Happy Tsog Day: Receiving the blessings of the four empowerments

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 20 of a 44-part series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Tsog Day: The Synthesis of All Dharmas

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 19 of a 44-part series.

Single-pointed request

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 18 of a 44-part series.

Requesting by expressing his secret qualities

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

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

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

Requesting by expressing his suchness qualities

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

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

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

Happy 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 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 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 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.

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.