Transforming our life into the Quick Path: Building our spiritual reliquary

To give our life direction, we need to have a life project.  Shantideva explains that our project is to build our spiritual reliquary.  Collectively, as a tradition, we are trying to build an outer and inner reliquary to give to others in future generations.  When we understand this from the point of view of emptiness, we need to build our reliquary for our world, our dream.   In short, we need to work on what endures – karma, realizations, and our reliquary.

We need to invest our time, energy and resources into building an external and internal reliquary that we will leave behind for the beings of this world.  The inner reliquary is our own spiritual realizations obtained for and dedicated to others.  They are our own realizations which we gain for the benefit of others that we carry with us into our future lives.  The most important part of our reliquary is ourself as a Buddha.   The most important part of the reliquary is building ourselves as a Buddha for others.  We likewise do the same in others by helping them gain realizations so there are more beings with realizations in our karmically appearing world.

The external reliquary is what we give in time, energy and resources to the destruction of delusions and the flourishing of Dharma in this world.  Our local center and the Sangha community is our main reliquary.   We need to build them up so that they endure and become self-perpetuating.  The objects of our reliquary are our Books, sadhanas, temples, centers and sangha.  But the real inner reliquary are the inner realizations and karma of practitioners.

It is really worth considering how the reliquary works.  A former student of mine in Lausanne once generated the intention to receive a Medicine Buddha empowerment for the benefit of a particular family, and a year later, the conditions ripened where this happened.  We make intentions to perpetually become ourselves whatever other living beings need.  When this fully ripens, we spontaneously give to others without having to generate anew the conceptual intention to do it. 

Strategically speaking, Venerable Geshe-la encourages us to think cosmically, but to act locally in tight, pure concentrations that gradually expand.  A Dharma center is like an outpost for the Buddhas in the barbarian land or wild west of this deluded world.  We need to build the pure land around us in close proximity, with tight concentration of high quality, and then gradually radiate out.  We work immediately around us, working to concretely transform our world into a pure land.  We shouldn’t spread ourself too thin, instead we should expand gradually over time by focusing on quality and purity.  We need to karmically reconstruct our dream into the pure land, like Mount Meru arising out of the swamp of samsara.  We need to build your own mandala, externally and internally.  Our mandala should be built in a non-exclusive way.  Everybody is invited in, and you share it with everyone.  Within our mandala, everyone is free to do as the wish.  The pure land is a place of total freedom.

We should think of building our reliquary as the very means by which we provide ourselves with provisions for the continuation of our spiritual project in future lives.  In general in life, we need to invest time, energy and resources into that which is most beneficial and produces the highest possible return for our self and others.  Karmically, everything we invest for others we invest for our own future lives.  Other living beings are like magical time machines for transporting what we have in the present to ourselves in the future when we do not have these things.  In our future lives, we will karmically inherit the reliquary that we create and give in this life.  For example, the NKT is Venerable Geshe-la’s reliquary in this world. 

We need to become a spiritual philanthropist across time.  We will inherit the reliquary that we give away to others.   We will lose forever that which we keep for ourself.  The reliquary will appear to us in our future lives to benefit us to the extent to which we use it now to benefit others.  We will find the reliquary to the extent to which we help others to find it now.  It will appear attractive and useful to the extent to which we render it attractive and useful to others now.  This depends on ourself finding it attractive and useful.  Which itself depends on us relating to it with an attractive and useful mind.

Specifically, what do we need to do to re-find the reliquary in our future lives?  We need to align our personal motivation with that of the reliquary.  If we do this, we will flow in the same direction as it and more easily re-find it.  We need to concentrate on putting into practice the  instructions we have received.  Every time we do so, we create karmic connections between ourselves and the spiritual guide who gives the instructions.  Since he is at the center of the reliquary, we will be reborn with him.  We should also pray to never be separated from it in all our future lives until we complete the final goal.

Whatever we do, we should pour ourself fully into doing it as part of building our reliquary.  To enjoy ourselves, we need to get our effort right.  We do this by pouring ourselves into everything we do.  Right now, we either do not do samsara because we feel guilty and we know it does not work anyway or we do not do Dharma because we are afraid of changing and think we will lose the only remaining happiness we have.  The end result is we are just unhappy and bitter with both our life and our practice.  But if we pour ourselves into all that we do, focusing on doing things well, we will enjoy all that we do.  We need to live our life from the point of view of ‘doing’ instead of ‘being.’  When we pour ourselves into all that we do, we will seek how to do things better and better.  We will naturally then bring Dharma into it because it works to makes everything better.  Whatever we do, we do it with quality and we do it well.  My grandma always used to say, ‘a job worth doing is a job worth doing well.’

In the end, having our life’s project be building our reliquary is about creating good causes.   There are two levels to this:  First is responding well to whatever arises.  Appearances arise, our job is to respond to them correctly.  When we do so, the appearances become increasingly pacified and we create good causes for the future. Very simply, we try to respond to whatever appears with the least delusion and the most virtue possible. Second is building our reliquary for the future.  It is not enough to just respond, we also need to actively shape our reality by creating a new one.

Our biggest obstacle to doing this is our preoccupation with worldly concerns.  To overcome this, we can repeat the mantra, “So what, quit whining and get on with it.”  ‘So what’ means live life from the point of view of the mental factor of discrimination, it doesn’t matter what you are feeling or what effects are ripening.  ‘Quit whining’ means realize that everything is perfect and stop wishing things were otherwise.  Stop self-cherishing making such a drama out of it.  ‘Get on with it’ means just practice what you need to do.

 

Transforming our life into the quick path: Assume responsibility for your part of the lineage

In Joyful Path, Geshe-la says one of the most important minds in the Lamrim is superior intention, taking personal responsibility for the spiritual welfare of others.  Each one of us has a responsibility for part of the lineage.  Our part of the lineage is the specific understanding of Dharma that transforms our life into the path to enlightenment.  Other people in future generations will have lives similar to ours.  We learn how to transform a life like ours into the path and then we share what we have learned in the hope it proves beneficial to others with similar lives.

Our responsibility is towards all the beings of future generations who have the same type of life as ourselves.   Our job is to learn how to make a life like ours into the quick path.  We need to learn how to use everything for the accomplishment of our training.  Ven. Tharchin says we need to design our own enlightenment.  What kind of Buddha am I going to be?  If we learn how to transform our life into the quick path with a bodhichitta motivation for the sake of those with a similar life, then we will become a Buddha who has that specific power. Then, situations where we can help will naturally arise and we just share our experience.  I have a very close friend who has been in a psychiatric hospital for about 15 years now.  He is a very pure Dharma practitioner, but the tendencies that ripen in his mind are horrific.  He says, “I am training to be a Buddha of extremely degenerate times.  In the future, all beings will have tendencies of mind like I do.  I am training to be a Buddha for such time.”  This attitude is perfect.

Very often we think we cannot transform our life into the quick path because our life isn’t conducive to that.  But because everything is equally empty, everything can equally function for us as the quick path.  Because we grasp at some things as being inherently better, we conceive of things as obstacles and when we can’t overcome them, we make excuses for not practicing or we develop aversion for our life.  Geshe-la explains in Universal Compassion that obstacles are created when we grasp at certain situations as being better than others.  Assenting to this is laziness and an ignorance.  Sometimes we think our obstacles are particularly difficult.  Actually, there is no situation that can prevent us from practicing Dharma.  All lives are equally good for practice because everything is equally empty.  No matter what our situation  nothing can prevent us from loving others and training our mind. 

We need to optimize on the two forms of practice, formal and informal.  From one perspective, it is easier to only practice Dharma when all day we are only practicing Dharma directly and formally.  This is important and if we have such a life, we should be very happy.  For the rest of us, our job is to learn to equally practice Dharma regardless of where we are and what we are doing.  We need to learn how to ‘attain enlightenment where we stand.’  We need to optimize between these two, formal and informal ways of practicing, for maximum transformation of our mind.  We need to alternative between these two, between our meditation sessions and our meditation break; between our teachings and working in the field; between our retreat and our daily life.

What matters is not how we practice, rather that we dedicate our entire life to the practicing of Dharma and to the destruction of delusions in the minds of living beings in this world.  Shantideva says we are at war.  How we specifically wage that war depends on our karma and everyone is different.  When we grasp that one way of doing things (formal, ordained or informal, lay) IS best, it blocks the mind to creatively see how to make any life a quick path.  This leads to suffering in minds of those who do not have the karma to lead such a life and causes them to impute obstacle on everything that prevents them from doing so.

How do we actually transform every aspect of our life into the quick path?    Practically speaking, we need to look at everything in life and see how it can be part of our practice.  Every situation gives us an opportunity to overcome delusions.  With training, we can get to the point where we can go anywhere with anybody doing anything and be free from delusion.  Wherever we can’t currently do so is our samsara because we are unfree.  Liberation is complete freedom. 

We need to request Dorje Shugden, “please forge me in the fires of my karma into the Buddha that I need to become / into a fully qualified Kadampa Spiritual Guide.”  Then, every situation should be viewed through the lens of the opportunity it provides us to train our mind in abandoning delusion and cultivating virtues.  One of the most important things for being able to do this is to maintain pure view of others.  Geshe-la explained at the Spring Festival many years ago that Buddha Vajradhara intentionally appears in the aspect of ordinary beings for us to act normally with them, and by doing so, we will create the causes to become a Buddha ourself.  Because we conceive of all beings engaging in enlightened actions, it karmically reconstructs others into Buddhas and we receive maximum benefit.

Our ability to maintain this pure view arises in dependence upon first and foremost our Bodhichitta intention.  The function of an object is determined by our intention.  By wanting to become a Buddha, it changes the function of every object to be a cause of our enlightenment.   When we are unsure how something is perfect for our practice, we can ask ourselves specific questions: What delusions does this situation provoke?  What does this situation give me an opportunity to practice?  What spiritual lessons can I learn from this/does this teach me? What does this situation teach me about the truth of Dharma?  When we have answers to these questions, we will understand how the situation can be viewed as emanated.   These questions will give us valid reasons for believing it to be true that everything is emanated for our practice.  On the basis of this, we practice the believing faith that others are Buddhas intentionally doing whatever they are doing to give us an opportunity to practice something or to teach us something about the truth of Dharma.  It doesn’t matter if this is objectively true – nothing is – what matters is that it is very beneficial to believe.

In terms of how to respond to the various situations we encounter, Geshe-la gave us a powerful and simple practice at the Spring Festival many years ago called “integrating Lamrim into our daily appearance.”  Whenever we experience suffering, we view it as a reminder of the far worse suffering we will experience in countless future lives if we don’t attain liberation.  So this appearance is encouraging us to attain liberation.  Whenever we see others experiencing suffering, we view it as a reminder that all our mothers will experience far worse suffering in all their future lives if we do not become a Buddha and free them.  So this appearance is encouraging us to attain enlightenment for their benefit.  Whenever we see any attractive, unattractive or neutral appearance, we view it as a reminder that the things we normally see do not exist at all.  These are just dream like appearances within our mind.  So the appearance of inherently existent forms reminds us that they are empty of such existence.  Geshe-la said by practicing in this way, we can enter the pure land.  He then said something amazing:  he said the mind of Lamrim itself is Sukavati pure land.

Transforming our life into the Quick Path: Reconstruct our dream

Is this world samsara or is it part of the pure land?  Actually, it is neither.  Because it is empty, this world is nothing other than how we discriminate it.  This world is samsara if we look at it from a samsaric point of view.  This world is part of the pure land if we look at it from a pure point of view.  So is our waking reality a training simulation orchestrated by Dorje Shugden or not?  It is if we view it that way.  It is not if we do not.  The choice is ours.

We need valid reasons to be able to look at our life in this way.  It is more beneficial to view it this way.  By doing so, everything becomes part of our training to become a Buddha.  This is how pure beings view it.  For a pure being, this is a pure world.  For an ignorant being, this is a world of suffering.  The minds of ignorant beings are mistaken, the minds of pure beings are not.    If we request Dorje Shugden to make our life a training simulation, he has the power to do so since all things are mere karmic appearances to mind and he has the power to manage what karma ripens if we request him to.  On the basis of these valid reasons, we train in believing that it is, and through the power of this, it will be and become this for us.

So how can we view things in this light?   The purpose of everything Dorje Shugden emanates for us is to forge us into the Buddha we need to become.  He orchestrates what appears in our life optimally to the extent to which we request him to and that we have faith in him.  But he leaves it up to us to make our own choices.

We can practice this according to completion stage by imagining our entire world is taking place inside of our indestructible drop.  We imagine we are inside the emptiness of our very subtle mind of great bliss.  This itself is inside the indestructible drop.  To strengthen our bodhichitta, we can believe that we are living our life inside the hearts of all living beings.  So everything we do in this space reflects into the minds of each and every living being.  If we generate love, love is generated in the minds of all beings.  If we generate the intention to attain enlightenment, this intention is generated in the minds of all beings.  In summary, we can view our whole life as a bodhisattva training ground emanated by Dorje Shugden and taking place inside the emptiness of our very subtle mind inside the drop.  We can view every object as a ripple on our very subtle mind emanated by your guru as part of our training. 

When we understand the emptiness of ourself, our world and others, we realize our real task is to karmically reconstruct our dream from a world of suffering into a pure land for ourself and for all living beings in it.  When we do this from the point of view of exchanging self with others, we view the delusions of anybody as our own delusions.  It is part of the fabric of our mind that needs to be liberated from all delusions.

What makes accomplishing our task difficult is each being has their own mind and the law of karma applies to each mind.  So they will only experience the effect of being in the pure land if they engage in the actions of the stages of the path from their own side and from their own free desire (because it is intention that creates karma).  So the practical conclusion is we need to get each being from their own side to engage in all of the stages of the path to enlightenment.

So how do we do this?  If we are a kadampa, the basic strategy we follow is that of the Kadampa Tradition of Je Tsongkhapa.  What is this basic strategy of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition:  We become ourselves a fully qualified Kadampa spiritual guide who then forms other fully qualified Kadampa Spiritual Guides, who have the intention to form others, etc. 

There are two levels at which we operate to get all living beings from their own side to engage in all of the stages of the path.  The practical means of doing this can be understood as follows: The goal of helping others is to teach them to walk on their own.  With somebody, we are like a spiritual parent.  In beginning, we help people with whatever they are doing practically.  Then, we help people transform whatever problems they have into their practice.  Then, we work with them step by step showing how to solve their problems by changing their mind with the Dharma.  Then, we help them by not giving answers, but by asking the right questions.  Then, we do not indulge their delusions.  Then, we should be willing to let them fall so they can learn to walk on their own.  Then, we give them discretion within a box.  Then, we help them in a supporting role to accomplish their own spiritual projects and aspirations.  Then, we let them completely run on their own and just be there for them when they want to come to us for help.

The profound means of karmically reconstructing others can be understood as follows:  We need to engage in the Guru Yoga of everything.  People appear to us as ordinary because in the past we engaged in the mental action of assenting to our ordinary appearance.  This planted the karma which ripens now in the appearance of others as being ordinary engaging in ordinary actions.  By maintaining pure view, we plant the karma on our mind which will ripen in the future in the form of all beings engaging in enlightened actions.  If we do this, later each being of our dream will appear to us to be engaging in the stages of the path to enlightenment from their own side.  We need to be patient with this, a farmer does not plant seeds and expect the crop to ripen the next moment.

What are the benefits of this?  First, by believing it to be true, it will become true.  Because this view is a correct imagination, by believing it to be true, it will increasingly become our living reality.  This will first happen as a conceived pure land – by believing this to be true, we enter the conceived pure land.  When it becomes our habit to view things this way, we can say we are abiding in a conceived pure land.  Later, this will happen as an appearing pure land – by relating to the pure appearances as if they were true, we create the karma that karmically reconstructs our dream world where it will actually appear to us directly to be true.  The second benefit of this practice is it gives us a correct attitude towards our practice.  Everything is important, but nothing is serious.  We view life as a challenging game that we need to learn how to play well.  The third benefit is we naturally create the causes to become a Buddha as quickly as possible.  If this is the story of our life, we will live our life accordingly and everything we do will be directed at attaining enlightenment.  The fourth benefit is we will draw out the best in others.  What we relate to, we draw out.  If we view everybody as Buddhas sent to help forge us into a Buddha, we will draw out their pure qualities in them.

Transforming our life into the Quick Path: Waking up to a new reality

 

The purpose of this series of posts can be summed up in one phrase:  to explain the wisdom necessary to transform any life into the quick path, so we can help all beings attain enlightenment where they stand.

Because all lives are equally empty, any life can equally be transformed into the quick path.  Because we grasp at our life and our activities as being inherently ordinary, we block ourselves from being able to transform our lives or our activities into the quick path.  But when we let go of this grasping, realizing that because everything is equally empty, everything can equally be transformed into the quick path, then we free up the creative wisdom within our mind to be able to in fact transform our life into the quick path.

Very often people think that they cannot attain enlightenment in their current situation, and so they seek to make all sorts of external changes thinking that will bring them closer to enlightenment.  But in reality, no matter how many external changes we make, if we don’t change our mind, we will never attain enlightenment.  We don’t need to go anywhere or have anything different in our life to attain enlightenment.  What we have right now is completely perfect.  In short, our objective should be in every moment of every situation to ‘attain enlightenment where we stand.’  Once we learn how to transform our own life into the quick path, we will be able to help all others do the same because the same basic principles apply.

To transform our life into the quick path, we only need 4 things:  a correct view, a pure intention, a good story and wise actions.  We will develop all of these in detail during this series of posts.

  1. Correct view.  We are currently hallucinating a contaminated world, and we don’t even realize it.  As a result, we engage in contaminated actions which keep the hallucination going.  Like all hallucinations, this one is uncontrolled, and at any point can change into something very terrible where we can get sucked into hellish suffering for incalculably long periods of time.  We have the extraordinary good fortune to have met a fully qualified spiritual guide and to have all the conditions necessary to once and for all put an end to this uncontrolled, contaminated hallucination we call samsara. If we learn how to do this, we will then be able to help all others do the same and put an end to their hallucinations.
  2. A pure intention.  An impure intention is one that seeks something within the hallucination, like a better hallucination.  A pure intention is one that seeks to put an end to the hallucination or to wake up from it.  A great intention is one where we seek to put an end to all the hallucinations of all living beings so that they can all be free.  The supreme intention, or bodhichitta, is one where we wish to transform ourself into a fully enlightened being so we can fulfill all our pure intentions for ourself and for others.  When we adopt the supreme intention, every object acquires a new function.  Namely, everything functions for us as a cause of our enlightenment.  We see how everything can be used towards that end.
  3. A good story.  A good story is the ‘story of our life,’ or our life narrative, that ties everything together and gives us purpose in this world and informs our actions.  Because everything is equally empty, no story is ‘actually true’, but different stories will have different benefits when we live our life by them.  To transform our life into the quick path, we need to have a good story of our life which makes every aspect of our life part of our training to become a Buddha.  Ultimately, all stories are equally empty, but conventionally, we can say one story is more valid than another by how well it explains everything and how beneficial it is to believe.  When we believe a conventionally valid story to be true, it will literally become our living reality.  This is the power of correct imagination.  Prior to Dharma, our story was ‘find happiness in this world by getting the external conditions just right.’  This story didn’t work very well, and we just kept suffering and making our life worse.  Once we found the Dharma, our story became, ‘I and everyone I love is in samsara, and I need to get everyone out.’  This is a much more beneficial story, and leads you in the right direction.
  4. Wise actions.  Our view determines our actions.  If our view is correct, our intention will be correct and then our actions will be correct.  Wisdom is virtuous intelligence.  Virtuous means minds that make our mind more peaceful and therefore serve as the causes of happiness.  We will be happy if our mind is peaceful, and our mind will be peaceful if it is mixed with virtue.  Intelligence means we know what works and how to do things in the most effective way for accomplishing our goals.  If our actions are good, our karma will be good.  If our karma is good, our experiences and our world will be good.  There will be a delay between when we engage in the wise actions and when our experience and our world changes, but it will definitely come.  It is just a question of creating a critical mass of good causes.

If we rely on Dorje Shugden, and completely surrender our life to his protection, then we can see all of our life as an emanated training simultation of the mind, inside our mind.  We can believe we are actually within a bodhisattva training simultation, orchastrated by Dorje Shugden, to forge us into the Buddha we need to become. 

According to out Tantric practice, we can believe we are a tantric bodhisattva whose home base is in the pure land of all the Buddhas.  Since each day we go visit our home in the pure land during our Tantric practice, we can say that the pure land is where we are from.  During the empowerment, it was where we were spiritually reborn.  It is our real home world.   We can view our normal waking world as the charnel grounds in the pure land.  When others look at the world, they see samsara.  When we look at the world, we understand it to be the training grounds.  Our waking reality is actually part of the pure land.  It is Kadampa boot camp.