between the various Lamrim meditations. 

Each Lamrim meditation informs the others.  When we first start practicing Lamrim it seems like they are 21 separate meditations.  In reality, the Lamrim is one practice with 21 parts.   The first stage is to train in each one individually to gain some initial experience.   The second stage is to then meditate on the interrelationships of say, meditaiton 1 with the other 20; then we move onto the interrelationships between meditation 2 and the other 20, and so forth through the cycle.  The third stage is to ‘churn the milk of Dharma’ to extract its quintessential butter, conventional bodhichitta.  We synthesize all the Lamrim and develop pathways that go from any Lamrim meditation down into conventional bodhichitta.  It is a bit like a funnel, where we can pour water into any part of it, and it eventually goes to the little hole in the bottom.  The little hole in the bottom is conventional bodhichitta. 

The fourth stage (according to Sutra) is to then use this conventional bodhichitta to meditate on emptiness.  This ultimate bodhichitta (conventional bodhichitta meditating on emptiness) is like the ocean, and everything else are like the rivers which empty into the ocean.  We need to train where by meditating directly on ultimate bodhichitta, we are indirectly meditating on everything else.  We need to synthesize the Lamrim down to its essence, ultimate bodhichitta. 

If we try to jump straight to the final object, ultimate bodhichitta, it would be like trying to fill the ocean without any rivers or lakes emptying into it.  The first four stages are all about ‘finding the object of meditation’.  So we have been practicing our Lamrim ‘horizontally.’  Now, in the fifth stage, we need to practice all of this vertically, in other words with deeper and deeper levels of concentration.  So we first bring all of this to the first mental abiding, then the second, the third, and so on until we have brought the entire Lamrim to the state of Tranquil Abiding.  If we can do this, there is a great chance that we will be able to very quickly gain a direct realization of emptiness, which we then continue to meditate upon until we have removed the two obstructions (delusion obstructions and their imprints) and become a Buddha. 

When we view our Lamrim practice in this way, we see how things develop, how they interrelate, what the path is to enlightenment, and what we need to actually do to get there.  We easily see how we can spend our entire lifetime deepening our familiarity with the Lamrim.  When we see clearly how this is a lifelong practice (and indeed lifetimes practice) then we have the right frame of mind for our practice.

4. Meditate like a good scientist. 

We in the West have a natural faith in science.  In science we do controlled experiments so that we can test a precise relationship.  The conditions of the experiment are set up to test a very specific thing.  We need to approach our Lamrim practice in the same way. 

How do we do this?  When we are meditating on death, for example, we should take ‘as a given’ all the other 20 meditations.  So we temporarily set aside all doubts we have on the other 20 meditations, and ‘choose’ to have complete conviction in all the others.  So for example, we choose to have complete conviction that we have a precious human life, and that if we die there is a huge risk of us falling into the lower realms.  With this conviction in the context of the meditation we then engage in the meditation on death.  We focus our efforts on resolving all doubts we have about the meditation we are on, and we suspend all doubts we have about everything else. 

This enables us to focus on exploring the precise nature of the meditation that we are doing.  Then we move on to the next meditation, and suspend all doubts of the previous meditation by ‘choosing to believe’ and then allow ourselves to work through our doubts on the meditation we are currently on (for example, the sufferings of the lower realms). 

This is an extremely powerful method for engaging in our Lamrim practice.  If we try this, we will notice a huge qualitative difference in the power of our Lamrim meditations.  Just to give an example, let’s say we are meditating on renunciation, and normally in the meditations on death and lower rebirth we are resolving our doubts about reincarnation, etc.  If we haven’t resolved all our doubts on reincarnation, even if we go through the motions of a meditation on renunciation, it will have no power to move our mind.  But if we choose to suspend our doubts (temporarily) and take as a hypothetical given that rebirth does occur, then we will be able to generate very precisely the mind of renunciation. 

In science, we call this type of activity ‘controlled experiments’; in math, we call this partial differentiation.  We take as given everything else, and then examine a precise relationship.  We then cycle through everything one by one, adjusting what we take as given and what we are examining precisely as is appropriate. 

Each object of meditation then becomes a scientific hypothesis we test in the meditation itself.  This proceeds in a cycle:  First, we have a general understanding of the object of meditation we would like to test.  Then, we consider our own experience, logical reasons, examples, analogies, etc., to test the validity of this particular meditation object.  We will then arrive at some sort of more refined conclusion on the object.  Our hypothesis will have been improved.  We then, in the meditation break, put our conclusion into practice and test it against our real life experiences.  This real life experience then becomes further “data” or “evidence” which enables us to better refine our understanding the next time we come to this particular meditation.  We continue in this way, gradually transforming the Dharma from ideas into hypotheses, and then from hypotheses into spiritual axioms, and then from spiritual axioms into personal truths.


Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: Engaging in Lamrim meditation, part 1

With our mind mixed inseparably with the guru’s mind, we now engage in our Lamrim meditation.

What are the good qualities of the Lamrim?  Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that the Lamrim teaching is the condensation of all Buddhadharma, the instructions of Lamrim are easy to put into practice, and the presentation of the instructions of Lamrim is superior to other traditions.  He also explains that through gaining experience of Lamrim we shall understand that none of Buddha’s teachings are contradictory, we shall take all Buddha’s teachings as personal advice and put them into practice, we shall easily realize Buddha’s ultimate intention and we shall naturally become free from the great fault and from all other faults.  When I first read these words, I literally started dancing around my living room saying “YES!”, feeling as if I had just found the answer to all my questions.

It is customary for Kadampa practitioners to cycle through the 21 meditations explained in the New Meditation Handbook, doing one a day.  In the beginning, when we are unfamiliar with the meditations, it is useful to review the meditation before we start that way we don’t have open our eyes and thumb through a book during the meditation.

In general, when we meditate there are two parts:  analytical meditation and placement meditation.  Analytical meditation is when we contemplate the various points in the Meditation Handbook or our own contemplations to lead us to our desired object.  The goal is to get to the object of meditation, how we get there is not as important.  Placement meditation is once we have found our desired object, we then hold it in placement meditation for as long as possible.  All of this is well explained in the Kadampa books.

From my experience, there are five things which enable us to get the maximum effect out of our Lamrim practice.  I will explain these in detail over the next three posts.

1. Do what moves your mind the most. 

What we are after here is transforming our mind.  How we get there is not so much what matters, but getting there (the object of meditation) is what matters.  At different times different things will move our mind more, and so at such times, that is what we should focus on.  For example, in my own case, in the beginning of my spiritual life I was happily doing my Lamrim cycle as normal for many years, then I had a life-changing retreat where I realized it was possible to meditate with my guru’s mind instead of my own.  Since then, every day for many years, I meditated on reliance upon the spiriutal guide.  I did so because it was what moved my mind the most, I still feel like I have so much left to go.  The way in which I did this was by meditating on the interrelationships between reliance upon the spiritual guide and all the other 20 meditations.  So in some sense, I am meditating on the Lamrim with a theme of reliance on the spiritual guide.

I continued in this way until Modern Buddhism came out and I read the practice of the Yoga of Buddha Heruka.  I felt as if Geshe-la had given me a personally tailored practice and I saw how by engaging in this practice I engage in all of the Kadam Dharma every day.  Every object of the lamrim is contained within it, and now I try generate the appropriate lamrim mind at the relevant place of the sadhana.  I am quite certain there will later come a time when the nature and composition of my practice will change again to something else and this is perfectly natural and OK.  Our practice needs to focus on what moves our mind the most.

2. Use the Lamrim to solve whatever you perceive your biggest problem to be

If we don’t apply our Lamrim practice to our daily problems, then it becomes intellectual.  But when we use the lamrim as the solution to whatever is troubling us the most, then it becomes very personal, very practical, and very powerful.  So we can ask ourselves, how does meditation 1 inform how I should view this problem?  How does meditation 2 indicate what I need to do with this problem, etc. 

Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that all faults find their opponent in the Lamrim, the Lamrim functions to solve all the problems of all living beings, and all of the instructions of Lamrim are to be put into practice.  To put the instructions into practice means to use them to solve our problems, not to just consider them as some abstract generation of various minds.  In the beginning, our ‘biggest problem’ will most likely be something related to this life alone.  That is OK.  That is just where our concerns are at the moment.  But it doesn’t take long, perhaps 6 months to 1 year of pure Lamrim practice, before we feel start to feel as if the scope of our concern begins to extend beyond this life.  It is not that we are no longer concerned about this life as well, rather we start to see this life in the context of our countless future lives.  At this point something very magical takes place, what we perceive to be our biggest problem shifts out of this life alone.  We start to sincerely (not intellectually) worry about our happiness in future lives.  Then we start to worry about our problem of uncontrolled rebirth.  Then we start to worry about others problem of uncontrolled rebirth.  This process evolves and unfolds naturally as a result of sincere Lamrim practice.

What makes it all work, and what makes it all resonate deeply within our mind, is when we use the Lamrim to solve whatever we perceive to be our biggest problem.  The situation may not change, but our view of the situation will completely change; thus solving our mentally fabricated ‘problem.’  The Lamrim is practical advice, and needs to be used to solve our problems.  If we are not doing this, then our practice is highly intellectual, and will have little power to transform our mind.  Not because the Lamrim has little power, but because we are not using it in a powerful way. 

As we gain experience of this, we start to see the Lamrim like a toolbox which we use to solve our own and others various problems.  Over time we realize from our own side that the Lamrim truly does possess all we need to solve our problems.  When we realize this from our own side, then we start to get a glimmer of our good fortune of having found the pure Kadam Dharma.