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

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 17 of a 44-part series.

Requesting by remembering that he is a supreme Field of Merit

Even just one of your hair pores is praised for us
As a Field of Merit that is superior to all the Conquerors
Of the three times and the ten directions;
O Compassionate Refuge and Protector, to you I make requests.

What is the field of merit? Just as farmers can plant seeds in fields that later produce crops that can nourish our body, spiritual practitioners can plant seeds of virtue in the field of merit which will later ripen in the form of a rich crop of Dharma realizations. We can understand how our spiritual guide is a supreme field of merit by understanding how he is kinder than all the Buddhas as explained above. Here, we emphasize how all three jewels are in fact emanations of our spiritual guide. Every Buddha, bodhisattva, and so forth are all emanated by our spiritual guide. The ultimate nature of our spiritual guide is an I imputed upon the bliss and emptiness of all things. In this way, we can say that everything is an emanation of our spiritual guide. Thus, any virtuous action we perform towards the three jewels or towards all living beings is an offering to our spiritual guide and the planting of seeds in his field of merit. Without this field, we would never be able to have our virtuous seeds ripen in the form of Dharma realizations, just as seeds alone cannot grow without the ground they are planted in. In this sense, our spiritual guide is truly indispensable for our attainment of enlightenment.

Requesting by expressing his outer qualities

From the play of your miracle powers and skilful means
The ornament wheels of your three Sugata bodies
Appear in an ordinary form to guide migrators;
O Compassionate Refuge and Protector, to you I make requests.

We can understand how important the outer aspect of our spiritual guide is by considering what our life would be like if we had never met Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. If he did not exist in this world, we would not have our Dharma books, our Dharma centers, our Dharma festivals, our global sangha, and so forth. We would have nothing. Because we met the outer form of our spiritual guide, he has introduced us to all sorts of enlightened beings such as Heruka, Vajrayogini, and Dorje Shugden. Through reliance upon these deities, we are quickly making progress towards enlightenment. But none of this would be possible without having encountered the outer form of our spiritual guide. With this verse, we request that our spiritual guide, who we understand to be the living Je Tsongkhapa, continue to appear in this world to guide living beings along the path to enlightenment. Without the outer form of the spiritual guide, there would be no bridge between our world of suffering and the pure worlds of the Buddhas. It would be as if the doorway to the Buddha lands was permanently closed to us.

Typically, at the end of our practices, we make prayers for the long life of our spiritual guide, requesting that he remain in this world for countless eons until samsara has ceased. Sometimes we think this request is impossible because our present spiritual guide will certainly die. But we can understand that the present appearance of our spiritual guide is really an outer emanation of our living spiritual guide Je Tsongkhapa. When we make this request, and when we pray for the long life of our spiritual guide, in truth we are requesting Je Tsongkhapa to continue to emanate outer spiritual guides in this world. When we make this request, we create the karma to have the spiritual guide appear to us in all our future lives between now and our eventual attainment of enlightenment. Further, by making this request with faith, when we meet our spiritual guide in our future lives, we will continue to have faith in him and be able to pick up where we left off on our spiritual path.

Requesting by expressing his inner qualities

Your aggregates, elements, sources, and limbs
Are by nature the Fathers and Mothers of the five Buddha families,
The Bodhisattvas, and the Wrathful Deities;
O Supreme spiritual guide, the nature of the Three Jewels, to you I make requests.

Samsara is sometimes best understood as being trapped within the cycle of the five contaminated aggregates – contaminated discrimination, contaminated feeling, contaminated compositional factors, contaminated consciousness, and contaminated form. Contaminated discrimination conceptually discriminates objects as inherently good, bad, and neutral. On the basis of these discriminations, we develop contaminated feelings where we experience objects as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. On the basis of these feelings, we then develop contaminated compositional factors, or different delusions and other mental factors related to the objects we are experiencing. These contaminated mental factors in turn lead us to engage in contaminated actions, in other words actions motivated by delusions or deluded minds. These actions subsequently plant contaminated karmic potentialities on our consciousness, which is the aggregate of contaminated consciousness. When this karma ripens, it appears as contaminated forms or contaminated appearances. These appearances appear to be inherently good, bad, or neutral, which our contaminated discrimination then discriminates objects as such, causing the cycle to continue forever.

To escape from samsara then, we need to develop the five omniscient wisdoms – the wisdom of individual discrimination, the wisdom of equality, the wisdom of accomplishing activities, the wisdom of the dharmadhatu, and mirror-like wisdom. The wisdom of individual discrimination discriminates every object individually as a manifestation of indivisible bliss and emptiness. The wisdom of equality then experiences all objects equally as great bliss unfolding in emptiness. The wisdom of accomplishing activities then generates pure minds in relation to every object it experiences, so that every action that subsequently follows is pure. These pure actions in turn, place pure karmic potentialities on our consciousness which is the wisdom of the dharmadhatu. The dharmadhatu is also a completely purified aggregate of consciousness, in other words there are no contaminated karmic potentialities on such a mind. Since there are only pure karmic potentialities on the mind, every karmic seed that ripens does so as pure forms which appear as manifestations of bliss and emptiness. Since all objects appear as manifestations of bliss and emptiness, the wisdom of individual discrimination is able to effortlessly discriminate each object as a manifestation of bliss and emptiness, and so the cycle continues indefinitely.

These five omniscient wisdoms correspond with the five Buddha families. The wisdom of individual discrimination arises independence upon reliance on Buddha Amitabha. Put another way Buddha Amitabha appears in the minds of living beings as the wisdom of individual discrimination. In the same way, Ratnasambhava appears as the wisdom of equality, Amoghasiddhi appears as the wisdom of accomplishing activities, Akshobya appears as the wisdom of the dharmadhatu, and Vairochana appears as mirror-like wisdom. By generating faith in and relying upon the five Buddha families, we can develop the five omniscient wisdoms. And then, instead of identifying with the five contaminated aggregates, we identify with the five omniscient wisdoms. Once we have changed the basis of imputation of our “I” from the five contaminated aggregates to the five omniscient wisdoms, we will have attained enlightenment.

In this verse, we recognize that the spiritual guide’s inner qualities are the five Buddha families, or the five omniscient wisdoms. By making request to our spiritual guide recognizing his inner qualities, we create the causes to receive the blessings of the five Buddha families, and thereby experience and develop within our own mind the five omniscient wisdoms. In completion stage practice, we likewise rely upon the five Buddha families in the form of a collection of five wisdom drops that are the essence of each of the five Buddha families. When we engage in these completion stage practices, we should recall the meaning of the five Buddha families and the five omniscient wisdoms, strongly believing that by mixing our mind with the collection of five wisdom drops, we are mixing our mind with the wisdom of the five Buddha families.

In is this verse we also recognize that our spiritual guide’s inner qualities include all the deities of Guhysamaja’s body mandala. There are three principle Highest Yoga Tantra yidam: Heruka, Yamantaka, and Guhysamaja. When we engage in the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide, we generate ourselves as Heruka, we recognize Lama Tsongkhapa as Yamantaka, and inside his body are the deities of Guhysamaja’s body mandala. In this way, we accomplish all the attainments of all the principal yidams of Highest Yoga Tantra in one single practice.

Happy Tara Day: May the Dharma and all good fortune flourish

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

May I strive in my practice of sacred Dharma and increase my realizations,
May I always accomplish you and behold your sublime face;
And may my understanding of emptiness and the precious bodhichitta
Increase and grow like a waxing moon.

Every once in a while, there are these people who show up to our Dharma centers for whom everything comes easily.  They seem to walk into the door with realizations and Dharma comes to them quite instinctively.  This happens when people have a lot of imprints from Dharma practice in previous lives.  But sometimes, because everything comes so easily, they never learn how to apply effort to their practice and at some point their imprints exhaust themselves.  Once it starts to get more difficult, they sometimes drift away or experience some sort of spiritual crisis.  With effort, eventually all attainments will come.  Without effort, we are just burning up our good karma.  It can also happen where we become complacent with our spiritual progress.  We have enough Dharma wisdom in our mind to be happy in this life, and that is good enough for us.  Of course we would never admit that this is the case, but our actions sometimes speak louder than our words.  To protect ourselves against this, we pray to Tara that we always feel inspired to strive in our practice of Dharma, and that we never become content with our spiritual progress until we have attained the final goal.

May I be born from a sacred and most beautiful lotus
In the excellent, joyful mandala of the Conqueror;
And there may I accomplish the prophecy I receive
Directly from Conqueror Amitabha.

Being born anywhere in samsara, even as a Dharma practitioner, is very dangerous.  There is always the risk that we become sidetracked or distracted by samsara’s pleasures and then waste our precious human life, burning up our virtuous karma, and then we die.  There is also the risk that powerful negativity could ripen, resulting is us engaging in negative actions or experiencing terrible misfortune.  The greatest danger is we die with a negative or deluded mind, and then fall into the lower realms, losing the path for possibly eons.  The only way to protect ourselves from these dangers is to attain rebirth in a pure land.  A Buddha’s pure land is like a Bodhsiattva’s training camp. We are able to receive teachings directly from Buddhas, are protected from strong negativity, and are able to progress along the spiritual path.  If we can remember Tara at the time of our death, she will bless our mind and take us to her pure land.  There, we can continue with our training and our eventual enlightenment is guaranteed.  While technically not free from samsara, from a practical point of view, it will be as if we have escaped from all uncontrolled rebirth.

O Goddess upon whom I have relied in previous lives,
Embodiment of the divine actions of all the Buddhas of the three times,
Bluish-green One with one face and two hands,
O Swift Pacifier, Mother holding an upala, may everything be auspicious.

We all have different biological mothers, but Tara is our common spiritual mother.  She cares for and nurtures our spiritual life in the same way our regular mother cares for our physical life.  But we need to create the causes for Tara to continue to be our spiritual mother in all of our future lives.  Tara will never stop loving us, but from our side we can drift away from her, making it harder for her to care for us.  If, in contrast, we always stay close to her, she will always care for us spiritually in this and all our future lives.  As explained earlier, every action we engage in creates four karmic potentialities:  tendency similar to the cause, effect similar to the cause, environmental effect, and the ripened effect.  The ripened effect is the potential to take a rebirth similar in nature to the action we engage in, for example an action of hot anger creates the cause for rebirth in a hot hell.  Whenever we engage in an action of pure faith and reliance upon Tara, such as engaging in our Tara practice, we create a ripened effect to be reborn with her as our spiritual mother.  If throughout our life, on every Tara day, we make a point to engage in Tara practice, we will create a rich reservoir of virtuous karma to have her continue to be our spiritual mother in all of our future lives.  For myself, in addition to engaging in Tara practice on the 8th of every month, I dedicate every day that Tara always be my spiritual mother.  If she will always be my mother, what will I possibly have to fear?

O Conqueror Mother Tara,
Whatever your body, retinue, life span and Pure Land,
And whatever your supreme and excellent name,
May I and all others attain only these.

Buddhas appear in many different forms, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist.  While I haven’t heard Geshe-la say so, I have heard many people say that Jesus’ mother Mary was also an emanation of Tara.  This does make sense and there is certainly no harm in believing this to be true.  Regardless, Tara’s emanations pervade the whole world and appear in many different forms to help living beings, and especially Kadampa practitioners.  Can we say with any certainty that the very device we are reading this post on is not emanated by Tara?  I would say as soon as we believe something is an emanation of Tara, it becomes that for us.  If we view everything as emanated by Tara, then for us, everything will be.  When we recite this verse, we should pray that we gain the wisdom to view everything as emanated by her for our spiritual training.

Through the force of my making these praises and requests to you,
Please pacify all sickness, poverty, misfortune, fighting and quarrelling,
Throughout all directions where I and others live,
And cause the Dharma and all good fortune to flourish.

Most of our experiences in samsara are difficult.  Occasionally, things go “well,” but most of the time, life is a constant struggle.  Sickness, poverty, misfortune, fighting, and quarreling come like waves of the ocean, one after the other, just in different forms.  It is true that we can learn to surf this suffering, but sometimes it is nice to not have constant problems so we can spend time building something good within our mind.  Just as our ordinary mother would create safe spaces for us to play, so too Tara can create safe spaces for us to develop our mind.  For example, we now have international retreat centers, international and national festivals, Dharma centers, facebook groups, etc.  All of these are spaces carved out of samsara where we can develop ourselves spiritually in relative peace, free from major obstacles or obstructions.  Internally, we may still need to battle our delusions in these spaces, but even that is easier than doing so out in the savage lands of samsara.  Understanding she can help us in this way, we pray that she protect us and our practice so that the Dharma and all good fortune can flourish.

Happy Protector Day: Helping the Pure Kadam Dharma Flourish

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 9 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.

All my harmful thoughts and actions
That have offended your mind, O Great Protector,
I confess from the depths of my heart.
Please purify them swiftly, and care for me with love, like a mother for her child.

With this verse, we can purify all the negative karma that obstructs our ability to receive the care and protection of Dorje Shugden.  Such negative karma is like interference preventing a reception of our mobile phones or junk clogging up the arteries of a person.  We can generate a regret for whatever we have done in the past which has created negative karma preventing us from receiving the care and protection of Dorje Shugden.  Then we strongly imagine from Dorje Shugden purifying light rays and nectars flow down and touch all the beings inside the protection circle, ourself included, purifying all of the negative karma obstructing us from receiving Dorje Shugden’s care and protection.  We then strongly believe that all of these being are now without obstruction.

I beseech you from the depths of my heart, O Supreme Deity,
Please cause the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa to flourish,
Extend the life and activities of the glorious Gurus,
And increase the study and practice of Dharma within the Dharma communities.

We can understand this as follows:  The key point here is we realize how the Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa is the solution to all the problems of all beings.  The reason why beings suffer is because they too are trapped in a dream-like world of suffering created by their own self-centered minds.  They need to wake up from this dream into the pure world of the Buddhas.  The Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa provides a solution for destroying this self-centered mind, thereby enabling all beings to wake up from their worlds of suffering.  This is the solution to all of their problems.

Please be with me always like the shadow of my body,
And grant me your unwavering care and protection.
Destroy all obstacles and adverse conditions,
Bestow favourable conditions, and fulfil all my wishes.

Here we request Dorje Shugden to accomplish his main function, namely to arrange perfect conditions and to eliminate obstacles to our practice.  There are two types of condition:   When we are confronted with a situation which we think could be better, we request Dorje Shugden to arrange whatever is best and imagine that a protection circle radiates out accomplishing this function.  If the external situation changes, then we know the situation was beyond our capacity and we can use that to develop bodhichitta, wishing later to have a capacity that can transform anything and everything.  If the external situation remains the same (or gets worse) then we can know that we need to work on the delusions that this situation generates for us.  We can equally do this with internal conditions.  An important thing worth noting at this point is Dorje Shugden will arrange what is best for our practice, not what is necessarily best for our worldly concerns.  We might even say Mick Jagger is actually part of Dorje Shugden’s mandala when he sung ‘you don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.’

Now is the time to show clearly your versatile strength
Through your four actions, which are swift, incisive, and unobstructed,
To fulfil quickly my special heartfelt desires
In accordance with my wishes;

Here we request Dorje Shugden to arrange whatever is best in general, in his own mysterious ways and imagine that a protection circle radiates out accomplishing this function. Ask people their Dorje Shugden stories when you are at festivals, and you will be amazed.  If our motivation is pure, he can arrange anything.

Now is the time to distinguish the truth and falsity of actions and effects;

Here we request him to make clear the relationship between cause and effect for all the beings within the protection circle.  At present, we think negativity is entertainment and exciting and we think virtue is boring.  In reality, negativity creates the cause for enormous suffering and virtue is the cause of all happiness.  Here we request that Dorje Shugden to bestow special wisdom blessings on all beings within the protection circle so they naturally, from their own side, make good choices.

Now is the time to dispel false accusations against the innocent;

Here we request Dorje Shugden to enable all beings within the protection circle to stop making mistaken and false imputations on others, but to correctly impute onto everybody ‘emanation of my spiritual guide’ and imagine that a protection circle radiates out accomplishing this function.  At present, we impute onto others ‘object of attachment’ ‘object of aversion’ or ‘irrelevant.’  These are false accusations we impute on others, and we relate to them as if they were really these things from their own side.  This creates all our problems.  The only valid imputation of anybody is ‘emanation of my spiritual guide.’  The ultimate nature of all things is the Dharmakaya, so it is correct to say that everybody is an emanation of my spiritual guide.

Now is the time to protect the pitiful and protectorless;

The reason why people are pitiful and protectorless is because we have been neglecting them.  Their experience is what we have karmically created for them in our empty dream.  So here we request that he provide protection for all the beings we have been neglecting and imagine that a protection circle radiates out accomplishing this function.

Now is the time to protect Dharma practitioners as your children.

It is particularly important to provide care and protection for Dharma practitioners because by helping them directly, indirectly it helps all living beings since they have vowed to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all.  It is like opening up a second cash register at the supermarket.  Everybody gets through the line twice as fast.

In short, from now until I attain the essence of enlightenment,
I shall honour you as the embodiment of my Guru, Deity, and Protector.
Therefore please watch over me during the three periods of the day and the night
And never waver in your actions as my Protector.

The biggest fear of a Dharma practitioner is the fear of losing the path.  If we do not lose the path, we have nothing to fear; but if we do lose the path, we have all of samsara to fear.  When we recite this verse, we are creating the causes to be able to meet Dorje Shugden and rely upon him again in all our future lives.  In this way, we maintain the continuum of our practice and go from joy to joy until we attain enlightenment.

Happy Tsog Day: Generating Admiring Faith in our Spiritual Guide

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 16 of a 44-part series.

Requesting by remembering his good qualities as explained in the Vinaya scriptures

Great ocean of moral discipline, source of all good qualities,
Replete with a collection of jewels of extensive learning,
Second Buddha, venerable saffron-robed monk,
O Elder and Holder of the Vinaya, to you I make requests.

The practice of moral discipline is the primary cause of upper rebirth. Engaging in moral discipline with a spiritual motivation enables us to take another precious human rebirth, liberation, or enlightenment. Normally, we divide our practice of moral discipline into the different levels of our vows: refuge, pratimoksha, bodhisattva, and tantric vows. The essence of our refuge vows is to make effort to receive Buddha’s blessings, receive help from Sangha, and to put the Dharma into practice. The essence of our pratimoksha vows is to not harm living beings, either ourself or others. The essence of our bodhisattva vows is to put others first, and the essence of our tantric vows is to maintain pure view out of compassion. At the beginning of the sadhana, we emphasized our practice of refuge. Here, we emphasize our pratimoksha vows by recalling our spiritual guide maintains perfect outer moral discipline. This is symbolized by his outer aspect as a fully ordained monk. During the prayer of the stages of the path later in the sadhana, we generate both aspiring and engaging bodhichitta for our bodhisattva vows, and we maintain pure view throughout the practice and especially after we dissolve the Guru at the end of the practice. In this way, the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide is a supreme practice of all types of moral discipline.

In order to understand all the different vows and how we practice them in the context of our Kadampa life, I did a series of posts on each of the 200+ vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism. You can find the explanation here. The posts are listed in reverse chronological order, but you can scroll down to the bottom and work your way up if you want to read them in order.

Requesting by remembering his good qualities as a Mahayana spiritual guide

You who possess the ten qualities
Of an authentic Teacher of the path of the Sugatas,
Lord of the Dharma, representative of all the Conquerors,
O Mahayana spiritual guide, to you I make requests.

In Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land we recite, “I rejoice in the great wave of your deeds.” What does this mean? Je Tsongkhapa’s special strategy for ripening and liberating all living beings is for himself to become a spiritual guide, then train others to become fully qualified spiritual guides, who then in turn form yet more spiritual guides, and so forth. In this way, gradually all living beings are guided to enter, progress along, and eventually complete the path to enlightenment. This is the great wave of Je Tsongkhapa’s deeds, and his actions as a Mahayana spiritual guide. This is symbolized by Buddha Shakyamuni appearing at the heart of Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang.

Requesting by remembering his good qualities as a Vajrayana spiritual guide

Your three doors are perfectly controlled, you have great wisdom and patience,
You are without pretension or deceit, you are well-versed in mantras and Tantra,
You possess the two sets of ten qualities, and you are skilled in drawing and explaining,
O Principal Holder of the Vajra, to you I make requests.

In the sutra teachings, we generate the wish to become a Buddha. But it does not explain exactly how we do so. The actual method for attaining enlightenment is only explained in buddha’s tantric teachings. When Buddha taught tantra, he appeared as Buddha Vajradhara. The tantric teachings explain how to change the basis of imputation of our “I” from the contaminated aggregates of an ordinary samsaric being to the completely purified aggregates of a deity. We can say but there are five principal aspects of the path: renunciation, bodhichitta, the correct view of emptiness, generation stage, and completion stage of Highest Yoga Tantra. These can be understood as follows. There is only one action on the path – changing the basis of imputation of our “I” from an ordinary samsaric being to an enlightened being. There are two reasons why we do this, for the sake of ourselves or renunciation, and for the sake of others or bodhicitta. Realizing the ultimate nature of phenomena or emptiness enables us to change the basis of implication of our “I”. This is the essence of the tantric teachings that Buddha Vajradhara taught. This is symbolized by Buddha Vajradhara appearing at the heart of Buddha Shakyamuni who himself is at the heart of Je Tsongkhapa.

Requesting by remembering that he is kinder than all the Buddhas

To the coarse beings of these impure times who, being so hard to tame,
Were not subdued by the countless Buddhas of old,
You correctly reveal the excellent path of the Sugatas;
O Compassionate Refuge and Protector, to you I make requests.

We can say that the spiritual guide is kinder than all the Buddhas because all the Buddhas are in fact emanations of our spiritual guide. There are two helpful ways to understand this. First, our spiritual guide is like a magic portal through which we can gain access to and communicate directly with all the Buddhas. By making offerings and requests to our spiritual guide directly, we are making offerings and requests to all the Buddhas indirectly. Second, our spiritual guide is like a diamond, and all the Buddhas are like different facets of this diamond. When we look at one facet, we might see Tara or Avalokiteshvara or Manjushri, but by nature they are all the diamond of our spiritual guide. Understanding this we can see that our spiritual guide is kinder than all the Buddhas.

Requesting by remembering that he is kinder even than Buddha Shakyamuni

Now, when the sun of Buddha has set,
For the countless migrators without protection or refuge
You perform exactly the same deeds as the Conqueror;
O Compassionate Refuge and Protector, to you I make requests.

Buddha is incredibly kind because he shows us how to wake up from the nightmare of samsara. Ultimately, samsara is like a Rubik’s Cube in which there is no solution. Yet we fundamentally believe that there must be a solution, and we spend all our time trying to arrange samsara in a way in which we do not suffer. Despite committing ourselves fully to this task since time without beginning we still continue to suffer. The reason for this is samsara is the nature of suffering, and that will never change. Buddha helps us recognize this, enabling us to let go of trying to fix the unfixable. Instead, we can focus on waking up from the contaminated dream of samsara. Only Buddha provides us this solution which is why Buddha is so kind. But our spiritual guide is kinder still. The reason is he is the Buddha who appears to us now and is helping us along the spiritual path. Buddha Shakyamuni while still living, does not appear directly to us because our minds are too impure. But he can emanate himself in the aspect of our spiritual guide who then introduce us to the path. In this way, we can say that our spiritual guide is even kinder – to us at least – than Buddha Shakyamuni. Ultimately, this is not correct because our spiritual guide himself is an emanation of Buddha Shakyamuni. But conventionally, we can say our spiritual guide is even kinder.  

Happy Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day: Returning to Help Those Less Fortunate

September 22 is Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day, one of the special holy days on the Kadampa calendar in which all of our virtuous actions are multiplied by ten million.  After Buddha Shakyamuni attained enlightenment, he went to the Land of 33 Heavens where his mother had taken rebirth, gave teachings to the beings of that realm, and then returned to this world to turn the wheel of Dharma here.  On this day, we can generate compassion for beings in the upper realms and generate the wish to return to this world as Buddha did so that the Dharma may flourish forevermore.

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.

Generating Compassion for Beings in the Upper Realms

The vast majority of beings in samsara are in the lower realms.  In this world, we talk often about the 1% and the other 99% of the wealth distribution.  Samsara’s demographics are quite similar.  The Wheel of Life image sometimes gives a distorted perception that the six realms of samsara (gods, demigods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell beings) are roughly equally distributed, but in reality, roughly 99% of the beings in samsara are in the lower realms, whereas only about 1% are in the upper realms.  We know this to be true because roughly 99% of the actions of living beings in samsara are negative, and only about 1% are virtuous – meaning a cause for upper rebirth.  We might object that our actions are at least 50% positive – we are a good person after all – but the actions of beings in the lower realms are almost universally negative, so they remain trapped. 

When we talk about the 1%, we usually do so from a position of jealousy, resentment, and condemnation.  We are jealous of their wealth and power, resent the control they have over our lives, and condemn the many selfish and negative actions they engage in that harm the rest of us.  Wars, climate change, nuclear weapons, pollution, structural inequality, etc., are all caused by the decisions of the 1%, but the rest of us have to suffer the consequences.  Our natural instinct is to dislike or even hate the 1%.  Considering all the harm they do, generating compassion for them seems misplaced at best and twisted at worst. 

One of Buddha’s first acts was to go to the Land of 33 Heavens to give teachings, not just to his mother, but to all of the beings who had taken rebirth there.  In other words, he showed the example that we should also have compassion for the 1% – both in this world and in samsara. 

The method for generating compassion is the same for all beings – first, we generate a mind of love, considering their happiness to be important; and then we consider how they suffer.  The beings of the upper realms are also our mothers and so they are equally objects of our love.  Why should we resent them for whatever happiness and pleasant conditions they enjoy?  They created the karmic causes for such experiences, did they not?  They are also “living beings” and so are worthy of our love.  If Buddha loves them, why can’t we also?

How can we understand the sufferings of beings in the upper realms?  First, it is important to recall that we ourselves are among that elite group since we are human, and the human realm is considered an upper realm.  We are part of the 1%.  Human sufferings are quite manifest – we all get sick, if we are lucky we get old, and we all will die.  All of us already took rebirth.  All of these sufferings are inescapable and traumatic.  We also frequently encounter things we do not like, are separated from things we do like, and experience pervasive uncertainty about what happens next.  We all know these teachings, but we need to personalize them.  My mother in law had a terrible stroke that nobody wanted to encounter, much less her.  I have been separated from my family due to working in another country.  The whole world experienced pervasive uncertainty due to the Coronavirus.  All humans are experiencing these sufferings, regardless of how rich or powerful they might be.

Geshe-la explains in Modern Buddhism that demigods experience more mental pain than humans do.  We can see and understand how by considering the 1% of this world.  The 1% are extremely jealous of the 0.01%, and no matter how much they have, it is never enough.  My kids have had the good fortune to attend these amazing international schools around the world, but the vast majority of the families who put their kids in these schools are miserable.  They are constantly competing against one another, obnoxiously bragging about their kids in an effort to feel better than others, and worrying about their husbands running off with somebody younger and more attractive.  They work insanely long hours, experience tremendous stress at work, face constant criticism from others when the majority of them don’t do anything wrong, and they live in constant fear of losing it all.  I know hundreds of these people from all over the world, and I quite literally can’t think of one who is genuinely happy, and certainly nowhere near as happy as Aunt Paulette who doesn’t have a penny to her name, lives alone after her husband of 40 years died in a small apartment with little heat and faulty plumbing, in a tiny village in France. When you travel the world and see people of different levels of wealth, you can’t help but notice there seems to be an inverse relationship between having and being happy. 

The gods are no better off.  Venerable Tharchin explains that Greek Mythology is not myth, but rather a fairly accurate description of god realm society.  They are in constant conflict with each other, and their actions have terrible repercussions on millions in the other realms – creating horrific karma in the process.  There is a saying when an American sneezes, somebody in the developing world gets a cold.  Americans have tremendous power in this world and everything they do has spillover effects on the rest of the world.  The instability we create with our economic policy, wars, and negligence in controlling pandemics have echo effects around the world.  We are like the Hunger Games, living blithely in the capital while much of the world struggles to get by supplying our excesses. 

From a karmic perspective, those in the upper realms are quite unfortunate.  Sure, the karma that is ripening might be nice, but they are burning it all up and later will have nothing.  We get complacent when things are good and it is only when we suffer do we feel any motivation to practice Dharma, now try to imagine being a demigod or a god.  Bonfire of the vanities.  And even those who do take rebirth in the upper realms still have on their mental continuum all of the negative karma from when they were in the lower realms, and if they die with a negative mind, it will activate this negative karma and they will fall.  We respond to even mild adversities in life with negative minds, so it goes without saying that many people in the upper realms will likewise generate negative minds when they face the greatest adversity of all – their own death.  It is said gods can see their next rebirth.  Imagine the horror of reaching your death and knowing how far you will fall.

We may have studied these sorts of teachings many times in the past, but have we let them touch our heart?  We still, deep within our desires, wish for even a similitude of what the demigods and gods have.  We chase after these dreams, wasting our precious time, only to arrive at death and realize it was all for nothing.  We feel resentment or jealousy towards those whose good karma is burning up faster than ours.  How ridiculous.  What we need is compassion – just like Buddha had when he went to the 33 Heavens in the first place.

Returning to this World to Spread the Dharma

Buddha did not just go to the upper realms, he returned to help us.  Think about that.  How many of those who are in positions of great wealth, pleasure, or power return to help those less fortunate than they are?  The vast majority just wall themselves off from the unclean masses and try to turn a blind eye to the suffering around them, often while looking down on all those who are not as lucky as they are.  But Buddha returned.  Many people escape from poverty and enter into the middle or even upper classes; many people get out of their small towns and move to the big city where they enjoy great success; many people are the first in their communities to get a good education and go on to enjoy a life beyond the wildest dreams of those they grew up with; many people leave their country and move to rich countries; but very few of these return for the sake of those who were left behind.  The entire nationalist populist movement in the world today is a backlash against those who have enjoyed the fruits of globalization by those who were left behind.  Of all people, it was Trump who bothered to look back and even see these people.  Of course, he did so just to con them, but still – at least he looked back.  The rest of us…  But Buddha, he returned.

One of the best aspects of Jesus’ example is he made a point of seeking out those society had left behind, judged, and condemned.  He renounced the hypocrisy of those with wealth and power and lifted up the spirits of the downtrodden.  Despite being the Son of God, he returned and dedicated his life and his teachings to those less fortunate, those on the receiving end of oppression.  He returned. 

And so should we.  For us as Kadampas, it is an increasing time.  We are better off now than we were before.  There are many who we grew up with who have been left behind.  Maybe not in material terms, but certainly in spiritual terms.  When we are at our Dharma centers or festivals, we happily rejoin our friends, but think little of those who might feel alone or lost in the crowd.  When we start to gain some mental peace and stability, we start to become frustrated with “deluded people,” even using the Dharma to judge them in a sub-conscious effort to feel superior.  We start cocooning ourselves into smaller and smaller circles of like-minded people and view it as a chore to have to return to our families on the holidays.  The root of all negativity is self-cherishing, which is not just a mind that puts ourselves first but also neglects to bother caring for others.  We sometimes forget that latter part and content ourselves with not directly harming others.  Our failure to help when we otherwise could do so is a subtle form of harming others.  For somebody who travels Mahayana paths, they equally fear samsara and solitary peace, the latter being content to be absorbed in our own liberation while neglecting everybody else.  Buddha returned. 

If we are honest, it is terribly easy to call ourselves Mahayanists, but actually just be interested in our own freedom and happiness.  We generate ourselves as the deity in the pure land, but do we remember our compassionate reasons why we are bothering to emanate pure forms?  We may even be able to bring our winds into our central channel, but is our motivation bodhichitta or a wish for the bliss of mental suppleness?  Buddha returned.

On Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day, we should honestly examine our own behavior and see all of the different ways we neglect others.  We may not harm anybody, but we neglect almost everyone just in different ways.  We should ask ourselves, how can we return?  Who should we be returning to?  How can we emulate Buddha’s example?  We might think we will return when we become a Buddha, but if we never develop the habit of returning as a budding Bodhisattva, how will we want to return when we attain liberation? 

Returning doesn’t have to imply any physical action even, it is a mental attitude.  Do we give back?  Do we engage in our practices genuinely for the sake of others?  Do we say prayers?  Do we do powa for others?  Do we put others first in our daily actions?  All of these are returning.  Buddha returned, and so should we.

Returning to Spread the Dharma

The most important way in which we return is by dedicating ourselves to ensuring the Dharma flourishes forevermore.  Buddha did not just return to help people in worldly samsaric ways, he returned to help people escape from samsara as well.  Most people who escape from prison will not return to the prison to help everybody else escape as well.  Buddha does not seek for us merely that we enjoy a more privileged position in samsara, but he returned to tell us there is no happiness to be found anywhere within it.  He trains us to become qualified spiritual guides so we can help others likewise escape.  While we may leave samsara behind, like a good soldier, we leave nobody behind. 

Venerable Tharchin says we should each assume our place in the lineage.  The responsibility is on us to internalize the Dharma, then “return” to pass it on to the next generation.  We may not all do that as Dharma teachers, but we can do so as center administrators or even the person who secretly cleans all the toilets without anybody knowing.  Even if we do nothing physically to help others, through the power of our inner spiritual actions, we can bless the minds of everyone and pray for their well-being.  Some people think such actions are meaningless compared to “practical” (meaning physical) help, but Geshe-la explains that our mental actions are thousands of times more beneficial to others than anything we can do with our body or speech. 

At the end of every spiritual practice we do, we recite the prayers for the virtuous tradition.  Aligning our life with the meaning of this prayer is the actual meaning of Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day.  As Geshe-la explains, Je Tsongkhapa represented Buddha’s teachings, and his Dharma is Buddha’s Dharma.  Geshe-la has done the same for the modern world.  He returned.  This is the deeper, spiritual meaning of returning. 

So that the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa, the King of the Dharma may flourish, may all obstacles be pacified and may all favorable conditions abound.  Through the two collections of myself and others, gathered throughout the three times, may the doctrine of Losang Dragpa flourish forever more. 

Happy Tsog Day: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

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

The Nine-line Migtsema Prayer

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

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

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

Specifically, we can imagine as follows:

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

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

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

Offering the Mandala

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

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

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

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

IDAM GURU RATNA MANDALAKAM NIRYATAYAMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offering the mandala

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

Requesting fulfilment of wishes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Protector Day: Fulfilling our Heart Commitment to Dorje Shugden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Tsog Day: Remembering What it is all For

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

Requesting the spiritual guide not to pass away

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

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

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

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

Dedication

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejoicing

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

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

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

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

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

Requesting the turning of the Wheel of Dharma

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

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

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