Happy Tsog Day: How to practise the perfection of effort

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 38 of a 44-part series.

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of effort
By striving for supreme enlightenment with unwavering compassion;
Even if I must remain in the fires of the deepest hell
For many aeons for the sake of each being.

Effort is taking delight in engaging in virtue, like a child at play. The perfection of effort is engaging in effort with a bodhicitta motivation. The method for generating effort is simple. First, we generate faith in our spiritual practices understanding their benefits. This gives rise to an aspiration wishing to engage in the practice and attain these benefits, and that aspiration naturally leads to joyful effort. For effort to be qualified it needs to be joyful. We need to be happy to engage in the virtue, not do so begrudgingly out of some sense of obligation.

Some people relate to their Dharma practice as hard work and they struggle to be able to do it. They have to force themselves to sit down to practice, attend classes, and so forth. Once again it is useful to recall that we are desire realm beings, which means that we have no choice but to do whatever it is that we desire. If we do not want to practice Dharma, and we force ourselves to do so against our will, then it may work for a short period of time, but in the long run our desire to not practice will win out and eventually we will come to resent our Dharma practice and even perhaps abandon it altogether. Just as the practice of moral discipline requires us to dismantle our negative tendencies and to actively construct virtuous tendencies, so too with the practice of effort we need to actively deconstruct and dismantle our laziness of attachment which prevents us from joyfully engaging in Dharma practice and then create within our mind a wish to practice through generating faith in the benefits of our practices.

The laziness of attachment is a mind that thinks happiness can be found by doing non-Dharma things. Because we want to be happy and we think doing these non-Dharma things is how we become happy, we wish to do so. For some, Dharma practice can seem like the ultimate buzzkill destroying all our fun. Once again, we have everything backwards. Shantideva says that we run towards the causes of suffering as if they are a pleasure garden, and we run away from the causes of happiness as if they were monsters to be feared. We need to recognize that our attachment to the pleasures of samsara are like giant hooks that bind our flesh to inevitable sickness, aging, misery, and death.

I once had a vision while meditating about being on a disk floating in space. There were all sorts of beautiful beings enticing me to move towards them, I did so and, not realizing, fell over the edge. As I did, the enticing beings then removed their disguise revealing they were in fact demons who then said “gotcha” as I fell into the lower realms. This is exactly how samsara works. We spend our whole lives chasing after attractive forms, wasting our precious opportunity to attain permanent freedom from all suffering, and then at the moment of our death when it is too late, it is as if everything we had ever worked towards were these enticing creatures who then say gotcha as we fall to the lower realms.

When we chase after our objects of attachment they never give us the happiness that we hoped for. And even after enjoying them, we feel we never feel satisfied and can often feel guilty about what we have done. In the process of chasing our objects of attachment, we accumulate all sorts of non-virtuous actions, engage in deceit, and break our vows. In the Lord of all Lineages prayer it says, “like mistakenly thinking a poisonous drink to be nectar, attachment with grasping at objects of desire is the cause of great danger.” We are like a prisoner who has found a way out of the prison, but chooses not to leave because it is macaroni and cheese day in the cafeteria!

There was once a Tibetan who had practiced sincerely throughout his life and reached the moment of his death knowing he was bound for the pure land and he suddenly had a doubt about whether he wanted to go. He developed a strong attachment to Tibetan butter tea and was worried he might not ever have it again. His spiritual guide reassured him, “do not worry the tea is even better in the pure land.” He was then able to let go of his attachment and he was then able to go to the pure land. The same logic can be used for all our objects of attachment. No matter how good we think they are, they are even better in the pure land. If we truly want pure enjoyments, the best thing we can do is to abandon our laziness of attachment.

Normally we consider someone to be mature if they consider the welfare of their future to be more important than their present. For example, we consider someone who studies hard in school or who saves their money for the future to be mature because they are preparing for a better future. By working hard now, we can enjoy an even better future later. But if we fail to work for the future and only live for our present happiness, life will get harder and harder overtime. In exactly the same way, if we use this life only for the sake of happiness in this life, we will waste this precious opportunity we have to prepare for our future lives. Understanding all this, we can dismantle our laziness of attachment, and instead choose instead to realize that true happiness lies on the other side of engaging in Dharma practice. Because we want to be happy both now and in the future, we then happily engage in practice. Joyful effort does not mean sacrificing our present happiness for the sake of future happiness, rather we are delighted to engage in virtue now because it makes our mind peaceful, and we are even more delighted knowing that we are building a better future for ourselves.

I have always found this verse to be particularly inspiring. We need to generate a mind that is willing to take rebirth in the fires of the deepest hell for the sake of each being. Effort is not simply about willing to do the work it takes for ourselves to attain enlightenment, our real motivation is to work endlessly for the benefit of all living beings, even if that means we must go into the fires of the deepest hell for many eons for the sake of each being. Venerable Tharchin said that he wishes to attain rebirth in the lower realms because that is where all the living beings are and he wants to help them. Such is the courageous mind of the perfection of effort.

In truth, if we truly wish to lead an effortless life, then attaining enlightenment is the best course of action. Once we attain enlightenment, all our actions become effortless. In Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, both the mandala offering and the migtsema prayer emphasize being able to effortlessly benefit all living beings. This comes primarily through applying effort now to be able to benefit them effortlessly later. One way of understanding this is to think about how spaceships travel in space. Because there is no friction in space, if they first apply effort firing their rockets, they set the spaceship in motion. Once set in motion, it continues without obstruction forever. In the same way when we remove the two obstructions from our mind, we remove all sources of friction in our mind, and all the virtuous actions we created while a bodhisattva are like the rocket fuel getting us started and then making all our actions as a Buddha effortless.

Happy Tsog Day: How to practise the perfection of patience

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 37 of a 44-part series.

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of patience
So that even if every single being in the three realms,
Out of anger were to abuse me, criticize me, threaten me, or even take my life,
Undisturbed, I would repay their harm by helping them.

Geshe-la explains in How to Solve our Human Problems, “Patience is a mind that is able to accept, fully and happily, whatever occurs. It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things. Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are. It is always possible to be patient; there is no situation so bad that it cannot be accepted patiently, with an open, accommodating and peaceful heart.” This definition is worth memorizing. The perfection of patience is engaging in the practice of patience with a bodhichitta motivation.

There is no virtue greater than patience and there is no evil greater than anger. Thus, if we were to take only one thing as our main practice, it should be abandoning anger and practicing patience. Because we live in degenerate times, the causes of suffering and adversity are growing. As a result, our opportunities to practice patience are increasing as well. Patience is the cause of great beauty. We may wonder why we want beauty? Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path of Good Fortune that beauty creates the causes for others to be pleasantly disposed towards us, to naturally generate faith in us, and to wish to be around us. All these help us to become a more qualified spiritual guide capable of leading many living beings along the path. Patience is also one of the most profound causes of inner peace. If we are able to accept whatever happens, then our mind remains peaceful all the time. A peaceful mind is a happy mind.

Anger is like a communicable disease that remains in this world and spreads like wildfire. When one person gets angry, they hurt others, those people in turn get angry, they then hurt others and so forth. Further, when we express anger and frustration, such as on social media, we are likewise inciting others to also get angry and generate such negative minds. Some families have deep currents of anger. There may be for example one extremely angry person in a family who then infects everyone else in the family with anger, and that becomes the only way they know how to deal with problems that arise in life. It could take many decades of difficult inner work to undo the destructive effects of growing up in an angry home. But if we apply effort to eliminate anger, we can put an end to the lineage of anger in our family. And create a new lineage of patience within our family that continues for generation after generation.

Our ability to accept difficult circumstances depends primarily upon our ability to transform them into the path to enlightenment. If we know how to transform adverse circumstances into the path, then when they arise, they will not be a problem for us, rather they will be an opportunity. This only works, however, if our primary motivation is to make progress along the spiritual path. If our worldly desire to never encounter adversity is stronger than our spiritual desire to make progress along the path, even if we know how to transform adverse conditions into the path, it will not matter and things will still be a problem for us. But if our motivation is primarily spiritual, and we possess experience on how to transform adverse conditions into the path, then nothing will be a problem for us and there will be no basis for anger.

For me, I resolve about 90 to 95% of my otherwise anger-provoking problems through my reliance upon Dorje Shugden. With a motivation to make progress along the path, I request Dorje Shugden with faith to arrange the perfect conditions for my swiftest possible enlightenment. I then am able to accept whatever subsequently arises as the perfect conditions he has arranged for me. This faith will open my mind to receive his blessings to be able to understand how and why whatever has happened is perfect for my spiritual training. I will know what I need to do and be motivated to do it. In this way, nothing is a problem for me, and there is no basis for generating anger.

Happy Tsog Day: How to practise the perfection of moral discipline

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 36 of a 44-part series.

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of moral discipline
By not transgressing even at the cost of my life
The discipline of the Pratimoksha, Bodhisattva, and Secret Mantra vows,
And by gathering virtuous Dharmas, and accomplishing the welfare of sentient beings.

Moral discipline is the primary cause of higher rebirth. The perfection of moral discipline is engaging in moral discipline with a bodhichitta motivation. Every time we engage in an action of moral discipline motivated by a spiritual determination, we create the cause for some form of higher rebirth. If we do so with an initial scope motivation, we create the cause to be reborn in the upper realms. If we do so with the motivation of renunciation, we create the cause to attain liberation from samsara. If we do so with a bodhicitta motivation, we create the cause to attain full enlightenment.

There are many different types of moral discipline. The one we practice most frequently and find the most difficult is the moral discipline of restraint. For the most part, the habits of our mind tend to move in a negative direction. When we observe this, we can consider the karmic implications of acting upon our negative tendencies. Realizing that we do not want to go down that road, we make the decision to not listen to and not follow our negative tendency. And instead, we choose to listen to and follow our Dharma wisdom encouraging us to go in the other direction.

It is very important that we make a distinction between the practice of the moral discipline of restraint and repression. Because we are desire realm beings, we have no choice but to do whatever it is that we desire. Repression is when we want to engage in the negativity, but then think we shouldn’t and therefore we use “will power” to stop ourselves. This can work for a little bit, but our desire remains to engage in the negativity, and eventually this desire will grow and grow until eventually we give in. The practice of the moral discipline of restraint, in contrast, actively dismantles our negative desires by recognizing that in fact we do not want to go down that road and we do not want to follow the bad advice our negative tendencies are giving us because we understand the karmic consequences of doing so. We consider the karmic benefits of practicing moral discipline, and therefore want to do that instead. In short, we change our desires. When we do this, we are not repressing, but we are in fact practicing the moral discipline of restraint.

Sometimes people feel very guilty when they observe how often their mind looks to move in a negative direction, for example wishing to steal, wishing to lie, wishing to harm, and so forth. They can then develop guilt and self-hatred and become very discouraged thinking that they are accumulating all sorts of negative karma and they cannot stop themselves. This is wrong. Just as we need an annoying person to practice patience and we need those in need to practice giving, so too we need negative tendencies in order to practice the moral discipline of restraint. The fact that a negative tendency arises is not the creation of new negative karma, rather it is the exhausting of existing negative tendencies similar to the cause that remain on our mind. It only becomes a new action of negativity if we assent to the validity of the negative tendency and choose to follow it. If instead, at that time, we dismantle our negative desires, cultivate virtuous desires, and then act upon those, we are practicing the moral discipline of restraint. If over the course of an hour we have one hundred negative tendencies wishing to engage in some compulsive negative behavior, but each time we managed to dismantle that desire and choose to not follow it, we just created the causes for attaining one hundred precious human lives. Far from creating a host of negative karma, we just won the spiritual lottery.

The most important moral discipline we have is maintaining our vows and commitments. Breaking our vows causes us to lose the spiritual path. Maintaining our vows creates the causes to remain on and re-find the spiritual path in all our future lives. The reason why we need to take vows is because the tendencies of our mind move in the wrong direction. If we could maintain all our vows perfectly, we would not need them. It is because the natural tendencies of our mind are to move in opposite directions that we are given the vows to provide us with an opportunity to redirect the trajectory of our mental continuum. Keeping our refuge vows creates the causes for us to re-find the Buddhist path in all our future lives without interruption until we attain enlightenment. Keeping our pratimoksha vows creates the causes for us to find a path to liberation in all our future lives without interruption. Maintaining our bodhisattva vows creates the cause to re-find the Mahayana path, and maintaining our tantric vows creates the cause to re-find the Vajrayana quick path to enlightenment. If we are able to maintain the continuum of our Dharma practice between now and our eventual enlightenment, then our eventual enlightenment is guaranteed, and we will not suffer too much along the way. Thus, simply making the decision to apply efforts to maintain our vows and commitments is the same as essentially guaranteeing our enlightenment. Seen in this way, we can understand there is nothing more important in our life than our vows and commitments.

Sometimes people relate to their vows as a restriction of their freedom. They want to do things, but all their vows and commitments prevent them from doing so. This way of thinking is exactly backwards. The truth is as long as our mind is under the influence of delusions, we know no freedom. We are forced to do whatever it is our delusions require of us. The only way to truly become free is not to indulge in whatever our delusions want, but rather to overcome all our delusions. A mind that is free from all delusions is truly free – in fact, it is liberated.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Give Everything to Others

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 35 of a 44-part series.

Blessing the offerings to the spirits

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

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

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

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

Actual offering to the spirits

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

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

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

Send out the offering to the spirits.

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

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

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

How to practise the perfection of giving

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

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

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

Happy Tsog Day: Generating a Supreme Good Heart

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 34 of a 44-part series.

How to meditate on superior intention and generate bodhichitta

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

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

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

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

How to take the vows of aspiring and engaging bodhichitta

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

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

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

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

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

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 33 of a 44-part series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 32 of a 44-part series.

The third to the seventh points of training the mind

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Tsog Day: Putting Others First in Thought and Deed

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 31 of a 44-part series.

Exchanging self with others

In short, since the childish are concerned for themselves alone,
Whereas Buddhas work solely for the sake of others,
I seek your blessings to distinguish the faults and benefits,
And Thus, be able to exchange myself with others.

Since cherishing myself is the door to all faults
And cherishing mother beings is the foundation of all good qualities,
I seek your blessings to take as my essential practice
The yoga of exchanging self with others.

To exchange our self with others means to cherish only other living beings. This mind is the natural conclusion of the previous contemplations. If there is no advantage and only suffering that comes from cherishing ourselves and only advantages and happiness that comes from cherishing others, it follows that we should not cherish ourselves at all and cherish only others.

We might object, “if we do not cherish ourselves at all then who will take care of us?” The answer is we do not need to cherish ourselves to take care of ourselves. It is perfectly possible to take care of ourselves – feed our body, get adequate rest, and meet all our other needs – for the sake of cherishing others. For example, if we starve or become sick because we are not caring for ourselves, then we are not able to help others. Indeed, the mind of bodhichitta, which we will discuss later, seeks to acquire every good quality for the sake of others. There is no contradiction whatsoever between improving ourselves, taking care of ourselves, and cherishing only others.

How can we generate the mind of exchanging self with others? As with abandoning self-cherishing and cherishing others, it suffices for us to contemplate the advantages of doing so and then make the determination to cherish only others. The more familiarity we gain with this determination, the more our behavior will become consistent with it. Fundamentally it is simply a question of familiarity. We need to make effort every day, month after month, life after life, to come to cherish only others. With familiarity this mind will come. Once it does, as explained before, enlightenment will naturally follow.

In chapter eight of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva explains a special method for generating the mind of exchanging self with others. He encourages us to identify with people who we normally generate pride, competitiveness, or jealousy towards. We put ourselves in their shoes and look back upon our old self. For example, we usually generate pride towards someone who we think is inferior to us in some way. When we put ourselves in their shoes and look back at our arrogant old self, we can see very clearly our selfish and deluded behavior and can realize what the other the person needs from us. Seeing ourselves from the perspective of others is a powerful way for undermining and ultimately destroying our self-cherishing attitude.

According to Highest Yoga Tantra, we can exchange self with others by simply imputing our “I” onto all living beings thinking that we are now them. And then we can impute “other” onto our old self. On the basis of these new imputations, we cherish our new self and can completely neglect our old self. All these practices can give rise to misinterpretations of what it means, but if we put the instructions into practice sincerely and try approach it in the way it was intended, we can naturally overcome these doubts and hesitations.

Taking and giving

Therefore, O Compassionate, Venerable Guru, I seek your blessings
So that all the suffering, negativities, and obstructions of mother sentient beings
Will ripen upon me right now;
And through my giving my happiness and virtue to others,
May all migrating beings be happy.  (3x)

This is the only verse in the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide that has five lines. Geshe-la explains in Great Treasury of Merit this is to indicate the special importance of this practice. In Universal Compassion, Geshe-la explains that the practice of taking and giving is the synthesis of our Lojong trainings. All the previous meditations on exchanging self with others, great compassion, and wishing love all find their final conclusion in the practice of taking and giving.

The practice here is quite simple: first we generate a mind of compassion for all living beings, and then we generate the superior intention to ourselves protect others from their suffering. With this mind, we then imagine we take on all the suffering of others in the form of black smoke which comes to our heart and destroys our self-cherishing mind completely. We then generate a mind of wishing love, wishing that others experience only pure happiness, and we once again generate a superior intention to assume personal responsibility to help others be happy. We then imagine that from our heart infinite light rays radiate out in all directions bestowing upon all living beings pure and everlasting happiness. Imagining that we have taken away all their suffering and bestowed upon them perfect happiness, we then generate a mind of joy strongly believing that we have done so.

The doubt may arise that we have not actually taken on the suffering of others or given them happiness. This doubt then prevents us from generating joy, feeling that we have not engaged in the practice. There are several lines of thought we can use to overcome this doubt. First, others do not inherently exist. They are not inherently suffering, nor are they inherently unhappy. That is simply how they are appearing to us based upon our past karma with them. The practice of taking and giving is similar to our tantric practices of bringing the result into the path. Engaging in the practice of taking and giving creates a new karma which causes the beings of our karmic dream to appear to be free from suffering and experiencing everlasting happiness. This is a way of karmically reconstructing the empty beings of our dream. Second, we do not generate joy believing others have been freed from their suffering and so forth because we believe they inherently have, rather we generate joy because strongly believing we have done this is how we complete the mental action of taking and giving. In other words, generating the mind of joy believing we have taken on their suffering and bestowed upon them happiness is how we complete the mental action of taking and giving, which then gives us all the karmic benefits of the practice.

We can engage in the practice of taking and giving at any time. One powerful way of doing this is to mount the practice of taking giving upon the breath. As we inhale, we imagine that we take on all the suffering of living beings. And as we exhale, we imagine that we bestow upon others everlasting happiness. There is a close relationship between our breath and our mind. If we mount the virtuous practice of taking giving upon our breath, it will function to purify our inner energy winds. If our inner energy winds are purified, then our mind will naturally also become purified.

Happy Tsog Day: The benefits of cherishing others

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 30 of a 44-part series.

Seeing that the mind that cherishes mother beings and would secure their happiness
Is the gateway that leads to infinite good qualities,
I seek your blessings to cherish these beings more than my life,
Even if they rise up against me as my enemies.

Just as self-cherishing is the root cause of all our suffering, the mind that cherishes others is the root cause of all our happiness. The logic is exactly the same. All our happiness comes from virtuous actions, and all virtuous actions come from the mind that cherishes other living beings and considers their happiness to be important. All virtuous actions begin by considering that others’ happiness and well-being matters, and therefore works to secure it.

Just as we need to gather all blame into one, so two we need to give all credit to one – namely the mind of cherishing others. Geshe-la explains in Eight Steps to Happiness that the path to enlightenment is very simple: all we need to do is change the object of our cherishing from ourselves to others, and all the other stages of the path to enlightenment will naturally flow from this. Enlightenment depends upon the mind of bodhicitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the sake of others. Bodhicitta depends upon the mind of great compassion, which wishes to protect all living beings from all forms of suffering for all their lives. The mind of great compassion only arises when we consider the suffering of those we love. If we do not love somebody, and we consider their suffering, we do not feel any compassion and we may even feel delight. But when we love somebody, and we see that they are suffering, the mind of compassion naturally arises. There are three types of love: affectionate love, cherishing love, and wishing love. Affectionate love is delighted merely to think or see other living beings, like a loving grandmother seeing her grandchildren. Cherishing love considers the happiness and well-being of others to be important to us, something worth working towards. Wishing love aims to give others happiness. The mind of great compassion depends upon having cherishing love for all living beings. Thus, enlightenment naturally follows simply from the mind that cherishes others.

How do we generate the mind of cherishing others? In this verse and in Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe-la explains it is sufficient to simply contemplate the benefits of cherishing others and then make the firm determination to do so. We can likewise consider the analogy of viewing all living beings as the body of life. Of course we should cherish every part of our body because it is part of our body; in the same way, of course we should cherish all living beings because they are all part of the body of life. Atisha explains in Advice from Atisha’s Heart that the actual root of cherishing others is learning to appreciate their good qualities and to stop inappropriate attention on their faults. Because we focus on others’ faults, we generate aversion and even hatred towards others, and with such a focus it is impossible to generate the mind that considers what happens to them to be important. But when we focus our attention on the good qualities of others and choose to not pay attention to their faults, then we naturally start to see them as precious and, on this basis, it is easy to then cherish them.

We might object, “but if I do not see their faults then I am not seeing things objectively and they could even harm me.” This is a wrong conclusion. First, there is a difference between not seeing others’ faults and having inappropriate attention towards their faults. Inappropriate attention exaggerates the appearance of faults, and therefore is a mind that is not objective. Second, we need to make a distinction between the person and their delusions. The person is not their delusions, rather their delusions are like clouds in the sky of their mind. Because we make a distinction between the person and their faults, we are able to see the faults for what they are, but not see them as faults of the person and therefore still be able to cherish them. Third, when we see others’ faults and relate to them as faulty, it functions to draw out their worst aspects and it creates self-fulfilling prophecies. Every teacher and every parent can confirm whatever we pay attention to is what we draw out in others. Thus, even if they have faults, it is better for us to focus on their good qualities to help draw them out. Fourth, Venerable Tharchin explains that any fault we see in others is in fact a reflection of that same fault within our own mind. It is only because we have that fault in our mind that we can perceive it in others. This is true because others are fundamentally empty – they are mere projections or reflections of our own mind. Thus, when we see faults in others, we should see them as a mirror reflecting back to us faults that we have within ourselves. He goes on to explain that if we eliminate the fault within our self, it will begin to disappear in others almost like magic. Finally, we can view the appearance of faults in others as a supremely skillful teaching of an emanation of our spiritual guide. Buddhas can emanate all sorts of forms to reveal to us the truth of Dharma. People behaving in faulty ways teaches us to not act in those ways, and therefore they provide us with powerful teachings. Who is to say they are not emanations of Buddha teaching us these lessons? Even if that is not in fact the case, it is still a beneficial way of viewing things, and so we can still perceive the fault, defend ourselves against it, and nonetheless not see any fault in others.

In the sadhana it says that we should cherish others even if they rise up against us as our enemies. There are several reasons for this. First, by cherishing them despite them harming us we are able to purify the negative karma associated with them harming us in some way. If instead we retaliated, we would create once again new negative karma ensuring that others harm us again in the future. Cherishing those who harm us is therefore a way of ending the karmic cycles that we have been trapped in since beginning last time. This is not different than what Jesus advised to turn the other cheek.

Second, Geshe-la once famously explained in Toronto that love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies. If we cherish our enemies, they will come to view us as their friends, and therefore no longer view us as their enemy. Yes, this process may take time before we bring about a change in their perspective of us, but if we are patient with the process and willing to accept the karmic consequences of our past behavior of viewing them as an enemy, gradually we will turn our relationship around with them. We should be careful though to not misinterpret this to mean that we should cooperate with others’ dysfunctional or abusive behavior. It does not help others for us to enable them and allow them to engage in abuse towards us. Therefore, it can be an act of cherishing others to no longer cooperate with their delusions.

Third, others are only our enemies by mere imputation. If we viewed others as emanations of our spiritual guide, for example, then they would no longer be our enemy, but instead we would see them as our kind teacher. Atisha once had a cook who was very disrespectful towards Atisha. Atisha’s other disciples wondered why Atisha keep kept this cook around when there were so many other disciples who would be more than happy to serve their spiritual guide. Atisha said this disrespectful assistant was in fact very kind to him because this person gave him the opportunity to train in patience, and there’s no virtue greater than patience.

Happy Tsog Day: Destroying our Greatest Inner Demon

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 29 of a 44-part series.

Equalizing self and others

In that no one wishes for even the slightest suffering,
Or is ever content with the happiness they have,
There is no difference between myself and others;
Realizing this, I seek your blessings joyfully to make others happy.

As explained above, there are two methods for generating bodhicitta: considering how all living beings are our mother and exchanging self with others. Meditation on equalizing self with others is the first meditation of the second method. The second method for generating bodhicitta is more powerful than the first method because we cherish ourselves more than we cherish our mother. Since it is more powerful, the practice Offering to the Spiritual Guide dedicates five full verses to the practice.

When we equalize self with others our objective is to generate the same degree of cherishing for others as we have for ourselves, in other words, to cherish others as we cherish ourself. This is not that uncommon of a mind. Political leaders who view their job as serving the public interest consider the happiness and welfare of all their citizens as being equally important. If some politicians can generate this mind, then surely we can generate this mind as a would-be-bodhisattva. We likewise find this mind in many families that consider every person in the family to be equally important and make decisions based upon what is best for the family as a whole. Some teachers do the same with the students in their classroom and some employers do the same with the people who work at their company. Even in normal society, we would say a political leader, a parent, a teacher, or an employer who puts their own interest ahead of the interests of those they serve is a corrupt person.

There are several different methods we can use to reach this mind. One method for doing so is to realize that all living beings have an equal wish to be happy all the time. There is nothing about our own happiness that makes it more important than the happiness of anybody else. Since we all share an equal wish, and there’s nothing that makes us more important than anybody else, it follows that we should cherish the happiness of each and every living being equally. A particularly powerful way of generating this mind is to consider how all living beings are like cells in the body of life. Just as we would not say the hand does not care what happens to the foot, so too when we have equalized self with others, we cannot say that we do not care about what happens to other living beings because we are all part of the same body of life. The definitive way of generating this mind is to consider how all living beings, including ourselves, are all equally empty and therefore equally projections of our mind. There is no basis for cherishing one appearance in our mind over another since they are all equally appearances to our mind. Whichever line of reasoning works for us, the goal is the same, namely to generate a feeling that cherishes all living beings equally.

The dangers of self-cherishing

Seeing that this chronic disease of cherishing myself
Is the cause that gives rise to unwanted suffering,
I seek your blessings to destroy this great demon of selfishness
By resenting it as the object of blame.

In the teachings on training the mind, we are encouraged to gather all blame into one. The meaning of this practice is every time we experience any problem, or we see anybody else experiencing any sort of suffering, we blame it entirely upon the mind of self-cherishing. In the Lord of all Lineages prayer it says, “since beginningless time the root of all my suffering has been my self-cherishing mind, I must expel it from my heart, cast it afar, and cherish only other living beings.”

How can we understand self-cherishing to be the cause of all our suffering? All our suffering comes from our negative karma, and all our negative karma is committed with a mind of self-cherishing. Self-cherishing considers our own happiness to be more important than the happiness of others and is therefore willing to sacrifice the happiness of others for the sake of ourselves. All non-virtuous actions fundamentally are willing to harm others in some way for the sake of ourselves.

Further, what happens to us is only a problem because we consider our own happiness to be important. If we did not consider our own happiness to be important, then what happens to us would also not be important, and therefore not a problem. From this we can see the only reason why we have any problems is because we cherish ourselves.

Intellectually this is not difficult to understand. The practice is to develop the habit of gathering all blame into one. We need to do this again and again and again throughout our life, whenever we see ourselves or others suffer, we do the mental exercise of identifying exactly how and why it is the fault of self-cherishing. The more we do this, the more determined we will become to destroy this demon within our mind.