A Pure Life: How to Skillfully Train in the Eight Mahayana Precepts

This is part two of a 12-part series on how to skillfully train in the Eight Mahayana Precepts.  The 15th of every month is Precepts Day, when Kadampa practitioners around the world typically take and observe the Precepts.

Most of us know the teachings Geshe-la has given on the correct attitude to have towards our vows and commitments, but sadly we sometimes don’t really believe him when he explains it.  We still tend to think of them in absolutist, black and white terms, when in reality each vow has many, many different levels at which we can keep it.  We think in terms of our ability to “keep” our vows instead of viewing them as trainings we engage in. 

When we go to the gym, there are all sorts of different exercise machines.  Each one works out a different muscle, and each person who uses the machine uses it at a different level (different amounts of weight, different number of repetitions, etc.).  But everyone in the gym uses the same equipment.  It is exactly the same with our vows.  Each vow is something we train in, not something we are already expected to be able to do perfectly at the maximum.  Each vow focus on strengthening different mental muscles, but doing all of them strengthens the whole of our mind.  We each train in the vow at different levels according to our capacity, but we know the more we train, the more our capacity will grow.  Everyone in the spiritual gym trains with the same vows regardless of our level.  In almost every way, the correct attitude towards a physical exercise regimen is exactly the same attitude we should cultivate towards our spiritual exercise regimen of the Eight Mahayana Precepts, and indeed all of our vows.  I often find it helpful to read the sports training literature, especially that of long-distance tri-athletes.  Our journey is very long and will require almost unthinkable stamina, but we must recall every Iron Man Champion was once a baby who couldn’t even lift their head. 

Geshe-la explains there are four main causes of the degeneration of our vows and commitments.  These are known as the ‘four doors of receiving downfalls’.  He says to close these doors we should practice as follows:

  1. Closing the door of not knowing what the downfalls are.  We should learn what the downfalls are by committing them to memory.  We should learn how they are incurred.  We should make plans to avoid such situations.  In this series of posts, I will try explain all of these things for each of the Eight Mahayana Precepts.
  1. Closing the door of lack of respect for Buddha’s instructions.  We can protect ourselves from this primarily by training in the refuge vows.  Refuge is not a difficult concept.  When we have a toothache, what do we do?  We turn to the dentist.  When we have a legal problem, what do we do?  We turn to a lawyer.  When we have an internal problem with our mind, what do we do?  We turn to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.  Dentists can fix our teeth and lawyers can solve our legal problems, but only the three jewels can help us with our inner mental problems.  In particular, we need to contemplate the benefits of each of the Eight Mahayana Precepts.  We need to think about how much better our life would be and all the karmic fruit that flows from training in them.  When we see the value of keeping the Precepts, we will naturally have respect for them.  Geshe-la said we should contemplate as follows:

Since Buddha is omniscient, knowing all past, present, and future phenomena simultaneously and directly, and since he has great compassion for all living beings without exception, there is no valid reason for developing disrespect towards his teachings.  It is only due to ignorance that I sometimes disbelieve them.”

  1. Closing the third door of strong delusions. The reason why we engage in non-virtuous actions is we are currently slaves to our delusions.  They take control of our mind and then compel us to engage in harmful actions.  We may voluntarily participate in the process, but that is only because our delusions have so deceived us, we actually believe their lies.  Largely, the Eight Mahayana Precepts oppose our delusion of attachment.  Our attachment does not want to keep the precepts, and frankly views them as standing in the way of our fun.  We cannot keep our vows through will power alone.  Perhaps we can for Precepts Day itself, but if in our heart we still want to engage in these behaviors, what we will really do is simply do slightly more negativity before and after Precepts Day, so for the month as a whole, it is exactly the same amount of negativity.  That’s obviously not the point!  Our goal should be to train in the Precepts and gradually expand the scope of keeping their meaning throughout the month and indeed throughout our whole life.  To do this, we need to want to keep them more than we want the objects of attachment they oppose.  We are desire realm beings, which means we have no choice but to do whatever we desire.  The only way to sustainably train in moral discipline is to change our desires away from delusions and towards virtue.  This is primarily accomplished through a sincre and consistent practice of Lamrim.  Lamrim is a systematic method for changing our desires from worldly ones to spiritual ones. 
  1. Closing the fourth door of non-conscientiousness.  We should repeatedly bring to mind the disadvantages of incurring downfalls, and the advantages of pure moral discipline.  These have been explained in the previous post, and the specific karmic benefits of each Precept will be explained in the explanation of each Precept.

In brief, Geshe-la explains, we prevent our vows from degenerating by practicing the Dharma of renunciation, bodhichitta, correct view, generation stage, and completion stage. 

It is important to be skillful in our approach to all of our vows, including the Eight Mahayana Precepts.  We should not have unrealistic expectations or make promises we cannot keep.  It will happen to all of us in the early stages of our Dharma practice that when we are at some festival and feeling very inspired, we make these outlandish vows that we (at the time) intend to keep our whole life.  Then we get home, try at first, but eventually are forced to abandon the vow.  Venerable Tharchin says when making promises, we should ask ourselves, “what can I do on my absolute worst day?”  We promise only to do that.  On any given day we will most likely do better than our promise, but then we will not actually break it.  It is a bad habit to make spiritual promises which we later break.  We will all make all sorts of what I call “beginner’s errors” with this one.  It does not matter.  When you break the promise, realize your mistake, recalibrate your promise and try again.  Eventually you will get the right balance. 

We should adopt our vows gradually, as each can be kept on many levels.  In this way, we can gradually deepen the level we are able to keep the vows.  If we are a teacher, we should explain the vows well and not encourage our students to promise to keep them all perfectly from the beginning.  Getting the correct attitude towards our vows is well over half the battle.  But keeping the vows gradually does not mean that we can temporarily put to one side the vows that we do not like.  We have to work with all the vows, gradually improving the way we observe them.

Finally, Geshe-la says we should begin to practice all the vows as soon as we have taken them.  Then we practice them to the best of our ability.  Geshe-la says we should never lose the determination to keep our vows perfectly in the future.  He says by keeping the intention to keep them purely in the future we keep our commitments, even if along the way we repeatedly fall short.  I can’t remember who, but some wise person once said, “the day you can keep all of your vows and commitments perfectly is the day you will no longer need them.  It is because we can’t keep our vows and commitments perfectly that we do need them.”  This is useful to always keep in mind.

All of that being said, the Eight Mahayana Precepts are unique in our training in moral discipline because on Precepts Days we do strive to keep them perfectly. On Precepts Days we make a point of emphasizing the practice of moral discipline and we strive our best to observe the the vows as purely as we can. The literal meaning of many of the precepts is quite black and white, we either keep the vow or we do not. In this sense, we can say it is an exception to the otherwise gradual approach we take to our practice of moral discipline. But if we look beyond the literal meaning of the precept, we realize that they all also have many different levels at which they can be kept. Further, we can gradually expand the scope with which we engage in our precepts practice by observing their essential meaning throughout the month, not just on Precepts Days. In any case, we should not worry but always simply try our best. If we break our precepts, we can learn our lesson, retake them, and try again.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Overview of Chapter 9 as a Whole

Preparation 6:  Big picture overview of the whole chapter

As we go through the verses, I will add in where we are within the overall outline of Shantideva’s chapter.  Without this, it is easy to get lost as to what is the main point of each verse.  Each verse is building towards a main argument or point, which is indicated by the outline heading.  It is helpful to look at the outline as a whole.  This is like first looking at a map of the whole city before we look at the specific streets in any given neighborhood.  Having an overall understanding of how the city is laid out gives us an appreciation of how each neighborhood fits within a larger mosaic.

Shantideva’s presentation of the perfection of wisdom has five main parts. The first, the third, and the fifth are all exhortations encouraging people to develop this wisdom. And the second and the fourth part of his presentation actually explain the teachings on emptiness. It is not enough for us to know what emptiness is, we have to be actually motivated to try realize it ourselves. It is our motivation which determines the karmic effect of our wisdom, not the wisdom itself. For our meditation on emptiness to lead to liberation and enlightenment, our practice needs to be motivated by renunciation and bodhichitta.

In the second part on the presentation of the two truths, there are essentially two main parts. The first simply introduces what are the two truths. And the second refutes the arguments made by those who say we do not actually need to realize emptiness. This is important because we might begin to become discouraged during our study of emptiness and ask ourselves whether it is worth it. But if we recognize that we will never end our suffering until we realize emptiness, then we will be extremely motivated to gain this realization understanding it is not only the panacea for all our problems it is the only solution to all our problems.

The fourth part of Shantideva’s explanation is also primarily divided into two parts:  the explanation of the emptiness or selflessness of persons and an explanation of the emptiness or selflessness of phenomena. Because all things can be divided into persons or phenomena, if we realized the emptiness of both of these, then we realize the emptiness of everything. In particular, Shantideva goes into an extensive explanation of the emptiness of phenomena. He does so first through looking at the four close placements of mindfulness, namely close placement of mindfulness of the body, of feelings, of the mind, and of phenomena. Second, he looks at the relationship between the production of phenomena and their emptiness. Normally we think if things are empty they cannot produce anything, but actually if anything is produced it reveals that it is empty.  

Happy Tsog Day: Motivation for doing series

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Tara Day: Why we turn to Tara

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

Going for refuge

I and all sentient beings, until we achieve enlightenment,
Go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.   (3x)

Je Tsongkhapa explains the primary causes of going for refuge are fear and faith.  Fear of lower rebirth, samsaric rebirth, or solitary peace; and faith in the three jewels to provide us protection from these fears.  When we engage in Tara practice, even though the refuge prayer we recite is the same as in so many of our other practices, we should mentally generate a specific faith in Tara, understanding her function.  In particular, Tara promised Atisha that in the future she would provide special care for all of his followers.  Atisha is the founder of the Kadampa tradition, and all Kadampas take his Lamrim as our main practice.  Tara is, in many ways, the Buddha of Lamrim.  Her mantra reveals that her main function is to bestow upon our mind the realizations of the initial, intermediate, and great scope of Lamrim, thus protectingus from lower rebirth, samsaric rebirth, and solitary peace.  Viewing her as our spiritual mother and the Buddha of Lamrim, we go for refuge to her with deep faith.

Generating bodhichitta

Through the virtues I collect by giving and other perfections,
May I become a Buddha for the benefit of all.   (3x)

The way we generate bodhichitta is different for each practice we engage in, even if the words we recite are exactly the same.  Of course, our compassionate wish to become a Buddha for the sake of all living beings is the same, but the specific flavor of the bodhichitta we generate will depend upon the practice we are doing.  The difference is identified in how the practice we are about to engage in contributes to our enlightenment based on its uncommon function.  Tara helps us in ways that are different than say Manjushri or Avalokiteshvara, and so generating bodhichitta for Tara practice is different because it is informed by how she helps us.  The more clearly we understand her function, the more precisely we will understand how reliance upon her will help move us towards enlightenment, giving our bodhichitta prayers a unique Tara-like flavor.  What is Tara’s function?  She is our spiritual mother, she helps us gain Lamrim realizations, and she swiftly helps us dispel all fears.  We need a spiritual mother, the lamrim realizations, and fearlessness in order to progress swiftly towards enlightenment.  Wanting these things and understanding her power to help us attain them, we generate bodhichitta.

Generating the four immeasurables

May all sentient beings possess happiness and its causes,
May they be free from suffering and its causes,
May they never be separated from the happiness that is without suffering,
May they abide in equanimity, without feeling close to some out of attachment or distant from others out of hatred.

As with bodhichitta practice, our practice of the four immeasurables should also have a Tara-like flavor when we recite them.  To do so, we should not just generate the four immeasurable wishes in a generic sense, but we should try align ourselves with Tara’s four immeasurable wishes for all living beings.  How Tara feels and experiences these four immeasurable wishes will be informed by her own understanding of her function and how she helps people realize these four wishes.  If we are to align ourselves with Tara’s blessings, we need to not only generate faith in her, but we need to align our motivation with hers.

When Tara thinks may all sentient beings possess happiness and its causes, she does so as a spiritual mother would.  When she thinks may they be free from suffering and its causes, she does so as somebody who has the power to dispel all fears would.  When she wishes everyone never be separated from the happiness without suffering, she does so as somebody who has the power to bestow the lamrim realizations of freedom from lower rebirth, samsaric rebirth, and solitary peace would.  When she wishes everyone abide in equanimity, she does so as a mother would who loves equally all her children and wishes only that they also love each other.  As you engage in the four immeasurables, ask yourself, “how would Tara feel these wishes,” and then try to feel them in the same way she would.  This will make your practice particularly powerful and align your mind more precisely with her blessings.

Inviting Arya Tara

From the supreme abode of Potala,
Born from the green letter TAM,
You who liberate migrators with the light of the letter TAM,
O Tara, please come here together with your retinue.

Potala is her Pure Land.  Definitive Potala is the clear light Dharmakaya of all the Buddhas.  An enlightened mind is the union of the completely purified wind and mind.  The completely purified very subtle wind is the vajra body of the Buddha, and the completely purified very subtle mind is the vajra mind of the Buddha.  When bodhisattvas are progressing along the Tantric grounds, they imagine that out of the Dharmakaya their vajra body (or illusory body) emerges out of the Dharmakaya.  Their very subtle wind takes the form of a seed letter of the future Buddha they are to become.  For Tara, her seed letter is the green letter TAM.  Once a Buddha attains enlightenment, they send out countless emanations and blessings to help all living beings – these are their emanation bodies.  Taken together, this verse means from her inner pure land of Dharmakaya Potala, she emerges as her enjoyment body in the aspect of a letter TAM, which then sends out infinite light rays in all directions ripening and liberating all living beings, who then appear in the aspect of countless Taras surrounding her and the twenty one Taras.


Gods and demi-gods bow their crowns
At your lotus feet;
O Liberator from all misfortune,
To you, Mother Tara, I prostrate.

Typically, gods and demi-gods bow to nobody thinking themselves superior to all, but when they are in Tara’s presence, they spontaneously bow their crowns out of respect a her lotus feet.  They do not do so out of fear or political loyalty, but deep respect understanding her to be the Holy Mother of all the Buddhas.  When we recite that she is the Liberator from all misfortune, we understand that she has the power to liberate all beings who are now around us in the aspect of Taras, and we imagine that all beings spontaneously bow down to her out of love and respect to her as our spiritual mother. 

The feeling this evokes for me is like in Game of Thrones with Daenerys Stormborn liberated countless slaves from their masters, and tens of thousands of them spontaneously started calling out to her as Mhysa, their liberating mother.  Tara is our Mhysa, and we imagine all living beings surrounding us feel the same loving respect. 

Dream with Geshe-la Explaining the Eight Dissolutions

I just had a dream in which Geshe-la explained to me how the eight dissolutions work. I write my dreams down so I don’t forget and in case they prove beneficial to others. When we die or during completion stage meditations, our inner winds gather into our central channel at our heart. As they gradually do so, we perceive eight different appearances.

In the dream, Geshe-la was quietly seated off on the side while all sorts of other activities were going on and there was lots of noise as people were talking or doing whatever. I was seated there paying attention to all these other activities and didn’t really notice Geshe-la there. But then somehow he got my attention and was asking when something happened during the eight dissolutions, so I started speaking with him about it and I would guess thinking I knew the answer to his question but not sure, “during the smoke-like appearance?” and he would say, “no, no,” and then I would guess feeling like I was getting closer to an answer, “during the sparkling fire-flies like appearance?” And he said, “no, no,” but he was getting more excited. And then I said, “when the wind element wind dissolves?” And he said, “almost!” And then it clicked, “ah, during the transition between the candle-flame like appearance and the white appearance, and he said all excited, “YES!”

He then called me over to him so he could show me. He then was showing me these very tiny boxes like Russian dolls, with one inside the other. They were floating in space going downwards, and he showed how when we transitioned from one appearance to another as the winds dissolved, it was like a rocket shedding its booster rocket where it left behind one of the bigger boxes and one of the smaller boxes emerged out from within it (but it was moving downwards at an angle, not upwards). When one of the smaller boxes emerged out from within a larger box, it would release a new powerful appearance as the next appearance. It was understood that a new smaller box would be released when all of the previous wind was absorbed, and as the new box (which was felt to be ourself at increasingly subtle levels) emerged, it would release the appearance.

Then he drew me really close looking at the boxes and he showed me what happened when we made the transition from candle-flame like appearance to white appearance: no new box came out, but we nonetheless emerged like a phantom box that had no form whatsoever and when we did it released the white appearance, and then Geshe-la said almost like some cool teen would, “it’s A-MAZING!!!” And then he started laughing all happy. (Note, it is when we make this transition that we enter what is called “the four empties” of white appearance, red increase, black near attainment, and then clear light).

He then said, “it is like this,” and he folded some scripture he was writing in half to write on the back what he wanted to explain, but he didn’t have something hard to write on. So I said, “oh, I’ll go get something hard to write on,” and I went and found some coffee table picture book and brought it over to him, he put the scripture paper on the book and was about to write, and then I woke up.

I then thought, “woah, I need to go write that down in my blog,” but I then fell back asleep.

I was then in the dorm at a festival and I had to go take a shower. I went into the shower room, which was in this wood cabin type place, and I turned the water on and at first it came out strong, but then only a trickle. I then looked for something to hook the shower head on, but it wasn’t the right fit, but finally I got it to hold, but then the water basically dried up. I then put on my towel to go tell somebody and I ran into some friends who were in an adjacent room in the cabin. They had also just showered and were in their towels.

One of the friends then offering to help out, “do you all need another night?” And I said, “oh, that would be great, our single room just ran out” accepting their offer, and then she said in all sincerity, “here, you can use this ring to secure another night,” and she gave me this really ugly, gaudy, gold speckled ring that I could use like something somebody could hold as collateral securing the room for the night. She then showed me her whole collection of similarly gaudy ostentatious jewelry. I remember looking at the ring and thinking, “nobody is going to want this, this is worthless,” even though financially it was no doubt worth a lot, I couldn’t imagine anybody who could offer me a room would want this.

I then woke up again and realized the two dreams were connected, so I came to write this.

What does this all mean to me? In the first dream, I was paying attention to all the noise and clammer of activities in the room and not Geshe-la off to the side in the corner quietly writing scriptures, a metaphor of my life paying attention to the noise of appearance and not the quiet of my guru writing Dharma. My guessing was me thinking I know things and blurting out answers as if I knew, and while my answers I was blurting out were wrong, they were gradually moving in the right direction. This is like me and my social media presence and blog, writing things like I know what I am saying, and what I am saying is not quite right, but nonetheless gradually moving in the right direction.

Geshe-la was trying to explain to me how the eight dissolutions work, a subject that I have really been focusing on trying to understand for about 18 months now. Geshe-la showed me the mechanism where when one wind element dissolved completely, it would release the next box of us at a smaller, more subtle level, and when the box was released, it would release this powerful light of the next appearance. But in particular, the most important one I needed to understand was when the wind supporting the candle-flame like appearance dissolved and I made the transition to white appearance – entering the four empties. Here, there was no form that emerged, just the sky-like empty formlessness. I understood this to mean formless in the sense of the mind is clarity, without form. It is also at this stage that we transition from gross to subtle minds, leaving our gross minds completely behind.

Geshe-la then wanted to write something down for me of what the next thing I needed to understand, but there was no foundation in my mind to understand it (symbolized by the search for something hard to write on), meaning I lacked the experience to understand the next level. My then showing up at a festival indicated to me that I need more teachings, in particular at festivals – something I haven’t been able to physically for a long time. My going for a shower meant to me I needed to purify, but the lack of water coming out was understood to mean a lack of merit. It was my last day at the festival and my friends offered me another night. The fact that we were all basically naked bud didn’t care indicated for me I need to basically almost completely leave behind my sexual attachment to understand what comes next. But they did so offering me some really expensive piece of jewelry from their vast collection of similar jewelry, but this was understood to be worthless. This meant to me how I have been using up my merit on worthless external things which is of no value to those who can enable me to stay another night to receive the teachings I need.

All of these are powerful teachings for me.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: What’s with All the Debates in Emptiness Teachings?

Preparation 5:  Understanding how to relate to philosophical debates about emptiness

Throughout Shantideva’s explanation of emptiness he refers to many different philosophical schools of thought.  the names of these schools, such as the samkhyas the chittamatrins, and the prasangikas are all very unfamiliar to us. The debates between the different schools can seem academic and since we have never actually met someone from these philosophical schools it can seem to have little meaning. So how can we understand these discussions?

Fundamentally, the presentation of the views of the other schools are designed to help us to better identify the object of negation.  As Gen Tharchin explains, 80% of realizing emptiness is correctly identifying the object of negation.  The debates between the Prasangikas and the other schools helps us identify different common forms of grasping we might still be holding onto.  By presenting them as different philosophical schools, we can see within our own mind how we have similar grasping.  When we see clearly how we have such views, the debates with the Prasangikas will function to dismantle the wrong views within our own mind.

Concretely, how can we understand these debates?

First, they are like a ladder that gradually brings us to the final view of the prasangika. By refuting each of the lower schools, we are able to leave behind an aspect of our ignorance. And each time we do, we move up the ladder closer to the final view. 

Second, we need to identify these different schools of thought in our own world. The views represented by these different philosophical school schools do in fact correspond with philosophical views many people or different religions hold. Therefore, it is helpful to connect the views of the different philosophical schools with common philosophical views we find in our modern world.

But third and most importantly, we must identify within our own mind how we are still grasping onto the views of these lower schools in our own thinking. If we do not recognize how we are in fact holding onto the views of these lower schools but just do not realize it, then the prasangika refutations of the lower schools will lack power. But if we see clearly how in fact we are holding such views, then the prasangika refutation will directly dismantle our ignorance. In this way, contemplating these different debates is itself a practical method for bringing our mind to a correct view of emptiness.

Since we know that the final view Geshe-la wants us to have is that of the prasangika, we can often think that the views of the lower schools are irrelevant and wrong and we can just look at the highest view. This is a mistake. Instead, when we read the objections of the lower schools, we should identify how we ourselves have the doubt that is being expressed by the lower school. We need to look into our mind and see how we do hold onto the views that they espouse. We might not ever call ourselves a samkhya, but we all definitely have samkhya tendencies. We need to find these tendencies within ourselves, and then the prasangika refutation will be extremely powerful in our mind. As we go through the debates in Shantideva’s presentation, I will introduce the basic tenants of each of the lower schools when we first encounter them so we know where they are coming from. For a complete explanation of tenets, please see the appendix in Ocean of Nectar. This is not an intellectual philosophical game, it is a practical method for bringing our mind to the correct view of emptiness.

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: Understanding Emptiness Through Analogies

Preparation 4:  Understanding key analogies for realizing emptiness.

By way of further introduction, I think it might be helpful to discuss some of the main analogies Geshe-la uses to illustrate the meaning of emptiness. The most frequently used analogies are dreams, illusions, holograms, waves on the ocean, and the blue of the sky. I will now discuss each in turn.

Phenomena are like dreams:  One of the most effective analogies for illustrating the meaning of emptiness is all phenomena are like dreams. It is easy to understand how dreams are merely projections of our mind. If we dream of an elephant, we do not then go looking in our room for the elephant after we wake up. The appearances of our dream simply disappear when we wake up, and we understand that they never truly existed. They were simply projections of our mind. The only difference between last night’s dream and today’s waking world is the mind perceiving the appearances. Our dream mind is a subtle mind and our waking mind is a gross mind but the appearances in dreams, and the appearances in our waking state, are both equally mere projections of our mind.  The appearances themselves are exactly equal in nature. They have no existence other than projection of mind. If we go looking for something that is more than just mere projection of mind we find nothing. Even modern quantum physics confirms the truth of Buddha’s teachings 2,500 years ago. Quantum physics says objects come into existence when they are observed. The object itself is a projection of our mind, just like a dream.

Illusions:  Phenomena are also likened to illusions. An illusion is something that appears in one way but actually exists in another. The classic example is an illusory tiger manifested by an ancient magician. To the people in the audience, they see a living tiger; but for the magician, he understands it is an illusion. In the same way, all phenomena appear in one way but actually exist in another. They appear to be truly existent or existent from the side of the object, when in fact neither of these things is true. Perhaps a more modern example is taking psychedelic drugs. When people take LSD for example, all sorts of hallucinations appear vividly to their mind, but none of these things actually exist. Or another modern example would be someone with schizophrenia. People, places, and things appear clearly to their mind but they do not in fact exist.

Holograms:  Holograms are things that can appear in different ways depending upon how you look at them. For example, at Disneyland on the ride Pirates of the Caribbean, there is a room you pass through which has a bunch of faces. At the first angle they appear to be friendly, normal people; but when you move a little bit farther along, they then appear to be Pirates. So what is actually there? A kind person or a pirate? The truth is neither is actually there – from one perspective it is a kind person and from another perspective it is a pirate. The same is true for all phenomena. Different people looking at the same person, for example, can see a friend, an enemy, or a stranger. Their mother would look at the same person and see their child. A boss might see an employee, a child might see a parent, a con man might see a potential victim, and so forth. So who is actually there? Nobody. The person is neither child nor parent nor friend nor enemy nor any of these things.  Who and what they are depends upon the perspective with which we look at them. If the person was truly existent, then they would appear the same to everybody. The fact that they do not, shows that they do not truly exist.

Waves on the ocean:  One of my favorite analogies for emptiness is waves on the ocean. Each phenomenon is like a wave on the ocean of our mind. We can nominally differentiate one wave from another, but all of the waves are equally the ocean. You cannot ever separate the wave from the ocean, nor one wave from another – they rise and fall in dependence upon one another.  In the same way, all phenomena are like waves on the ocean of emptiness. We can nominally differentiate one phenomenon from another, but all phenomena are equally empty. They are all equally emptiness appearing in different forms. Or more specifically, when we look at phenomena, what we are seeing is emptiness appearing in different ways. Just as when we look at waves, we are seeing the ocean appearing in different aspects.  The prasangika view of emptiness says all things are manifestations of their emptiness, like waves are manifestations of the ocean. The tantra prasangika view goes one step further and says that all phenomena are by nature our mind of great bliss and our mind of great bliss is the nature of emptiness.

Blue of the sky:  In Mirror of Dharma, Geshe-la spends a great deal of time explaining the union of appearance and emptiness. The union of appearance and emptiness is Buddha’s final view. The analogy he gives for illustrating the relationship between appearance and emptiness is the blue of the sky. when we look at the sky, it appears blue. What we are looking at and seeing is the sky, and it appears blue. We certainly cannot separate the blue from the sky, but we also do not say we are looking at blue, we say we are looking at the sky. In exactly the same way, a Buddha looks at and sees emptiness everywhere appearing in myriad different ways. Their mind is never separated from the wisdom realizing the emptiness of all phenomena, but they nonetheless are able to see this emptiness appearing in all of its different manifestations. When I look at my shrine, for example, I see emptiness appearing as my shrine. As Geshe-la says in Mirror of Dharma, when we see our body, in truth we see only the emptiness of our body because the real nature of our body is its emptiness. He goes on to say, we realize the non-dual appearance and empty as an endless space of emptiness. In Essence of Vajrayana, Geshe-la explains that Heruka has serene eyes symbolizing that his mind never leaves emptiness, yet he remains omniscient knowing directly and simultaneously all phenomena.

Happy Heruka Day: Enjoying An Ocean of Bliss and Emptiness

Today is Heruka Day, which takes place during Heruka and Vajrayogini month (otherwise known as January), and is a special day when his blessings are particularly powerful.  Most of all, on this day we can recall his kindness and make an effort to bring him to life in our world.

Who is Heruka?

Heruka is the manifestation of the compassion of all the Buddhas.  Out of his Truth Body, he emanates himself as a complete path from the deepest hell to the highest enlightenment.  He is Keajra Pure Land, which is not some distant place but rather a different way of looking at our world.  He emanates in this world as Spiritual Guides who in turn introduce us to Keajra Pure Land.  We then begin to connect with it, and as we do, we are guided progressively to purer and purer states of mind.  Geshe-la once said the mind of Lamrim is Akanishta Pure Land – a revealing way of phrasing things, a mind as a place.  Heruka is the principal deity of Akanishta Pure Land.  Our Spiritual Guides first guide us into Lamrim (Akanishta), then conventional Keajra Pure Land through generation stage, then definitive Keajra Pure Land through completion stage.  Finally, we attain union with definitive Heruka, the omniscient mind of great bliss realizing directly and simultaneously the emptiness of all things.  Heruka is not just this final state, he is the entire path to it.  He is the compassion of all the Buddhas manifesting as the quick path to enlightenment.

My favorite description of Heruka is Chakrasambara.  As Geshe-la explains in Essence of Vajrayana:

“Another term for Heruka is ‘Chakrasambara.’  ‘Chakra’ means ‘wheel,’ and in this context refers to the ‘wheel’ of all phenomena.  ‘Sambara’ means the supreme bliss, which is called ‘spontaneous great bliss.’  Together ‘Chakra’ and ‘sambara’ reveal that by practicing Heruka Tantra we gain a profound realization that experiences all phenomena as one nature with our mind of great bliss.  This realization directly removes subtle dualistic appearances from our mind, and due to this we quickly become definitive Heruka.”

This realization is called “meaning clear light,” and Geshe-la explains in Guide to Dakini Land that if we gain this realization, we can attain enlightenment within six months.  This does not mean we can attain enlightenment in six months from the time we start practicing Heruka.  It will take a long time to gain the realization of meaning clear light, but once we do, we can attain enlightenment in six months.  Practicing Heruka is the quickest method for attaining the realization of meaning clear light.  At a minimum, through our sincere practice of Heruka in this life, if we can die with a mind of compassion and faith in Heruka, it is definite we can be reborn in his pure land.  From there, we will be able to quickly attain meaning clear light and then enlightenment.  This is our incredible good fortune. 

Recalling the Kindness of Heruka

The very heart of the sadhana Offering to the Spiritual Guide is the Single-Pointed Request, which can be understood as a prayer to Heruka as Keajra Pure Land. 

You are the Guru, you are the Yidam, you are the Daka and Dharma Protector;

From now until I attain enlightenment I shall seek no refuge other than you.

In this life, in the bardo, and until the end of my lives, please hold me with the hook of your compassion,

Liberate me from the fears of samsara and peace, bestow all the attainments, be my constant companion, and protect me from all obstacles.  

The first line reveals the vastness of Heruka.  Heruka is by nature our Guru and our Guru is Heruka.  All Tantric practices are fundamentally trainings in guru yoga – a special way of viewing the deity and the guru as inseparably one.  Saying Heruka is our Guru and our Guru is Heruka evokes different meanings, and both are true simultaneously.  Heruka is also our Yidam or our personal deity.  He is the Buddha we seek to become and our ultimate role model.  Christians ask, “what would Jesus do,” we ask, “what would Heruka do,” and we seek to do that.  Heruka is also the Daka, which here refers to the Heroes and Heroines of his body mandala.  These deities are his retinue, but also his spiritual limbs.  Heruka is also the Dharma Protector.  He manifests Dorje Shugden as the Protector of the Guru’s words.  Conventionally, Heruka appears as the totality of his Pure Land, from the HUM at his heart to the principal deity (Yidam); to the body mandala deities (Daka); to his celestial mansion, Mount Meru, and the continents (his gross body); to the charnel grounds (his perception of samsara); to Dorje Shugden’s protection circle surrounding it all transforming whatever appears into a perfect condition for the enlightenment of all beings within Heruka’s pure land.

The second line explains how we rely upon Heruka.  It begins with an understanding of both why we go for refuge to him and for how long our commitment to doing so is – namely to attain enlightenment and until we do.  Geshe-la explains Heruka’s power is only unleashed within us in dependence upon our motivation of Bodhichitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of all. 

The third line makes our reliance upon Heruka pure.  In Joyful Path, Geshe-la explains what makes our spiritual practice pure instead of worldly is whether we are engaging in it for the sake of all of our future lives or the sake of this life.  We rely upon Heruka in this life, in the bardo, and in all of our future lives.  What do we request of him?  That he always hold us with the hook of his compassion.  The ocean of samsara is vast and it is easy to get lost at sea and drown, but out of his compassion for us, he throws us a hook we can grab onto.  If we never let go, he will pull us to safety.  What is this hook and how does it appear in our life?  It primarily appears as our Spiritual Guide, but it also manifests as the Daka and the Dharma Protector. 

The fourth line reveals Heruka’s main function; or put another way, the principal benefits of relying upon him.  His aspect of the Guru functions to liberate us from the fears of samsara and peace.  Peace here refers to the solitary peace of individual liberation, which is nice for us but useless for others.  We pray to never get trapped in solitary peace but instead strive to become a Buddha who works until the end of time to free others from their suffering.  His aspect of the Yidam functions to bestow all the attainments.  Bestow is a beautiful word as it implies the giving of something precious.  In truth, we attain enlightenment by the Buddhas bestowing the realizations of their mind upon ours, like a gift.  Of course, we must do certain things from our side to open up our mind to receive these precious gifts, but by nature, our future realizations of the stages of the path are actually by nature aspects of our Yidam’s mind.  His aspect of Daka functions to be our constant companion.  In other words, the deities of the body mandala – Heruka’s retinue – are his companions who not only bless our own channels, drops, and winds, but similarly bless all living beings as they fulfill Heruka’s wishes in this world.  His aspect of Dharma Protector functions to protect ourselves and all the beings inside Heruka’s mandala from all obstacles to our spiritual practice.  Nothing is an obstacle from its own side.  Things only become obstacles when we relate to them in a deluded way.  Dorje Shugden is first and foremost a wisdom Buddha, meaning he grants us the wisdom to be able to see how whatever arises is perfect for our spiritual training.  Since his protection circle envelopes all of Keajra, from the Charnel Grounds to the HUM at Heruka’s heart, he is likewise bestowing similar wisdom blessings on the minds of all living beings.  This is why for Heruka samsara appears as the Charnel Grounds.  In the Charnel Grounds, even though conventionally horrific things appear, they are all understood and seen as powerful Dharma teachings propelling us towards enlightenment.  When we have this wisdom, when others come to us with their difficulties, we fail to even see a problem, we see only spiritual opportunity.  We then share our perspective with others, empowering them to transform their life into a joyful path of good fortune. 

For myself, I recite the Single-Pointed request with these recognitions day and night as I go about my day.  It is my daily mantra, and with every recitation, it draws me closer to Heruka.  In my meditation itself, I try to gain experience for what it feels like to be Heruka in Keajra.

Bringing Heruka to Life in our World

We can sometimes feel like Heruka is not in this world and our attainment of union with him is very far off.  Both of these perceptions are completely wrong.  Heruka is the ultimate nature of everything in this world and attaining union with him is simply one recognition away.  How can we bridge the gap between these two very different views?  Through the practice of the Eight Lines of Praise of the Father.  This is a special method for activating Heruka’s function in this world through us.  On the basis of this feeling we simply recognize ourselves as Heruka.  Through continual training in this practice, the gap between our normal perception and our enlightened perception collapses until eventually, we experience ourselves directly as Heruka in this world performing his enlightened deeds for the benefit of all.   As Geshe-la says in Essence of Vajrayana, “By sincerely reciting these praises we swiftly purify our ordinary appearances and reach Heruka’s Pure Land.”

The Eight Lines of Praise are almost like words of a magical spell, which function to invoke or activate the different functions of Heruka we are praising. 

OM I Prostrate to the Blessed One, Lord of the Heroes HUM HUM PHAT

When we recite this line, we request Heruka’s body to become active in this world.  His body is the form aspect of Keajra Pure Land.  In Keajra, every form that appears is understood as a powerful Dharma teaching by all those who behold it.  Heruka manifests as whatever living beings need to be led to enlightenment.  While Keajra Pure Land is shaped like a mountain, it’s spiritual gradient is more like a funnel.  No matter where you drop something in a funnel, it is eventually guided down into the center of the funnel.  In the same way, no matter where you find yourself in Keajra Pure Land – from the Charnel Grounds to the principal deity’s body – you are inexorably drawn towards the indestructible wind inside Heruka’s heart chakra.  By activating Heruka’s form body in our world, we are “inviting all beings to be our guests” in our Pure Land where we engage in the pleasing supreme practices of enlightenment.  We then strongly believe that whatever forms appear to the minds of any living being, they are by nature emanations of Heruka’s form body, revealing the truth of Dharma and guiding all beings towards his heart. 

In particular, when we recite this line, we can imagine that our body is Heruka’s majestic body.  Our eyes may continue to perceive the body that we normally see, but our mind’s eyes of faith see ourselves as Heruka.  In Essence of Vajrayana, it explains the symbolism of Heruka’s body.  The short version is it reveals all of the essential stages of the path to enlightenment.  Buddhas can manifest their inner realizations as forms.  The main point is we should disregard, even forget, our body that we normally see and believe that through our recitation of this line of the prayer we perceive our body to be Heruka’s body.

OM To you with a brilliance equal to the fire of the great aeon HUM HUM PHAT

When we recite this line, we invoke/activate Heruka’s speech.  In Keajra, every sound is arising from Heruka’s enlightened speech and it functions to reveal the truth of Dharma.  When we recite this, we imagine that every sound, even the rustling of leaves in the wind, is actually vajra songs teaching Dharma.  His speech burns away the ordinary conceptions and ignorance of living beings like a great wisdom fire that radiates out and burns away all delusions.  In particular, we should imagine that from this point forward all of our own speech is actually Heruka’s speech being spoken through us.  Instead of saying whatever comes to our mind, we get out of the way and let him speak through us.  If we are practicing this at the level of completion stage, we can recall that the nature of sound is wind, and so all sounds are actually the whistling of Heruka’s pure winds blowing through the world.

OM To you with an inexhaustible topknot HUM HUM PHAT

With this line we imagine we invoke/activate Heruka’s mind in our world, symbolized by his topknot.  There are two aspects of his mind in particular worth noting.  First, his mind sees all past, present, and future phenomena directly and simultaneously.  He sees everything that has been, everything that is, and everything that will be as one inseparable ocean.  This wisdom knowing the three times is extremely effective for being able to help people because we can see the karmic why they are currently facing the situations they are facing and all of the different possible futures they will experience depending upon how they respond to their present circumstance.  Heruka sees everything as currents and continuums, like spiritual winds blowing through time, not static pictures that seem arbitrary and bewildering.  Second, his mind has the power to bestow the realizations of Chakrasambara on others, in other words, his mind functions to gather and dissolve all phenomena into the ocean of bliss and emptiness.  When impure winds cease to flow, the waves of appearance subside, and the ocean of our mind settles into a blissful clarity.  Heruka’s mind naturally draws all phenomena back into this original source of all purity.  When we recite this line, we feel as if these two powers of his mind are now active.  We start to see the three times as Heruka does and we feel all phenomena settling down into the ocean of our mind of clear light emptiness.

OM To you with a fearsome face and bared fangs HUM HUM PHAT

When we recite this line, we imagine we gain Heruka’s great wisdom knowing clearly and unmistakenly what are the objects to be abandoned and what are the objects to be attained, not only for ourselves, but for all living beings.  Not being clear about this is our fundamental problem and the source of all of our suffering.  In Modern Buddhism, Geshe-la makes a clear distinction between our outer problem and our inner problem.  If our car breaks down, normally we think, “I have a problem.”  No, our car has a problem.  Our problem is our inner problem of relating to this appearance in a deluded way.  We need a mechanic to fix our car, and we need to change our mind to solve our inner problem.  Fixing our outer problem will not solve our inner problem.  If we continue to have our inner problem, we will just project it onto some other external circumstance and think now that needs to be fixed too.  Worldly beings are convinced their problem is what is happening externally, and they expend all of their energy trying to solve all of their outer problems, but no matter how many times they do, they continue to have the same sorts of problems just with different faces or different sets of external appearance.  The reason for this is they have not solved their inner problem.  Heruka’s great wisdom enables us to see clearly that our own and others’ actual problem lies within.  Once we are clear that our problem is our inner problem, then his great wisdom helps us see clearly our delusions as mistaken minds.  It is one thing to identify that we have delusions, but if we do not see why they are wrong or deceptive, we will continue to follow them believing them to be true.  His great wisdom also helps us easily know what is the correct way of looking at things that leaves our mind peaceful and calm.  We not only know the wisdom way of thinking, we actually think that way – or at least believe it to be correct, even if the winds of our mind are blowing in opposite directions. 

When we recite this line, we have this wisdom not only for ourselves but also for others.  When others talk to us, we see clearly the difference between their outer and their inner problem, and with respect to their inner problem, we know and can explain in a way they can understand the objects to be abandoned and the objects to be attained.  Traveling outer paths is accomplished through taking steps, inner paths are traveled through knowing what thoughts to believe.  The great wisdom of knowing the objects to be abandoned and the objects to be attained is like always knowing which paths to travel so that we never get lost.  It is like an inner GPS that is always set for the City of Enlightenment, and no matter where we find ourselves, we always know how to get to where we want to go.

OM To you whose thousand arms blaze with light HUM HUM PHAT

When we recite this line we imagine we invoke/activate countless emanations of Heruka who spontaneously burst forth from his heart of compassion to benefit living beings through acts of loving-kindness.  This line refers to how Heruka is the compassion of all the Buddhas, he is the highest yoga tantra version of thousand-arm Avalokiteshvara.  Some people wonder how Buddhas gain the ability to send out emanations.  The answer is their compassion wishing to protect all living beings from all suffering is so great, emanations naturally burst out of their hearts.  Because they realize emptiness of all phenomena, their compassion is like blowing air into the soap of their realization of emptiness producing countless bubbles of emanations.  Normally, when people come to us for help, we think, “I can’t help all of these people,” and we wish some of them would go away and stop putting so many demands on us.  But a bodhisattva thinks, “I would want to help all of these beings, but right now, unfortunately, I can’t.  That’s why I need to become a Buddha because then I will be able to be with each and every living being every day.”  We imagine that through reciting this line, we gain this ability to send out countless emanations and to be like thousand-arm Avalokiteshvara, able to help living beings in countless ways.

OM To you who hold an axe, an uplifted noose, a spear, and a khatanga HUM HUM PHAT

With this line, we imagine we gain Heruka’s ability to engage in wrathful actions, and we invoke his wrathful actions pervade the entire universe.  What are wrathful actions?  They are the ability to use force out of compassion.  They are of two types:  outer and inner.  Outer wrathful actions are when somebody is hurting themselves or others and we can stop them through using whatever power we have (physical, our position, our speech, etc.).  We do this not out of anger, but to protect the person they are harming and to protect the person committing the harm from accumulating negative karma.  Our wish is not to harm the other person, but to protect them.  Sometimes outer wrathful actions take the form of telling people the hard truths of their situation, such as they are acting like a jerk or the only reason why they are suffering is that they are jealous or attached to companionship, or whatever.  Whether our outer wrathful actions are effective depends upon whether our mind is truly free from anger and whether the other person has enough faith in us to take well what we are saying.  If either of these two conditions is not met, our wrathful actions will just be anger or they will just be self-defeating.  Inner wrathful actions are the ability to be utterly ruthless with our delusions, but kind to ourselves.  We can only successfully engage in them if we have truly differentiated between ourselves and our delusions and we have realized that renunciation is true self-love or self-compassion.  It is loving or having compassion for our true selves, our pure potential.  Inner wrathful actions of a Buddha are powerful blessings that help people see clearly the error of their ways, sometimes at an epic scale, but without inducing guilt causing the person to beat themselves up.  When we recite this line, we imagine we gain the ability to engage in such wrathful actions and we imagine we invoke Heruka to engage in such wrathful actions through the appearances of this world.

OM To you who wear a tiger-skin garment HUM HUM PHAT

This refers to Heruka’s ability to pacify anger and conflict.  There is no evil greater than anger.  Almost all of the harm in this world is caused by anger.  Hell realms are the nature of anger, and those who remain consumed by anger in life wind up taking rebirth in hell after death because that is the nature of their mind.  Anger prevents us from accepting samsara as it is, making us wish it was different.  It leads to frustrations, great and small, leaving us always internally uncomfortable, agitated, and unhappy.  Guilt is anger directed at ourself and is a major obstacle to our ability to view Dharma as refuge instead of a mirror we perceive to be judging us for all of our failures and shortcomings.  Conflict in the world ranges from large-scale wars to spats between siblings, but it leaves a wake of pain wherever it goes.  In Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe-la says the mind of cherishing others is like a magic crystal that has the power to heal whole communities.  In Toronto, he said, “love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.”  Heruka’s compassion is his magic crystal and his love is his nuclear bomb that ends all conflict.  We imagine by reciting this line, we activate this power and it functions to pacify all anger, all guilt, and all conflict, not only in our own lives but in the whole world.  We feel as if his love radiates out, pulsing peace into the world.  In Transform Your Life Geshe-la says, “without inner peace, outer peace is impossible.”  We imagine through Heruka’s blessings, we bestow inner peace on all living beings, resulting in universal peace for all.

OM I bow to you whose smoke-coloured body dispels obstructions HUM HUM PHAT

In Essence of Vajrayana, Geshe-la explains:

“In the Condensed Root Tantra it is said that just by seeing a sincere Heruka practitioner we purify our negativities and attain liberation; just by hearing or being touched by such a practitioner we receive blessings and are cured of sickness; and just by being in the presence of such a practitioner our unhappiness, mental disturbances, delusions and other obstacles are dispelled.  Why is this?  It is because the actual Deities of Heruka abide within the body of the practitioner and therefore seeing the practitioner is not so different from seeing Heruka himself.”

When we recite this line of the Praise we recall this special quality of Heruka which makes merely being in their presence a cause of liberation for others.  There are two types of obstructions – the obstructions to liberation, or our delusions; and the obstructions to omniscience, or the karmic imprints of our past delusions.  Merely being in Heruka’s presence dispels both of these, just as being exposed to the sun will melt ice cream.  When we recite this line with faith, we imagine that our Heruka body attains these qualities and when others are merely in our presence, it functions as a cause of their enlightenment – even if we are doing nothing other than watching football together.  We further imagine that Heruka’s body pervades all phenomena, and while our ordinary eyes may perceive the things we normally see, our wisdom eyes see Keajra Pure Land, which is nothing other than Heruka’s pure form body.  By being in this world, the two obstructions of all living beings are dispelled away, all ordinary appearances and conceptions dissolve, and all beings awaken into a world of pure wonder. 

Through continuously engaging in the Eight Lines of Praise, we will gradually purify our mind and samsara will gather and absorb into the clear light, like clouds into a clear blue sky.  We will feel Heruka as Keajra Pure Land become increasingly manifest and we will realize it is not far away, but actually the true nature of all things.  Having activated these eight abilities of Heruka and feeling them work through us, we will have no difficulty generating a qualified divine pride thinking we are Heruka.  As our experience with these verses deepens, the duality between ourselves and our Yidam will dissolve away until we experience union with this marvelous being.  In this way, we will fulfill all of our own and others’ pure wishes.

Heruka day is a particularly auspicious day when Heruka’s blessings are especially powerful.  The karma we create familiarizing ourselves with Heruka in our life and drawing closer to him on this day will pay dividends for aeons to come.  If we have not yet memorized the Eight Lines of Praise, today is a perfect day to do so.  Once we have learned it, we can then practice it day and night and swiftly move out of samsara and into Keajra Pure Land! 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: 80% of Realizing Emptiness is Identifying the Object of Negation

Preparation 3:  Understanding clearly the object of negation

Before we dive into the actual verses of Shantideva’s explanation of emptiness, I first want to say a few words about the object of negation of emptiness. Gen Tharchin explains that 80% of realizing emptiness is correctly identifying the object of negation. If we know what exactly we are negating, then emptiness is simply the mere absence of that. The non-existence of that. If we do not correctly understand the object of negation, then our understanding of emptiness is merely fabricated and almost certainly wrong. Sometimes we are in a rush to get to the final object of emptiness, but this is a mistake. Instead, we should spend the majority of our time correctly identifying what exactly it is we are negating before we engage in the actual contemplations which dismantle our grasping at the existence of the things we normally see.

Geshe-la explains several different ways of understanding the object of negation. Each one is of course synonymous – there is only one emptiness. But each formulation of the object of negation reveals a different aspect of it that then enables us to better understand what exactly it is we are negating. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to first explain each of these different ways of understanding the object of negation so that when we enter into Shantideva’s explanation, we know what exactly he is talking about. Geshe-la alternatively refers to inherent existence, true existence, existence from its own side, independently existent, and the things we normally see. I will now explain each one in turn.

Inherent existence:  The most common explanation of emptiness in the majority of Geshe-la’s books is the absence of inherent existence. Emptiness is the mere lack of inherent existence.  What exactly is inherent existence?  Inherent existence means that the existence of the object inheres in the object itself. In other words, there is no difference between the object and its basis of imputation. We think the object itself is its basis. The car is the car, the tree is the tree, its existence is inside itself – its existence is itself. When we engage in the traditional meditation as explained in the Meditation Handbook on looking for the body that we normally see, the I that we normally see and so forth, we are looking for where is the object. We say it can be found either as one of its parts, as the collection of its parts, or as separate from its parts. Inherent existence means we can find the object itself inside the object. The key point of the Prasangika view of emptiness is recognizing the distinction between the basis of imputation and the object itself. When we see the imputation as distinct from its basis, we see the lack of inherent existence. When we see the basis of imputation and the object itself as one in the same, then we are grasping at inherent existence.

True existence:  True existence is if the object exists in the way in which it appears. Objects appear to exist from their own side, independent of the mind. It seems as if objects exist “out there” waiting to be observed, and our mind has no role whatsoever in bringing these objects into existence. True existence, therefore, is assenting to this appearance. We conceptually believe that objects do indeed exist in the way that they appear. We do not think that the appearance of objects existing from their own side is incorrect, rather we think it is exactly correct – that is how objects exist. 

Existence from its own side:  existence from its own side means that the object exists on the side of the object itself and not on the side of the mind. Normally we say there are two things: subject and object.  The subject is the person who or mind that knows and the object is what is known. We say I know John. In this example “I” is the subject “John” is the object. How does John exist? When we believe in existence from its own side, we think that John exists on the side of John. We believe that our mind has no role whatsoever in bringing John into existence. Existing on the side of the object and objectively existing are synonymous. In our normal way of talking about things we refer to a subjective perception of something and an objective perception of something. The subjective perception of something is seen to be false and dependent upon the person who is looking at it, whereas an objective perception of things is supposedly neutral and accurate and true for how the object actually exists from its own side. For example, we could say that is objectively good. To say something is objectively anything is to say that its existence is established on the side of the object itself. In truth, nothing is objectively existent, everything is subjectively existent. Believing that there is such a thing as objective existence of anything is ignorance, and the object of negation of emptiness. All of modern science is based on the assumption that we can objectively describe things. Every other discipline nowadays is trying to be more and more like science. Economics, sociology, political science, etc., all of these things are trying to be more science-like and describe things objectively. We often say someone who is objective has a better view than someone who is merely offering their subjective opinion. We even place a value judgment saying objective is better when in fact objective does not even exist.

Independently existent:  Another way of understanding the object of negation is independently existent. Objects exist independent of other things. This is how things appear to us. We think that we exist independently of others. We think others exist independently of us. We think our computer exists independently from our table. The list goes on and on.  To exist independently means to not depend upon other things for being able to come into existence. Everyone knows that a rainbow is a dependent-arising. When water and sunlight come together at a particular angle it creates the appearance of a rainbow. Without the water and without the sunlight, there is no rainbow. We know that the rainbow exists in dependence upon these causes and conditions. Independent existence is thinking that things exist and arise independently of other things. Of course, even superficially thinking about things we recognize that nothing exists independently of anything else, but our ignorance nonetheless innately grasps at things as existing independently of everything else. For example, because we think our self exists independently of others, it makes sense to us to cherish only ourselves and not others. When things happen to other people, we think it does not matter because we believe it is not happening to us. We think this because we think we are independent of others and others are independent of us. In many ways understanding the dependent nature of all phenomena is the easiest way of understanding emptiness. That is why Shantideva spends so much time discussing how objects come into existence.

The things we normally see:  In recent years, Geshe-la has primarily focused on explaining the object of negation of emptiness as “the things we normally see.” In Mirror of Dharma, Geshe-la says everyone knows that emptiness is the lack of inherent existence, but despite having this intellectual understanding our delusions are not changed. We remain just as deluded as before. The object of negation simply is an intellectual abstraction, and not our actual innate ignorance. The phraseology of the things we normally see counters this. What is my self that I normally see? It’s Ryan. The Ryan that I normally see. What is the body that I normally see? It’s my body that I look at and see in the mirror. There is no need to make it more complicated than that. It is simply the body that I normally see. The same is true for cars, our friends, the world, and all other phenomena. Everything that we normally see is the object of negation. None of these things actually exist. Our intellectual mind likes to focus on the words “normally see,” to then re-impute our intellectual understanding of inherent existence. How do things normally appear?  They appear to exist from their own site, they appear to exist inherently, etc. But by doing this, we miss the point of this phraseology and it just winds up being a recreation of our intellectual understanding of emptiness. We need to take these words exactly as they are without extra commentary. What is the object of negation? All the things that we normally see – our computer, our home, our boss, our children, etc., etc., etc. The phraseology of the things I normally see do not exist is also particularly powerful in meditation itself. Even in our mind the world continues to appear. That world that appears inside our mind is the things that we normally see. None of that exists – it is all mere projections, illusions, hallucinations, holograms, and so forth of the mind. When we say the things we normally see do not exist in meditation, then all of these appearances inside of our mind dissolve into the clear light emptiness. We then look out into the clear light and see the mirror lack or the non-existence of all of the things that we normally see.