Happy Tsog Day: How to Practice the Song of the Spring Queen (part 2)

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 25 of a 44-part series.

HUM All you Tathagatas,
Heroes, Yoginis,
Dakas, and Dakinis,
To all you I make this request:
With a mind completely aroused by great bliss
And a body in a dance of constant motion,
I offer to the hosts of Dakinis
The great bliss from enjoying the lotus of the mudra.
AH LA LA, LA LA HO, AH I AH, AH RA LI HO
May the assembly of stainless Dakinis
Look with loving affection and accomplish all deeds.

The first four lines and the last three lines can be understood in exactly the same way as the verse above. With the fifth line of this verse, we recall our mind has been completely aroused by great bliss from the previous verse and we are experiencing joy at our throat chakra. With the sixth line, we imagine that ourself and our consort Vajrayogini are in fact a single body of inseparable bliss and emptiness engaged in a dance of constant motion – our act of engaging in spiritual union. Here, we offer this experience of great bliss to the host of Dakas and Dakinis of the body mandala. There are two ways of engaging in Heruka’s body mandala. In the first, as explained in Essence of Vajrayana, we imagine the deities of the body mandala surround us in concentric circles. In the second, as explained in the sadhana New Essence of Vajrayana, we imagine all the deities of the body mandala at the twenty-four places of our body. In both cases, we imagine that the deities of the body mandala are by nature our channels and drops of our subtle body at these places. By mixing the deities of the body mandala with our channels and drops at the twenty-four places, we receive powerful blessings that function to heal our subtle body enabling all our winds to more easily find their way into our central channel at our heart and not become blocked by imperfections or blockages within our subtle body.

In the context of the practice of Song of the Spring Queen, we can imagine either the deities of the body mandala around us in concentric circles or at the twenty-four places of our body. In either case, we offer our experience of great bliss arising from engaging in union with the wisdom mudra Vajayogini to the Dakas and Dakinis, and as a result of them experiencing great bliss, we imagine that our subtle body is completely healed. The Dakas and Dakinis are then able to unobstructedly transmit their blessings through the principal channels of our subtle body causing all our inner winds to travel through them into the central channel at our heart. When we recite the ninth line, we imagine that once again Vajrayogini’s pure winds are blown up into our central channel, re-igniting our tummo fire, and causing the white bodhichitta at our throat to descend to our heart chakra, where we experience the second joy called supreme joy. It is as if all the pure winds from throughout our subtle body and the white bodhichitta descending from our crown all converge into our heart chakra in a concentration of indescribable bliss. 

HUM All you Tathagatas,

Heroes, Yoginis,

Dakas, and Dakinis,

To all you I make this request:

You who dance with a beautiful and peaceful manner,

O Blissful Protector and the hosts of Dakinis,

Please come here before me and grant me your blessings,

And bestow upon me spontaneous great bliss.

AH LA LA, LA LA HO, AH I AH, AH RA LI HO

May the assembly of stainless Dakinis

Look with loving affection and accomplish all deeds.

In this verse, with the fifth line, we recall that the great bliss everyone is experiencing around us is by nature emptiness. There is nothing more beautiful nor peaceful than the emptiness of all phenomena. With the sixth and seventh lines, we invite the wisdom beings of all the deities of Heruka’s body mandala to enter into the commitment beings that we have been visualizing up to this point. We imagine that from the ten directions come countless collections of the 64 deities of the body mandala that all dissolve into ourselves as the self-generation. When they do so, we imagine that they bestow spontaneous great bliss upon us, mixed inseparably with a direct realization of the emptiness of all phenomena. When we recite the ninth line, we once again imagine Vajrayogini’s pure winds enter into us, strengthen and further power the tummo fire at our navel. This causes the white bodhichitta, which is still experiencing supreme joy at our heart from before, to descend to our naval channel where it mixes in separably with the tummo fire itself. As a result, we experience the third of the four joys, extraordinary joy, which is even more profound and intense then the supreme joy we generated before.

HUM All you Tathagatas,
Heroes, Yoginis,
Dakas, and Dakinis,
To all you I make this request:
You who have the characteristic of the liberation of great bliss,
Do not say that deliverance can be gained in one lifetime
Through various ascetic practices having abandoned great bliss,
But that great bliss resides in the centre of the supreme lotus.
AH LA LA, LA LA HO, AH I AH, AH RA LI HO
May the assembly of stainless Dakinis
Look with loving affection and accomplish all deeds.

Normally when we speak of liberation, we are referring to abandoning all our delusions for ourselves. This is the final result of the Hinayana path and also the middle scope of the Lamrim teachings. However, as explained above, the mind of bodhichitta is the substantial cause of the mind of great bliss, and the practices of generation stage and completion stage are these circumstantial causes that enable us to transform the mind of bodhicitta into the very subtle mind of great bliss. Thus, with the fifth line, we recall that Vajrayogini, who we are engaged in union with, is by nature bodhicitta, which is the uncommon characteristic of the liberation of great bliss. The liberation of great bliss is an experience of great bliss that is equal to or greater than the bliss of individual liberation from samsara, otherwise known as nirvana, but whose special characteristic is to retain the bodhicitta motivation that prevents us from being content with solitary piece.

With the sixth and seventh line, we recall the importance of completely abandoning all attachment if we are to engage in qualified completion stage practice. Aesthetics principal practice is abandoning attachment, and they do so primarily through renouncing all pleasant experiences and achieving a mind that is completely at peace despite that. Aesthetic practices are similar to the practices of physical yoga. When we engage in physical yoga, we put our body into all sorts of extremely uncomfortable positions and stretches, but then we learn how to relax completely into that discomfort and tension completely fades away and we experience it as blissful relaxation of letting go into discomfort. In our practice of tantra, we do not abandon pleasant experiences, rather we learn how to transform them into the spiritual path of generating the mind of great bliss that we then use to meditate on emptiness. The sixth and seventh lines, therefore, remind us that our practices of generation stage and completion stage must be completely free from every trace of attachment just like the practices of an aesthetic must be. The difference is we do not need to renounce the pleasant experience, instead we use it spiritually. With the eighth line, we recall that great bliss can only be found through tantric practice, and in particular through completely loosening all the knots at our central channel as described above. It is only through tantric technology that we can attain enlightenment in one lifetime. This can only be done through relying upon both a wisdom and an action mudra. The supreme lotus refers to Vajrayogini’s bhaga.

When we recite the ninth line, we once again imagine that Vajrayogini’s pure winds flow up into our central channel where they envelop our white bodhichitta now at our navel chakra, and then they draw our white bodhichitta down to the tip of our sex organ. Technically speaking, the center of the chakra at the tip of our sex organ is slightly outside the tip, so we should feel as if the white bodhicitta is now residing inside the center of our lower door and we experience the fourth joy, spontaneous great bliss joy.

Happy Protector Day: Introduction to series

The 29th of every month is Protector Day, when we emphasize our reliance upon the Dharma Protector for the New Kadampa Tradition.  In order to strengthen our connection with him, increase our faith in him, and learn how to practically rely upon him, on the 29th of every month, I will explain my understanding of how to rely upon Dorje Shugden, our Dharma protector.  All of Dharma essentially has one purpose:  to bring the mind under control.  Delusions are that which make our mind uncontrolled.  For me personally, I overcome about 90% of my delusions “merely by remembering” Dorje Shugden.  In this series of posts I will explain how.

Our ability to rely upon Dorje Shugden depends primarily upon one thing:  are we a worldly being or a spiritual being.  If we are a worldly being, reliance on Dorje Shugden will not work.  If we are a spiritual being, reliance on Dorje Shugden will change everything for us – we will never be the same again.  All fear, all anxiety, all grasping will vanish.  Our mind will become smooth, balanced, flexible and peaceful all of the time. 

There is one question we need to ask ourself:  what kind of being do I want to be, a worldly being or a spiritual being?  A worldly being is somebody who is primarily concerned with securing happiness in this life.  Their actions are aimed at securing worldly happiness in this life.  A spiritual being is somebody who is primarily concerned with securing happiness of future lives.  Their actions are aimed at laying the foundation for happiness in future lives, up to the supreme happiness of full enlightenment.

It is important to understand whether our life is a worldly one or a spiritual one does not depend on what activities or job we do, rather it depends on what mind we do these activities with.  Sometimes we think that our families, jobs, vacations and so forth are necessarily ‘worldly’, but this is not the case.  They are only worldly if we engage in them with a worldly mind.  If we engage in these same activities with a spiritual mind, then they become spiritual activities and part of our spiritual life. 

What does it mean to live our life with a spiritual mind?  It means what we are looking to get out of a situation is different.  For example, I have a close friend who is a very successful businessman.  He views everything through the lens of the business opportunity.  We went to Magic Mountain together once (Magic Mountain is an amusement park with very big roller coasters, etc.).  For my friend, because he looked at things through the glasses of a businessman, what he took home from his trip to Magic Mountain was lessons in business. 

For a worldly being, what they are looking to get out of a situation is external happiness in this life.  Their actions are aimed at improving their reputation, increasing their resources, receiving praise and experiencing pleasure (and avoiding the opposite of these things).  For a spiritual being, what they are looking to get out of a situation is opportunities to train their mind and create good causes.  They view situations from the perspective of the opportunity they afford the person to train their mind and create good causes for the future.  To be a spiritual being doesn’t mean we do not care about this life, rather it means we also care about future lives.  We include future lives in our calculations for how we use today and how we use this life.

Before we can actually become a spiritual being, we have to have at least some belief in future lives.  Without such belief, it is difficult to view our life as a preparation for them.  So how can we develop some conviction, or at least some virtuous doubt, about the existence of future lives?  The definitive reason which establishes everything in the Dharma is emptiness.  Emptiness explains that all phenomena, ourselves included, are mere karmic appearance of mind.  ‘Mere’ means they are like appearances in a dream, and ‘karmic appearance’ means that these appearances arise from karma.  This life and all its appearances are just mere karmic appearances of mind that were triggered by previous minds.  The quality of our mind determines the quality of the karma activated.  Every karmic seed has a certain duration, and when it exhausts itself the appearance supported by that karma will cease.  It is just like during a dream. 

The nature of the mind is clarity and cognizing.  Clarity means our mind itself is without form, shape, color, etc.  If our mind had a color, for example, then everything that appeared to our mind would be that color.  It is because it lacks any color that it can perceive or know any color; because it lacks any form, it can know any form and so forth.  Cognizing means it has the power to know objects.  Lacking form alone is not mind – there are many things that lack form, but do not know.  Only something that both lacks form and knows is a mind.  Our mind is like a formless field of knowing.  It is like a giant container in which new karmic appearances are projected.  Think back to two hours ago.  What is appearing to our mind now is completely different.  What used to appear no longer appears at all, yet our mind itself remains clarity and cognizing.  In the same way, when the appearances of this life and this body cease, our mind itself will remain clarity and cognizing, it will just know new appearances.

If none of these ideas work for us, then it is useful to consider even if we are not sure, it is nonetheless better to live our life as if there are future lives.  Why?  If there are future lives, but we assume there are not, then we won’t be prepared for them when they come and our future will be uncertain.  It is like somebody denying that there is a tomorrow.  If there are not future lives, but we assume there are, then we will at least be able to have the happiest possible life during this life because a spiritual outlook on life is simply a happier way to relate to the world.  Why is this so?

Why is it a good idea to adopt a spiritual way of life?  Doing so can make every moment of our life deeply meaningful.  Our lives are as meaningful as the goals towards which we work.  If our goal is to lead each and every living being to the complete freedom of full enlightenment, then since this is the most meaningful goal, our life in pursuit of this goal will be felt to be full of great meaning.  We can find a true happiness from a different source – the cultivation of pure minds. 

External happiness, if we check, is really just a temporary reduction of our discomfort.   Even if it does provide us with temporary moments of happiness, we have no control over it and so our happiness is uncertain.  We feel we cannot be happy without our external objects.  In Buddhism, we have identified a different source of happiness – a peaceful mind.  If our mind is peaceful, we are happy, regardless of what our external circumstances are.  The cause of a peaceful mind is to mix our mind with virtue, such as love, compassion, etc.  When we engage in the actions of mixing our mind with virtue, we plant the karmic seeds on our mind which will ripen in the form of the experience of inner peace.  Understanding this, we have an infinite source of happiness just waiting to be tapped.  When our mind is at peace, we can then enjoy all external things, not just the ones we like.

We are all going to die, and the only things we can take with us are the causes we have created for ourself.  Everything else we have we need to leave behind.  The only riches we can take with us into our future lives are the karmic causes we have created for ourself.   When we think about this carefully, we realize that only they matter.  The rest of this life is not guaranteed to happen, but our future lives are, and they are very long.  Now is the time to assemble provisions for our future lives.  We do not know when we are going to die. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Using Everything We Have for Others

And now Shantideva returns to the attachment we have toward objects of worldly concern, such as possessions, praise, reputation.

(8.17) If people think I have many possessions,
They will respect me and like me;
But if I harbour this kind of pride,
I shall experience terrible fears after I die.

(8.18) O thoroughly confused mind,
For as many objects as you accumulate,
You will have to endure a thousand times more suffering
Because of your attachment to them.

(8.19) Thus, because objects of attachment give rise to fear,
The wise should not become attached,
But remain firm in the understanding
That by their very nature these things are to be left behind.

We have so many possessions. So many.  No matter how much space you have, we always find a way to fill it.  Venerable Tharchin said objects become possessions when we impute “mine” on them.  In reality, we shouldn’t have any possessions, as in our heart everything we have should belong to “others.”  We might be temporary custodians of some objects, but from our perspective we are practicing the giving of keeping. If we relate to anything as “ours,” then at the time of death we will feel it being ripped away.  The only things we can validly say are “ours” are our indestructible wind, our indestructible mind, and our karma.  Everything else is like the child of a barren woman – a non-existent thing belonging to someone who does not exist.

As Kadampas, I think we live, and should be seen to live, humbly, not extravagantly. We avoid the two extremes of materialism and spiritualism.   The extreme of materialism thinks that only material things matter.  This is an extreme because material things have no power to give us happiness and we eventually need to leave them all behind.

The extreme of spiritualism is when we think material things don’t matter at all.   This is an extreme because we need certain physical conditions for our practice or to help sustain others’ practice.  Perhaps we do not need these conditions ourselves, but those we want to help do.  If they think to adopt a spiritual life means to live in poverty, etc., then nobody will be interested in the spiritual way of life.  It is similar to eating meat.  Many Buddhists are vegetarians, but we don’t say, “to be Buddhist, you have to be vegetarian.”  If we said this, then many people would conclude, “I don’t want to be a Buddhist,” and then they would walk away from the Buddhist path and continue to eat meat.  If instead we say, “some eat meat, others don’t, it is your choice,” then they become Buddhist, and some of those who become Buddhist stop eating meat eventually. 

The middle way is we should use everything we have for the enlightenment of ourself and of others.  Then we can have many things, but we are using them all as means to accomplishing spiritual ends.  This enables people to realize the changes that need to be made are internal.  Having or not having are equally irrelevant.  What matters is our mind.  At the same time, we need to have everything around us be attractive, clean, organized, welcoming because we are inviting people into a spiritual way of life.  This is especially true for our Dharma centers.  It is not a waste of money to have comfortable chairs and a pleasant environment since these things matter for people, especially when they first come into the Dharma. 

(8.20) Even if I have acquired many possessions,
Fame, and a good reputation,
None of these things
Can go with me when I die.

Atisha said you have to depart leaving everything behind so do not be attached to anything.  Many people might not have strong attachment to things, but they might be attached to their reputation or their legacy or how they are remembered.  We have to leave that behind too.  None of these things go with us when we die, so we shouldn’t be attached to any of them.

New Years for a Kadampa

New Year’s Day is of course preceded by New Year’s Eve.  The evening before is usually when friends get together to celebrate the coming of the new year.  Sometimes Kadampas become a social cynic, looking down on parties like this, finding them meaningless and inherently samsaric.  They mistakenly think it is somehow a fault to enjoy life and enjoy cultural traditions.  This is wrong.

If we are invited to a New Year’s party, we should go without thinking it is inherently meaningless.  Geshe-la wants us to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  New Year’s Eve parties are part of modern life, so our job is to bring the Dharma into them.  Venerable Tharchin said that our ability to help others depends upon two things:  the depth of our Dharma realizations and the strength of our karmic connections with living beings.  Doing things with friends as friends helps build those karmic bonds.  Even if we are unable to discuss any Dharma, at the very least, we can view such evenings as the time to cultivate our close karmic bonds with people.  Later, in dependence upon these bonds, we will be able to help them.

One question that often comes up at most New Year’s Eve parties is what to do about the fact that most everyone else is drinking or consuming other intoxicants.  Most of us have Pratimoksha vows, so this can create a problem or some awkward moments for ourself or for the person who is throwing the party.  Best, of course, is if you have an open and accepting relationship with your friends where you can say, “you can do whatever you want, but I am not going to.”  It’s important that we don’t adopt a judgmental attitude towards others who might drink, etc.  We each make our own choices and it is not up to us to judge anyone else.  We might even make ourselves the annual “designated driver.”  Somebody has to be, so it might as well be the Buddhist!

If we are at a party where we can’t be open about being a Buddhist, which can happen depending upon our karmic circumstance, what I usually do is drink orange juice or coke for most of the night, but then at midnight when they pass around the glasses of Champagne I just take one, and without a fuss when it comes time, I just put it to my lips like I am drinking but I am not actually doing so.  If we don’t make an issue out of it, nobody will notice.  Why is this important?  Because when we say we don’t drink, they will ask why.  Then we say because we are a Buddhist.  Implicitly, others can take our answer to mean we are saying we think it is immoral to drink, so others might feel judged. When they do, they then reject Buddhism, and create the karma of doing so. We may feel “right,” but we have in fact harmed those around us. What is the most moral thing to do depends largely upon our circumstance. It goes without saying that others are far more likely to feel judged by us if in fact we are judging everyone around us! We all need to get off our high horse and just love others with an accepting attitude.

Fortunately, most Kadampa centers now host a New Year’s Eve party.  This is ideal.  If our center doesn’t, then ask to host one yourself at the center.  This gives our Sangha friends an alternative to the usual New Year’s parties.  We can get together at the center, have a meal together, do a puja together and just hang out together as friends.  We are people too, not just Dharma practitioners, so it is important to be “exactly as normal.”  If our New Year’s party is a lot of fun, then people will want to come again and again; and perhaps even invite their friends along.  It is not uncommon to do either a Tara practice or an Amitayus practice.   Sometimes centers organize a retreat weekend course over New Year’s weekend.  For several years in Geneva, we would do Tara practice in six sessions at the house of a Sangha member.  The point is, try make it time together with your Sangha family.  Christmas is often with our regular family, New Year’s can be with our spiritual family.

But it is equally worth pointing out there is absolutely nothing wrong with spending a quiet evening at home alone, or with a few friends or members of your family. Just because everybody else is making a big deal out of it and going to parties doesn’t mean we should feel any pressure to do the same. I personally have never enjoyed them party scene, even when others are not getting drunk, etc. I much prefer a quiet evening or a solitary retreat. There is nothing wrong with this, and if that is how we prefer to bring in the New Year, we should do so without guilt or hesitation.

What I used to do (and really should start doing again), is around New Years I would take the time to go through all the 250+ vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism and reflect upon how I was doing.  I would try look back on the past year and identify the different ways I broke each vow, and I would try make plans for doing better next year.  If you are really enthusiastic about this, you can make a chart in Excel where you rank on a scale of 1 to 10 how well you did on each vow, and then keep track of this over the years.  Geshe-la advises that we work gradually with our vows over a long period of time, slowly improving the quality with which we keep them.  Keeping track with a self-graded score is a very effective way of doing this.  New Years is a perfect time for reflecting on this.

Ultimately, New Year’s Day itself is no different than any other.  It is very easy to see how its meaning is merely imputed by mind.  But that doesn’t mean it is not meaningful, ultimately everything is imputed by mind.  The good thing about New Year’s Day is everyone agrees it marks the possibility for a new beginning.  It is customary for people to make New Year’s Resolutions, things they plan on doing differently in the coming year.  Unfortunately, it is also quite common for people’s New Year’s Resolutions to not last very long.

But at Kadampas, we can be different.  The teachings on impermanence remind us that “nothing remains for even a moment” and that the entire world is completely recreated anew every moment.  New Year’s Day is a good day for recalling impermanence.  Everything that happened in the previous year, we can just let it go and realize we are moving into a new year and a new beginning.  We should make our New Year’s resolutions spiritual ones.  It is best, though, to make small changes that you make a real effort to keep than large ones that you know won’t last long.  Pick one or two things you are going to do differently this year.  Make it concrete and make sure it is doable.  A former student of mine would pick one thing that she said she was going to make her priority for the coming year, and then throughout the year she would focus on that practice. I think this is perfect. Another Sangha friend of mine would every year ask for special advice about what they should work on in the coming year. This is also perfect.

When you make a determination, make sure you know why you are doing it and the wisdom reasons in favor of the change are solid in your mind.  On that basis, you will be able to keep them.  Making promises that you later break creates terrible karma for ourselves which makes it harder and harder to make promises in the future. We create the habit of never following through, and that makes the practice of moral discipline harder and harder.

Just because we are a Kadampa does not mean we can’t have fun like everyone else on New Year’s Eve.  It is an opportunity to build close karmic bonds with others, especially our spiritual family.  We can reflect upon our behavior over the previous year and make determinations about how we will do better in the year to come.

I pray that all of your pure wishes in the coming year be fulfilled, and that all of the suffering you experience become a powerful cause of your enlightenment.  I pray that all beings may find a qualified spiritual path and thereby find meaning in their life.  I also pray that nobody die tonight from drunk driving, but everyone makes it home safe.  Since that is unlikely to come true, I pray that Avalokiteshvara swiftly take all those who die to the pure land where they may enjoy everlasting joy.

Happy Tara Day: May there be the auspiciousness of her presence

This is the final installment of the 12-part series sharing my understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.

Dedication

By this virtue may I quickly
Become Arya Tara,
And then lead every living being
Without exception to that ground.

The dedication of any sadhana indicates the practice’s main function.  By engaging in the practice, we create the karmic causes for the ends we dedicate towards in the dedication.  Then, when doing the dedication, we “seal” the karma we have created through doing the practice so that it continues to work without interruption until the dedication is realized.  For me, the best analogy is dedication is like putting our savings into a retirement account, where it will continue to accumulate interest until eventually we have reached our retirement goals.  Geshe Chekhawa says there are two activities:  one at the beginning and one at the end.  In the beginning, we establish our motivation for engaging in the practice; and in the end, we dedicate our merit towards the accomplishment of our desired spiritual goals.  As Mahayanists, our motivation and our dedication are the same – we wish to become a Buddha for the sake of all living beings and then we dedicate at the end towards the same end.  Thus it is important that we recall our bodhichitta motivation for having engaged in the practice, and now we solidify it by dedicating our merits towards the same goal.

Sometimes it is easy to get lazy and distracted with our dedications, but this is a big mistake.  By the end of our practice, we are tired and we are also anticipating everything that we will have to do once our practice is over.  Our mind is already positioning itself for what comes after.  Shantideva explains that anger can quickly destroy all undedicated merit, but dedication functions to protect our merit from subsequent anger.  Given how easily we get angry, it is safe to say that any merit we have not dedicated has already been destroyed by our past anger.  In other words, the only merit we have left on our mind is that which we have dedicated.  Whenever good karma ripens, we should recall that the only reason why we are able to enjoy our present good circumstance is due to our past practice of dedication.

Here, we dedicate to become Arya Tara and to lead all living beings to the same ground.  We are Kadampas, so it is only natural for us to wish to become a Lamrim Buddha just like Tara.  Her special power is to bestow Lamrim realizations and her uncommon mission is to care for all Atisha’s future disciples.  We wish to do the same. 

Through the virtues I have collected
By worshipping the Blessed Mother,
May every living being without exception
Be born in the Pure Land of Bliss.

Here, we specifically recall that she is our blessed spiritual mother, who cares for and nurtures our spiritual life to maturity.  When we recite this dedication, we should mentally generate the wish that she be our spiritual mother in all of our future lives until we attain enlightenment.  Geshe-la once said that the mind of Lamrim is Akanishta Pure Land.  In other words, if we transform our mind into Lamrim, the world which will naturally appear is Akanishta Pure Land.  When we help others develop Lamrim minds, we are in fact bringing them into our Pure Land.  We do not have to wait until others die for them to be reborn in the Pure Land of Bliss, they can do so now through generating Lamrim minds.

Auspicious verse

You, who having abandoned all bodily faults, possess the signs and indications,
Who having abandoned all verbal faults, possess a heavenly voice,
Who having abandoned all mental faults, realize all objects of knowledge;
O Lady of blessed, glorious renown, may there be the auspiciousness of your presence.

This verse reveals how we should rely upon Tara in the meditation break.  We generate faith by considering the good qualities of a Buddha, but sometimes we forget to connect that to our own life.  In this verse, we bridge the gap by praying that we always be in the living presence of Tara and experience firsthand her good qualities.  A Buddha’s body is not just their form, such as a Green Deity with an outstretched leg; rather, their body pervades the entire universe and we can correctly view all things as her emanations.  With the first line, we pray that we “see” her in every form we encounter, and that we understand what we see as the signs and indications of her presence in our life.  To strengthen this experience, during the meditation break, we should take the time to view everything that appears to us as her bodily emanations in our life.  In particular, we can view the food we eat, the home we live in, the clothes we wear, etc., all as provided by our spiritual mother caring for us.

With the second line, we pray that every sound we hear – even the rustling of the leaves in the wind – is recognized by us as her heavenly voice teaching us the Kadam Lamrim.  During the meditation break, we hear countless sounds, but whether those sounds teach us Lamrim depends upon our familiarity with the Lamrim teachings and the blessings we receive from the Buddhas.  By practicing pure view recognizing every sound as Tara’s heavenly voice, she will enter into every sound and our mind will be blessed to hear everything as Lamrim teachings.  Then, day and night, it will be as if we are in her holy temple at her lotus feet.

With the third line, we pray that every thought that arise in our mind arise from her omniscient wisdom.  Thoughts arise in our mind like bubbles from the bottom of the sea, but the majority of them are contaminated, deluded views.  If we can unite our mind with Tara’s, then every thought we have will be a manifestation of her omniscient wisdom arising in our mind.  Venerable Tharchin says a blessing is like a subtle infusion of a Buddha’s mind into our own.  When we feel the presence of Arya Tara’s mind within our own, then we will receive a steady stream of her blessings.  Throughout the meditation break, we should recall Tara has mixed inseparably with our root mind at our heart, and view every thought that arises as her quick wisdom.  By maintaining this view, she will enter every thought we have and bless us to have a Lamrim perspective with respect to every appearance.  In this way, everything that arises, both externally and internally, are all viewed as Tara.  In short, our practice during the meditation break is to always remember we are in her presence in these three ways.

Dedication:  I dedicate all of the merit I have accumulated through sharing my understanding of Tara practice so that in all our future lives she remains our spiritual mother, who gives birth to us as Kadampas and nurtures us to spiritual maturity on the Kadampa path.  Through her blessings, may our every experience give rise to Lamrim minds, and may we always feel ourselves to be in her holy presence.  May every person who reads this series of posts make the firm determination to engage in the Liberation from Sorrow practice the 8th of every month for the rest of their lives, and may Tara appear to them at the time of their death and lead them to her Pure Land. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: To not even try is the greatest failure of all

(7.27) The Bodhisattva has abandoned non-virtue and so does not experience physical suffering;
And, because he clearly realizes emptiness, he does not experience mental pain.
By contrast, we are afflicted by wrong conceptions
And our bodies and minds are harmed by non-virtuous actions.

(7.28) Because of his merit, the Bodhisattva experiences physical happiness,
And because of his wisdom, mental joy;
So even if this compassionate one must abide in samsara for the sake of others,
How could he ever be perturbed?

(7.29) Through the power of his bodhichitta,
He purified all his previous non-virtue;
And because he accumulates vast collections of merit and wisdom,
He is said to surpass the Hearers.

(7.30) Having mounted the steed of bodhichitta
That dispels mental discouragement and physical weariness,
The Bodhisattva travels the path from joy to joy.
Knowing this, who could ever be discouraged?

When Shantideva puts it that way, it is not so bad, is it?  Indeed, it seems like something to look forward to.  But then we think, “well it must be great for a bodhisattva, but I’m such a long ways off.  I could never get there.”

On the path to developing the precious mind of Bodhichitta, we’re so afraid of failure.  We still feel “I can’t do it.  If I try and fail in my efforts, then I’ll become even more discouraged.”  We already feel discouraged because we are not meeting with success for even our daily practice, so certainly we are setting ourselves up for failure if we take upon ourselves the Herculean task of becoming a Bodhisattva!  We would rather fail on our own terms by not trying than to try our best and come up short.  Frankly, this attitude is stupid.  To not even try is the greatest failure of all. 

It is only through our efforts – failing sometimes, of course making mistakes – that our capacity will ever increase.  It is only through applying effort that we are able to accomplish greater and greater results.  It is inevitable that we will make mistakes, but why is this a surprise.  It only comes as a surprise to our pride.  But if we humbly accept where we are at, every time we fail we will be even more motivated to keep trying.  Mistakes are only a problem if we don’t try to learn from them.  When we do not have time for people or we fail, we can use this as an opportunity to reinforce our bodhichitta.  We do not want to fail, but we will continue to do so for as long as we are not a Buddha.  We can’t let failure discourage us, it’s entirely normal.  Instead, we view each failure as bringing us one step closer to enlightenment.  Ultimately, attaining enlightenment depends merely upon a mind that never gives up trying, no matter how hard it is or how long it takes.

Geshe-la said if we try every day then we will learn through familiarity. He said we will taste, we will see. Then we will have more energy and we will enjoy more.   Even if we do not have time to do our formal practice, we never need to abandon our bodhisattva training.  Dorje Shugden knows the beings with whom we have the karma to be their spiritual guide.  He is giving us their problems right now so we learn how to practice Dharma in the context of the problems of their lives.  Our job is to learn now how to transform their lives into the path.  Even if we find ourself in the army or in a psychiatric hospital or as a single mom, we can view everything as part of our formation into the spiritual guide we need to become.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to overcome discouragement

We often seek to justify our laziness by convincing ourselves that those activities are meaningful or beneficial in some way. We must be honest with ourselves. It is so easy to out of laziness fool or deceive ourselves.  Atisha gave us some good advice when he said:   “Until you attain stable realizations, worldly amusements are harmful, therefore abide in a place where there are no such distractions.”  He then went on to say, “If you engage in many meaningless activities your virtuous activities will degenerate, therefore stop activities that are not spiritual.”

What does he mean by “spiritual?”  Geshe-la said something spiritual is necessarily focused beyond this life.  Something is worldly if it concerns this life.  There are many people who spend their whole lives “doing Dharma” – engaging in their practices, going to teachings, working for the center, spending time with Sangha friends, etc. – but in their mind, their motivation remains worldly.  Even though they are “doing Dharma,” they are not actually engaged in spiritual practices.  And there are others who spend their whole day at work, taking care of their families, and a million other seemingly “worldly” activities, but in their mind they view them all as spiritual trainings emanated by Dorje Shugden.  Whether our life is spiritual or worldly depends upon which life we are working for – this life or our future lives.  Whether our life is spiritual or worldly, therefore, fundamentally depends upon whether laziness remains in our mind – laziness to put in the effort to engage in our activities with a spiritual mind. 

Now Shantideva turns to the laziness of discouragement.

(7.16) Without being discouraged, I should collect wisdom and merit
And strive for self-control through mindfulness and alertness.
Then I should equalize self and others
And practise exchanging myself with others.

(7.17) I should not discourage myself by thinking,
“How shall I ever become enlightened?”
For the Tathagatas, who speak only the truth,
Have said that it can be so.

(7.18) It is said that even flies, bees, gnats,
And all other insects and animals
Can attain the rare and unsurpassed state of enlightenment
Through developing the power of effort;

(7.19) So why should I, who am born a human,
And who understands the meaning of spiritual paths,
Not attain enlightenment
By following the Bodhisattva’s way of life?

We can so easily become discouraged. I think we all suffer sometimes quite badly from discouragement.  For example, thinking that we do not have the qualities, the skills, and so forth of a good Dharma practitioner, and because we are not able to do the things that Dharma says, we become discouraged and abandon trying.  Many of us fall into the trap of thinking if we can’t do things “perfectly” we are somehow doing them “badly.”  We judge our practice as not good enough, and even say we are a bad practitioner.  There is always “more” we could be doing, and because we could be doing more but are not, we think what we are doing is bad or not worth anything.  We may have been practicing the Dharma for many years, but still delusions get the better of us, so we feel like a failure.  We think there is no way we will be able to accomplish great things along the spiritual path, we can barely wait in line at the grocery store without becoming impatient.  We know how we “should” be responding to difficult situations with Dharma minds, and everytime we see that we are unable to do so, we judge ourselves a failure.  When we look into the mirror of Dharma with our mind of guilt, all we see is the myriad ways we are falling short and we quickly become discouraged.

Once again, this shows how patient acceptance is the foundation for the practice of effort.  We need to accept where we are at.  It is neither good nor bad, it is just simply where we are at.  It doesn’t matter where we are at, the only thing that matters is are we moving the ball forward by trying.  It doesn’t even matter of we succeed, simply trying creates the karma we are after.  Vajryaogini’s mandala is an inverted double tetrahedron to show how the highest attainments are all built of the foundation of our smallest efforts.  We need to cherish and rejoice anything we do do, not beat ourselves up for everything we are not doing but think we “should” be.

What is the source of our discouragement?  Fundamentally, it is because we grasp at a permanent ordinary self.  We think our ordinary self is our real self and that it is unchangeable.  We often say, “that is not me.”  What are you, anyway?  We project expectations on ourself of already having the results of our practice (patience, compassion, selflessness, wisdom realizing emptiness, etc.) without having created the causes for such attainments.  It is not enough to know how a Buddha acts, we need to train to be able to do so.  We do not believe our spiritual guide.  He has seen our qualities and he knows we can do it, otherwise he wouldn’t have activated our Dharma karma.  But we choose to listen to our whining voice inside.  We should trust our guru and believe we can do it.  And then, we go for it.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Without patience, there is no effort

Before we dive in to the actual verses on the perfection of effort, I want to first say a few words about the relationship between the perfection of patience and the perfection of effort.  All of the six perfections mutually reinforce one another – strengthening our experience and realization of one makes all of the others easier.  Likewise, we can say that the earlier perfections are the foundation for the later perfections, for example giving is the foundation of moral discipline because giving counters our attachment, the principle cause of our non-virtue.  In the same way, patience is the foundation of effort. 

How can we understand this?  Patience is a mind that is able to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, including adverse conditions or unpleasant feelings.  It can do this because it knows how to transform whatever arises – the good, the bad, and the ugly – into spiritual fuel.  Effort is taking delight in engaging in virtue.  It does not mean working hard, gritting our teeth and grinding on, it means genuinely enjoying ourselves as we travel the spiritual path.  The Kadampa path is called the “Joyful” path, and the joyful here comes from our joyful effort.  We cannot “enjoy” things we are pushing away with aversion, we are pushing them away precisely because we don’t enjoy them.  Since we encounter unpleasant things all of the time, if we are encountering them with an unhappy mind, we necessarily do not have joyful effort, even if it seems we are “practicing” Dharma in response to what is arising.  So at least half of our time is not “joyful.” 

But as we saw in our discussion of the last chapter, we need the mind of patience acceptance to also spiritually transform so-called pleasant experiences, such as wealth, happiness, praise, and a good reputation.  Normally, our attachment hijacks these experiences and transforms them into “enjoying samsara” not “enjoying our spiritual practice.”  There are many people who think the mind of renunciation is a tight, unhappy mind that deprives itself of joy.  After all, aren’t we renouncing samsara’s pleasures?  Without the mind of patient acceptance, we do not know how to wholeheartedly welcome pleasant conditions with a spiritual mind.  We just welcome them with our ordinary mind of attachment.  Further, when good things happen, we normally show no interest in spiritual practice.  We are happy to enjoy our pleasant life, and only feel the need to practice when samsara shows its ugly head.  

But effort is not just joyful, it is also energy that powers our practice forward – in other words, it is fuel.  The wisdom of the perfection of patience knows how to transform everything into spiritual fuel, and this fuel in turn powers our practice forward with effort.  We need to differentiate effort in our Dharma practice into two types:  impure and pure.  Impure effort is effort we put into our Dharma practice for the sake of this life and pure effort is for the sake of our own or other’s future lives.  Pure effort and spiritual effort are synonymous, because they concern things beyond this life.  Pure effort itself has three levels – effort aimed at escaping lower rebirth, effort aimed at escaping samsara, and effort aimed at becoming a Buddha to liberate all beings from samsara. 

All three of these types of pure effort depend upon patience.  Many people deny the existence of lower realms and many people live in denial about all of the unpurified negative karma that remains on our mind.  To patiently accept also means to mentally be at peace with the truth of Dharma.  When we don’t know how to process facts such as lower rebirth, we tend to push such teachings away.  But we need to embrace the horror of what they imply before we will feel a burning energy to do something about it.  Likewise, patience is the foundation of renunciation.  As long as we push away samara’s sufferings and chase after its pleasures, our real motivation is to find a comfortable place within samsara, not escape it.  The wisdom of patient acceptance accepts the truth of samsaric existence and it is able to transform all of its experiences into spiritual fuel propelling our practice.  Others still become very attached to those they love not suffering, and when they go down, we go down with them.  We alternate between the extremes of indifference to others suffering or being crushed and discouraged by it.  Just as we need to accept the truth of our own suffering before we will generate renunciation, so too we need to accept the truth of others’ suffering before we will be compelled to seek to become a Buddha to do something about it. 

For all of these reasons, we can see clearly without patience, then, we have no effort.   

Thoughts on a Vivid Dream: Compassion for the Giant Spider

I just had a very vivid dream, and I wanted to write down what happened before I forget. Just prior to the ripening of major negative karma in my life, I typically have very vivid dreams, almost like premonitions of what is to come. This has happened to me before on at least two occasions in my life, one of which was the landslide at my house more than 12 years ago which changed everything.

Yesterday night I had a dream where the people who I was caring for, including some young children under my care, had no choice but to get COVID, but we decided to do so in a controlled, isolated way that could be cared for, and I was to be one of the adult carers of the house. We were getting everybody ready, and I put this very cute, sweet little soon-to-be-sick girl into bed, tucked in with her favorite blanket. I had great love and compassion for her. I had a feeling that I too might get COVID if I did this, and I had a moment of hesitation and doubt about what I was doing feeling like a fever was about to come on, but I kind of shook it off, and left the room and then found myself outside the house.

There were then all these people arriving, like refugees, and I was thinking how are we going to deal with all of them? I wanted to help, but they seemed too many, and I was part concerned for their welfare and part bothered by now having this responsibility to care for these people, but still willing to help. Then this group of about 3-5 punk ass teenagers come walking by as a group who were headed for the COVID care house. Imagine obnoxious, toxic, and potentially destructive all wrapped into one group of teenagers who had banded together united in thinking everyone else was stupid and being disdainful towards the world. They too were among the refugees, but I knew they were headed for the house and they would ruin everything for those already in the house, including the little girl who I had just put to bed. I thought, “oh no, I don’t want them there, they are going to ruin everything,” and I went to go try intervene to stop them from heading towards the COVID house, and then I woke up.

When I awoke from that dream, I had a feeling that it was a premonition dream of major negative karma, potentially related to my health, that was about to ripen in my life. I had this sinking feeling in my gut that “oh no, something might be coming, I’m not safe for as long as I have not purified my negative karma – which I haven’t done.”

I then went about my day. Major karma ripened yesterday which might mean I need to leave my current assignment and go to Beijing. It would represent a major change in my life, but I would be happy about if it happened because then I could be reunited with my family who I am currently separated from. If I’m honest, I’m happy about the prospects of seeing them, but also part reluctant to leave my current retreat-like life situation. I know it would be a lot more work having to be around their suffering, so there is a partial reluctance, but overall I would be happy if this happened, even though it would mean the loss of my current situation which is perfect from a being-able-to-practice-Dharma perspective. I then went to bed as normal.

I just woke from a second premonition-like dream. I was in a house which I understood to be my own, and there was this absolutely terrifying giant spider which was trapped in our living room. Normally, we take spiders and bugs out so as to not kill them, but this one was absolutely enormous and terrifying, and there was no way removing it would be possible. I watched it scramble around the room, trying to get out. It would fly into the corner, scramble up the wall, then break apart into lots of different snake-like pieces, fall to the ground, then re-assemble into a giant spider, then scurry quickly back into the corner looking for some escape to get out of the room. I watched this cycle unfold a few times, with no idea what to do or how to deal with it. I had to get it out, I didn’t want to kill it, but since it was in our living room and my kids used this space, and there was no way they could with this giant spider on the loose.

It then started to pound its legs like it was trying to bust its way through the wall. Unsuccessful, it then went back up to the ceiling, broke into pieces like the snake again, fell to the floor, reassembled, and then started over. It then started doing the same thing, but now next to an electrical socket. The electrical socket was simultaneously normal size and enormous, depending on the perspective, like the yak horn in the story where a yogi went into it without getting any smaller or the horn getting any bigger. I then thought, “oh, that’s good, if it pounds its legs into the electrical socket, it will get electrocuted, that’s how I can deal with it.”

I watched it pound its legs against the wall, but it missed the socket, scurried up to the roof as before, ran around the room, disassembled, fell to the floor, and then ran back to the socket, and started pounding its legs again. The socket was now enormous, the spider started pounding its legs, but this time it’s legs got stuck in the socket, but not quite far enough to get electrocuted. I was hopeful that it would be, not in a malicious sort of way, but in an anxious I have no idea what else to do way.

There was then this small young yet old at the same time woman who I knew from before who appeared inside the room near me. This woman was kinda creepy and weird, and she was shunned by all who thought she was strange and everyone didn’t want to have anything to do with her. As a result, she had been socially isolated her whole life, and became even more strange and socially awkward as a result. In the past, I had always tried to be nice to this girl since everyone else had shunned her, but while I had been slightly kinder than being polite with her, I never really showed enough kindness and acceptance to make a difference in her life because I too thought she was odd and didn’t really want to have anything to do with her. Because I was nice to her, she was clingy towards me, which I didn’t really want, but I couldn’t totally push her away like everybody else did because I felt bad for her. I also never really let her get too close to me because I didn’t really want her around since she was kind of annoying and weird.

We both watched the spider get itself stuck in the socket. The spider then started squirming in the socket, its legs moving deeper and deeper in where it would soon be electrocuted. Seeing this, the awkward girl then spontaneously jumped to save it, approaching without fear because she had such love and compassion for the spider, she was even willing to grab it to pull it out. I cried out, “no,” as if to stop her because I reluctantly knew this was the only way to deal with the spider. But she successfully pulled the spider out, saving it.

It then latched onto her as if in love with her, and I thought, “oh, that might be good, the spider can be the companion of this girl so she has a friend.” My motivation for this thought was part compassion for the girl, but also part relief that now if she has a partner it would get her off my back since she was clingy to me. But she then jumped onto me, with the spider now attached to her, and I just wanted both of them off of me because now the spider was on me and was going to get to me. I started running down the hall, trying to squirm away, but the spider crawled up and was about to get me, and I woke up.

Over the years, I have come to understand dreams that have this sort of feel are signs, and whatever we “understand them to mean” is their message. What actually appears is secondary. When I awoke, I recalled the earlier dream I had last night about the COVID house, and realized the two were connected. I thought about how my virtues had been present, but they were weak and when tested with difficult circumstances, I was willing to set them aside. I felt upon awaking that the way I can purify the potentially serious negative karma coming my way represented by the spider was to have compassion for those who would harm me (the spider), who would harm those I love (the teenagers), and greater acceptance of those who everyone shuns (again like the girl). If I do so, and I had a feeling that I will be tested soon, then I might be able to purify this karma and avoid its ripening – though I felt it might already be too late and the karma may have already begun to ripen, but just has not yet appeared in a manifest way in my life.

I’m not exactly sure how or when I will be tested in this way, but I need to be fearless and without self-concern like the girl was trying to pull the spider out of the socket. It may have something to do with compassion for my enemies or those who I normally view as people I would rather push away who everyone else shuns, or frankly both. In both dreams, my virtues were present and my default reaction (care for the sweet little girl, not want to kill the spider, be kind to the girl who everyone else shunned), but they were weak and when tested with a larger sacrifice, I was willing to engage in negativity and indeed stop others from engaging in virtue for my own selfish purposes of not wanting or not knowing how to deal with it (trying to block the teenager refugees from entering the COVID house, wanting the spider to get electrocuted, trying to stop the girl from saving the spider, being happy that the spider would be the companion of the awkward girl which would mean it would get her off my back, then trying to run away when they all jumped on me).

For me, the messages of these dreams are first, I must purify my negative karma and I can’t remain complacent as long as negative karma remains on my mind, and something major may be coming soon, but I can (perhaps) avoid it if I purify soon, though it might already be too late. Second, I need to also push further to be virtuous and caring not just when it is easy, but when it is harder and involves some sacrifice on my part. My best friend from college recently posted a picture of this enormous spider in his mailbox, who he was content to leave there viewing it as his home. Everyone else was posting comments saying they would get a new mailbox or kill it. My internal reaction was also time to get a new mailbox and perhaps take that one somewhere else. My friend’s response to those comments was rather compassion for the spider worried that he might not have enough to eat in the mailbox. This is likely my example I need to emulate. Third, compassion for those who would harm (the teenagers, the spider) is the likely method I need to use to purify this potentially soon ripening negative karma. I think it might have something to do with my work, but am not sure. Fourth, I need to not push away those who everyone else shuns (the teenagers, the awkward girl), but instead wholeheartedly also accept them into the circle of my compassion and caring. I think this will primarily manifest in my personal life. All of this is likely related in some way to the situation of me possibly changing assignments.

I’m writing all of this down so I don’t forget and in the hope that these dreams might also have some lessons for anybody who might read this. I suspect whatever these dreams “mean to you” is your lesson from them.

All my appearances in dreams teach me
That all my appearances when awake do not exist;
Thus for me all my dream appearances
Are the supreme instructions of my Guru.

A Kadampa Prophecy Until the End of Samsara

I did the math between now and the end of samsara according to the Kadampa teachings. It yielded some interesting results.

First, I assumed a starting point where beings are equally distributed in the six realms plus one Buddha for all of samsara (not accurate, but some people struggle to accept that 99% of all beings are already in hell, so to humor them, I did an even distribution). I then assumed a starting rate of virtue for each type of being depending on the realm they occupy. At the end of each period beings go up or they go down a realm based on the percentage of virtue of that realm.

I then assumed a certain percentage of humans attain enlightenment in each period. To calculate the attain enlightenment/human ratio I took the total number of humans on earth divided by the number who I’m estimating attain enlightenment (7.6 billion people, 30,000 Kadampas, 2,500 of whom attain enlightenment = 0.00003% enlightenment rate). With each increase in the number of Buddhas, I assume the amount they bless the minds of living beings goes up 1%, thus increasing the rate of virtue for the human, animal, hungry ghost, and hell realms. I did not assume the virtue rate goes up for beings in the demi-god and god realms because then they get stuck in those realms and never attain a human rebirth. Presumably, Buddhas would bless their minds to take human rebirths.

In the beginning, as would be expected, almost everyone falls into the lower realms, in particular the hell realm because once you take rebirth in the lower realms, it is almost impossible to get out. But gradually over time, the number of Buddhas increases, who are then able to bless the minds of the beings in the lower realms more and more effectively. After about 23% of time between now and the end of samsara, due to all the blessings of the now more numerous Buddhas, the lower realms are emptied and almost everyone is in the upper realms. At that time, there is a big spike in the number of humans who start attaining enlightenment at faster rates, again thanks to increased blessings from the Buddhas.

The demographics of samsara over time

We then start a very long period where we wait for Gods and demi-gods to burn up their merit to fall down into the human realm, where then a growing percentage of them attain enlightenment. At around the 75% of time mark, there is an exponential growth in the number of Buddhas who then so outnumber humans, they reach an efficiency where anybody who reaches the human realm attains enlightenment in that life.

Once that stage is reached, there are still about 700,000 remaining beings who just refuse to let go of their pleasures in the demi-god and god realms, ignoring their spiritual guides who go and visit them there. But eventually, enough of them fall back into the human realm, drip by drip, where they then attain enlightenment.

After about 100 periods, essentially all of samsara is emptied except about 12,500 of the last stragglers.

Let me know if you have suggestions on how to change the assumptions of the model. Obviously, this is all an estimate, but it does paint a pretty accurate picture of how things are likely to unfold between now and the end of samsara based upon my understanding of the Kadampa teachings.