Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: the Migtsema prayer

The Migtsema prayer is the most important practice of the whole sadhana.  When Geshe-la taught the practice of Heart Jewel at a Summer Festival many years ago, he spent two days just talking about Migstsema.  This practice contains all other practices.  I encourage you to read the section in Heart Jewel about Migtsema practice, it is extraordinary.  However, in the next two posts, I will try explain the essentials we need for our daily practice.  The Migtsema prayer is something virtually all Kadampas recite every day.  This shows its importance, but unfortunately what tends to happen is because we do it every day it becomes routine.  Instead of actually sincerely engaging in the practice, we quickly become distracted thinking about other things.  The result is our practice of Migtsema comes to have little to no power.  This is a great shame, but one that is easily corrected for if we renew the freshness of our Migtsema practice by bringing it alive.

Geshe-la has explained two different ways in which we can recite the Migtsema prayer.  The first way, which I will explain in this post, he explained at the Summer Festival I referred to above, and its essential purpose is to make our recitation of the Migtsema prayer a special prayer for realizing the Kadam Lamrim of the vast, profound and Vajrayana paths.  In short, we request and receive all of the realizations of the stages of the path.  The second method, which I will explain in the next post, is explained in the book Heart Jewel where Geshe-la explains how we can use the Migtsema prayer to gain the seven conventional wisdoms. 

The most important aspect of engaging in this prayer is to have 100% conviction that we are making this request to our living spiritual guide in front of us in the aspect of Je Tsongkhapa.  When we say ‘you’, we are referring to our spiritual guide right in front of us. 

At Je Tsongkhapa’s crown we should visualize Manjushri, at his throat we visualize Avalokiteshvara, and at his heart we visualize Vajrapani.

Tsongkhapa, crown ornament of the scholars of the Land of the Snows,

There are three meanings of this first line  which are explained in detail in the book Heart Jewel.  First, with regard to the pre-eminent qualities of his teachings, Je Tsongkhapa is unequalled among all Tibetan scholars.  Second, with regard to his practical example Je Tsongkhapa is unequalled among all Tibetan scholars.  Finally, third, with regard to his Dharma activities Je Tsongkhapa is unequalled among all Tibetan scholars.

The next three lines of the verse can be understood with the following chart.  The first column explains the line of the prayer and indicates the specific Buddha we should be directing our request to.  The second column explains the specific realization of the Dharma we should mentally be requesting as we recite the line of the prayer.  The third column explains the specific part of the Lamrim we are emphasizing as we recite the prayer.  And the last column refers to what quality of a Buddha is the final result we seek to attain with the prayer. 


Line Realization Dharma Part of a Buddha
You are Avalokiteshvara, the treasury of unobservable  compassion,


Compassion of all the Buddhas Vast Path – paths leading to the realization of bodhichitta and spontaneous great bliss Speech of all the Buddhas
Manjushri, the supreme stainless wisdom, Wisdom of all the Buddhas Profound Path – paths leading to the realization of clear light emptiness Body of all the Buddhas
And Vajrapani, the destroyer of the host of maras; Spiritual Power of all the Buddhas Tantric Path – union of vast and profound path, union of illusory body and clear light Mind of all the Buddhas

So for example, as we recite the line referring to Avalokiteshvara, when we recite the line we should mentally be focused on the Avalokiteshvara at the throat of Lama Tsongkhapa, request that he bestow his compassion onto our mind, specifically by bestowing his blessings to realize the stages of the vast path, with the final goal of we ourselves attaining the enlightened speech of all of the Buddhas.  In effect, we are requesting that Lama Tsongkhapa’s speech become our own, or more accurately that from this point forward he speaks through us so that everything we say is in fact his speech speaking through us.  When we can do this perfectly, 100% of the time, we can validly say that our speech is his speech, his speech is our speech and for all practical purposes we have attained the enlightened speech of all the Buddhas.  We can understand the next two lines of the prayer in exactly the same way.

O Losang Dragpa, I request you please grant your blessings.

With the final line of the prayer, we request Lama Tsongkhapa to bestow the blessings we have requested.  What is a blessing?   Venerable Tharchin says that a blessing is a subtle infusion of the guru’s mind into our own.  Technically speaking, the way this works is Buddhas have the power to activate karmic seeds on our mind.  They know what effect each seed will have on our mind.  When we request their blessings with faith, it creates an opening within our mind where the sun of the Buddha’s blessings can enter and automatically activate the seeds on our mind which ripen in the form of a personal realization of the Dharma we are requesting. 

There are essentially two things we request him to do.  We request that he bless our mind to become just like him, and we request him to bless our mind to gain the specific realizations we are requesting.  It is very important to make this process a personal one.  We need to first consider the different ways in which our mind suffers from delusions and then request that he specifically heal our mind.  We are not requesting academic understanding of Dharma, we are requesting a transformation of our mind from a confused deluded state to a blissful, compassionate and omniscient one. 


Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: the last three limbs and offering the mandala.

We now consider just how incredible of a being Je Tsongkhapa is and we rejoice in all that he has done and continues to do.

In this degenerate age you strove for much learning and accomplishment.
Abandoning the eight worldly concerns, you made your freedom and endowment meaningful.
O Protector, from the very depths of my heart,
I rejoice in the great wave of your deeds.

Je Tsongkhapa showed the best example a Dharma practitioner can follow.  First he studied Dharma extensively.  Then he realized that it was personal advice to be put into practice.  Then he gained deep experience of Dharma by practicing day and night, and finally he dedicated all his virtues to the flourishing of Dharma.  If we check, what Je Tsongkhapa did in the 14th Century Geshe-la is doing now for us now.  So if you want to rejoice in what Je Tsongkhapa did, consider what Geshe-la is doing today.

The truly amazing thing about rejoicing is when we do so we accumulate a fraction of the merit from the other being’s deeds.  We did not engage in these actions ourselves, but by rejoicing in and appreciating all that they have done, the act of rejoicing itself gives us a fraction of the merit as if we did the action ourselves.  Since Je Tsongkhapa’s merit is limitless, even a fraction of such merit is like winning the lottery. 

As the verse explains, we live in a ‘degenerate age.’ This means times are spiritually degenerate and the goals of most beings are worldly.  The ‘eight worldly concerns’ are the concerns of worldly people (if we are honest, that means us), namely being concerned about receiving resources and respect, experiencing pleasure, and enjoying praise and a good reputation.  These are our gods for whom we work.  It is when we abandon the eight worldly concerns that our Dharma practice becomes pure.  Generally what makes our practice pure is when it is concerned with things beyond this life.  We cannot take any of these things with us when we die, but we can take our merit and our karmic habits of mind. 

The essential purpose of holy beings coming into our world is to explain to people how to wake up from the dream of samsara.  If we were trapped in a horrible nightmare, wouldn’t we appreciate somebody coming along and waking us up so that we could escape its terrors?  The difference is with the dream of samsara, we need to wake ourselves up.  The holy beings have come to explain to us how.

From the billowing clouds of wisdom and compassion
In the space of your Truth Body, O Venerable and holy Gurus,
Please send down a rain of vast and profound Dharma
Appropriate to the disciples of this world.

Here the essential idea is we need to make requests that the Buddhas teach Dharma.  Without these requests, without wanting it from our own side, it won’t happen.  This is a fantastic way to benefit living beings.  Brahma and Indra requested Buddha Shakyamuni to turn the wheel of Dharma, and as a result of their request billions of people have received benefit. The benefit we are receiving now comes from the kindness of their request.  Thus we request on behalf of all living beings.

The ‘Space of your Truth Body’ means that everything that is taking place is occuring within the guru’s Truth Body and the ‘Vast and profound Dharma’ – refers to the vast and profound paths.  Just as a bird needs two wings to fly, so too we need both the vast and profound paths to attain enlightenment.  The vast path primarily deals with the development of bodhichitta, and the profound path primarily deals with the development of the wisdom realizing emptiness.

Finally, we dedicate the merit we have accumulated to help fuel our spiritual purpose.

Through the virtues I have accumulated here,
May the doctrine and all living beings receive every benefit.
Especially may the essence of the doctrine
Of Venerable Losang Dragpa shine forever.

Dedication functions to protect our merit from being destroyed by anger.  It is like saving our documents on the computer before the computer crashes.  We give away all our merit to others, which functions to increase our merit.  The dedication verse explains why we have done all that we have done, now we harness and direct this spiritual energy towards our desired purpose.

There is no greater offering we can make than everything.  If we truly understood the nature of samsara, we would realize there is no point doing anything other than waking up and helping all other beings wake up.  This does not mean we need to abandon our lives, families and jobs, rather it means we need to wake up in the context of our lives, families and jobs; and thereby help others to do the same.  We use everything we have – our resources, our time, our bodies, our minds, whatever power we might possess – all for the sake of helping ourself and others wake up.  We do this with the mandala offering.

The ground sprinkled with perfume and spread with flowers,
The Great Mountain, four lands, sun and moon,
Seen as a Buddha Land and offered thus,
May all beings enjoy such Pure Lands.


The basic idea of offering a mandala is you mentally imagine that you transform the entire universe into a pure land and all the being within it into pure beings.  Mentally you are offering this to your guru.  What does this mean?  It means that you are mentally offering the promise that you will do whatever it takes to make this happen.  You will work continuously until you actually do make your offering a reality (delivering all beings to a pure land).  Since your offering here is you will work continuously until all the problems of all living beings in all their lives are solved, this is the biggest offering you can possibly make, and as a result the merit you accumulate from such an offering is ‘maxed out’!

We can also with a mandala offering offer our friends and family requesting that our spiritual guide take them into his care.  We can also offer all the objects which give rise to our delusions requesting to be free from the delusions.  By offering the objects of our delusions it functions to pacify them.

The most important thing is to really get into it.  We should think how wonderful it would be to actually do this.  There is no value in having doubts like, ‘this is just my imagination,’ ‘I can’t really transform the entire universe into a pure land,’ ‘I can’t really lead all beings to enlightenment,’ and so forth.  We should choose to believe that it is possible and make the real promise that we will do this.  We need to let our mind be unconstrained by what we currently perceive to be possible.

On a physical level we can buy a mandala kit at a Kadampa center to make mandala offerings with it.  While this is important, we shouldn’t think that the physical piling of rice in these little mental rings is a mandala offering.  That is just a physical representation of what is the real offering, namely what you are doing with your mind.

IDAM GURU… means “I offer this jeweled mandala to you precious (or holy) Guru, please accept it”

Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: The next three limbs of the seven limb prayer

Next in the sadhana comes the prayer for prostration:

Your mind of wisdom realizes the full extent of objects of knowledge,
Your eloquent speech is the ear-ornament of the fortunate,
Your beautiful body is ablaze with the glory of renown,
I prostrate to you, whom to see, to hear, and to remember is so meaningful.

To prostrate means to sweep away all impurities and defilements and request all good qualities.  So what we are doing here is requesting that all impurities and defilements that obstruct our attainment of the good qualities of our spiritual guide are removed, and we request that we attain these good qualities ourself.  The key here, as before, is to really believe that our guru is in front of us, and we are prostrating to him.

The first line means that our guru is omniscient and sees all objects of knowledge.  Specifically, he knows all paths, and so knows which ones work and which ones don’t. If we were lost, wouldn’t we cherish meeting somebody who knows the way?  The reality is we are lost in the desert of samsara, but we have found somebody who can guide is to the Oasis of Tushita Pure Land.  In the second line, ‘fortunate’ refers to bodhisattvas, those who have taken on the goal of liberating all beings.  Our guru inside our mind stands ready to reveal to us everything we need to know to accomplish our spiritual goals.  Imagine having somebody perfectly reliable we can turn to who will explain to us everything we need.  We should feel that hearing his speech gives rise to happiness and great bliss.  The third line reminds us that his body possesses all the signs and indications of a fully enlightened being.  Specifically, we should feel like we are in the living presence of this great being whose body radiates light putting at peace all around him.  He has a power greater than all of the forces of samsara combined, and he is now at our side.  With the fourth line, we actually prostrate.  If we truly were in the presence of such a great being, prostrating would come spontaneously.  We would fall at his feet with all our heart, not in some cult-like submission, but rather out of a mixture of awe and relief of having made it to safety. 

Once we have emotionally recovered from realizing we are the presence of such a great being, we then would quite naturally make offerings to him.    Remember, we have invited him into our mind, into our home and he has graciously accepted our invitation.

Pleasing water offerings, various flowers,
Sweet-smelling incense, lights, scented water, and so forth,
A vast cloud of offerings both set out and imagined,
I offer to you, O Supreme Field of Merit.

We mentally transform everything in the universe into complete purity and then offer this purity to our spiritual guide and imagine that it gives rise to great bliss.  We do not make offerings for the benefit of the spiritual guide, but for our own benefit.  Giving creates the cause for receiving, so if offer everything as pure, then that is what we will receive in the future.  This is a powerful method for accumulating merit.  The key here is to really believe that your guru is in front of you, and you are actually making offerings to him and he is receiving them and actually generating bliss.

The most important offering we can make is ourselves.  We offer ourselves into his service.  If we were a Christian and Jesus Christ himself came to our home saying he would care for and guide us for the rest of time, surely this would change everything and we would offer ourselves immediately and without hesitation knowing we had been enlisted into a truly higher cause.  Inviting Lama Tsongkhapa is exactly the same, we just don’t believe it to be so and so we are not moved to put ourself under his guidance and care.  But it is so.  He is there.  He is ready to guide us.  He has a purpose for us.

To assume the mantle of our new purpose, we must first cleanse ourselves of all the dirt and grime which has accumulated on our soul (very subtle mind).  We clean ourselves and dress nicely to go to work, and we especially do so when we are going some place important.  But now, we are assuming the highest work of all and we will be residing in the hearts of all beings.  If we realize this, we will naturally want to cleanse ourselves for a new beginning.  We do so with the prayer for purification.

Whatever non-virtues of body, speech, and mind
I have accumulated since time without beginning,
Especially transgressions of my three vows,
With great remorse I confess each one from the depths of my heart.

The terrifying reality is we have spent 99% of our past in the lower realms where we essentially engaged only in non-virtue.  The reason why it is dangerous to take rebirth in the lower realms is because once there all we do is engage in non-virtue and create the cause to remain there.  We need to realize that this negativity is like a walking time bomb in our mind which can blow at any point in time.  So we need to purify it immediately. 

We should gather together all the unimaginable non-virtue we have accumulated into our heart in the form of black smoke, and then imagine that at the end of the verse white light rays and nectars flow down from Je Tsongkhapa’s heart and they dispel all our negative karma like turning on the lights in a dark room.  We should strongly feel as if we have actually been cleansed of an eternities worth of mistakes.  Water and soap clean our bodies every morning in the shower, blessings and faith clean our true selves.  We have been given a fresh start. 

Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: Generating bodhichitta and inviting the Guru

We next turn to generating bodhichitta.  Our motivation determines the power of our practice.  The power of our virtue is multiplied by the number of beings upon whose behalf you engage in the virtue.  If we do your practice for one being, for example ourself, then it has a power of one.  If we do it for our family of say 5 then it has a power of 5.  If we do it for all countless living beings, then its power is infinite.  It is the karmic equivalent of doing it countless times.  Doing it for oneself is like a candle, and doing it for all living beings is like the blazing of the sun. 

To generate qualified bodhichitta we we can once again do so from the perspective of having exchanged ourself with others.  This is best accomplished by imputing our I onto all living beings.  We then consider how each being is like a wave on the ocean of our mind or a cell in the body of all living beings which is ourself is suffering from uncontrolled rebirth into contaminated aggregates.  This gives rise to compassion.  We then consider that we ourselves need to do something about this.  We see that we currently lack the ability to do anything but a Buddha possesses the ability, so we conclude we must become a Buddha for the benefit of all.  Again, the observed object of ‘I’ is our very subtle mind, our true self.  We need to train in identifying with our very subtle mind and stop identifying with our ordinary body and mind.

On the basis of these recognitions, we then recite the bodhichitta prayer from the sadhana.

Through the virtues I collect by giving and other perfections,
May I become a Buddha for the benefit of all.   (3x)

After we have generated bodhichitta, we now invite the Guru to come before us.  If we are to communicate with somebody, we first need to connect with them.  We can do that by meeting them at a restaurant, dialing their phone number or chatting with them on-line.  In exactly the same way, if we are to communicate with the enlightened beings, we need to first connect with them.  We do this through inviting the guru into the space before us.  In reality, he is already there since the enlightened beings pervade everything.  But the problem is due to the obstructions on our mind, we don’t feel their presence.  Inviting the guru helps activate the karma where we feel we are in direct communication with the divine.

We recite from the sadhana:

From the heart of the Protector of the hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land,
To the peak of a cloud which is like a cluster of fresh, white curd,
All-knowing Losang Dragpa, King of the Dharma,
Please come to this place together with your Sons.

Here we visualize from the heart of Maitreya in Tushita Pure Land a plume of clouds comes billowing towards us, and then when it reaches the space in front of us Je Tsongkhapa and his two sons emerge.  The most important thing is to have the 100% conviction that you are in the living presence of your spiritual guide in the aspect of Je Tsongkhapa and his two sons.  You need conviction and the feeling that they are actually there.

How can we understand the meaning of these words?  The Protector refers to Buddha Maitreya who will be the next Buddha after Buddha Shakyamuni’s Dharma has left this world.  ‘Joyful Land’ refers to Tushita pure land, which is Je Tsongkhapa’s pure land.  For Sutra practitioners, this is the pure land we try take rebirth into.  This is where we want to go.  If we take rebirth in Tushita Pure Land we can receive teachings directly from Je Tsongkhapa.  It is like going to a Summer Festival at Manjushri where we reunite with all of our Kadampa friends and family, we practice cherishing each other and we receive teachings directly from our Spiritual Guide Lama Tsongkhapa.  The difference, of course, is we don’t need to worry about our muddy tent or the long lines for the shower!  

‘Losang Dragpa’ is Je Tsongkhapa’s ordained name.  He is called the King of the Dharma because he is the greatest Dharma practitioner and scholar ever.  When we recite ‘come to this place’ it helps us reinforce our recognition that he is right there in front of us.  He is in the visualized space in front of us inside our mind.  All of this is taking place within your mind.  The ‘Sons’ referred to are not his biological sons, but rather his spiritual sons.  One is by nature Avalokiteshvara, who is the compassion of all the Buddhas, and the other is by nature Vajrapani, who is the spiritual power of all the Buddhas.  Je Tsongkhapa himself is by nature Manjushri, the wisdom of all the Buddhas.

The next verse of the sadhana is technically part of the prayer of the seven limbs, but since its function is to help reinforce our conviction that we are in the living presence of our guru, I will explain it in the context of this post.  We recite:

In the space before me on a lion throne, lotus, and moon,
The venerable Gurus smile with delight.
O Supreme Field of Merit for my mind of faith,
Please remain for a hundred aeons to spread the doctrine.

Here the essential point is we are requesting the spiritual guide to remain to teach the Dharma.  If we don’t make requests for the Buddha’s to remain in this world, then there won’t be the causes for them to be here. 

The words ‘space before me’ means he about one arm’s length slightly above your eye level.  But we should not grasp too tightly at dimensions.  From one perspective, the field of merit is as vast as the entire universe, but from another perspective it feels as intimate and close as sitting right there at his feet.  Imagine what it would be like to have a face to face meeting with him in a close setting, yet at the same time he is as vast as the universe meeting individually with each and every being.  It is both at the same time.  We imagine that they ‘smile [at us] with delight.’ They are very pleased that we have brought them here, like inviting a close friend over for coffee.

The ‘field of merit’ refers to where we sow our spiritual seeds and reap a harvest of Dharma realizations.  The field of merit refers to Je Tsongkhapa and his two sons, the synthesis of all Buddhas, but by nature we recognize him as our spiritual guide.  We request them to remain to spread the doctrine.  The doctrine does not spread anywhere other than in the minds of living beings.  It is very important that this feel like a genuine relationship and meeting.  When we go meet with an important person, we establish a relationship with them.  In dependence upon this relationship, we can then ask them to help us and we can offer our help to them in accomplishing their objectives.  As the relationship grows closer, we begin to collaborate more and more and feel like a team.  They know us and we know them, and we are working together on a common objective of spreading the Dharma.  Je Tsongkhapa is like our spiritual mentor who guides us in our spiritual life and work.  He is our best friend, he is our spiritual father, he is our guide, he is the one we can always count on.  What could be more important than cultivating a close personal friendship with a being such as Je Tsongkhapa?  He wants nothing more than to do so with us.  If we only realized we can actually do so with him, it would become the greatest priority in our life.


Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: Going for refuge


The reason why we go for refuge is because it is like walking through the doorway of Dharma.  We realize that the solution to our problems lies in changing our mind.  But before we start the actual sadhana we must first prepare ourselves for meditation.   After we have cleaned the meditation room, set up our shrine and sat in the correct meditation posture, the first thing we need to do is calm our mind by dissolving all things into the ultimate nature of our mind and engaging in the breathing meditation.  We should do this for around 2-5 minutes.  This stage is important, but we should not get stuck here.

Once we have calmed our mind, we need to create the causes of going for refuge:  fear and faith.  There are three things we cultivate fear for.  Our own rebirth in the lower realms, our own rebirth anywhere in samsara, the rebirth of anyone anywhere in samsara.  We need to choose the one that moves our mind the most depending on where we are.  The goal is to move our mind the most.  But it is good to also try generate the compassionate motivation as well since this is our final goal.  So we imagine all living beings around us, realize that they they are all part of us (they are all aspects of our empty mind, we are like one body, and then consider how they are taking uncontrolled rebirth into contaminated aggregates because we have not yet gained control of our own mind. 

On the basis of this fear, we then generate faith.  This is faith in the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in general, but in our guru in particular.  We visualize in the space in front of us the living Guru Buddha Shakyamuni surrounded by all the other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.  The most important thing is to maintain 100% conviction and the feeling of being in the living presence of your spiritual guide.  Buddha is like the supreme doctor, Dharma is like the supreme medicine, and Sangha are like the supreme nurses.  We consider the guru to be the synthesis of all three Jewels.  He manifests all Three Jewels for us.  We see all Three Jewels as manifestations of our guru, so our real refuge is in the guru.  We think that ‘I have promised to free all living beings from all of their suffering.  (Looking at the guru we say)  You are the perfect means by which I can fulfil my promise (we say this understanding that by mixing our mind completely with our guru’s we can gain all the abilities and realizations we need to be able to free all living beings).  We consider how we can die at any point in time.  We ask ourselves, ‘if I died today, would I be ready?’  We could easily be swept away by samsara and lose the path forever.  So we think, ‘I must mix my mind inseparably with yours while I still have the chance.’  On this basis, we can then recite the refuge prayer.

I and all sentient beings, until we achieve enlightenment,
Go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.   (3x)

Here we imagine that we lead all living beings surrounding us in the refuge prayer.  It is important that this not become routine or ritual, but a sincere and qualified practice.

To go for refuge means to rely upon something as a source of protection.  There are two types of refuge:  Simple refuge and special refuge.  Simple refuge is simply calling upon the power of the holy beings to help us.  The key to making such requests is to have the complete conviction that our requests are heard, and to have complete faith that who we are requesting has the complete power to fulfil our request.  Special refuge is when we strengthen our own mind sufficiently to protect ourselves.  This recognizes that it is not enough to just have others help us, but we must build up our own refuge in our own mind.  The real refuge is the realizations of Dharma within our mind.  While special refuge is the final goal, we never abandon our simple refuge.  Rather our simple refuge forever remains the means by which we acquire special refuge.

The key to making our refuge qualified is to really feel like we are actually talking to somebody who is really there, no different than talking to somebody outside of our meditation.  If we feel like we are talking to ourself, talking to our wall or talking to some imaginary friend, it doesn’t work.  We should feel like we are in the living presence of our guru inside our mind, and we are going for refuge to him.  He is an actual being who lives inside our mind.  Just as we go on-line to chat with our friends we cannot see with our physical eyes but we do not doubt at all their existence or that we are communicating with them, so too we go into meditation to directly communicate with our guru who we cannot see with our physical eyes but we have no doubt at all of his existence or that we are communicating directly with him.  Ultimate refuge is mixing our mind indistinguishably with the guru’s mind, so that our mind becomes his mind and his mind becomes our mind.  Since his mind already has all of the realizations of the stages of the path, by mixing our mind with his we download all of his realizations into our own mind to the point that they become our own.  The Spiritual Guide is like the Google of all of the Buddhas.  From Google, we can quickly gain access to all knowledge.  In the same way, through the Spiritual Guide, we can quickly gain access to all enlightened wisdom, compassion and power.

If we have some experience with exchanging self with others, it is particularly powerful to impute our I onto all living beings, and then as all living beings we engage in the sadhana.  If this is too difficult, at a minimum when we think “I” we should make a distinction between our true self, which is our very subtle mind at our heart also known as our pure potential, and who we mistakenly think we are, namely our ordinary body and mind.  Our ordinary body and mind are the straight jacket of our samsara trapping our true self inside.  It is our true self we wish to free.

Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: An introduction to Je Tsongkhapa

In this post I will try explain the benefits of establishing a close connection with Je Tsongkhapa, then in the next post I will begin the actual commentary to the Heart Jewel Sadhana.

First of all, who is Je Tsongkhapa)?  Je Tsongkhapa was a monk in the 14th century who reconsolidated all of Buddha’s teachings and presented them in an easy to understand manner.  Buddha Shakyamuni, Atisha, and Je Tsongkhapa are all the same mental continuum.  Buddha Shakyamuni founded the Dharma in this world, it then spread out in various lineages.  Atisha reassembled all the lineages into the Lamrim.  It then spread out in various lineages, and Je Tsongkhapa reassembed them all together in the 14th century.

Je Tsongkhapa founded the New Kadampa Tradition, of which we are the latest generation.  His main function was to unite Sutra and Tantra.  We can adopt the view that Geshe-la is the same mental continuum as Je Tsongkhapa.  What Je Tsongkhapa did in Tibet in the 14th Century, Geshe-la is doing today in the modern world. 

What is the Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa?  What then is the path that he teaches?  If the entire path to enlightenment were laid out before us, we would see that there are three stages.  They can be thought of like a funnel.  The first part is the Lamrim, or the stages of the path.  The Lamrim is the condensation of all 84,000 of Buddha’s instructions, reduced down to the essential instructions.  By practicing the Lamrim, we are directly or indirectly practicing all 84,000 of Buddha’s instructions. Essentially the Lamrim is a description of reality.  What we are doing is we are adopting the perspective of an enlightened being.  By adopting this perspective as our own, we will naturally act the way an enlightened being acts.  This is the top part of the funnel.

The second major part is Lojong, or training the mind.  Technically this is part of the Lamrim, but is extracted as something separate in order to emphasize its importance.  Here we are primarily concerned with perfecting our motivation, especially in the face of adversity.  Lojong presents powerful methods for transforming every moment of our lives, day and night, into powerful methods for attaining enlightenment.  The conclusion of Lojong is we must become a Buddha for the benefit of all.  The main wish is to lead all living beings to freedom.  To accomplish this wish, we need to first become a Buddha, someone who has the ability to do this.  This is the bottom part of the funnel.

The third stage of his path is Vajrayana Mahamudra, or Tantric practice.  The conclusion of Lojong was we need to become a Buddha for the benefit of all, to accomplish this aim, we engage in Tantric practice.  So the real conclusion of Lojong is we need to enter the Tantric path to enlightenment.  In Tantra we find the actual methods for transforming our very subtle mind into the omnsicient wisdom of a Buddha.  This is the tip of the funnel.

By drawing closer to Je Tsongkhapa, we draw ourselves closer to all of his Dharma.  He is the embodiment of his Dharma.  If all of his Dharma took a form, it would look like Je Tsongkhapa.

I would like to focus on three main benefits to the Je Tsongkhapa part of Heart Jewel (many others are explained in the book Heart Jewel):  First, the practice of Heart Jewel prepares our mind for meditation.  It accomplishes three main functions of purifying our negative karma, accumulating merit, and receiving blessings.  This can be understood according to the analogy of driving.  To drive, we need three things:  a clear road, gasoline and spark plugs to ignite the gasoline.  In the same way, through the practice of purification we clear the path within our mind of all obstacles standing in the way of our smooth cruising to enlightenment.  We need the gasoline of abundant merit to power our journey, and we need the spark plugs of the guru’s blessings which ignite the gasoline causing the engine to turn. 

Second, practicing Heart Jewel draws us closer to Je Tsongkhapa himself.  We can understand this in two ways.  First, in the sense of him becoming a special friend.  It is a mistake to think we can only have as friends beings we can actually see with our physical eyes.  Another name for a Buddhist is “an inner being.”  This is actually a literal statement.  A Buddha is a being who lives inside our mind.  We can develop deep and close friendships with them where we feel their presence in our lives every moment of every day.  Second, we draw closer to him in the sense of becoming just like him.  We become what we mix our mind with.  If we mix our mind with the Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa, the result will be to become him ourselves.  What does this mean?  Je Tsongkhapa is the supreme Kadampa Spiritual Guide.  He is the same nature as Buddha Shakyamuni, the supreme guide of Sutra, and Vajradhara, the supreme guide of Tantra.  Avalokiteshvara is the embodiment of his compassion.  Manjusrhi is the embodiment of his wisdom.  Vajrapani is the embodiment of his spiritual power.  By drawing closer to Je Tsongkhapa through our practice of Heart Jewel, we will come to embody ourselves all of his good qualities.

Finally, drawing closer to Je Tsongkhapa enables us to gain all the realizations of his Lamrim, Lojong, and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  By mixing our mind with Je Tsongkhapa, we mix our mind with his Dharma.  Through this, we will receive very powerful special blessings to easily and quickly understand his Dharma.  Je Tsongkhapa is the supreme Kadampa, and to wish to be a Kadampa is to wish to have the same spiritual qualities as Je Tsongkhapa. 

In short, the most important thing we are striving for is to develop a personal relationship with this living Buddha.  We want to bring him into our life, and come under his care and guidance.  We want to feel his living presence in our lives, and develop a personal intimate relationship with him.

Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: How to successfully engage in sadhana practice.

With the understanding of how we should view a sadhana from the previous post, in this post I will discuss some general advice for how to successfully engage in sadhana practice.  This applies to any sadhana we do, not just our practice of Heart Jewel.

The most important thing we need to do while we are doing our sadhanas is to generate single pointed concentration.  For those of you who were at the Summer Festival in 1997 when Geshe-la opened the temple at Manjushri, you may recall what I am talking about.  At the time, we all knew that the first teaching he gave in the temple would be an important teaching, but I think few of us knew how important it would be. The official title of the teachings was a commentary to the Lamrim, but he actually spent 2.5 of 3 days telling us one thing:  we have all the practices we need to attain enlightenment, and the only thing we have to do to accomplish this goal is to pay full attention to them while we are doing them.  That’s it!  We have everything we need, we have the perfect methods to accomplish our goal, and all we need to do is apply single pointed concentration to our practices as we do them.  If we do this, then all the good feelings naturally arise, then we will long to do our practices, and we will quickly progress towards enlightenment.  Every time we do our practices we gain deeper personal experience of the practices (not just intellectual familiarity with them) and so every time we do our practice it moves us deeper and is fresh and powerful.  Practiced in this way, sadhanas never grow dry.

The second most important thing we need to do (with single pointed concentration) is to, as Venerable Tharchin says, ‘intend to the meaning of the words.’  It is not that we use single pointed concentration to verbally recite the words!  Not at all.  That will just single pointedly go nowhere! We need to single pointedly generate the minds intended by the words.  The words refer to minds that we need to generate in conjunction with the words. The words are a method for enabling us to gain access to and generate the minds intended by the words.  As Venerable Tharchin says, the words of the sadhana should ‘give voice to what we feel in our heart.’  The words of the sadhana should be, as he says, ‘the very expression of our heart.’  From our heart, again as he says, ‘flow and emerge the words of the sadhana.’  We need to check if this is our experience.  Or are we just saying these words verbally (or mentally) without allowing them to touch our heart.  We need to train again and again, gaining deep familiarity with the intended meanings of the words, so that when we say them they are ‘giving voice to what we feel in our heart.’  This can easily take an entire lifetime to do, and still we would not fully accomplish this.  This is our training.  This is why we recite sadhanas.  This is what we are training to be able to do.  If we do this, Geshe-la said he ‘100% guarrantees us that we will attain enlightenment.’ These were his words at that historic Summer Festival.

The third things we need to do is to experience our sadhanas as a tour through our guru’s mind.  Above we said that sadhanas are guided meditations by the guru.  This is literally true.  It is not just that he wrote the words to the sadhana, but that when we recite them, he literally is entering our mind and helping us to generate what is in his mind.  These are methods for generating his mind in our mind.  More accurately, they are methods for transforming our mind into his mind.  The words, and the minds intended by the words, are subtle emanations of our guru’s mind.  When we generate these minds in our mind, we are literally transforming our mind into his mind.  He is directly entering our mind, and we are gaining first hand experience of what it is like to have his mind as our own.  Our recitation and meditation are the supreme method for directly mixing our mind with his.  

Literally what we need to do when we engage in recitation and meditation is we need to ‘let the guru do the meditation for us in our mind.’  Kadam Bjorn emphasized this during his teachings very much.  He said, ‘one moment of reliance will produce greater results than years of straining (going at it on our own).’  We need to learn to meditate using his mind, and not using our ordinary mind.  It takes a while to learn how to actually do this, but there is no more powerful way in which we can do our practices. 

So how do we rely upon the guru’s mind alone in all of our practices?  Specifically, within the context of sadhanas, we need to view each word (and corresponding mind) as a subtle emanation of our guru’s mind inside our mind.  We should view each line of the sadhana as an implicit request that our guru reveal to us the meaning of these words in our heart, and to bestow upon us the realization implied by the words.  It is the guru’s job (technically the Yidam, who we see as the Guru Deity) to bestow realizations, and the necessary condition for him to be able to do so within our mind is us making these requests.  He is standing ready to bestow upon us all the realizations of the stages of the path, and we merely need to give him an opening in our mind to do so.  Our requests made out of faith in this way are the method for opening our mind to permit his realizations to pour down into our mind.  If we practice like this, our sadhana practice will become extremely powerful.  The only way in which can understand the difference between practicing with our own mind versus practicing with our guru’s mind is if we try it out for ourself.  Once we gain personal experience of this, we will realize that this is the best way to practice, even that there is no other way to truly practice.

To begin with, one of the most important things to remember when visualizing the Field of Merit is to have 100% conviction that we are in the living presence of our Guru in the aspect of Je Tsongkapa and his two sons (and likewise in the living presence of our guru in the aspect of Dorje Shugden for the Dorje Shugden part).  This conviction, more than anything, is what makes our practices powerful.

Finally, we need to enjoy.  Geshe-la says when we practice Dharma we should be like a child at play.  There is a very good reason for this.  When we enjoy our practices, results will come naturally. When we enjoy results, we will naturally relish the opportunity to practice more; which brings even more results, and so the virtuous cycle continues.  So above all enjoy the spiritual adventure!

Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: What is our heart practice?

In the last post we discussed the benefits of a daily meditation practice.  We can now turn to what we actually do for our daily practice. 

We are called Kadampa Buddhism.  A Kadampa is someone who takes as their main practice the Lamrim, the stages of the path.  Kadam means ‘all of Buddha’s instructions’ and pa means ‘practitioner’, so a Kadampa is someone who puts all of Buddha’s instructions into practice within the context of the Lamrim.

The essential practice of Kadampa Buddhism is to do Heart Jewel with Lamrim meditation.  This is the defining characteristic of a Kadampa Buddhist.  It has three parts known as ‘the Heart Jewel sandwich.’

  1. Je Tsongkhapa part.  Here we establish a close connection with Je Tsongkhapa.  All of Geshe-la’s teachings come from Je Tsongkhapa.  Je Tsongkhapa was the founder of the New Kadampa Tradition.  The essential point of the first part is by establishing a close connection with Je Tsongkhapa, we establish a close connection with all of his teachings.
  2. Lamrim part.  The Lamrim is the synthesis of all of of Buddha’s instructions.  It is a special presentation.  So in the Lamrim part we engage in Lamrim meditation.
  3. Dorje Shugden part.  Dorje Shugden is the Dharma protector of Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings.  His job is to arrange all the conditions for the pure Kadam Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa to flourish in our mind and the mind of others.  His job is to arrange all the outer and inner conditions we need for our attainment of enlightenment in this lifetime.

The most important point to keep in mind is these deities are real (though non-inherently existent, of course) people.  We can develop very genuine, personal and intimate relationships with these enlightened beings, and my goal with this series of posts is to explain to how.

Heart Jewel is a sadhana.  The translation of sadhana is ‘a method for receiving attianments.’  There are three main mistakes we generally make when doing sadhanas:

The first mistake, is when we think that sadhanas are someting we do as opposed to something we transform ourselves with.  We think sadhanas do something to us.  We treat them like any other ordinary samsaric object.  In the beginning it tastes great, but if we treat it like an ordinary samsaric object, after the thousandth time we have done it, it will be dry and stale.  But when we view it as a mental gymastics routine that we need to master, then we can easily spend a lifetime on these practices, and still have more work to do.

The second mistake we make is we make a distinction between meditation and recitation.  We think that meditation (strictly defined to the formal meditation part of our session) is where we really make progress on the path, and that recitation is just that thing we have to do before we can get to the actual meditation.  We just zip along without paying much attention to what we are doing, half of our mind is on the sadhana and the other half is wandering about.  We need to acknowledge that this is exactly what we are doing.

The third mistake we make is when, on the basis of practicing in the way described in the second mistake, we don’t achieve good results or good feelings, and we then conclude that recitation of sadhanas has no power and is a waste of time.  Then, since we have commitments to do these things, we start to view our recitation of sadhanas as an obstacle to our progressing along the path.  We think that it is getting in the way of what really matters, formal meditation (strictly defined).  We feel obliged to do the practices, and so they become a chore.  After we have done the same sadhana 1,000 times, unless we are practicing very skillfully, it will get very dry.  This feeling of drynes and flatness causes us to falsely conclude that the sadhanas don’t work.  We falsely conclude that the mistake lies on the side of the sadhana, and not in the way in which we are doing the sadhana.  This mistake is probably the number one reason why people wind up abandoning their practice after many years.  We can usually just ride on our previously accumulated potentialities for a good 3-7 years, but after that, if we are not practicing skillfully, everything goes flat.  At this time there is a great danger that we make some false conclusions and wind up leaving the Dharma altogether.  There are many many people who have done this. 

I would say that these three mistakes are amongst the main causes of people quitting the Dharma after having practiced for several years.  The relevant question we need to ask ourselves is are we going to let this happen to us?  The biggest thing we have to fear is losing the path altogether, because if we do that, then we have no hope.  So we should be VERY afraid of making these mistakes (and we are all making them to a greater or lesser extent) and we need to do what we can to avoid them.

So with that said, what is the proper way of viewing and practicing sadhanas?  I will answer this in two parts.  First, I will describe what is the proper view to have of our sadhanas, and then in the next post I will describe how we actually practice them.

So what is the proper view of our sadhanas?  The literal translation of a sadhana is a method for accomplishing attainments (or realizations). The name itself reveals its purpose.  The Buddhas call these practices the methods for accomplishing realizations. 

It is important to remember that these practices have lineage. These sadhanas have been practiced for hundreds and hundreds of years by thousands and thousands (if not millions and millions) of practitioners. They have been handed down from one lineage guru to the next, and each guru became a lineage guru in dependence upon these practices.  Lineage tells us two things.  First, that the practices are authentic.  This is not something that somebody made up along the way, but they come down through a series of fully realized masters.  Second, we know that they work.  They have worked for everyone in the past who has practiced them purely.  From knowing they are authentic and that they work can give us great confidence that if we too practice them sincerely, we too will accomplish realizations.

In reality a sadhana is a guided meditation.  We will talk in the next post about who it is guided by (the guru — the synthesis of all the Buddhas), but it is important to understand that it is a guided meditation.  Just as in formal meditation we go through a series of contemplations to arrive at a conclusion, the same is true with our sadhana practice.  Each conclusion we reach is actually a line of reasoning within our future contemplations, so there is actually no hard and fast delineation between objects of analytical and objects of placement meditation.  A sadhana is actually a sequence of minds that we need to generate which lead us to a certain result.  The results of this sequence of minds are the benefits which are described in the commentaries.  Just as if we want to make a car, we have to go through a series of steps, adding parts, assembling them together in just the right way, etc., so too when trying to transform our mind into that of an enlightenend being, we have to go through a series of steps, adding parts (different minds) and assembling them together in just the right way (the sadhana).  A sadhana is a method for manufacturing enlightenment in our mind.  The words of the sadhana are not mere words we say, rather they are minds we are to generate.  Our mouths cannot attain enlightenment, so no matter how many times we say the words, if we don’t generate the minds behind them, we will never attain enlightenment.


Reliance on the Guru’s mind alone: Motivation for doing series

If we are to do only one thing in our spiritual practice it is this:  always maintain the recognition of our guru at our heart mixed inseparably with our root mind.  The rest will flow naturally from this.  My goal for this series of posts is to explain what I understand to be the essentials of a successful daily practice.  

The main theme of the whole series of posts is:  learning how to rely upon the guru’s mind alone.  Every single thing I discuss will have this as its common denominator, and everything should be understood to support this idea. This series of posts will be a commentary to how to engage in the heart practice of the Kadampa tradition:  the practice of Heart Jewel conjoined with our Lamrim practice.  This is our daily spiritual bread.   

All of Dharma can be condensed into one purpose:  gaining complete control over our mind.  Since everything that exists is nothing more than a projection of our mind, if we gain control over our mind we gain control over everything.  Samsara is nothing more than uncontrolled projections of mind, and Nirvana is nothing more than controlled projections of mind. 

We talk a lot about how we have choice of mind, but actually we only have the potential to have complete choice of mind.  At present, our mind is almost fully out of control.  This is why we suffer.  An uncontrolled mind projects an uncontrolled world. 

Meditation is the supreme method for gaining control over our mind.  Meditation is essentially exercises for the mind.  We exercise our choice of mind, and gain control over it so that it obeys us.  It becomes our tool, instead of us being a slave to it.  It is actually impossible to gain control of our mind without a regular meditation practice, thus if we want to gain control over our reactions to things, then we must gain control over our mind.  The only way to fully do this is through a regular meditation practice.  There is no other way. Just as we find time to exercise our body, how much more should we find time to exercise our mind.  Just as we find time every day to clean our body, why can we not find time to clean our mind?

Meditation is the internal technology which enables us to reorganize our mind on a subtle and deep level.  Whatever we mix your mind with we will become.  Meditation is the internal technology which enables us to access and then purify our very subtle mind.  There is no other way.  Since it is only by accessing and purifying our very subtle mind that we can attain liberation or enlightenment, if we are serious about wanting to be happy and sincere in our wish to help others, then we need to begin to meditate.

Meditation is the principal cause of inner peace.  Meditation is mental karma whose effect is inner peace.  Since inner peace is the cause of happiness, ultimately meditation is the principal cause of happiness. Meditation is the principal means by which we proceed along the stages of the path.  With this we can ultimately fulfil all our own and others wishes.

To me, meditation feels like I am plugging into the guru’s mind, receiving instructions, and then I put them into practice throughout the day.  Meditation is the supreme method for mixing our mind with our guru’s mind to the point where his mind becomes our mind and our mind becomes his mind.

Meditation enables us to take control of our life by taking control of our mind.  We put all of our effort into changing the external world, isn’t it much more sensible to simply change our mind.  We can consider the example Geshe-la gives of imagine we need to cross a large rocky surface, we can either cover the entire surface or we can simply cover our feet.  If the same way, we can try change the whole world or we can simply change our own mind.

Meditation prepares us in advance for our day, and therefore enables us to respond positively when difficult circumstances arise. Meditation has physical benefits of reduced stress, tension; longer, healthier life, greater physical flexibility and stamina.  Meditation makes us more productive in everything that we do.  The reason we are not productive is because we approach our work with a distracted mind.  Meditation enables us to focus on the task at hand with laser like precision.  It is actually good fun and relaxing.  I look forward to being able to take a moment to collect my thoughts, recharge my batteries, and then engage in the world in a positive way.

What matters is the consistency of our practice. We cannot boil water by turning it on and off.  It is by making repeated and consistent meditations over a long time that great results happen.  The ocean is filled one drop at a time.   If we miss one day of practice, it usually takes a few days to get back to where we were before.  One of my favourite sayings is, “if I miss my practice once, I notice.  If I miss my practice twice, my family notices.  If I miss my practice three times, everyone notices.”  This is very true.