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.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Make the Most Sublime Offerings

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 10 of a 44-part series.

Offering the mandala

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offering our spiritual practice

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

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

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

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

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

Inner offering

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Tsog Day: Offering the five objects of desire

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 9 of a 44-part series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Tsog Day: Offering the outer offerings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 7 of a 44-part series.

Prostrating to the spiritual guide as the Truth Body

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

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

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

Essence of all Guru-Buddhas and Deities,

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

Foremost amongst the entire Superior Assembly,

O Kind spiritual guides I prostrate at your lotus feet.

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

Prostrating to the lineage Gurus and Three Jewels

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

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