Happy Protector Day: All the Attainments I Desire Arise From Merely Remembering You

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 11 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.

In the last post I explained most of the things we request Dorje Shugden to do.  In this post I will explain the summary requests from the sadhana.

Please remain in this place always, surrounded by most excellent enjoyments.
As my guest, partake continuously of tormas and offerings;
And since you are entrusted with the protection of human wealth and enjoyments,
Never waver as my guardian throughout the day and the night.

All the attainments I desire
Arise from merely remembering you.
O Wishfulfilling Jewel, Protector of the Dharma,
Please accomplish all my wishes.   (3x)

This verse is the synthesis of the entire Dorje Shugden practice.  Everything is contained within this verse.  We can understand this verse as follows:  The first line refers to our pure wishes, not our mundane wishes.  The second line refers to wherever we imagine a Buddha, a Buddha actually goes, and where ever they go, they accomplish their function.  If we remember Dorje Shugden, he will infuse himself into the situation and transform it into something we see as perfect for our practice.  The third and fourth lines explain how Dorje Shugden can become a wishfulfilling jewel.  Since he accomplishes all our spiritual wishes, if we make all of our wishes spiritual ones, he will accomplish all our wishes.

Whenever we are in a difficult situation, we can recite this verse like a mantra requesting him to provide us immediate protection.  Then we should strongly believe that he has infused himself into the situation and everything is now perfect.  We may wonder why is it that all the attainments we desire arise from merely remembering Dorje Shugden.  The reason for this is Dorje Shugden is a wisdom Buddha, which means he primarily helps us by blessing our mind to be able to see how the conditions we have are perfect for our practice.  When we remember him, we recall that everything is emanated by him and thus perfect.  Just believing this to be the case with faith opens our mind to receiving his powerful blessings.  Sometimes we understand immediately how the situation is perfect for our spiritual training, other times it is not so clear.  But even when it is not clear why the conditions are perfect, our remembering him gives us the faith that things are perfect, so we can more easily accept them.  Understanding exactly why things are perfect for our practice is obviously best, but sometimes simply understanding that things are perfect is good enough to set our mind at peace.

If we do not have time to engage in the whole Dorje Shugden sadhana, we can just recite this verse three times and this will maintain our commitments.  One verse said out of deep faith and a pure motivation is far more powerful than hundreds of hours of sadhana practice with a distracted, unfaithful mind.  If we offer our life completely into his care, it does not matter how much recitation we do.  But with that being said, reciting the full sadhana is obviously more effective than just reciting this last verse assuming our faith and motivation are equal in both situations.

After reciting the “all the attainments I desire…” verse, it is customary to pause and make personal requests for ourself and the people we care about.  The following are some example requests we can make.  General requests can include, “May I gain all the realizations necessary to lead all those I love to enlightenment.” This is the essence of our bodhchitta wish.  We can also make the request, “Please arrange all the outer, inner and secret conditions so that all those I love may enter, progress along and complete the path to enlightenment in this lifetime.”  This request fulfills our superior intention to lead all beings along the path to enlightenment.

Some specific requests we can make are:  When we do not know what is best, we can request “Please arrange whatever is best with respect to _____.”  When we think something is best, but we have some attachment to getting it our way, we can make the request, “With respect to ____, if it is best, please arrange it; otherwise, please sabotage it.”  When we have some situation that needs transforming, we can request, “May my/his experience of _____ become a powerful cause of my/his enlightenment.”  Finally, we can request anything that has a pure motivation, but we shouldn’t become attached to getting things the way we think is best.  We do not know what is best, which is why we need an omniscient Dharma protector managing these things for us.

After we have made our requests, we can maintain three special recognitions.  We can hold these recognitions in the meditation session and the meditation break, and indeed for the rest of our life.  First, we can think, from now until we attain enlightenment, and especially in this lifetime, everything that appears to us physically is emanated by Dorje Shugden for our practice.  Certain appearances will be for us to overcome certain delusions.  Certain appearances will be for us to generate virtuous minds.  But we can be certain that from this point forward, there is not a single physical appearance that has not been emanated by him for us, so we can correctly see everything as an emanation of him for our practice.

Second, from now until we attain enlightenment, and especially in this lifetime, everything that we hear is emanated by Dorje Shugden to teach us the Dharma.  Obviously, this includes all the Dharma teachings we receive.  But it also includes conversations we overhear, songs we hear, even the wind blowing through the leaves.  But we can be certain that from this point forward, there is not a single sound that has not been emanated by him to teach us the Dharma.  We can correctly imagine that all sounds are mounted upon his mantra, and that when we hear the sounds they teach us the Dharma.

Third, from now until we attain enlightenment, and especially in this lifetime, everything that arises within our mind will be emanated by Dorje Shugden to provide us an opportunity to train our mind.  Obviously, this includes every time we generate virtuous minds with our Dharma practice.  He will also help us generate the virtuous minds of the stages of the path.  This additionally includes all the delusions that arise within our mind.  For example, if strong anger arises, we can believe it is emanated by him so that we can practice patience.  If strong jealousy arises, we can think it is emanated by him so we can practice rejoicing, etc.  This also applies to what others think, for example what they think about us, etc.  We can view everything that others are appearing to think to be emanated by Dorje Shugden for our practice.  We can be certain that from this point forward, there is not a single thought that will arise within our mind or the mind of others that has not been emanated by him to provide us an opportunity to train our mind, so we can fully accept everything that happens as perfect for our practice. 

In the next post I will explain how we can increase the power of our practice of Dorje Shugden.

Thanksgiving as a Kadampa

Getting together with family

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.  Thanksgiving is part of modern life and one of the most important days on the American calendar. Therefore, it is our job to figure out how to celebrate it in a Kadampa way.

Traditionally on Thanksgiving, extended families get together and have a big feast and give thanks for the things and people in their life.  Even if people live far away, they travel to reunite with their family.  It is really only at Thanksgiving and Christmas that most Americans make a point of coming together as a family.  But that is often where the trouble starts!  We all have our uncle Bob or Grandpa John who just can’t help themselves saying offensive things.  Because it is supposed to be a “special day,” Mom and others get all stressed out that everything has to be “perfect,” but it is their anxiety about perfection that ruins it for everybody else.  Then of course, there is always the cynic – the person who is “too good” for Thanksgiving and feels the need to lambaste everyone else for their hypocrisy, fake friendliness, and consumerism come tomorrow.  Or perhaps we are Uncle Bob, the Nervous Nellie, or the cynic ruining the holiday for everyone else.  So the first things a Kadampa needs to do on Thanksgiving is to (1) fully accept and love our obnoxious relatives for who they are without feeling the need to change them in any way, and (2) make sure we are not the one ruining the holiday for everyone else.  As a cultural tradition, getting together with your family to give thanks is something to be rejoiced in, so we should throw ourselves into it and do what we can to make it good for everybody else.

Next, of course, comes the question about being vegetarian – or even more difficult, a vegan – on Thanksgiving.  What’s a good Kadampa to do with a giant Turkey carcass on the table, butter on the bread and mashed potatoes, and a hungry hoard ready to dig in?  Here, it entirely depends upon circumstance.  If your family is accepting of your vegetarianism, then make a vegetarian dish that you can share with everybody, and you eat what you can.  If your family does not understand and will feel offended or judged by your dietary choices, then I would advise to not make a stink out of it.  Take a small piece, eat a few bites without commentary to be polite and not hurt the cook’s feelings who prepared this big elaborate meal, and get on with your day.  But under no circumstances should you get on your soap box and make everybody else feel judged or guilty about their choices.  It is not our place to tell other people what dietary choices they should make.  Say some prayers for all the turkeys slaughtered on Thanksgiving, then transform everything into a giant Tsog offering and imagine you are offering up completely purified nectar to all the heroes and dakinis gathered around the table.

Giving Thanks

Usually during Thanksgiving, often during the meal, there comes a time where everyone explains what they are grateful for.  If your family is not accepting of your Buddhist path, now is not the time to profess your gratitude for your guru and the three precious jewels!  Internally, you should of course generate such gratitude.  But externally, you should express gratitude for things everyone else at the table can likewise generate gratitude for.  Why is this important?  If you express gratitude for something others are not grateful for, they may politely smile while you say your thanks, but in their heart they will be generating a critical mind towards your object of thanks.  You may feel like you have made your point, but they will have accumulated negative karma of holding on tightly to wrong views.  If you focus your thanks on things that everyone can be grateful for, then it is like you are leading a guided meditation in gratitude for all our kind mothers.

One of the hardest parts about Thanksgiving is, if we are honest, we don’t necessarily like our family very much.  Of course this isn’t true for everybody, but it is true for many people.  We are all just so different – different views and different priorities in life.  The members of our family have unique abilities to say all the wrong things which upset us in so many different ways, whether it is the irresponsible brother, controlling mother, judging father, obnoxious uncle, or embarrassing aunt, we find something we don’t like in all those closest to us.  One thing I have seen quite frequently among Kadampas is a very pure love for all the living beings they have never met, but general aversion for those closest to them in their life.  It’s easy to love all living beings in the abstract, loving actual deluded and annoying people is a different thing altogether.  Geshe-la tells us in all of his books we should start by learning how to love our family and those closest to us, and then gradually expand the scope of our love outwards until it encompasses all living beings.  Thanksgiving is a good day to start doing it right.  Love them, accept them, stop judging them.

Some people, though, find themselves alone on Thanksgiving. Perhaps there is so much conflict in their family that they just don’t get together anymore. Perhaps they would like to be with their family, but they lack the financial resources to join them. Perhaps there is a pandemic, preventing people from gathering. Perhaps their whole family has already passed away. Depression and suicide rates are often highest during the holidays. We attach so much importance to these holidays, and then when people find themselves alone or unloved, they fall into despair. When we were little, my mom was a single mother and the holidays were very important to her. Fortunately, some kind person always found a place at their table for us. It was annoying for me and my brother because we had to spend Thanksgiving with people we didn’t know nor particularly get along with, but it made a big difference for my emotionally fragile mother. If we know somebody who is alone on Thanksgiving, we should invite them to join us. There are so many people hurting out there, and most people just want to feel loved. So create a space at your table for them as my mother’s friends did for her. Don’t underestimate the difference such a gesture can make.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Dharma Centers

I also think it would be wonderful if every Dharma center in America had a Thanksgiving party in which everyone was welcome.  Geshe-la often talks about Dharma centers as belonging to the community.  Why can’t a Dharma center have a Thanksgiving celebration?  This could be a private affair for the people of the center, or it could even be an open house community celebration for anybody to come.  In addition to a great meal and quality friends, discussions can be had about the kindness of all our mothers.  It doesn’t matter if the people who come never come back, or perhaps they only come on Thanksgiving because they have nowhere else to go.  We are grateful for all living beings, so Thanksgiving is our chance to give some love and kindness back.  Gen-la Losang once asked who is more important, the people who come to the center and stay or the people who come and never come back?  If we look at how most centers are run, it seems our answer is the people who come and stay.  But he said the correct answer is those who never come back for the simple reason they are more numerous.  If somebody comes once, but walks away thinking, “hey, those Buddhists ain’t bad,” then they have just created the karma to find the path again in the future.  If our centers belong to the community, there is no reason why our centers can’t start doing community service.  Perhaps this isn’t currently the tradition at our center, but there is no reason why it can’t become a tradition next year.

Internally, for me, Thanksgiving is a reminder that for the most part I am an extremely ungrateful individual and I take for granted the kindness of everyone around me.  As those who have been following my blog for a long time know, I have had lots of difficulties with my father over the years.  At the core of it, he simply finds me ungrateful for all that he has done for me.  Historically, I have disagreed and protested, but if I’m honest, he is right. I take for granted all of the kindness others have shown me, and I feel as if I am entitled to him showing me kindness. No matter how much kindness he or my mother have ever showed me, my general view has been “not good enough.” I might even conventionally have been right that he should have done more, but what good does such an attitude do. If others find me ungrateful, then instead of becoming defensive, I should use that as a reminder that I need to be more grateful.  How could that be a bad thing?  

Gratitude as the Foundation of the Mahayana Path

If we think about it, a feeling of gratitude is really the foundation of the entire Mahayana path. It is not enough to just generate a feeling of gratitude once a year on Thanksgiving, nor is it enough to generate such a feeling once every 21 days when we come around to it on our Lamrim cycle. Rather, gratitude should be our way of life. Venerable Tharchin says that the definition of a realization of Dharma is when all of our actions are consistent with that realization and none of our actions are in contradiction with it. A feeling of gratitude towards everyone is a stage of the path, and one we should carry with us every day of the year.

But Thanksgiving is about more than just feeling grateful, it is also about “giving” back. Giving is one of our basic virtues, and one of our perfections which will take us to enlightenment. Venerable Tharchin says the thought “mine” is the opposite of the mind of giving, so the way to perfect our giving is to stop imputing “mine” on anything. Instead we should mentally give everything we have to others. We mentally think everything, including our very body and mind, belong to others. We give them to others. Of course we may still retain control over certain things, but we should have no sense of ownership over anything. We are custodians of things for others, but our intention is to use them all for their benefit. We offer our body, our mind, our money, our time, our family, our careers, everything, to others. We commit that we will use everything we have for their sake. At the very least, we can offer a good meal and a warm heart. In the end, what most people want is to feel loved. This is something we can give if we put a little effort into it.

Most of all, on Thanksgiving, I try give thanks to those closest to me. Before I got married, I had a vision where Tara came to me and handed to me a child. As she did so, she said, “this is where you will find your love.” My children may be a lot of work, insanely expensive, and they may be maddening at times, but I love them with all my heart. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. If they were not in my life, I wouldn’t know what it means to really love another person and put their interests first. The path would remain quite abstract. I am also extremely grateful for my wife. I have to work all the time, but she takes care of our kids and she takes care of our home. She is my best friend. Before I received highest yoga tantra empowerments for the first time, I met with Venerable Tharchin for the first time. I explained to him all of the troubles I was having with my then girlfriend, and he told me two things. First, view all of her apparent faults as reflections of the faults within my own mind, and then purge those faults like bad blood. When I do, he said, they will “magically” disappear from her because they aren’t coming from her side anyways. Second, he said, “never forget she is an emanation of Vajrayogini sent to bring you in this life to the pure land.” Of course, at the time, I didn’t understand emptiness enough to understand that my now wife is or isn’t anything from her own side, but thinking she was an emanation saved our relationship and enabled me to transform my relationship with her into the path. Later, when I came to understand emptiness a bit more, I realized it didn’t matter what she was, it was beneficial for me to believe she is an emanation. Now, after more than 20 years of marriage, I’m starting to come back to Venerable Tharchin’s words – she is an emanation, not in an inherently existent sense, but in the same sense that any emanation is an emanation. Every day, her every action and her every word, functions to ripen me on the path. Externally, she appears to act entirely normally, gets angry or sad like everybody else, but her normal is now my blessing. All of us can get to the same point with our partners no matter how they act or what they might do. Our partners have come to get us and take us to pure Dakini land, even if they don’t know it! Be grateful for them entering into your life in this way.

I think it is very important that we also learn to be genuinely grateful for our suffering. If we are honest about our spiritual practice, we usually only really get serious when we are experiencing some type of suffering. Then, when the difficult period in our life has passed, we go back to enjoying samsara and going through the motions with our practice. The solution to this problem is to “know suffering,” not just intellectually, but with our heart. We need to actually see our samsaric happiness as nothing more than a temporary reprieve from the endless slaughterhouse of samsara. We need to know our ordinary body and mind – our contaminated aggregates – as a cage that will torment us until the day we die, only to be thrown into a new prison cell which is likely to be far worse. We need to know our delusions are like devils duping us to follow paths that all end only in the fires of the deepest hell. We need to know all of the negative karma on our mind that we have not yet purified are like time bombs that can explode at any moment, shattering our lives and everything we hold dear. Such suffering is inevitable unless we end it as a possibility. It will never end on its own. When we actually “know” our suffering in our heart, then we will be motivated to practice sincerely, day and night, from this day until we are finally out. When we are grateful for our suffering, we are able to “accept” it. When we accept our suffering, it is no longer a “problem” for us. It may still be unpleasant, but it is not a problem, and so in many ways, we no longer “suffer” from it. Suffering comes primarily from non-acceptance of unpleasant feelings. But if we can develop an attitude of gratitude towards our difficulties, we will be able to accept them and realize that they are actually our most important fuel for our spiritual life.

Most of all, I am thankful for Geshe-la entering into my life.  He found me at my darkest hour, pulled me up, gave me a purpose, taught me what my real problem was (my own deluded, unpeaceful mind), gave me methods that work to heal my mind, provided me with perfectly reliable outer and inner advice, opened up my heart, revealed to me the magic of faith, provided teachers and centers who could help me bring the Dharma into my life, gave me the opportunity to teach the Dharma, and has been with me when I have felt otherwise alone.  He has created for me a vajra family of Sangha Brothers and Sisters who are some of the dearest people in my life, even though I rarely am able to see them.  He has shown me the root of my suffering and a doorway out.  He has provided me with everything I need to enter, progress along, and complete the path.  He has blessed my mind with countless empowerments, and has promised to remain in my heart helping me along until I attain the final goal.  Most of all, he has introduced me to Dorje Shugden and defended him when anybody and everybody else would have abandoned him.  Dorje Shugden is my guru, yidam and protector who helps me in this life and will be with me when I need him most – at the time of my death.

On Thanksgiving, I am grateful for all of this.  And I offer myself as a servant to my guru and to all living beings.  Please keep me in your service for as long as space exists.

Happy Tsog Day: Receiving the blessings of the four empowerments

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 20 of a 44-part series.

Through the force of requesting three times in this way, white, red, and blue light rays and nectars, serially and together, arise from the places of my Guru’s body, speech, and mind, and dissolve into my three places, serially and together. My four obstructions are purified and I receive the four empowerments. I attain the four bodies and, out of delight, an emanation of my Guru dissolves into me and bestows his blessings.

At this point we meditate briefly on receiving the blessings of the four empowerments according to the commentary. Then we imagine that an emanation of Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang comes to the crown of our head and, entering into our central channel, descends to our heart. We imagine that our subtle body, speech, and mind become of one taste with our Spiritual Guide’s body, speech, and mind, and meditate on this special feeling of bliss for a while. After this we recite the mantras according to the commentary.

The single-pointed request also has the function of requesting the spiritual guide to bestow the four empowerments. The four empowerments are the empowerment of the body; speech; mind; and the body, speech, and mind together of Je Tsongkhapa. The first empowerment bestows the body of a Je Tsongkhapa, which has the ability to emanate countless forms according to the needs of living beings. The speech empowerment bestows upon us the vajra speech of Je Tsongkhapa, which has power to guide all living beings to enter onto, progress along, and complete the path to enlightenment. By attaining the vajra speech of Je Tsongkhapa, our every sound will function to teach the truth of Dharma. The mind empowerment bestows the vajra mind of Je Tsongkhapa, which possesses the five omniscient wisdoms and can see clearly and directly all phenomena in all three times. The empowerment of the body, speech, and mind together functions to unite the vajra body, vajra speech, and vajra mind of Je Tsongkhapa so that they function together in harmony. Receiving the empowerments in this way is exactly the same as receiving the Je Tsongkhapa empowerment. In this way, the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide has the same function as self-initiation of Je Tsongkhapa.

We can also understand the empowerments at a deeper level where the vajra body empowerment is the similar in nature as the vase empowerment of Heruka that has the result of enabling all the meditations on the profound generation stage of the body mandala and leads to the final resultant attainment of the Emanation Body. The speech empowerment is similar in nature as the secret empowerment of Heruka, which empowers us to meditate on the completion stage of illusory body and have the good fortune of attaining the resultant enjoyment body. The mind empowerment is similar in nature to the wisdom mudra empowerment which empowers us to meditate on the completion stage of the clear light of the Mahamudra and will give us the good fortune of attaining the resultant Truth Body. And the body, speech, and mind empowerments together is similar in nature to the precious word empowerment, which empowers us to meditate on the completion stage of inconceivable and have the good fortune to attain the resultant union of Vajradhara.

When we receive the empowerments, we imagine that from the crown of our spiritual guide comes white wisdom lights that bestow the body empowerment; from the throat of our spiritual guide come red lights that bestow the speech empowerment; from the heart of our spiritual guide come blue lights which bestow the mind empowerment; and then from the body, speech, and mind of our spiritual guide simultaneously come white, red, and blue lights which bestow the body, speech, and mind empowerment together. As these light rays and nectars descend, we should feel as if we are receiving a subtle infusion of our Guru’s body, speech, and mind into our own body, speech, and mind bestowing upon us all the attainments.

After receiving these blessings, we then imagine that the entire field of merit dissolves into our spiritual guide in the space in front of us, who then comes to our crown, descends through our central channel down to our heart, where he mixes in separably with our indestructible wind and mind. It should feel as if his mind has entered into ours, and our mind is now his. Essentially, we receive a mind transplant where his enlightened mind becomes our own. Since the ultimate nature of our Guru’s mind is the union of great bliss and emptiness, we feel as if our mind has merged with an ocean of bliss and emptiness. Perceiving only the clear light, experiencing great bliss, and seeing directly the mere absence of all the things that we normally see, we recognize this clear light emptiness as our definitive spiritual guide and we impute our “I” upon it, strongly believing that we are Truth Body dharmakaya of our spiritual guide.

Happy Tsog Day: The Synthesis of All Dharmas

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 19 of a 44-part series.

Single-pointed request

You are the Guru, you are the Yidam, you are the Daka and Dharma Protector;
From now until I attain enlightenment I shall seek no refuge other than you.
In this life, in the bardo, and until the end of my lives, please hold me with the hook of your compassion,
Liberate me from the fears of samsara and peace, bestow all the attainments, be my constant companion, and protect me from all obstacles.  (3x)

In many ways the single-pointed request is the very synthesis of the entire Buddhadharma. In the Lamrim teachings it says that bodhichitta is the quintessential butter that comes from stirring the milk of all 84,000 of Buddha’s teachings. In the same way, from a practical view, according to the union of sutra and tantra, the single-pointed request is the very essence of all our practices.

We sometimes refer to the Wheel of Dharma. If all Geshe-la’s teachings were the Wheel of Dharma, we would normally say that Joyful Path of Good Fortune is the hub of the wheel and all his other books are like the spokes. But from my perspective, the book Great Treasury of Merit is the actual axle around which the hub of Joyful Path of Good Fortune turns. In other words, Joyful Path of Good Fortune is the sutra condensation of all Geshe-la’s teachings, and the book Great Treasury of Merit is the union of Sutra and Tantra condensation of all Geshe-la’s teachings. The book Great Treasury of Merit is a commentary to the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide, which this series of posts is a my personal understanding of. But just as Offering to the Spiritual Guide is the Synthesis of Je Tsongkhapa’s New Kadampa Tradition, the single-pointed request is the synthesis of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide. It is the very center of the axle around which the wheel of Dharma turns. If we were only to have one verse of Dharma, it should be the single-pointed request. By directly engaging sincerely in the practice of the single-pointed request, we are indirectly engaging in all the practices that we have been taught. There is no more important request in all the Dharma. If we were to only have one mantra, it should be the single-pointed request. We can and should recite it day and night, year after year, life after life.

When I recite the single-pointed request, I like to do so with the visualization of myself as Heruka surrounded by the deities of the body mandala in Keajra pure land as the basis of making the request. Venerable Tharchin said we can imagine that Dorje Shugden’s protection circle surrounds the entire supported and supporting mandala of Heruka. In other words, Keajra is inside Dorje Shugden’s protection circle.

When I recite “you are the Guru,” I recall Lama Tsongkhapa at my heart. When I recite “you are the yidam,” I recall myself generated as Heruka. When I recite you are the Daka, I recall all the deities of Heruka’s body mandala. And when I recite “and Dharma protector,” I recall that the entire visualization of Keajra pure land is inside Dorje Shugden’s protection circle. When I recite “from now until I attain the essence of enlightenment,” I recall that my greatest wish is to maintain the uninterrupted continuum of my Dharma practice between now and my eventual attainment of enlightenment. If I fall into the lower realms or fail to find the Dharma again, I will quickly become lost and it could be aeons before I find the path again. When I recite “I shall seek no refuge other than you,” I recall that it is not enough to simply attain a precious human life where I find the Dharma again, I also need to maintain the continuum of my faith in the three jewels. There are many people who meet the Dharma in this world but have no faith in it and so therefore cannot receive any benefit from it. Here I am requesting that I always maintain faith so that when I find the Dharma again, I am eager to once again put it into practice.

When I recite “in this life, in the bardo, and until the end of my lives please hold me with the hook of your compassion,” I am specifically requesting that my spiritual guide continue to appear to me in all my future lives and that he never lets go of me with the hook of his compassion. Whether the spiritual guide appears to us in our future lives depends upon whether we create the karma for him to do so. By requesting that he always hold us with the hook of his compassion, we create the karma for him to continue to appear to us in all our future lives.

When I recite “liberate me from the fears of samsara and peace,” I recall that the principal function of the Guru is to do precisely that. I am directing this request specifically to my spiritual guide in the aspect of Lama Tsongkhapa at my heart that he perform this function. The function of Heruka is to bestow all the common and uncommon attainments of the realizations of the stages of the path. When I recite “bestow all the attainments,” I am requesting Heruka to perform this function in my life. The function of the Daka is to be our vajra sangha. The deities of the body mandala are our supreme sangha friends. When I request “be my constant companion,” I am requesting the deities of the body mandala always appear to me in all my future lives as my supreme sangha friends. The function of Dorje Shugden is to arrange all the outer, inner, and secret conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment. He is our Dharma protector. By relying upon him, nothing is an obstacle because we see with wisdom eyes how everything that arises can serve as a cause of our enlightenment. So when we request “and protect me from all obstacles,” we are requesting Dorje Shugden to perform his function for us.

Seen in this way, we can understand how the single-pointed request is the synthesis of all the stages of sutra and tantra. By reciting this request, we are practicing in one short verse everything Geshe-la has ever taught us. I pray that all Kadampas memorize this verse, recite it day and night, and remember it at the time of their death. May its power echo in eternity.

Happy Tara Day: How to increase the power of our mantra recitation

This is the 11th installment of the 12-part series sharing my understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.

Mantra recitation

OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SÖHA   (21x, 100x, etc.)

The meaning of this mantra is: with ‘OM’ we are calling Arya Tara, ‘TARE’ means permanent liberation from the suffering of lower rebirth, ‘TUTTARE’ means permanent liberation from samsaric rebirth, ‘TURE’ means the great liberation of full enlightenment, and ‘SÖHA’ means please bestow. Together the meaning is: ‘O Arya Tara, please bestow upon us permanent liberation from the suffering of lower rebirth, permanent liberation from the suffering of samsaric rebirth, and the great liberation of full enlightenment.

The power of our mantra recitation depends upon four key factors: the degree of our faith, the purity of our motivation, the single-pointedness of our concentration, the depth of our wisdom.  The stronger we make these four factors, the more powerful will be our mantra recitation.  This is true for all mantra recitation.  These will now be explained in turn.

The degree of our faith:  Faith is to Dharma practice like electricity is to our electronic devices.  Without power we say our devices “are dead.”  The same is true for our spiritual practices.  But it is not like an on/off switch, but rather more like a volume knob, where the more we turn it up, the more powerfully the Dharma will resonate in our mind.  As discussed at the beginning of the 21 homages, there are three types of faith:  believing faith, admiring faith, and wishing faith.  Believing faith believes in the good qualities, admiring faith develops a sense of wonder understanding their meaning, and wishing faith wishes to acquire these good qualities for ourselves.  When we recite the 21 homages, we are building up the strength of our faith.  We should carry it with us into our mantra recitation.  The mantra is the condensation of the 21 homages.  By reciting the mantra with faith, we accomplish the same function as reciting the 21 homages.  We should believe in Tara’s amazing good qualities, develop a feeling of wonder and amazement that she is in our presence, and then wish to acquire all of her good qualities ourselves. 

To increase our faith in the mantra of Tara, we need to consider its primary function.  As Geshe-la explains in the sadhana, the primary function of Tara’s mantra is to protect us from lower rebirth, rebirth in samsara, and to bestow full enlightenment.  In other words, her mantra functions to bestow upon us the realizations of Lamrim.  This is why she is called the Lamrim Buddha.  For this function to move our mind, we must first understand our samsaric situation:  we are barreling towards lower rebirth, where we will become trapped experiencing unimaginable suffering for countless aeons.  This is our present destiny, our inevitable fate if we do not change course.  It is not enough for us to just avoid lower rebirth, because even if we attain upper rebirth, we risk falling back down into the lower realms; and even while born in the upper realms, we continue to experience problems like waves of the ocean.  And it is not enough for just ourselves to escape from samsara, but all our kind mothers are likewise drowning in its fearful ocean, and if we do not rescue them, they will continue to suffer without end.  As it says in the Lord of all Lineages Prayer, “if we give no thought to their pitiful suffering, we are like a mean and heartless child.” 

The purity of our motivation:  Our motivation for mantra recitation determines the final karmic effect of our recitation.  According to the Lamrim, living beings can be divided according to the scope of our motivation.  Specifically, it explains there are three types of being:  beings of initial scope, beings of intermediate scope, and beings of great scope.  Being of initial scope are of two types – those who wish only for happiness in this present life and those who wish to avoid lower rebirth in their future lives.  Beings of intermediate scope wish to not only avoid all lower rebirth, but to permanently free themselves from any type of samsaric rebirth.  Samsaric rebirth occurs when we uncontrolledly impute our I onto the contaminated bodies and minds of the six realms of samsara – hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, demi-gods, or gods.  Beings of great scope are not satisfied to merely attain their own liberation from samsara, but they wish to gain the ability to gradually lead each and every living being to the ultimate state of full enlightenment.  Any virtuous action can be performed with any of these motivations. Generally speaking, we say that our motivation becomes “pure” if we engage in the action for the sake of our own or others future lives.  Somebody whose primary motivation is to attain happiness in this life is considered a “worldly” being, and those who are looking to attain happiness in their own or others future lives are considered “spiritual” beings.  This does not mean spiritual beings do not also wish to be happy in this life, rather they wish for happiness in this life AND all of their future lives.  In this way, as we expand the scope of our motivation, we subsume the lower levels of motivation with our higher level of motivation.  There is no contradiction between being entirely dedicated to the enlightenment of all and being happy in this life. 

The teachings on karma explain it is primarily the scope of our motivation that determines the type of karma we create.  If we recite the mantra with a motivation of initial scope, the karmic effect of our recitation will be to avoid lower rebirth in our future lives; if we recite the mantra with a motivation of intermediate scope (otherwise known as renunciation), the karmic effect of our recitation will be to escape from samsara; and if we recite the mantra with a great scope motivation (otherwise known as bodhichitta), the karmic effect of our recitation will be not only our own full enlightenment, but the full enlightenment of all.  This does not mean with one recitation, we will attain enlightenment.  Rather, it means the karma we create will continue to function until the final goal is attained.  It is like a locomotive gradually building up momentum – the more power we add, the more momentum is built up moving it down the tracks.  Great scope karma keeps powering us along the path until its final goal is realized.  As we recite the mantra, we can request blessings that Tara expand the scope of our motivation for reciting her mantra, thus greatly increasing the power of our recitations.

The single-pointedness of our concentration:  The definition of meditation is the mixing of our mind with virtue.  The more we mix our mind with virtue, the more we create the causes for future inner peace.  Inner peace is the inner cause of happiness – when our mind is peaceful, we are happy, regardless of our external circumstance.  The more thoroughly we mix our mind with virtue, the more peaceful our mind will become.  There are three levels at which we can mix our mind with virtue:  listening, contemplating, and meditating.  Venerable Tharchin explains when we listen to or read the Dharma, we come to understand a spiritual perspective; when we contemplate the Dharma, we transform our own perspective into a spiritual perspective; and when we meditate on the Dharma, we become ourselves a spiritual being.  In other words, whatever we mix our mind with, we become.  Applied to the practice of mantra recitation, when we read about Tara’s mantra, we can come to understand that it functions to bestow upon us Lamrim meditation.  When we recite the mantra understanding its meaning, strongly believing we are requesting her to bestow these realizations on our mind, we are reciting while contemplating.  When we understand by mixing our mind with the mantra we are mixing our mind directly with Tara’s Lamrim realizations so that her realizations become our own, we are reciting while meditating. 

It is important that we try recite the mantra with single-pointed concentration.  Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that according to Sutra there are three types of faults to our concentration:  mental wandering, mental excitement, and mental sinking.  Mental wandering is when our mind wanders to some object of Dharma other than the mantra.  While still virtuous, this other object is not our object of meditation.  Mental excitement is when our mind moves towards some object of attachment – typically any object that is not our mantra and not some other object of Dharma.  Mental sinking is when our mind sinks into a degree of non-awareness of anything, an extreme form of which is falling asleep.  Concentration free for mental wandering, excitement, and sinking is calm, collected, relaxed, and absorbed into our object of meditation – in this case the mantra. 

In Sutra, we concentrate with our gross mind, in Tantra we learn how to concentrate with our subtle and very subtle minds.  The key to understanding how is to understand the relationship between our mind and our inner energy winds.  Our inner energy winds are like the deep currents of our mind that flow through our inner channels.  The channels of our subtle body are like the scaffolding of our mind – the structure which holds it all up and together.  Our channels and winds are not physical phenomena that can be detected with x-rays or microscopes, but are rather mental phenomena that are experienced energetically primarily in the aggregate of feeling.  Wherever we direct our mind, our winds follow.  Since our mind is scattered around countless object of samsara, our winds scatter everywhere outside of our central channel.  If the object of our mind is contaminated, the wind it is mounted on also becomes contaminated.  Conversely, if our winds are pure, the minds mounted upon them also become pure.  There are two ways to purify our winds.  The first is to bring them within our central channel.  Our central channel is like a purifying bath for our winds.  As our contaminated winds cease, our contaminated minds – including all of our delusions – cease as well.  The second way is to mix our mind with pure objects.  If the object of our mind is pure, then it functions to purify the wind that is its mount.  Pure objects are those that exist outside of samsara – such as Buddhas and motivations that wish to get ourself or others outside of samsara. 

Mantras are, by nature, the purified wind of the Buddha.  When we recite Tara’s mantra, we mix our mind with her pure winds.  A Buddha’s mantra is like a subtle emanation of the Buddha.  Their pure winds appear in the aspect of their mantra.  When we recite the mantra, we mix their pure winds with our own, like water mixing with water.  In effect, their pure winds become our own.  The minds mounted on Tara’s pure winds are the Lamrim realizations of the initial, intermediate, and great scope.  By bringing her pure winds into our mind, mixing them with our own, the realizations of Lamrim will naturally arise in our mind.  Gathering mantra into our winds and our winds into mantra is how we concentrate on mantra recitation according to highest yoga tantra.  The highest form of mantra recitation is called “vajra recitation.”  Geshe-la explains in Tantric Grounds and Paths and Clear Light of Bliss that with vajra recitation we don’t “recite” the mantra with our gross mind, rather we “hear” it emerge within our mind, recognizing it as Tara infusing her pure winds into our very subtle mind. 

The depth of our wisdom:  The goal of mantra recitation is to mix our winds with Tara’s pure winds.  The primary obstacle to being able to do so is grasping at the inherent existence of her, her mantra, our winds, and ourself.  We grasp at these things as being four distinct things, completely separate from one another, like there is some chasm between them and they cannot interact.  This grasping prevents us from seeing Tara as inseparable from her mantra, her mantra as mixed with our winds, and all of this as our own.  When we let go of this grasping, we experience her mantra as her pure winds mixed inseparably from our own, arising within our mind.  The duality between her mantra and our pure winds dissolve completely, and her vajra speech becomes our own.  Single pointed concentration explained above brings our mind to the mantra recitation, realizing the emptiness of Tara, her mantra, our winds, and ourself is how we mix completely with her mantra.  When our absorption into mantra recitation is complete, it will feel as if we are her mantra being recited, accomplishing the function of bestowing Lamrim realizations.  It is like the whole world is absorbed into or, more deeply, appears as her mantra.

These four key factors for powerful mantra recitation are equally true for all mantras – Vajrayogini, Heruka, Dorje Shugden, and so forth.  When we engage in close retreats, while our primary practice is engaging in mantra recitation, most of our inner work is building up the strength of these four factors.

Happy International Temple’s Day: Building the Embassies of the Pure Land in this World


The first Saturday of every November is International Temples Day where we celebrate the creation and maintenance of Kadampa temples around the world.  On this day we principally try to recall why temples matter.  On this basis, we become inspired to do what we can to become part of the International Temple’s Project – and don’t worry, there are many other ways we can help besides just donating money.

What is the International Temples Project?

One of the central legacies of Geshe-la in this world is the International Temples Project.  Launched in the mid-1990s, it is Geshe-la’s vision for there to eventually be a qualified Kadampa temple in every major city of the world.  Geshe-la’s wish is for the Kadam Dharma to pervade everywhere, and these temples are like iron frames upon which buildings are built.  They provide the basic structure sustaining and supporting the development of Kadam Dharma in the minds of the beings of this world.

The very first temple was opened in 1997 at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Center in Ulverston, England.  It is the mother center of the NKT, and this temple is the mother temple for all the others.  Later, another temple was opened in Glen Spey, New York.  I was fortunate enough to be at the opening of both temples.  Since then, temples have sprung up in Brazil, Arizona, Spain, and more are planned until eventually, they will be everywhere.

Gen Losang once told me, “temples are like Embassies of the Pure Land in this world, and our Dharma teachers are like the Ambassadors of all the Buddhas.”  An Embassy is like a portal through which another country can express its culture and share its experience in a foreign land.  The goal is to improve relations between the two countries and their peoples.  By coming into contact with temples, the beings of this world are introduced to the pure worlds of the Buddhas.  Through temples, the wisdom of all the Buddhas is brought into this world.  Those who are interested can enter into these spiritual Embassies and be transported to new worlds.

Geshe-la explained that each temple is by nature Heruka’s celestial mansion in this world.  One of our refuge commitments is to regard any statue of a Buddha as an actual Buddha.  We are supposed to see past the craftmanship, no matter how beautiful it may be, and with our eyes of faith see a living Buddha.  In exactly the same way, when we see or enter into a temple, we should recognize it as an in essence Heruka’s celestial palace in this world, where we are transported to the pure land, can receive the blessings of all the Buddhas, and can learn all of the stages of the path.  Without a portal, we cannot enter.  Temples are an outer portal that leads us to the inner portal to lands of eternal peace.

Geshe-la has said that our Kadampa temples are our places of pilgrimage.  We are not always able to make it to every Kadampa festival or Dharma celebration, but we should make an effort to go at least once in our life.  One of the commitments of Muslims is to make a pilgrimage to the Haaj at least once in their lifetime.  Personally, I think this would also make a wonderful commitment for all Kadampas.  One cannot help but be moved by the experience, and karmically speaking the experience quite literally stays with us our whole life.

Geshe-la explains that the karma we create by helping a Dharma center continues to accumulate for as long as that center exists, and it continues to expand as the center expands.  In the early days, there was no center in Los Angeles, just a small, rented house in Santa Barbara.  There was a woman who lived in the center named Lea, who helped keep the center afloat financially with her rent payments and who dedicated her time to organize classes and other center activities.  In the beginning, it was basically just her, and without her, the center would have never gotten off the ground.  Later, a branch was opened in Los Angeles, which grew and grew until eventually now there is a vibrant spiritual community.  Eventually, I have no doubt, there will be a Manjushri-style temple there.  I don’t know whatever happened to Lea, she was likely just an emanation of Tara sent to help, but the karma she accumulated from that initial help continues to multiply today.  The temples we build are built to last.  There are churches in Rome that are over a thousand years old.  We are at the very beginning of the International Temples Project, and the help we provide now will be like Lea’s, and the karma we accumulate will serve us in all our future lives.

Why do temples matter?

Everyone appreciates a beautiful temple, even non-religious people.  All over the world, tourists flock to churches, temples, mosques, and other sites of worship.  They are living testaments to the faith of the practitioners who built them and serve as a point of focus for practitioners.  Normally we might think it is a sign of degeneration that these places of worship become tourist attractions, but Geshe-la explains this is one of their greatest advantages.  Why?  Every time we see a Buddha image, it creates a non-contaminated karmic potentiality on our mind which can never be destroyed and will eventually become a seed of our future enlightenment.  Angulamala had killed hundreds of people and when he went to ordain, seers said he could not because they could find no virtue on his mind.  Buddha, however, looked into his mind and saw that in a previous life he was a fly who landed on some dung next to a stupa (a representation of Buddha’s mind).  This seed could not be destroyed, even by all his evil deeds, and later became the foundation for his spiritual life.  When busloads of children and tourists come and visit our temples, they behold hundreds of images of Buddhas, each time planting the seeds of their future enlightenment on their minds. 

Gen Losang once famously asked who is more important, those who come to the center and stay or those who come to the center and leave?  If we look at how centers are organized, it seems our implicit answer is those who come and stay.  But Gen Losang said it was those who come and leave who are more important because they are more numerous.  Some practitioners might think they don’t need temples and they wonder why so much emphasis is placed on creating them, but this is because they are thinking primarily about their own needs and not the larger function temples serve in the world.

Kadam Lucy said the most important thing people discover when they come to a temple or Dharma center is not the building, but the people.  Everyone is looking for happiness but rarely do we find genuinely happy people.  If when people come to visit our Dharma centers they find happy people, others will naturally want to stay and find out what the secret to their happiness is.  Everyone is looking for unconditional love and lightness, and we can provide that.  Seen in this way, we – the practitioners of this tradition – are equally part of the Temple’s project simply through the force of our example and our welcoming attitude.  The essence of the Kadampa Way of life is “everybody welcome.”  This does not just mean nobody is excluded, it means everyone is made to feel welcome as if they are coming home.

My teacher in Paris said when we work to flourish the Dharma, we need to avoid the extremes of external and of internal flourishing.  The external extreme is when we focus exclusively on external developments, like buildings, temples, ritual objects, and other external manifestations of being a “Dharma practitioner.”  The internal extreme is when we completely neglect these things and only focus on gaining inner realizations, thinking the external manifestations are unnecessary or even anti-spiritual.

Venerable Tharchin said the real temple is the inner realizations and interpersonal connections of the practitioners who practice there.  While of course, outer temples are important, inner temples are their main cause.  He explains that since our minds are not separate from others, our inner realizations are like a beacon of light in the darkness of the minds of the beings of our community.  All living things are naturally drawn towards the light, and the more realizations we gain and the closer the karmic connections we create with our fellow sangha, the brighter our light shines.  The spiritual light in each one of us is like a single candle flame, but when we put our lights together, it creates a blazing spiritual sun in our communities.  Venerable Tharchin explains that when the inner temple is right, the outer temple will spontaneously appear, almost like magic.

Venerable Tharchin also explains that every time we do a spiritual practice with others we create the causes to do the same spiritual practice with the same people again in the future.  When we do a puja in a temple, for example, we create not only karmic connections with the Buddha of the given practice, but we create karma with all of the other practitioners engaging in the practice with us.  This karma will ripen in the future in the form of us reuniting with these same people engaging in the same practice.  It is in Temples that our international Kadampa family gathers together as a global sangha to engage in teachings and practices together.  Without the temples, we could not gather together and create this karma.  Seen in this way, temples are also like an insurance policy for finding the Dharma and our spiritual family again and again in all our future lives. 

How Can We Celebrate International Temples Day?

The main way we celebrate this day is by contemplating why temples are so important to generate an appreciation for them.  Sometimes we might hold ourselves back from doing so because we are afraid if we do so, we might then have to give some of our money, and we are extremely reluctant to do that.  We wonder whether all of this talk about temples and the International Temples Project is really just a clever scam to get our money!

There are many ways we can contribute to the flourishing of Kadampa temples in this world without having to part with any of our money.  Many people volunteer their lives and their skills to building temples.  They travel the world offering their labor and their time to help build the temples the rest of us enjoy.  How wonderful it would be to let go of our worldly concerns and live the life of an international temple builder!  But even if that is not possible for us, we might be able to offer a Saturday afternoon using whatever skills – be they building skills or office skills – we might have to help advance the project.

All of us can rejoice in those who can donate their money or their time to the project.  Rejoicing costs us nothing, but in doing so we create very powerful karma similar to that of those who are actually doing it.  This karma will ripen in many ways.  The ripened effect will be to be reborn either as a temple benefactor or a temple builder.  The environmental effect will be to have temples appear in our lives in all our future lives.  The effect similar to the cause will be to have the means in the future to be able to more easily give to the project.  And the tendency similar to the cause will be to always appreciate the good qualities of Kadampa temples and those who make them happen.

We can additionally dedicate the merit we accumulate from our spiritual practices to the realization of Geshe-la’s vision for a Kadampa temple to appear in every major city of this world.  One of the uncommon characteristics of pure wishes is the karma we dedicate towards them can never be destroyed and never ceases to work until our pure wish is fulfilled.  This does not mean one prayer alone is enough, but each dedication we make adds energy towards the realization of this wish, and this energy can never be destroyed.  When enough energy has been created, the result will spontaneously arise.  All of us engage in spiritual practices every day, but how often do we decide to dedicate that merit to the fulfillment of Geshe-la’s vision for international temples?  At a minimum, International Temple Day gives us an opportunity to make such dedications; and even better, to decide to start making such dedications every day.

Perhaps our city doesn’t yet have a temple.  We might even become jealous of those cities that do have one or think we can’t advance in our practice unless we too have a temple, transforming them from an object of refuge into an object of attachment.  Or perhaps we think our city is far away from having a temple because our Sangha is so small, so why should we help support the development of temples somewhere else where we won’t receive any benefit from it ourselves?  None of us would admit to having any of these minds, but they do arise and they are as ridiculous as they sound.  So what should we do?  First, we can recall that by helping others have temples, we create the causes for ourselves to have one.  That’s how karma works.  Second, we can imagine that, even though our center might currently be a classroom we rent out one night a week in a local massage school, our actual center is Heruka’s celestial palace, a fully qualified temple.  While our physical eyes might see plastic chairs in a room, our eyes of faith can imagine we have gone to the pure land and are receiving teachings in a temple.  This imagination is very similar to generation stage of highest yoga tantra and creates the causes for our correct imagination to eventually become a reality.

One of the best ways we can contribute to the International Temples Project is to build within ourselves the inner temple of realizations Venerable Tharchin refers to.  We can become the kind-hearted happy Kadampa who makes everyone feel welcome that Kadam Lucy extols.  We can build close karmic connections with our Sangha friends so we can unite our candles together into a blazing spiritual sun.  We can make a point of attending classes and putting our guru’s teachings we have received in temples or centers into practice.  All of these actions create the deep substantial causes for temples to appear in this world.  Without them, we fall into the extreme of the external flourishing of Dharma. 

And yes, some of us can donate money. 

The reality is temples cannot appear in this world without financial resources.  It is not a scam or a cult, this is simply a fact about how the world works.  Yes, the Dharma should be made freely available to all, but how is that to happen if nobody gives to them?  There is a very special offering called a torma offering.  The meaning of a torma offering is we are mentally willing to give everything we have for the sake of Dharma realizations because we recognize them as that valuable.  Geshe-la’s books are filled with examples of practitioners willing to cut off their flesh or undergo incredible hardship for the sake of gaining access to teachings.  He tells us these stories not to encourage us to do the same but to realize that it would be worth it even if we had to do so.  Such practitioners, from their own side, value the Dharma more than they do their material belongings, including their own bodies. 

Perhaps we don’t have any money now to give.  No problem, we can give in all the other ways described above, or at a minimum, we can rejoice in those who do have such ability.  We can also think about including the International Temples Project in our last will and testament so that when we die, whatever resources we have accumulated go towards spiritual purposes.  In Joyful Path, Geshe-la tells the story of somebody who was extremely attached to their money when they died and was later reborn as a snake inside their money jar.  He encourages us to give everything away before we die so that we are not attached to anything.  Of course, we need to provide for our families, but we can also use some resources we have for spiritual purposes.  Universities around the world accumulate vast endowments from such giving, which continues to support opportunities for students for generations to come.  Why can we not do the same?  Similarly, if our parents or relatives pass away, instead of keeping the money for ourselves, we can give some or all of it away to the Temples’ Project.  Why keep it for ourselves when we can create so much better karma by giving it away?  Such giving also helps our deceased relative because they get a fraction of the good karma of our giving away their money to spiritual causes.

My teacher in Paris once said, “We should give until it hurts.”  Wow!  What a statement.  While it is perhaps unskillful to say, she makes a valid point.  It is easy to give away things we don’t need or don’t use anymore, but it cuts into our self-cherishing to give more than that.  What is bad for our self-cherishing is good for us.  Geshe-la explains in the teachings on emptiness that an effective way to identify the self that we normally see is to think of it in a situation where it is particularly manifest, such as imagining we are standing on a high precipice.  At such times, we clearly see our I.  In the same way, sometimes we are forced to confront our demon of self-cherishing straight in the face, and others asking for donations is usually one of the most manifest examples.  Our self-cherishing roars in protest and comes up with a thousand reasons why we shouldn’t give or feels like we are being spiritually manipulated out of our money, so we reject doing so as a matter of principle. 

But are we being manipulated here?  Is that the motivation and goal?  Or are we merely being given an opportunity to accumulate amazing merit while benefiting countless future generations?  Is our resistance to giving a matter of principle, or is it our self-cherishing rationalizing our miserliness?  We need to be honest with ourselves.  We talk all the time about the evils of our self-cherishing mind, but when we are presented with an opportunity to go against its wishes, how do we feel about that?  Venerable Tharchin says it is better to give one penny a day for 100 days than $1 on one day.  Why?  Because the point is not the money, it is training in the mind of giving.  There is something we can give, so why not do so?  If we can’t part with our money, then no problem, there are still so many other things we can do that cost us nothing.  We shouldn’t feel guilty or beat ourselves up for not being able to give money, it is just where we are at.  No problem.  We can recognize that and do what we can.  When we do, we will find helping in greater and greater ways becomes easier over time. 

In any case, we can meditate on the many good qualities of international temples and rejoice in their arising in this world.  This is the essence of International Temples Day.  The rest flows naturally from this.

Happy Protector Day: Requesting the accomplishment of our wishes

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 10 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 reason why we make offerings and requests, which was explained in the previous two posts, is to accumulate a special merit which will ripen in the form of Dorje Shugden being able to respond to our requests.  In the next part of the Sadhana, we actually make specific requests and prayers to Dorje Shugden.  These prayers reveal what Dorje Shugden can accomplish for us through our faithful reliance.

HUM
Whenever your followers with commitments
Request any of the four actions,
Swiftly, incisively, and without delay, you show signs for all to see;
So please accomplish the actions that I now request of you.

The first line indicates how if we choose to keep the heart commitment of Dorje Shugden (which was explained in a previous post) we become uniquely qualified to be able to make requests to Dorje Shugden to accomplish the specific actions we request of him, not just that he arrange things in general.  This is like a special qualification that gives us special power.  By requesting that Dorje Shugden causes the Dharma to flourish, we create the karma for it to flourish within our own mind.  In the context of the sadhana, what we are requesting of him is what follows in the sadhana, but outside of the sadhana, we can request him anything.

The stainless sun of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition
Shines throughout the sky of samsara and nirvana,
Eliminating the darkness of inferior and wrong paths;
Please cause its light to spread and bring good fortune to all living beings.

Path in a Dharma context refers to believing a thought in our mind.  If we believe our delusions to be true, we are following an inferior path.  If we believe our wisdom to be true, we are following a correct path.

May the glorious Gurus who uphold this tradition
Have indestructible lives, as stable as the supreme victory banner;
May they send down a rain of deeds fulfilling the wishes of disciples,
So that Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine will flourish.

Through increasing the study, practice, pure discipline, and harmony
Of the communities who uphold the stainless doctrine of Buddha,
And who keep moral discipline with pure minds,
Please cause the Gedän tradition to increase like a waxing moon.

There are two methods for growing a Dharma center, external and internal. The external methods include doing good publicity making the center known, working for the center in the running of the center, improving the facilities, etc.  Internally, a Dharma center is actually the collection of spiritual realizations of its practitioners.  If the practitioners have no realizations, it is a small center, even if it has hundreds or thousands of members and many external temples.  If the practitioners have rich realizations, it is a large center, even if there are only a few practitioners and the external conditions are limited.

Venerable Tharchin explains the way to grow a center is for the practitioners of that center to gain authentic spiritual realizations and then form karmic bonds between them.  We are given the problems of the community we serve.  We then use the Dharma to solve these problems.  Then, Dorje Shugden arranges for people who have these problems to come to the center.  He does not do it beforehand because he doesn’t want people to come to a center and not find the answers they are looking for.  So he waits until we gain experience and that we have something useful to share.  In particular, we can gain such realizations if people in Dharma centers study, practice and maintain pure discipline and harmony. 

Through your actions please fulfil the essential wishes
Of all practitioners who uphold the victory banner
Of practising single-pointedly the stages of the paths of Sutra and Tantra,
The essence of all the teachings they have heard.

Here we make special requests that whenever any practitioner makes requests to Dorje Shugden that he respond.  In this way, we put our karma behind it, and we each help one another in our requests.

Beings throughout this great earth are engaged in different actions
Of Dharma, non-Dharma, happiness, suffering, cause and effect;
Through your skilful deeds of preventing and nurturing,
Please lead all beings into the good path to ultimate happiness.

This is an important verse.  Dorje Shugden has the ability to transform any action or any experience into a cause of enlightenment.  For example, if somebody falls ill with cancer, we can request that it become a powerful cause of his enlightenment.  Or if our child starts using drugs, etc., we can request that this become a cause of their enlightenment.  Through this, Dorje Shugden will bless their minds where the condition will function as a cause of enlightenment.  It may not be immediately obvious how, but over the years with our sincere requests, it will definitely happen.  The feeling is that he gradually shepherds all the beings within the protection circle onto and along the path to enlightenment.  It will take time, but through our persistent and faithful requests, eventually everyone without exception will be lead along the path to enlightenment.  Again, note that this doesn’t mean that they are all brought to the Kadampa path, though certainly some will.  We are happy for them to be brought to any authentic path.

In particular, please destroy the obstacles and unfavourable conditions
Of myself and other practitioners.
Increase our lives, our merit, and our resources,
And gather all things animate and inanimate to be freely enjoyed.

Again, we make specific requests for practitioners, understanding their importance.

Please be with me always like the shadow of my body,
And care for me always like a friend,
By accomplishing swiftly whatever I wish for,
And whatever I ask of you.

If you want to receive the protection of Dorje Shugden like a true spiritual friend, the best way to do so is to become a true spiritual friend for others.  This creates the karma necessary for you to receive his protection in this way. The same is true for receiving his protection like a spiritual father.  Become a spiritual father (or mother) for others.  Take responsibility for others in your life, do not just do the minimum.  We should take worldly responsibility and spiritual responsibility for others. 

Please perform immediately, without delaying for a year, or even for a month,
Appropriate actions to eliminate all obstacles
Caused by misguided beings with harmful minds who try to destroy Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine,
And especially by those who try to harm practitioners.

It is possible that some people may oppose our practice of Dharma.  Dorje Shugden can dispel all such obstacles through external and internal blessings. He can do this by blessing our mind to see the other person’s ‘interference’ as perfect for our practice.  Then it is no longer an obstacle. He can also do this by blessing the minds of others so that they no longer create obstacles for us.  We do not request this for selfish reasons, rather we do so to protect others from creating the bad karma of interfering with the pure spiritual practice of another.

Happy Je Tsongkhapa Day: I Rejoice in the Great Wave of your Deeds

In many ways, October 25th, or Je Tsongkhapa Day, is my favorite day of the Kadampa calendar.  Why?  Because he is the founder of our tradition, our living spiritual guide, and the source of all good.  On Je Tsongkhapa Day, we can remember his great kindness, strive to emulate his example, and ultimately decide to mix our mind inseparably with his.  I pray that all those who read this develop unchanging faith in Guru Tsongkhapa, and in dependence upon this faith, effortlessly follow his joyful path.

Understanding How Holy Days Work

There are certain days of the year which are karmically more powerful than others, and the karmic effect of our actions on these days is multiplied by a factor of ten million!  These are called “ten million multiplying days.”  In practice, what this means is every action we engage in on these special days is karmically equivalent to us engaging in that same action ten million times.  This is true for both our virtuous and non-virtuous actions, so not only is it a particularly incredible opportunity for creating vast merit, but it is also an extremely dangerous time for engaging in negative actions.  There are four of these days every year:  Buddha’s Englightenment Day (April 15), Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day (June 4), Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day (September 22), and Je Tsongkhapa Day (October 25).  Heruka and Vajrayogini Month (January 3-31), NKT Day (1st Saturday of April), and International Temple’s Day (first Saturday of November) are the other major Days that complete the Kadampa calendar. 

A question may arise, why are the karmic effect of our actions greater on certain days than others?  We can think of these days like a spiritual pulsar that at periodic intervals sends out an incredibly powerful burst of spiritual energy, or wind.  On such days, if we lift the sails of our practice, these gushes of spiritual winds push us a great spiritual distance.  Why are these specific days so powerful?  Because in the past on these days particularly spiritually significant events occurred which altered the fundamental trajectory of the karma of the people of this world.  Just as calling out in a valley reverberates back to us, so too these days are like the karmic echoes of those past events.  Another way of understanding this is by considering the different types of ocean tides.  Normally, high and low tide on any given day occurs due to the gravity of the moon pulling water towards it as the earth rotates.  But a “Spring tide” occurs when the earth, moon, and Sun are all in alignment, pulling the water not just towards the moon as normal, but also towards the much more massive sun.  Our holy days are like spiritual Spring tides.

Je Tsongkhapa is the Founder of the New Kadampa Tradition

Buddha Shakyamuni is the founder of Buddhism in this world, and all of the different types of Buddhism (Zen, Theravadin, Kadampa, etc.) are all different presentations of his teachings.  Buddha gave 84,000 different instructions, but different traditions will place different emphasis on different aspects to correspond with the karmic dispositions of those who follow that tradition.  We cannot say one tradition is better than another in some absolute sense, rather we can say, “this tradition is better for me,” and “that tradition is better for her,” etc.  In this way, we can each cherish our own traditions while respecting all others.

Atisha is the founder of the Kadampa tradition.  ‘Kadam’ means a special presentation of Buddha’s 84,000 teachings called the “Lamrim,” which the Buddhist Master Atisha introduced when he went from India to Tibet in 1042 AD.  ‘Pa’ means somebody who puts into practice.  A Kadampa, therefore, means somebody who takes Atisha’s Lamrim as their main practice.  Atisha is primarily known for uniting the vast and profound paths together.  The vast path refers to the accumulation of merit, the principal cause of a Buddha’s body; and the profound path refers to the accumulation of wisdom, the principal cause of a Buddha’s mind.  By practicing the union of the two, our practices of the vast and profound paths reinforce each other and we create the causes to attain a Buddha’s body and mind simultaneously.  His path is generally presented as the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, namely renunciation, bodhichitta, and the correct view of emptiness.  Renunciation is the wish to escape from samsara ourselves, bodhichitta is the wish to become a Buddha to lead others to liberation, and the correct view of emptiness eradicates the root of samsara, self-grasping ignorance.

Je Tsongkhapa (1357 to 1419 AD) is the founder of the New Kadampa Tradition. Just as Atisha presented the union of the vast and profound path, Je Tsongkhapa introduced the union of Sutra and Tantra. Like the old Kadampas, practitioners of the New Kadampa Tradition also take Atisha’s Lamrim as their main practice. The difference is New Kadampas can practice the Lamrim at the gross level (Sutra) and the subtle level (Tantra) as completely non-contradictory. Sutra is how we practice Buddha’s instructions with our gross mind, Tantra is how we do so with our subtle and very subtle minds, but both are methods of practicing Lamrim.

Ultimately, Tantra is much quicker than Sutra because our gross minds arise from our subtle and very subtle mind. If we pull weeds but fail to take out the roots, the weeds will grow back; in the same way, if we pacify our gross minds but fail to purify our subtle minds, the delusions will keep coming back. Tantra is a special spiritual technology for purifying our root mind, or our very subtle mind, of all of our delusions and their karmic imprints, thus eradicating samsara at its root. We purify our very subtle mind by meditating on its emptiness. This one meditation functions to simultaneously uproot all of the contaminated karma we have accumulated since beginningless time. Je Tsongkhapa showed how the paths of Sutra and Tantra are not only completely non-contradictory, but are mutually reinforcing, and by practicing them together in the context of Atisha’s Lamrim, we can quickly attain enlightenment.

The New Kadampa Tradition has five main aspects of the path: renunciation, bodhichitta, the correct view of emptiness, generation stage, and completion stage. These can be understood as there is one action on the path: changing the basis of imputation of our I from our ordinary samsaric body and mind to the completely pure body and mind of a Buddha. There are two reasons why we do it, renunciation (for ourselves) and bodhichitta (for others). And there are two levels at which we do it, the gross body and mind of a Buddha (generation stage) and the subtle body and mind of a Buddha (completion stage). Je Tsonkghapa is the founder of this way of practicing.

Since Je Tsongkhapa, there has been an unbroken lineage of his teachings down to our present-day lineage gurus, including Je Phabongkhapa, Trijang Rinpoche, and our very own Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.  There is no difference in meaning between the Dharma Je Tsongkhapa taught and what we currently practice, the only difference is the cultural presentation, analogies, and languages used to express that meaning.  Everything we practice, directly or indirectly, comes from Je Tsongkhapa.  We are Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition.  The New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT-IKBU) was founded by Geshe-la to present Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings to the modern world. 

Je Tsongkhapa is our Living Spiritual Guide

One of the hardest parts of the Buddhist path for modern people is relying upon a “guru.”  At first, it all seems very “cult-like.”  I remember telling my first teacher Gen Lekma once, “I’m down with all of the Dharma teachings except this whole reliance upon the spiritual guide thing!”  When I told her this, she was in the middle of swallowing some tea, and she nearly spit it out in a laugh.  After collecting herself, she looked at me and said, “I have found that the things we struggle the most with at first later become the things that have the biggest transformative impact on our mind.”  Truer words have never been spoken. 

To understand why reliance upon the spiritual guide is the root of the path, we have to back up a bit.  Why do we need teachers in general?  Because we are ignorant and don’t know.  Why do we need spiritual teachers?  Because we are ignorant of the spiritual path, not knowing its destinations nor how to follow the path to these destinations.  Why do we need a root guru or root spiritual guide?  Because we need somebody who has completed the path and can guide our mind to the same state.  It takes humility to learn from any teacher, it takes great humility to rely upon a Spiritual Guide. 

Normally, we say Geshe-la is the root guru, or Spiritual Guide, of the NKT.  It is true everything we study and practice comes from him, and he has created for us all of the conditions we now enjoy for our practice, such as temples, centers, teachers, sangha friends, books, sadhanas, and so forth.  But what does he say?  He says don’t look at me, rather look at Je Tsongkhapa at my heart.  We view Geshe-la as an emanation of Je Tsongkhapa, but Je Tsongkhapa is our actual Spiritual Guide.  What does Je Tsongkhapa say?  He says don’t look at me, rather look at Buddha Shakyamuni at my heart.  What does Buddha Shakyamuni say?  Don’t look at me, rather look at Heruka at my heart.  Guru Heruka is our actual spiritual guide.  He appeared as Buddha Shakyamuni to introduce the Dharma to the people of this world.  He later appeared as Je Tsongkhapa, who in turn is now appearing as Geshe-la.  From one perspective, it is the same person – the same mental continuum – appearing at different points in time according to the karmic dispositions of the people of this world.

But from another perspective, Je Tsongkhapa is still our Spiritual Guide today. His emanation bodies may change, but the jewel in the lotus remains the same person. When Buddhas attain enlightenment, they become deathless beings. Their emanation bodies may pass away, but they do not, they continue to live. We can continue to develop a living relationship with these holy beings because they are still with us today. He is still here, guiding us, teaching us, blessing us, and so forth. Geshe-la, the Gen-la’s, and all of our other spiritual teachers are essentially spiritual telephones which connect the pure world of Je Tsongkhapa with our present samsaric reality. When we rely upon our outer spiritual teachers they explain to us how to develop a relationship with our inner spiritual teachers who then take us to enlightenment. The outer teachers and the inner teachers are not separate beings, but different layers of the same being appearing to different levels of purity of mind.

Whenever we engage in any Guru Yoga practice, our main job is to feel we are in the living presence of our spiritual guide – seeing all of the Buddhas as inseparable from our guru and our guru as inseparable from all the Buddhas.  Every practice we engage in is about creating a close karmic relationship with our spiritual guide in his different karmic aspects.  In dependence upon this karmic relationship, we gain greater and greater access to our spiritual guide’s blessings, until eventually, it is almost as if we gain the ability to download their enlightenment into our own mind.  In the end, we mix our mind with our guru’s mind, where we make no distinction between our mind and his enlightened mind.  From one perspective, it is like a mind transplant where his mind becomes ours; from another perspective, it is like removing the obstructions to our own root mind and discovering that our actual mind was his enlightened mind all along. 

Because Je Tsongkhapa is the embodiment of his Dharma, by mixing our mind with his, we mix our mind with his special union of Sutra and Tantra and eventually come to see ourselves as a wave inseparable from the ocean of his omniscient mind.  We view all phenomena as arising from emptiness, all emptinesses as the nature of our mind of great bliss, and the union of our realization of great bliss and emptiness as inseparable from our guru’s Truth Body, or Dharmakaya. 

Je Tsongkhapa is the Source of all Good

This is somewhat harder to understand.  All good things come from good karma.  All good karma comes from virtuous actions.  All virtuous actions arise due to receiving blessings from the holy beings.  Je Tsongkhapa is the synthesis of all the Buddhas, therefore he is the source of all blessings, virtuous actions, good karma, and ultimately good results. 

Sometimes, we like to take credit for our good deeds, therefore we think Je Tsongkhapa is not the source of all good, we are. Or maybe it is a mixed affair, where he helps us with his blessings, but mostly it comes from our own effort. This doubt comes from grasping at a duality between ourselves and our ultimate nature. Our good deeds arise from our good intentions, but where do they arise from? They pour into our mind when we open it up to the sun of our pure potential. Just as the sun pours in whenever the blinds are opened, so too virtuous intentions come into our mind when cracks in the layers of the karmic obstructions on our mind appear. But what is our pure potential? By nature, it is Guru Tsongkhapa. All Buddhas impute their I onto the truth body or Dharmakaya. What is this? It is a mind of great bliss that realizes directly and simultaneously the emptiness of all phenomena. A Buddha’s body and mind are the same entity, the same nature, which means their truth body pervades all phenomena. Because we too are empty, we have a pure potential. This pure potential fully realized is Je Tsongkhapa. Every time we access or ripen this potential, we are releasing some of Je Tsongkhapa into our mind. Thus, he is inseparable from all of our good intentions – he is our good intentions manifesting in our mind.

There are many prayers to Je Tsongkhapa, but the most famous is the Migtsema prayer, which explains that Je Tsongkhapa is the synthesis of Buddha Shakyamuni, Vajradhara, Avaolokitehsvara, Manjushri, and Vajrapaini. There is also the single-pointed request which explains he is the guru, he is the yidam, he is the daka, and the Dharma protector. If all of the goodness in all of the universe were gathered together, it would produce the appearance of Je Tsongkhapa. Put another way, Je Tsongkhapa is a holy being who has managed to successfully impute his I onto the synthesis of all goodness. Thus it is perfectly correct to say he is the source of all good because he is all goodness itself.

But how can we understand he is the source of all good, including that of non-Buddhists?  Everything we perceive is ultimately created by our mind, arising from our mind.  There is no creator other than mind, and there is nothing that exists outside of our mind (if it did, that thing would be inherently existent).  This means that everything is part of our karmic dream. Any good we perceive in the world is a reflection of the goodness in our mind.  We created the karma for that goodness to appear.  We already established that all goodness that arises in our mind comes from Je Tsongkhapa, thus any goodness that arises in our karmic dream also arises from him. 

Remembering Je Tsongkhapa’s Kindness

On Je Tsongkhapa Day, our main practice should be to remember his kindness.  We can do this by contemplating what Geshe-la said about Je Tsongkhapa Day.  I find it particularly helpful to remember his kindness in my own life.  He has given me my spiritual life.  Without my Dharma practice, I don’t know how I would have turned out in the wake of my mother’s suicide on my wedding day or all of the other challenges I have faced in my life.  Je Tsongkhapa’s way of thinking has come to dominate my way of thinking, and I am much happier for it.  It suffices to ask myself what my life would be like if I had never met his Dharma to see the profound impact it has had. 

More importantly, he has provided me with the spiritual tools I need to close the door on ever taking lower rebirth again through purification and refuge practice.  Through his kindness, I have found the door to liberation that will enable me to once and for all cease the samsaric nightmare I have been trapped in since beginningless time.  He has shown me not only that I can attain enlightenment and thereby be in a position to help all those I love who are also drowning in samsara, but he has provided me with incredibly simple step-by-step instructions for how to do it.  In what can only be described as a miracle, I have found qualified tantric teachings of generation and completion stage through which it is possible to attain enlightenment in one life or barring that, at least getting to the pure land where I can complete my spiritual training.  His blessings flow into me day and night, even while I sleep, holding me back from quite literally going insane.  Without him, I would be lost.  With him, I have been found.  By relying upon him, I can fulfill all my own and other’s pure wishes.  He is a true wish-fulfilling jewel who has kept alive the holy Kadam Dharma in this world, and it is my job to do all that I can to internalize it and then pass it on to future generations.

Emulating his Example

If I were trapped on a desert island and only allowed one book, it would be Great Treasury of Merit. Normally we say Joyful Path of Good Fortune is like the hub of the wheel of Dharma, and all of the other books are like spokes of that wheel. But the axis around which Joyful Path turns is Great Treasury of Merit which presents the very synthesis of Je Tsongkhapa’s Dharma by showing how all the essential meanings of his teachings fit together with exactly the right proportionalities of how important each teaching is. In truth, the book is about 70% how to rely upon the Spiritual Guide and 30% everything else, which is exactly correct. The sections on visualizing the spiritual guide explain the meaning of his holy form. Buddhas can manifest their inner realizations as outer forms, and Je Tsongkhapa’s body is quite literally all of his realizations as form. By generating faith in his holy form, we mix our mind with all of his realizations. The sections on prostrations, praises, and making requests explain his many good qualities and special functions in our life. Reading these with faith, one cannot help but be amazed.

There are two aspects of his example which appeal to me most.  The first is how he demonstrates the practice of moral discipline and the second is the great wave of his deeds. 

His outer form is of a fully ordained monk, revealing the practices of the vows of individual liberation. His inner form is Buddha Shakyamuni, revealing the moral discipline of a Bodhisattva. And his secret form is Vajradhara, demonstrating the moral discipline of a tantric master. At my very first Kadampa festival, when Geshe-la first opened the temple in Manjushri, he gave a three-day teaching on essentially one subject – overcoming distractions. He explained that we have everything we need to attain enlightenment, the only thing that is missing is our practicing these instructions without distraction. The practices of moral discipline are how we overcome our gross distractions by letting go of each object of abandonment. Moral discipline is not wishing to engage in negativity, but holding ourselves back from doing so. Rather, it is realizing we no longer wish to do so, and so we “let go” of wanting the objects of our transgressions. Normally, we think moral discipline is a list of ‘don’ts’ that deprives us of our freedom. We have everything backward. The practice of moral discipline is a profound shift in our mind that is experienced as a “release” into greater and greater levels of inner freedom by leaving behind the chains of samsara.

Every day in our Heart Jewel practice, we rejoice in the great wave of Je Tsongkhapa’s deeds. What exactly is this great wave? We can say it is his special method for eventually liberating all beings. He attained enlightenment. What did he do with his enlightenment? He formed new spiritual guides for carrying forward the tradition. What did those spiritual guides do? Create more spiritual guides still. In this way, his virtuous deeds multiple exponentially until eventually the wave of his kind actions will carry every single living being to the state of full enlightenment. He has set in motion a spiritual self-perpetuating machine whose function is to liberate all beings from all suffering forever. In one short life, he initiated a wave that will never stop until all of his pure wishes are fulfilled.

We have the incredible good fortune to not only receive benefit from him but to become ourselves part of his great wave. He has laid at our feet exactly the same Dharma he taught and realized. By picking up the Dharma he has given us and bringing it into our mind, we too can become a fully qualified spiritual guide able to carry forward this great lineage for the benefit of all those we have a close karmic relationship with. If we do not do this for those we love, who will? It may be aeons before his wave comes around again to these beings, but we can carry them with us right now. Venerable Tharchin says the beings who we generate bodhichitta towards as bodhisattvas are among the first we lead to enlightenment when we attain the final goal. Look around at everyone you love, see how they are drowning, and now remember Je Tsongkhapa has given you the means to do something about it by becoming part of his great wave.

Deciding to Mix our Mind with His

In the final analysis, attaining enlightenment is very simple:  all we need to do is mix our mind inseparably with somebody who has already attained enlightenment.  In this way, the duality between their mind and our mind vanishes, and their enlightened mind becomes our mind and our mind becomes their enlightened mind.  Everything else in the Dharma is why we should do this and how to do it.  As practitioners of the New Kadampa Tradition, whose mind do we mix ours with?  Lama Tsongkhapa’s.  It’s as simple as that.

Every object of meditation is an aspect of his mind.  Every instruction we practice comes from his mind.  Every realization we gain is an infusion of his mind into our own.  Every practice we do is changing the basis of imputation of our I from our ordinary contaminated body and mind to his completely pure body and mind.  Every deity we rely upon is like a facet on the diamond of his mind.  Every phenomenon we see is a wave on the ocean of his mind.  He is everything.  Our job is so simple:  just mix our mind with his.  Whatever we mix our mind with, we become.  Since he is the synthesis of all the Buddhas, all Dharmas, and all Sanghas, by mixing our mind with his, we too become the source of all good.

The only thing that is missing is deciding to dedicate our lives to this goal.  There are so many things we do in life, but how many of them do us any good?  Only deciding to mix our mind with his will free us.  We can reach the point where our every thought, word, and deed is him working through us.  We need not struggle in our spiritual practice, we merely need to request his blessings.  We need not invent the path, we can simply follow the one he has laid out for us.  We need not ever doubt, we can internally request his wisdom.  There is nothing he cannot provide us, all we need to do is decide to rely upon him.

Today is Je Tsongkhapa Day.  Every decision we make today is karmically equivalent to making that same decision ten million times.  What better way to mark this holy day than making the firm internal decision to dedicate our life to mixing our mind with Lama Tsongkhapa’s, our living Spiritual Guide.  I pray that everyone who reads this transforms their life in this way.

Happy Tsog Day: Remembering our Spiritual Guide’s Profound Qualities

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 18 of a 44-part series.

Requesting by expressing his secret qualities

You are the essence of the ten million circles of mandalas
That arise from the state of the all-knowing exalted wisdom;
Principal Holder of the Vajra, pervasive source of the hundred families,
O Protector of the Primordial Union, to you I make requests.

Our spiritual guide’s secret qualities are him being by nature Vajradhara, the principal deity and spiritual guide of tantric practice. When Buddha Shakyamuni taught sutra, he appeared as Buddha Shakyamuni; but when he taught tantra, he appeared as Buddha Vajradhara. According to Highest Yoga Tantra, we regard all deities as emanations or manifestations of our spiritual guide. Here, it explains there are ten million circles of mandalas and one hundred Buddha families that all arise from and are manifestations of Buddha Vajradhara. In this way, we recognize our spiritual guide as the synthesis of all the Buddhas. But at the same time, we do not make a distinction between an emanation and the Buddha doing the emanating. Just as you cannot separate a wave from its underlying ocean, so too you cannot separate the waves of any of the countless Buddhas from the underlying ocean of Vajradhara.

Sometimes we think Vajradhara was an historical figure that existed in the past. But in truth he still lives and is guiding us today. Buddha Vajradhara emanates Buddha Shakyamuni, who later appeared as Atisha, who later appeared as Je Tsongkhapa, and who is appearing today as our present spiritual guide. These are all the same person continuing to appear at different points in time according to the karmic dispositions of the people of the different worlds they inhabit. Thus, when we think of our spiritual guide, we think of all the Buddhas. And when we think of all the Buddhas, we think of our spiritual guide. While there is no doubt the outer aspect of our present spiritual guide is important in that he serves as a bridge between our “I”mpure world and the pure world of the Buddhas, we should recognize that he is just an appearance inside of our samsaric dream, but in reality, our actual spiritual guide is Vajradhara. Understanding this, we make requests to our living spiritual guide Vajradhara requesting that he continue to emanate the ten million circles of mandalas and the hundred Buddha families for our benefit.

Requesting by expressing his suchness qualities

Pervasive nature of all things stable and moving,
Inseparable from the experience of spontaneous joy without obstructions;
Thoroughly good, from the beginning free from extremes,
O Actual, ultimate bodhichitta, to you I make requests.

The spiritual guide’s suchness qualities are his ultimate nature of bliss and emptiness. Once again, the analogy of waves and oceans is helpful. The definitive spiritual guide is an I imputed upon the bliss and emptiness of all phenomena. This is the ocean. Every phenomena is a wave on this ocean. This bliss and emptiness is the pervasive nature of all phenomena that is both stable, in the sense that it always remains equally empty, and moving in the sense that phenomena are in constant change. The ocean always remains the ocean, but the waves take on different shapes and forms. The experience of spontaneous joy without obstructions experiences the entire universe as our body of great bliss and emptiness rippling as waves according to the currents of karma. This ultimate nature has always been and always will be and it has always been completely pure, hence it is thoroughly good from the beginning free from the two extremes. Here, the two extremes refer to the extreme of inherent existence, thinking that somehow waves can exist separately from their underlying ocean; and the extreme of nothingness, thinking if things do not exist inherently, they do not exist at all.

Here, we direct our request to ultimate bodhichitta recognizing the suchness nature of our spiritual guide is ultimate bodhichitta. According to Sutra, ultimate bodhichitta is the realization of the emptiness of all phenomena motivated by the mind of conventional bodhicitta, or the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of all. According to tantra, ultimate bodhichitta is the union of great bliss and emptiness. What is the relationship between these two understandings of ultimate bodhicitta? The emptiness according to sutra and the emptiness according to tantra are exactly the same. The difference is in the subject mind that realizes the emptiness of all phenomena. In sutra, we realize it with the mind of bodhichitta; and in tantra, we realize it with the mind of great bliss. Therefore, the proper question is what is the relationship between the mind of bodhicitta and the mind of great bliss? In science, we say there are necessary and sufficient causes. In Dharma, we say there are substantial and circumstantial causes. The substantial cause is the acorn and the circumstantial causes are the sunlight, soil, and water. The effect is an oak tree. The acorn is called the substantial cause because it is the thing that transforms into the next thing in dependence upon the circumstantial causes. In exactly the same way, bodhicitta is the substantial cause of the mind of great bliss. It is impossible to generate the mind of great bliss without first having generated the mind of bodhichitta, just as it is impossible to have an oak tree without an acorn. The practices of generation stage and completion stage of tantra are the circumstantial causes that transform our mind of bodhicitta into the mind of great bliss. The mind has three levels, gross, subtle, and very subtle. Bodhichitta is a gross level mind and great bliss is a very subtle mind. Put another way, great bliss is the very subtle version of bodhicitta, and bodhicitta is the gross version of the mind of great bliss. It is vital that we understand the relationship between these two minds. If we do, we will then understand the union of sutra and tantra. Recalling all this, we make requests to our spiritual guide’s suchness qualities recognizing them as the very subtle version of all the other qualities we have previously requested.

Happy National Coming Out Day: How Emptiness and Karma Can Explain LGBT Experience

The great Buddhist master Shantideva said in the 7th century:

(9.87) Therefore, what intelligent person
Would develop attachment for this dream-like form?
And since there is no truly existent body,
Who is truly existent male and who is truly existent female?

Needless to say, Shantideva was ahead of his time. On National Coming Out Day, I wanted to use this verse to provide a Buddhist perspective on LGBT experience.  A heteronormative view grasps at inherently existent males and inherently existent females – where one’s gender identity and one’s biological gender are the same. A heterosexist view grasps at males necessarily being sexually attracted to females, and females being sexually attracted to males. Anything that deviates from this “normal” is held by such views as an aberration. In contrast, how do Buddhists who understand both emptiness and karma explain the wide variety of gender and sexual orientations?  

According to the laws of karma, each time we engage in an action we create four different karmic causes. The ripened effect results in a future rebirth with a bodily basis somewhere within samsara. The tendency similar to the cause is a future tenancy to engage in similar actions, both bodily and mental. The effect similar to the cause results in us experiencing effects that are similar to the causes that we created in the past, for example, if we hit somebody we are likely to get hit back. And the environmental effect is that which surrounds us in our different rebirths.

Somebody who is a cisgender straight male is someone who has the ripened effect to be born male, and the tendencies similar to the cause to be attracted to females. Somebody who is a cisgender straight female is someone who has the ripened effect to be born female, and the tendency similar to the cause to be attracted to males. A gay man is someone who has the ripened effect to be born male and the tendency similar to the cause to be attracted to males. A bisexual person is someone who has the ripened effect to be born either male or female, but the tendencies similar to the cause to be sexually attracted to both males and females. A lesbian is someone who has the ripened effect to be born female and the tendencies similar to their cause to be attracted to females. A transgender female is someone who has the ripened effect of a male body, but the tendencies similar to the cause to think and feel in ways that are conventionally considered female. A transgender male is someone who has the ripened effect of a female body, but the tendencies similar to the cause to think and feel in ways that are conventionally considered male. A trans person can be sexually attracted to either males or females, in dependence upon the tendencies similar to the cause they have of being attracted to different genders. Since there is an infinite variety of karma that beings can create, it follows that there is an infinite variety of combinations in which this karma can ripen.

To simplify matters, we can think of things as existing along three axes. The first is the ripened effect of being born into a body that is biologically male or female. This has a spectrum of things, from those who are biologically extremely masculine males to effeminate males to masculine females to extremely feminine females. The second axis is what tendencies similar to the cause of how one thinks and feels are ripening. This determines how one individually identifies oneself as being male or female, which can be quite distinct from one’s biological basis. Once again, this exists upon a spectrum, from very strong male tendencies to very strong female tendencies. It is worth noting that what is male or female in this context is purely conventionally constructed based upon cultural norms. There are certain things that we identify with being conventionally male and conventionally female, although they are not inherently so. A two-spirit person is someone who has multiple nodes of tendencies similar to the cause of how one thinks and feels, both male and female. The third axis is the tendencies similar to the cause of what we are sexually attracted to, from being strongly attracted to males to being strongly attracted to females. Again this exists upon a spectrum. Someone who is asexual word for example be at zero along this axis.  A person’s gender and sexual identity can fall anywhere within this 3-dimensional space. From the perspective of karma and from the perspective of emptiness there is no basis for saying any one combination of these is better or worse than any other.  They are all simply different karmic possibilities.

How does the environmental effect factor into this? Some people live in very heterosexist societies where any deviation from the heteropatriarchal norm is considered wrong or bad in some way, and the societal structures create penalties for those who deviate from these norms. Other people live in an environment in which there is no judgment or no penalty, and everyone’s individuality is celebrated. How does the effect similar to the cause factor into this?  Some people experience persecution based upon their sexual identity whereas others do not. It is possible for someone to live in a heterosexist society, but themselves not experience any particular discrimination or oppression. Someone else might live in a very open society but nonetheless experience discrimination and oppression. Just as it is possible for someone to be born with any combination of the three axes of gender and sexual identity described above, so too it is possible for someone to be born into a wide variety of combinations of environments that are either oppressive or accepting and to experience either oppression or acceptance. While difficult to visualize, from a karmic perspective, we can imagine a five-dimensional space with five axes, and living beings being born into any number of possibilities.

In this way, we can understand that all of the different experiences and all of the different possibilities that arise with respect to LGBT experience can be understood from the perspective of the karma we have created. From a Buddhist perspective, there is no basis for value judgments about one combination or another. If we contemplate these different karmic effects deeply we can hopefully come to a greater understanding of the wide variety of human proclivities and human experiences as they relate to LGBT experience. The hope as if we understand how karma and emptiness work, we can all relate to each other with greater wisdom and compassion.