Vows, commitments and modern life:  Dedication for entire series

This series is by far the biggest series of posts I have ever done.  My goal in doing so was to clarify my own thinking on how to practice the vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism in the context of my modern life.  I have generally neglected my practice of moral discipline, but now I see it as the foundation of everything else.  I can only hope that those reading along have also found something useful.

I dedicate all of the merit I have collected by writing and sharing these posts so that myself and all living beings are never separated from the joy of moral discipline.  Through our training in moral discipline, may we maintain an uninterrupted continuum in all our future lives of our Buddhist path, our path to liberation, our path to enlightenment, our path of Highest Yoga Tantra, and in particular our path of Heruka and Vajrayogini.  May we all progressively take higher and higher rebirth until we attain the highest of all, full enlightenment.


Tomorrow, I land in Taiwan, where I will be posted for four years.  My project while there will be to go through all of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, and explain how I try to integrate Shantideva’s teachings into a modern life.  It should be about a four year project, one I hope to finish by the time I leave.






Vows, commitments and modern life:  Masturbation and losing your drops

It is worth saying a few words about masturbation.  In the last vow, we were advised to not lose our drops.  In many religious traditions, it is considered a “sin.”  After reading this vow, one could think the same is true in Buddhism and then we wind up imputing all sorts of Western guilt onto the act.  We construct it as this awful thing we must not do, but eventually the strength of our attachment gets the better of us, we do it, then afterwards we proceed to beat ourselves up about what an idiot we are, etc.  We become, in effect, sexual bulimics.  We repress our sexual desires until we can repress them no more, then we binge on them.  Afterwards, we feel guilty, beat ourselves up and feel like we are worthless and spiritually incapable.  All of this is unnecessary.

Does this mean we should have free reign to masturbate all of the time?  Of course not, that would be going to the other extreme. We should proceed naturally and gradually over a long period of time.  If we push beyond our capacity with this, we will quickly become discouraged with one failure after another.  Instead, we should focus our attention on identifying within our own mind the trade-off between losing our drops and our spiritual vitality, especially in meditation.  We should focus our attention on increasing the power of our spiritual wishes and aspirations through our practice of Lamrim.  Then we can proceed from wanting to do it all of the time to wanting to do it less and less.  We are not repressing our desire to do it, we are changing our desires to not wanting to do it.  If we want to do it, but through force of will stop ourselves, we will most likely just repress the desire.  If we change our desires to not wanting to do it, then we are not repressing at all.  Eventually we start to willingly make promises to increase the number of days between doing so more and more.  We keep training in this way until we are only losing our drops with our partner and in our dreams.  When we lose our drops in our dreams, the build up of tension is less and it becomes easier to not masturbate at all in between dreams.  Later, once we gain control over our behavior even in our dreams, we can repeat the process and gradually abandon losing our drops even in our dreams.

Yes, this is a long training.  Work naturally and gradually over a long period of time to change what you desire and you will eventually get there.  Don’t repress the urge, outgrow it.


Vows, commitments and modern life:  Why we rely upon an action mudra

Never to forsake the two kinds of mudra.

When we are qualified we should accept an action mudra.  Until then we should rely upon a visualized wisdom mudra to help us to develop great bliss.

Once again, as explained in earlier posts, we are qualified to accept an action mudra once we have attained isolated speech of completion stage.  Once we have attained this state, unless we are ordained, we should accept an action mudra.  Our motivation for doing so is not attachment, but rather through the practice of relying upon an action mudra we loosen completely the knots of our central channel at our heart.  We want to do this so that all of our inner winds may gather, dissolve and absorb into the indestructible drop at our heart.  When this happens, we will naturally experience the eight signs of dissolution culminating in the full experience of the clear light of Mahamudra.  Once we have attained this supremely blissful mind, we then meditate on the emptiness of our mind of great bliss.  When the duality between our subject mind of great bliss and our object emptiness dissolves, like water mixing with water, we will have attained the realization of meaning clear light. With this powerful mind, we can quickly purify our mind of all of our delusions and their past imprints.  It is said we can even attain enlightenment in as little as three years, or even three months.  When you consider we have been accumulated deluded karmic imprints since beginningless time, this is attaining enlightenment in nearly an instant.  In one powerful blast, all of our past misdeeds are evaporated and we become a Buddha.  There is no more powerful realization than this.

The eight dissolutions are different appearances that arise as our inner winds gradually gather and dissolve into our indestructible drop.  They are explained in detail in all of our Tantric texts, such as Tantric Grounds and Paths and Mahamudra Tantra.  Normally, when our winds dissolve we lose consciousness or awareness of what is appearing to our mind.  But with training, we can learn to maintain our mindfulness and alertness as the winds absorb.  When we do so, we are, for all practical purposes, clearing away an escape route out of the dark storm clouds of samsara and into the clear light skies beyond.  Even though at present our inner winds are not actually gathering and absorbing into our indestructible drop at our heart, we can nonetheless begin imagining that they are and that we are experiencing each of the eight signs of dissolution.  When we do so, our main task is to keep our mind single pointedly on our realization of the emptiness of our mind to which the signs are appearing.  By training in this way in our imagination, we plant powerful karmic seeds which will one day ripen in our actually being able to maintain our mindfulness of emptiness as our winds actually dissolve, either at the time of death or during our future completion stage meditations.

As explained before, when we engage in union we should mentally generate our partner as a fully qualified action mudra, and while our body consciousness may be aware of one thing, our mental consciousness is aware of the two deity bodies engaging in Tantric union.

If we are ordained, we should not take an action mudra, even if we are ready.  The reason for this is simple:  doing so would bring the Sangha and the tantric teachings into disrepute, because conventionally speaking ordained monks and nuns do not engage in union.  While it is true not taking an action mudra may delay our eventual attainment of enlightenment by a few years, the price is small compared to the harm we would do to the tradition if we engaged in union despite being ordained.  Likewise, if we have a committed partner who is not his or herself a qualified action mudra, we should similarly refrain from taking an action mudra because doing so would also bring the tradition into disrepute by creating the impression that it justifies engaging in sexual misconduct.  Remember, our practice of Secret Mantra should not contradict our Pratimoksha vows.  In reality, however, this is a false concern because engaging in union with an imagined action mudra creates the karma for a fully qualified action mudra to appear when we are ready to take one.  It may seem like magic, but in reality it is just karma.

Vows, commitments and modern life:  Pleasant feelings are not the problem, attachment is

Never to lose appreciation for the path of attachment.

Because the beings of this world have very strong attachment we definitely need to practice Secret Mantra, the method for transforming attachment into a cause for generating spontaneous great bliss.  Having found such a wonderful practice we must never lose our appreciation for it.

Attachment is the driving force of this world.  Attachment is a mind that considers certain external objects to be causes of happiness.  From this mind also comes aversion, thinking certain external objects are causes of suffering.  Because it thinks external objects are the causes of happiness, it tries to obtain them; and because it thinks external objects are the causes of suffering, it tries to avoid them.  But no matter how many objects of attachment we obtain, we never find the happiness we seek and we always go looking for new objects of attachment.  No matter how many objects of aversion we avoid, we keep encountering problems, and so there are always new objects of aversion.  If the mind is filled with attachment and aversion it will never be happy because it will keep projecting that we need to obtain and need to avoid yet more things.  This is the experience of everyone, we need only check our own life to confirm its truth.

In reality, both our happiness and suffering are parts of mind.  Therefore, their causes must come from inside the mind.  If we have a mind of contentment, we want for nothing.  If we have a mind of patience, we can accept everything.  Then nothing has the power to disturb our mind.  We can be happy all of the time.  Contentment, quite simply, is the ability to be happy with what we do have, not unhappy about what we don’t have.  Patience, quite simply, is the ability to use any adversity for our spiritual growth and the cultivation of inner peace.  These two minds are the secret to a happy life.  Possessing them makes us truly rich, even if we own nothing.

Once we have reduced our minds of attachment and aversion to more manageable levels by training in contentment and patience, then we are ready to use the instructions of Tantra to transform the residual attachment we experience into the path.  We need to be very clear on this point:  we cannot transform gross, uncontrolled attachment into the path with Tantra.  The reason for this is simple:  delusions function to make our mind uncontrolled, and attachment is nothing other than uncontrolled desire.  If we cannot control our mind, when attachment arises it will seize us and we will become a slave to its desires.  In such a state, it is nearly impossible to recall our Tantric practice, much less engage in it.  If our desire for our objects of attachment is greater than our desire to be free from attachment then it is impossible for us to use Tantra to transform attachment into the path.  This is very clear and there are no exceptions.  So we must first bring our gross attachments under control with the Sutra teachings, in particular those on contentment, renunciation and emptiness.  Once they have been reduced to manageable levels and once our desire to be free from attachment altogether is very strong, we are then ready to transform attachment into the path.  Absent this, what will likely happen is our attachment will kidnap the teachings on Tantra and then use them as an excuse to indulge in our objects of attachment.

In reality, we don’t transform attachment into the path.  Attachment is a delusion, and delusions are objects to be abandoned.  Instead, what we really do is transform pleasant feelings into the path.  There are two types of feelings we can have, pleasant and unpleasant.  We can transform pleasant feelings into the path with Tantra and we can transform unpleasant feelings into the path with the teachings on patient acceptance.  With these two, no matter what we feel, we will always have something to practice.

As explained in earlier posts, we transform pleasant feelings into the path by realizing that the pleasant feeling does not come from the external object, rather it comes from within our mind.  We dissolve the object of attachment into emptiness but retain the pleasant feelings, thus helping us realize clearly happiness comes from within and does not in any way depend upon anything external to us.  In this way, we use the pleasant feelings to dispel the mistaken illusion of external causes of happiness.  In this way, our experience of the pleasant feelings functions to destroy our delusion of attachment.  Such spiritual technology is truly priceless.

Sometimes we can be afraid of Tantra.  We know how strong our attachment is and we know how easy it is for our attachment to kidnap our knowledge of Tantra and use it to justify not ever abandoning our attachment.  So we are reluctant to even try.  This is an extreme, and an example of this downfall.  The way we protect ourselves against this extreme is to say, “I do not need to seek out objects of attachment to transform, rather as I go about my life I will naturally encounter them.  When I do so, even if I don’t succeed in actually transforming the pleasant feelings into the path, I will nonetheless try to do so.  With enough experience born from sincere effort, I will get better and better at doing so until eventually I can do so with any and all objects of attachment.”  This is a balanced way of practicing.

Vows, commitments and modern life:  The emptiness of sex

While in union, not to be separated from the view of emptiness.

By maintaining the view of emptiness while in union with a consort we shall experience the bliss of union in a meaningful way, we shall prevent it from causing our delusions to increase, and our act will be a cause for developing and increasing the realizations of Tantra.

Bliss, quite simply, is what emptiness feels like.  When our mind correctly cognizes emptiness, a feeling of qualified bliss naturally arises within our mind.  Qualified bliss is quite different from ordinary bliss arising from attachment.  Ordinary bliss, or the pleasant feelings that sometimes arise when we engage with our objects of attachment, is a grasping mind that looks to something outside of oneself to feel good.  In the Lamrim, indulging in attachment is likened to licking honey off or a razor blade.  You cannot get the honey without being cut.  You may not feel the cut at the time you are licking the honey, but later equally proportionate mental pain is sure to follow in one form or another.  We all have experience of mental pain due to our relationships with our objects of attachment.  If we allow ourselves to become attached to these pleasant feelings, it is certain we will later experience equally painful mental feelings.

When people practice Sutra alone, it is fairly easy to misunderstand the conclusion of the teachings on attachment to think it is somehow a downfall to be happy or to enjoy anything.  They can then fall into some form of the extreme of aestheticism.  I knew a practitioner once who, driven by this misunderstanding, made himself quite miserable.  He thought it was a fault to be happy, and anytime somebody around him was happy he felt it was his duty to rob them of that happiness by judgmentally condemning the person as just indulging in their attachment.  Not only did he kill the joy of his own practice, he wound up deterring people from wanting to take up the spiritual path.  Why would anybody want to become a Buddhist if it makes one that miserable?

While such thinking is a misunderstanding even according to Sutra, it is completely misplaced in Tantra.  The miracle of Tantra is it gives us methods to, as they say in French, “prendre plaisir sans saisir” (take pleasure without grasping).  It makes a clear distinction between pleasant feelings and the external objects we mistakenly think are their cause.  This enables us to enjoy everything without generating delusion.

The way Tantra works is quite simple:  first we generate a spiritual motivation wishing to overcome our delusion of attachment.  Then, when we experience some object of attachment (we do not need to seek out objects of attachment, rather we transform our experience of them when they naturally occur), we generate some pleasant feeling.  Then, we consider how the pleasant feeling is an inner mental feeling, part of the mind.  It is only our ignorance which mistakenly thinks the pleasant feeling comes from the external object when in reality it comes from inside our mind.  We then meditate on the emptiness of the external object of attachment, dissolving it into emptiness, but while doing so we retain the inner pleasant feelings.  When we do this, we will gradually disentangle the pleasant feelings from what mistakenly appears to be their cause (the external object of attachment).  We are then able to maintain the pleasant feelings without depending upon an external object of attachment.  We recognize the pleasant feelings as a similitude of qualified bliss coming from our mind while at the same time meditating on the emptiness of the object of our attachment – realizing that nothing was ever there to begin with.  We then hold this union of bliss and emptiness for as long as possible.

This meditation is an extremely powerful method for quickly overcoming our attachment.  In the Tantric teachings, it is likened to using the wood of attachment to light that fire that burns the attachment completely.  If we do the meditation correctly, when we dissolve the object of attachment into emptiness our pleasant feelings should actually increase.  It does not become more intense, rather it becomes more sublime.  It feels as if the coarseness of the pleasant feelings subside into an extremely pleasant suppleness.  Instead of becoming more agitated, as often occurs when we indulge in objects with our attachment, our mind becomes more peaceful.  Qualified bliss is, quite simply, the feeling of inner peace fully refined.  Our mind becomes so peaceful, so supple, that it feels blissful.  When we are experiencing objects with our attachment, the pleasant feelings within our mind feel fragile like we can lose them quickly and at any time.  When we are experiencing objects with our wisdom realizing emptiness, the pleasant feelings of inner peace feel stable, like everything has settled down into its natural resting place.

When we engage in union with somebody, we have a choice.  We can try enjoy the union with a mind of attachment or we can try enjoy the union with a mind of emptiness.  When we enjoy the union with a mind of attachment, the mind is more agitated and selfish, seeking one’s own pleasure.  The pleasurable feelings are good, but it is devoid of love because we are using the other person for our own purposes.  In much pornography, the participants look angry and they act like crazed animals.  The intention is to make it seem like their primal passions have been unleashed, but all it actually shows is how the mind of attachment destroys the joy even from the act.  Most of us don’t act in such ways, but within ourselves part of our mind is trying to use the other person in this way.  Our goal when engaging in union should be to become a Tantric deity, not a rabid dog.

When we enjoy the union with a mind of emptiness, we naturally become more loving, affectionate, and attentive.  The more we meditate on the emptiness of ourself, our partner and our union, the more it feels as if the barriers between ourself, our partner and indeed the whole world melt away.  As these barriers dissolve, it feels as if we are releasing sublime inner peace into the world as a gift of love.  All agitation subsides, all duality dissolves away.  It is not only more spiritual, it is far more enjoyable for ourself and our partner.  Our delusions subside and our wisdom and feelings of closeness increase.  Tantra is call the Vajrayana path.  Vajra, in this context, means indestructible, inseparable, immovable, unchanging, unshakable inner peace.  When centered within the union of bliss and emptiness, it feels as if we – our mind – are undefilable because we are simply beyond the reach of anything in samsara.  It feels completely unbreakable, not because it can’t be bent but because there is nothing there to bend or break.  It is a completely spacious feeling that is nonetheless a completely immutable foundation.  It feels like an inner radiance vibrantly glowing purely from within without fluctuation.  We feel as if we have tapped into an inexhaustible inner source of joy where we want for nothing, but instead overflow with an abundance of love generously pouring out in all directions.

Vows, commitments and modern life:  Who you live with matters

Staying seven days in the home of someone who rejects the Vajrayana.

We incur this downfall if without a good reason we stay for more than seven days in the home of a person who is critical of the Vajrayana.

The logic behind this is fairly straightforward.  We are by nature social creatures, and so we naturally become socialized into the views of those around us.  This happens almost automatically, as if by osmosis.  Of course, if we are mindful, it is possible to avoid this affect, but most of us are rarely sufficiently mindful.  Because of this socialization effect, we are advised to avoid those who are critical of the Dharma, in particular the Vajrayana path, and to instead choose to spend as much time as we can with those who embrace the path.  In this way we protect ourselves from sub-consciously taking on board their critical views and assumptions, and instead willingly socialize ourselves into a Dharma way of looking at the world.

The second reason why we want to avoid this is to protect those who are critical.  It can happen that people are so adverse to our practice that our very presence is a constant reminder of it.  In such a situation, every time they see us – even if they say nothing to our face – they create an endless series of negative karma of rejecting the Dharma by our being around.  In order to protect them from creating such karma we try not to stay too long.

Sometimes this can pose a problem for us when we go home to visit our family during the holidays, for example, if they are hostile to our practice.  If we do find ourselves in such a situation and it would be karmically inappropriate for us to not visit our family, we should just strive to be mindful when we are home.  If we are seen to be avoiding them, and they are aware it is because of our practice, then even our absence is a form of presence and we incur a similar downfall.  For example, if we are normally there for Thanksgiving in the U.S., but then we are not because of our practice, even though we are not there our mere absence itself will be seen, and that absence will be understood as “it is because they have gone off and joined some cult, and now they don’t even come home.”  So we need to be skillful.  Normally, though, if we do not flaunt our practice and rub our relatives noses in it, they are unlikely to actively oppose it and we should be OK.

Vows, commitments and modern life:  Do I need to leave my partner?

To abandon union with those unqualified.

When the time comes for us to rely upon an action mudra we need to do so with someone who practices the same practices and who has a good nature and loving kindness.  If we rely upon an unqualified consort solely out of attachment we shall experience great obstacles to our daily practice.

Many people read this vow and then develop all sorts of doubts and worries because their partner is not a qualified action mudra.  They then start to think remaining with this person is somehow a tantric downfall, and it introduces all sorts of doubts and unnecessary problems into the relationship.  They then become attached to their partner becoming a practitioner as well, and of course the more they push this, the more they cause their partner to reject the Dharma because nobody likes being pushed into anything, and we naturally resist when we are.  This resistance and rejection of the Dharma then reinforces the doubts and worries, and the process starts all over again in a vicious cycle.

How do we avoid such worries?

First, this doubt arises purely from a misunderstanding.  We can know this because this misinterpretation of the vow is in effect divisive speech, harming a relationship.  None of our tantric vows are in any way in contradiction with any of our other vows, including the vow to abandon divisive speech.  If we have interpreted the vows as being in contradiction with one another, it is a definite sign we have misunderstood.   All practices, especially Tantric ones, function to dissolve the divisions between ourself and others, not erect new ones.

Second, the key condition for this vows is “when the time comes for us to rely upon an action mudra.” As explained before, this occurs only after we have attained isolated speech of completion stage.  If we have not yet attained this state, then we have nothing to worry about.

Third, the downfall only occurs when we engage in union solely out of attachment.  But this is true whether we are a Tantric practitioner or not.  Think of all the problems that exist in this world when people relate to sexual activity solely out of attachment.  It was explained in earlier posts the myriad ways we can engage in sexual activity with a spiritual motivation, starting with a love wishing to make the other person happy to generating ourself and our partner as deities and mentally imagining generating the four joys.

Fourth, our partner does not inherently exist.  They are a mere karmic appearance of mind.  If you change your view of your partner, viewing them as Vajrayogini or Heruka, then you create new karma, which will create a new appearance.  Every being in this world has been karmically created by our ignorance and self-cherishing into a suffering sentient being.  Every being in the pure land is karmically created by our wisdom and compassion into a fully enlightened deity.  Our tantric practice functions to karmically reconstruct our world from a world of suffering into a world of purity.  If we practice sincerely the instructions we have been given there is no doubt that by the time we are ready to take an action mudra our partner will vividly appear to us to be a fully qualified action mudra.

Nothing more need be said.

Vows, commitments and modern life:  Meeting Heruka and Vajrayogini in all our future lives

The uncommon commitments of Mother Tantra

It was explained before that the karmic effect of keeping our refuge vows purely is to maintain the uninterrupted continuum of our Buddhist practice in this and all our future lives.  The karmic effect of keeping our pratimoksha vows purely is to maintain the uninterrupted continuum of our Buddhist path to at least liberation in this and all of our future lives.  The karmic effect of keeping our bodhisattva vows purely is to maintain the uninterrupted continuum of our Mahayana Buddhist path from now until we attain enlightenment.  The karmic effect of keeping our Tantric vows purely is to maintain the uninterrupted continuum of our Vajrayana Buddhist path until we become a Tantric deity.  In exactly the same way, the karmic effect of keeping our uncommon commitments of Mother Tantra is to maintain the uninterrupted continuum of our Heruka and Vajrayogini Vajrayana practice between now and our very swift enlightenment.  If we have understood how rare and hard it is to find such an opportunity, we will become extremely motivated to practice these and all of our vows very purely.

When you think about all the effort people put into making money or securing a partner, especially when you consider how a successful outcome is quite uncertain, you have to wonder why we do not put even a fraction of the effort into keeping our vows when the outcome is certain.  If somebody called and said, “I have a MegaMillions winning lottery ticket here for you, this is no joke it is the real deal, all you need to do is come down to the store and pick it up,” what would we do?  We would run straight to the store.  We should be the same with our vows.  If we practice our vows purely, the results are guaranteed.  And the results are far more valuable than winning the lottery.  We have the potential to solve all of our problems for all our future lives, and to gain the ability to help others do the same.  What could possibly be more meaningful than this?

Maintaining the continuum of our Heruka and Vajrayogini practice is particularly extraordinary good fortune.  First, as times become more degenerate, the power and blessings of Heruka and Vajrayogini increase.  This is not so of other Buddhas, where the power of their blessings in this world taper off as the karmic obstructions in the minds of living beings increase.  There is no doubt times are becoming increasingly degenerate, so we should count ourselves as particularly lucky to be Heruka and Vajrayogini practitioners.

Second, it is said that if we practice Heruka or Vajrayogini to the best of our ability in this life, even somebody of the least good fortune will create enough good karma so that within seven lifetimes it is 100% guaranteed that we will take rebirth in Keajra pure land, even if we find ourselves in the deepest hell.  If we knew there are only at most seven lives left in samsara, we would find we could accept pretty much anything and everything.  We know it is coming to an end, and we are definitely on our way out.  And who knows, perhaps we are not somebody of the least good fortune and it might be sooner still.

It is important to remember, this effect does not come about only if we reach a certain internal attainment in this life.  Rather, it comes about in dependence upon our effort in this life alone – even if no results whatsoever ripen in this life.  Ordinary, samsaric life is about harvesting results; Dharma practice is about creating causes.  Simply doing our best to practice highest yoga tantra in this life is the equivalent to walking to the store to pick up our winning lottery ticket.  It will take some effort, but it is surely worth the trip.

Vows, commitments and modern life:  How do we observe the Fifty Verses if we don’t know what they are?

Acting in contradiction to the Fifty Verses on the Spiritual Guide. 

This scripture explains how we should rely upon our Spiritual Guide by means of action.  If we neglect these instructions we incur a gross downfall.

There is not, to my knowledge, a translation that has been done for our tradition of this text.  When I first encountered this vow, wanting to keep all my vows purely (or at least know what they are) I asked my teacher if she had a copy.  She said she did, but she said for us we keep this vow through practicing sincerely the instructions we have already received on reliance upon the spiritual guide, in particular the instructions in Joyful Path of Good Fortune and especially Great Treasury of Merit.

I have read some translations from other traditions, and I understood why this specific text is not translated for us.  Practicing these verses in the context of the relationship even Kadampa students had (or even currently have) with their Tibetan teachers in Tibet and India may be appropriate and even normal, but in a modern Western context, not so much.  In Tibet and India, when you enter into the room of your spiritual guide, you immediately do prostrations.  In the West, when a student tries to do that to Geshe-la, he says, “that is the Tibetan way, get up.”  Instead of focusing on external behavior and practices, we instead focus on the essential meaning of reliance upon the Spiritual Guide, namely to consider our spiritual guide as a Buddha, and to sincerely put their instructions into practice with faith.  If we do this, we are keeping this vow even if we don’t know what the 50 versus are.

To take this a little bit further, Geshe-la says Buddhas appear in ordinary forms intentionally for us to act “completely normal” with them.  It is by acting completely normally that we will gain the realizations we need to gain.  When we fail to understand this, we start acting in all sorts of goofy ways with our teachers and spiritual guides.  For example, if our teacher makes some mistake but we think we are supposed to view them as a Buddha, then we try tell ourselves that the mistake wasn’t a mistake at all, it was exactly correct.  But this ties us in all sorts of knots because, conventionally speaking the action was a mistake.  So is a mistake correct?  Confusion reigns.  Or we think, perhaps my spiritual guide isn’t a Buddha after all, because look at all of the mistakes they make.

If we relate to them exactly as normal, then our reaction is different.  If a normal person made some mistake, we would discuss the mistake with the other person, telling them that it appears they are making a mistake.  They would then clarify their point of view, and then either we realize we were wrong or they do, and everyone changes accordingly.  That is the “normal” thing to do.  If they refuse to admit their mistake, then that teaches us something too and we say this person is showing an example of what not to do.  We do this all of the time in all of our normal human interactions.  In exactly the same way, if our spiritual guide makes some mistake we can say, “my spiritual guide is a Buddha appearing in an ordinary form making mistakes to teach me what not to do.  By learning how to relate to such mistakes, I will practice certain things and gain certain realizations.  How skillful they are to make such mistakes!”  Then, just like normal, we discuss the mistake with the other person, try come to understand one another, etc.  In this way, we can simultaneously keep our pure view of our spiritual teacher while still acting conventionally in completely normal ways.

If we fail to do this, then the tradition can quite quickly degenerate into all sorts of cult-like ways of being.  Students repress their doubts, teacher pretend to be better than they are, nobody talks to one another to get better.  Wrong behavior then goes unchecked, bringing the entire tradition into disrepute.  People lose faith, abandon the path and sometimes become disillusioned with all things spiritual.  Then, in future lives, when like a lucky blind turtle they manage to put their head through the golden yoke of Dharma again, they take no interest and plunge back down into the depths of samsara.

So what is the modern Kadampa translation of the Fifty Versus?  “Act exactly as normal.”

Vows, commitments and modern life:  The relationship between our different vows

Needlessly transgressing the Pratimoksha or Bodhisattva precepts.

If we think that since we are now Tantric practitioners we can ignore our Pratimoksha or Bodhisattva vows, we incur a gross downfall.

In the Dharma we say there are two types of cause:  substantial and circumstantial.  The substantial cause is the thing that transforms into the next thing, for example the acorn transforms into the oak tree.  The circumstantial causes are the causes and conditions which facilitate that transformation, such as sunlight, water and soil.  If there is no acorn, no amount of sunlight, water and soil will produce an oak tree.  Likewise, without sunlight, water and soil the acorn will never transform into a tree.  Both are necessary.

We can also trace the continuum of substantial and circumstantial causes beyond a single transformation.  For example, we can say the oak tree is the substantial cause of my oak furniture, and the circumstantial causes are the carpenters and their tools which shaped them.  If later there was a fire at my house and the oak furniture burned, the substantial cause of the flames would be the wood in the furniture and the circumstantial causes would be whatever ignited the fire and the oxygen in the room.  In this way, we see the transformation of the acorn into the oak tree into the furniture into the flames.  If there was no acorn, oak tree, or furniture, there could be no flames.

In exactly the same way, the substantial cause of a mind keeping the tantric vows purely is a mind keeping the bodhisattva vows purely.  The substantial cause of a mind keeping the bodhisattva vows purely is a mind keeping the pratimoksha vows purely.  The substantial cause of a mind keeping the pratimoksha vows purely is a mind keeping the refuge vows purely.  Without the acorn of our refuge vows we can’t have the oak tree of our pratimoksha vows, the furniture of our bodhisattva vows or the wisdom flames of our tantric vows.  If we understand this clearly, there is little danger of our finding Sutra and Tantra to be contradictory.  It is on the foundation of seeking refuge, striving for liberation, questing to become a Buddha that we forge ourselves with Tantra into our highest yoga tantra yidam.

What this means in practice is if we are transgressing our lower vows, we are necessarily not keeping purely our higher vows.  The qualification of our practice of the higher vows will never outstrip the qualification of our practice of the lower vows.  If we want to experience the fruit of our tantric vows, we must first cultivate the crops of our refuge, pratimoksha and bodhisattva vows.

The circumstantial causes of all of these transformations is our practice of the vows themselves.  When you take the substantial cause of a root mind and you add the circumstantial causes of the practice of the refuge vows, our root mind transforms into a mind that is keeping the refuge vows purely.  If you take that mind and then add practice of the pratimoksha vows, our mind keeping the refuge vows purely transforms into a mind keeping the pratimoksha vows purely.  If to that mind you add the practice of the bodhisattva vows, you get a mind keeping the bodhisattva vows purely.  If to that mind you add the practice of the tantric vows, you get a mind keeping the tantric vows purely.  If you add to that the circumstantial causes of the practices of generation stage and completion stage, you get a fully enlightened highest yoga tantra deity.

Seen in this way, we see there is no enlightenment without the practice of all of our vows and commitments.  Practicing our vows and commitments is the very means by which we build enlightenment within our mind.