Happy Tsog Day: Offering the outer offerings

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 8 of a 44-part series.

O Guru, Refuge, and Protector, together with your retinue,
I offer you these vast clouds of various offerings:

When I first started practicing Dharma, I had a big problem with making offerings. There were several layers of resistance. First, I grew up in Oregon at the time of the Bhagwan Rajneesh. He taught love and all the right things, but he was systematically duping his followers, using money to buy Rolls Royces, engaging in secret orgies, mass poisonings, attempted assassinations, you name it – everything that one worries about in a cult. When I encountered making extensive outer offerings in the Dharma, I was like, “no way!” Second, one of the biggest fears Westerners have about Eastern spiritual guides is they are conning us out of our money. There are many examples of so-called spiritual teachers doing exactly that, so the fear is not irrational. Third, it made no sense to me why we should make such offerings – if the Buddhas had already attained everything, why offer to them and not to people in need? And fourth, I have deep imprints of miserliness and the way I was raised reinforced this. My father had millions, but mentally felt himself a pauper and was extremely miserly with how he spent his money; my mother was a single mom working two low-paying jobs just to pay the rent and we grew up on second-hand clothes and Value Village canned food. To this day, I tend to be very miserly as a result. All these obstacles together created many obstacles to embracing the practice of making outer offerings. If I am honest, I still have reluctance on this front.

So how can we overcome these objections? First, these offerings are just imagined, we are not physically giving our spiritual guide these things. Second, anything we do physically give our spiritual guide, he immediately turns around and gives it to somebody else (regifting is a virtue!). Third, we do not make offerings because the Buddhas need these things, but rather we need the merit or good karma of making these offerings. Each type of offering has a different karmic function, and we can want the karmic fruits of these offerings for selfless reasons. Fourth, Geshe-la is very clear that the offering that pleases him the most is an offering of our spiritual practice, showing his real intention is not to scam us. Fifth, it is normal to want to check these things, but after we have conducted a thorough investigation and found nothing to justify our fears, we need to leave them behind and not hold on tightly to baseless doubts. And sixth, it is precisely because I have tendencies for miserliness that I need to train in giving, lest I know the poverty I so fear.

Practically speaking, for each of the outer offerings, we should imagine ourself as Heruka emanates countless offering goddesses from our heart filling the universe with the corresponding offering, which our spiritual guide receives and generates great bliss. We should recall the specific karmic benefits of the specific type of offering with a bodhichitta motivation. Then we reabsorb the offering goddesses and make the next offering. Therefore, what will follow is an explanation of the specific karmic benefits of each type of offering.

The purifying nectars of the four waters gently flowing
From expansive and radiant jewelled vessels perfectly arrayed;

Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that if we make water offerings, we attain eight special benefits:

“(1) Offering cool water causes us to develop pure moral discipline.
(2) Offering delicious water ensures that we shall always find delicious food and drink in future lives.
(3) Offering light water causes us to experience the bliss of physical suppleness.
(4) Offering soft water makes our mind calm and gentle.
(5) Offering clear water makes our mind clear and alert.
(6) Offering sweet-smelling water brings easy and powerful purification of negative karma.
(7) Offering water that is good for the digestion reduces our illnesses.
(8) Offering water that soothes the throat makes our speech beautiful and powerful.

When we offer water to Buddha we should regard it as pure nectar because that is how it is perceived by Buddha. We can also arrange many sets of seven offering bowls filled with pure water, symbolizing our future attainment of the seven pre-eminent qualities of embrace of a Buddha.”

All these things are qualities we would want to attain. Sometimes we develop some resistance to thinking about the karmic benefits we will receive from our spiritual actions, thinking it is self-cherishing. But we can want all these good qualities for the sake of others. We need moral discipline to attain upper rebirth so we can continue with our spiritual practice, we want to find delicious food and drink so we can stay healthy and engage in the yoga of eating. We want a calm and clear mind so we can help others attain a similar state, etc.

When we make these offerings, we should imagine that we are Heruka and countless offering goddesses fill the entire universe making extensive water offerings while recalling the karmic benefits of making such offerings with a bodhichitta motivation.

Beautiful flowers, petals, and garlands finely arranged,
Covering the ground and filling the sky;

When we make flower offerings, it creates the karmic causes for everything and everyone to appear to us as beautiful and pleasing. This enables three main benefits. First, we are able to keep a balanced mind of equanimity because everything appears to us as beautiful and pleasing, so we are free from strong attachment and aversion. Second, we can easily develop affectionate love towards all beings because they all appear to us as beautiful and pleasing, like they would to a loving grandma. And third, we will easily generate great bliss for our tantric practice; thus, accelerating our quick path.

The lapis-coloured smoke of fragrant incense
Billowing in the heavens like blue summer clouds;

Geshe-la explains in Great Treasury of Merit that offering incense enables us to always encounter pleasant smells and to always be reborn in pleasant places. The value of pleasant smells can be understood from the above explanation on flowers. We want to be reborn in pleasant places so we can focus on our spiritual practice and not basic survival and also because those who are likewise born into pleasant places will be more receptive to spiritual practice.

The playful light of the sun and the moon, glittering jewels, and a vast array of lamps
Dispelling the darkness of the three thousand worlds;

Light offerings temporarily make our mind sharp; thus, making contemplation and meditation easier. Ultimately, light offerings create the cause for great wisdom to dawn in our mind, dispelling the darkness of ignorance. We need both of these things for our bodhisattva training.

Exquisite perfume scented with camphor, sandalwood, and saffron,
In a vast swirling ocean stretching as far as the eye can see;

Perfume offerings create the causes to attain pure moral discipline. Pure moral discipline is the primary cause of fortunate rebirth. If we fall into the lower realms, it will be impossible for us to continue our spiritual training until we are lucky enough to take another upper rebirth, and only then if we refind the Dharma. But the practice of moral discipline ensures that we maintain an uninterrupted continuum of precious human rebirths between now and our eventual enlightenment. We need never attain lower rebirth again.

Nutritious food and drink endowed with a hundred flavours
And delicacies of gods and men heaped as high as a mountain;

Food offerings have two main benefits. First, in the future we will always easily find nutritious food, which we will need to remain healthy and sustain our precious human life. The truth is nutritious food is a luxury good in the modern world. It is expensive and difficult to find, whereas junk food is cheap and plentiful. Second, food offerings create the causes for us to attain pure concentration. Concentration on virtue is like healthy food for the mind. At the beginning of virtually every Dharma book and at the beginning of virtually every introductory course, we explain the cause of happiness is inner peace. Inner peace comes from mixing our mind with virtue. Mixing our mind with virtue depends upon concentration. Without concentration, our mind and virtue will not mix; but with concentration, they will mix inseparably like water mixed with water. The more they mix, the more we create the causes for inner peace, and the happier we will be – in this life and in all our future lives.

From an endless variety of musical instruments,
Melodious tunes filling all three worlds;

By making music offerings we create the causes to only hear pleasant sounds, never hear bad news, and always hear Dharma. The value of only hearing pleasant sounds can be understood from the explanation on flower offerings above. Never hearing bad news has two aspects – external and internal. The external aspect is things simply do not go wrong in the world we inhabit because we have so much merit, so there is not a lot of bad news to hear. Internally, it is a special wisdom that can hear any news as good news because we see how it teaches us the truth of Dharma or gives us an opportunity to train in Dharma. Always hearing the sound of Dharma is essential if we are to continue with our spiritual practice in the future. We have found the Dharma in this life, but there is no guarantee we will find it again in our future lives. Being born human is not enough, we need to be born human where we can hear the sound of pure Dharma. There is no guarantee we will attain enlightenment in this life, so we need to make sure we find the path again in our future lives. Further, there is no guarantee we will continue to hear the sound of Dharma even in this life. Many people come to teachings, even for many years, but then they fade away and gradually lose their practice. They then come to inhabit a private world in which they do not hear the sound of Dharma, which then reinforces their separation from the path until eventually their previous spiritual life they were so enthusiastic about becomes nothing but a fond memory of their past.

Happy Tsog Day: Prostrating to the Spiritual Guide’s Pervasive Nature

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 7 of a 44-part series.

Prostrating to the spiritual guide as the Truth Body

Abandonment of all faults together with their imprints,
Precious treasury of countless good qualities,
And sole gateway to all benefit and happiness,
O Venerable spiritual guide I prostrate at your lotus feet.

Our spiritual guide’s Truth Body is the ultimate nature of all phenomena. All things are equally empty. From the point of view of their lacking inherent existence, all emptinesses are the same nature. There is no object that is any more or less empty than all the others. Our spiritual guide imputes their I onto the emptiness of all things, which is why we can correctly say that he is the ultimate nature of everything. Everything that we see or perceive, including whatever device we are reading this post on, is ultimately our spiritual guide. With this understanding, when we look at any object, we can see our spiritual guide looking back at us. What appears is a form, but this form is by nature emptiness – it is the emptiness of our spiritual guide appearing as form. With this verse, we prostrate to our spiritual guide as the Truth Body of all the Buddhas. With the first line, we prostrate to both the cause and function of the Truth Body. The way we attain enlightenment is by meditating on the emptiness of our very subtle mind. This concentration functions to purify our very subtle mind of all contaminated karmic imprints. When our mind is free from them all, it naturally transforms into the omniscient clear light mind of a Buddha. The second line explains that all good qualities emerge from the Truth Body, just as all waves arise from an ocean. The third line indicates that the realization of the Truth Body is the gateway to all happiness for ourself and all living beings. By realizing it, both ourself and all living beings can enjoy eternal joy. And the last line reminds us that even though the Truth Body is very subtle and does not assume any particular form, we should remember it is our spiritual guide. Sometimes we can think of emptiness as a “state” and forget that the Truth Body is a person.

Prostrating to the spiritual guides as the synthesis of all Three Jewels

Essence of all Guru-Buddhas and Deities,

Source of all eighty-four thousand classes of holy Dharma,

Foremost amongst the entire Superior Assembly,

O Kind spiritual guides I prostrate at your lotus feet.

There are two ways we can understand that our spiritual guide is the synthesis of all three jewels. The first is to understand that he is the source of all three jewels, they are all his emanations. He emanates all Buddhas, all Dharma teachings, and all Sangha, like limbs of his body. The second way is to understand that our spiritual guide is an “I” imputed upon all the Buddhas, all the Dharmas, and all the Sanghas. Geshe-la has said on numerous occasions that “I am the NKT.” His meaning is that he imputes his “I” onto all the Buddhas in the NKT, all the Dharma in the NKT, and all the Sangha of the NKT. When we look at any of these, it is our spiritual guide. Practically, this means our bodies are Geshe-la’s bodies in this world, our speech is Geshe-la’s speech in this world, and our Dharma realizations are his wisdom in this world. Where does his body, speech, and mind come from? Lama Tsongkhapa’s. In exactly the same way, in the first line of this verse, we recognize that our spiritual guide is all the Buddhas and deities. The second and third lines reveals he is the source of all Dharmas and all Sangha. Recognizing our spiritual guide in this way, we prostrate to him.

Prostrating to the lineage Gurus and Three Jewels

To the Gurus who abide in the three times and the ten directions,
The Three Supreme Jewels, and all other objects of prostration,
I prostrate with faith and respect, a melodious chorus of praise,
And emanated bodies as numerous as atoms in the world.

Our spiritual guide, who we have been prostrating to, did not emerge out of nowhere, but arose out of an unbroken lineage of realized masters all the way back to Buddha Shakyamuni. To be a lineage Guru means to have attained all the realizations that are taught within that lineage – to have personal experience of the truth of the instructions. Within the Kadampa Lineage, the principal lineage Gurus are Buddha Shakyamuni, Atisha, Je Tsongkhapa, Je Phabongkapa, Trijang Rinpoche, and our own Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Each lineage Guru taught the Dharma and had Sangha followers. Towards this great ocean of three jewels moving through the three times, we prostrate. This verse also indicates that when we engage in this practice of prostration, we should imagine that every one of our hair pores emanates bodies, and each one of those bodies emanates countless more, filling the entire universe. All these countless bodies prostrate.

Mother’s Day for a Kadampa

As Kadampas who practice the Lamrim, every 21 days is Mother’s Day.  We are all quite familiar with the various contemplations of how all living beings are our mother and how kind they were to us as our mother, therefore we should develop a profound feeling of gratitude towards our mother of this life and all our mothers of our past lives.  Very often though, primarily because we make our meditations intellectual exercises of recalling certain points as opposed to exercises of the heart where we change our feelings, these contemplations on the kindness of our mother no longer really move our mind.  We might recall them, but we don’t internalize them and let them touch our heart.  On actual Mother’s Day, we should take the time to reflect deeply and sincerely upon them so that our heart moves and we genuinely feel gratitude and a wish to repay our mother’s kindness.

Have we always neglected our mothers?

I sometimes wonder if ancient Tibetan culture was the same as our modern culture.  In modern culture, particularly in modern psychology, the trend is to blame our mother for all of our problems.  We are encouraged to go back into our childhood and find all the different ways our mother made mistakes and how that is “the underlying cause” of why we are the way we are today.  We likewise completely take for granted everything our mother has done for us.  As kids, we are completely blind to it. 

We think it is “normal” that our mothers do everything for us, and we feel “justified” in getting angry with them when they don’t do it perfectly.  In truth, our mother could have just abandoned us on the street.  She owes us nothing.  Nobody owes us anything.  It is our expectation that they do that actually prevents us from appreciating all that she did for us.  It is the very nature of modern motherhood to give everything you have to your kids only to have them take your kindness for granted, blame you for all of their problems, and want to have nothing to do with you because you are such an embarrassment.  Perhaps it has always been such, which is why the meditation on the kindness of our mothers has always been taught.

It’s time to apologize for being such a jerk

On Mother’s Day, I think it is important to not just express our gratefulness, but to sincerely apologize for what a jerk we have been to her over the years.  Explain that when you were a kid, you didn’t understand, and now it is only as an adult (and perhaps a parent yourself) that you are beginning to realize all she did for you.  Apologize for yelling, apologize for disobeying, apologize for being embarrassed by her, apologize for ignoring her, and apologize most of all for taking for granted all that she has done for you.  Explain to her that all of your good qualities now come from her. 

My father once said about his mother, “everything good in our family comes from Grandma.  That’s the truth.”  This is a perfect attitude.  It is the truth.  The truth is mother’s really struggle with the fact that everything they do is taken for granted and that they are blamed for everything.  Yes, it is good for them in terms of being able to learn how to give love unconditionally, but it is hard.  All it takes is one honest conversation where you admit you were a real butt with her, and where you express sincere gratitude for everything you previously took for granted.  Such a conversation can heal decades of grief.

No, our mothers aren’t perfect, but why should we expect them to be?

Sometimes when we encounter the meditation on the kindness of our mothers we develop all sorts of objections because it is true, our mother did make a lot of mistakes.  My mother had all sorts of serious mental health issues, we had an off and on terrible relationship until eventually she likely killed herself on my wedding day.  I had all sorts of resentments towards her for years, then I had guilt after her suicide, and now I find it difficult to think anything good about her.  All I see is her many faults and delusions.  Most of us have problems of one kind or another with our mothers.  I personally feel it is vital that we identify the delusions we have towards our parents, in particular our mother, and work through them.  We need to get to the point where our mind is completely healed of all delusions towards them.  This is not only a way of repaying the kindness of our mother, it is a way of healing our own mind.

Our mothers were not perfect, they made many mistakes, and they were full of delusions.  This is also true, and acknowledging that fact is not a denial of their kindness.  We can hold the view that they were emanations of Buddhas who appeared to make the mistakes that they did to give us a chance to grow.  Every child grows up cataloging the many mistakes their parents make and resolves when they are parents they won’t do the same thing; only to find when they do become parents they wind up making many of the same mistakes.  The power of osmosis with our parents is the most powerful force shaping our lives and shaping our mind.  It is not enough that we heal our mind of all the delusions we have towards our mother, we also need to look into our mind and identify all the delusions we received from her. 

Venerable Tharchin once told me the only reason why the people in our life appear to have delusions is because we ourselves possess the same delusions within our own mind and we therefore project beings who have the same faults.  Our task, therefore, is to identify within ourselves the delusions that appear in others and then root them out completely.  When we do so, he said, several amazing things will happen.  First, our relationship with the person will improve.  Second, we will have less delusions in our own mind.  And third, the faults we see in the other person will gradually “disappear.”  Why?  Because they were never coming from the other person in the first place.  He concluded by saying, this is how Bodhisattva’s ripen and liberate all beings.  When we attain Buddhahood, he said, it appears to us as if everybody attains Buddhahood at the same time with us.  In fact, we see that they have always been so.  If we love our mother, this is essential work.

Tara is our eternal mother

Mother’s Day, though, is about much more than just our relationship with our own mother of this life, or even recalling the kindness of all our past mothers.  I think on Mother’s Day we need to recall the kindness of our Spiritual Mother, Guru Arya Tara.  Tara promised Atisha long ago that she would care for all Kadampas in the future.  The fact that we have a spiritual life today is due to her kindness.  She gave birth to our spiritual life.  Like all mothers’ kindnesses, we don’t even see it.  She operates unseen, and we take it for granted.  But there is no doubt, it is thanks to her that we have a spiritual life.  She gave birth to it, she has nurtured it, and she cares for us now even if we never think of her.  For some, she appears herself as Vajrayogini, and therefore serves as our Highest Yoga Tantra Yidam.  Tara is one of the Buddhas who often appears early in our spiritual life.  Almost everybody has a very positive experience with encountering her.  But then, over time, we tend to forget about her as we move on to other practices.  But like any mother, she never forgets her spiritual children.  We should remember this, and generate our thanks to her for it.

Viewing all living beings as our children

Finally, I think it is worth recalling that just as all living beings have been our mother, so too we have been the mother of all living beings.  We can correctly view all living beings as our children, and love them as a good mother would.  The contemplations on the kindness a mother shows to her child are not there just to help us develop gratitude towards our mothers, they are also examples of the attitude we should have towards all of our children.  How many of us would be willing to remove the mucus from a stranger’s nose?  Our mother did that for us.  We should love others so much that we would gladly, and without hesitation do the same for others.  Of course, we shouldn’t go around offering to others to do so, but training in the mind that is willing to help any living being in any way we can is the real meaning of Mother’s Day.

Happy Tara Day: Causing the three worlds to shake

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

Praising Tara by the light that radiates from the letter HUM

Homage to you who strike the ground with the palm of your hand
And stamp it with your foot.
With a wrathful glance and letter HUM,
You subdue all seven levels.

This also refers to Tara’s ability to engage in wrathful actions and can be understood from the above.  I’m not sure what the seven levels are.

Praising Tara by her Dharmakaya aspect

Homage to you who are happy, virtuous and peaceful,
Within the sphere of the peace of nirvana.
Fully endowed with SÖHA and OM,
You completely destroy heavy evil actions.

This verse refers to definitive Tara.  The conventional Tara is the green deity we know and love.  She manifests this form so that living beings can more easily develop a relationship with her.  But actual Tara is Dhamakaya Tara, or Truth Body Tara.  This is definitive Tara.  The Dharmakaya is a Tara’s realization of great bliss mixed inseparably from the emptiness of all phenomena.  She is referred to as the mother of all Buddhas because all Buddhas arise out of her Dharmakaya – she gives birth to them from her realization of bliss and emptiness.  What does the Dharmakaya feel like?  Happy, virtuous, and peaceful.  This is her inner pure land, and anytime we ourselves feel happy, virtuous, or peaceful, we are experiencing a similitude of her pure land.

Praising Tara by her divine actions of peaceful and wrathful mantras

Homage to you who completely subdue the obstructions
Of those who delight in the Dharma Wheel;
Rescuing with the array of the ten-letter mantra
And the knowledge-letter HUM.

Peaceful actions refer to a Buddha’s ability to pacify negativity, delusions, or their imprints in either ourselves or in others.  All living beings possess Buddha nature.  What does this mean?  It means we all possess within ourselves the potential for an enlightened mind, and all we need to do is purify our mind of all that defiles it and our natural enlightened state will be unleashed or uncovered.  What is our mind defiled by?  Principally three things:  negative karma, delusions, and their imprints.  Technically negative karma is also an imprint of a delusion which is why we normally say the “two obstructions,” referring to delusions and their imprints.  But from a practical point of view, we place particular emphasis in the early stages of our practice on purifying our negative karma (lower scope meditations), then overcoming our delusions (intermediate scope meditations), and finally the remainder of our contaminated karma (great scope meditations).  Tara can help us pacify all three of these, as explained by her ten-letter mantra whose principal function is to bestow all of the Lamrim meditations.  According to Tantra, the two main objects to be pacified are ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions.  Ordinary appearances are phenomena appearing to exist independently of our mind (the things we normally see), and ordinary conceptions are grasping at the wrong belief that objects do in fact exist in the way that they appear.  For example, when we think of ourself, we see our ordinary body and mind.  This is an ordinary appearance.  When we grasp at them actually being ourselves, this is an ordinary conception.  Tara also has the power to pacify all our ordinary appearances and conceptions.

Praising Tara by her divine actions of wrathfully shaking the three worlds

Homage to TURE, stamping your feet,
Born from the seed in the aspect of HUM,
Who cause Mount Meru, Mandhara and Vindhya,
And all the three worlds to shake.

Buddhist cosmology is incredibly vast.  The universe as we know it actually only one world system.  There are the thousand worlds, which is a thousand world systems or universes as we know them.  There are the two thousand worlds, which is a thousand of the thousand worlds, or one million universes.  And there are the three thousand worlds, which is a thousand of the two thousand worlds, or one trillion universes.  In truth, there are countless universes, and the three thousand worlds is a shorthand for implying countless that makes it somewhat easier to grasp.  Just as the stars in the sky form galaxies, super clusters, and so forth, the three thousand worlds also cluster together and are arranged in different ways, so too the three thousand worlds cluster together and are arranged in particular way.  In the center of the three thousand worlds is Mount Meru, which is actually comprised of countless different pure lands at different levels of purity, such as the Land of 33 Heavens where Buddha went to teach his mother after she took rebirth there.  At the top of Mount Meru is Heruka’s celestial mansion.  Surrounding Mount Meru are the four major and eight minor continents, like an archipelago of different clusters of universes – they can be likened to superclusters of galaxies.  The universe that we live in is simply one of many universes in what is known as the Eastern continent, but is in reality just a cluster of universes.  Traditional cosmology as we know it just talks of our one universe where the Big Bang unfolded, but this one universe is as insignificant as our own planet is in our universe.  The vastness of Buddhist cosmology is almost beyond comprehension.  Interestingly, some astrophysicists have a similar view arguing we live in a multiverse, or a n-dimensional multiverse, but they have no idea how these universes are shaped.  Just as the science of quantum physics is gradually catching up with Buddha’s teachings on emptiness, it is only a question of time before science catches up with Buddha’s teachings on cosmology.  Tara’s blessings and power pervade everywhere.  Vajrayogini and Tara are actually the same being, just appearing at two different levels – Action Tantra version as Green Tara and Highest Yoga Tantra version of Red Vajrayogini.  Vajrayogini is in union with Heruka inside his celestial mansion atop Mount Meru and her wisdom is able to cause all three thousand worlds to shake!

Praising Tara by her divine actions of dispelling internal and external poisons

Homage to you who hold in your hand
A moon, the lake of the gods;
Saying TARA twice and the letter PHAT,
You completely dispel all poisons.

Conventionally, Tara’s blessings are particularly powerful at dispelling external poisons, such as those we might ingest.  I personally suffer from terrible allergies, some of which are deadly.  When I have a strong allergic reaction to something I eat, I of course take my Benadryl or other allergy medications, but I also recite with great faith Tara’s mantra requesting that she protect me.  Those who have allergies can do the same, even allergies as light as hay fever.  But principally, Tara’s blessing dispel the inner poisons of our delusions.  Outer poisons can at most harm us in this one life, but the inner poisons of our delusions harm us in all our future lives.  Considering our delusions to be inner poisons is a particularly powerful way of thinking of them.  If we ingested an external poison, we would do everything we can as quickly as we could get rid of it from our body or to take an antidote.  But we would never think that the poison is us, we see clearly the difference between the poison and ourselves.  In the same way, our delusions are not us, but they do terrible harm to us, and we should feel great urgency to purge them from our system.  Tara is the antidote to all of the inner poisons of delusions.  She is known as the Lamrim Buddha because she helps Atisha’s followers and her blessings specifically function to bestow Lamrim realizations.  Lamrim is like a net of virtuous minds that functions to oppose all delusions directly or indirectly.  By weaving the Lamrim within our mind, we protect ourselves against any possible combination of delusions, and thus achieve protection from all inner poisons.  

Happy Protector Day: Preliminary practice of the Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 4 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.

Within the Kadampa tradition we are advised to practice the sadhana Heart Jewel as our daily practice as explained in the book by the same title.  If we are a Tantric practitioner, we engage in the Tantric version of this practice known as Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land According to Highest Yoga Tantra as explained in the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra.   In either case, the sadhana begins with the Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa.  I will explain things from the perspective of Heart Jewel since it is a common practice. 

In general, the practice of Heart Jewel is the method for practicing the entire path to enlightenment.  There are three main parts – affectionately called a ‘Heart Jewel Sandwich.’  The first part is the Je Tsongkhapa part – the function of this part of the practice is to be able to draw closer to Je Tsongkhapa, the founder and source of the Dharma of the New Kadampa Tradition.  Through reling upon him, we receive his external and internal guidance to be able to realize his Dharma of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  The second part is our Meditation on Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  We do this in the middle of the practice.  And the final part is the Dorje Shugden part – this creates the causes to be able to receive Dorje Shugden’s care and protection for being able to gain the realization of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  This series of posts is primarily about how to rely upon Dorje Shugden, but I will nonetheless give a brief explanation of how to engage in the first two parts of the Heart Jewel sandwich. 

To actually engage in the Je Tsongkhapa part, we do as follows.  First, we generate the mind of refuge and bodhichitta – here we establish our motivation for engaging in the practice:  “With the wish to become a Buddha so I can help all the beings around me attain the same state, I will now engage sincerely in the practice of Heart Jewel, trying to generate the minds indicated by the words.”  Then, we engage in the prayer of the seven limbs and the mandala.  This accomplishes two main functions:  First, we accumulate merit – merit is positive spiritual energy.  It is like gasoline in our spiritual car.  Second, we purify negativities – negative karma prevents us from engaging in spiritual practices and is the substantial cause of all our suffering.  It is like lots of traffic and debris on the roads.  On this basis, we then recite the Migtsema prayer and prayer of the stages of the path.  These two enable us to receive the blessings of all the Buddhas through our living spiritual guide Je Tsongkhapa.  Blessings are like spark plugs which ignite the gas of our merit to push us along the road to enlightenment.  The migtsema prayer draws us closer to Je Tsongkhapa and enables us to receive the blessings of the wisdom, compassion and spiritual power of all the Buddhas.  The prayer of the stages of the path is a special prayer for requesting the realizations of the Lamrim.

At this point in the sadhana we typically engage in meditation on Lamrim.  Usually people use the book the New Meditation Handbook and cycle through the 21 Lamrim meditations explained there, one each day.  Alternatively, we can practice the 15-day cycle explained in Mirror of Dharma.  Instead of engaging in a daily Lamrim meditation, it is also possible for us to recite with deep faith one of the longer prayers of the stages of the path.  There are three main Lamrim prayers – the short prayer as explained in Heart Jewel, the middling prayer as explained in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, or the extensive prayer as explained in Great Treasury of Merit.  When we recite the Lamrim prayers as our main Lamrim practice, we should do so slowly and from memory, trying to sincerely generate in our heart and without distraction the Lamrim minds indicated by the words.  For more information, we can also attend classes on the Lamrim at our local Dharma centers, including Foundation Program on the book Joyful Path of Good Fortune, which is our principal Lamrim text.  After our meditation, we recite the dedication prayer from the Je Tsongkhapa part of Heart Jewel.

For more detailed information, we can read in the book Heart Jewel which provides an extensive commentary.  Geshe-la has said that this is his most important book, yet sadly it is often overlooked.  It is available for sale at www.tharpa.com

We should also take advantage of the opportunity to attend courses on Heart Jewel at our local Kadampa center, and we should make many requests that our local teacher grant the empowerments of Je Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden.  What is an empowerment?  An empowerment in general is method for establishing a very close connection with a particular enlightened being.  The closer our karma with a given enlightened being, the more ‘bandwidth’ they have for being able to help us.  It is a bit like making a connection with a very special friend.  When we meet somebody very powerful and we have a close connection with them, we can more easily call upon them and ask them for help.

An empowerment is like receiving a personal deity within our mental continuum.  We can all appreciate the qualities of the different Buddhas, and think how wonderful it would be to know them and be able to call upon them.  But how much more wonderful would it be to have a personal emanation of a Buddha who is available for us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  During the empowerment, we receive our own personal emanation of Dorje Shugden into our mental continuum.  We will be able to develop a personal relationship with this Dorje Shugden and he will care for us.  Geshe-la once told a very senior teacher about the Dorje Shugden empowerment, “people need this empowerment, they need this protection.”

Happy Tsog Day: Prostrating to the Spiritual Guide’s Form Bodies

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 6 of a 44-part series.

Prostrating to the Spiritual Guide as the Enjoyment Body

Spiritual guide with a jewel-like form,
Who out of compassion bestow in an instant
Even the supreme state of the three bodies, the sphere of great bliss,
O Vajra Holder I prostrate at your lotus feet.

Prostration is wishing faith in action. There are three types of faith: believing faith, admiring faith, and wishing faith. Believing faith believes the good qualities of holy objects and arises in dependence upon contemplation of valid reasons or personal experience. It differs from blind faith in that it has valid reasons supporting the correct beliefs. Admiring faith generates a sense of wonder and amazement at the good qualities we believe in. Wishing faith wishes to acquire those good qualities ourselves. We cannot develop wishing faith without admiring faith, and we cannot develop admiring faith without believing faith. In dependence upon wishing faith, we develop an aspiration, and this in turn moves us to action towards the accomplishment of our aspiration. When we prostrate towards the holy beings, we have two key recognitions in mind. First is wishing faith, as just described. Second is humility, understanding we currently lack the good qualities we are prostrating towards. We humbly wish to gain the good qualities we are prostrating towards.

The act of prostration itself is karmically very similar to rejoicing. Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that when we rejoice in somebody’s good qualities or actions, it creates the causes for us to obtain those same good qualities. The effect similar to the cause of prostrating is to gain the good qualities we are prostrating towards. The tendency similar to the cause is to always have faith in that which we are prostrating towards. The environmental effect is to always have the holy object we are prostrating towards continue to appear in all our future lives. The ripened effect is to be reborn ourself as a holy being possessing the good qualities we are prostrating towards.

We can prostrate with our body, speech, and/or mind. In the context of Offering to the Spiritual Guide, we prostrate with our body by placing our palms together at our heart as we recite these verses of the sadhana. We prostrate with our speech by chanting the verses of the sadhana, either verbally or internally. We prostrate mentally by generating the mind of prostration described above.

It is important to note that all these verses are prostrations to our spiritual guide. Normally we grasp at Buddhas as somehow being separate from our spiritual guide, like they are different beings. According to the Lamrim teachings, the sign we have gained the realization of reliance upon the spiritual guide is when we think of Buddha, we think it is our spiritual guide; and when we think of our spiritual guide, we think Buddha. Viewing deities, such as Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang, as an emanation of our spiritual guide is called “Guru yoga.” Guru yoga is the actual quick path to enlightenment. There are two reasons for this. First, of all the Buddhas, the one we are karmically closest to is our spiritual guide. This makes their blessings in our mind more powerful than blessings from a Buddha who is karmically more distant. Second, our spiritual guide is like a portal to all the Buddhas. When we make a prostration to our spiritual guide, it is as if we are making a prostration to all the Buddhas, when we request blessings from our spiritual guide, it is as if we are requesting blessings from all the Buddhas. In this way, our spiritual guide acts as a merit multiplier, making any action towards our spiritual guide karmically equivalent to engaging in the same action countless times – one towards each of the countless Buddhas.

This explanation on what is prostration and how to prostrate is equally applicable to all the prostration verses that follow. In them, we prostrate to the principal good qualities of our spiritual guide and thus, create the karmic causes to become just like him.

In this verse, we prostrate to the spiritual guide as the Enjoyment Body. The Enjoyment Body is generally understood as the Buddha’s actual vajra body. This is because its nature is our very subtle indestructible wind that remains with us in life after life. It is principally our Enjoyment Body that sends out Emanation Bodies which in turn pervade the whole world. The Enjoyment Body is the source of these emanations. The first line reveals how our spiritual guide’s Enjoyment Body is like a diamond that has many facets. Each facet is like a different Emanation Body (Heruka, Tara, Dorje Shugden, etc.), but they are all by nature the diamond of our spiritual guide. The second line indicates how the Enjoyment Body sends out emanations. When the sun of a Buddha’s compassion meets the rain of our faithful mind, a rainbow-like Emanation Body spontaneously appears “in an instant.” The third line explains how a Buddha’s three bodies (Emanation Body, Enjoyment Body, and Truth Body) are all by nature great bliss of our indestructible wind. In this light, we can understand that a Buddha’s body is bliss. The last line refers to him as the Vajra Holder. Vajra refers to great bliss, so this line indicates he is never separate from great bliss. Recognizing all this with wishing faith, we prostrate.

Prostrating to the spiritual guide as the Emanation Body

Exalted wisdom of all the infinite Conquerors
Out of supremely skilful means appearing to suit disciples,
Now assuming the form of a saffron-robed monk,
O Holy Refuge and Protector I prostrate at your lotus feet.

Here, we are prostrating to our spiritual guide’s principal Emanation Body. In truth, a Buddha’s emanations pervade the whole world, and we can correctly say there is not a single thing that is not an emanation of a Buddha. But Buddhas typically also have a principal Emanation Body with a distinct visual form – in this case, our spiritual guide. The first line reveals that the omniscient wisdom of all the Buddhas takes the form of our spiritual guide’s Emanation Body. What appears is a monk, but by nature we recognize this form as a manifestation of the exalted wisdom of all the Buddhas. The second line explains the uncommon characteristic of our spiritual guide’s Emanation Body – namely, it can appear directly to us. Other Emanation Bodies, such as Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani, and so forth, are still too pure for us to be able to perceive them with our ordinary samsaric eyes. But our spiritual guide is able to appear directly to us in a form we can see, hear, and so forth. Geshe-la explains in Great Treasury of Merit that despite the spiritual guide being the synthesis of all the Buddhas, he is nonetheless able to appear directly to our ordinary mind – this is his greatest miracle power.

The third line explains the form our spiritual guide takes, namely that of an ordained person. We may think this is a contradiction because elsewhere Geshe-la explains that our spiritual guide can be lay or ordained. There are several different types of ordination – pratimoksha, bodhisattva, and tantric. The essential meaning of the pratimoksha ordination is the vow to not harm living beings, the essential meaning of the bodhisattva ordination is to put others first, and the essential meaning of the tantric ordination is to maintain pure view. A lay spiritual guide can equally keep all these vows, and ultimately the bodhisattva and tantric vows subsume the pratimoksha vows. Regardless, in the context of this sadhana, we are viewing our spiritual guide as Je Tsongkhapa in recognition of him as founder of the New Kadampa Tradition. The last line reminds us of the function of our spiritual guide, namely to serve as both our refuge and protector. We recognize we have a deluded mind, and we turn to him for assistance and protection.

Happy Buddha’s Enlightenment Day: We can do it too

Happy Buddha’s Enlightenment Day everyone!  April 15th of every year we celebrate and remember Buddha’s enlightenment.  It is one of the most special days on the Kadampa calendar and provides us an excellent opportunity to deepen our understanding of what enlightenment is, recall Buddha’s kindness in attaining it, and make a clear determination to attain enlightenment ourselves.

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 as 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.

What is Enlightenment?

Fundamentally, the entire Buddhist path is about attaining enlightenment.  This is a word that is used in many different contexts, even in modern society, but sometimes we lack a clear understanding of what exactly it means.  Geshe-la provides several different definitions or explanations to help us understand.

According to Sutra, Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path, “any being who has become completely free from the two obstructions, which are the roots of all faults, has attained enlightenment.”  The two obstructions are the delusion obstructions and the obstructions to omniscience.  Delusion obstructions are the presence of delusions in our mind.  The root delusion is self-grasping ignorance, which thinks we are the body and mind that we normally see.  From this comes self-cherishing, which thinks this self is supremely important and is willing to neglect or sacrifice others for its sake.  From these two, which are sometimes referred to collectively as our self-centered mind, come attachment and aversion.  Attachment mistakenly thinks some external objects are a cause of our happiness and aversion thinks other external objects are a cause of our suffering.  These four delusions together are the root of all of our other delusions, such as anger, pride, jealousy, deluded doubt, and so forth.  The obstructions to omniscience are the karmic imprints from our previous delusions and their corresponding actions.  Every time we engage in an action, it creates karma that gets planted on our very subtle mind.  Actions motivated by delusion create contaminated karma – karma that ripens in the form of samsaric experience.  These contaminated karmic imprints on our very subtle mind prevent the omniscient mind of a Buddha from arising.  When we remove the two obstructions from our mind, our pure potential, or Buddha nature, becomes completely unobstructed and we become a Buddha.  From this perspective, we are all Buddhas in waiting, we merely need to remove all that obstructs such a state from arising.  When we permanently overcome our delusion obstructions, we attain liberation; and when we permanently overcome our obstructions to omniscience, we attain full enlightenment.

According to Tantra, a Buddha is someone who has completely overcome ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions.  Ordinary appearances are all of the things we normally see – our bodies, minds, enjoyments, others, worlds, etc.  These are the samsaric appearances that arise from our past contaminated actions.  Samsara is nothing more than a contaminated karmic dream.  When we purify our ordinary appearances so that they never arise again, samsara simply ceases to appear.  It dis-appears because, in fact, it never was.  Ordinary conceptions occur when we grasp at ordinary appearances as being true.  All ordinary appearances appear to exist from their own side, as being completely real and existing independently of our mind.  Things exist “out there” waiting to be experienced or observed, and it appears to us as if our mind has absolutely nothing to do with bringing these objects into existence.  Ordinary conceptions think things actually exist in the way that they appear – they really do exist out there, independently of our mind.  When we overcome our ordinary conceptions, we attain liberation; and when we overcome our ordinary appearances, we attain full enlightenment.  For somebody who has overcome their ordinary conceptions but not yet overcome their ordinary appearances, things will still appear to their mind in the way that they normally do, but the very appearance of these things will remind the person that such inherently existent things do not exist at all.  For example, if we look at a picture of the New York City skyline before 9/11, the very appearance of the World Trade Center will remind us that it no longer exists.

In the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Geshe-la provides a functional definition of enlightenment when he says, “Enlightenment is the inner light of wisdom that is permanently free from all mistaken appearance, and whose function is to bestow mental peace upon each and every living being every day.”  This definition not only explains what enlightenment is but also provides us with the definitive reason why we should attain it.  Since Mahamudra is a Tantric instruction, it too says enlightenment is permanent freedom from all mistaken appearance.  But this definition also describes what unique abilities we gain when we attain enlightenment, namely the ability to use our blessings to bestow mental peace upon each and every living being every day.  Happiness is a state of mind, therefore its cause must come from within the mind.  We can observe from our own experience that when our mind is peaceful, we are happy even if our external circumstance is terrible; whereas if our mind is not peaceful, we are unhappy even if our external circumstance is terrific.  Therefore, inner peace is the cause of happiness.  Buddhas are sometimes referred to as “inner beings,” or beings who live within the mind.  As inner beings, they have the power to directly touch the minds of other living beings (since despite all appearances our minds are not actually separate from each other) in such a way that their minds become more peaceful.  And they are able to do this directly to each and every living being every day forever.  Just as the sun shines equally upon all things, Buddha’s blessings shine forth into the minds of all living beings directly and simultaneously.  We attain enlightenment to gain that ability.

Buddha is So Kind Because He Teaches the Truth of Suffering

One of the hardest things for people to come to accept is that happiness cannot be found in samsara.  We are convinced that it can be, and we resist thinking that it can’t be.  There are two main causes of this resistance.  First, our attachment has been duping us since time without beginning that external objects are a cause of our happiness.  There are all sorts of pleasant things like a beautiful sunset, a delicious pizza, or great sex.  We have seen countless TV shows or movies, and almost without exception, they all have happy endings; so we think samsara must be the same.  When we hear that samsara is the nature of suffering and happiness and freedom are impossible to find in it, we think, “that’s just not true.”  The second reason we resist this is it seems to be an incredibly depressing thought.  It seems so pessimistic and negative to always talk about suffering and how terrible everything is – how about a little optimism here so we can retain some hope?  Things may be bad, but better to not think about it too much, otherwise, we will become overwhelmed by sadness and despair. 

When people first hear the teachings on suffering they think, “how can this possibly be a ‘Joyful Path,’ and how can thinking about so much suffering ever lead to happiness?”  We might think Buddhists are all “Debby Downers,” and Buddha’s teachings are actually preventing us from enjoying even the very modest happiness we are able to find in life by pointing out how such pleasures are not real happiness.  So we are left with nothing.  Buddha does not seem kind, he seems like the ultimate ‘buzz kill.’ 

How can we happily understand the teachings on the truth of suffering?  First, we have to be clear on their meaning.  Buddha is not saying there is no happiness, he is simply pointing out that we can’t find it in external things.  Ultimately, happiness comes from within the mind, namely through inner peace.  He further explains what destroys inner peace (delusions and negativity) and what causes inner peace (wisdom and virtue).  So he does not deprive us of happiness, he simply points out what works and what doesn’t – very useful knowledge!  Second, these teachings save us from wasting our time looking for happiness where we will never find it.  If we lost our keys, we might spend hours and hours looking all over our house to find them.  But if our daughter sent us a text message saying she accidentally walked off with them, we would not waste our time looking for them because we would know she has them.  We have been looking for the keys of happiness in samsara since beginningless time – searching, searching, but never finding.  Buddha comes along and tells us, “you’ll never find them in samsara, but you can find them by getting them from me,” we are incredibly relieved.  Third, he is not saying we can’t enjoy the sunset, pizza, or sex, he is saying from their own side they have no power to bring us happiness, but if we relate to them in a pure way, we can come to enjoy a far greater pleasure than we ever could have through ordinary means alone. 

But for me, his greatest kindness is he has provided us with a permanent solution to aging, sickness, death, and uncontrolled rebirth.  In the life story of Buddha Shakyamuni, Prince Siddhartha is given everything he could possibly want – riches, enjoyments, loving parents, a beautiful family, and adoration from all of his subjects.  Yet he realized that none of these things can provide him (or any of us) from the seemingly inescapable sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death.  Seeking a solution, he wanted to leave the palace and go attain enlightenment.  His father tried to stop him, and the Prince said, “if you can provide me with a solution to these problems, I will remain in the palace,” but his father had to admit, he could not.  The Prince then said he would leave the palace and return with a solution so that he could help his parents, his subjects, and indeed all living beings with a permanent method to escape such sufferings forever.  He then began his spiritual journey, and eventually attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.  He conquered the cycle of death itself.  Instead of being reborn in samsara, he discovered methods to permanently wake up from it into the pure lands of the Buddhas.  The practices we have today are those that he taught, and if we sincerely put them into practice, we too can attain the same state.

Deciding to Become a Buddha Ourselves

Compassion is said to be the mother of all Buddhas since all enlightened beings are born from it.  Buddha attained enlightenment out of compassion for us – he wanted to help us also permanently escape the sufferings of samsara, the two obstructions, and ordinary appearances and conceptions.  Without his compassion for us, he would not have been able to purify his own mind to attain enlightenment and he never would have begun turning the Wheel of Dharma for us. 

But our ability to attain enlightenment depends upon ourselves generating compassion for others, just as Buddha did.  How do we generate compassion?  We first generate love for others, then we consider how they suffer.  It is said if we do this, compassion will naturally arise, but this is not entirely correct.  If we lack faith in a solution, then when we consider the suffering of those we love we will become overwhelmed with grief and sadness.  But if we realize there is a solution, then when we consider the suffering of those we love we will find their suffering difficult to bear because we will realize none of it need be.  They could be completely free. 

To transform this powerful mind of compassion into the personal determination to attain enlightenment ourselves, we need to add three things.  First, a feeling of personal responsibility for leading others to everlasting freedom ourselves.  We generate this mind by thinking, “if I don’t do it, who will?”  We might think, “well, Buddha will.”  But Buddha attained enlightenment so that we could do the same so that we could help these people who are karmically close to us. 

Second, we need to add confidence that we ourselves can attain enlightenment just like Buddha did.  Sometimes we think attaining enlightenment is just too difficult and we are too incapable to ever even contemplate beginning such an undertaking.  But as explained above, we all have a Buddha nature, we simply need to remove the two obstructions or ordinary appearances and conceptions from our mind, and our enlightened state will naturally be unveiled.  We each have enlightenment within us, we just need to remove all that obstructs it.  Further, we all have experience of being able to remove our faults somewhat and replace them with similitudes of inner qualities.  If we can do this a little bit, there is no reason why we cannot do so completely.  The methods we have are the exact same ones Buddha taught and have been practiced by millions of practitioners since.  Geshe-la calls them “scientific methods,” meaning everybody who investigates for themselves by sincerely putting the instructions into practice will likewise enjoy the exact same results – he guarantees it!  There is nothing we can’t do without persistent effort.  Our delusions are just bad habits of mind, but with effort, we can change our habits and thereby change our karma. 

Finally, we need to add an understanding of the special abilities of a Buddha to help others so that we see our becoming one is the only way we can rescue all living beings from their suffering.  Buddhas are fearless in helping others.  We tend to hold ourselves back for fear of what others might think or lack of confidence in our abilities, but Buddhas have overcome all delusions and all fear.  He fearlessly teaches the truth of suffering and worries not what others might think.  Buddha is also a deathless being.  In our present state, we can at best help a limited number of people in this one life, but a Buddha has transcended death, and so is able to continue to help living beings in life after life, gradually guiding each and every one of them to the enlightened state.  Buddha possesses omniscient wisdom.  We are quite ignorant and often have no idea how to help others.  We don’t understand karma, delusions, nor the causes of happiness or suffering.  But Buddhas see all three times directly and simultaneously, so they know exactly why people are experiencing the suffering they are and they know exactly what others need to do to make their way to the city of enlightenment.  Buddhas also have perfected their skillful means of helping others.  It is not enough to simply know everything if we are not able to actually skillfully help people come to realize the same things.  Buddhas know how to present the Dharma to others in a way that they can easily understand and practically put into practice, thus opening the door to liberation for them.  They know how to gradually guide people to enter, progress along, and ultimately complete the path to enlightenment.  If we become a Buddha ourselves, we too will develop the fearlessness, deathlessness, omniscient wisdom, and skillful means necessary to gradually lead everyone we love to the same state. 

When we combine our compassion which cannot bear the suffering of others with a feeling of personal responsibility, the confidence we can do it, and a firm understanding of the many qualities of a Buddha, we will naturally develop a strong determination to attain enlightenment ourselves for their sake.  This mind is called “bodhichitta,” or the mind of enlightenment.  It is the most virtuous mind a living being can generate.  In Joyful Path, Geshe-la says:

“Bodhichitta is the best method for bestowing happiness, the best method for eliminating suffering, and the best method for dispelling confusion. There is no virtue equal to it, no better friend, no greater merit. Bodhichitta is the very essence of all eighty-four thousand instructions of Buddha. In Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life Shantideva says: It is the quintessential butter that arises when the milk of Dharma is churned. Just as by stirring milk, butter emerges as its essence, so by stirring the entire collection of Buddha’s scriptures, bodhichitta emerges as its essence. For aeons Buddhas have been investigating what is the most beneficial thing for us. They have seen that it is bodhichitta because bodhichitta brings every living being to the supreme bliss of full enlightenment.”

Today is Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, which means if we strongly develop this supreme mind of Bodhichitta today – making the firm decision to work for as long as it takes to attain enlightenment ourselves – it will be the same as doing so ten million times.  Such a pure mind has the potential to permanently redirect the trajectory of our mental continuum and powerfully propel us towards the City of Enlightenment.  From there, we will be able to help everyone attain permanent freedom from all of their suffering for all of their lives.  What could be more meaningful than this?

Happy Tsog Day: Visualizing the Field of Merit

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 5 of a 44-part series.

Within the vast space of indivisible bliss and emptiness, amidst billowing clouds of Samantabhadra’s offerings, fully adorned with leaves, flowers, and fruits, is a wishfulfilling tree that grants whatever is wished for. At its crest, on a lion throne ablaze with jewels, on a lotus, moon, and sun seat, sits my root Guru who is kind in three ways, the very essence of all the Buddhas. He is in the aspect of a fully-ordained monk, with one face, two hands, and a radiant smile. His right hand is in the mudra of expounding Dharma, and his left hand, in the mudra of meditative equipoise, holds a bowl filled with nectar. He wears three robes of resplendent saffron, and his head is graced with a golden Pandit is hat. At his heart are Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara, who has a blue-coloured body, one face, and two hands. Holding vajra and bell, he embraces Yingchugma and delights in the play of spontaneous bliss and emptiness. He is adorned with many different types of jewelled ornament and wears garments of heavenly silk. Endowed with the major signs and minor indications, and ablaze with a thousand rays of light, my Guru sits in the centre of an aura of five-coloured rainbows. Sitting in the vajra posture, his completely pure aggregates are the five Sugatas, his four elements are the four Mothers, and his sources, veins, and joints are in reality Bodhisattvas. His pores are the twenty-one thousand Foe Destroyers, and his limbs are the wrathful Deities. His light rays are directional guardians such as givers of harm and smell-eaters, and beneath his throne are the worldly beings. Surrounding him in sequence is a vast assembly of lineage Gurus, Yidams, hosts of mandala Deities, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Heroes, Dakinis, and Dharma Protectors. Their three doors are marked by the three vajras. Hooking light rays radiate from the letter HUM and invite the wisdom beings from their natural abodes to remain inseparable.

Buddhas can manifest their inner realizations as outer forms. Each aspect of the visualization of any deity in any sadhana reflects this. Our job when we perform visualizations of Buddhas is to recall the spiritual symbolism of each aspect of the visualization and recognize the visual form as the deity’s realizations in the aspect of form. In Great Treasury of Merit, we can read about the symbolism of each aspect of this visualization. Our training is to generate a mind of faith as we visualize the deity, recognizing each aspect as their realizations.

The most important part of any visualization of a Buddha is to strongly believe we are in the living presence of the deity. If we think the Buddhas are not in front of us, and this is “just our imagination,” our visualizations will lack power to move our mind. We will feel like we are pretending, and that it is just us in our meditation room. But if we strongly believe we are in the presence of the enlightened beings, our mind will naturally be blessed. If we saw a picture of a famous person, we might think about how great the person is, but we would be truly excited to meet them in person. In truth, both the picture and the person in the flesh are both just mere karmic appearances to mind, but we would experience the two very differently. In exactly the same way, if we think it is just a picture in our mind, we might not generate much feeling, but if we felt we are in the living presence of the deity, our mind will be powerfully moved.

How can we generate conviction that we are in the living presence of the deity? Venerable Tharchin explains wherever you imagine a Buddha, a Buddha goes; and wherever a Buddha goes, they perform their function, which is to bestow blessings. Geshe-la explains why this is so. For us, our body and mind are different natures; but for a Buddha, their body and mind are the same nature, like gold and the coin it is in the shape of. Since a Buddha’s mind pervades all phenomena, it is correct to say Buddhas are likewise everywhere. There is nowhere that is not an emanation of a Buddha – they are inside everything. When we imagine a Buddha with faith, we open the aperture of our mind enabling these Buddhas which are everywhere to directly enter into our mind, just like opening the blinds allows the sunlight to enter our room. Thus, when we visualize the deities in the space in front of us, we can develop conviction we are in their presence. We should maintain this awareness throughout the rest of the sadhana and feel like we are making offerings, praises, and requests to them and that they receive our offerings and hear our prayers. It should feel like a personal daily meeting with our Guru – what a great way to start the day!

With this visualization, we imagine we are in the living presence of Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang. Lama means we see the deity as our spiritual guide in the aspect of the deity, making the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide a Guru yoga practice. Losang means the outer aspect of our spiritual guide is Losang Dragpa, or Je Tsongkhapa. Je Tsongkhapa is the founder of the New Kadampa Tradition and everything we practice is his instructions. By developing a close connection with Je Tsongkhapa, we draw closer to him, enabling us to receive his blessings to realize his teachings. We should strongly believe that Lama Tsongkhapa is our living spiritual guide – the same being who taught in the 14th century and who now appears as our present spiritual guide. Tubwang refers to our spiritual guide’s inner aspect of Buddha Shakyamuni. At Je Tsongkhapa’s heart is Buddha Shakyamuni, indicating that Buddha Shakyamuni and Je Tsongkhapa are also the same being, appearing at different times and different aspects. This also symbolizes how Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings are just a special presentation of Buddha’s 84,000 teachings. The lineage of every instruction can be traced back to Buddha Shakyamuni. Dorjechang means Buddha Vajradhara, who appears at the heart of Buddha Shakyamuni. When Buddha gave tantric teachings, he appeared as Buddha Vajradhara, who is our definitive tantric spiritual guide. Visualizing him at the heart of Buddha Shakyamuni indicates that Buddha Vajradhara, Buddha Shakyamuni, Je Tsongkhapa, and our present spiritual guide are all the same being, the same mental continuum, just appearing at different times according to the dispositions of different disciples. Sometimes we think that Je Tsongkhapa, Buddha Shakyamuni, and Buddha Vajradhara somehow no longer exist after they died, but this visualization helps us realize that they still live. They attained enlightenment to become an immortal being and our eternal spiritual guide. We are not staring into the past; we are interacting with a deathless holy being.

Geshe-la also explains in Great Treasury of Merit that there are three principal deities of Highest Yoga Tantra – Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja, and Heruka, symbolizing respectively the spiritual power, wisdom, and compassion of all the Buddhas according to Highest Yoga Tantra. Lama Tsongkhapa’s outer aspect is one with Yamantaka, his inner aspect is the body mandala of Guhyasamaja symbolized by the five Sugatas, four mothers, bodhisattvas, and wrathful deities. And we ourself are self-generated as Heruka. In this way, with one single concentration of ourself generated as Heruka visualizing Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang we are mixing our mind with the essential realizations of spiritual power, wisdom, and compassion of all the Buddhas.

Inviting the wisdom beings

You who are the source of all happiness and goodness,
The root and lineage Gurus of the three times, the Yidams, and Three Precious Jewels,
Together with the assembly of Heroes, Dakinis, Dharmapalas, and Protectors,
Out of your great compassion please come to this place and remain firm.

Even though phenomena are by nature completely free from coming and going,
You appear in accordance with the dispositions of various disciples
And perform enlightened deeds out of wisdom and compassion;
O Holy Refuge and Protector, please come to this place together with your retinue.

OM GURU BUDDHA BODHISATTÖ DHARMAPALA SAPARIWARA EH HAYE HI: DZA HUM BAM HO

The wisdom beings become inseparable from the commitment beings.

With the first verse, we recall that we are in the living presence of the deities as explained above. The second verse helps us recall their emptiness. Our “I”gnorance of self-grasping makes us think that we and the Buddhas are somehow separate from each other, like there is this giant chasm that separates them from us. When we recall the emptiness of ourself and the deities, this chasm is bridged and we feel as if not only we are in the presence of the holy beings, but the duality between ourselves and them has faded away. It feels like we are one wave, they are another wave, but we are all equally part of the same ocean, inseparable from one another. Their enlightened state is an aspect of our own mind.

With the third and fourth verses, we dissolve the wisdom beings into the commitment beings. The commitment beings are so-called because we have a commitment to visualize them, and the wisdom beings are the actual Buddhas who enter into our visualization. By dissolving the wisdom beings into the commitment beings, we imagine our visualization becomes inseparably one with the actual deities and we strengthen our conviction that we are in the living presence of the holy beings all while recalling that they are inseparable from our mind.

Happy Tara Day: How to ignite Tara’s fierce and raging fire in our life

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

Praising Tara by her destroying opponents

Homage to you who by saying TRÄ and PHAT
Completely destroy the obstructions of enemies.
You suppress with your right leg drawn in and your left extended,
And blaze with a fierce and raging fire.

I think there are two ways we can understand this.  First, her wisdom blessings act like a fierce and raging fire that radiate out in all directions like a protection circle, dispelling all obstructions of enemies, keeping them at bay.  Second, because she is a Buddha she has universal compassion even for those who would oppose the Dharma.  To destroy the obstructions of enemies means she has the power to destroy the delusion obstructions and the obstructions to omniscience of her would-be enemies.  Geshe-la once famously said in Toronto that “Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.”  In the same way, Tara completely destroys opponents by destroying the obstructions to enlightenment on their minds.  This shows her skill in loving living beings while directing wrathful energy against their delusions.

Praising Tara by her purifying demons and the two obstructions

Homage to TURE, extremely fearsome one,
Who completely destroy the chief of demons.
With the wrathful expression on your lotus face
You vanquish all foes without exception.

Where do demons come from?  They are mere karmic appearances to mind, ripening from our negative karma.  The way to actually destroy all demons is to purify the negative karma that sees or appears anybody as a demon.  Nobody is a demon from their own side, they only become such when we view them with a deluded, contaminated mind.  This is how she purifies all demons.  It also says she vanquishes all foes without exception.  In Buddhism, there are no outer enemies, only inner enemies.  To vanquish all foes without exception, therefore, refers to her ability to vanquish the inner enemies of the two obstructions – delusions and their imprints.

Praising Tara by the objects she holds in her right and left hands

Homage to you whose fingers perfectly adorn your heart
With the mudra symbolizing the Three Precious Jewels.
Adorned with a wheel of all directions
Whose radiant light outshines all.

Buddhas hold different implements in their hands to symbolize their inner qualities and abilities.  Her hand in the mudra symbolizing the Three Precious Jewels indicates that she is the synthesis of all three jewels, and that she also performs the function of all three jewels.  She blesses our mind like a Buddha, she teaches and protects the Kadam Dharma, and she helps us like loving Sangha.  I’m assuming the wheel here refers to the Wheel of Dharma which outshines all because it enables us to escape from samsara.

Praising Tara by her crown ornament and the sound of her laughter

Homage to you whose very joyful and shining crown ornament
Radiates a garland of light;
Who, with your mirthful laughter of TUTTARE,
Subdue the demons and worldly gods.

Here, we can imagine that infinite light rays radiate out from Tara’s crown ornament, bestowing blessings and peace on all living beings.  We can then rejoice in her enlightened actions, wishing to gain the ability to do the same ourselves.  Mirthful laughter means a merry or amused laugh.  We should never underestimate the power of laughter.  More often than not, we take everything too seriously.  This makes us tight and our grasping stronger.  But when we can laugh at the absurdity of samsara, then it takes the sting out of it.  Samsara makes me laugh!  In particular, it is important to be able to laugh at ourselves and our delusions.  This is one of the most powerful ways of cutting the power of our delusions over us because we are able to view them from a distance and laugh at how ridiculous they are.  Being able to laugh at others in a way that also enables them to stop taking themselves or their samsara too seriously is a whole other level of skill at mirthful laughter.  Normally, people can take it wrong that we are laughing at them or their plight, and they can become quickly offended.  But Tara has the ability to use skillful mirthful laughter to even subdue demons and worldly gods, disarming their ill intent or pretension. 

Praising Tara by her accomplishing divine actions through the ten directional guardians

Homage to you who are able to summon
All the directional guardians and their retinues.
Frowning and shaking, with the letter HUM,
You rescue all from their misfortune.

In the Tsog offerings, we invite the directional guardians, evil spirits, zombies, givers of harm, smell-eaters and other such beings from the charnel grounds, offer them Torma and Tsog offerings, bless their mind, and effectively “enlist them” to help Dharma practitioners and flourish the Dharma instead of oppose them.  From a deeper point of view, we imagine that all of these beings are actually emanations of the principal deity sent into the realms of samsara to help the beings in every terrifying corner of the six realms.  From the letter HUM at the heart of the principal deity, light rays radiate out and invite these beings to come before the deity to then work on the deity’s behalf.  When we recite this verse, we can imagine Tara does the same, inviting all such beings from the charnel grounds who come before her, and then commit to working on her behalf to rescue all beings from their misfortune.  In this way, she also rescues these beings themselves from their misfortune by inspiring them to engage in virtuous actions of protecting practitioners.

Praising Tara by her crown ornament

Homage to you with a crescent moon adorning your crown,
And all your ornaments shining brightly;
With Amitabha in your top-knot
Eternally radiating light.

Here we can imagine different details of Tara’s form, recognizing them all as manifestations of her inner realizations.  Buddhas have the ability to manifest their mind as form.  When we engage in checking meditations of different deities, we focus on different aspects of their form recalling the inner realization it represents.  A moon in Buddhism symbolizes the realization of emptiness.  The ornaments of a Buddha’s body typically symbolize their inner realizations of the six perfections.  Amitabha in her top-knot indicates Amitabha is her spiritual guide.  Amitabha is the Vajra Speech of all the Buddhas, and is the same nature as Geshe Langri Tangpa, the author of Eight Verses of Training the Mind, our root text for Lojong practice.  Recalling this, we can generate faith that through our reliance on Tara we will be able to realize emptiness, complete the six perfections, and train in transforming adverse conditions into the path.

Praising Tara by her wrathful posture

Homage to you who dwell amidst a garland of flames
Like the fire at the end of the aeon.
With your right leg extended and left drawn in,
You destroy the hosts of obstructions of those who delight in the Dharma Wheel.

Buddhas engage in four types of enlightened action – pacifying, increasing, controlling, and wrathful actions.  Wrathful actions are forceful actions that skillfully differentiate between the person and their delusions or faults.  They are able to be ruthless with delusions while being loving with the person.  They are like a wisdom anger against the inner objects to be abandoned along the path.  If we fail to make the distinction between the person and their delusions, our wrathful actions are just ordinary anger and usually wind up harming living beings.  Pacifying and increasing actions are relatively easy to do without delusions, controlling actions can be done if we are free from attachment to the other person doing what we want, and wrathful actions can only be performed with compassionate wisdom differentiating clearly the person from their faults.  They also typically require the other person to have faith in us to receive well our wrathful actions, but this isn’t always necessary.  Buddhas are often surrounded by blazing wisdom fires indicating their ability to burn through negativities and protect others with great power.  When we recite this version, we imagine Tara radiates such powerful energy around her like the fire at the end of the aeon.  Her right leg extended symbolizes her ability to swiftly come to the aid of living beings.  Because she is the completely purified wind element, she can move as fast as mind to any object.  If we think of the moon, our mind is instantly there.  But how does it get there?  By being mounted upon winds.  Tara is the wind all virtue is mounted upon.  Her right leg extended shows her swift ability.

Happy NKT Day: Why we are encouraged to follow one tradition purely without mixing

The first Saturday of every April is New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) day.  Normally, on this day we generate a mind cherishing our tradition.  I’m sure there are many other people who will write about all of the different reasons why they cherish this tradition, and I rejoice in all of that.  But here, I am going to intentionally stir the hornet’s nest a bit by talking about a particular type of cherishing of the NKT, namely generating the mind that wishes to follow one tradition purely without mixing. 

One of the core principles of the NKT is while respecting all other traditions, to follow one tradition purely without mixing.  This is an extremely vast subject.  Venerable Geshe-la (VGL) explains in Ocean of Nectar that we need to be careful when introducing the subject of emptiness to those who are not ready because doing so can lead to great confusion.  I would say even more so, we need to be careful when introducting the subject of following one tradition purely without mixing, as this is a special spiritual instruction that can easily give rise to much confusion and doubt, including thinking that such an approach is closed-minded, anti-intellectual, and sectarian.  To many, this instruction can seem very strange, even cultish.  Many people might even wind up rejecting the NKT precisely because this is something taught within the NKT. 

This post (and the linked, more extensive document) attempts to explain the rationale behind this instruction so that people can be happy with putting it into practice.

What is the advice?

This is probably best summarized in Understanding the Mind, where Geshe-la says:

“We must be careful not to misunderstand the effort of non-satisfaction. Practising this effort does not mean that we should become dissatisfied with our tradition or with our main practice, and try to follow many different traditions or mix together many different practices. Every Teacher and every tradition has a slightly different approach and employs different methods. The practices taught by one Teacher will differ from those taught by another, and if we try to combine them we shall become confused, develop doubts, and lose direction. If we try to create a synthesis of different traditions we shall destroy the special power of each and be left only with a mishmash of our own making that will be a source of confusion and doubt. Having chosen our tradition and our daily practices we should rely upon them single-pointedly, never allowing dissatisfaction to arise. At the same time as cherishing our own tradition we should respect all other traditions and the right of each individual to follow the tradition of their choosing. This approach leads to harmony and tolerance. It is mixing different religious traditions that causes sectarianism. This is why it is said that studying non-religious subjects is less of an obstacle to our spiritual progress than studying religions of different traditions.”

Geshe-la also elaborated during the Dorje Shugden empowerment in 1995 when he said:

“Sincere practitioners of the Kadampa Buddhism of Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine should understake as their heart commitment to cherish the Kadam Dharma, the doctrine of Je Tsongkhapa, and to practice and teach this to others without mixing it with other traditions.  We must take some responsibility to enable pure Buddhadharma to flourish throughout the world.  If we make the commitment to accomplish this aim, then this is called our heart commitment.  Keeping this heart commitment is the basic foundation for receiving Dorje Shugdan’s protection, blessings and special care continually.  Because Dorje Shugden is an enlightened being, he has compassion for all beings and is ready to to give his protection, blessings, and special care, but from our side we also need some necessary conditions.  These are to cherish Kadam Dharma, to practice Kadam Dharma purely without mixing it with other traditions, to teach Kadam Dharma without mixing it with other traditions and to take some responsibility to help pure Dharma flourish throughout the world.  Doing this as our commitment is the best method for receiving Dorje Shugden’s protection, blessings and special care continually.”

Following one tradition purely is spiritual advice, not a rule

Throughout all of VGL’s books, he gives countless pieces of advice about how to transform our mind into the enlightened state.  This instruction on following one tradition purely without mixing is likewise spiritual advice given to us by our Spiritual Guide.  Like all instructions, we are free to follow it or not.  It is our choice.  VGL explains in Transform Your Life that if we do not at present understand a given instruction, or do not see its utility, we should avoid various extremes.  To put the instruction into practice when we do not understand it or when we disagree with it would be one extreme (leading to a wide variety of problems).  To reject the instruction would be another extreme.  The middle way he teaches is to not reject it outright, but to put it aside for later when it does seem to be important or useful for our spiritual practice.  Once we see the instruction as something that is important, if we still have doubts we should follow his advice in Clear Light of Bliss when he quotes Buddha Shakyamuni as saying ‘do not believe me because I am called Buddha, instead verify for yourself.’  We should examine all the arguments with an open mind, contemplating deeply their meaning without any preconceptions or attachments to our view, and then only decide to put this instruction into practice when we ‘want to’ and we ‘see its value’ for our spiritual development.  This approach should likewise be used when it comes to the spiritual advice to follow one tradition purely without mixing. 

If we relate to this instruction like a rule imposed upon us from the outside, but we do not ‘want’ to follow it, then the result will be we generate resentment towards the rule and towards those who make it.  This then undermines our faith, we can generate all sorts of negative minds, and eventually this can destroy our spiritual practice. 

So, in short, when should this instruction be practiced ?  When we want to put it into practice.  Who does it apply to ?  Only those who wish to apply it to themselves.  All moral discipline is self-imposed.  We apply it to ourseleves because we see the benefit of doing so and the harm of not doing so.  We take refuge vows because we wish to center ourselves within Buddha’s teachings.  We take Bodhisattva vows because we wish to center ourselves within the Mahayana.  We take Tantric vows, because we wish to center ourselves within the part of the Mahayana that is the Vajrayana.  Specifically, our Tantric vows entail a commitment as to whom is our Spiritual Guide, our teacher.  We do all of these things from our own side because we want to and see the value of doing so.  We place limits on the sources of our spiritual understanding and practice (Buddha’s Hinayana teachings for those who have taken refuge and Pratimoksha vows ; Mahayana teachings for those who have taken Bodhisattva vows ; our Spiritual Guide’s teachings for those who have taken Tantric vows). 

VGL has added a fourth layer of vows for those who wish to be NKT teachers and officers, namely the internal rules of the NKT, which he has correctly labeled as A Moral Discipline Guide.  VGL said that for us, these vows are more important than even our Tantric vows.  It is our choice whether we wish to assume these guidelines as part of our moral discipline or not.  Nobody can force us to do so, nobody is requiring us to do so.  We do so because we wish to.  If we wish to do so, then we are authorized by VGL to teach NKT Dharma and be an officer in an NKT center.  If we do not wish to do so, then we are not authorized by VGL to do these things.  We may still consider him our Spiritual Guide, appreciate his good qualities, put his teachings into practice, etc., but we do not have these special authorizations to teach or be an officer.  The internal rules have many layers of meaning.  It is not up to anybody outside of us to say whether we have the intention of keeping the moral discipline of the internal rules.  Only we can say.  So if internally we wish to take on the internal rules as part of our moral discipline, unless there is a gross violation of these rules that requires action, it is up to us to use our own wisdom to decide how to put these instructions into practice.

What is mixing traditions? 

In order to understand this instruction, we must understand what it means (and what it does not mean) to mix traditions.  To understand this, we must first understand what it means to mix in general.  To mix means to combine two or more things in some way. 

What does it mean to mix our mind with teachings in general ?  To mix our mind with teachings means to familiarize our mind with the meaning of a teaching.  It is to gain an intellectual understanding of the meaning of a teaching and to believe (or appreciate) that meaning to be true for your mind and practice.  In Understanding the Mind, VGL states :  “Basically Dharma practice is quite simple because all we need to do is to receive correct Dharma teachings by listening to qualified Teachers or by reading authentic books, and then mix our mind with these teachings by meditating on them.”  In Joyful Path, VGL explains that we mix our mind with teachings (meditate upon them) in three different ways :  through listening to (or reading) Dharma instructions, through contemplating their meaning (analytical meditation) and through placement meditation on them. 

To mix spiritual traditions, therefore, means to do this process of mixing our mind with teachings in general with the teachings from more than one spiritual tradition.  If one is an NKT practitioner, to mix traditions would mean to mix one’s mind with teachings from the NKT and from a tradition other than the NKT.  The internal rules of the NKT state that the NKT will always be an entirely independent spiritual organization.  What distinguishes the NKT from other traditions is its three study programmes.  In the definition of the three study programmes, all three programmes state clearly that their content is derived exclusively from the teachings and commentaries of VGL.  Therefore, any teaching that does not come from VGL (either directly from him or indirectly through an authorized NKT teacher) would be considered as belonging to another tradition.  A clear test as to whether something is part of the NKT or not is whether it has been published by Tharpa Publications.  Any book or source published by something other than Tharpa Publications is necessarily from another tradition.   Any teaching received by a spiritual teacher other than one who is an authorized NKT teacher would necessarily be a teaching from another tradition. 

Mixing is not a black or white thing, but actually has many many levels of subtlety.  Just as there are many different levels of ignorance, so too there are many different levels of mixing.  It is impossible for us to be completely free from any mixing until we are a Buddha, so the question is not whether something ‘is’ mixing or not, the question is whether somebody has within their mind the intention and the desire to go in the direction of completely abandoning every last trace of mixing within their spiritual understanding and practice.  If one has this intention, then over time we gradually gain a deeper and deeper understanding of what it means to mix, and in this way we can gradually improve the purity with which we practice.  Wanting to do this is part of cherishing the NKT.

In short, the nature of the inputs into our spiritual understanding determines the nature of the outputs of that spiritual understanding (unless we have perfect discriminating wisdom, which none of us have, or at least I do not).  If we have only NKT inputs, then it guarrantees we will have only NKT outputs (internal realizations, teachings, etc.).  If we have NKT and non-NKT inputs, then our spiritual understanding will be a mix of multiple sources, which will result in a mixed output (or at least a great danger of this).  Therefore, unless we can claim we have a perfect discriminating wisdom and experience of NKT teachings, even if we do not want to mix, we will not be able to not mix on some subtle level if we read other tradition’s teachings.  This is especially true for those spiritual teachings that are quite similar to NKT teachings.  There seems less risk of mixing by reading Christian books than there is in reading books on Tibetan Buddhism, especially those books written by diciples of Trijang Rinpoche, even if they are also Dorje Shugden practitioners.

If we understand that the way in which we attain enlightenment is by mixing our mind inseparably with that of our Spiritual Guide, it is clear that if we mix our mind with the teachings of a different Spiritual Guide we will be mixing.  Our mind will be a ‘mishmash’ (as VGL calls it) of our Spiritual Guide’s teachings, of the other Spiritual Guide’s teachings and of our own thinking of how to combine these two.  It is possible for us to take VGL as our Spiritual Guide and continue to mix his teachings with those of similar (or dissimilar) traditions, especially when we are at the beginning of our practice and our discriminating wisdom and experience are undeveloped.  However, he still advises us against doing this.  But there are many pieces of advice he has given us that we are not yet ready to put into practice and he encourages us to put those aside for later.  The instruction on following one tradition purely without mixing is no exception.  However, there definitely comes a time in our practice where we want to start leaving these other sources behind and instead mix our mind completely and exclusively with the teachings of our Spiritual Guide.  By doing so, we can mix our mind more thoroughly with his mind, draw closer to him and his blessings, and eventually attain enlightenment.  It is clear that we cannot fully mix our mind with his if we are still partially mixing our mind with teachings from other traditions. 

I understand this is challenging for some

I understand that this instruction is challenging for many people because it seems contrary to our normal way of thinking about things.  My first teacher told me, “The things we find the most difficult at first later wind up being the teachings that bring about the greatest transformations in our mind.”  So I encourage everyone to investigate for themselves with an open mind.  In the early 2000s, I wrote the attached document in answer to questions some of my students were asking about this topic.  I try address every angle of the question.  If you still have some doubts or hesitations about this topic, I encourage you to look through the arguments presented, in particular work through the answers to the objections that arise.  If you still have questions about it, I’m happy to try provide my thoughts. 

Here is the table of contents of what is contained in the larger document.

This document is organized as follows :

  1. References within VGL’s teachings on this advice
    1. On following one tradition purely without mixing
      • From Understanding the Mind
      • From Great Treasury of Merit
      • From Meaningful to Behold
      • From the Commentary to the Dorje Shugden empowerment, Spring Festival 1995
      • From the NKT internal rules
  2. On sectarianism
    • From Joyful Path
    • From Clear Light of Bliss
  1. The mind with which we examine this question
  2. How to understand this instruction
    • Following one tradition purely is spiritual advice, not a rule
    • What is mixing traditions ?
    • What are the causes of mixing ?  Why do people mix ?
  3. Rationale for the spiritual advice to follow one tradition purely without mixing
    1. Considering valid reasons
      • Advantages of not mixing
      • Disadvantages of mixing
      • Disadvantages of even slight mixing.
    2. Contemplating useful analogies
      • Analogy of the burning room
      • Analogy of climbing a mountain
      • Analogy of a Formula 1 racing car
      • Analogy of commitment to a partner
      • Analogy of specialization
  4. Refutation of objections to not mixing
  • Objection 1.  We can gain a better understanding of a subject when explored from multiple perspectives
  • Objection 2:  We can gain a higher and deeper understanding of universal truth through synthesizing multiple systems of thought.
  • Objection 3 :  All religions say the same thing, just with different metaphors and means.  So what is the problem with me studying and reading other traditions.  Does that not also take me in the direction of enlightenment ?
  • Objection 4:  OK, I agree we should not mix traditions.  I am 100% committed to VGL, I know what we are all about and I don’t want to mix.  So what is the problem with me reading other sources ?
  • Objection 5:  But I do not have freedom because I cannot be an NKT teacher or officer of an NKT center if I still want to go to other things.  So I am not free to choose.
  • Objection 6:  But it can be argued that just because one is in a relationship with somebody else does not mean that they cease to be friends with other people and other women.  In the same way, it is not mixing or violating my commitment to my spiritual path by reading other books, etc., as long as I am clear as to who is my Spiritual Guide.
  • Objection 7: But we are Buddhist, so everything depends upon the mind.  Reading other sources is not from its own side mixing, it depends upon the mind with which we do it. 
  • Objection 8:  Come on !  Certainly you are exaggerating to say it is a fault to even read or be exposed to teachings from other traditions.  Don’t be so paranoid !
  • Objection 9:  It still seems very closed-minded to be so categorical in shunning anything that is non-NKT.
  • Objection 10:  OK, even if I agree with all of the above, certainly it is more skilful to say nothing, since people will misunderstand and leave the Dharma as a result of this misunderstanding.
  • Objection 11:  OK, I agree, something needs to be said.  But why do you have to do it in such a foreceful way. 
  • Objection 12:  OK, point taken.  But what makes an action skilful is whether the action does not undermine the faith of the other person when you engage in it.
  • Objection 13:  OK, fine !  Just tell me what I can and cannot do.
  • Objection 14:  If that is the case, then why do different teachers have different policies and standards on this one ?
  • Objection 15:  But how does your standard compare to that of the NKT as a whole ?  Are you more strict ?
  • Objection 16:  Wait a minute !  I can understand why there would be an issue with Tibetan Buddhism in general, but certainly it is not a problem with Mt. Pellerin.  After all, their teacher was also a student of Trijang Rinpoche, he is friends with VGL, and they are Dorje Shugden practitioners.  Are they not basically a Tibetan version of us, and we are a Western version of them ?  So their teachings can help improve our understanding of VGL’s teachings.  We are all talking about the same thing, so there is no mixing going on.  So it should be OK.  It seems we should at least make an exception with them.
  • Question 17:  OK, I understand all of this and it makes sense.  How practically then are we to implement all of this at the center given the sensitivities involved ?
  • Conclusion

Dedication

I dedicate any merit I may have accumulated from writing this that all beings may find the spiritual tradition that speaks to their heart, and that all beings may joyfully follow one tradition purely without mixing, regardless of what tradiction speaks to them.  I pray that those reading this do so with an open mind and understand that advice such as this is offered by Geshe-la out of his infinite compassion for us understanding what is spiritually the most effective way of progressing along the path.