Happy Tsog Day: Dedication for Series

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 the last part of a 44-part series.

Gathering and dissolving the Field of Merit

Due to my making requests in this way, O Supreme spiritual guide,
With delight, please come to my crown to bestow your blessings;
And once again firmly place your radiant feet
On the anthers of the lotus at my heart.

At this point we can train in the practice of Vajrayana Mahamudra, the actual completion stage meditation, according to the commentary.

As explained above, the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide is a preliminary practice for our training in Vajrayana Mahamudra. We engage in Mahamudra practice at this point in the sadhana, after we have dissolved our spiritual guide into our heart, and we imagine that our mind mixes inseparably with his mind. There are two main reasons why we always dissolve the Guru into our heart before we engage in whatever is our main practice. The first is by mixing our mind with his, we can receive his powerful blessings to help us engage in our actual practice. We do not know how to find our objects of meditation, but he does. By mixing our mind with his, we can request that he bless our mind and gradually guide us to our final and correct meditation objects. The second reason is more profound. The spiritual guide’s mind is fundamentally not separate from our own mind. The two are equally empty. This means it is possible for us to change the basis of imputation of our “I” from an ordinary mind without these realizations to our spiritual guide’s mind that possesses all these realizations. This is very similar to generation stage practice. We quite literally identify with our spiritual guide’s mind knowing that it already possesses all the stages of the path to enlightenment. By doing this, the duality between our spiritual guide’s mind and our own completely dissolves until eventually we are directly imputing our “I” onto all his realizations. Once we have completed this transfer of basis of imputation of our “I” to his enlightened mind, we ourselves attain enlightenment.

There are many different methods for engaging in Vajrayana Mahamudra practice. In general, we can say there are two lineages differentiated by which doorway we penetrate the central channel. According to the tradition of Naropa, we penetrate our central channel at the level of our naval; and according to the Ganden Oral Lineage, we penetrate our central channel at the level of our heart. The first method is explained in detail in the book Clear Light of Bliss; the latter method is explained in detail in Tantric Grounds and Paths and in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra. The five stages of completion stage according to Heruka practice possess seven main meditations – the first two stages each have two parts. Thus, it is possible to engage in the entire cycle the five stages of completion stage according to Heruka practice every week, doing one meditation per day in a cycle much in the same way as we do our Lamrim meditations on a 21-day cycle. Once we have gained some familiarity with doing these meditations once a day, we can then do them on a seven-week cycle, and then on a seven-month cycle. In this way we gradually deepen our experience of each stage of our completion stage practice. Practicing in this way enables each meditation to reinforce all the others.

Eventually, we should pray to be able to engage in a three-year retreat on Vajrayana Mahamudra according to the Ganden Oral Lineage. Is my deepest wish that myself and everyone who has read this commentary is able to do so.

Dedication

I dedicate all the pure white virtues I have gathered here
So that I may accomplish all the prayers
Made by the Sugatas and Bodhisattvas of the three times,
And maintain the holy Dharma of scripture and insight.

Through the force of this, throughout all my lives,
May I never be separated from the four wheels of the Supreme Vehicle
And Thus, may I complete the paths of renunciation,
Bodhichitta, correct view, and the two tantric stages.

Auspicious prayers

Through the force of all the pure white virtue in samsara and nirvana,
Henceforth may there be a celestial treasury of temporary and ultimate goodness and joy,
Free from all stains of inauspiciousness;
And Thus, may there be the auspiciousness of enjoying magnificent delight.

May the Dharma Centres of all-knowing Losang Dragpa
Be filled with hosts of Sangha and Yogis
Striving to practise single-pointedly the three pure trainings;
And Thus, may there be the auspiciousness of Buddha’s doctrine remaining for a very long time.

Abiding in the blessings of Losang Dragpa,
Who from the time of his youth made requests to the supreme Guru-Deity,
May we effortlessly accomplish the welfare of others;
And Thus, may there be the auspiciousness of Losang Dorjechang.

May desired endowments increase like a summer lake,
May we find uninterrupted birth with freedom in stainless families,
May we pass each day and night with Losang’s holy Dharma;
And Thus, may there be the auspiciousness of enjoying magnificent delight.

From now until I and others attain enlightenment,
Through the virtues we have already created and will create,
May there be the auspiciousness of the Venerable Guru’s holy form
Remaining like an immutable vajra in this world.

I dedicate all the merit that I have accumulated through writing this series of blog posts so that all Kadampas become motivated to engage in the tsog offering every 10th day for the rest of their life. Through doing so, I pray that they create the causes to guarantee to take rebirth in the pure land where they can complete their spiritual training. May all those who need this commentary find it. May I never forget but always put into practice the instructions that I have received from my spiritual guide. May we meet him again it again in all our future lives without interruption between now and our eventual enlightenment, and when we meet him, may we continue to have deep faith, a pure heart, and a strong wish to put his instructions into practice.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Prepare for our Future Lives

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 43 of a 44-part series.

The way to practise the ritual of the transference of consciousness if, having meditated, we have received no signs

If by the time of my death I have not completed the path,
I seek your blessings to go to the Pure Land
Through the instruction on correctly applying the five forces,
The supremely powerful method of transference to Buddhahood.

While it is possible to attain full enlightenment in this lifetime through the teachings of the Ganden Oral Lineage, it is not guaranteed that we will do so. Remaining anywhere in samsara is extremely dangerous because we can easily become distracted and lose the path. If we attain rebirth in the pure land, then we can complete our spiritual training there and never risk another samsaric rebirth. From a practical point of view, it will be as if we have attained liberation, even if technically we have not yet done so. The pure land is like a tantric bodhisattva’s training ground. We were able to receive teachings directly from the Buddhas and everyone in the pure land is likewise a tantric practitioner engaging in the stages of the path. Once we attain that pure land, we are able to send emanations into the realms of samsara to help the beings still trapped there, but we ourselves always remain in the pure land. The meditations on the three bringings and the nine mixings create the karma to be able to purify the death process and take a controlled rebirth in the pure land. Each time we engage in these practices, we gradually carve a path in our mind to the pure land. It is as if we are tunneling through death to the pure land.

In order for us to take rebirth in the pure land, however, we need to be able to die with a pure mind. The quality of mind we have at the time of death determines the type of rebirth we will take. If we die with a negative mind, we will take rebirth in the lower realms; if we die with a positive mind, we will take rebirth in the upper realms of samsara; and if we die with a pure mind, we can attain rebirth outside of samsara – either in a pure land, Nirvana, or full enlightenment. A powerful method for ensuring that we die with the pure mind is to engage in the practice of powa. Powa is a special tantric technology for transferring our consciousness to the pure land at the time of our death. We can train in this before our death to create ample karma that can be blessed at the time of death, and we can train it at the time of our death itself. Through the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide, we can engage in powa for ourselves, powa for the sake of others, or simply create the karma we will need at the time of death. How to do so is explained in Great Treasury of Merit. A more detailed explanation of powa practice can be found in the book Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully.

How to offer prayers to be cared for by our spiritual guide in all future lives

In short, O Protector, I seek your blessings so that throughout all my lives
I shall never be separated from you, but always come under your care;
And as the foremost of your disciples,
Maintain all the secrets of your body, speech, and mind.

O Protector, wherever you manifest as a Buddha,
May I be the very first in your retinue;
And may everything be auspicious for me to accomplish without effort
All temporary and ultimate needs and wishes.

Ensuring that we attain enlightenment is simply an issue of guaranteeing that we continue to meet our spiritual guide in all our future lives without interruption and that we continue to have faith in him. We do not know how long it will take us to attain alignment, but if these two conditions are met, it is guaranteed we will eventually reach our final goal. Thus, in many ways the most important spiritual attainment is to ensure we continue to meet our spiritual guide in all our future lives.

I once asked Geshe-la to please provide me with a guaranteed method for being able to meet him in all my future lives without interruption. He replied, “concentrate on practicing Dharma and always keep faith.” When we practice Dharma, we create a karmic connection between our self and the spiritual guide who gave us the instructions. This creates the cause for us to once again find the source of those instructions in our future lives. By maintaining faith in this life, we create the tendencies similar to the cause in our mind to once again have faith in him when we find him again in our future lives. Through the karma we create by concentrating on practicing Dharma and always keeping faith, and through making heartfelt prayers and requests to always meet our spiritual guide in all our future lives, it is guaranteed that we will meet him and eventually attain all our spiritual goals.

This verse begins with “in short,” which indicates that everything that we have learned and practiced up until now is all synthesized down into this very last practice of requesting that we meet our spiritual guide and that he cares for us in all our future lives. This is the true conclusion and essence of the practice of Offering the Spiritual Guide.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Practise Completion Stage

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 42 of a 44-part series.

I seek your blessings, O Protector, that you may place your feet
On the centre of the eight-petalled lotus at my heart,
So that I may manifest within this life
The paths of illusory body, clear light, and union.

Completion stage is the method for directly purifying samsara and becoming a Buddha. Everything else is fundamentally a preparation for completion stage. Samsara is most commonly understood as uncontrolled rebirth. Without freedom or control we die and are then thrown into another realm of samsara. The totality of the Buddhist path is learning how to gain control of the death process, so that we are able to control our next rebirth and take a rebirth outside of samsara either in a pure land, as a liberated being, or as a fully enlightened being. In generation stage, we purify the death process through the practice called the three bringings. We bring death into the path of the Truth Body, the intermediate state into the path of the Enjoyment Body, and rebirth into the path of the Emanation Body. In completion stage, we purify the death process through the nine mixings. There are the three mixings while waking, the three mixings while sleeping, and the three mixings at the time of death. The three mixings are mixing with the Truth Body, mixing with the Enjoyment Body, and mixing with the Emanation Body. By training in the three mixings while waking, we are then able to train in the three mixings while sleeping, which prepares us to be able to engage in the three mixings at the time of death. By engaging in the three bringings and the nine mixings we can gradually purify the process of uncontrolled death and become an immortal deathless being. We quite literally purify the appearance of death and rebirth so that they never arise again. From our perspective, we become a deathless being, a deity who abides eternally in the pure land. More explanation on the three bringings can be found in Essence of Vajrayana and Guide to Dakini Land, and more explanation on the nine mixings can be found in Clear Light of Bliss and Tantric Grounds and Paths.

The final object of meditation of all our completion stage practices is clear light emptiness. This is a very subtle mind of great bliss that realizes directly the emptiness of all phenomena. All our completion stage meditations, such as learning how to control our inner winds and drops, are all methods for generating the subjective mind of great bliss. We then carry this bliss with us into the clear light and we use it to meditate on emptiness. Emptiness is a very subtle object, therefore it requires a very subtle mind to realize it directly. Our very subtle mind of great bliss is our most subtle mind. It is also the most stable mind we can generate and so therefore is the most powerful possible mind with which we can meditate on emptiness. When we meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena, in particular the emptiness of our very subtle mind, with the mind of great bliss we quickly purify all the contaminated karmic imprints that are stored on our very subtle mind. When all these contaminated karmic imprints are purified, we attain enlightenment.

The practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide itself is a preliminary practice for our main practice which is Vajrayana Mahamudra. Vajrayana Mahamudra is in essence completion stage practice. All our other practices – the Lamrim, Lojong, generation stage, and everything else – are all preparatory practices for our meditation of the union of great bliss and emptiness. To find the correct object of bliss and emptiness requires all this preparation. The more qualified we can generate these preparations and the more accurate our understanding of emptiness, the more powerful our practice of purifying our contaminated karma will be.

For many years I was reluctant to begin the practice of completion stage. I simply did not feel that I was ready, and I needed to do more preparations through Lamrim, Lojong, and generation stage practice. There is of course nothing wrong with this because these are essential preparations, but we must not mistake them for our main practice. Our main practice must be understood, even from the beginning, to be training in Vajrayana Mahamudra, in particular the meditation on the union of great bliss and emptiness. If we correctly understand this meditation on the union of bliss and emptiness to be our final spiritual destination, then all the practices that we do before them will correctly function as preparations for when we are able to start engaging in completion stage practice.

In truth, completion stage practice is not complicated. Anybody can visualize channels, drops, winds, and so forth. The visualizations are not complicated. What makes them powerful, though, is not the visualizations but the purity of our bodhichitta motivation, the degree of our faith in our spiritual guide, and the accuracy of our understanding of emptiness. It is these three – our motivation, faith, and correct view of emptiness – that give our completion stage practices their power. Once we have these three foundations in place, engaging in completion stage meditation is not difficult. We just need to have patience to gradually gain familiarity to begin to perceive and experience our central channel, indestructible drop, and so forth.

Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that once we attain the fourth mental abiding on the indestructible wind and mind at our heart, we can cause all our inner winds to enter, abide, and dissolve into our central channel and be able to directly perceive the eight dissolutions culminating in the clear light. It is also not that difficult to attain the fourth mental abiding. Once we realize how doable these things our effort becomes, in Venerable Tharchin’s words, effortless. We know how it works, we see how it works, and we see how it is doable, so effort comes naturally. We are also filled with a great deal of confidence that we can indeed attain the path if we put these methods into practice.

It is said that it is possible to attain enlightenment in three years through instructions of the Ganden Oral Lineage. Many of us have been practicing for several decades and still do not feel as if we have begun our practice. Geshe-la once told Venerable Tharchin that if he had complete faith he could attain enlightenment very quickly. What we principally lack is faith. If we had faith, were able to set aside all our doubts, and really go for it, there is no doubt that we would make rapid progress along the path. Whether we attain enlightenment in three years or not is of secondary importance. What matters is that we give it the best shot we can. At some point it will be true that our enlightenment is only three years away. We do not know when that point will be reached, but it is good to live our life believing that if we really go for it, it is possible.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Train in Generation Stage Tantra

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 41 of a 44-part series.

Becoming a suitable vessel for the profound path of Secret Mantra, and keeping the vows and commitments purely

And then the swirling ocean of the Tantras is crossed
Through the kindness of the navigator, the Vajra Holder.
I seek your blessings to cherish more than my life
The vows and commitments, the root of attainments.

It was explained above how the practice of our vows and commitments are the foundation of our Buddhist, Mahayana, and Vajrayana paths. Keeping them also creates the causes to find the path again in all our future lives between now and our eventual enlightenment. The essence of our refuge vows is to rely upon the three jewels to solve our inner problem. The essence of our pratimoksha vows is to not harm living beings, our self 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. All the individual vows are simply aspects of these main practices. We cannot properly maintain our tantric vows if we are not keeping our bodhisattva vows, and we cannot keep our bodhisattva vows if we are not keeping our pratimoksha vows, and we cannot keep any of our vows properly if we are not keeping our refuge vows. Therefore, we should see our refuge vows as the foundation for our pratimoksha vows, which are the foundation of our bodhisattva vows, which in turn are the foundation of our tantric vows.

The primary benefit of keeping and maintaining our vows is to create the causes to attain a higher rebirth. Our refuge vows create the causes for us to attain a rebirth in the upper realms of samsara. Our pratimoksha vows create the causes to take a higher rebirth outside of samsara. Our bodhisattva vows create the causes for us to attain full enlightenment. And our tantric vows create the causes for us to quickly attain enlightenment as the Highest Yoga Tantra deity. In short, maintaining our vows is the method for redirecting the trajectory of our mental continuum towards enlightenment.

Geshe-la explains that the practice of moral discipline helps us overcome our gross distractions of mind. Concentration helps us overcome our subtle distractions of mind. And our completion stage practices enable us to overcome the very subtle distractions of mind. In this way, we can understand how the practice of moral discipline is the beginning of our ability to concentrate our mind on the Dharma. Why is it important to concentrate our mind on the Dharma? Because the cause of inner peace is mixing our mind with virtue. The more we mix our mind with virtue, more peaceful our mind will become and the happier we will be. Our vows specifically oppose any tendency in our mind that is contrary to virtue. Keeping her vows enables us to gradually weaken the power of our negative tendencies over our mind and strength and positive habits of mind that move us in the direction of virtue.

The most important aspect of this verse is the phrase that we cherish our vows more than our life. This may seem extreme but that is only because we value our happiness of this life more than we value the happiness of our countless future lives. By maintaining our vows, we ensure we remain on the spiritual path until we attain enlightenment and we protect ourselves against any form of unfortunate rebirth. It would be better to die with our vows intact and continue with the path in our next life than it would be to break our vows, live a long life, and never find the path again. But we do not need to worry. It is almost unthinkable that there could be a situation where we have to choose between maintaining our vows and continuing to live. The point is in our mind we should consider maintaining our vows to be even more important than preserving our life. This is a mental attitude, not a choice we will likely ever have to make.

How to meditate on generation stage

Through the yoga of the first stage that transforms birth, death, and bardo
Into the three bodies of the Conquerors,
I seek your blessings to purify all stains of ordinary appearance and conception,
And to see whatever appears as the form of the Deity.

According to sutra, the root of samsara is self-grasping ignorance. According to tantra, the roots of samsara are ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions. Ordinary appearances are all the things that we normally see. They appear to exist from their own side in all sorts of ordinary samsaric ways. Ordinary conceptions are when we assent to these appearances and believe them to be true, thinking things do exist in the way that they appear. In this sense, we can understand how self-grasping ignorance is simply an example of ordinary conceptions. There is no contradiction between sutra and tantra, tantra simply has a more expansive view.

Our practice of generation stage is a powerful method for overcoming both our ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions. We learn how to dissolve all ordinary appearances into emptiness and then in their place generate pure appearances. We then, through the power of correct belief, believe that these appearances are true. We do not believe that they are inherently true because nothing is inherently true, rather we believe that they are conventionally true and correct beliefs in the sense that it is beneficial to believe and we understand that the ultimate nature of all phenomena is mere imputation to mind. By mentally generating pure appearances with our imagination and then believing them with our faith, we create the karma to later have pure appearances appear directly to our mind.

In the beginning, ordinary conceptions are more dangerous than ordinary appearances. For example, if our spiritual guide appears to us to be an ordinary being but we mentally conceive of him as a fully enlightened Buddha, then we receive the blessings of a Buddha through our spiritual guide. During the meditation break, we perceive all sorts of ordinary appearances, but we train in viewing them in a pure way as emanations of our spiritual guide or manifestations of bliss and emptiness. In this way, in both the meditation session and the meditation break we gradually purify all our ordinary appearances and conceptions and thereby escape from samsara.

From another perspective, generation stage is a method for generating the gross body of the deity. On the basis of generating the gross deity body, we are then able to complete the picture by engaging in completion stage where we attain the subtle deity body. It is also the principal method for attaining rebirth in the pure land. By attaining rebirth in a pure land, we are then able to continue with our spiritual practices and complete the tantric path.

We can find a general explanation of the difference between generation stage and completion stage in the book Modern Buddhism. Extensive explanations can be found in Essence of Vajrayana, Guide to Dakini Land, Clear Light of Bliss, Tantric Grounds and Paths, and the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Practice the Perfection of Wisdom

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 40 of a 44-part series.

How to practise the perfection of wisdom by sustaining space-like meditative equipoise

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of wisdom
Through the yoga of the space-like meditative equipoise on the ultimate,
With the great bliss of the suppleness
Induced by the wisdom of individual analysis of thatness.

Emptiness is the ultimate nature of all things. It is the way in which things truly exist as opposed to the way they appear. Emptiness is what is called a non-affirming negative phenomena. What this means is we realize emptiness by negating its opposite, inherent existence. Thus, it is a negative phenomena. But it is also non-affirming in the sense that by establishing emptiness we do not then subsequently establish some other existent object. An example of an affirming negative phenomena would be saying “not male” to someone who still grasps at binary gender identities.

What is the object of negation of emptiness? Geshe-la gives many different explanations to help us understand. His most famous explanation is saying it is “the things that we normally see.” What we normally see are objects that appear to exist from their own side independent of our mind. It seems as if our mind has no role in the creation of the objects that we perceive, but rather that they exist out there waiting to be experienced. This is sometimes also called inherent existence or true existence. Inherent existence means the object exists inherently, from its own side, or objectively existent. Objectively existent means existent on the side of the object. Normally, when ordinary beings say something exists, they mean it exists objectively, not subjectively. True existence means that objects exist in the way that they appear. They appear to exist inherently, and we grasp at believing that they in fact do. For myself, I find that inherent existence, objective existence, and true existence work better to gain a conceptual, intellectual understanding of emptiness. But to gain an experiential understanding of emptiness in meditation itself, for me at least, nothing surpasses simply saying, “the things I normally see do not exist,” and then dissolving them all into emptiness. This phrase, the things we normally see do not exist, is specifically an instruction for the meditation session. It works perfectly for bringing us to our object of meditation. All the things that we normally see simply do not exist. We then perceive the clear light, the absence of all the thing that we normally see.

The supreme object of concentration is the emptiness of all phenomena, in particular the emptiness of our very subtle mind of great bliss. When we meditate on the emptiness of phenomena, it purifies the contaminated karma giving rise to that appearance. When we meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena, it purifies all the contaminated karma on our mind to perceive samsara. When we meditate on the emptiness of our very subtle mind, it directly and simultaneously uproots all the contaminated karmic potentialities to perceive any contaminated appearance. With this one concentration we are able to uproot eons worth of samsaric contaminated karmic imprints. Once we have completely purified our mind of the two obstructions, in other words all our past karmic imprints, we attain enlightenment. This is irreversible because there is no longer any basis for us to generate delusions, and therefore impossible for us to generate new contaminated karma.

For more detailed explanations of emptiness, we can read the chapter on ultimate bodhicitta in Modern Buddhism, Chapter 8 of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, the book Heart of Wisdom, or the book Ocean of Nectar.

How to practise the perfection of wisdom by sustaining illusion-like subsequent attainment

Outer and inner phenomena are like illusions, like dreams,
And like reflections of the moon in a clear lake,
For though they appear they do not truly exist;
Realizing this, I seek your blessings to complete the illusion-like concentration.

Sometimes the easiest way to understand the conventional nature of phenomena is through analogies. Appearances are like dreams, in the sense that they appear to mind but we do not go looking for them when we wake up. We understand they were just mere appearances to our mind. Phenomena are also like illusions. It appears that something is there, but in fact the way things exist do not correspond with the way they appear. Conventional phenomena are also sometimes likened to hallucinations, where our mind projects a distorted image of what is there and we mistakenly believe what is appearing to our mind to be what is actually there. A schizophrenic believes they are talking to other people, when in fact they are just projections of their mind. I find it helpful to consider these analogies as I am going about my day, in particular traveling from one place to another. As I see phenomena move around me, I keep reminding myself that all this is just a mere karmic dream, hallucinations, illusions, and in fact all the things that I normally see do not exist. They are simply mere karmic appearances to mind.

We might mistakenly think if things do not exist inherently and are just mere karmic appearances to mind, then it does not matter what happens to others. But if we are hurt in our dream, we experience pain. The dream is still a mere appearance to mind, but because we believe it to be true, we experience suffering. In the same way, all samsara is nothing more than a dream, but we believe it to be true, and as a result we suffer from it. To attain enlightenment means essentially to wake up from the dream of samsara. And to lead others to enlightenment is to help them wake up from their samsaric dream. As long as they remain trapped in the dream, they remain frightened and experience pain and suffering. We seek to relieve them from their suffering not because it is real, but rather because it is painful.

How to train the mind in the profound view of the middle way

I seek your blessings to realize the meaning of Nagarjuna’s intention,
That there is no contradiction but only harmony
Between the absence of even an atom of inherent existence in samsara and nirvana
And the non-deceptive dependent relationship of cause and effect.

Once we realized that the things we normally see do not exist there is a danger that we could fall into the extreme of nothingness, thinking that if things do not exist inherently then they do not exist at all. Je Tsongkhapa explains the correct view of emptiness is taught by Nagarjuna in his commentary Guide to the Middle Way. The middle way refers to the middle way between the two extremes of existence and non-existence. The extreme of existence is believing that objects exist inherently. And the extreme of non-existence is thinking if things do not exist inherently then they do not exist at all. The middle way is things do exist as mere karmic appearances to mind.

This phrase mere karmic appearance to mind has great meaning. “Mere” means that the appearances are nothing more than appearance, and if we looked for something behind the appearance, we would find nothing. In this sense it is like a dream or a hallucination. “Karmic” means that the appearances themselves arise from the ripening of karma. Karma ripens in the form of appearance. “Appearance” implies exactly that, things appear. There is an appearance of something there, not something actually there. What is there is an appearance of something being there. “To mind” means that the appearance is appearing to our mind. Sometimes we think that objects appear to our senses, but in fact they are appearing to our mind through the medium of our sense powers. Sometimes we say, “appearance of mind.” “Of mind” in this context implies that mind itself assumes the form of appearance.

We have arrived at a correct understanding of the middle way when our understanding of emptiness confirms the truth of karma, and our understanding of karma confirms the truth of emptiness. Sometimes we might think if things do not exist inherently, how can they do anything? There is nothing there to push on anything else to cause something to happen. And so for us it seems as if emptiness and karma negate each other. But the opposite is the case. To be inherently existent means to exist from its own side, on the side of the object, independent of all other phenomena. If something is independent of all other phenomena, how can it come into contact with anything else and therefore do anything? If it can come into contact with other objects, then the object does not exist independently of all other phenomena, and its nature changes from not being in contact with something else to being in contact with something else. Further, we can all observe that as things come into contact with other things they change. The mere existence of change shows that these objects do not exist inherently, independent of other causes. Once we understand objects are dependently related, then we understand it is impossible for them to exist inherently. Dependently existent and inherently existent are opposites. It is easy to understand how an object that is a mere karmic appearance of mind can come into contact and influence another object that is a mere karmic appearance of mind because both objects are the same nature, mere appearances to mind. They are part of the same dream, so therefore can interact with one another. In this way we can understand that the laws of cause and effect establish emptiness, and emptiness establishes karma.

Happy Tsog Day: How to practise the perfection of mental stabilization

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 39 of a 44-part series.

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of mental stabilization
By abandoning the faults of mental sinking, mental excitement, and mental wandering,
And concentrating in single-pointed absorption
On the state that is the lack of true existence of all phenomena.

Happiness is a state of mind, therefore its cause comes from within the mind. In the preface of virtually every book Geshe-la has written and in the first class of every general program course taught in Dharma centers around the world, we are taught that the cause of happiness is inner peace. If our mind is peaceful, then we are happy regardless of what is happening externally. And if our mind is unpeaceful, we are unhappy regardless of what is happening externally. This shows that inner peace is the true cause of happiness. What then is the cause of inner peace? Mixing our mind with virtue. The more we mix our mind with virtue, the more our mind becomes peaceful both now, while we are mixing our mind with virtue, and in the future, when the karmic effects of our mental action of mixing our mind with virtue ripen. Concentration is being able to mix our mind with virtue single-pointedly, free from all distractions. The perfection of concentration is concentrating on virtue with the bodhicitta motivation.

There are three main faults to be abandoned when training in concentration: mental excitement, mental sinking, and mental wandering. Our mind naturally goes towards whatever it thinks is a cause of happiness. Because we currently think external objects of attachment are the cause of happiness, our mind naturally moves towards them. When our mind moves towards an object of attachment, this is mental excitement. Mental sinking is when our mind gradually loses clarity and focus of whatever it is we are trying to concentrate on. It becomes dull, heavy, and we can even fall asleep. Mental wandering is when our mind moves to some other object of Dharma that is not our chosen object of meditation. While technically not a delusion, it is a distraction. We overcome mental excitement by considering the relative benefits of thinking about our object of attachment compared with thinking about our object of Dharma, and then choosing to return our mind to the object of Dharma. We overcome mental sinking by uplifting our mind, improving our posture, and restoring our object of meditation by renewing the contemplation. We overcome mental wandering by reminding ourselves that our chosen object of meditation is not what our mind has wandered towards, and that allowing mental wandering can become a bad habit preventing us from ever making progress along the path.

Improving our concentration occurs in stages, called the mental abidings. With the first mental abiding, we are able to meditate on our object single-pointedly for one minute. On the second mental abiding, we are able to concentrate on our object without distraction for five minutes. With the third mental abiding, every time we forget our object of meditation, we are able to regenerate it very quickly, like effortlessly picking up a ball we just dropped. And on the fourth mental abiding we overcome all faults of gross mental sinking and gross mental excitement for our entire meditation session. In other words, we never completely forget our object of meditation, but we may still have subtle faults to our concentration, such as subtle mental sinking and subtle mental excitement. If we attain the fourth mental abiding on an object of meditation, we can then enter into retreat and it is said we can attain tranquil abiding within six months. Tranquil abiding is an extremely powerful mind of concentration that is free from all gross and subtle mental seeking and mental excitement and is able to remain single-pointedly focused on our object of meditation for as long as we wish, indeed for the rest of our life.

The mind of tranquil abiding is equivalent to a first form realm god mind. Just as it is possible to have a human body but have the mind of a hell being, so too it is possible to have a human body but the mind of a god. Even in sutra, tranquil biting is not the pinnacle of our concentration, but rather the first major milestone in improving our concentration. Our mind can move further and further up into the god realms, attaining increasingly profound levels of concentration, up to an including the peak of samsara. A detailed explanation of these different levels of concentration can be found in the book Ocean of Nectar.

According to tantra, the very subtle mind of great bliss is infinitely more powerful than the mind of tranquil abiding. It is also much easier to generate the mind of great bliss than it is to attain tranquil abiding. Geshe-la explains in and Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that if we can attain the fourth mental abiding on the indestructible drop at our heart, our winds will enter, abide, and dissolve into our central channel. We will then perceive the eight dissolutions until eventually we arrive at the very subtle mind of the clear light of bliss. Through further training in the five stages of completion stage of Heruka, we can increase the quality with which we are able to cause our inner winds to enter, abide, and dissolve into our central channel and thereby generate increasingly qualified experiences of the mind of clear light of bliss. The mind of clear light is the most concentrated mind possible. Why is this? The reason is our mind naturally moves towards whatever we consider to be a cause of happiness. But since there is no experience more sublime than great bliss, our mind has no desire whatsoever to go anywhere else because to do so would be to move from the most pleasant state possible to something less pleasant. Thus, our mind settles into the clear light of bliss much like a marble would settle at the bottom of a bowl.

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.