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

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

Prostrating to the spiritual guide as the Truth Body

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

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

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

Essence of all Guru-Buddhas and Deities,

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

Foremost amongst the entire Superior Assembly,

O Kind spiritual guides I prostrate at your lotus feet.

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

Prostrating to the lineage Gurus and Three Jewels

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

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

Happy Tsog Day: Prostrating to the Spiritual Guide’s Form Bodies

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 6 of a 44-part series.

Prostrating to the Spiritual Guide as the Enjoyment Body

Spiritual guide with a jewel-like form,
Who out of compassion bestow in an instant
Even the supreme state of the three bodies, the sphere of great bliss,
O Vajra Holder I prostrate at your lotus feet.

Prostration is wishing faith in action. There are three types of faith: believing faith, admiring faith, and wishing faith. Believing faith believes the good qualities of holy objects and arises in dependence upon contemplation of valid reasons or personal experience. It differs from blind faith in that it has valid reasons supporting the correct beliefs. Admiring faith generates a sense of wonder and amazement at the good qualities we believe in. Wishing faith wishes to acquire those good qualities ourselves. We cannot develop wishing faith without admiring faith, and we cannot develop admiring faith without believing faith. In dependence upon wishing faith, we develop an aspiration, and this in turn moves us to action towards the accomplishment of our aspiration. When we prostrate towards the holy beings, we have two key recognitions in mind. First is wishing faith, as just described. Second is humility, understanding we currently lack the good qualities we are prostrating towards. We humbly wish to gain the good qualities we are prostrating towards.

The act of prostration itself is karmically very similar to rejoicing. Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that when we rejoice in somebody’s good qualities or actions, it creates the causes for us to obtain those same good qualities. The effect similar to the cause of prostrating is to gain the good qualities we are prostrating towards. The tendency similar to the cause is to always have faith in that which we are prostrating towards. The environmental effect is to always have the holy object we are prostrating towards continue to appear in all our future lives. The ripened effect is to be reborn ourself as a holy being possessing the good qualities we are prostrating towards.

We can prostrate with our body, speech, and/or mind. In the context of Offering to the Spiritual Guide, we prostrate with our body by placing our palms together at our heart as we recite these verses of the sadhana. We prostrate with our speech by chanting the verses of the sadhana, either verbally or internally. We prostrate mentally by generating the mind of prostration described above.

It is important to note that all these verses are prostrations to our spiritual guide. Normally we grasp at Buddhas as somehow being separate from our spiritual guide, like they are different beings. According to the Lamrim teachings, the sign we have gained the realization of reliance upon the spiritual guide is when we think of Buddha, we think it is our spiritual guide; and when we think of our spiritual guide, we think Buddha. Viewing deities, such as Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang, as an emanation of our spiritual guide is called “Guru yoga.” Guru yoga is the actual quick path to enlightenment. There are two reasons for this. First, of all the Buddhas, the one we are karmically closest to is our spiritual guide. This makes their blessings in our mind more powerful than blessings from a Buddha who is karmically more distant. Second, our spiritual guide is like a portal to all the Buddhas. When we make a prostration to our spiritual guide, it is as if we are making a prostration to all the Buddhas, when we request blessings from our spiritual guide, it is as if we are requesting blessings from all the Buddhas. In this way, our spiritual guide acts as a merit multiplier, making any action towards our spiritual guide karmically equivalent to engaging in the same action countless times – one towards each of the countless Buddhas.

This explanation on what is prostration and how to prostrate is equally applicable to all the prostration verses that follow. In them, we prostrate to the principal good qualities of our spiritual guide and thus, create the karmic causes to become just like him.

In this verse, we prostrate to the spiritual guide as the Enjoyment Body. The Enjoyment Body is generally understood as the Buddha’s actual vajra body. This is because its nature is our very subtle indestructible wind that remains with us in life after life. It is principally our Enjoyment Body that sends out Emanation Bodies which in turn pervade the whole world. The Enjoyment Body is the source of these emanations. The first line reveals how our spiritual guide’s Enjoyment Body is like a diamond that has many facets. Each facet is like a different Emanation Body (Heruka, Tara, Dorje Shugden, etc.), but they are all by nature the diamond of our spiritual guide. The second line indicates how the Enjoyment Body sends out emanations. When the sun of a Buddha’s compassion meets the rain of our faithful mind, a rainbow-like Emanation Body spontaneously appears “in an instant.” The third line explains how a Buddha’s three bodies (Emanation Body, Enjoyment Body, and Truth Body) are all by nature great bliss of our indestructible wind. In this light, we can understand that a Buddha’s body is bliss. The last line refers to him as the Vajra Holder. Vajra refers to great bliss, so this line indicates he is never separate from great bliss. Recognizing all this with wishing faith, we prostrate.

Prostrating to the spiritual guide as the Emanation Body

Exalted wisdom of all the infinite Conquerors
Out of supremely skilful means appearing to suit disciples,
Now assuming the form of a saffron-robed monk,
O Holy Refuge and Protector I prostrate at your lotus feet.

Here, we are prostrating to our spiritual guide’s principal Emanation Body. In truth, a Buddha’s emanations pervade the whole world, and we can correctly say there is not a single thing that is not an emanation of a Buddha. But Buddhas typically also have a principal Emanation Body with a distinct visual form – in this case, our spiritual guide. The first line reveals that the omniscient wisdom of all the Buddhas takes the form of our spiritual guide’s Emanation Body. What appears is a monk, but by nature we recognize this form as a manifestation of the exalted wisdom of all the Buddhas. The second line explains the uncommon characteristic of our spiritual guide’s Emanation Body – namely, it can appear directly to us. Other Emanation Bodies, such as Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani, and so forth, are still too pure for us to be able to perceive them with our ordinary samsaric eyes. But our spiritual guide is able to appear directly to us in a form we can see, hear, and so forth. Geshe-la explains in Great Treasury of Merit that despite the spiritual guide being the synthesis of all the Buddhas, he is nonetheless able to appear directly to our ordinary mind – this is his greatest miracle power.

The third line explains the form our spiritual guide takes, namely that of an ordained person. We may think this is a contradiction because elsewhere Geshe-la explains that our spiritual guide can be lay or ordained. There are several different types of ordination – pratimoksha, bodhisattva, and tantric. The essential meaning of the pratimoksha ordination is the vow to not harm living beings, the essential meaning of the bodhisattva ordination is to put others first, and the essential meaning of the tantric ordination is to maintain pure view. A lay spiritual guide can equally keep all these vows, and ultimately the bodhisattva and tantric vows subsume the pratimoksha vows. Regardless, in the context of this sadhana, we are viewing our spiritual guide as Je Tsongkhapa in recognition of him as founder of the New Kadampa Tradition. The last line reminds us of the function of our spiritual guide, namely to serve as both our refuge and protector. We recognize we have a deluded mind, and we turn to him for assistance and protection.

Happy Tsog Day: Visualizing the Field of Merit

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 5 of a 44-part series.

Within the vast space of indivisible bliss and emptiness, amidst billowing clouds of Samantabhadra’s offerings, fully adorned with leaves, flowers, and fruits, is a wishfulfilling tree that grants whatever is wished for. At its crest, on a lion throne ablaze with jewels, on a lotus, moon, and sun seat, sits my root Guru who is kind in three ways, the very essence of all the Buddhas. He is in the aspect of a fully-ordained monk, with one face, two hands, and a radiant smile. His right hand is in the mudra of expounding Dharma, and his left hand, in the mudra of meditative equipoise, holds a bowl filled with nectar. He wears three robes of resplendent saffron, and his head is graced with a golden Pandit is hat. At his heart are Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara, who has a blue-coloured body, one face, and two hands. Holding vajra and bell, he embraces Yingchugma and delights in the play of spontaneous bliss and emptiness. He is adorned with many different types of jewelled ornament and wears garments of heavenly silk. Endowed with the major signs and minor indications, and ablaze with a thousand rays of light, my Guru sits in the centre of an aura of five-coloured rainbows. Sitting in the vajra posture, his completely pure aggregates are the five Sugatas, his four elements are the four Mothers, and his sources, veins, and joints are in reality Bodhisattvas. His pores are the twenty-one thousand Foe Destroyers, and his limbs are the wrathful Deities. His light rays are directional guardians such as givers of harm and smell-eaters, and beneath his throne are the worldly beings. Surrounding him in sequence is a vast assembly of lineage Gurus, Yidams, hosts of mandala Deities, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Heroes, Dakinis, and Dharma Protectors. Their three doors are marked by the three vajras. Hooking light rays radiate from the letter HUM and invite the wisdom beings from their natural abodes to remain inseparable.

Buddhas can manifest their inner realizations as outer forms. Each aspect of the visualization of any deity in any sadhana reflects this. Our job when we perform visualizations of Buddhas is to recall the spiritual symbolism of each aspect of the visualization and recognize the visual form as the deity’s realizations in the aspect of form. In Great Treasury of Merit, we can read about the symbolism of each aspect of this visualization. Our training is to generate a mind of faith as we visualize the deity, recognizing each aspect as their realizations.

The most important part of any visualization of a Buddha is to strongly believe we are in the living presence of the deity. If we think the Buddhas are not in front of us, and this is “just our imagination,” our visualizations will lack power to move our mind. We will feel like we are pretending, and that it is just us in our meditation room. But if we strongly believe we are in the presence of the enlightened beings, our mind will naturally be blessed. If we saw a picture of a famous person, we might think about how great the person is, but we would be truly excited to meet them in person. In truth, both the picture and the person in the flesh are both just mere karmic appearances to mind, but we would experience the two very differently. In exactly the same way, if we think it is just a picture in our mind, we might not generate much feeling, but if we felt we are in the living presence of the deity, our mind will be powerfully moved.

How can we generate conviction that we are in the living presence of the deity? Venerable Tharchin explains wherever you imagine a Buddha, a Buddha goes; and wherever a Buddha goes, they perform their function, which is to bestow blessings. Geshe-la explains why this is so. For us, our body and mind are different natures; but for a Buddha, their body and mind are the same nature, like gold and the coin it is in the shape of. Since a Buddha’s mind pervades all phenomena, it is correct to say Buddhas are likewise everywhere. There is nowhere that is not an emanation of a Buddha – they are inside everything. When we imagine a Buddha with faith, we open the aperture of our mind enabling these Buddhas which are everywhere to directly enter into our mind, just like opening the blinds allows the sunlight to enter our room. Thus, when we visualize the deities in the space in front of us, we can develop conviction we are in their presence. We should maintain this awareness throughout the rest of the sadhana and feel like we are making offerings, praises, and requests to them and that they receive our offerings and hear our prayers. It should feel like a personal daily meeting with our Guru – what a great way to start the day!

With this visualization, we imagine we are in the living presence of Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang. Lama means we see the deity as our spiritual guide in the aspect of the deity, making the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide a Guru yoga practice. Losang means the outer aspect of our spiritual guide is Losang Dragpa, or Je Tsongkhapa. Je Tsongkhapa is the founder of the New Kadampa Tradition and everything we practice is his instructions. By developing a close connection with Je Tsongkhapa, we draw closer to him, enabling us to receive his blessings to realize his teachings. We should strongly believe that Lama Tsongkhapa is our living spiritual guide – the same being who taught in the 14th century and who now appears as our present spiritual guide. Tubwang refers to our spiritual guide’s inner aspect of Buddha Shakyamuni. At Je Tsongkhapa’s heart is Buddha Shakyamuni, indicating that Buddha Shakyamuni and Je Tsongkhapa are also the same being, appearing at different times and different aspects. This also symbolizes how Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings are just a special presentation of Buddha’s 84,000 teachings. The lineage of every instruction can be traced back to Buddha Shakyamuni. Dorjechang means Buddha Vajradhara, who appears at the heart of Buddha Shakyamuni. When Buddha gave tantric teachings, he appeared as Buddha Vajradhara, who is our definitive tantric spiritual guide. Visualizing him at the heart of Buddha Shakyamuni indicates that Buddha Vajradhara, Buddha Shakyamuni, Je Tsongkhapa, and our present spiritual guide are all the same being, the same mental continuum, just appearing at different times according to the dispositions of different disciples. Sometimes we think that Je Tsongkhapa, Buddha Shakyamuni, and Buddha Vajradhara somehow no longer exist after they died, but this visualization helps us realize that they still live. They attained enlightenment to become an immortal being and our eternal spiritual guide. We are not staring into the past; we are interacting with a deathless holy being.

Geshe-la also explains in Great Treasury of Merit that there are three principal deities of Highest Yoga Tantra – Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja, and Heruka, symbolizing respectively the spiritual power, wisdom, and compassion of all the Buddhas according to Highest Yoga Tantra. Lama Tsongkhapa’s outer aspect is one with Yamantaka, his inner aspect is the body mandala of Guhyasamaja symbolized by the five Sugatas, four mothers, bodhisattvas, and wrathful deities. And we ourself are self-generated as Heruka. In this way, with one single concentration of ourself generated as Heruka visualizing Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang we are mixing our mind with the essential realizations of spiritual power, wisdom, and compassion of all the Buddhas.

Inviting the wisdom beings

You who are the source of all happiness and goodness,
The root and lineage Gurus of the three times, the Yidams, and Three Precious Jewels,
Together with the assembly of Heroes, Dakinis, Dharmapalas, and Protectors,
Out of your great compassion please come to this place and remain firm.

Even though phenomena are by nature completely free from coming and going,
You appear in accordance with the dispositions of various disciples
And perform enlightened deeds out of wisdom and compassion;
O Holy Refuge and Protector, please come to this place together with your retinue.

OM GURU BUDDHA BODHISATTÖ DHARMAPALA SAPARIWARA EH HAYE HI: DZA HUM BAM HO

The wisdom beings become inseparable from the commitment beings.

With the first verse, we recall that we are in the living presence of the deities as explained above. The second verse helps us recall their emptiness. Our “I”gnorance of self-grasping makes us think that we and the Buddhas are somehow separate from each other, like there is this giant chasm that separates them from us. When we recall the emptiness of ourself and the deities, this chasm is bridged and we feel as if not only we are in the presence of the holy beings, but the duality between ourselves and them has faded away. It feels like we are one wave, they are another wave, but we are all equally part of the same ocean, inseparable from one another. Their enlightened state is an aspect of our own mind.

With the third and fourth verses, we dissolve the wisdom beings into the commitment beings. The commitment beings are so-called because we have a commitment to visualize them, and the wisdom beings are the actual Buddhas who enter into our visualization. By dissolving the wisdom beings into the commitment beings, we imagine our visualization becomes inseparably one with the actual deities and we strengthen our conviction that we are in the living presence of the holy beings all while recalling that they are inseparable from our mind.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Train in Engaging Bodhichitta

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 4 of a 44-part series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-generation as the Deity

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

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

Blessing the offerings

OM AH HUM  (3x)

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

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

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

Happy Tsog Day: How to Generate Aspiring Bodhichitta

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 3 of a 44-part series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Tsog Day: How to Go for refuge

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 2 of a 44-part series.

Before we engage in any Dharma practice, we must first prepare our mind. We first prepare a shrine and our meditation seat, and then sit in the traditional posture. The most important thing is to maintain a straight back. We then turn our mind inwards. Since normally our mind is completely absorbed in the things we normally see and perceive, we need to first dispel all distractions. First, we can engage in some gentle breathing meditation, imagining that all our distractions and delusions are expelled from our mind in the form of black smoke, and we breathe in the blessings of our spiritual guide in the form of five-coloured wisdom lights representing the five omniscient wisdoms.

Once we have done this for a few breaths, we can then engage in a brief Mahamudra meditation on the nature of our mind. Geshe-la explains that our mind is by nature clarity and cognizing. Clarity means that our mind itself is formless. Because it is formless, it can cognize – or know – any form. If our mind had a form, then all objects known to our mind would also possess that form. Practically speaking, when we meditate on the conventional nature of our mind, we feel as if all our normal, ordinary thoughts dissolve away, like clouds back into the sky, and we are left with an infinite expanse of clear light that is a universal field of knowing. Nothing appears but the clear light, but we see this clear light as an all-pervasive field of knowing. It is like a three-dimensional blank canvas upon which any thought can be generated and known. We should feel as if our gross conceptual thoughts have completely ceased and our mind becomes completely still. We then rest in this inner stillness where everything is completely calm.

We can then generate the causes of going for refuge – namely fear and faith. Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that we should generate a fear of samsaric rebirth like we would if we were trapped in a circle of fire. Normally we do not like generating fear and we jump straight to faith, but this is a mistake. It is primarily because we do not have a genuine, heart-felt fear that our refuge – even after so many years of dedicated practice – remains superficial and intellectual. Only when we are truly gripped by genuine fear will our refuge be qualified. Geshe-la explains that the root cause of samsara is we identify with our ordinary body and mind as if it were ourselves. In short, we remain in samsara because we identify with it as ourselves. We are like a fly on flypaper – stuck to samsara. I imagine that I am standing on top of small island surrounded by a vast molten ocean of lava and fires, in which countless hell beings are drowning. I am quite literally trapped in a circle of fire. On this island are those close to me – such as my family and work colleagues – and all living beings in this world in the aspect of human beings. The island is made of crumbling sand that is rapidly sinking into the molten ocean of samsara, gradually taking everyone I know and love into the fires of hell. Inside the ocean of fire, we can occasionally see sea monsters of the Lord of Death rising up, capturing those who have fallen off of the island, dragging them down into the depths of hell below. Myself, my family, my work colleagues, and everyone else is similarly stuck onto samsara, like flies on flypaper, and we are all sinking. It is important to remember that this is not a metaphor, this is our actual situation. We are stuck on to the island of our human bodies, sinking rapidly into the circle of fire surrounding us, swallowed up by the sea monsters of the Lord of Death, dragged down into the abyss where we may not re-emerge for countless aeons. We should let this fear touch our heart.

Then, to generate faith, we can imagine our root Guru in the aspect of Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang appears in the space in front of us, surrounded by all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times. They have come, like helicopters, to rescue us before we sink into the fires of hell. All we need to do is let go of our grasping at samsara and grab onto the hook of our Guru’s compassion, and he will bring us to the pure land. How do we let go of samsara? Through the practice of the three higher trainings – moral discipline, concentration, and wisdom. With moral discipline, we let go of all behaviour “I”nconsistent with the Dharma. With concentration, we let go of distractions thinking about samsara. And with wisdom, we let go of grasping at identifying with samsara. Why do we let go of samsara? Because we do not want to sink ourselves and because we want to become a helicopter-like Buddha ourselves so we can extend the hook of our compassion to those we love just as our spiritual guide has done for us. With this mind of fear and faith, we then go for refuge according to the Sadhana.

With a perfectly pure mind of great virtue,
I and all mother sentient beings as extensive as space,
From now until we reach the essence of enlightenment,
Go for refuge to the Guru and Three Precious Jewels.

Namo Gurubhä
Namo Buddhaya
Namo Dharmaya
Namo Sanghaya  (3x)

A perfectly pure mind of great virtue refers to our minds of fear and faith as described above. With the second line, we recall ourselves and all living beings trapped in the circle of fire, sinking into samsara. With the third line we recall the final destination of our spiritual training is to bring ourself and all living beings into the clear light Dharmakaya, or Truth Body, of all the Buddhas. To go for refuge – the fourth line – we promise to make effort to receive Buddha’s blessings, turn to Sangha for help, and practice Dharma. For our refuge practice to be qualified, we need to have a very clear understanding of what, exactly, is our problem. Normally, we blame our external circumstances for our problems, but when we go for refuge, we recall the difference between our outer problem and our inner problem. Our outer problem, such as having to pay taxes, is solved through outer means; but our inner problem, our actual problem, is our deluded reaction to our external circumstance. The Three Jewels cannot help us pay our taxes, but they can help us mentally relate to doing so as an act of giving to all living beings, for example. The Three Jewels can help us change our mind towards our outer circumstance, so that everything becomes a cause of our enlightenment instead of a cause of suffering.

Unlike other practices, in Offering to the Spiritual Guide our refuge practice has two uncommon characteristics. First, we explicitly go for refuge to the Guru, recognizing him as the synthesis and source of all the other Three Jewels. Second, we recite the refuge prayer in Sanskrit to recall the original language Buddha taught in. This makes us feel more closely connected to the origin of these instructions.

Happy Tsog Day: Motivation for doing series

In Guide to Dakini Land, Geshe-la explains Heruka said, “Practitioners who sincerely practise the tsog offering without missing the two ‘tenth’ days of each month will definitely be reborn in Dakini Land.” A tsog offering is, in effect, an enlightened party. When ordinary beings throw a party, they gather their friends and enjoy objects of delight. In a tsog offering, we generate ourself and others as the Guru-deity, gather together, and collectively accumulate vast merit that is in turn dedicated to gaining Dharma realizations and accomplishing spiritual goals for the sake of all living beings.

Once we take rebirth in the pure land, we will be able to receive teachings and empowerments directly from Heruka and Vajrayogini and be able to swiftly complete our spiritual training. A pure land is like a bodhisattva’s training camp, and once reborn there we will never again take an uncontrolled samsaric rebirth. If we wish to help those we love, we can send emanations – almost like drones or avatars in a video game – into the realms of samsara, but from our perspective, we remain safe in the pure land. Once we reach the pure land, our eventual enlightenment is guaranteed. Geshe-la explains many different ways to guarantee that we attain the pure land, such as reaching tranquil abiding on the generation stage object, reaching the fourth mental abiding on the Mahamudra, or dying with a pure mind of compassion. But the easiest and most certain way of reaching the pure land is to maintain our commitment to practice the tsog offering without missing the two tenth days of each month. Heruka himself explained this. Thus, practicing the tsog offering is like an insurance policy for attaining the pure land. What could possibly be more important than this?

The “tenth” days here refers to the 10th and 25th of every month when Kadampa practitioners traditionally engage in a “tsog” offering in the context of the practice Offering to the Spiritual Guide. If we miss a tsog day, we can just make it up on the weekend. If we cannot do it at the center, we can just do it at home on our own. If we cannot do it with physical offerings, we can just do it with imagined ones. If we do not have time to do it and our other daily commitments, we can just imagine our tsog puja indirectly fulfils our other commitments. If we do not have time to do it, we can just do it more quickly. If we cannot do any of that, Venerable Geshe-la says we can just double our normal daily mantra commitment. The point is, we should try find a way to remember tsog days.

To help mark the tsog days myself, and hopefully help others do the same, I am writing this 44-part series of blog posts which I will post on every tenth day over the next two years. During January, which is Heruka and Vajrayogini month, I will post separately on the 10th and 25th since they are Vajrayogini and Heruka day respectively, hence 44 parts instead of 48 parts.  This series will share my personal thoughts and reflections on engaging in the Offering to the Spiritual Guide sadhana with tsog. Geshe-la encourages us to “make our own commentary” to our practices to try deepen our understanding of them. When Shantideva wrote Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, he said his purpose in doing so was to consolidate his own thinking about the bodhisattva’s path, and if others received benefit from his explanations, then all the better. In the same way, I do not pretend that this explanation is in any way definitive – for that, we have the book Great Treasury of Merit – rather, I will share what my current understanding is of the practice. I write it to help consolidate my own experience and understanding of the practice, and if others also find benefit, then all the better.

In my mind, writing and posting this series of posts is my tsog offering to my spiritual guide. By writing it, I offer my practice, my faith, and my effort to try help the Kadam flourish in this world. I pray that those who read this will be inspired to always engage in tsog offerings every tenth day for the rest of their life, and thereby guarantee that they take rebirth in Keajra Pure Land. Once there, may they quickly complete their spiritual training and begin liberating all living beings from the vast, terrible ocean of samsara’s sufferings.