Progressing through increasingly pure realities

In my meditation this morning, I realized the generation stage mandala is actually like a phase transition progression.  I imagine Dorje Shugden’s protection circle around the Charnel Grounds of the self-generation, so that the entire mandala is inside his protection circle, and everything that happens within it is perfect for the enlightenment of all beings.  Outside his protection circle, I normally imagine the completely still, radiant Dharmakaya, which I understand to be Chakrasambara – all of samsara gathered and purified into the clear light emptiness.  I imagine I have purified all of samsara for each and every being within it.  But let’s assume I haven’t done so and samsara as we normally see it appears.  This sets up a progression:

  1. Samsara for all living beings, the things we normally see as the outermost ring.  This is reality 1.0.
  2. Once we enter Dorje Shugden’s mandala, we phase into the charnel grounds.  What was before seen as samsara is now seen as the charnel grounds.  What appears may still be whatever normally appears, but we understand it to be the charnel grounds where everything is teaching us the profound truth of Dharma.  This is reality 2.0.
  3. After having spent some time in Dorje Shugden’s mandala, we are gradually led into the paths of Highest Yoga Tantra.  This is symbolized by Heruka’s wisdom protection circle which is in between the charnel grounds and his mandala.  When we bring our mind into that, it is impossible for negative karma and delusion to arise because they have no basis for doing so.  We are in the pure land.  Just inside Heruka’s wisdom protection circle, we have the completely pure three thousand worlds in the aspect of the different continents of the mandala offering.  Beings who live here are in the pure land, but they are still part of the three thousand worlds – just a purified version of them.  These worlds are like a city surrounding the central castle, but inside the protection of the city walls.  This is reality 3.0.
  4. In the center of these worlds is Mount Meru.  Mount Meru itself is layered with all of the different pure lands of the four classes of Tantra, and I would say other religions as well.  Beings who live in these worlds are firmly centered in the spiritual progression aspects of the pure land.  This is reality 4.0.
  5. On the top of Mount Meru is Heruka’s celestial mansion.  From Heruka’s perspective, this is the highest of all the pure lands.  This is like the castle on the top of the hill in the center of the city of enlightenment.  All of the different Kadampa temples sprouting up around the world are actually emanations of Heruka’s mansion, and serve the same function.  Within his celestial mansion, all beings are gathered where they are taught the Kadam Dharma and their subtle bodies are completely purified by the body mandala deities.  Entering this mansion temple is reality 5.0.
  6. We then receive highest yoga tantra empowerments and learn how to impute our I onto the body mandala.  We enter into and become one with the Guru Deity and his retinue.  But it is not just us as an individual doing this, we long ago exchanged self with others and we experience the body mandala as us “as all living beings” identifying with the self-generation.  It feels as if we are directly purifying the channels, drops and winds of all living beings who have been gathered into the body mandala with us.  This is reality 6.0.
  7. We then enter into Heruka Father and Mother and center ourselves (again, as the synthesis of all living beings) within the deity.  Heruka Father and Mother are experienced as the completely purified indestructible drop not only at our heart, but at the heart of all living beings.  All beings are experienced directly as being connected at the heart, where we have gathered all impure winds.  Within this drop, all impure winds of all living beings are completely purified in the aspect of Heruka Father and Mother of the body mandala.  This is reality 7.0.
  8. At Heruka’s heart is the seed letter HUM and the nada.  This is our indestructible wind, our Enjoyment Body, our vajra body.  All living beings have been completely purified into the nada.  This is our life raft we want to be in when we die so that death has no hold on us.  We attain the immortal body.  This is reality 8.0.
  9. Inside the nada is the clear light emptiness.  This is our indestructible mind, our Truth Body, our vajra mind.  All living beings and all impure worlds have been dissolved into Chakrasambara.  When we mix our mind with this Dharmakaya, it functions to purify the contaminated karma of all empty beings.  This is reality 9.0.
  10. As we delve deeper through the layers of the clear light, our mind becomes purer and purer until eventually it is so pure the union of the two truths of a Buddha appear directly to our mind.  The entire mandala, from the samsaras that beings normally see through to inside the nada are all seen as inseparable from our Truth Body.  The duality between pure body and pure mind are completely dissolved away and we experience ourselves and all living beings as having been always enlightened.  This is reality 10.0, or full enlightenment.

In my meditation, I sit with this awareness, strongly believing it all to be true.  In many of our meditations, Geshe-la says, “and then strongly believe“ something that is (conventionally) objectively not true, such as believing we have taken on the suffering of others, believing in our divine pride etc. There is always then this part of our mind that doesn’t believe what we are imagining, and our meditation lacks power. How can we overcome this doubt? We do not believe these things are true in the sense that they are objectively, inherently true, because nothing is. Rather, “believing something to be true” is a mental action which functions to complete the karma of our meditation. This karmic seed will ripen at a later date in the form of others appearing to be freed from their suffering or ourselves appearing as the guru deity. Why do beings appear to us now to be suffering sentient beings? Because in the past we assented to contaminated appearances, believing them to be truth, and that karma is now ripening in the form of our present appearances. If we start to believe our generated pure appearances, we will create karma which will ripen in the future where things appear to us directly as being pure. This is how samsara is created, and it is how the pure land is created. This is why generation stage is called a creative yoga.

How to heal the whole world

Lately I have been recalling something that came to me very strongly during a Heruka retreat I did long ago. Namely, since I have practiced taking and giving, I can correctly view everything that happens to me externally and internally as what I have taken on from others. And by working through it, externally and internally, in my own life, I purify it for others. Since others are just a reflection of my mind anyways, simply healing what I have taken on is sufficient to heal the whole world.
I feel as if my inner vision of the world is like a cloud of appearances that themselves are a reflection – like a microcosm – of all of the delusions of all living beings that I have taken on. By healing them, I heal everything for everyone.
When I do my self-generation practice, I imagine that I am transforming this cloud-like reflection of others’ minds into something completely pure. When I purify my channels, drops, and winds; I am purifying theirs. When I dissolve everything into emptiness in my mind, I am gathering and dissolving all of their contaminated appearances into the clear light. When I self-generate, I feel like I am shining a powerful healing light in the inner core of the minds of every living being, like shining a light in the hub of a wheel illuminates all of the spokes. This light functions to draw everyone inwards towards the pure land. They don’t necessarily see it with their gross minds, but it is in their minds nonetheless, drawing them in towards purity.
For me, doing my self-generation practice feels like I am performing spiritual surgery on the minds of all living beings. I am harmonizing and healing their subtle bodies and bestowing upon their minds all of the realizations symbolized by the different aspects of the self-generation. In particular, the Eight Lines of Praise of the Father is how I activate my pure self to perform Heruka’s function in the world. Reciting the mantras is an act of healing of their minds, performing the function of each mantra on their minds.
Outside of the charnel grounds, I imagine Dorje Shugden’s protection circle, which functions to bless the minds of all living beings to see everything as a cause of their enlightenment – again, they might not yet see that in a manifest way, but their inner cloud of conventional appearances is now appearing purely and so having that effect. Outside of Dorje Shugden’s protection circle is the clear light emptiness, with all contaminated phenomena – not only appearing to my mind, but appearing to anyone’s mind – completely gathered and purified into the Dharmakaya, so that the only thing that appears is the universal yet microscopic self-generated mandala. I feel as if all of this is inside the root mind of all living beings, directly and simultaneously. Everyone’s root mind is connected in the clear light at our heart. By going there, we go to the hearts of everyone.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  There is nobody to get angry at

(6.32) “If all things were like illusions, who would restrain what?
Surely, any restraint would be inappropriate.
On the contrary, it is precisely because things lack inherent existence
That it is possible to assert the continuum of suffering can be cut.

Sometimes the objection may arise in our mind that if things lack inherent existence then there is no “us” who can practice Dharma and there is nothing for our Dharma practice to oppose, so what is the point?  Both of these objections arise from grasping at the extreme of non-existence – in other words, going too far with our understanding of emptiness to wrongly assert that things don’t exist at all.

Who is practicing Dharma?  A self that is imputed on a mind that has received Dharma instructions and gained a certain degree of control over one’s mind.  We have received Dharma instructions, we have practiced them in the past, this has given us a certain degree of control over our mind.  With that control, we then choose to practice Dharma.  What are we resisting when we practice Dharma?  In practice, we are disassembling the causes and conditions which cause delusions to appear.  If a rainbow is appearing, but suddenly the sunlight is blocked out, the rainbow simply disappears because the causes and conditions which give rise to it are no longer present.  The same is true with our delusions.  Another way of looking at it is with our choice of mind we create new conditions of the opponent to the delusion which then functions to neutralize the delusion within our mind.

Suffering can come to an end because its causes can be ended.  If you end the cause, the effect cannot arise.

 (6.33) Thus, whenever an enemy, or even a friend,
Commits an inappropriate action,
Such behaviour arises from other conditions.
Realizing this, I should remain with a happy mind.

Once again, this is reminding us how we can use emptiness to oppose our anger.  Normally we hear the teaching on emptiness and quickly become lost in the contemplations and lose the point.  This is why we need to make a point of directly connecting our understanding of emptiness to specific delusions that arise within our mind.

When we become angry with somebody, we should take the time to ask ourselves, “who precisely am I angry at?”  When we look, we find nobody.  We can ask, “what exactly am I angry about?”  When we check, we find nothing.  It’s all just a variety of causes and conditions coming together with nothing behind any of it.  Conventionally, we can’t blame the other person because it is not their fault these causes and conditions have come together.  Ultimately, we can’t blame the other person because there is nobody there to blame.  Realizing this, there is no longer an object of our anger and the anger disappears.  The same sort of reasoning can be used against any delusion.

(6.34) If things occurred independently, out of choice,
Then, since no one wishes to suffer,
How would suffering ever arise
For any living being?

This is actually an important point.  Nobody wishes to suffer.  We all wish to be happy all of the time.  Yet we suffer without choice and find it difficult to secure even a modicum of happiness.  We are all in the same boat.  When somebody harms us, they too are a victim of their delusions.  They do so without freedom or control.  As a result, they accumulate negative karma for themselves, which will ripen later in the form of suffering for them.  We may view ourselves as a victim of their harmful actions, but in reality they are equally a victim because in the future they will have to experience the suffering consequences of their actions.  Why are we experiencing this suffering now?  Because we had the karma to do so arising from our own negative past actions.  So what really is the difference between our attacker and us?  Nothing.  We are both victims, separated only by time.

We want to be happy and so do they.  Unfortunately, they are confused about the causes of happiness.  They are lost.  Instead of getting angry with them, we should generate compassion for them.  We are all the same, therefore there is no basis for loving some and being angry at others.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  We don’t blame the stick for hurting us

(6.29) Clearly, if the self were permanent,
Then, just like space, it could not perform any actions;
And, even if it could meet with other conditions,
It would still be unable to do anything.

(6.30) Since, even when acted upon, it would remain as it was,
What effect could an action have on it?
If you say that something else affects the self,
What relationship could the self have with that?

(6.31) Thus, all effects arise from other conditions,
Which in turn depend upon previous conditions.
Therefore, all things are like illusions – they are not independent.
If we realize this, we shall not become angry with anything.

The main point of all of this is anger needs an object – there has to be someone or something to get angry at.  Anger depends on some external thing to be angry with that we consider to be the cause of our suffering.  Everything that arises in dependence upon various causes and conditions, so there is never anything that we can point to that we can get angry at.  If we try get angry at the thing, we realize we can’t because it just arises in dependence upon causes and conditions.  If we try get angry at the causes and conditions, we realize we can’t because they too just arise from different causes and conditions.  So we never find anything that we can get upset at and our anger subsides because anger needs an object.  When we look, we find no such object that we can point to.  Finding none, our anger has nothing to latch on to and it falls away.

In one sense it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of anger within their mind.  But if anger were able to speak up for itself, would it not say the same thing?  “I’m sorry, I have no choice. It is due to inappropriate attention in this person’s mind that I’m here.”  Just as the person can’t help it, the anger can’t help it either.  There is a classic analogy given of somebody hitting us with a stick.  Do we get angry with the stick?  No, youwe get angry with the person because the stick was controlled by the person.  In the same way, if youwe don’t get angry with the stick, we should also not get angry with the person because they too are controlled by their anger.  If we get angry with something, we should get angry with their anger.  But their anger is controlled by their inappropriate attention.  So we should get angry with their inappropriate attention, and so on.

On an easier to understand level, the situations that give rise to our anger do not exist from their own side.  They can be viewed in any way we choose.  Right now our anger is casting this elaborate story about how all these things are the causes of our suffering, and so to be happy we need to destroy these things.  With emptiness we realize that this is just a fictional story projected by my mind that has no truth.  I can view the situation in any way – it is not fixedly any one thing.

So instead of viewing this as samsara, we can view everything as the charnel grounds.  What appears is horrific, but we understand these things to be completely pure teachings arising from the Dharmakaya that are perfect for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  We do can do this with external situations, including anything that normally gives rise to our anger.  We accept it fully as a pure teaching arising from the Dharmakaya.  We can do this internally, where we find even the arising of suffering and delusions as perfect for us because it gives an opportunity to create certain causes, namely practicing their opponents.  In this way, we can have a real equanimity towards all effects that happen, either externally or internally.  We can accept everything as perfect.  When everything is perfect, there is no basis for anger.

We very often blame others and situations for why we get angry, but this is not fair.  Nobody or nothing has the power to make us angry, other than our own deluded mental processes.  It is not fair to others to blame them for what is the fault of our own mind.  This is actually a very liberating thought, because it means that no situation has any power over us.  By accepting responsibility for the problem, the solution falls into our hands.  Nobody or nothing needs to change for us to get better, we just need to change our mind.  Yes, it is a long training, but what is the alternative?  Remain angry forever and fall into terrible states of suffering?


Realizing I am an emotional tyrant

My daughter has recently helped me realize how my non-acceptance has hijacked my Dharma understanding to turn me into an unwitting emotional tyrant. 

I often see clearly how delusions seize my kids and family and how they and I suffer as a result. I know the opponents and how they should be thinking instead. My non-acceptance that they need to work through things themselves, my non-acceptance of their suffering, my non-acceptance of the drain on me associated with having to bear the brunt of their delusions or to have to spend the time to help them work through their delusions has all combined together into an implicit expectation on my part that everyone around me be emotionally perfect; and if they are not, I am judging them, becoming frustrated by them, and expecting them to already be free from their delusions. 

This in turn makes the people around me feel like an emotional failure, makes them hate themselves and beat themselves up for not already being perfect. Because they are trying to live up to my expectations of emotional perfection, they then begin to repress all of their delusions, pretending they don’t have delusions, which then causes things to fester and build up underneath the surface. Inner stress and tension then builds up in them into chronic anxiety and self-hatred, which then triggers more delusions in them in a vicious spiral.

I see now how I have been doing this to my eldest daughter, with my son, with my other daughter, with my mildly autistic son, with my other son who has no particular problems so I expect him to be even more perfect. I have been doing this to my wife for 25 years. I do this with my father, with my brother, and even to this day, I do this with my long dead mother. 

Of course, I haven’t been doing this on purpose, and wasn’t even aware it was happening. It’s all very subtle and sub-conscious in all those involved; but when brought to the surface, I now see it quite clearly. 

This behavior in me manifests most strongly when I am very pressed for time and feel as if I have no capacity to deal with one extra burden of some emotional meltdown or problem by those around me. I have felt I don’t have time to deal with others’ delusions, which then becomes a non-acceptance of others who still have delusions, which then turns into them not accepting themselves still having delusions, leading to repression, anxiety, and self-hatred in them in a vicious spiral. As my daughter so aptly pointed out, the truth is accepting others as they are is actually more time efficient in the long run because non-acceptance leads to even more problems. I actually dont have time to not accept others.

Becoming aware of how I do this is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received in my spiritual life, and I’m extremely grateful to my daughter and to Dorje Shugden for helping me see this. Old habits die hard, and it will take a long time before I’m able to change, but whole new vistas of potential spiritual growth now appear before me.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Nothing creates itself

(6.27) Neither that which is asserted as the “independent creator of all”
Nor that which is asserted as the “independent permanent self”
Can come into being through intentionally thinking,
“Now I will arise.”

There tends to be two extremes when thinking about God, either he inherently exists or he doesn’t exist at all.  Those who assert he inherently exists say he is the creator of all.  But then the question arises, “what created God?”  If something else created God, then that thing is the creator of all.  Some say God created himself, but that denies the fundamental tenet that all causes must precede their effect (how can the effect exist before its cause?).  Some say God is permanent, but if that were the case how could he create anything since to create something is necessarily to change?  Clearly all of these conceptions of God are illogical.  People then wrongly conclude God does not exist at all.

Geshe-la himself refuted this at a festival many years back.  He said Kadampas do not deny that God exist, they simply have a different understanding of what that means.  We say mind is the creator of all, and the contemplations on emptiness prove why this is so.  Quantum physics is gradually catching up to what Buddha explained 2,500 years ago when it says objects come into existence when the mind engages them.  If we understand God to be the Dharmakaya, which is itself inseparable from our own mind of bliss and emptiness, then we can easily believe in God, understand the mind is the creator of all and appreciate the religious teachings of other traditions.  Many people come into the Dharma by rejecting Christianity or the like, but if our understanding of the Kadampa teachings is correct we will later come to appreciate their beauty.

Just as there is no independent creator of all, so too there is no independent creator of ourself.  We did not bring ourselves into existence, rather we emerged from a variety of causes and conditions.  Some people think that our very subtle mind which goes from life to life is our independent self, but that too arises in dependence upon causes and conditions, namely the substantial cause of the previous moment of mind and the circumstantial causes bring about change in that mind.  While the very subtle mind changes continuously, it always remains equally empty.  But this emptiness does not exist independent of the very subtle mind, rather it is the very nature of that mind.  Emptiness itself cannot exist in a vacuum, it is always the emptiness of something.  Without an object, you cannot have its emptiness.

 (6.28) If the independent creator itself is not produced,
Then how can it produce anything?
If the self were permanent, then it would follow
That experiences cannot be changed from unpleasant to pleasant.

Permanent in a Dharma context means unchanging.  If something is unchanging, how can it produce anything?  To produce something is to act in some way upon something else, which necessarily implies some change of the thing acting.  If the thing doing the acting doesn’t change, then how does it go from a state of not creating to something to a state of creating that thing?  It would have to either eternally be creating it or eternally not creating it.  The same is true with all things:  nothing creates itself.

Likewise, if the self were indeed permanent then how could it possibly experiencing anything different?  How could it go from not experiencing an object to experiencing it?  Wouldn’t that imply a change of state?  But a permanent object never changes.  If the self were permanent, it couldn’t experience anything, or if it did, it would have to experience the same thing in the same way forever.  Since clearly that is not our experience of the self, a permanent self cannot exist.

Why does any of this matter?  The point is two-fold.  First, all anger requires an object.  The object of anger we grasp at is permanent others, the harmed object is a permanent self, or maybe we blame a permanent God.  But none of these things exist.  By removing the object of anger, the mind of anger has nothing to hold on to and leaves our mind.

The second point is these sorts of contemplations quite often give rise to all sorts of feelings of discouragement and misunderstanding.  Shantideva uses these verses to help us identify within our own mind our impatience associated with thinking about Dharma.  We don’t understand, and this makes us unhappy.  Or we read the words, but fail to grasp their meaning and conclude it is a bunch of intellectual masturbation.  Or perhaps we just fall asleep because it seems so boring.  All of these reactions are examples of the impatience of thinking about Dharma.  By bringing this impatience to the surface, we can then work on generating a mind of patience towards profound topics.  It takes time, and that is OK.  If we contemplate them again and again with a positive mind, and we do so in the context of applying this sort of reasoning against the delusions that arise in our mind, then we will train in the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Everything is like a rainbow

(6.25) All the shortcomings there are,
And all the various non-virtues,
Arise through the force of other conditions –
They do not govern themselves.

(6.26) The assembled conditions have no thought
To produce a suffering result;
Nor does the resultant suffering think,
“I was produced from conditions.”

At the core, anger is a response to unpleasant feelings within the mind.  It seeks to blame something outside the mind for what is taking place inside the mind.  Here, Shantideva seeks to pull the rug out from underneath that anger by showing, in fact, there is no object of blame outside the mind.

Every phenomena, internal and external, arises like a rainbow in response to causes and conditions.  I remember once I was in the area that used to be the Creperie at Manjushri.  The Mexican sangha came in with a bunch of bags of groceries.  They proceeded to unpack them and being chopping up all sorts of things, like carrots, cheese, apples and the like.  Other people were washing the lettuce, others making dressing.  Everybody was at their own table doing their own thing.  Then, they started putting it all in a common bowl.  When they were done, a “salad” appeared clearly to everyone’s mind.  But where did the salad itself come from?  What was it?  The lettuce, cheese, carrots and dressing are not the salad, yet when you take them all away there is no salad to be found anywhere.  A “salad” simply appears to everyone’s mind when the causes and conditions come together to see it.  The same is true for all other phenomena.  Nothing is actually there.

When the mind of anger arises, it necessarily has an object it is blaming.  But if we perform a salad-like analysis of this object of blame, we will realize nothing is actually there.  The thing we blame is just an appearance that arises when various causes and conditions come together.  Do we blame the carrots?  No, they too come from various causes and conditions.  There is nothing we can point to and blame for our anger.  When we do this, our anger loses its object to hold on to; without an object, it is impossible for the corresponding mind to arise.

The things that supposedly cause us suffering have no intention to do so; rather it is just a series of causes and conditions that come together.  This is easy to understand when we are talking about inanimate objects of harm, but it is likewise true for animate ones.  The person who harmed us isn’t actually there, the delusions which control him aren’t really there either, all are just the coming together of causes and conditions.  And we shouldn’t forget the most important causes and condition of all – ourself!  If we did not have a body, could it be harmed?  If we did not have delusions, would anything be a problem for us.  So if we blame the other person, then we likewise have to blame our body and our delusions.  To blame our body is to blame our parents, and their parents before them.  To blame our delusions is to blame the entire cultural environment we live in and all our previous lives and everyone we ever encountered.  But if we check these things, they are not there either.  We can search to the end of the universe and never find anything to blame – and if we blame one thing, we have to blame everything equally, so what sense is there is being angry at the person who harmed us?

Nothing governs itself.  Everything is like one giant ocean, with various currents flowing in all directions.  Everything affects everything else.  But if nothing governs itself, how can we say we have free will?  Free will itself arises from causes and conditions.  Delusions render our mind uncontrolled, free will emerges from a mind free from delusions.  We don’t intrinsically have free will, we need to create it within our mind through abandoning our delusions and gaining control over our mind.  Somebody whose mind is wholly consumed with delusions (which is pretty much everyone) has no free will at all.

Fundamentally, though, our “problems” come from our delusions.  Delusions come from the meeting of deluded tendencies similar to the cause with inappropriate attention.  Our inappropriate attention grasps at an object as being inherently pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, then exaggerates these qualities and then ignorantly grasps at these objects actually existing in this way.  If we want to free our mind from all “problems” we have to remove from our mind the causes and conditions which create this appearance.  To do so, we need to purify our deluded karma and abandon inappropriate attention.  Just as a rainbow will not appear without sunlight and rain, so too delusions cannot arise without deluded karma and inappropriate attention.  By removing the causes, the effect never arises.