Ultimate stages of the path: Generation stage

According to Modern Buddhism, Tantra is a special method to purify our world, our self, our enjoyment and our activities.  Generation stage Tantra is an inner realization of a creative yoga that is attained through training in divine pride and clear appearance of being an enlightened Deity.  What is this special method?  It is by engaging in believing faith of a correct imagination we karmically reconstruct our mind of bliss and emptiness into what we imagine.  How does this work?  We can only understand precisely when we examine the question from the perspective of the union of the laws of karma and emptiness.

We can understand this by considering how the five contaminated aggregates (the basis of imputation for a samsaric being)  interact with one another.  We see some appearance (aggregate of form).  We then categorize each appearance into a category of good, bad or neutral (aggregate of discrimination).  From this discrimination between objects we feel them as either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral (aggregate of feeling).  We then generate delusions, such as attachment, aversion or indifference, with respect to these feelings (aggregate of compositional factors).  These delusions are themselves mental actions which create contaminated karma. This karma then gets planted onto our consciousness, making it contaminated (aggregate of consciousness).  Put another way, whenever we see something, we conceive of it as being inherently good, bad or neutral, we then experience it that way, generate delusion which then plants a karmic seed onto our mind which will later ripen in the form of a contaminated appearance.

But here is the amazing thing about the creative yoga of Generation Stage.  We take this same karmic logic which explains the relationship between karma and emptiness and we use it for transforming ourselves into a Buddha by bringing the future result into the path.  Because we will one day become a Buddha, our future Buddhahood is already in our mental continuum as a future object.  By imagining we are that and identifying with that final result we engage in what only can be called the “warp dirve” of travelling the path.  In Star Trek the space ships have warp drive, which takes them across space at phenomenal speeds.  In the same way, by identifying with the final result of the path, we race down the narrow path to enlightenment like a warp-powered mind.

How specifically does this work?  We mentally choose to construct within our mind the clear appearance of ourself, our world, our environments and our activities as those of the Tantric Deity (a created appearance).  We then train in a believing faith that the deity is really there and that this deity is the nature of our own mind (pure mental discrimination).  We then experience the appearance as blissful and pure (pure feeling).  Pure experiences, such as drinking nectar in our inner offering practice, function to give rise to the wisdom realizing the union of bliss and emptiness (pure compositional factors).  These wisdom minds function to create pure karmic causes, which we then plant on our consciousness, making it pure (pure mental consciousness). Put simply, be believing the appearance we have created in our mind we create the karmic seeds which will later ripen in the form of our living experience being that which we imagined.  So if we train in believing in this correct imagination now, we create the karma for that imagination to be our actual reality in the future.  This is extremely profound reveals the wisdom that is the union of the laws of karma, emptiness, pure worlds, and the emptiness of the three times.  If we understand this clearly, we will be extremely motivated to dedicating our every moment to training in Generation Stage Tantra.

When we engage in generation stage what do we actually do?  We purify ordinary death, intermediate state and rebirth into the Truth Body, Enjoyment Body and Emanation Body of a Buddha.  More practically, what we train in doing is learning how to die in a controlled way where we take rebirth as a Highest Yoga Tantra deity.  So we engage in a variety of different meditations designed to purify death, intermediate state and rebirth.  Each series of meditations work for the reasons described above.  Our main meditation, though, is on the Emanation Body, or the self-generation.  The reason for this is simple:  with generation stage we attain the gross deity body, and in completion stage we attain the subtle deity body.  So first we must attain the gross deity body (generation stage) before we can attain the subtle body (completion stage).  In the self-generation, we have an extremely elaborate correct imagination of ourselves, the body mandala deities, temples, Mount Meru, the completely purified three thousand worlds, protection circles, the charnel grounds, etc.  We use a correct imagination of not only the future result of ourself as a Buddha, but rather the future result of all living beings having already attained enlightenment with all abiding in the pure land.  This functions to karmically reconstruct the fabric of our mind to assume the aspect of an actually appearing pure land!

To generate a qualified divine price believing we are a Buddha, we can reason as follows:  for an imputation to be valid the basis of imputation must have a valid aspect, nature and function.  In terms of the self-generation, we are trying to validly impute our “I” onto what we have generated in our mind.  Does it have a valid aspect?  Yes, it appears as the pure land.  Does it have a pure nature?  Yes, I generated this out of emptiness and it is infused with the living guru deity so its nature is completely pure.  Does it have a pure function?  What are the activities of the self-generation?  They are to guide all beings from the deepest hell to the highest enlightenment.  So you generate within your mind of feeling like you are actually doing this.  On the basis of looking like Heruka, being the nature of Heruka and engaging in the activities of Heruka, what are you other than Heruka?  Divine pride becomes easy.  In particular, I focus on the activities of the pure self-generation.  When I engage in the actions of a father, I feel like I am a father.  The fact that I have kids doesn’t really make me one.  In the same way, when I engage n the actions of a Buddha, I feel like I am a Buddha.  This feeling makes it very easy to identify with being one.

Ultimate stages of the path: Vows and Commitments

The conclusion of Sutra is I must become a Buddha for the benefit of all by realizing emptiness.  Emptiness makes possible mentally reconstructing samsara into nirvana.  Tantra, then, gives specificity to the type of Buddha we strive to become.  Tantra is normally divided into generation stage and completion stage.  In generation stage we construct within our mind the template of our enlightenment, and then in completion stage we fill in the template with our increasingly subtle bodies and minds.  Our vows and commitments of highest yoga tantra are parts of generation stage and completion stage.  But since the way we practice our vows and their function is the same in both generation and completion stage, I tend to think of Tantra as having three main practices:  our vows and commitments, generation stage and completion stage.  The three together produce enlightenment.

All vows arise from the same wisdom and all vows perform the same function.  The wisdom vows arise from is the wisdom that realizes the union of karma and emptiness.  If we understand emptiness, we understand everything is created by our mind.  The laws by which mental creation occurs are the laws of karma.  So if we understand emptiness, our behavior will naturally be in accordance with the vows and commitments.  But we don’t yet understand emptiness, so we still think it is a good idea to act in ways which are contradictory to our vows.  It is for this reason that we practice vows and commitments.  With faith, we trust that they are arising from the wisdom of karma and emptiness, but we just don’t understand it yet.  But we have faith that the vows are good for us at a very profound level.  We then consider each vow, trying to understand its wisdom, and when we get some understanding of the wisdom of a vow and some faith in where they come from, we then make promises to train our behavior to be in alignment with what is called for in the vows and commitments.  When our uncontrolled mind tries to go in a way that is in contradiction with our vows, we see this, recall the wisdom of following the vows, and choose to not follow our deluded impulse understanding it to be deceptive.

I like to think of vows like a pipeline which channels the current of our mental continuum.  At present our mental continuum is flailing about in all sorts of directions, throwing us from one samsaric rebirth to another.  But when we start training in the vows and commitments, we give definite parameters within which our mental continuum can flow.  At one end of the pipeline is where we are now, but the other end of the pipeline is the city of enlightenment.  At the beginning of the pipeline, the diameter is quite large, but then some way down a more narrow pipe is placed inside the large one.  Then a little further down, a more narrow pipe still is placed inside the second pipe, and so on.  The net effect is the closer one gets to the city of enlightenment, the more narrow the diameter of the pipeline the water of our mental continuum travels.  Just like water, the more narrow the diameter, the faster the water moves.  The narrowing of the pipeline correspond with the different levels of vows we take.  At the widest point of the pipeline we have the refuge vows.  By keeping our refuge vows we create the causes to find the Buddhist path again and again in all of our future lives until we attain the final goal.  The general direction of the current of our mental continuum is established.  Slightly more narrow than that are our pratimoksha vows, or our vows of individual liberation.  More narrow that that are our bodhisattva vows.  More narrow still are general commitments of Highest Yoga Tantra, and finally the most narrow we have the uncommon vows of Mother Tantra.  Keeping our pratimoksha vows creates the causes to meet a qualified path to liberation again and again between now and our enlightenment.  Keeping our bodhisattva vows creates the causes to meet a qualified path to enlightenment again and again between now and our enlightenment.  Keeping our general commitments of Highest Yoga Tantra creates the causes to meet a qualified tantric path to enlightenment again and again between now and our enlightenment.  Keeping our uncommon commitments of mother tantra creates the causes to meet a qualified path tantric path of Heruka or Vajrayogini again and again between now and our enlightenment.  The advantage of having the concentric circles of pipes is if one of the more narrow one breaks, the others are still there to catch the water, like additional lines of defense.

Vows are like inner laws that we voluntarily strive to follow.  Just as external society requires good laws to maintain order and prosperity, so too our empty inner society of the emptiness of all living beings requires laws that we strive to follow.  The difference is the internal laws of our vows are laws only for ourself.  We do not impose in any way these laws on others.  Certainly we encourage others to lead a virtuous life, but we never impose vows from the outside.  For them to work, people need to adopt them voluntarily seeing the wisdom of following them and the folly of doing their opposite.  If they are imposed from the outside, internally the people rebel against the imposition.  Thus, even if we appear to succeed in causing others to lead a more virtuous life, but internally they are actually rebelling against these internal laws and putting up a show to avoid our punishment.  Karma arises from mental intention, and so two seemingly identical acts – externally appearing to lead a virtuous life – the motivations are completely different (following wisdom vs. rebelling against wisdom), thus the karma created is profoundly different.  One takes the person down the path to enlightenment, the other creates the karma to reject pure paths when we encounter them in the future.

Another way vows are commonly thought of is refuge vows are the substantial cause of Pratimoksha vows, which in turn are the substantial cause of Bodhisattva vows, which are then the substantial cause of our Tantric vows.  Our ability to maintain purely the higher levels of vows depends to a large extent on whether we are keeping purely the previous levels of vows.  By this logic, breaking one of our Bodhisattva vows directly indirectly unravels all of our Tantric vows; and breaking our Pratimoksha vows directly indirectly unravels all of our Bodhisattva and Tantric vows.  But it is important to not be heavy about vows.  This does not mean we abandon the path if our delusions get the better of us and we break our vows, rather it means our vows are no longer in tact, and so therefore not functioning.  But we still continue to follow the path, and create good karma from the practices we do do.  They are like a GPS which always finds us the correct route to the city of enlightenment, even when we take wrong turns.  If while driving we take wrong turns, our GPS recalculates and gives us a new route – there is no wrong turn we can take that the GPS can’t find the route back.  Sometimes we may take wrong turns, but if we choose to follow our internal GPS of our vows and commitments, we replace our mental continuum on the good path to our final destination.

Ultimate stages of the path: The perfection of wisdom

Wisdom is a virtuous mind that functions mainly to dispel doubt and confusion by understanding its object thoroughly.  Normally we think of wisdom in terms of the wisdom understanding emptiness because in many ways it is the most important wisdom.  But in this context, wisdom also refers to conventional wisdoms.  Every Dharma mind, from a certain point of view, is a conventional wisdom.  But normally, we talk about the following conventional wisdoms:  the wisdom understanding the laws of cause and effect, great wisdom, clear wisdom, quick wisdom, profound wisdom, the wisdom of expounding Dharma, the wisdom of spiritual debate and the wisdom of composing Dharma books.  The wisdom understanding the laws of cause and effect are understanding the teachings on karma in such a way that we live our lives in accordance with these laws.  Great wisdom is knowing which objects are to be abandoned and which objects are to be attained.  Clear wisdom enables us to understand clearly subtle characteristics of objects or teachings.  Quick wisdom is whenever doubts or misunderstandings of the Dharma arise we are able to dispel them quickly by understanding the subject quickly.  Profound wisdom is being able to understand the profound meaning of the scriptures without difficulty.  The wisdom of expounding Dharma is the ability to teach the Dharma in such a way that others accept them and put them into practice.  The wisdom of spiritual debate is the ability to skillfully dispel the views contrary to Dharma.  And the wisdom of composing Dharma books is the ability to write authentic Dharma books that are perfectly reliable (in other words, NOT blogs!!!  All of these posts are my random babblings, the reality is I just love the Dharma and since I don’t have many people to discuss it with, I discuss it with all of you out there in cyberspace!).

The perfection of wisdom is any wisdom practiced with a bodhichitta motivation.  So how does wisdom enable us to attain enlightenment?  Conventional wisdoms help us to maximize the karmic benefit we can derive from our virtuous intentions and the ultimate wisdom realizing emptiness purifies all of our contaminated karma, our delusions and their imprints.  The entire Kadampa path is, by nature, a wisdom path because we are the wisdom tradition of Je Tsongkhapa.  Wisdom creates the causes to attain the enlightened omniscient mind of a Buddha.  This is our most important attainment.

The ultimate perfection of wisdom is training in any wisdom combined with an understanding of emptiness.  It is beneficial to enumerate specifically what this means.  The wisdom realizing emptiness is a wisdom, but then this too has an emptiness, so realizing the emptiness of realizing emptiness.  The conventional wisdoms each take on a new meaning when combined with emptiness.  Understanding the laws of karma in the context of emptiness brings us to the unions of the vast and profound path.  Understanding great wisdom in the context of emptiness is really about understanding how to engage in each of the stages of the path combined with an understanding of emptiness (something this series of posts has attempted to do).  Understanding clear wisdom in the context of emptiness enables us to understand clearly the relationship between subtle conventional truth and subtle levels of the wisdom realizing emptiness.  Understanding quick wisdom in the context of emptiness enables us to jump immediately to the definitive reason establishing the reliability of every practice of Dharma.  Understanding profound wisdom in the context of emptiness enables us to understand every subject all the way to its ultimate understanding.  Understanding the wisdom of expounding Dharma combined with an understanding of emptiness enables the teacher to realize the emptiness of the three spheres of teacher, teaching and student while simultaneously giving teachings.  Understanding the wisdom of spiritual debate in the context of emptiness enables the bodhisattva to realize the emptiness of the three spheres of our own understanding, the subject being misunderstanding by the other person, and the other person’s misunderstanding simultaneously while engaging in debate.  Understanding the wisdom of composing Dharma books in the context of emptiness enables the author to realize the emptiness of the three spheres of author, book and reader while simultaneously writing the book  These wisdoms are absolutely astounding, when you think about them, especially these last three!

It is also useful to understand the karmic effects of wisdom – what does wisdom produce?  We have all of the conventional wisdom as described above.  These essentially synthesize down into bodhichitta.  When the wisdom realizing emptiness is realized in the context of bodhichitta it produces the effect of full enlightenment.  When the wisdom realizing emptiness is realized in the context of renunciation, or the wish for individual liberation, it produces the effect of liberation.  When the wisdom realizing emptiness is realized in the context of generation stage tantra it produces the effect of becoming the deity of generation stage.  When the wisdom realizing emptiness is realized in the context of completion stage tantra it produces the effect of attaining meaning clear light and the Truth Body of a Buddha.  When we understand all of this, we realize the importance of studying the entire vast path in the context of the profound path, as we do within the Kadampa tradition.

Finally, it is quite amazing to consider the relationship between guru and disciple in the context of emptiness.  When the sun of my faith shines on the Snow Mountain of my Spiritual Guide, the snow of his blessings melts and flows down into my mind.  This is the meaning of the symbol for the NKT.  Our faith combined with emptiness literally opens the door of our mind by removing the obstructions between our mind, the relationship with the guru, and the mind of the guru.  This then enables the snows of the Guru’s own realizations to melt and flow down directly into our own mind, thus transferring his realizations and wisdoms into our own mind.  When we understand this, then we will be very motivated to make faith in the wisdom Buddha Guru Je Tsongkhapa our main practice.  This is what our Guru has revealed to us to be our main practice by only admitting himself to having this one realization (namely, this faith).

Ultimate stages of the path: The perfection of concentration

Mental stabilization, or concentration, is a mind whose nature is to be single-pointedly placed on a virtuous object and whose function is to prevent distraction.  Concentration is a transversal stage of the path, meaning we practice it with respect to all of the other stages of the path.  We train in concentration with respect to each of the other stages of the path, taking each object deeper and deeper within our mind.  We begin by simply holding our mind single-pointedly for a few seconds, and we keep training in concentration until we attain tranquil abiding.  With tranquil abiding we can remain single-pointedly placed in concentration on our objects of Dharma forever if we wish.  The mind of tranquil abiding, though, is not the end of our training in concentration.  It is merely the first level of concentration of a desire realm god.  Our body may be that of a human being, but our mind is that of a form realm god.  We continue to train in all the different absorbtions of the bodhisattva’s grounds and paths, taking our mind higher and higher until it reaches the peak of samsara.  But even that is not far enough, since that realizes our objects of Dharma merely with our gross mind.  To attain enlightenment, we must learn how to bring the objects of Dharma into our subtle and very subtle minds.  We can only do this through training in Tantra.  Tantra teaches us how to make manifest our subtle and very subtle minds so that we can learn to meditate with them.  Eventually, we need to directly realize each and every one of the stages of the path with our very subtle mind of great bliss.  Fortunately, however, once we realize one object with any given level of concentration, it is not that difficult to realize all of the other objects with the same level of concentration, much like with the strength to lift a 100 pound box also enables us to lift a 100 pound chair.  Also, there are certain objects of meditation, like bodhichitta, emptiness, generation stage and completion stage, which are actually the synthesis of all of the previous objects of meditation, so by realizing these special objects directly we realize all of other objects indirectly.

The actual training in concentration begins with “seeking, finding, holding and remaining.”  First we seek our objects of meditation through analytical meditation until we first find them.  We then hold them for longer and longer periods of time until we can remain with our object throughout the entire meditation session without ever losing it.  When we train in concentration, we abandon gross and subtle mental excitement and sinking.  Gross excitement is when we lose our object of meditation completely for an object of attachment.  Subtle mental excitement is when part of our mind is with the object but part of our mind is with another object.  Gross mental sinking is when our mind becomes so dull that we lose the object completely and we are practically alseep.  Subtle mental sinking is when the focus of our objects wavers somewhat, but we haven’t lost it.

The perfection of concentration is training in concentration motivated by bodhichitta.  To understand this, we need to realize the relationship between concentration and attaining enlightenment.  Concentration functions to mix our mind with its object.  According to the Prasangika teachings on emptiness, mind and its object arise in mutual dependence upon one another – there is no object without a mind and without an object there is no mind.  In reality, we can say that the mind and its object are actually two aspects of the same entity.  Once again, the analogy of Play Dough proves useful.  The mind is the Play Dough and the object is essentially the aspect or shape that the Play Dough takes.  When we concentrate on any given object of Dharma, we are for all practical purposes holding our mind in the shape or aspect of our object of Dharma.  When we concentrate on virtuous objects, it functions to render our mind peaceful and controlled.  It is explained in many texts that the principal cause of happiness is mental peace.  When our mind is peaceful, we are happy; when our mind is unpeaceful, we are unhappy.  Concentration on virtue renders our mind peaceful, and therefore happy.  The greater the concentration, the greater the inner peace.  It not only does so for the moments we are happy, but each moment of concentration functions to create a seed for the experience of future happiness.  The longer the duration and the deeper the intensity of our concentration, the longer the duration and the deeper the intensity will be the resulting seed.  We can think of it like attaching a balloon to a helium machine.  The longer you keep it connected, the more inflated the balloon becomes, and the higher the pressure of the gas the faster and more intensely it fills.  The difference is our mind is an infinitely elastic balloon that has no limit to how far it can be inflated with virtue.  To illustrate the power of concentration, it is said that just one moment of concentration on love with a mind of tranquil abiding is enough to create the cause for an entire lifetime as a long-life god.

Emptiness greatly increases the effectiveness of our concentration.  We normally grasp at inherently existent objects of Dharma, inherently existent meditating minds and inherently existent meditaters.  If an object of Dharma is inherently existent, then it is actually impossible for a mind to concentrate on it because the object of Dharma is separate from the mind. If a mind is inherently existent, it cannot mix with any object because doing so would change it and inherently existent things are unchangeable.  And if the meditater is inherently existent then they could never benefit from their mind meditating on objects of virtue because there would be no connection between the meditater and their mind.  But when we realize the emptiness of these three, it becomes very easy for our mind, its object and ourselves the meditater to all mix together like water mixes with water.  It was discussed above how mind and its object are like two aspects of the same entity.  We also naturally impute our I onto our mind.  So if the only object of our mind is the object of our meditation (meaning we have perfect concentration) and we naturally impute our I onto our mind (which in this case is the subject/object union) then we literally become our object of meditation.  The meditater, his object and his mind are three different aspects of the same entity.  This reveals an extremely powerful effect of concentration combined with an understanding of emptiness:  we become that which we concentrate on.  If we concentrate on love, we become a loving person; if we concentrate on compassion, we become a compassionate person; if we concentrate on the deity in our Highest Yoga Tantra practice, we become the deity.  If we understand this clearly, we will find it effortless to generate the desire to train in concentration.

Ultimate stages of the path: The perfection of effort

Effort is a mind that delights in engaging in virtue.  It is not “hard work”, rather it is enjoying, like a child at play, engaging in virtue.  If there is no joy, there is no effort, even if we are working very hard.  Effort principally overcome laziness.  There are three types:  the laziness of procrastination, which puts off virtue until later; the laziness of attraction to what is meaningless or non-virtuous, or generally become distracted by samsaric activities; and the laziness of discouragement, which feels no matter how hard we try we will never accomplish anything.  There are three types of effort:  armour-like effort, which has the strength to persevere no matter how significant the obstacles; the effort of gathering virtuous Dharmas is when we put energy into actually engaging in virtuous actions; and the effort of benefiting others, which is when we put energy into actually benefiting others.  The lamrim teachings explain there are four methods for increasing our effort:  the power of aspiration, which is the wish to engage in virtue understanding its benefits; the power of steadfastness is the ability to sustain our practice for as long as it takes; the power of joy is having a calm and joyful mind when we engage in virtue; and the power of rest is learning to relax so that we don’t become overtired and can recharge our batteries so that we can return fresh to our practice.

Any of these practices engaged in with a bodhichitta motivation is the perfection of effort.  Basically, this means we understand the relationship between our effort and our attainment of Buddhahood, and so we train in effort knowing it is essential for our attaining enlightenment.  Just as giving is the cause of wealth, moral discipline the cause of higher rebirth and patience the cause of beauty, effort is the cause of attainments.  This is pretty easy to understand – effort is mental action which enjoys engaging in virtue, so the karmic result of that will be the result of our practice, namely attainments.  Attainments come in all sizes.  I tend to think of them like spiritual legos, where we put together smaller ones to create bigger ones, and we can piece them together in all sorts of different combinations to make all sorts of different spiritual creations.  I view the progression of attainments on the path like two funnels connected by their open mouths.  In the beginning, we have small initial experiences.  We build on these and gradually our understanding broadens more and more.  Once we have a good grasp of the full horizontal scope of the Dharma we have reached the point where the two funnels are connected.  Then we start to put together all that we have learned and we realize that as we do so the Dharma becomes simpler and simpler.  A few key ideas start to function to capture more and more breadth of Dharma.  We continue to simplify and synthesize our Dharma understanding more and more until it becomes extremely simple and clear.  All of the Dharma gets captured in a few notions like ultimate bodhichitta or bliss and emptiness or the union of the two truths.  What is truly amazing about the book Modern Buddhism is it is simultaneously the ultimate book for beginners in terms of introducing the initial ideas of the Dharma and the most advanced of Venerable Geshe-la’s books in that it is the simplified essence of all of his other books.  We start with Modern Buddhism, then expand into FP, then TTP, and then we start simplifying more and more until we are eventually led back to Modern Buddhism – it is both our first and last book.

The ultimate perfection of effort is engaging in the perfection of effort understanding emptiness.  While normally I use the analogy of the ocean of our mind, in this context the analogy of Play Dough works better.  Many of our practices are called “yogas”, such as the 11 yogas of generation stage, the Yoga of Buddha Heruka, etc.  Normally when we think of yoga we think about people who put their body in all sorts of very strange and uncomfortable positions.  Why do they do this?  When they put their body in an uncomfortable position, but learn how to relax into that position until it becomes even blissful they loosen the knots that build up in their body and mind, and thereby become much more balanced and equilibrated.  In exactly the same way, all of our Dharma practices can correctly be understood as “mental yogas”, where we put our mind in all sorts of initially strange and sometimes uncomfortable mental positions (such as cherishing only others, taking, fear of the lower realms, etc.) and then we learn how to relax into these mental positions until they even become blissful.  Our mind is like Play Dough that is currently shaped in the aspect of a samsara.  But through the force of our effort at the various mental yogas of the Kadampa path, we reshape the Play Dough of our mind into a Pure Land.  The Play Dough of our mind itself is the emptiness of our mind of great bliss.  Milarepa said we should understand all phenomena as being the nature of mind (of great bliss) and the nature of mind is emptiness.  If we realize this, we realize how all phenomena are by nature our mind of bliss and emptiness in the aspect of whatever is appearing.  Right now, what is appearing (in other words the shape of our mind) is samsara, but with training we can reshape it as nirvana.  Every time we engage in a spiritual practice we are reshaping our mind in some way.  When we understand what we are doing, namely undoing the samsara we have created and reshaping our mind as a pure land, how can we not help but generate joy when we apply effort?

Ultimate stages of the path: The perfection of patience

Patience is a virtuous mind that is able to bear any kind of suffering or harm.  There are three main types:  the patience of not-retaliating, the patience of voluntarily enduring suffering and the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.  The patience of not-retaliating is a mind that understands the dangers of anger and the benefits of patient acceptance, and on the basis of this makes effort to eliminate anger whenever it arises within one’s mind.  The patience of voluntarily enduring suffering is a mind that can accept suffering because we have a good reason to do so, such as viewing it as purification.  The patience of definitely thinking about Dharma is when we listen to, contemplate or meditate on Dharma with a patient and joyful mind so as to gain a special experience of it.

Patience practiced with a motivation of bodhichitta is the perfection of patience.  What this means is we practice patience understanding how it helps us become a Buddha, which we wish to do to help all beings.  So how does patience help us become a Buddha?  Most of the experiences we have in samsara are ones of suffering.  If we were only able to make progress along the spiritual path when conditions were good, it would be very difficult to make much progress in a given human life because good conditions are very rare.  If, however, we are also able to make spiritual progress on the basis of painful conditions then we can make progress during every moment of our lives.  And since painful moments are more common than pleasant ones, we are able to make progress for most of our life.  Further, patience is the cause of beauty.  We have many worldly reasons for wanting beauty, but why would a bodhisattva wish for beauty?  When we are beautiful, people are naturally attracted to us.  We want people to be attracted to us so that we can explain to them the paths to liberation and enlightenment.  The more patience we practice, the more radiant we become, until eventually we attain a Buddha’s form body which radiates infinitely in all directions drawing in all living beings.  It is this radiance which eventually draws all beings to the Buddha, and once they are drawn to him, he can then lead them to enlightenment.

The ultimate perfection of the practice of patience is the practice of the perfection of patience conjoined with an understanding of emptiness.  Once again, understanding the emptiness of the three spheres is helpful.  We have already discussed at length the emptiness of our self and others, two waves on the ocean of our mind.  Here we focus on the emptiness of the suffering itself.  Suffering is a mental experience that comes from not knowing how to accept painful experiences.  When we do not know how to accept painful experiences, we suffer from them.  If we have the wisdom that knows how to accept the painful experiences then we no longer suffer from them.  They may still be painful, but we will experience this pain as something quite beneficial for our spiritual development, so it will not be a problem for us, rather it will be experienced as a blessing.  Ultimately, if we attain a direct realization of emptiness, then we will not even experience any pain, which of course will make it very easy to accept such experiences!  A suffering experience is one that harms us in some way.  Something will harm us only if we do not know how to do anything useful with it.  But if we know how to constructively use a painful experience then it will no longer harm us, rather it will help us.  Because it helps us, we wholeheartedly welcome it without resistance.  The wisdom mind that can do this is patience.  Harm, therefore, is a mental construction what arises from the lack of wisdom knowing how to use constructively our painful experiences.  Harm does not exist from its own side.  As such, we can reconstruct the painful experience as a helpful one, and receive benefit.  Then, no harm will arise.  No harm means no suffering.  So the more we realize the emptiness of the painful experience, the more easily we will be able to reconstruct it into a beneficial experience, and the less we will suffer.

What enables us to use painful experiences?  First, our motivation must be pure, meaning we are primarily concerned about the happiness of our future lives (either in the upper realms, liberation or enlightenment).  On the basis of a pure motivation, we can consider how our painful experiences teach us we need to abandon negative actions, that we need to attain complete liberation from samsara and that we need to free all beings from all suffering.  Our suffering can be an opportunity to engage in purification, train in renunciation, train in cherishing others, train in compassion and train in bodhichitta.  The lojong teachings provide extensive explanations for how to transform painful experiences into the path.  As a living being, we have two types of experiences:  pleasant and unpleasant.  We can transform our pleasant experiences into the path through Tantra and we can transform our unpleasant experiences into the path through our practice of patience, specifically in dependence upon the lojong teachings.  Thanks to these two, Tantra and patience, we can transform our every experience into the path.  When we have these two realizations, for us it will be as if we are already in the pure land.  A pure land is one where there is no suffering and where everything functions for us as a cause of our enlightenment.  Because we can accept all unpleasant experiences, we experience no suffering, and because we know how to transform all of our experiences into the path, everything functions for us as a cause of our enlightenment.  Even though our body will still be of the human realm, our life will function for us as if we are already in the pure land.  How amazing!

Ultimate stages of the path: The perfection of moral discipline

The practice of moral discipline in general terms is refraining from engaging in negativities and choosing to engage in virtue.  In the lamrim, the practice of moral discipline is categorized into the moral discipline of restraint, the moral discipline of gathering virtuous Dharmas and the moral discipline of benefiting living beings.  Since most of our tendencies are currently negative, from a practical point of view the practice of moral discipline for us is refraining from following the bad advice of our delusions by understanding they are deceiving us.  Simply refraining from negativities is not the practice of moral discipline, because even babies do that all of the time.  Rather, we have to understand the karmic costs and benefits of different actions, and understanding these choose to refrain from engaging in negative actions – we basically realize it is not karmically worth it.  We do this by attacking the question both from the side of the karmic costs of engaging in the action in comparison with the karmic benefits of refraining from that action (and ideally practicing the opposing good action).  For the costs, we can first consider how the delusion is deceptive.  All of our delusions promise us great rewards, but when we follow them they not only fail to deliver the promised rewards but they result in us creating the cause for future suffering.  We can also consider how the different negativities result in different negative karmic suffering in the future.  For the benefits, we consider how engaging in the opposite virtuous action lessons the hold delusions have over us.  It likewise gives us all the karmic benefits of engaging in that virtue.

Most importantly, the practice of moral discipline is the cause of higher rebirth.  The highest rebirth of all is that of a Buddha.  So our practice of moral discipline directly takes us to have the body of a Buddha.  The perfection of this meditation is considering how the practice of moral discipline helps us create the causes to become a Buddha for the benefit of all.  This is the ultimate benefit that so overwhelmingly outweighs any perceived benefit from following the delusion that there is just no way the bodhisattva would ever engage in negativity and lose out on this supreme benefit!

Ideally, we want our practice of moral discipline to revolve around our training in maintaining the different vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism.  These act like an interlocking net that subsumes and prevents any negative action.  Instead of evaluating every situation from the myriad of different perspectives possible, we evaluate every choice through the lens of considering the implications of the action on our vows.  The vows are generally divided into our refuge, pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric vows.  Unfortunately, we frequently neglect to even learn our vows and commitments, much less keep them.  For this reason, Venerable Geshe-la has tried to simplify things down to a few basic principles that we can keep in mind.  For the pratimoksha vows, the basic principle is don’t harm yourself or others.  For the bodhisattva vows, the basic principle is put the interests of others ahead of your own.  For the tantric vows, the basic principle is view everything as pure.  These we can remember and try practice in our daily lives.  This is, in my view, the essence of our practice of moral discipline.

The ultimate perfection of the practice of moral discipline is engaging in the practice of moral discipline understanding emptiness.  If we truly understand emptiness, namely that all beings are just different appearances of waves on the ocean of our mind, then negativity becomes an absurd possibility.  If I kick the dog, I am kicking myself.  If I steal from the tax man, I am stealing from myself.  I lack nothing because I have everything.  I don’t need to put others down to get ahead because I am already fully accomplished.  Of course I will not harm others, because doing so harms myself.  Of course I will put others first because they are “more of me.”  Of course I will view everything as pure because I am seeing their emptiness.  The more we realize that everything is created by our mind yet remains of our mind, the more negativity becomes unthinkable and virtue becomes obvious.