Happy Tsog Day: Making Our Spiritual Life Practical

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

Offering medicines, and ourself as a servant

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

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

Confession

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Tsog Day: How to Make Secret and Suchness Offerings

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

Secret offering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suchness offering

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

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

Happy Tsog Day: How to Make the Most Sublime 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 10 of a 44-part series.

Offering the mandala

O Treasure of Compassion, my Refuge and Protector, supremely perfect Field of Merit,
With a mind of devotion I offer to you
A thousand million of the Great Mountain, the four continents,
The seven major and minor royal possessions, and so forth,
A collection of perfect worlds and beings that give rise to all joys,
A great treasury of the desired enjoyments of gods and men.

Geshe-la explains that mandala offerings are the best method for creating the karma to take rebirth in the pure land. Why is this so? It seems that our practice of self-generation as the deity in the pure land would be the best method since that is what we are directly doing (presumably with a bodhichitta motivation). There are three reason why mandala offerings are superior: it is the highest possible offering we can make, we are making it with the greatest possible motivation of bodhichitta, and we are offering it to the supreme object of offering – our spiritual guide, the synthesis of all the Buddhas.

A mandala offering is the highest possible offering we can make. For me, the key to mandala offerings is understanding what, exactly, I am offering. I am not simply offering a completely purified universe; I am offering a promise of practice that I will not stop until I have transformed the universe into the pure land I am offering. The mandala offering is an offering of promise to fulfil our bodhichitta wish. An offering of our practice in general is the highest possible offering we can make because it is what delights the spiritual guide most. An offering of a promise to not stop until we fulfil our bodhichitta wish to transform the universe into a pure land is the highest possible offering of practice possible. Therefore, there is no offering greater than a mandala offering.

Geshe-la explains in the teachings on bodhichitta that engaging in virtuous actions motivated by bodhichitta is a merit-multiplier – we multiply the merit of our virtuous action by the number of beings for whose behalf we engage in the virtuous action. Since bodhichitta seeks to liberate countless living beings, any action engaged in with a bodhichitta motivation is karmically equivalent to engaging in that same virtuous action countless times. Making a mandala offering with a bodhichitta motivation is karmically equivalent to making a regular mandala offering countless times.

Finally, the Guru is the supreme recipient of our offering. In the same way that bodhichitta acts as a merit multiplier, Geshe-la explains that an offering to the Guru is karmically equivalent to making that same offering to each of the countless Buddhas individually. Why? Because the Guru is like a portal to all the other Buddhas – an offering directly to the spiritual guide is indirectly an offering to all the countless Buddhas.

Taken together, we can see that when we make mandala offerings to our Guru with a bodhichitta motivation, we quite literally “max out” the virtuous potential of the action. The offering itself is the highest possible offering of our practice (the promise to fulfil our bodhichitta wish), multiplied by countless living beings due to our bodhichitta motivation, all offered to each of the countless Buddhas through our spiritual guide. Each mandala offering we make with these three recognitions creates countless karmic potentialities to attain the pure land. It only takes one of these to ripen at the time of our death for us to take rebirth there. From this, we can conclude that making mandala offerings is indeed the best method for attaining rebirth in the pure land, for how could it even be possible to offer anything greater than this? It is for this reason that Je Tsongkhapa emphasized mandala offerings and Geshe-la encourages us to engage in mandala offering retreats every year and to complete 100,000 mandala offerings as part of our great preliminary guides for Mahamudra practice.

Offering our spiritual practice

O Venerable Guru, I offer these pleasure gardens,
Both arranged and emanated by mind, on the shores of a wish-granting sea,
In which, from the pure white virtues of samsara and nirvana,
There arise offering substances of broad, thousand- petalled lotuses that delight the minds of all;

Where my own and others’ mundane and supramundane virtues of the three doors
Are flowers that bring colour to every part
And emit a multitude of scents like Samantabhadra’s offerings;
And where the three trainings, the five paths, and the two stages are the fruit.

Geshe-la explains that offerings of our spiritual practice are the highest possible offering. Why? The definition of an offering is that which delights the Guru. Nothing delights our spiritual guide more than our practice of his instructions. He does not want us to practice to flatter his ego that we spend time doing what he says, but because his only wish for us is that we escape permanently from samsara and that we seek to help others do the same. He knows that the only way we can do that is by training in the stages of the path of Sutra and Tantra. When we do so, he is delighted because he knows we are moving closer to the fulfilment of his ultimate wish for us.

Any offering of our practice delights our Guru, from simply smiling to a stranger out of kindness to engaging in advanced completion stage meditations. We can offer our spiritual practice throughout the day and the night as we engage in our different practices. Simply engaging in our practices itself if not the offering of our spiritual practice, we also have to have the recognition that our practice itself is an offering to our spiritual guide.

With the explanation above about how mandala offerings are an offering of a promise of our spiritual practice to fulfil our bodhichitta wish to build our pure land for the sake of others, we can appreciate the description of the offering of our spiritual practice in the sadhana. In effect, we are simply describing in more detail the experience of living in the pure land we have created for others with the mandala offering.

Inner offering

I offer this ocean of nectar with the five hooks, the five lamps, and so forth,
Purified, transformed, and increased,
Together with a drink of excellent tea
Endowed with a hundred flavours, the radiance of saffron, and a delicate aroma.

There are four types of offering – outer, inner, secret, and thatness offering. Each of these types of offering correspond with the four different Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments we receive – vase, secret, wisdom-mudra, and precious word empowerment. The outer offerings create special karmic seeds on our mind which are then activated during the vase empowerment. This merit then powers our meditation on the profound generation stage of the body mandala and leads to us eventually attaining the resultant Emanation Body of a Buddha. Inner offerings create the special karmic seeds that are activated during the secret empowerment, which powers our meditation on the completion stage of illusory body and leads to us eventually attaining the resultant Enjoyment Body. The karma of secret offerings is activated during the wisdom-mudra empowerment and power our meditation on the completion stage of the clear light of Mahamudra and enable us to attain the resultant Truth Body. And thatness (or suchness) offerings are ripened by the word empowerment, empowering us to mediate on the completion stage of inconceivability and attain the resultant union of Vajradhara. When we clearly understand the relationship between the different types of offering, the different empowerments, the different tantric stages, and their corresponding bodies of a Buddha, the practice of each of these becomes much more powerful.

What are inner offerings? This refers to the transformation of the five meats and the five nectars into completely purified nectar, which we then offer. The five meats and the five nectars refer to disgusting substances and liquids in our body. When we bless the inner offering, we recognize the emptiness of these substances and liquids, then generate them as completely pure nectars that we offer. Samsara is identifying with the contaminated aggregates of our ordinary body and mind. Because our aggregates are contaminated, when we identify with them, we are a contaminated, samsaric being. But if we completely purify them, then there is no longer a contaminated basis to identify with, de facto removing us from samsara. The inner offerings primarily refer to our body, and the end result of the secret empowerment is the attainment of the illusory body of completion stage and the resultant Enjoyment Body of a Buddha. These are our vajra bodies, our deathless spiritual bodies.

If we wish to make a tsog offering to emphasize the accumulation of great merit, such as in a long life puja, we should do so at this point.

According to the sadhana, we can engage in the tsog offering at different points of the practice to emphasize different attainments. For auspiciousness, I will explain the tsog offering in the context of emphasizing gaining the realizations of the stages of the path. But there are times when we feel we are particularly lacking in merit, and doing our tsog offering here enables us to emphasize its accumulation. How do we know if we are lacking merit? A typical sign is no matter how hard we try to accomplish our pure wishes, we never manage to do so and we always come up short. It should be noted there is nothing stopping us from doing the tsog offering multiple times in a single session at different points of the sadhana if we want to emphasize more than one aspect of the practice.

Happy Tsog Day: Offering the five objects of desire

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 9 of a 44-part series.

Delightful bearers of forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and objects of touch –
Goddesses of outer and inner enjoyments filling all directions.

This refers to the practice of offering the five objects of desire according to Highest Yoga Tantra. There are two ways of engaging in this practice referred to here – viewing the five objects of desire as offering goddesses and offering countless knowledge women skilled in the sixty-four arts of love. These will be explained in turn, but first we need to say a few words about why we generate bliss in our tantric practices and what that exactly means.

Bliss as we normally understand it usually refers to the pleasure we enjoy from particularly good objects of attachment. But this is just changing suffering and ultimately not real bliss since it is contaminated by attachment. Bliss in a spiritual context refers to inner peace that is so pleasant, it is blissful. As explained above, the cause of happiness is inner peace. When our mind is peaceful, we are happy. Enlightenment is sometimes referred to as “supreme inner peace.” It is also called the bliss of enlightenment. This shows that “bliss” and “supreme inner peace” are synonymous. There are two different ways of generating inner peace in the Dharma – concentration on virtue and the absorption of our inner winds into our central channel. Concentration on virtue is referred to as the “bliss of suppleness,” and normally is explained in the context of the teachings on tranquil abiding. With tranquil abiding, our mind is completely free form all forms of gross and subtle mental sinking and excitement for as long as we want. This enables our mind to absorb single-pointedly on our objects of Dharma, giving rise to the bliss of suppleness of tranquil abiding. Sometimes we think of tranquil abiding as the highest form of concentration we can attain, but Geshe-la explains in Ocean of Nectar that tranquil abiding is only attaining the concentration of the lowest form realm god. Our body remains that of a human, but our mind ascends to that of a the lowest of the god realms. There are many, many layers of the god realms – form and formless realm gods – each one corresponding to an ever deeper level of concentrative bliss all the way up to the concentration of the absorption of the peak of samsara, the highest mind of a samsaric being. But these concentrations are not the inner peace of great bliss of tantric practice. These forms of bliss are all our gross mind, not our subtle or very subtle mind. The bliss of tantric practice is far superior to even the greatest bliss arising from concentration.

The bliss of tantric practice arises from our inner energy winds absorbing into our central channel. Our mind possess three levels – gross, subtle, and very subtle. When our winds begin to absorb into our central channel, we proceed into these deeper levels of our mind. The first four winds that dissolve – which correspond with the dissolution of the earth, water, fire, and wind elements – are all gross winds. The next three winds that dissolve – the wind supporting the mind of white appearance, the wind supporting the mind of red increase, and the wind supporting the mind of black near attainment – are all subtle winds. And when the wind supporting the mind of black near attainment dissolves, our very subtle level of mind of clear light becomes manifest. The wind supporting this is our very subtle wind, also known as our root wind, our continuously abiding wind, or our very subtle wind. With each dissolution, our mind becomes increasingly subtle and blissful. When we reach the clear light directly, our mind attains meaning clear light, which is the same nature as the great bliss of full enlightenment. In the beginning, we may only have this bliss for a few moments, but through further training we gain the ability to maintain this bliss for longer and longer periods of time until eventually we experience it forever. At that point, we have attained enlightenment. I believe the bliss we experience when our gross wind element wind dissolves, the bliss we experience is the same as that experienced by a god who has attained the peak of samsara, but I am not 100% sure of this. I remember reading something along these lines, but cannot find it. Perhaps somebody reading this knows for sure and can clarify in the comments. Regardless, it is something in this direction.

Why do we want to attain this great bliss? Because the supreme inner peace of great bliss is able to mediate easily on emptiness. Emptiness is a very subtle object, so to realize it fully we need a very subtle mind. Bliss, quite simply, is what a realization of emptiness feels like. The mind of great bliss is utterly free from distraction because our mind has no desire to go anywhere else. Normally our mind becomes distracted because we think we can find more happiness thinking about some other object that we do our object of Dharma. But when we are experiencing the great bliss of tantric practice, any other mind is necessarily less pleasant. It can be likened to dropping the marble of our mind into a bowl. At some point, the marble settles exactly at the very bottom of the bowl and will not move from there.

When we offer the five objects of desire in these two ways (as objects of the senses and as knowledge women), we imagine that both our Guru who we are offering these things to and ourself experience the great bliss of tantric practice. The principal function of these offerings is to create the merit to be able to experience great bliss directly. To offer the five objects of desire according to the first method, we imagine that all the objects of our senses – sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and objects of touch – all transform into different types of offering goddesses. I find it easiest to imagine that every object is made of offering goddess atoms arranged in the shape of the objects of our senses. For example, the computer screen I am looking at is comprised of offering goddess atoms in the shape of my computer screen. This enables me to engage with the world as it normally appears to me exactly as normal, while mentally seeing it all as part of the pure land. As we or others encounter these purified objects of the senses, we imagine that they experience great bliss from their every sensory experience.

To offer the five objects of desire according to the second method of the countless knowledge women will be explained below in the secret offering.

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.

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 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 Tsog Day: How to Train in Engaging Bodhichitta

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 4 of a 44-part series.

For the sake of all mother sentient beings I shall attain as quickly as possible in this very life the state of the Guru-Deity, the primordial Buddha.

I shall free all mother sentient beings from their suffering and lead them to the great bliss of the Buddha grounds. Therefore I shall practise the profound path of the yoga of the Guru-Deity.

At this point we can perform brief self-generation as our personal Deity.

With the first line, we recall our aspiring bodhichitta generated above and we channel it towards the determination to do whatever it takes to attain enlightenment. When we recite “in this very life,” we can sometimes develop a doubt that it is not possible for us to attain enlightenment in this life, and so these words lack power. The explanation above explains how we can attain enlightenment and gives us a sense of how it can be done relatively quickly, but then we look at our present mind and think we are still a long way away and it seems unlikely we will attain the goal in this life. This doubt can sometimes deflate our engaging bodhichitta because we do not really think it is possible.

How can we overcome this doubt? First, we should never underestimate the power of the practices we have been given. Thousands of Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples attained enlightenment in one short life, and the instructions we have are exactly the same as he taught. If they can do it, why cannot we? In fact, Geshe-la has said on numerous occasions that we have it easier than Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples due to the relative total ease of daily life compared to practitioners of the past and the fact that Heruka and Vajrayogini’s blessings grow stronger the more times become spiritually degenerate. Geshe-la once told Venerable Tharchin that “if you would only just completely believe me for even one moment, you would attain enlightenment.” Our biggest problem is doubt. To paraphrase Lord Acton, “faith enlightens, and absolute faith enlightens absolutely.” Second, concern over whether we can attain enlightenment in this life or not only holds us back if we have attachment to results. Our attachment to results in this life makes us think, “well, if I cannot attain the goal in this life, I will not bother really trying.” That makes absolutely no sense. The bottom line is if we believe we can attain enlightenment in this life, we will wholeheartedly go for it. If we do, we may attain enlightenment in this life or we may not do so. But by wholeheartedly going for it, we will definitely attain enlightenment quicker than not going for it. So there is no valid reason to hold ourselves back at all. Doing so just slows down our eventual attainment of enlightenment. The longer we take to attain enlightenment, the longer we will remain trapped in a cycle of suffering and the longer those we would otherwise help if we had attained enlightenment will be made to suffer. Indeed, it is precisely because we are not certain we can attain enlightenment in this lifetime when we have found the Dharma that we need to apply ourselves wholeheartedly. We need to make as much progress as we can while we still have the opportunity.

We may think delaying our enlightenment will enable us to enjoy samsara longer, but that just belies our “I”gnorance thinking anything in samsara is a cause of happiness. There is a story of a Tibetan who really liked his butter tea, and as he was approaching death, he suddenly had a doubt about whether he wanted to attain the pure land because they might not have butter tea. His spiritual guide assured him the butter tea is even better in the pure land, and with his doubt reassured, he then restored his wish to get to the pure land. While such a story seems absurd that anybody would have such doubts, the truth is we each have our own butter tea – a thing that keeps us wanting to remain in samsara. But we can be certain, whatever it is we desire, it is better in the pure land, so there should be nothing holding us back.

With a strong desire to attain enlightenment, we then strongly believe we are going to die now and we train as if we were on our death bed. We generate a strong compassionate wish to attain the pure land, generate faith that we are in the presence of our holy spiritual guide, and then we dissolve everything into the clear light emptiness just like we will at the time of our death. We imagine all phenomena dissolve into their ultimate nature and we emerge into the clear light. On this basis, we recognize the clear light as inseparable from both our Buddha nature and our spiritual guide’s enlightened mind. On this basis, we then impute our ‘I,’ thinking we are Truth Body Heruka. We then hold this divine pride with a pure motivation, strong faith, and single-pointed concentration for awhile. We then think, “only other Buddhas can see me in this form. If I am to help others, I must appear in form that they can see and relate to. Therefore, I must generate myself as both Enjoyment Body and Emanation Body Heruka.

Self-generation as the Deity

From the state of great bliss I arise as the Guru-Deity.
Purifying the environment and its inhabitants
Light rays radiate from my body,
Blessing all worlds and beings in the ten directions.
Everything becomes an exquisite array
Of immaculately pure good qualities.

While Truth Body Heruka, we first briefly imagine that our indestructible wind arises in the aspect of a nada. We then generate divine pride thinking we are Enjoyment Body Heruka. We then think only other tantric bodhisattvas can perceive us in this form, and we need to assume an Emanation Body so that we can relate to ordinary living beings. We then imagine we see below us the four continents, Mount Meru, the sun, and the moon lotus form. We see the sun and moon as the union of the red and white bodhichittas of Heruka and Vajrayogini, imagining it is like a fertilized ovum of our future enlightenment. Strongly wishing to become Heruka, we imagine the nada descends into the sun and moon, where it assumes the form of a HUM, which then radiates lights in all directions purifying the universe according to the words of the sadhana, and then we arise as Emanation Body Heruka, with one face and two hands, embracing Vajravarahi. We then develop the divine pride of being Emanation Body Heruka. For more details on how to engage in generation practice, we can read the section on the three bringings in Essence of Vajrayana.

Blessing the offerings

OM AH HUM  (3x)

By nature exalted wisdom, having the aspect of the inner offering and the individual offering substances, and functioning as objects of enjoyment of the six senses to generate a special exalted wisdom of bliss and emptiness, inconceivable clouds of outer, inner, and secret offerings, commitment substances, and attractive offerings cover all the ground and fill the whole of space.

Following the words of the sadhana, we image all the different types of offerings appear in front us, exquisitely arranged and ready to be offered to the field of merit. We should strongly believe these offerings are present in front of us within our mind. There are six different types of consciousness and six different types of objects. The first five consciousnesses are the sense consciousnesses, and their objects are the objects of the senses. The sixth consciousness is our mental consciousness, and its objects are imagined objects – or objects that appear to our mental consciousness. These are also called “phenomena sources.” I was once in a modern art museum in Germany, and in one of the exhibits what appeared to the eye consciousnesses was a pristine beach in a tropical island with beautiful clear blue skies; but what appeared to the ear consciousness was the sounds of a terrible typhoon storm raging all around. The point of the exhibit was to show the duality of tropical islands, but the spiritual point is quite profound. Different worlds can appear to different consciousnesses. When we engage in our spiritual practices, we try to practice non-ascertaining perceivers with respect to our sense consciousnesses and focus all our attention on our pure imagination in our mental consciousness. The world that appears to our sense consciousness may be samsara, but the world that appears to our mental consciousness is the pure land.

Venerable Tharchin explains the location of mind is at the object of cognition. For example, if we think of the moon, our mind goes to the moon. He also explained wherever our mind goes, our “I” naturally follows since we instinctively identify with our mind. Thus, we can say part of ourself is at the moon. Applying this logic to our practice of generation stage, if we direct our mind to the pure land, our mind will naturally go there. Wherever our mind goes, our “I” naturally follows. Thus, we can also say part of ourself is in the pure land. If we are able to direct 100% of our mind without distraction to the pure land, 100% of our mind will follow; and since we naturally impute our “I” onto our mind, we will literally feel ourselves and be in the pure land. If we can do this 100% of the time, we will have attained outer Dakini Land. With this understanding, we should strongly believe that we are in the pure land and the pure offerings are in front of us.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Generate Aspiring Bodhichitta

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 3 of a 44-part series.

For the sake of all mother sentient beings,
I shall become the Guru-Deity,
And then lead every sentient being
To the Guru-Deity’s supreme state.  (3x)

Aspiring bodhichitta is the wish to become a Buddha for the sake of all living beings. It differs from engaging bodhichitta, which embarks upon the path. Aspiring bodhichitta is like wishing to go to some destination, and engaging bodhichitta is making the trip. Bodhichitta is generated by first generating compassion for all living beings who are also trapped in a circle of fire, wishing to protect them from such suffering, and then considering how we currently lack the ability to do so. We then consider if we become a Buddha, then we will be able to help each and every living being every day until eventually every last one of them is led to the final goal of full enlightenment.

It is important at this stage to remove any doubts we have about our ability to become a Buddha ourselves. Venerable Tharchin explains if we understand how the path will take us to the final goal of enlightenment, then effort becomes effortless. But if we do not think attaining enlightenment is possible, then our bodhichitta will be intellectual and lack any power to move our mind. We see this in our daily life all the time. We think, “yeah, that would be great, but there is no way I will ever be able to do that.” We discourage ourself into paralysis, and think it would be better if we adopted a more reasonable, achievable goal. But when we think it is possible to accomplish our goals and we know exactly what we need to do to attain them, then we become filled with burning energy to take the necessary steps to accomplish our goal.

How can we generate a strong conviction that we can attain enlightenment? The key for me is recognizing that we all have a Buddha nature. This means our actual nature is enlightenment, but it is covered or obstructed by our delusions and their karmic imprints. If we can purify completely our mind of these two obstructions, then our enlightened state will naturally arise. Our problem is we identify with our contaminated karma (and its effects) and not our pure potential. We are, quite simply, confused about who we are. When we identify clearly who and what we are, then we start to see our contaminated karma and its effects as crusty mud on the clear light diamond that is our true self. On the basis of this understanding, we then quite naturally generate the wish to clean ourselves. How? According to Sutra, this can take aeons, and for most of us that seems to be too long, and so we give up trying. But Tantra provides a special technology for almost instantly cleaning our Buddha nature of its two obstructions. The key is understanding that all our contaminated karma is stored on our very subtle mind. If we realize the emptiness of our very subtle mind directly, then we can directly and simultaneously purify all our contaminated karma we have accumulated since beginningless time. For me, it helps to imagine that my very subtle mind is like a sphere and all my contaminated karma is stored on the surface of that sphere. If I can get into the center of the sphere (realize the emptiness of my very subtle mind), the fire of this wisdom will burn away the roots of all my contaminated karma stored on the sphere directly and simultaneously. It is said that if we can attain a direct realization of the emptiness of our very subtle mind, also known as meaning clear light, we can attain enlightenment in a matter of just a few months!

Thus, to access this special spiritual technological method, we first need to make manifest our very subtle mind and then meditate on its emptiness. How do we make our very subtle mind of great bliss manifest? First, we need to generate a pure bodhichitta motivation. Then, through the power of completion stage meditations, we cause our inner energy winds to enter, abide, and dissolve into our central channel at our heart. When we do, we will naturally experience the eight signs of dissolution, the last of which is the clear light of our very subtle mind. Once we have made manifest this clear light mind, we then meditate on its emptiness using the exact same emptiness meditations we use in Sutra – namely, we identify our mind as it normally appears, differentiate its constituent parts, and then recognize that our very subtle mind is neither one of the individual parts, the collection of the parts, or separate from the parts. Seeing this, we then “see” the emptiness of our very subtle mind. We continue to meditate on this emptiness until eventually it becomes a direct vision. When we have this, we have attained meaning clear light, and enlightenment is very close.

The challenge, then, is simply causing our inner energy winds to gather and dissolve into our central channel motivated by bodhichitta. This is not hard, actually. Wherever we direct our mind, our winds naturally gather. Through training in the various completion stage meditations, we direct our mind inside our central channel at various points. With enough familiarity, our mind gets inside our central channel and our winds naturally gather. Through single-pointed concentration over an extended period of time, our winds begin to enter, abide, and dissolve into our central channel, we will perceive the eight signs, and our very subtle mind of the Clear Light of Bliss will become manifest. Geshe-la explains it is not hard to engage in completion stage meditations – visualizing our channels, drops, and winds and imagining our mind enters into them is certainly much easier than the elaborate generation stage meditations we engage in. Many ordinary people have familiarity with penetrating the central channel, such as those who do hatha yoga and kundalini practices. But their meditations do not lead to enlightenment because their motivation for engaging in them is often worldly. It is only when we engage in completion stage meditations with a motivation of bodhichitta and faith that our indestructible wind at our heart is one with our Guru that we can generate enough power to generate the clear light mind. Thus, we can see the union of Sutra and Tantra. The precious minds of faith and bodhichitta are the quintessential butter that come from mixing the instructions of Sutra; and entering, abiding, and dissolving our winds into our central channel is the quintessential essence of Highest Yoga Tantra practice. The two together quickly lead us to enlightenment.

With this explanation, we can understand precisely what we need to do to attain enlightenment and see that it is something entirely doable. Maybe we doubt that we can complete our training in this life, but there is no doubt it will not take that long compared to beginningless time. We are, if truth be told, just a whisker away from enlightenment. We have never been closer to attaining enlightenment than we are right now. If we commit ourselves to this path, there is no doubt we will progress swiftly to the final goal, if not in this life, within a few short lives. If we engage in this practice sincerely, we will definitely be able to take rebirth in the pure land at the end of this life, where we will be able to complete our training without ever having to fear taking an uncontrolled samsaric rebirth again. Our good fortune is beyond imagination – almost incomprehensible. Understanding all this, we will know attaining enlightenment is possible, and feel a powerful motivation in our heart to engage in the necessary trainings to reach our spiritual goal. This is the mind of aspiring bodhichitta.