Happy Tsog Day: How to Give Everything to Others

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 35 of a 44-part series.

Blessing the offerings to the spirits

At this point we can send out the left-over substances to the spirits.

HUM Impure mistaken appearances are purified in emptiness,
AH Great nectar accomplished from exalted wisdom,
OM It becomes a vast ocean of desired enjoyment.
OM AH HUM  (3x)

Next in the sadhana comes the practice of the perfection of giving. To emphasize the practice of giving, we offer the tsog offering to all the spirits. Who are the spirits? For the most part, we can say that they are the spirits of the hungry ghost realm. Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path of Good Fortune that the only food hungry spirits are able to find is that which is dedicated to them by Dharma practitioners. Besides this, they are unable to find any food or drink. This is why it is customary for Dharma practitioners to leave one bite of food remaining on their plate at the end of every meal that they then mentally offer to all the spirits. When we do the dishes after a meal, there is often a good deal of wasted food. It is a good idea to have a special garbage can where we put all our uneaten food. We can then offer all this food to the hungry spirits. If we live in the city, we can sometimes recycle this extra food by placing it in special bins. If such bins do not exist, we can still mentally dedicate the food, and then put it in the regular trash. If we live in the countryside or in the suburbs, we can create a compost heap where we put all our unused food. This compost heap can become our offering to the hungry spirits and later become excellent fertilizer for our yard. Even when we put it down as fertilizer, we can imagine that we are creating a rich ecosystem for all the insects who live in our yard. In addition to offering food to the spirits, it is also important to offer food to the poor or the homeless. Every person we encounter is a karmic mirror of a future life we are likely to have. By giving food to these people now, we create the causes for others to give food to us when we are in similar need.

But before we can offer the tsog offering to the spirits, we first need to re-bless the offerings. A long time has passed since we blessed the offerings earlier, and we may have forgotten their purity. For this reason, we re-bless the offerings.

Actual offering to the spirits

HO This ocean of remaining tsog offering of uncontaminated nectar,
Blessed by concentration, mantra, and mudra,
I offer to please the assembly of oath-bound guardians.
OM AH HUM
Delighted by enjoying these magnificent objects of desire,
EH MA HO
Please perform perfect actions to help practitioners.

We offer the tsog offering to the spirits in exactly the same way as we do all the other beings in the field of merit. We imagine that countless offering goddesses emanate from our heart, scoop up the offering, bring it to the spirits who then partake of the offering through straws of vajra light. We then imagine that they are fully nourished and experience great bliss. We then request them to help practitioners. By befriending the spirits in this way, they can become powerful allies for us in our spiritual path. They can help us arrange conditions for our practice and dispel obstacles from obstructive spirits.

In the practices of Dorje Shugden, we imagine that he enlists the help of all the spirits into countless armies of Dharma protectors who work to protect living beings and their spiritual practice. This is one of the kindest things we can do, because by virtue of “giving them a job” as Dharma protectors, they will come under the care and protection of all the Buddhas as well as create the karma for themselves to be able to find the Dharma in the future.

Send out the offering to the spirits.

HO
O Guests of the remainder together with your retinues
Please enjoy this ocean of remaining tsog offering.
May those who spread the precious doctrine,
The holders of the doctrine, their benefactors, and others,
And especially I and other practitioners
Have good health, long life, power,
Glory, fame, fortune,
And extensive enjoyments.
Please grant me the attainments
Of pacifying, increasing, controlling, and wrathful actions.
You who are bound by oaths please protect me
And help me to accomplish all the attainments.
Eradicate all untimely death, sicknesses,
Harm from spirits, and hindrances.
Eliminate bad dreams,
Ill omens, and bad actions.
May there be happiness in the world, may the years be good,
May crops increase, and may the Dharma flourish.
May all goodness and happiness come about,
And may all wishes be accomplished.

By the force of this bountiful giving,
May I become a Buddha for the sake of migrators
And through my generosity may I liberate
All those not liberated by previous Buddhas.

These verses describe the different ways in which we request the spirits to help create favorable conditions for our own and others’ Dharma practice and for the fulfillment of all their wishes. It is very difficult for beings in the lower realms to engage in virtuous actions. Animals occasionally do when they care for their young. Beings in the hell realms almost never engage in any virtuous actions. Hungry spirits for the most part also engage only in negativity because they are constantly so deprived of resources. We can understand this by looking at areas of extreme poverty in the world today. They are often ghettoized into small areas, left with virtually no resources, and naturally a war of all against all begins to take place. But through pure dedications and prayers by Dharma practitioners, we cannot only give spirits food and nourishment, we can also provide them with opportunities to create virtue for themselves by enlisting them to become Dharma protectors in the ways described above.

How to practise the perfection of giving

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of giving
Through the instructions on improving the mind of giving without attachment,
And Thus, to transform my body, my enjoyments, and my virtues amassed throughout the three times
Into whatever each sentient being desires.

Giving is the cause of receiving. The perfection of giving is giving with the bodhicitta motivation. There are four types of giving: giving material things, giving love, giving fearlessness, and giving Dharma. We give material things when we provide others with what they need. We give love primarily through giving our time and helping other people feel like they matter to us and we are willing to work for their well-being. We help others feel good about themselves. We give fearlessness by helping others overcome their fear or protecting them from dangers. The ultimate way to give fearlessness is to help others realize no matter what happens they can transform it into the path, and so therefore there is nothing to fear from anything. And we give Dharma anytime we give others good advice. It does not have to take the form of Dharma teachings, it can even just simply be showing a good example. Dharma advice is different than ordinary advice. Ordinary advice explains to people what they should do to change their external circumstance. Dharma advice explains to people how they can change their mind with regards to whatever is happening. It takes as is starting point that our problem is our mind; and this is distinct from our outer problem, which is whatever is happening in the world.

Venerable Tharchin explains one of the best ways of practicing giving is to abandon completely the conceptual thought “mine.” If we do not impute mine on anything and instead consider everything as belonging to others, then we are able to give away absolutely everything. When we think mine with respect to some object, we burn up our merit of having the thing. If we impute “others’” and mentally give it away to them, then we accumulate merit by having those things. A doubt may arise if we give away everything how will we take care of ourselves? The answer is we can practice the giving of keeping. Sometimes the best way to give to others is to keep something in our protection or custody until we are able to give it to others or they are ready to receive it. For example, we can view our home as something we are temporarily maintaining so that we are able to give it away to others later. Even if we later sell our home, we can do so with the intention of giving the money away, using it for the benefit of others, or maintaining our precious human life so we can attain enlightenment for others. We can keep our body so that we can offer it in service to others. We can gain Dharma wisdom with the intention of giving it away to others. Even when we attain an enlightened body, we do not have to think it is ours but rather something we are using to be able to benefit others. In banking, there is something called having a fiduciary responsibility. While they are managing others money, they are supposed to do so for the benefit and for their sake of their clients. In exactly the same way, we can view ourselves as having a fiduciary responsibility to all living beings and manage everything we own for their sake.

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

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

Prayer of seven limbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Protector Day: Tapping into Dorje Shugden’s Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

HUM
Respectfully I prostrate with body, speech and mind. 

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

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

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

Happy Tsog Day: Generating a Supreme Good Heart

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 34 of a 44-part series.

How to meditate on superior intention and generate bodhichitta

Through love, compassion, and superior intention,
And the magical practice of mounting taking and giving upon the breath,
I seek your blessings to generate the actual bodhichitta,
To free all migrators from this great ocean of samsara.

This verse explains how all the previous verses combined together into the practice of generating bodhicitta. Love refers to the mind of cherishing others, considering their happiness and freedom to be important. Compassion is the wish to protect other living beings from their suffering. Superior intention is the mind that assumes personal responsibility to protect others from their suffering. The magical practice of taking and giving up on the breath is a method for ripening our bodhicitta by bringing the future result of liberating all living beings into the path. In this verse, we request blessings from the spiritual guide to generate the actual bodhicitta in our mind. Bodhichitta has two wishes. The principal wish is to free all migrators from the ocean of samsara. The assistant wish is the wish to become a Buddha so as to be able to fulfill our principal wish. Geshe-la gives the analogy of wishing to have a cup of tea. Our principle wishes to have a cup of tea, and the assistant wish is to get a cup. If our principal wish is strong, we naturally get a cup without giving it much thought, and certainly without forgetting our principal wish to have a cup of tea. Our principal wish is not to get a cup, it is to drink tea. We need the cup in order to do so. In the same way, our principal wish is to free all living beings from samsara. Since this wish is so burning within us, we naturally attain enlightenment because that is the only means of being able to do so.

An often overlooked ingredient of generating the mind bodhicitta is accepting our present inability to help others. As our compassion grows, we naturally want to protect others from their suffering, but as a result we come face to face with our current inability to do so. This can cause us to become frustrated and discouraged. This discouragement or frustration comes from our failure to accept that for as long as beings remained in samsara, they will continue to suffer. The mind of compassion wishes that living beings not suffer. The mind of attachment to others not suffering has the same wish. But these are two fundamentally different minds. The former is motivated by cherishing love, wishing others to be happy; whereas the latter is motivated by attachment, wishing ourselves to be happy while thinking that others need to be happy in order for us to be happy. We need to abandon our attachment to others being happy and free from suffering in order to generate authentic love and compassion for others. This depends upon us being able to fully accept beings will continue to suffer for as long as we do not attain enlightenment. We have to come to peace with this fact before we will then be able to not be crushed by the suffering around us. What enables us to be at peace with the fact that others suffer is the knowledge that we have found a final solution that will enable us to in the future once and for all free all living beings from all their suffering. Seen in this way, accepting our present powerlessness and helplessness is an essential foundation for the exalted mind bodhicitta.

Sometimes we also doubt it is possible for a being such as ourselves to become a Buddha. Bodhichitta simply becomes words we say, not something we feel in our heart. We struggle to even get through the day, much less take on their personal responsibility to free all living beings. We see how despite having been around the Dharma for many years, we remain highly deluded. This causes us to doubt our ability to become a Buddha, and if we do not think it is possible to become one, it will be impossible for us to generate authentic bodhicitta. To overcome this doubt, we need to have unshakable faith in our pure potential. Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that our indestructible wind and our indestructible mind at our heart are our indestructible body and mind. They are our deathless body and mind that go with us from life to life, and will eventually transform into the body and mind of a Buddha. The ultimate nature of this indestructible wind and indestructible mind, in other words the emptiness of these two, is our naturally abiding Buddha nature. Because it is empty, it can become anything. If we create the karma to become a Buddha, we will. All it takes is sufficient patience and perseverance to continue for as long as it takes. We all have experience of having changed ourselves a little. If we can change ourselves a little, we can change ourselves completely. It is only our attachment to results and our impatience with wanting to be farther along than we are that causes us to become discouraged. We need to accept where we are at and then grow from there. This is the well-balanced mind of a steady practitioner.

How to take the vows of aspiring and engaging bodhichitta

I seek your blessings to strive sincerely on the sole path
Traversed by all the Conquerors of the three times –
To bind my mind with pure Bodhisattva vows
And practise the three moral disciplines of the Mahayana.

Once we have generated the wish to become a Buddha, we then need to do something to become a Buddha. The foundation of the Mahayana path is the practice of the bodhisattva vows. These vows and commitments provide us with guidelines for how to ripen our Buddha nature and to put into practice our bodhichitta wish. An extensive explanation of the vows the body sought for vows could be found in the book The Bodhisatta Vow. You can also read about how to integrate these into our modern life through the series of posts I did earlier. Every Buddha attained enlightenment independence upon generating the mind of bodhichitta, maintaining their bodhisattva vows, and practicing the six perfections.

It is important to renew our vows daily. In general, we can say we only break our vows if we make the decision to no longer follow them. But practically speaking, if we do not remember them, we will not be able to practice them. It is also not sufficient to generate the intention to observe the bodhisattva vows once, we must become deeply familiar with this wish. For this reason, we should retake our bodhisatva vows every day. In Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Geshe-la explains how to do this in the context of the practice Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land according to Highest Yoga Tantra. Each time we retake our bodhisattva vows, we should strongly believe that we have purified all the negative karma associated with transgressions of our vows, and that we have received fresh vows upon our mental continuum.

It is particularly important to die with fresh vows upon our mind. As explained before, our vows function to maintain the continuum of our Dharma practice without interruption between now and our eventual enlightenment. When we are on our deathbed, it is important to refresh all our vows – our refuge vows, our pratimoksha vows, our bodhisattva vows, and our tantric vows. We can restore our refuge vows and our bodhisattva vows with the practice of Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land. We can restore our pratimoksha vows with the short sadhana for doing so. And we can restore our tantric vows through engaging in self-initiation. In order to engage in self-initiation we have to have previously completed a close retreat of either Heruka or Vajrayogini. Once we have engaged in a close retreat, we can retake our tantric vows anytime we wish. This is one of the principal advantages or reasons for engaging in a close retreat. When one of Venerable Tharchin’s students was about to die, he went to the hospital and engaged in self-initiation with the person so that they could die with fresh tantric vows on their mental continuum. Within the context of the self-initiation practice, we can retake all our vows. I pray that all Kadampas are able to engage in self-initiation just prior to the moment of their death. If we are able to do so, we can be guaranteed to find once again the tantric path to enlightenment in our next life.

A Pure Life: Abandoning Sexual Activity

This is part seven of a 12-part series on how to skillfully train in the Eight Mahayana Precepts.  The 15th of every month is Precepts Day, when Kadampa practitioners around the world typically take and observe the Precepts.

The actual Mahayana precept we take on precepts days is to abandon all sexual activity. Ordained people take a vow to not engage in sexual activity with other people, in other words they have a vow of celibacy. I am not ordained and so therefore I am certainly not qualified to definitively interpret the vows of ordained people, but I have been told an ordained person’s vows do not prohibit masturbation, though doing so is considered to weaken the vows but not actually break them. In contrast, when we take the Mahayana precept to not engage in sexual activity, it does include not masturbating.

Many people misunderstand vows of celibacy and abandoning sexual activity as saying that there is something inherently wrong with sexual activity. They argue that sexual activity is entirely normal and healthy, and such vows are misguided and guilt-inducing, and therefore harmful. In truth, there is nothing wrong with sexual activity itself. But there is something wrong with the mind of sexual attachment. Attachment is a delusion that believes happiness comes from external objects. Sexual attachment is a specific form of attachment related to sexual activities. Engaging in sexual activities without attachment is not a problem, but engaging in sexual activities with sexual attachment is a problem.

The reason why we take a vow to abstain from sexual activity on precepts days is to force us to confront the tendencies of sexual attachment within our mind. Because we have taken a vow to not engage in such activity on this day, when the temptation arises to do so within our mind, we will see the power of our sexual attachment. It will actually be painful or difficult to not follow the impulses we are feeling. All sorts of rationalizations will arise as to why it is a good thing to follow our sexual attachment. When this occurs, we can then recall the disadvantages of the mind of attachment in general, and sexual attachment in particular, and we can contemplate the benefits of having a mind that is completely free from such attachment to strengthen the desire within our mind to become free of this extremely powerful delusion. The point of taking this precept is not to say sexual activity itself is bad, but rather to create the karmic habits of not being a puppet on the strings of our sexual attachment and to instead become free from it.

Driven by sexual attachment living beings engage in all sorts of negative actions, including killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, and so forth. We also waste so much of our precious human life and our hard-earned resources in pursuit of satisfying our sexual attachment. Most of our most shameful behavior can be traced back to our sexual attachment. Much of the conflict we have with those we love comes from sexual attachment. This mind creates so much suffering in the world and within our own mind, yet we still continue to follow it believing happiness can be found in doing so.  Imagine how much easier our life would be if we were not a slave to our sexual attachment. These are the sorts of things we need to consider when the temptation to break our precept arises within our mind. Engaging in these contemplations gradually weakens the hold our sexual attachment has over us enabling us to become more free.

While on precepts days we vow to abstain from any sexual activity, every other day we should strive to abandon all forms of sexual misconduct.  The object of our sexual misconduct is if we have a vow of celibacy, it is any other person; if we are not celibate and we have a partner, it is anyone other than our partner; if we are not celibate and do not have a partner, it is anyone else’s partner, our own parent, a child, anyone with a vow of celibacy, pregnant women, animals, or anyone who does not consent.  As far as the intention is concerned, we must know that they are an object of sexual misconduct.  We must be determined to commit sexual misconduct.  And we must be motivated by delusion.  Usually, it is committed out of desirous attachment.  As far as the preparation is concerned, there are many ways to engage in this action but we already know all of those!  This action is complete when sexual bliss is experienced by means of the union of the two sex organs.  This last point on the action being completed sometimes gives rise to the question, “well then is it sexual misconduct if our sex organs do not come into union?”  The answer to this question is very simple:  if you think your partner would object, then it is not OK.  Full stop.

Please note, within Kadampa Buddhism, heterosexuality and homosexuality are treated in exactly the same way, there is no difference.  Please note, it also does not include masturbation.  Finally please note, this also doesn’t say it is wrong to engage in sexual activity for reasons other than procreation, it says nothing about anything wrong with birth control, etc., etc., etc. 

I have posted in the past why people engage in affairs (you can find it by doing a search of the archive).  The short version is we relate to our partner and to sexual activity in the same way we relate to any other object of attachment, like pizza.  The first few pieces are good, but the more we eat the less we enjoy it.  Other foods start to look more appealing, so we switch to eating something else.  This is the completely wrong understanding of sexual actions.  Sexual actions are opportunities to cherish others and give them happiness, not something we consume for ourselves.  We derive our enjoyment from loving others and making them happy.  Sexual activity is an opportunity to draw very close to somebody else and deepen a relationship.  If we do not get our attitude towards sexual activity correct, then even if it is not sexual misconduct, it is still not necessarily a good thing for us. 

It is not at all uncommon for one partner in a couple to have stronger sexual desire than the other, and this can be a source of frustration and a temptation to go elsewhere.  Aside from the fact that there are other means to relieve oneself, we should view these gaps in sexual desire as emanated by Dorje Shugden to give us an opportunity to bring our sexual attachment a bit more under control.  In this sense, it is a similitude of the ordination vows of celibacy.  We are essentially saying we will be celibate with everybody except our partner.  Bringing our sexual attachment under control is not easy, but it is still necessary.  Buddha said the three biggest chains holding us in samsara are sex, drugs and rock n’ roll (well, those weren’t his exact words, but the meaning was the same).  If we do not bring our sexual attachment under control, it will be very difficult to escape from samsara.  So from this perspective, the difference between an ordained person and a lay person in a committed relationship is not that different.  We have much we can learn from each other.

If we have strong sexual attachment, we can pursue a multi-prong strategy.  First, we should read Chapter 8 in Meaningful to Behold again and again to help us reduce our exaggerated notions of the attractiveness of another human body.  I love breasts, I will admit it, but if we check they are just bags of fat.  Second, as best we can, we should avoid things that fuel the fire, such as pornography, etc.  But the reality is sexual imagery is omni-present in our society, so there is no avoiding it.  But there is a difference between encountering it as we go about our life and seeking it out compulsively. 

Third, and this is the most important, we need to get to the point where we want to get out of samsara more than we want its pleasures.  We are desire realm beings, which means we have no choice but to pursue our desires.  If in our heart, our desire is still dominated by sexual attachment, if we try to force ourselves to avoid making contact, etc., then all we will do is just repress the desires.  They will build up, and eventually we will give in and do something we subsequently regret.  This is not Dharma practice.  Dharma practice is a very active process of picking apart and reducing our desirous attachment primarily by (1) reducing our exaggerated attitudes down to something in line with the underlying reality of what is actually there, and (2) considering the disadvantages of following the delusion. 

There are few delusions that create more problems for living beings than sexual attachment.  Just open any newspaper or consider your own life for more than 3 seconds and you will have plenty of material to work with.  At the same time, we need to consider the advantages of not following the delusion.  Every time a delusion arises but we choose to not follow it understanding it to be deceptive, we are engaging in the practice of moral discipline.  Each action of moral discipline creates the cause for a higher rebirth.  So quite literally, if in a given 5-minute period we successfully see through the lies of our sexual attachment and not follow it, say 20 times, then we just created 20 causes for 20 future higher rebirths.  What will bring more happiness, five minutes of some porn video or an entire lifetime in the upper realms?  Are we ready to sacrifice one for the other?  If so, which one will we sacrifice?  If we value the happiness of our future lives as much as we value our present happiness (the definition of a spiritual being) then the choice becomes obvious. 

There is much more that can be said, but I will stop here. 

Happy Tsog Day: Transforming Adverse Conditions into the Path (part 2)

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 33 of a 44-part series.

In short, whether favourable or unfavourable conditions arise,
I seek your blessings to transform them into the path of improving the two bodhichittas
Through practising the five forces, the essence of all Dharmas,
And thereby maintain a happy mind alone.

The two bodhicittas refer to conventional bodhichitta and ultimate bodhicitta. Conventional bodhicitta is the wish to become a Buddha for the sake of others. Ultimate bodhicitta is meditating on ultimate truth emptiness with a motivation of conventional bodhicitta. With respect to conventional bodhichitta, when favorable conditions arise, we can view them as the result of our past virtuous actions which remind us that we need to continue to engage in virtue. Further, we can use the favorable conditions to make rapid progress in our spiritual path because things are easy at that time. When unfavorable conditions arise, we can view it as motivation to become a Buddha so that we can be free from all such unfavorable conditions and help others attain the same state. With respect to ultimate bodhicitta, when both favorable and unfavorable conditions arise, we can view them both as equally mere karmic appearances to mind. Both types of appearance are equally empty. Their mere appearance reminds us of their emptiness.

The five forces make all our practices more effective. The five forces are the force of motivation, the force of familiarity, the force of white seed, the force of destruction, and the force of aspirational prayer. The force of motivation is the motivation with which we engage in a virtuous action. The karmic effect of our actions depends upon the scope of our motivation. If our motivation is that of a worldly being, the karma will at best ripen in worldly ways either in this life or in a future life. If our motivation is that of a spiritual being, then the merit will ripen in our future lives. If our motivation is renunciation, the wish to escape from samsara, then the karmic effect of the action will be to enable us to take rebirth outside of samsara. And if our motivation is bodhichitta, the karmic effect of the action will ripen in the form of us attaining full enlightenment. This is true regardless of what kind of virtuous action we engage in. For example, just giving flowers to someone else can be performed with any one of these motivations, but have radically different karmic effects.

The force of familiarity is simply becoming more and more familiar with our virtuous actions. Gen-la Losang said what is natural is simply what is familiar. The reason why non-virtuous actions come so naturally is because we have deep familiarity with them, and the reason why virtuous actions are so difficult is because we have very little familiarity. But through the force of effort, we can change what is familiar and therefore what comes naturally. We remain in samsara simply due to bad habits. We can change these habits with effort, and therefore escape.

The force of white seed is accumulating merit. All good things come from merit, or good karma. Good karma depends upon engaging in virtuous actions. If our wishes are not being fulfilled, the reason is we lack merit. Instead of complaining or wondering why things never work out for us, we can use this as a reminder to accumulate merit. The supreme method for accumulating merit is to make mandala offerings. This was explained extensively in earlier posts during this series. There are many different types of merit, and each virtuous action produces its own specific type of merit that will ripen in a specific way. Therefore, as we learn to understand karma more deeply, and we understand the virtuous reasons why we want different outcomes, we can then engage in the specific types of actions to create the karma that we desire. The attributes of higher status explained earlier explain how this works, for example from giving comes wealth, from patience comes beauty and so forth.

The force of destruction refers to purifying our negative karma. The reason why things are difficult is because we have negative karma that remains unpurified. In particular, the most pernicious form of negative karma is that associated with holding onto wrong views denying Dharma. Due to this negative karma, we find it difficult to gain Dharma realizations and make progress along the path and as a result we remain trapped and even run the risk of giving up. Therefore, it is vital that we purify our negative karma. This was also explained extensively before.

The force of aspirational prayer refers to making specific prayers and requests to the Buddhas that they bless our mind in specific ways to gain the realizations of the stages of the path. If we check, the vast majority of our prayers are simply requests to the Buddhas to bestow upon us the different realizations. The mental action of making a request prayer with faith creates the karma to be able to receive blessings, which then activate the virtuous karma that exists on her mind and ripens in the form of realizations. Requesting blessings is the principal method for receiving them. While the Buddhas are constantly bestowing blessings on all living beings just as the sun shines equally on all phenomena, whether we receive these blessings depends upon whether or not there are clouds in the sky of our mind. Making aspirational prayers clears the clouds and allows the blessings to flow directly into our mind.

To rely upon a happy mind alone, does not mean to simply force ourselves “to be happy,” rather it means we only take as reliable and trustworthy the conclusions are mind reaches when it is happy and peaceful. For example, when our mind is very agitated, we are likely to send an email we will later regret. If instead, we wait until our mind is calm and then draft our email, we will avoid a great deal of problems. In the same way, every time our mind is under the influence of delusions our mind is necessarily unpeaceful, and the conclusions we reach when our mind is unpeaceful will always make our situation worse. Therefore, we should wait until our mind is calm and peaceful, and then make decisions about how to proceed.

I seek your blessings to make this freedom and endowment extremely meaningful
By immediately applying meditation to whatever I meet
Through the skilful means of the four preparations,
And by practising the commitments and precepts of training the mind.

We established before that we have a precious human life with all the freedoms and endowments. This gives us the ideal opportunity to train in Dharma and accomplish the real meaning of our human lives. We do this quite simply by responding to whatever arises with a Dharma mind. Before we found the Dharma, we encountered countless different objects and responded to them in countless different ways. After we found the Dharma, we still encounter countless different objects, but we can respond with a limited number of Dharma minds such as renunciation, compassion, patience, and bodhicitta. This greatly simplifies our life and enables us to transform every moment into the path. Many of us engage in the cycle of the 21 Lamrim meditations. If we do, we can then respond to everything that happens to us during the day with the conclusion of the Lamrim meditation we did in the morning. In this way, we are putting into practice the Lamrim meditation of the day all day long. Even if we do not engage in the 21 Lamrim meditations formally, we can still do the 21 Lamrim meditations as our meditation break practice. For example, no matter what happens, review it as a reminder of death, or as a lesson in karma, and so forth.

The commitments and precepts of training the mind are explained in the book Universal Compassion and are listed in the booklet on the vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism. They are methods for ripening our bodhichitta and for transforming adverse conditions into the path. For more information, please see the extensive series of posts I earlier did about how to practice all our vows and commitments and integrate them into our modern life.

Happy Tara Day: Tara can fulfill all our pure wishes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Protector Day: Protector of the Bodhisattva’s Path

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 6 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.

And on his head he wears a round and yellow hat.

This symbolizes his ability to help us gain the correct view of emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality.  We can understand how all things are like a dream, and how if we change our actions, we can change our karma and that will change the dream that appears to our mind.  In this way, we can become the architect of our own destiny, and cause this world of suffering to cease and the pure world of the Buddhas to arise.  If ever we have difficulty understanding emptiness, we can recall his hat and request that he bless our mind to be able to gain a correct understanding of emptiness.  We then imagine we receive his blessings and return to our Dharma book (or the teaching we are receiving) and try again.  If we still do not understand, we once again request blessings and repeat the cycle.  We can continue like this for as long as it takes.  Eventually, through the power of his blessings, we will understand. 

His hands hold a sword and a heart of compassion.

This symbolizes his ability to help us engage in Lamrim meditation, in particular the union of the vast and profound path.  The vast path is all of the Lamrim meditations for developing a good heart, leading up to bodhichitta, the wish to lead all beings to enlightenment.  The profound path refers to the wisdom realizing emptiness, that everything is like a dream.  Just as we did with trying to understand emptiness, when we are having difficulty with our Lamrim practice, we can recall this function of Dorje Shugden, request his blessings, receive his blessings and then try again.  Practicing in this way dramatically increases the power of our Lamrim meditation. 

To his followers he shows an expression of delight, but to demons and obstructors he displays a wrathful manner.

This symbolizes Dorje Shugden’s ability to love and care for us while destroying our delusions.  We need to make a distinction between ourselves and our delusions.  Just as a cancer patient is not his cancer, we are not the cancer of our delusions.  Many people fear Dorje Shugden because they know he can be quite wrathful, but this fear only arises because they identify with their delusions.  So when their delusions are challenged, they feel like they are challenged.  Whenever we have a delusion arise strongly in our mind, we can immediately remember Dorje Shugden and request his blessings to be able to happily accept our difficult circumstances understanding that what is bad for our delusions is good for us. 

He is surrounded by a vast, assembled retinue,

Such as Kache Marpo and so forth.

Dorje Shugden is like the general of a vast army of Dharma protectors, each of whom accomplishes a different function.  These can be understood from the explanation of the nature and function of Dorje Shugden in the book Heart Jewel and the Praise to the five lineages of Dorje Shugden explained in the extensive Dorje Shugden sadhana Melodious Drum Victorious in All Directions.  It is customary for large Dharma Centers around the world to practice Melodious Drum on every Protector Day, or at least once a year.  We can do so on our own at any time, including every Protector Day.

The five lineages of Dorje Shugden refer to the five principal deities of his mandala.  Each one corresponds with one of the five Buddha families, the five completely purified aggregates of a Buddha, and the five omniscient wisdoms.  Each of the principal deities is like a specific protector for each one of the five Buddha families, and through relying upon them we will be led to attain the five purified aggregates and the corresponding five omniscient wisdoms.

The principal deity is Dorje Shugden himself, who is the protector of the Akshobhya family, will guide us to completely purify our aggregate of consciousness and attain the wisdom of the Dharmadhatu.  The wisdom of the Dharmadhatu is an aggregate of consciousness completely purified of all our past contaminated karmic potentialities (also known as the two obstructions) and that knows directly and simultaneously all phenomena as manifestations of bliss and emptiness.  Vairochana Shugden is the protector of the Vairochana family.  Through relying upon him, we will completely purify our aggregate of form and gain mirror-like wisdom, which sees directly all phenomena as manifestation of bliss and emptiness.  Pema Shugden is the protector of the Amitabha family.  Through relying upon her, we will purify completely our aggregate of discrimination and attain the wisdom of individual realization, which is able to discriminate all objects individually as manifestations of bliss and emptiness.  Ratna Shugden is the protector of the Ratnasambhava family.  Through relying upon Ratna Shugden, we will purify completely our aggregate of feeling and attain the wisdom of equality, which experiences all phenomena equally as bliss and emptiness.  Karma Shugden is the protector of the Amoghasiddhi family.  Through relying upon Karma Shugden, we will purify completely our aggregate of compositional factors and attain the wisdom of accomplishing activities, which enables us to use a Buddha’s completely purified and developed mental factors as if they were are own.  For a more in depth understanding of the five aggregates, see How to Understand the Mind.

Dorje Shugden is also surrounded by the nine Great Mothers, the eight fully ordained monks, and the ten wrathful deities.  The nine mothers arrange the secret conditions necessary for our Dharma practice.  They are comprised of Lochanna, Mamaki, Benzharahi, and Tara which arrange the earth, water, fire, and air elements respectively for our practice; and the five offering goddesses who transform all of the various forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile objects into conditions for our practice.  The eight fully ordained monks arrange the inner conditions necessary for our practice.  They are the eight main bodhisattvas, including Vajrapani, Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, and Maitreya.  They manifest whatever is needed to tame disciples and protect those with commitments like their only child.  The ten wrathful deities arrange all of the outer conditions for our Dharma practice.  They subjugate the malevolent and guard all directions with various guises.  Kache Marpo is like the commander of the Dharma protector special forces who directs all the oath-bound attendents (spirit kings, wealth gods, nagas, celestial spirits, and so forth) who perform a host of actions to help arrange the mundane conditions for our Dharma practice. 

Light rays from my heart

Instantly invite the wisdom beings
From the sphere of nature
And from all the different palaces where they abide.
They become inseparable from the commitment beings.

We visualize a vast array of mundane and supermundane Dharma protectors filling the whole of space, all working tirelessly under the direction of Dorje Shugden to arrange all the outer, inner, and secret conditions for our Dharma practice.  As Heruka, we then imagine that light rays radiate from our heart and invite the wisdom beings – the actual deities of Dorje Shugden’s mandala – to enter into the commitment beings (those we have visualized). We then strongly believe that all of these protector deities are actually in the space in front of us and filling the universe accomplishing their special function.

Happy Tsog Day: Transforming Adverse Conditions into the Path (part 1)

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 32 of a 44-part series.

The third to the seventh points of training the mind

Though the world and its beings, filled with the effects of evil,
Pour down unwanted suffering like rain,
This is a chance to exhaust the effects of negative actions;
Seeing this, I seek your blessings to transform adverse conditions into the path.

Sometimes people do not like the teachings on the sufferings of samsara because they think it is a very pessimistic way of thinking. And we believe that being an optimist is how to be happy. The solution to this dilemma is to be pessimist with respect to expecting samsara to ever deliver happiness, but an optimist with respect to our pure potential to become an enlightened being. Usually we do the opposite. We expect samsara to work and are then frustrated and disappointed when it does not.  We likewise do not believe that we are capable of accomplishing any of the spiritual grounds and paths and therefore, we do not commit ourselves to training in them. We need to reverse this. The truth is samsara is the nature of suffering. Just as it is the nature of fire to burn, so too it is the nature of samsara to always go wrong. It is exceedingly rare that things go right, and when they do it does not last very long and never works out in the way we had hoped.

Why is this not a pessimistic way of thinking? It all comes down to managing our own expectations. We all know the logic of managing others’ expectations. If someone asks us how long it will take to complete a report, we think to ourselves it will probably take one week, but we tell the other person it will take two weeks. Why do we do this? Because if we told them it will take one week, and it takes one week, they will just simply accept it. But if we tell them it will take two weeks, and then we deliver it in one week, they will think we did an outstanding job. In both cases, the job itself was still done in only one week, the difference is what people’s expectations were determined how they experienced what happens. In exactly the same way, if we always expect things to go wrong, and it does, then we just accept it. But if it winds up being better than we expected, then we are pleasantly surprised. Either way, we are happy. Gen-la Losang said we should expect nothing from samsara – absolutely zero. If we do, then we will never be disappointed and will sometimes be pleasantly surprised. Thus, if we wish to be optimistic in terms of effect, in other words being happy with what happens in life, then we need to be pessimistic with respect to what we expect will happen.

There are two types of experience in samsara – pleasant experiences and unpleasant experiences. We can transform pleasant experiences into the path through the tantric teachings, as explained before during the tsog offering. And we can transform unpleasant experiences into the path through the Lojong teachings. In this way, no matter what we experience, it serves as fuel for our spiritual development, and therefore is not a problem.

What are some ways that we can transform adverse conditions into the path? Geshe-la explains in Universal Compassion that we can do so by means of method and by means of wisdom. By means of method means we use the adverse circumstance to increase our renunciation or bodhicitta. When something bad happens to us, we can view it as a reminder that if we wish to escape from suffering permanently, we must escape from samsara. When something bad happens to others, we can view it as a reminder that we must become a Buddha so that we can free all other living beings from samsara. Further, patiently accepting when bad things happen functions to purify the negative karma that is ripening. In this way we can gradually exhaust the effects of our negative actions. If we also refrain from engaging in new negative actions, it is just a question of time for our karma changes. To transform adverse conditions by means of wisdom means to recall that our self, the suffering, and whatever gave rise to suffering, are all equally empty of inherent existence. They are all mere karmic appearances to mind. Instead of grasping at some things as being good and other things as being bad, we can experience all things equally as the dance of bliss and emptiness.

Father’s Day for a Kadampa

As Kadampas, we often talk about the kindness of our mothers; but I think on Father’s Day it is equally important that we reflect on fathers.  Just as all living beings have been our mother, so too all living beings have been our father.  It is equally valid to view all living beings as our kind fathers.  Fathers, especially modern ones, often help us in many of the same ways as described in the meditations on the kindness of our mothers.  They could have insisted our mother had an abortion, but instead they chose to keep us.  They provided us with a roof over our head, food on our plate and clothes on our body.  They changed our diapers, taught us to walk, run and so forth.  As we grow older, fathers give us our sense of values, teach us about a solid work ethic, encourage us to push ourselves and reach for the stars.  By expecting so much of us, we rise to the occasion.  We each have different relationships with our fathers, so we should take the time to reflect on all of the different ways our father has helped us and generate a genuine feeling of gratitude.

Most of the time we take what our parents, especially our father, does for granted.  In fact, usually we feel no matter how much our father does for us, it is never enough.  We always expect more and then become upset that they didn’t provide it.  We feel it is our parent’s job to do everything for us, and when they don’t we become angry with them.  Actually, our parent’s job is to teach us how to do things for ourselves – and that necessarily means many instances of “helping us most by not helping us.”  Not helping us is sometimes the best way our parents can help us because it forces us to develop our own abilities and experience with life.  So instead of being angry at our fathers for what they didn’t do for us, we should be grateful for what they did do.  We should especially be grateful for what they didn’t do, because this is what helped us become independent, functioning adults.  We should look deep into our mind, identify the delusions and resentments we have towards our father, and make a concerted effort to remove them.  There is no greater Father’s Day gift we can provide than healing our mind of all delusions towards him.

There is no denying it, our fathers appear to have a great number of delusions.  Whether they actually have these delusions or are just Buddhas putting on a good show for us, there is no way to tell.  But the point is the same:  they conventionally appear to have delusions, and they tend to pass those delusions on to us.  Part of our job as a child is to identify the delusions of our father, then find those same delusions within ourselves, and then root them out fully and completely.  That way we don’t pass on these delusions down to future generations.  We should also encourage our own kids to identify our delusions and to remove them from their own mind.  We have trouble seeing our own delusions, but fortunately our kids can see them quite clearly!  In Confucian societies, they place a lot of emphasis on their relationship with their ancestors.  We need to recall the good qualities and values of our ancestors and pass those along; but we also need to identify their delusions and put an end to their lineage.  Doing this is actually an act of kindness towards our father because we limit the negative karma they accumulate (remember, the power of karma increases over time, largely due to these karmic aftershocks) by preventing the ripple effects of their negativity from going any further.

But I believe for a Kadampa, Father’s Day is about so much more than just remembering the kindness of our physical father.  I believe it is even more important to recall the kindness of our spiritual father, our Spiritual Guide.  My regular father gave birth to me as a person, but it is my spiritual father who gave birth to the person I want to become.  All the meaning I have in my life comes through the kindness of my spiritual father.  He has provided me with perfectly reliable teachings, empowerments into Highest Yoga Tantra practices, constant blessings, a worldwide spiritual family, and Dharma centers where I can learn and accumulate vast merit.  He believes in me and helps me believe in my own spiritual potential.  He has given me the wisdom to navigate through some of the hardest moments of my life, and he has promised to be with me, helping me, until the end of time.  There is no one kinder than my spiritual father.  I owe him everything.  Like my regular father, I have taken his kindness for granted.  I fail to appreciate what he has provided, and I have been negligent when it comes to praying for his long life – something I know I will regret deeply when it is already too late.

My spiritual father also emanates himself in the form of Lama Tsongkhapa, who reveals the paths of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  Lama Tsongkhapa resides at my heart and guides me through every day.  If only I can learn to surrender myself completely to him, he promises to work through me to ripen and liberate all those I love.  My spiritual father also emanates himself in the form of my Dharma protector, Dorje Shugden.  Dorje Shugden is my best friend.  Ever since the first day I started relying upon him, the conditions for my practice – both outer and inner – have gotten better and better.  This does not mean he has made my life comfortable, far from it!  He has pushed me to my limits, and sometimes beyond, but always in such a way that I am spiritually better off for having gone through the challenge.  Dorje Shugden’s wisdom blessings help me overcome my attachment, my anger and my ignorance.  I quite literally resolve 95% of my delusions simply by requesting Dorje Shugden arrange whatever is best for my spiritual development, and then trusting that he is doing so.  Geshe-la is my father.  Je Tsongkhapa is my father.  Dorje Shugden is my father.  My spiritual father also provides for me my Yidam.  A Yidam is the deity we try become ourselves, in my case Guru Father Heruka.  He provides me the ideal I strive to become like.

Father’s Day for me is also more than remembering the kindness of my spiritual father, but it is also appreciating the opportunity I have to be a father myself.  I have always been way too intellectual and have found it difficult to have heart-felt feelings.  Before I got married, I went to the Protector Gompa at Manjushri and asked for a sign whether I should get married or not.  I then had a very clear vision of a Buddha approach me and hand me a baby saying, “this is where you will find your heart.”  Being a father has taught me what it means to love another person, to be willing to do anything to help another person.  I use the love I feel for my children as my example of how I should feel towards everyone else.  Father’s Day is a celebration of that and an appreciation of the opportunity to be a father.  More often than not, fathers mistakenly believe Father’s Day is about their children showing (for once!) some appreciation for all that a father does, then when the gratitude doesn’t come they feel let down.  I think a Kadampa father should have exactly the opposite outlook.  Father’s Day is not about receiving gratitude, it is the day where we should try live up fully to be the father we want to become.  It is about us giving love, not receiving gratitude.

Many people are not yet fathers, or maybe they never will be in this life.  But just as everyone has been our father, so too we have been a father to everyone.  We can correctly view each and every living being as our child, and we should love them as a good father would.  The beating heart of bodhichitta is the mind of superior intention, which takes personal responsibility for the welfare of others.  That is what being a father is all about.  We need to adopt the mind that views all beings as our children, and assume personal responsibility for their welfare, both in this life and in all their future lives.  The father we seek to become like is our spiritual father.  What is a Buddha if not a father of all?  This, to me, is the real meaning of Father’s Day.