Happy Tsog Day: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 15 of a 44-part series.

The Nine-line Migtsema Prayer

It is customary to recite the nine-line Migtsema prayer at this point.

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

The Migtsema prayer is essentially a method for invoking Lama Tsongkhapa to accomplish his function in this world. We typically recite it at the end of every practice. When we recite the prayer, we are directing it to Je Tsongkhapa in the space in front of us. We can imagine he is in front of all living beings who have been around us throughout the sadhana, engaging in the prayers with us. If we are at a festival or receiving a Dharma teaching, we can direct the prayer to the Je Tsongkhapa inside the person giving the teaching. We should strongly believe that we receive all our teachings from Je Tsongkhapa, not the ordinary person appearing in front of this. Reciting this prayer in this way strengthens our pure view recognitions.

Specifically, we can imagine as follows:

When we recite, “Tsongkhapa,” we can recall the living Je Tsongkhapa in front of us (either in the space in front of us or at the heart of the spiritual teacher). When we say, “crown ornament of the scholars of the land of the snows,” we imagine that from Je Tsongkhapa’s heart countless emanations of Je Tsongkhapa radiate out transforming all living beings into the aspect of Je Tsongkhapa, strongly believing that by doing so we are bestowing upon them the qualities of a fully qualified Kadampa spiritual guide in the aspect of the body and mind of Je Tsongkhapa. When we recite “you are Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara,” we recall the living Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara in front of us; and when we recite “source of all attainments,” we imagine that from Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara in front, countless emanations of themselves go out to all the beings generated as Je Tsongkhapa, strongly believing that by doing so we are bestowing upon them all the qualities of a fully qualified Sutra and Tantra spiritual guide in the aspect of Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara respectively.

When we recite, “Avalokiteshvara,” we recall the living Avalokiteshvara in front of us at the throat of Je Tsongkhapa; and when we recite, “treasure of unobservable compassion,” we imagine that from Avalokiteshvara countless emanations of Avalokiteshvara go out to all living beings, bestowing upon them all the compassion of all the Buddhas and all the realizations of the vast path in the aspect of Avalokiteshvara at their throats. We do the same with Manjushri and Vajrapani, imagining countless emanations radiate out bestowing upon all living beings the wisdom and spiritual power of all the Buddhas in the form of and all the realizations of the profound path in the aspect of Manjushri at their crowns and Vajrapani at their hearts.

When we recite “O venerable Guru Buddha,” we are directing our request to all the Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechangs now generated around us. When we recite “synthesis of all three jewels,” we recognize the body, speech, and mind of all these beings collectively to be all Sangha, Dharma, and Buddha jewels respectively. When we recite “with by body, speech, and mind, respectfully I make requests” we imagine the pure body, speech, and mind of all the emanations now around us are making the requests. When we recite, “please grant your blessings to ripen and liberate myself and others,” we recall that to ripen means to ripen fully onto the path and to liberate means to attain liberation. And when we recite, “and bestow the common and supreme attainments,” we imagine that Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang bestows full enlightenment on all living beings and we strongly believe that they are now all enlightened. This is powerful tantric technology, indeed Geshe-la explains the Migstema prayer is the synthesis of the entire practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide.

Offering the Mandala

If we wish to make a mandala offering together with the three great requests we may do so at this point.

OM VAJRA BHUMI AH HUM
Great and powerful golden ground,
OM VAJRA REKHE AH HUM
At the edge the iron fence stands around the outer circle.
In the centre Mount Meru the king of mountains,
Around which are four continents:
In the east, Purvavideha, in the south, Jambudipa,
In the west, Aparagodaniya, in the north, Uttarakuru.
Each has two sub-continents:
Deha and Videha, Tsamara and Abatsamara,
Satha and Uttaramantrina, Kurava and Kaurava.
The mountain of jewels, the wish-granting tree,
The wish-granting cow, and the harvest unsown.
The precious wheel, the precious jewel,
The precious queen, the precious minister,
The precious elephant, the precious supreme horse,
The precious general, and the great treasure vase.
The goddess of beauty, the goddess of garlands,
The goddess of music, the goddess of dance,
The goddess of flowers, the goddess of incense,
The goddess of light, and the goddess of scent.
The sun and the moon, the precious umbrella,
The banner of victory in every direction.
In the centre all treasures of both gods and men,
An excellent collection with nothing left out.
I offer this to you my kind root Guru and lineage Gurus,
To all you sacred and glorious Gurus;
And especially to you, great Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang together with your retinues.
Please accept with compassion for migrating beings,
And having accepted, out of your great compassion,
Please bestow your blessings on all sentient beings pervading space.

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

I offer without any sense of loss
The objects that give rise to my attachment, hatred, and confusion,
My friends, enemies, and strangers, our bodies and enjoyments;
Please accept these and bless me to be released directly from the three poisons.

IDAM GURU RATNA MANDALAKAM NIRYATAYAMI

We can understand the meaning of mandala offerings from the explanation given earlier in this series when we offered a mandala after the outer offerings. For me, the main point is a mandala offering is a promise that we will work for as long as it takes before we transform the world we normally see into the pure land we are offering. We will not stop until all living beings have been delivered to the pure land. Geshe-la explains in many places that mandala offerings are one of the best methods for attaining rebirth in a pure land. If we are offering to deliver all living beings to a pure land, we create countless karmic potentialities to attain a pure land ourselves.

Geshe-la explains in Essence of Vajrayana that there are four different types of mandala offering – outer, inner, secret, and thatness:

“We offer the inner mandala by mentally transforming our aggregates and elements into the form of the outer mandala. We offer the secret and thatness mandalas by imagining that our mind of indivisible bliss and emptiness transforms into the mandala. From the point of view of its having the nature of great bliss the mandala is the secret mandala, and from the point of view of its being a manifestation of emptiness it is the thatness mandala.”

We can offer the mandala in these four ways simultaneously by offering our self-generation as Heruka in Keajra as our mandala offering. The outer aspect is Keajra pure land with all the deities, we recognize this pure land as our aggregates completely purified and transformed into the aggregates of the pure land that we are offering, we experience this mandala as great bliss, and we recall it being emptiness in the aspect of the mandala offering. Offering mandalas in general is the best method to attain the pure land, but offering them in these four ways simultaneously is substantially more powerful.

Also, if we wish to receive blessings so as to gain the realizations of the Mahamudra, we may recite the Prayers of Request to the Mahamudra Lineage Gurus and/or The Condensed Meaning of the Swift Vajrayana Path at this point.

It is important to recall that the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide is a preliminary practice to Mahamudra meditation. The definitive path of Je Tsongkhapa is Lamrim, Lojong, and Vajrayana Mahamudra. Lamrim transforms our motivation into bodhichitta, Lojong enables us to transform adverse experiences into the path to enlightenment, and Vajrayana Mahamudra enables us to transform pleasant experiences into the path. Vajrayana Mahamudra has two stages – generation stage and completion stage. With generation stage, we generate ourselves as the deity through our faith and imagination; in completion stage we directly transform our subtle body into that of an enlightened being.

Happy Tara Day: May there be the auspiciousness of her presence

This is the ninth installment of the 12-part series sharing my understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.

Offering the mandala

When we make a mandala offering, we imagine the entire universe is transformed into a pure land.  The highest offering we can make is one of our practice. For me, a mandala offering is a promise that we will work for as long as it takes before we actually transform the world we normally see into the pure land we are offering.  We will not stop until all living beings have been delivered to the pure land.  Geshe-la explains in many places that mandala offerings are one of the best methods for attaining rebirth in a pure land.  If we are offering to deliver all living beings to a pure land, we create countless karmic potentialities to attain a pure land ourselves.  Just as Tara was born from the tears of the protector of the three worlds, and arose to tell Avalokitshvara to not worry, she would help him; in the same way, when we make a mandala offering, we are telling Tara to not worry, we will help her.  We share the same wish to lead all beings to the pure land, and we promise to work towards that aim.

Requesting fulfilment of wishes

O Venerable, Blessed, Compassionate Mother,
May I and all countless living beings
Quickly purify the two obstructions, complete the two collections,
And attain the state of complete Buddhahood.

All living beings have Buddha nature.  This means that if we purify our Buddha nature of everything that is not enlightened, our natural Buddhahood will emerge.  In some respects, we don’t need to construct our Buddhahood, we just need to uncover it.  Our very subtle mind, once completely purified, transforms into the enlightened mind of a Buddha.  There are two obstructions on our very subtle mind – our delusions and their imprints.  Every action creates four karmic potentialities:  a tendency similar to the cause, an effect similar to the cause, a ripened effect, and an environmental effect.  The first is a tendency to generate delusions again – basically our bad mental habits to respond in deluded ways.  These are our delusion obstructions.  The other three are the imprints of our past delusions, also known as obstructions to omniscience.  They are so called because they ripen in the form of ordinary appearances – things appearing to exist from their own side.  Another way to think about this is there are two types of karma: contaminated and non-contaminated karma.  Contaminated karma is of two types:  negative and positive.  Negative karma ripens in lower rebirth and positive karma ripens as upper rebirth in samsara.  Non-contaminated karma, or pure karma, ripens as a pure rebirth outside of samsara.  To close the door on lower rebirth, we need to purify all of our negative karma.  To close the door on our personal rebirth in samsara, we need to purify all of our negative karma and all of our delusion obstructions.  To attain full enlightenment, we need to purify all of our contaminated karma.  Tara can accelerate the rate at which we do all of this. 

The two collections refer to the collection of merit and the collection of wisdom.  The collection of merit arises primarily from our practices of the vast path (all of the Lamrim meditations up to bodhichitta), and the collection of wisdom arises primarily from our practices of the profound path (specifically the meditation on emptiness).  According to highest yoga tantra, the collection of merit also includes generating the very subtle mind of great bliss that we use to meditate on emptiness.  Once we have completed the collection of merit, we attain a Buddha’s form body. Once we have completed the collection of wisdom, we attain a Buddhas mind, or truth body. The union of these two is full enlightenment. Since Tara is the Buddha of Lamrim, she can help us complete both collections. Understanding this, when we recite this verse, we generate a strong wish to rely upon Tara understanding she can help us from where we are now all the way to full enlightenment.

Throughout all our lives before we reach Buddhahood,
May we attain the supreme happiness of humans and gods;
And so that we may accomplish the omniscient mind,
Please quickly pacify and eliminate all interferences,

It is said that it is easier to attain enlightenment once born human than it is to attain a human rebirth if we have been reborn in the lower realms. There is no guarantee we will attain enlightenment in this lifetime. Therefore, it is vital to ensure that we do not fall into the lower realms. If we do, there is a danger we may not re-find the spiritual path for countless eons. All of the beings who we would have otherwise been able to help if we had attained enlightenment earlier will have to continue to suffer for all that time. Not to mention the fact that we ourselves will have to experience all of the sufferings of the lower realms. Sometimes we think generating fear of lower rebirth is a meditation for beginners. We want to engage in higher meditations, and indulge ourselves in the fantasy that we are somehow exempt from lower rebirth. Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that the main reason why we have not yet generated qualified refuge is because we lack fear of lower rebirth.  If we do not have even qualified refuge, it goes without saying we have no chance of gaining higher realizations. Geshe-la further explains we should be as terrified of lower rebirth as we would be if we were trapped in a circle of fire. Understanding this, we should generate a very strong fear of lower rebirth and then, with faith in Tara’s ability to protect us from lower rebirth, we request her protection. In dependence upon this, if at the time of our death we remember Taro, she will bless our mind and we will avoid lower rebirth, and remain in the human and god realms until we reach Buddhahood.

Evil spirits, hindrances, epidemics and sickness,
As well as the various causes of untimely death,
Bad dreams, ill omens, the eight fears
And all other forms of danger.

Samsara is a dangerous place.  In the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Geshe-la says Samsara is like a vast ocean of suffering and at any point we can be eaten by the sea monsters of the Lord of Death.  We never know what sea monster may arise and pull us down into the deep ocean of suffering.  Even if we avoid death for awhile, we are nonetheless buffeted by the violent waves of suffering.  There is no safety anywhere in samsara.  Nobody saw the Coronavirus coming, but in a very short period of time, it changed everything.  It is just a question of time before we wind up with some incurable sickness.  Tara can protect us from all of these dangers.  How?  First, by generating faith in her, we open our mind to receiving her blessings which prevent the negative karma already on our mind from ripening.  Second, she can help us purify our negative karma directly, much in the same way Vajrasattva can.  And third, if adversity does strike (which is inevitable), she will bless us with the wisdom to know how to transform it into causes of our enlightenment. 

May all mundane and supramundane collections
Of good fortune, happiness, goodness and excellence increase,
And may every beneficial purpose without exception
Be effortlessly and spontaneously accomplished.

Supramundane collection, I believe, refers to spiritual collections as opposed to worldly ones.  Normally we differentiate between worldly vs. spiritual, the former referring to things of this life and the latter referring to our future lives.  For example, if we engage in our spiritual practice for the sake of this life, it is said to be worldly; but if we are training for the sake of our future lives, it is said to be spiritual.  In other contexts, supramundane refers to virtues attained by superior beings – those who have attained a direct realization of emptiness.  Regardless, this verse clearly calls for all good things to increase.  When we rely upon Tara, for us, it will be an increasing time when spiritual development comes easily, even if for the world it remains a degenerate time, when bad things come effortlessly.

Happy Protector Day: Fulfilling our Heart Commitment to Dorje Shugden

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 8 of a 12-part series aimed at helping us remember our Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden and increase our faith in him on these special days.

Commitment, fulfilling, reliance, and appropriate substances,
Outer, inner, secret, attractive, and cleansing offerings, filling the whole of space,
I offer these to the entire assembly;
May I fulfil the heart commitment and restore my broken commitments.

This refers to an offering of our practice of the Heart Commitment of Dorje Shugden.  What does this mean?  It means to not be sectarian with our spiritual practice.  If we are sectarian in our practice, it will bring the Dharma into disrepute and it will create many problems for people being able to practice the path that leads to enlightenment, so it is very important for us to not be sectarian.  Gross sectarianism is when one tradition claims to have a monopoly on the truth and all the other traditions are wrong.  Many wars and much suffering have taken place due to this.  Subtle sectarianism is when we mix and match different traditions together.  Here, instead of saying one tradition is better than another in a general sense (as in gross sectarianism) we are saying that individual instructions from one instruction are better than individual instructions from another. 

To avoid sectarianism, Geshe-la encourages us to ‘following one tradition purely without mixing, while respecting all other paths as valid for others.’  Buddhas emanate many Buddhist and non-Buddhist paths depending on the karmic disposition of beings.  Different people will respond to different instructions, and so we are happy for anybody to follow any authentic spiritual path. 

This can be understood with an analogy of being trapped in a burning room.  If we were trapped in a giant burning room and there were many doors out, what would we do?  We would find the door closest to us and head straight out.  We would not start towards one door, then change to another, then change to another still because that keeps us trapped in a room.  We would not head towards the average of two doors because that would bang us straight into a wall.  We also would not judge other doors as being wrong for somebody else who is standing right next to it, instead we would encourage them to go out the door closest to them.  In the same way, if we are all trapped in the giant burning room of samsara and there are many different spiritual doors out, what do we do?  We find the one that is karmically closest to us and we head straight out.  We do not follow one path, then another, then another because then we complete none of them and remain in samsara.  We do not mix together two different traditions because this amalgam of our own creation does not lead to an actual door out.  We do not tell people who are closest to the door of another spiritual tradition, such as a Christian, that they should abandon their Christian path and follow our Kadampa path, instead we encourage them to go out through the emergency exit closest to them.  If somebody criticizes our practices and says that their practices are superior, we should not become defensive.  We can just say, ‘I am happy for you that you feel you have superior practices.  I hope you enjoy them.’ We then continue to do what seems best for us.  This avoids all problems.

So what is the Kadampa door?  It can be summarized in one sentence:  “relying upon guru, yidam and protector, I practice the path of Lamrim, lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.”  If we are doing this, if we have chosen this as our path and we are following it purely without mixing while respecting all other paths as valid for others, then we are keeping our heart commitment to Dorje Shugden.  Taking such a commitment is our personal choice.  Nobody can force this on us, we do so voluntarily.   This is not a commitment of the empowerment, it has to be something from our own side we decide to do.

One of the core principles of the NKT is while respecting all other traditions, to follow one tradition purely without mixing.  This is an extremely vast subject.  Venerable Geshe-la (VGL) explains in Ocean of Nectar that we need to be careful when introducing the subject of emptiness to those who are not ready because doing so can lead to great confusion.  I would say even more so, we need to be careful when introducting the subject of following one tradition purely without mixing, as this is a special spiritual instruction that can easily give rise to much confusion and doubt, including thinking that such an approach is closed-minded, anti-intellectual and sectarian.  The attached document attempts to explain the rationale behind this instruction so that people can be happy with putting it into practice. 

To provide you with a snapshot, the attached document is organized as follows:

  1. References within VGL’s teachings on this advice
    1. On following one tradition purely without mixing
    2. On sectarianism
  1. The mind with which we examine this question
  2. How to understand this instruction
  3. Rationale for the spiritual advice to follow one tradition purely without mixing
    1. Considering valid reasons
    2. Contemplating useful analogies
  4. Refutation of objections to not mixing
a.      Objection 1.  We can gain a better understanding of a subject when explored from multiple perspectives
b.     Objection 2:  We can gain a higher and deeper understanding of universal truth through synthesizing multiple systems of thought.
c.      Objection 3 :  All religions say the same thing, just with different metaphors and means.  So what is the problem with me studying and reading other traditions.  Does that not also take me in the direction of enlightenment ?
d.     Objection 4:  OK, I agree we should not mix traditions.  I am 100% committed to VGL, I know what we are all about and I don’t want to mix.  So what is the problem with me reading other sources ?
e.      Objection 5:  But I do not have freedom because I cannot be an NKT teacher or officer of an NKT center if I still want to go to other things.  So I am not free to choose.
f.      Objection 6:  But it can be argued that just because one is in a relationship with somebody else does not mean that they cease to be friends with other people and other women.  In the same way, it is not mixing or violating my commitment to my spiritual path by reading other books, etc., as long as I am clear as to who is my Spiritual Guide.
g.     Objection 7: But we are Buddhist, so everything depends upon the mind.  Reading other sources is not from its own side mixing, it depends upon the mind with which we do it. 
h.     Objection 8:  Come on !  Certainly you are exaggerating to say it is a fault to even read or be exposed to teachings from other traditions.  Don’t be so paranoid !
i.       Objection 9:  It still seems very closed-minded to be so categorical in shunning anything that is non-NKT.
j.       Objection 10:  OK, even if I agree with all of the above, certainly it is more skilful to say nothing, since people will misunderstand and leave the Dharma as a result of this misunderstanding.
k.     Objection 11:  OK, I agree, something needs to be said.  But why do you have to do it in such a foreceful way. 
l.       Objection 12:  OK, point taken.  But what makes an action skilful is whether the action does not undermine the faith of the other person when you engage in it.
m.   Objection 13:  OK, fine !  Just tell me what I can and cannot do.
n.     Objection 14:  If that is the case, then why do different teachers have different policies and standards on this one ?
o.     Objection 15:  But how does your standard compare to that of the NKT as a whole ?  Are you more strict ?
p.     Objection 16:  Wait a minute !  I can understand why there would be an issue with Tibetan Buddhism in general, but certainly it is not a problem with Mt. Pellerin.  After all, their teacher was also a student of Trijang Rinpoche, he is friends with VGL, and they are Dorje Shugden practitioners.  Are they not basically a Tibetan version of us, and we are a Western version of them ?  So their teachings can help improve our understanding of VGL’s teachings.  We are all talking about the same thing, so there is no mixing going on.  So it should be OK.  It seems we should at least make an exception with them.
q.     Question 17:  OK, I understand all of this and it makes sense.  How practically then are we to implement all of this at the center given the sensitivities involved ?

In the next post, I will continue to explain verse by verse my understanding of the meaning of the Dorje Shugden part of the sadhana.

Happy Tsog Day: Remembering What it is all For

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 14 of a 44-part series.

Requesting the spiritual guide not to pass away

Though your vajra body has no birth or death,
We request the vessel of the great King of Union
To remain unchanging according to our wishes,
Without passing away until samsara ends.

Technically, our spiritual guide never dies because he identifies with his deathless vajra body. Our indestructible wind and mind go with us from life to life and is our actual body and mind. Samsaric beings mistakenly identify with their contaminated aggregates (such as the body and mind of a human or an animal), and as a result, when these die, the person feels like they die too. But an enlightened being is somebody who has completely purified their indestructible wind and mind of all delusions and their karmic obstructions, and then they identify with this completely purified body and mind as themselves; thus, attaining immortality.

The problem is living beings still trapped in the hallucinations of samsara cannot see directly vajra bodies. They are too pure and too subtle for our contaminated, gross minds to perceive. In order to help those of us trapped in samsara’s nightmare, Buddhas and spiritual guides emanate forms which appear to us in our samsaric dream. They themselves never leave their vajra body, but they are able to project themselves into our karmic dream. When they do so, these emanations appear as normal samsaric beings who are born, get old, get sick, and die. They appear this way because we do not have the karma to see things any differently.

In order for these emanations to appear, we need to create the karmic causes for them to do so. There are two principal methods for doing this. First, we can view everything as an emanation with a mind of faith. This mental action is not only true, since the ultimate nature of all things is the Truth Body of all the Buddhas, but it also creates the karma for emanations to appear to our mind as emanations. Second, we request that the spiritual guide remain in this world until samsara ceases. This mental action, especially when motivated by great compassion or bodhichitta, creates the karmic causes for emanations of Buddhas to appear in this world, guiding beings along the path.

Dedication

I dedicate all the pure white virtues I have gathered here, so that in all my lives
I shall never be separated from the venerable Guru who is kind in three ways;
May I always come under his loving care,
And attain the Union of Vajradhara.

As explained in one of the first posts of this series, Geshe Chekhawa said there are two activities, one at the beginning and one at the end. In the beginning, we generate a bodhichitta motivation wishing to engage in the practice for the sake of all living beings; and in the end, we dedicate any merit we accumulated through the practice towards the same goal. Intellectually, we know this, but we can sometimes not appreciate what is happening in our heart, and our practice and dedication seem flat.

To give us some feeling, I find it helpful to consider some analogies of things we do in life that are similar to dedication. The most obvious example is saving our money for some future use. We make the conscious decision to put our money in the bank or in some investment so that it can work towards providing at some future date. Another example is saving pictures or other nik naks around the house that remind us of somebody special. We lovingly place these things in our home for a long duration so that we can be reminded of them again and again in the future. We also save all sorts of information in our files so that we can find it again in the future when we need it. In the same way, we should feel as if we investing our merit, saving our karmic appearances, or storing away our “I”mportant karma for the future.

The merit we dedicate will continue to work towards the goal of our dedication until it is eventually realized. If we dedicate our merit towards something in this life, it will continue to work until that thing ripens. But if we dedicate it towards the attainment of enlightenment of all beings, it will not stop bringing benefit until that goal is realized. Further, dedication is the best method for ensuring that our past virtues are not subsequently destroyed by our anger. Anger functions to burn up undedicated merit, with the end result being it is as if we had never engaged in the virtue in the first place. But once we dedicate our merit, it is safe and protected, even if we later get angry. Understanding the value of dedication, we dedicate all our merit to the goals explained in the dedication verse.

Happy Tsog Day: Rejoicing In and Requesting the Turning of the Wheel of Dharma

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 13 of a 44-part series.

Rejoicing

Though phenomena have no sign of inherent existence,
From the depths of our hearts we rejoice
In all the dream-like happiness and pure white virtue
That arise for ordinary and Superior beings.

Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that rejoicing is the easiest of all the virtues. We simply need to be happy for others, both when they experience good fortune and when they create the cause for it by engaging in virtuous actions. Normally, we get jealous of others when good things happen to them, thinking it is not fair that everything goes well for them, but we always have to suffer and struggle. We would rather nobody experience good fortune than others experience it and we are not. Similarly, when others are praised for some good quality they possess, we immediately become jealous and find fault in the other person or we feel like that person being praised is in fact an indirect criticism of ourselves, and so we become defensive.

Rejoicing in other’s virtue is quite simply the easiest way to create good karma for ourselves. All we need to do is consider the virtuous actions of others and think how wonderful it is for them and for the beneficiaries of their virtuous actions. Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that the amount of merit we create by rejoicing is a function of our relative spiritual development. When we rejoice in the virtues of those more spiritually developed than ourselves, such as the Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, we accumulate a fraction of the virtues they accumulated in the process of engaging in their virtuous actions. When we rejoice in the virtues of those of equivalent spiritual development as ourselves, we accumulate exactly the same amount of merit they do for engaging in the virtuous actions. And when we rejoice in the virtues of those spiritually less developed than us, we accumulate more virtue from our rejoicing than they do from the virtuous action itself.

Practically speaking, we have many opportunities to train in rejoicing – every time somebody has something good happen, rejoice. Every time somebody else is praised, rejoice. Every time you see somebody help somebody else, rejoice. Just be happy every time anything good happens. It is not hard to change this habit if we apply a little bit of effort.

Here, Geshe-la highlights the relationship between rejoicing and the wisdom realizing emptiness. When we grasp at others existing separately from us, we think their virtue has nothing to do with us. But when we realize the emptiness of ourself, the other person, and their virtuous deed, we realize that all this goodness is happening inside our karmic dream. Any good that happens or ripens inside our karma dream is ripening inside our own mind; thus, we can be thrilled that it is happening because the environment of our mind is becoming purer and purer.

Requesting the turning of the Wheel of Dharma

From the myriads of billowing clouds of your sublime wisdom and compassion,
Please send down a rain of vast and profound Dharma,
So that in the jasmine garden of benefit and happiness
There may be growth, sustenance, and increase for all these living beings.

The appearance of Dharma teachings is a dependent arising. In other words, if we do not create the karma for the Dharma to appear, it will not. Right now, we have found the Dharma and as a result, we can practice it. But there is no guarantee we will attain enlightenment in this life nor find the Dharma again in our future lives. If we do not find it again, how can we possibly continue with our practice?

There are three principal methods for ensuring we find the Dharam again in all our future lives. The first is to put the Dharma we have received into practice. I once asked Geshe-la for a guaranteed method to meet him in all my future lives without interruption, and he said, “concentrate on practicing Dharma and always keep faith.” The second is to work to cause the Dharma to flourish in this world, such as giving teachings, working for our Dharma centers, or even discussing the Dharma on social media. And the third is to request the turning of the Wheel of Dharma. All three create the karma for it to appear in our world, both now and in the future for ourselves and for all living beings.

Happy Tara Day: Bringing our seven-limb prayer to life

This is the eighth installment of the 12-part series sharing my understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.

Prayer of seven limbs

To Venerable Arya Tara
And all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
Residing in the ten directions and the three times,
I prostrate with sincere faith.

Actual prostration is an inner wish to become just like whatever we are prostrating to.  When we prostrate to the good qualities of Buddhas, we are not trying to flatter them, rather we are humbly acknowledging that they have qualities we aspire towards, and our prostration is a commitment that we will rely upon them until we gain these same qualities ourself.  When we recite this verse, we should imagine that all of the countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of all three times are joining us in prostrating towards Arya Tara, our common spiritual mother.  Every Buddha and every bodhisattva is different, but we all share a common respect for our kind spiritual mother, and we pay respect to her wishing to become just like her.  We might wonder why Buddhas need to prostrate to other Buddhas since they have already attained every good quality.  They do so for two reasons, as a sign of respect recognizing all of the good that Tara does and to show a good example to everybody else by reaffirming that she is the spiritual mother of us all. 

I offer you flowers, incense, lights,
Perfumes, foods, music and other offerings,
Both actually set out and mentally imagined;
Please accept these, O Assembly of Aryas.

Buddhas do not need offerings from their own side since they already have everything they need.  We, however, need to make offerings because we need the merit, or good karma.  Gaining Dharma realizations depends primarily upon three conditions:  a mind free from negative karma, an abundance of merit, and a steady flow of blessings.  This can be likened to sea lanes free from obstacles, good sails, and plenty of wind.  When we recite this verse, we should imagine that ourself and all living beings surrounding us all fill the entire universe with countless breathtaking offerings.  We should imagine that the assembly of Taras accepts our offerings out of delight, knowing that we are now karmically closer to her and our minds our rich with merit she can subsequently bless.

I confess all negative actions,
The five heinous actions and the ten non-virtues,
That I have committed since beginningless time
Through my mind being overcome by delusions.

The strength of our purification depends upon the extent to which we generate the four opponent powers.  The power of regret is admitting that we have made mistakes and recognizing that if we do not purify, we will suffer the karmic consequences – not as a punishment, but more an issue of spiritual gravity.  This primarily purifies the effects similar to the cause.  The power of reliance means we turn to the three jewels for purification of our negative karma and to seek their help so that we can change our ways.  This primarily purifies the environmental effect of our negative karma.  The power of the opponent force is some virtuous action we engage in to counteract or oppose the negative karma we previously created.  Venerable Tharchin explains that negative karma is like tiny vibrations on our very subtle mind, but if we send an opposite wave towards it, we can neutralize our past negative deeds.  This primarily purifies the ripened effect, or the substantial cause of future lower rebirth.  The power of the promise is a personal commitment that we will not repeat our past mistakes, but instead do something positive.  This primarily purifies the tendency to engage again in negative actions.  If all four powers are assembled, we can quickly purify all of our negative karma, but if we fail to generate these four causes, then our purification will be incomplete.  Any virtuous action can be an opponent force if performed motivated by regret. 

To purification in this context, we should first generate regret for all the negative karma that remains in our mind which can result in lower rebirth, create obstacles to our practice of Lamrim, and interfere with our ability to generate pure faith in Arya Tara.  We then recall the assembly of Taras in front of us and generate faith and reliance in them.  When we engage in the opponent action of confession, we are coming clean with our mistakes acknowledging them as mistakes, without our typical rationalization or minimization for why they don’t matter.  Understanding them clearly as the wrong way to go, we then commit to both ourself and Guru Tara that we will change our ways.  We can then imagine that countless purifying nectars stream down from Tara’s heart, filling our heart and purifying all of our negative karma.

 We can sometimes confuse Buddhist confession with Catholic confession.  In Christian traditions, we confess our wrong deeds in the hopes that God will forgive us.  In Buddhism, we do not need some outside power to forgive us, but we do need to receive purifying blessings.  Receiving Tara’s purifying blessings does not depend upon her forgiving us, rather they will spontaneously come down every time the conditions for them to occur arise, just like sunlight will flood in each time we open the blinds without the Sun having to decide to fill our room with light.

I rejoice in the merit of all the virtues
Collected throughout the three times
By Bodhisattvas, Solitary Conquerors,
Hearers, ordinary beings and others.

When we rejoice in virtue we create a similitude of the virtuous karma we are rejoicing in, as if we engaged in the virtuous action ourself.  Since Tara is the Lamrim Buddha and she has committed herself to protecting the followers of Atisha, when we engage in this practice, we should particularly rejoice in all of the virtue of the Kadam lineage gurus and the millions of old and new Kadampa practitioners.  All of these virtuous deeds are inspired by Tara and rejoicing in these Kadampa virtues aligns us with not only her blessings, but the karmic current of the Kadampas.  We can then ride the “great wave” of their deeds all the way to enlightenment.

Please turn the Wheel of Dharma
Of the great, small and common vehicles,
According to the different wishes
And capacities of living beings.

Buddhas appear in countless Buddhist and non-Buddhist form depending upon the karmic dispositions of different disciples around the world.  We don’t in any way need more Buddhists per se, we are content with anybody moving in virtuous directions depending upon wherever they are starting from.  But here, since this is a practice of Tara, in particular we request the turning of the wheel of Kadam Dharma, the Kadam Lamrim.  Geshe-la says everyone needs Lamrim, whether we are Buddhist or not.  Lamrim is inseparable from living with wisdom.  If we look at the world and social media, we can find countless examples of Lamrim-like wisdom appearing in a variety of different forms that are acceptable to different audiences.  This is a wonderful thing, and is the direct result of Kadampa practitioners praying for the turning of the wheel of Kadam Dharma.  Likewise, Milarepa said he does not need Dharma books because everything reveals to him the truth of Dharma.  Part of the Buddhas turning the Wheel of Dharma includes blessing the minds of living beings to learn Dharma lessons from whatever arises in the world.  When we recite this verse, we should strongly request Tara continue to pour down the wisdom of the Kadam Lamrim in this world in whatever form living beings can accept – which usually means Facebook quotes or funny memes!

For as long as samsara has not ceased,
Please do not pass beyond sorrow;
But with compassion care for all living beings
Drowning in the ocean of suffering.

A Buddha is a deathless being.  They have quite literally conquered death and have the ability to remain in this world, life after life, gradually guiding living beings along the path to enlightenment.  They can do so without ever being subject to samsara’s sufferings.  Their emanation bodies will be born, age, get sick, and eventually pass away, but the actual Buddha remains in this world forever.  When we recite this verse, we pray that Buddhas emanations continue to appear forever.  Buddhas are everywhere, but whether they can help living beings depends upon whether they appear or not.  Them appearing helping living beings is a dependent arising, dependent upon our creating the karma for them to appear.  When we recite this verse, we create the karmic causes for them to continue to appear.  It is important that when we recite this verse we do so for the sake of others.  We can sometimes think, “well I’ve already found the Dharma, so why do I need to pray for this?”  The answer is (1) other living beings matter too, and (2) by praying that emanations continue to appear for others we create the karmic causes for them to continue to appear to us in all of our future lives.

May all the merit I have collected
Become the cause of enlightenment;
And before too long may I become
The Glorious Guide of migrators.

Dedicating our merit is like investing our money.  We put it away in for a particular cause and then it continues to work towards the fulfillment of that cause.  There is a big difference between investing our money and spending it on our present needs.  Here, we dedicate all our merit to our swiftest possible enlightenment so we can then help others attain the same state.  In this way, we ourselves become part of the great wave of Tara’s family.

Happy Protector Day: Tapping into Dorje Shugden’s Power

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 7 of a 12-part series aimed at helping us remember our Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden and increase our faith in him on these special days.

The remainder of the sadhana is largely making requests to Dorje Shugden.  Before we get into the specifics, I want to now explain some general advice on how to increase the power of our making requests to him.  These apply equally to the meditation break as well as the meditation session. 

First, the extent to which he can help us depends on the degree of faith we have in him.  If our faith is weak, his protection will be weak.  This is not because he is holding back it is because our mind remains closed so he has few points of entry for bestowing his blessings.  If our faith is indestructible and infinite, then his protection of us will be infinite.  If we understand this we will realize that our primary training in the practice of Dorje Shugden is increasing our faith in him.

Second, he can help us to the extent that our motivation is pure.  When our motivation is pure, it is like we align the crystals of our mind perfectly with the light of the deity.  To improve our motivation, we need to train sincerely in Lamrim.  The main function of Lamrim is to change our heart desires from worldly ones into spiritual ones.  Once we get our motivation right, everything else naturally falls into place.  It is the mental factor intention that determines the karma we create, so intention is the most important.

Third, he can help us to the extent that we realize that he, ourselves and everything else are empty.  The main point is this:  Dorje Shugden isn’t anything from his own side.  He is as powerful as we construct him to be.  We can construct him as an ordinary being or as an infinitely powerful protector.

After the invitation to Dorje Shugden, which has already been explained, we then make offerings and requests as follows:

HUM
Respectfully I prostrate with body, speech and mind. 

Here we imagine that from ourself and from all the beings we previously put within the protection circle, we emanate all of our past and future bodies.  Then with all of these past, present and future emanations of ourself, we prostrate.  This creates special merit with him so that he can provide us protection in all our past, present and future lives.  How Dorje Shugden protects us in our present and future lives is easy to understand.  But how can he provide us protection in our past lives when they have already passed?   He can bless our mind so that everything that happened to us in the past also becomes a cause of our enlightenment. We view our past differently in such a way that it teaches us lessons of Dharma.  In this way, no matter when we start our practice, even if it is when we are very old, it can be as if we effectively have practiced our whole life.  When we go to normal psychological therapists, they help us process our past so that it is no longer a drag on us.  In the same way, by requesting Dorje Shugden to transform our past experiences into a cause of our enlightenment, we receive special blessings to view these events differently.  We may even come to view our greatest past trauma as our greatest life blessing.  Such is the power of Dorje Shugden and the truth of emptiness.

I offer a mass of inner and outer offerings, blissful tormas,
Alcohol, tea, cakes, milk, and curd,
Both actually set out and mentally imagined, filling the whole of space.

The basic idea is this:  whatever we offer to Dorje Shugden, he can then use for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  For example, if I offer my house to him, then everything that happens in my house will be emanated by him for my practice, etc.  So mentally, we offer everything because we want to use everything for our attainment of enlightenment. 

Happy Tsog Day: Making Our Spiritual Life Practical

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 12 of a 44-part series.

Offering medicines, and ourself as a servant

I offer many different types of excellent medicine
That destroy the four hundred and four diseases of the delusions,
And to please you I offer myself as a servant;
Please keep me in your service for as long as space exists.

We have met Geshe-la in this life and he has taught us the stages of the path to enlightenment. If we are lucky and apply full effort with great faith and a pure heart, we may attain enlightenment in this life. But it is also possible we will not complete the path before we die. At that point, it becomes vital that we find the path again in all our future lives without interruption so we can continue on with our spiritual training. Venerable Tharchin explains that “if we do our honest best to train in the stages of the path throughout our life, it will be enough to ensure we find the path again in our next life.” But the supreme method to always meet Geshe-la again and again in all our future lives is to offer ourself as a servant for as long as space exists. What does it mean to offer ourself as a servant? It means to promise to dedicate our life to the fulfilment of our Guru’s wishes. What does our Guru wish? He wishes that we attain enlightenment and that we help others to do the same. His special method for leading all beings to enlightenment is to form fully qualified spiritual guides who in turn train other fully qualified spiritual guides, as a “great wave” of virtuous deeds that will – generation after generation – eventually wash over all living beings. To offer ourself as a servant is to make ourselves part of this great wave. Practically speaking we can do this by becoming a qualified Kadampa teacher, a center administrator, or even just a humble practitioner. The point is we do what we can to help cause the Dharma to flourish in this world. It is obvious that if we spend this life fulfilling our Guru’s wishes to cause the Dharma to flourish we will create the karma necessary to refind the Dharma in all our future lives.

Confession

In the presence of the great Compassionate Ones I confess with a mind of great regret
All the non-virtues and negative actions that, since beginningless time,
I have done, ordered to be done, or rejoiced in;
And I promise that from now on I shall not commit them again.

Infinite negative karma is the biggest problem we do not realize we have. Logically, this is not difficult to establish. First, the vast majority of our previous lives have been spent in the lower realms, where we engaged almost exclusively in negative actions. Animals may occasionally engage in virtuous actions, but almost every other action a lower being engages in is negative – each one creating negative karmic seeds on our mind. Second, engaging in virtue takes effort, whereas engaging in negativity comes effortlessly. This shows not only that we have powerful negative tendencies on our mind, but that in the past we have mostly engaged in negative actions and very few virtuous ones. And third, we have made almost no effort to purify our negative karma, even after having been in the Dharma for many years. Before we met the Dharma, we did not engage in purification at all, and since we have found the Dharma, we have done precious little purification. There are only two ways negative karma can be removed from our mind, either by ripening in the form of suffering or through sincere purification practice. Since we have not purified, all these countless negative karmic seeds remain on our mind. Intellectually, this logic is inescapable proof.

But it still does not move our mind. Why? Primarily because we still have on our mind negative karma of holding wrong views rejecting the truth of karma and past and future lives. These negative seeds prevent us from believing the unavoidable truth of our negative karma. So even though intellectually, we know it must be true, we do not really believe this in our heart, and therefore we never generate the appropriate levels of fear for the negative karma that remains. Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that the primary reason we have not yet sincerely put the Dharma into practice is because we have neglected generating rational fear of samsara. In other words, the fact that we do not feel fear of our negative karma is itself a perfect sign that we have much left to purify.

I find it helpful to consider I (and everyone I know) am destined for the lower realms. We are en route for them right now, and if we do not purify, we will inevitably fall. I find it helpful to consider some analogies, such as I am on an island that is rapidly sinking into an ocean of molten fire of the lower realms. I am chained to the deck of the Titanic, and if I do not free myself, I will go down with the ship. I carry in my heart countless karmic time bombs that can explode at any moment.

To purify our negative karma, we need to apply the four opponent powers. The power of regret admits to ourself that we have untold quantities of negative karma remaining on our mind, and if we do not purify it, we will get sucked into a vortex of endless suffering. The power of reliance is turning either to the three jewels or to all living beings to purify our negative karma. The power of the opponent force is any virtuous action motivated by regret and is directed towards either the three jewels (such as Vajrasattva practice of the 35 Confession Buddhas) or living beings (such as engaging in virtuous actions for their benefit). The power of the promise is making internal commitments to refrain in the future from similarly engaging in negative actions. The power of regret purifies the effects similar to the cause. The power of reliance purifies the environmental effects. The power of the opponent force purifies the ripened effect. And the power of the promise purifies the tendencies similar to the cause to engage again in negativity.

I find it helpful to understand how this works by considering how we apologize. When we have wronged someone in some way, if we check, we follow a very clear formula when we apologize. First, we honestly admit what we did and the harm that it caused the other person. Then, we express our apology to whoever we harmed. Then, we do something kind to make amends. Finally, we promise to not do it again. The truth is we have been harming the three jewels and living beings since beginningless time. But we now have an opportunity to correct for this by engaging in sincere purification practice.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Make Secret and Suchness Offerings

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 11 of a 44-part series.

Secret offering

And I offer most attractive illusory mudras,
A host of messengers born from places, born from mantra, and spontaneously-born,
With slender bodies, skilled in the sixty-four arts of love,
And possessing the splendour of youthful beauty.

As explained above, the karma we create from the secret offerings is activated in the wisdom-mudra empowerment, sustains our completion stage practice of the clear light of Mahamudra, and terminates in the attainment of the Truth Body of a Buddha. It was also explained above that there are two ways of making offerings of the five objects of desire – by transforming our objects of the senses and offering beautiful knowledge women. When we engage in the secret offering, we emphasize this second method.

To make the secret offering, we imagine countless knowledge goddesses who are sublimely beautiful and skilled in the sixty-four arts of love emanate out, fill the universe, then gather together and dissolve into the consort of Buddha Vajradhara at Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang’s heart, giving rise to spontaneous great bliss in his mind. Offering great bliss creates the karmic causes for us to experience it ourself.

At this point it is probably necessary to say a few words about tantra and sex. In popular culture, “tantra” means how to have better, more sensual sex with an aura of spirituality thrown in. We have all seen the ads for the classes, the only requirement for attendance not being a tantric empowerment but rather loose-fitting pants. This popular understanding of tantra not only has nothing to do with tantra, it leads to the degeneration of pure tantric instructions in this world. Simply attaining a precious human life is as likely as a blind turtle putting its head through a golden yoke floating on the surface of an ocean the size of this world when the turtle only rises once every 100 years. But meeting the path of tantra is rarer still. Of the 1,000 founder Buddhas of this fortunate aeon, only the 4th, 11th, and last will teach qualified tantric practice. This means only 0.3% of the time we meet the Dharma will we encounter the tantric path. If we practice – or worse teach – these so-called tantric sex methods mistaking them for Buddhist tantric practice or presenting them as the tantric path to enlightenment, we are almost guaranteeing we will never meet a qualified tantric path in the future. Destroying sacred things is heavy negative action, but destroying pure tantric teachings is arguably the heaviest possible negative action. We must be careful.

But when we see instructions on secret offerings, action mudras, and hear lines like “skilled in the sixty-four arts of love,” we quite naturally start to wonder. If we check, we generally have two types of experience – unpleasant and pleasant. Normally, we generate aversion to the former and attachment to the latter. As such, we need methods for transforming these two types of experience into the path. We transform unpleasant experiences into the path through the Lojong teachings on transforming adversity into the path, and we transform pleasant experiences into the path through tantra. Sometimes it is explained as transforming attachment into the path, but this is not technically exact. Attachment is a delusion and can never be a stage of the path. To be precise, we transform pleasant experiences into the path.

All tantras are methods for transforming pleasant experiences into the path of great bliss of tantra. The method for doing so is always the same. We generate a pleasant experience, we recognize the pleasant experience comes not from the object of attachment, but from inside our mind. We then dissolve the object giving rise to our pleasant experience into emptiness while retaining the pleasant experience. Then we use the pleasant experience (which has now been purified by dissolving the object we mistakenly thought gave rise to it into emptiness) to meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena. Recall from above that the bliss we generate in tantra is nothing other than inner peace so pleasant, it is blissful. This is quite a different experience than the normal grasping we have when we indulge in objects of attachment. Needless to say, if our attachment to these objects exceeds our pure spiritual motivation for engaging in these practices, they very quickly can degenerate into indulging in our objects of attachment. Most people attending so-called “tantra” classes in popular culture do not have the slightest spiritual motivation. A spiritual motivation, by definition, is motivated primarily by securing happiness in our future lives. Worldly motivations are primarily concerned with securing happiness in this life.

There are four classes of tantra – action, performance, yoga, and Highest Yoga Tantra. These four classes of tantra are differentiated by the type of pleasant experience we transform into the path. Each of these four classes can be engaged in at two levels – inner and outer. With the inner level, we imagine our objects that give rise to pleasant feelings; and with the outer level, we engage the actual objects that normally give rise to pleasant feelings. The imagined objects are called “knowledge women (or men)” to signify they are imagined objects. With action tantra, we behold beautiful knowledge deities, and simply observing them gives rise to a pleasant feeling which we then purify and use to meditate on emptiness. With performance tantra, we imagine the knowledge deities are flirting with us, this gives rise to pleasant feelings, which we then purify and use to meditate on emptiness. With yoga tantra, we imagine the knowledge deities are caressing us; and with Highest Yoga Tantra, we imagine we engage in union with the knowledge deities. Generally speaking, we are unable to train with outer objects purely if we have not first been able to manage training with inner imagined objects purely.

When it comes to engaging with an action mudra, Geshe-la is very clear we are not ready to do so until we have some experience of causing the inner winds to enter, abide, and dissolve into our central channel motivated by bodhichitta, which is a very advanced completion stage realization. Why do we need to engage with an action mudra? Traditionally, we need to do so to fully loosen the knots at our central channel. Once loosened, we no longer need to rely upon one. But the blessings of the uncommon Ganden Oral Lineage instructions are so powerful, we do not need to engage in union with an actual action mudra, but can fully loosen the knots at our central channel with a knowledge deity alone. This is important to know because sometimes people think they should not get ordained because they will one day need to rely upon an action mudra; whereas some others might think it is not a downfall for an ordained person to engage in sexual activities if they are doing so with a bodhichitta motivation as part of their “tantric” practice. Sadly, the latter mistake has happened a number of times in the past.

Suchness offering

I offer you the supreme, ultimate bodhichitta,
A great, exalted wisdom of spontaneous bliss free from obstructions,
Inseparable from the nature of all phenomena, the sphere of freedom from elaboration,
Effortless, and beyond words, thoughts, and expressions.

With the suchness (or thatness) offering, we offer the experience of a direct realization of the Clear Light of Bliss. Our Guru of course never leaves his concentration on great bliss, but our remembering he is always experiencing it may be unstable. When we make the suchness offering, we are not so much imagining we are offering him great bliss, but rather recalling that his mind is never separated from the Clear Light of Bliss. This is an offering in the sense that it delights our Guru that we remember this. Practically speaking, we should recall that ourself as the deity, the pure land, and our Guru are all like waves on the ocean of our Guru’s mind of great bliss, which our own mind is mixed inseparably with. We do not simply imagine he experiences great bliss at his heart, but we feel as if all phenomena, including ourself, are the Clear Light of Bliss appearing as form. What appears is the pure form, but what is experienced is great bliss. This offering creates powerful causes for us to eventually realize the union of the bliss and emptiness of all phenomena.

Happy Tara Day: Tara can fulfill all our pure wishes

This is the seventh installment of the 12-part series sharing my understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.

They will attain greatness here
And advance to the ultimate state of Buddhahood.

Greatness here does not mean high position, but rather the great scope of Lamrim, namely the precious mind of bodhichitta.  Atisha’s Lamrim has three scopes – initial scope, intermediate scope, and great scope.  In the initial scope, we abandon lower rebirth; in the intermediate scope, we abandon samsaric rebirth; and in the great scope, we abandon solitary peace.  In other words, we abandon merely seeking our personal liberation, and instead we seek to become a fully enlightened Buddha with the complete power to lead all living beings to the same state.  The essence of the great scope is bodhichitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the sake of all.  Since Tara is the Lamrim Buddha, we can be certain the greatness we will attain through our reliance upon her is becoming a great scope being.  Once we attain bodhichitta, our eventual enlightenment is guaranteed.  This is why it is said we prostrate to the new moon of bodhichitta, not the full moon of enlightenment because the former is the definite cause of the latter.

Their violent and great poisons,
Both stable and moving,
And even those that they have eaten or drunk,
Will be thoroughly eliminated by remembering her.

They will be able to prevent all suffering
That arises from spirits, diseases or poisons;
And be able to help others in the same way.

There are two types of poison – outer and inner.  Outer poisons, including intoxicants, pollution, and unhealthy food, are extremely destructive.  Every year, smoking kills 7 million people globally, alcohol kills 2.8 million, and drugs kill 750,000; bringing the global death toll from intoxicants to 10.5 million people every year.  Pollution each year kills 4.8 million globally.  Unhealthy food is even more deadly, with 2.8 million dying from obesity, 1.6 million dying from diabetes, and a whopping 17.9 million dying from heart disease, the overwhelming majority of which comes from unhealthy diets.  All of these are outer poisons, with a cumulative death toll of almost 38 million every year.  Outer poisons are the leading cause of death in the world by a significant margin.  But the reality is outer poisons only have the power to kills us due to our inner poisons of delusions that run towards these causes of death as if they were causes of happiness.  Our inner poisons of attachment and ignorance conspire to make us voluntarily consume or create outer poisons, which in turn kill tens of millions every year.  Thus, if we have any hope of actually preventing the suffering that arises from outer poisons, we must abandon their deeper cause – the inner poisons of delusions. 

But ultimately, outer poisons can only kill us in just this one life.  The inner poisons of delusions harm and kill us in all of our future lives without end.  The scale of the destruction is beyond imagination.  Delusions are the cause of all death, since beginningless time.  There will be no end to the slaughter until the inner poisons of delusions are abandoned once and for all.  Relying upon Tara ends the inner poisons, both for ourself and for all other living beings.  She not only blesses our mind to prevent them from ripening, but more definitively she bestows upon us Lamrim realizations which lead us to permanently abandon all delusions.  All delusions, directly or indirectly, find their opponent in the Lamrim.  Our gaining Lamrim realizations is the only lasting way to end samsara’s ongoing devastation.  People rightly dedicate their lives to fighting for justice in the world, but there will be no justice, no peace, no end to suffering until the tyranny of delusions has finally been defeated.  The only way to do that is through gaining Lamrim realizations, and reliance upon Tara supercharges our practice of Lamrim.  

If they recite these seven times, six times a day,
Those who wish for a son will attain a son,
And those who wish for wealth will attain wealth.

Typically at least once a year, most major Kadampa centers will do a 24 hour Tara puja, which involves a session every four hours engaging in this practice reciting the praises seven times.  When the Coronavirus broke out, Geshe-la encouraged us to rely upon Tara, and many centers started doing the 24 hour Tara Puja every month on Tara day.  For those unable to join such practices at a center, Manjushri center livestreams the practice on Tara day every month, so we can join in from anywhere in the world.  If we are unable to do all six sessions, it is perfectly good to do as many as we can.  Some is always better than none.  There is something particularly powerful about engaging in group pujas.  Venerable Tharchin says that every time we engage in a group puja, we create the causes to do the same thing with the same people again in the future.  It is like an insurance policy for refinding our Kadampa Sangha in life after life until we attain our final spiritual goals. 

“Son” here refers to the son or daughter of the Buddhas, namely becoming a bodhisattva.  We can wish to become a son or daughter of the Buddhas ourselves, and we can also wish for multitudes of sons or daughters of the Buddhas arise from our Kadampa centers around the world.  Wealth here refers to the inner wealth of Dharma realizations.  Outer wealth can be helpful if our motivation for using it is virtuous, but it can be dangerous if our motivation is not.  The inner wealth of Dharma realizations, in contrast, is an unalloyed good.  The more we give it away, the more it reproduces itself.  It makes us content in this life and provides for us in all our future lives.  The inner wealth of Dharma realizations is an inexhaustible fountain of good fortune.

All their wishes will be accomplished.
No more obstacles will arise for them,
And those that have already occurred
Will all be completely destroyed.

This refers to Tara’s ability to also function as a Dharma protector.  Dharma protectors arrange all the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  Normally, Dorje Shugden is the principal protector of the Kadam Dharma, but Tara also accomplishes a similar function.  There are two types of obstacle to our Dharma practice – outer and inner.  Ultimately, though, outer obstacles do not exist.  They arise only due to a lack of imagination or experience for how to transform adversity into the path to enlightenment.  But temporarily, outer obstacles can exist due to current limitations in our wisdom.  Tara can prevent outer obstacles from arising (or minimize the extent to which they do, based on our karmic possibilities).  Our job is to then use the space to practice she creates for us to then gain the inner wisdom necessary to transform any adversity into the path.  If we can succeed in doing that, then no more “obstacles” will arise for us because we will not impute anything as an obstacle.  Everything will push us towards enlightenment.  Existing obstacles are destroyed, either through purifying the karma giving rise to their appearance or through gaining the wisdom that knows how to see them all as causes of our enlightenment.