Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Overcoming attachment to wealth

(8.79) We should realize that a preoccupation with wealth leads to endless problems
Because acquiring it, protecting it, and losing it all involve pain.
Those who allow themselves to become distracted out of attachment to wealth
Will find no opportunity to escape from the miseries of samsara.

Fear of poverty is an overwhelming fear for many.  I had a strange experience growing up.  My father had millions, but he was extremely miserly.  We had all the latest toys, a lake cabin, everything.  But my mother was a single mom, who worked as a secretary for most of my time growing up.  My father hated my mother more than he loved us, and so he couldn’t see to provide my mother with anything but the absolute minimum he could get away with – and he had very good lawyers who made sure he hardly paid anything.  When we were with my mother during the school year, we wore second hand clothes and shopped for food at Valu Village and other thrift stores.  We had nothing, and often had to go without heat because we could not afford the heating oil.  But then in the summers, I would go to my Dad’s, where we would experience a very privileged life.  Living poor with my mom made me very fearful of ever being poor again; being influenced by my father’s habits, I learned miserliness.  Together, these have caused me to have deep attachment to wealth (or specifically, not being poor) and tendencies to be miserly. 

Venerable Tharchin provided for me the keys to breaking out of this.  He said, “mentally give away everything you have nothing, so that you don’t consider anything as belonging to you, but still maintain custodianship over certain things – keeping them in safe keeping until eventually you actually transfer possession to others.  In your mind, others ‘own’ everything, but you still have possession until it is appropriate to transfer over.” 

Ultimately, we should follow the example of people like Geshe Langri Tangpa.  Every time Geshe Langri Tangpa left some place, he gave away everything he acquired there.  He had no interest in wealth, possessions, at all, other than to help others with it. He gave everything he had away to others. Absolutely everything. He left nothing to call his own.  Geshe-la once said that he never bought anything just for himself.

(8.80) People attached to a worldly life
Experience many such problems, and for little reward.
They are like a horse forced to pull a cart,
Who can grab only an occasional mouthful of grass to eat.

(8.81) Those who are driven by uncontrolled desires
Waste this precious freedom and endowment, so hard to find,
For the sake of a few petty rewards that are in no way rare,
For even animals can obtain them.

(8.82) Our objects of desire will definitely perish,
And then we shall fall into the lower realms.
If we consider all the hardships we have endured since beginningless time
In pursuing meaningless worldly pleasures,

(8.83) We could have attained the state of a Buddha
For a fraction of the difficulty!
Worldly beings experience much greater suffering than those who follow the path to enlightenment –
And yet they do not attain enlightenment as a result!

(8.84) If we consider the sufferings of hell and so on,
We shall see that the discomforts endured by worldly people in this life –
Such as those caused by weapons, poison, enemies, or treacherous places –
Bear no comparison in their severity.

These verses really strike a chord for me.  We have had to experience so many hardships in our pursuit of worldly pleasures, not only in this life but in our countless previous lives.  And what do we have to show for it?  Almost nothing.

What do we want from our life, really?  Do we want to just be blown by the winds of our ordinary desires until we die or do we want to make a real difference, both for ourself and for others, and change this situation. 

Shantideva is saying if only we had put as much effort into Dharma practice as we had pursuing worldly desires, we would be enlightened already!  Think about that.  Enlightenment often seems impossible, but it is easier to attain enlightenment than it is to stay in samsara.  Of course we can’t go back and redo our past, but we can decide what our future will be.  Going forward, we have a choice:  remain in samsara or attain enlightenment.  Which of these two paths is easier?  Normally, we think following our delusions is easier, but Shantideva is saying it is far easier to attain enlightenment.  If we are truly lazy and want things to be easy, we would be wise to pour ourselves into attaining enlightenment.  Then, everything will not only be easy, it will be effortless.  Putting effort into samsara is wasted effort because it has no chance of succeeding.  But putting effort into our Dharma practice is guaranteed.  It is much easier to attain enlightenment than it is to find happiness in samsara.

A Pure Life: How to take the Eight Mahayana Precepts

This is part four 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.

In this post I will explain how to actually take the Eight Mahayana Precepts using the sadhana called A Pure Life.  If we have not yet received the Eight Mahayana Precepts, we first need to receive them directly from a preceptor. Once we have done so, we can take them again on our own anytime we wish. Typically, Kadampa practitioners around the world retake the Eight Mahayana Precepts the 15th of every month. This is not that difficult to do nor is it a particularly onerous moral commitment. But through training gradually month after month, year after year, eventually our behavior begins to change, and we naturally start to live a pure life.

How do we receive them directly from a preceptor? The easiest way of doing so is to request the resident teacher at the closest Kadampa center to us to grant them. Since most Kadampa centers engage in this practice once a month, it should be very easy for them to grant you the precepts formally. If we are unable to make it to a Kadampa center to take the precepts, it might also be possible to do so online through zoom or a similar service. I would recommend simply asking if this is possible. I imagine if your intention is sincere, your closest resident teacher will find a way to make it happen.

The way of taking the precepts for the first time and the way of retaking them every month is almost identical.  We typically take the precepts at dawn. But if this is not possible, it is OK to take them first thing in the morning. Again, we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

When it comes time to take the precepts, we should first recall that we have accumulated a nearly infinite amount of negative karma associated with violating the eight precepts. This karma remains on our mind, and if we do not purify it, we will eventually suffer its bitter consequence. One of the most effective methods for purifying our past transgression of the eight precepts is by retaking them. When we do so, we can purify all of our past transgressions and renew afresh the commitments upon our mind.

We then should imagine that our spiritual guide in the aspect of Buddha Shakyamuni appears clearly in the space in front of us. He is delighted that we have decided to engage in the precepts practice. When we actually take the precepts, we are not promising our spiritual guide that we will keep them, rather we are promising to ourselves that we will keep this moral discipline and our spiritual guide in the space in front of us is a witness to our commitment. He is honored to be such a witness.  With this mind fearing the karmic consequences of our past negative behavior, strong faith in the value of moral discipline practice, and remembering our spiritual guide as a witness, we can then engage in the refuge prayers of the sadhana while contemplating deeply upon their meaning.

Once we have done so, we can then recall our bodhichitta motivation for engaging in the practice of the Eight Mahayana Precepts.  How our practice of the precepts helps us attain enlightenment was explained in the previous post of this series. The short version is to attain enlightenment we need to purify our very subtle mind of the two obstructions.  To do that, we need to realize the emptiness of our very subtle mind, which requires a powerful mind of concentration. The mind of concentration in turn depends upon the practice of moral discipline. Moral discipline is a special wisdom that recognizes delusions and negative behavior are deceptive and is therefore not tempted by them. This wisdom then enables our concentration to be stronger, which then strengthens our meditation on emptiness, enabling us to purify our very subtle mind. Recalling this, we then recite the bodhichitta prayers.

We then purify our environment, arrange beautiful offerings, invite the field for accumulating merit, and engage in the practice of the prayer of the seven limbs and the mandala as outlined in the sadhana. We have all received commentary to these practices many times. What is unique in this context is we should recall and connect all of these trainings into the broader specific narrative of us retaking the Eight Mahayana Precepts.

After we offer the mandala, we then stand and make three prostrations to the visualized field of merit. We then kneel with our right knee on the floor and place our palms together at our heart. If we have bad knees and it is too painful to actually kneel while taking the precepts, we can simply do so seated in whatever physical posture is comfortable while mentally imagining that we are kneeling in front of our spiritual guide. We then once again recall our bodhichitta motivation for taking the Mahayana precepts. In the sadhana, in the italics, Geshe-la provides a contemplation we can engage in. What matters is we generate a qualified and personal bodhicitta motivation for taking the precepts.

If we are taking the precepts in front of a preceptor, we then recite three time the line “O preceptor, please listen to me.” But if we are taking them on our own, we can recite three times, “All buddhas who abide in the ten directions, and all bodhisattvas, please listen to me.”  Once we have completed this request, we then repeat the statement outlined in the sadana. The essential meaning of this statement is just as all the previous holy beings gained the ability to help all living beings through practicing the Eight Mahayana Precepts, so too will we now take the precepts and practice them throughout the day.

We then recite the prayer of the precepts by following the words in the sadhana. As we do so, We should mentally make the firm personal promise that we will observe these precepts for the next 24 hours.  After reciting the precept prayer, we then recite the mantra of pure moral discipline seven, twenty-one, or as many times as we wish strongly believing that we are requesting the wisdom blessings necessary to joyfully engage in the practice of moral discipline in general, and the Eight Mahayana Precepts in particular. It is a good idea to memorize this mantra and use it anytime we feel tempted to break some moral discipline we have taken on. If we recite this mantra with faith, we will receive powerful wisdom blessings which cut the power of our delusions tempting us to break our moral discipline. Again, the practice of moral discipline is not one of willpower but rather having the wisdom to no longer want to engage in negativity and to no longer want to follow our delusions. After reciting the mantra, we can then engage in the prayer of moral discipline and dedication.

Our practice after taking the precepts is to then observe them throughout the day. As we do so, we should recall again and again the dangers of not following them and the advantages of following them. Through training and familiarizing our mind with this wisdom, we will gradually loosen the hold of our delusions over our behavior. We will build up strength within our mind to not want to engage in impure behavior. This wisdom and these mental habits will help us engage in pure behavior not just on precepts day but throughout the month, and indeed throughout our life.

Sometimes, it will not be possible for us to actually engage in the sadhana A Pure Life on precepts day. If this is the case, it is enough for us to recall our bodhichitta motivation for wanting to keep the precepts, to then mentally make a promise to observe them throughout the day, and then recite the mantra of pure moral discipline strongly believing that we have renewed our precepts. Then we practice throughout the day in exactly the same way. Ideally, we would engage in this sadhana on the 15th of every month. But again, if this proves too difficult, it is better to do this short version of taking the precepts then not doing so at all. The danger, though, is we just engage in the short method and never fully engage in the whole sadhana. Our practice of the Eight Mahayana Precepts then becomes rather superficial, and the transformative effects on our mind are limited. Therefore, we should try our honest best to engage in this practice as Geshe-la presents it.

Happy Buddha’s Enlightenment Day: We can do it too

Happy Buddha’s Enlightenment Day everyone!  April 15th of every year we celebrate and remember Buddha’s enlightenment.  It is one of the most special days on the Kadampa calendar and provides us an excellent opportunity to deepen our understanding of what enlightenment is, recall Buddha’s kindness in attaining it, and make a clear determination to attain enlightenment ourselves.

Understanding How Holy Days Work

There are certain days of the year which are karmically more powerful than others, and the karmic effect of our actions on these days is multiplied by a factor of ten million!  These are called “ten million multiplying days.”  In practice, what this means is every action we engage in on these special days is karmically equivalent to us engaging in that same action ten million times.  This is true for both our virtuous and non-virtuous actions, so not only is it a particularly incredible opportunity for creating vast merit, but it is also an extremely dangerous time for engaging in negative actions.  There are four of these days every year:  Buddha’s Englightenment Day (April 15), Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day (June 4), Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day (September 22), and Je Tsongkhapa Day (October 25).  Heruka and Vajrayogini Month (January 3-31), NKT Day (1st Saturday of April), and International Temple’s Day (first Saturday of November) are the other major Days that complete the Kadampa calendar. 

A question may arise, why are the karmic effect of our actions greater on certain days than others?  We can think of these days as a spiritual pulsar that at periodic intervals sends out an incredibly powerful burst of spiritual energy, or wind.  On such days, if we lift the sails of our practice, these gushes of spiritual winds push us a great spiritual distance.  Why are these specific days so powerful?  Because in the past on these days particularly spiritually significant events occurred which altered the fundamental trajectory of the karma of the people of this world.  Just as calling out in a valley reverberates back to us, so too these days are like the karmic echoes of those past events.  Another way of understanding this is by considering the different types of ocean tides.  Normally, high and low tide on any given day occurs due to the gravity of the moon pulling water towards it as the earth rotates.  But a “Spring tide” occurs when the earth, moon, and Sun are all in alignment, pulling the water not just towards the moon as normal, but also towards the much more massive sun.  Our holy days are like spiritual Spring tides.

What is Enlightenment?

Fundamentally, the entire Buddhist path is about attaining enlightenment.  This is a word that is used in many different contexts, even in modern society, but sometimes we lack a clear understanding of what exactly it means.  Geshe-la provides several different definitions or explanations to help us understand.

According to Sutra, Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path, “any being who has become completely free from the two obstructions, which are the roots of all faults, has attained enlightenment.”  The two obstructions are the delusion obstructions and the obstructions to omniscience.  Delusion obstructions are the presence of delusions in our mind.  The root delusion is self-grasping ignorance, which thinks we are the body and mind that we normally see.  From this comes self-cherishing, which thinks this self is supremely important and is willing to neglect or sacrifice others for its sake.  From these two, which are sometimes referred to collectively as our self-centered mind, come attachment and aversion.  Attachment mistakenly thinks some external objects are a cause of our happiness and aversion thinks other external objects are a cause of our suffering.  These four delusions together are the root of all of our other delusions, such as anger, pride, jealousy, deluded doubt, and so forth.  The obstructions to omniscience are the karmic imprints from our previous delusions and their corresponding actions.  Every time we engage in an action, it creates karma that gets planted on our very subtle mind.  Actions motivated by delusion create contaminated karma – karma that ripens in the form of samsaric experience.  These contaminated karmic imprints on our very subtle mind prevent the omniscient mind of a Buddha from arising.  When we remove the two obstructions from our mind, our pure potential, or Buddha nature, becomes completely unobstructed and we become a Buddha.  From this perspective, we are all Buddhas in waiting, we merely need to remove all that obstructs such a state from arising.  When we permanently overcome our delusion obstructions, we attain liberation; and when we permanently overcome our obstructions to omniscience, we attain full enlightenment.

According to Tantra, a Buddha is someone who has completely overcome ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions.  Ordinary appearances are all of the things we normally see – our bodies, minds, enjoyments, others, worlds, etc.  These are the samsaric appearances that arise from our past contaminated actions.  Samsara is nothing more than a contaminated karmic dream.  When we purify our ordinary appearances so that they never arise again, samsara simply ceases to appear.  It dis-appears because, in fact, it never was.  Ordinary conceptions occur when we grasp at ordinary appearances as being true.  All ordinary appearances appear to exist from their own side, as being completely real and existing independently of our mind.  Things exist “out there” waiting to be experienced or observed, and it appears to us as if our mind has absolutely nothing to do with bringing these objects into existence.  Ordinary conceptions think things actually exist in the way that they appear – they really do exist out there, independently of our mind.  When we overcome our ordinary conceptions, we attain liberation; and when we overcome our ordinary appearances, we attain full enlightenment.  For somebody who has overcome their ordinary conceptions but not yet overcome their ordinary appearances, things will still appear to their mind in the way that they normally do, but the very appearance of these things will remind the person that such inherently existent things do not exist at all.  For example, if we look at a picture of the New York City skyline before 9/11, the very appearance of the World Trade Center will remind us that it no longer exists.

In the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Geshe-la provides a functional definition of enlightenment when he says, “Enlightenment is the inner light of wisdom that is permanently free from all mistaken appearance, and whose function is to bestow mental peace upon each and every living being every day.”  This definition not only explains what enlightenment is but also provides us with the definitive reason why we should attain it.  Since Mahamudra is a Tantric instruction, it too says enlightenment is permanent freedom from all mistaken appearance.  But this definition also describes what unique abilities we gain when we attain enlightenment, namely the ability to use our blessings to bestow mental peace upon each and every living being every day.  Happiness is a state of mind, therefore its cause must come from within the mind.  We can observe from our own experience that when our mind is peaceful, we are happy even if our external circumstance is terrible; whereas if our mind is not peaceful, we are unhappy even if our external circumstance is terrific.  Therefore, inner peace is the cause of happiness.  Buddhas are sometimes referred to as “inner beings,” or beings who live within the mind.  As inner beings, they have the power to directly touch the minds of other living beings (since despite all appearances our minds are not actually separate from each other) in such a way that their minds become more peaceful.  And they are able to do this directly to each and every living being every day forever.  Just as the sun shines equally upon all things, Buddha’s blessings shine forth into the minds of all living beings directly and simultaneously.  We attain enlightenment to gain that ability.

Buddha is So Kind Because He Teaches the Truth of Suffering

One of the hardest things for people to come to accept is that happiness cannot be found in samsara.  We are convinced that it can be, and we resist thinking that it can’t be.  There are two main causes of this resistance.  First, our attachment has been duping us since time without beginning that external objects are a cause of our happiness.  There are all sorts of pleasant things like a beautiful sunset, a delicious pizza, or great sex.  We have seen countless TV shows or movies, and almost without exception, they all have happy endings; so we think samsara must be the same.  When we hear that samsara is the nature of suffering and happiness and freedom are impossible to find in it, we think, “that’s just not true.”  The second reason we resist this is it seems to be an incredibly depressing thought.  It seems so pessimistic and negative to always talk about suffering and how terrible everything is – how about a little optimism here so we can retain some hope?  Things may be bad, but better to not think about it too much, otherwise, we will become overwhelmed by sadness and despair. 

When people first hear the teachings on suffering they think, “how can this possibly be a ‘Joyful Path,’ and how can thinking about so much suffering ever lead to happiness?”  We might think Buddhists are all “Debby Downers,” and Buddha’s teachings are actually preventing us from enjoying even the very modest happiness we are able to find in life by pointing out how such pleasures are not real happiness.  So we are left with nothing.  Buddha does not seem kind, he seems like the ultimate ‘buzz kill.’ 

How can we happily understand the teachings on the truth of suffering?  First, we have to be clear on their meaning.  Buddha is not saying there is no happiness, he is simply pointing out that we can’t find it in external things.  Ultimately, happiness comes from within the mind, namely through inner peace.  He further explains what destroys inner peace (delusions and negativity) and what causes inner peace (wisdom and virtue).  So he does not deprive us of happiness, he simply points out what works and what doesn’t – very useful knowledge!  Second, these teachings save us from wasting our time looking for happiness where we will never find it.  If we lost our keys, we might spend hours and hours looking all over our house to find them.  But if our daughter sent us a text message saying she accidentally walked off with them, we would not waste our time looking for them because we would know she has them.  We have been looking for the keys of happiness in samsara since beginningless time – searching, searching, but never finding.  Buddha comes along and tells us, “you’ll never find them in samsara, but you can find them by getting them from me,” we are incredibly relieved.  Third, he is not saying we can’t enjoy the sunset, pizza, or sex, he is saying from their own side they have no power to bring us happiness, but if we relate to them in a pure way, we can come to enjoy a far greater pleasure than we ever could have through ordinary means alone. 

But for me, his greatest kindness is he has provided us with a permanent solution to aging, sickness, death, and uncontrolled rebirth.  In the life story of Buddha Shakyamuni, Prince Siddhartha is given everything he could possibly want – riches, enjoyments, loving parents, a beautiful family, and adoration from all of his subjects.  Yet he realized that none of these things can provide him (or any of us) from the seemingly inescapable sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death.  Seeking a solution, he wanted to leave the palace and go attain enlightenment.  His father tried to stop him, and the Prince said, “if you can provide me with a solution to these problems, I will remain in the palace,” but his father had to admit, he could not.  The Prince then said he would leave the palace and return with a solution so that he could help his parents, his subjects, and indeed all living beings with a permanent method to escape such sufferings forever.  He then began his spiritual journey, and eventually attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.  He conquered the cycle of death itself.  Instead of being reborn in samsara, he discovered methods to permanently wake up from it into the pure lands of the Buddhas.  The practices we have today are those that he taught, and if we sincerely put them into practice, we too can attain the same state.

Deciding to Become a Buddha Ourselves

Compassion is said to be the mother of all Buddhas since all enlightened beings are born from it.  Buddha attained enlightenment out of compassion for us – he wanted to help us also permanently escape the sufferings of samsara, the two obstructions, and ordinary appearances and conceptions.  Without his compassion for us, he would not have been able to purify his own mind to attain enlightenment and he never would have begun turning the Wheel of Dharma for us. 

But our ability to attain enlightenment depends upon ourselves generating compassion for others, just as Buddha did.  How do we generate compassion?  We first generate love for others, then we consider how they suffer.  It is said if we do this, compassion will naturally arise, but this is not entirely correct.  If we lack faith in a solution, then when we consider the suffering of those we love we will become overwhelmed with grief and sadness.  But if we realize there is a solution, then when we consider the suffering of those we love we will find their suffering difficult to bear because we will realize none of it need be.  They could be completely free. 

To transform this powerful mind of compassion into the personal determination to attain enlightenment ourselves, we need to add three things.  First, a feeling of personal responsibility for leading others to everlasting freedom ourselves.  We generate this mind by thinking, “if I don’t do it, who will?”  We might think, “well, Buddha will.”  But Buddha attained enlightenment so that we could do the same so that we could help these people who are karmically close to us. 

Second, we need to add confidence that we ourselves can attain enlightenment just like Buddha did.  Sometimes we think attaining enlightenment is just too difficult and we are too incapable to ever even contemplate beginning such an undertaking.  But as explained above, we all have a Buddha nature, we simply need to remove the two obstructions or ordinary appearances and conceptions from our mind, and our enlightened state will naturally be unveiled.  We each have enlightenment within us, we just need to remove all that obstructs it.  Further, we all have experience of being able to remove our faults somewhat and replace them with similitudes of inner qualities.  If we can do this a little bit, there is no reason why we cannot do so completely.  The methods we have are the exact same ones Buddha taught and have been practiced by millions of practitioners since.  Geshe-la calls them “scientific methods,” meaning everybody who investigates for themselves by sincerely putting the instructions into practice will likewise enjoy the exact same results – he guarantees it!  There is nothing we can’t do without persistent effort.  Our delusions are just bad habits of mind, but with effort, we can change our habits and thereby change our karma. 

Finally, we need to add an understanding of the special abilities of a Buddha to help others so that we see our becoming one is the only way we can rescue all living beings from their suffering.  Buddhas are fearless in helping others.  We tend to hold ourselves back for fear of what others might think or lack of confidence in our abilities, but Buddhas have overcome all delusions and all fear.  He fearlessly teaches the truth of suffering and worries not what others might think.  Buddha is also a deathless being.  In our present state, we can at best help a limited number of people in this one life, but a Buddha has transcended death, and so is able to continue to help living beings in life after life, gradually guiding each and every one of them to the enlightened state.  Buddha possesses omniscient wisdom.  We are quite ignorant and often have no idea how to help others.  We don’t understand karma, delusions, nor the causes of happiness or suffering.  But Buddhas see all three times directly and simultaneously, so they know exactly why people are experiencing the suffering they are and they know exactly what others need to do to make their way to the city of enlightenment.  Buddhas also have perfected their skillful means of helping others.  It is not enough to simply know everything if we are not able to actually skillfully help people come to realize the same things.  Buddhas know how to present the Dharma to others in a way that they can easily understand and practically put into practice, thus opening the door to liberation for them.  They know how to gradually guide people to enter, progress along, and ultimately complete the path to enlightenment.  If we become a Buddha ourselves, we too will develop the fearlessness, deathlessness, omniscient wisdom, and skillful means necessary to gradually lead everyone we love to the same state. 

When we combine our compassion which cannot bear the suffering of others with a feeling of personal responsibility, the confidence we can do it, and a firm understanding of the many qualities of a Buddha, we will naturally develop a strong determination to attain enlightenment ourselves for their sake.  This mind is called “bodhichitta,” or the mind of enlightenment.  It is the most virtuous mind a living being can generate.  In Joyful Path, Geshe-la says:

“Bodhichitta is the best method for bestowing happiness, the best method for eliminating suffering, and the best method for dispelling confusion. There is no virtue equal to it, no better friend, no greater merit. Bodhichitta is the very essence of all eighty-four thousand instructions of Buddha. In Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life Shantideva says: It is the quintessential butter that arises when the milk of Dharma is churned. Just as by stirring milk, butter emerges as its essence, so by stirring the entire collection of Buddha’s scriptures, bodhichitta emerges as its essence. For aeons Buddhas have been investigating what is the most beneficial thing for us. They have seen that it is bodhichitta because bodhichitta brings every living being to the supreme bliss of full enlightenment.”

Today is Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, which means if we strongly develop this supreme mind of Bodhichitta today – making the firm decision to work for as long as it takes to attain enlightenment ourselves – it will be the same as doing so ten million times.  Such a pure mind has the potential to permanently redirect the trajectory of our mental continuum and powerfully propel us towards the City of Enlightenment.  From there, we will be able to help everyone attain permanent freedom from all of their suffering for all of their lives.  What could be more meaningful than this?

Happy Tsog Day: Training in the Initial Scope of Lamrim

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 27 of a 44-part series.

How to rely upon our spiritual guide, the root of spiritual paths

Through the force of my making offerings and respectful requests
To the venerable spiritual guide, the holy, supreme Field of Merit,
I seek your blessings, O Protector, the root of all goodness and joy,
So that you will gladly take me into your loving care.

In truth, the entire practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide explains how to rely upon our spiritual guide. The main point is to develop conviction that our spiritual guide is indeed a Buddha and the source of all good in our lives. To develop conviction in the former, we need to understand the emptiness of the spiritual guide. Sometimes when we hear teachings explaining that the spiritual guide is a Buddha, we misunderstand this to me we are to try view him as inherently a Buddha. But obviously that is not correct since nothing is inherently existent. Instead, we need to understand that by viewing him as a Buddha, Buddha will enter into him and we will receive Buddha’s blessings through him.

More profoundly, viewing our spiritual guide as a Buddha does not mean viewing him as a Buddha from his own side, rather it is a special way of relating to everything the spiritual guide does so that it functions to provide us with pure Dharma teachings. So even if our spiritual guide, or any living being for that matter, engages in manifestly negative or destructive actions, we can nonetheless view all these as powerful teachings of our spiritual guide. Nothing is pure from its own side, rather things become pure by viewing and relating to them in a pure way. Pure view does not exist on the side of the object, rather it exists on the side of the subject mind viewing things. Thus, if we want to generate pure view of our spiritual guide, regarding him as a Buddha, it suffices to relate to everything that he does as something confirming or revealing the truth of Dharma. We can apply this same logic to any living being, and therefore view anyone as an emanation of our spiritual guide. But we begin by first doing it with the person in our life who is so manifestly engaging in the actions of a Buddha, namely our spiritual guide. Once we can do it with our spiritual guide, it becomes easier to do it with other living beings.

To gain conviction in the latter, that the spiritual guide is the source of all good, it suffices to recall the teachings on karma that all happiness comes from virtuous actions. Then we look honestly into our mind and realize that all the habits that we have effortlessly move in a negative direction, and it takes effort for us to engage in virtuous actions. This shows that the current of our mind is moving in a negative direction. If this is true even once we have found the Dharma, it is obviously true for all our past lives. Thus, it is safe to say that the only time we engaged in any virtuous action was when we received the blessings of a Buddha to encourage us to do so. Thus, any happiness we enjoy comes from our past virtue, which comes from receiving the blessings of Buddha.

Developing the aspiration to take the essence of our human life

Realizing that this freedom and endowment, found only once,
Are difficult to attain, and yet decay so quickly,
I seek your blessings to seize their essential meaning,
Undistracted by the meaningless activities of this life.

It is important to make a distinction between having a human life and having a precious human life. To have a precious human life means to have a human life plus also have an interest in Dharma and an opportunity to meet pure teachings. It is exceedingly rare for us to attain a precious human life. For me, the most powerful analogy is likening the odds of a precious human rebirth to the odds of a blind turtle surfacing only once every 100 years putting its head through a golden yoke floating on an ocean the size of this world. The earth’s surface is 149 trillion square meters, so we can say we have a one in 149 trillion chance of attaining a precious human rebirth. Amongst humans, very few have an interest in practicing the Dharma and have found a pure path that they can practice. Thus, objectively speaking we can say it is almost impossible to attain a precious human rebirth. Yet we have attained one. That is undeniable. The question we all face is what do we do with the opportunity we have been given?

The actual method for gaining the happiness of higher states in future lives

Fearing the blazing fires of the sufferings of bad migrations,
From the depths of my heart I go for refuge to the Three Jewels,
And seek your blessings to strive sincerely
To abandon non-virtue and practise the entire collection of virtue.

When you look at the population of just this world, we can see that animals and insects far outnumber humans, probably by a factor of at least a million to one. Some scientists estimate much much higher than that. If we assume the same proportions into the hungry ghost and the hell realms, we can see that the overwhelming majority of living beings in samsara are in the lower realms. When we take rebirth in the lower realms, we engage in almost exclusively negative actions. This means that virtually all the karma on our mind is negative. To attain a human rebirth, positive karma needs to ripen. That is exceedingly rare simply because such karma is exceedingly rare. Whether we take a human or a lower rebirth in our next life depends upon the quality of mind we have at the time of death. If we die with a negative mind, it will activate negative karma throwing us into the lower realms. If we die with a positive mind, it will activate positive karma throwing us into the upper realms. If we die with a pure mind, it will activate pure karma enabling us to escape from samsara and take rebirth in a pure land. Typically, when we encounter adverse circumstances, we react with a negative deluded mind. We can observe this in our daily behavior. There is no experience more adverse than death. If we respond to even minor inconveniences with negativity, it goes without question that we are most likely to respond to our death with a negative mind. This means unless we thoroughly train our mind, it is almost certain we will fall into the lower realms.

The truth of the matter is samsara is almost entirely the lower realms. The upper realms are like a tiny island surrounded by an ocean of fire. The island we stand on is sinking into the fire. This is not a metaphor, this is our actual karmic situation. We tend to think it is highly unlikely we will take lower rebirth, but the reality is the exact opposite. We need to let this truth touch our heart and frankly become terrified at the prospect of our almost certain lower rebirth. Virtually everybody we know and everybody we see will all fall into the lower realms. We are all bound for hell. Hell is our natural home in samsara.

Sometimes we reject these teachings because we think it is a religious institution trying to manipulate us. While of course we need to check to see if this is the case, we also need to check to see if this is in fact our samsaric situation. There are many valid reasons establishing the existence of past and future lives. It is also a manifest truth that we very rarely engage in virtuous actions despite having found the Dharma. So how often do we create the karma to attain another rebirth compared to how often in our countless past lives we have created the causes for lower rebirth? Do the math. The truth is inescapable. The only question is whether we allow this truth to touch our heart and then become extremely motivated to engage in purification practice.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Temporary release vs. Ultimate release

(8.77) Deceived by desire, people become fools.
Some think, “I need money to support my life”,
And, although they fear for their lives, go off to war;
While others enslave themselves for the sake of profit!

(8.78) Some, as a consequence of their desires,
Suffer cuts to their bodies
Or are stabbed, impaled,
Or even burned.

In general, people find their conditions difficult to live with.  More and more, as times become more degenerate, people find their condition quite unbearable. It is as if their pervasive suffering is becoming manifest.  And they have to do something for some relief.  They are not looking inward at themselves. So they distract themselves instead, don’t they? Don’t we?

People have some sense of suffering – such as our fear, loneliness, boredom, frustration, and so forth. And these things build up, due in particular to self-cherishing, they tend to buildup.  When this happens, people have to seek some form of release, otherwise they simply would not be able to cope.  And a lot of people do not. Some people commit suicide or have total breakdowns because they are unable to cope and they have to find some kind of release.

What do they do, they lose themselves, they try to at least, don’t they?  They lose themselves in social media or Netflix, they lose themselves by taking drugs, they lose themselves by having sex.  There are all sort of things people turn to to lose themselves.  They are constantly distracting ourselves.  If they did not, they feel they wouldn’t be able to cope.  So they chase after some temporary relief, some temporary release. And immediately afterwards, there is a buildup once again.  So it is in samsara. As soon as we have some sort of relief, there is a buildup in tension all over again, leading to another temporary release. Followed by another buildup. If that is not changing suffering, I do not know what is.  It seems sometimes, if there is a buildup of stress, then people have nervous breakdowns. There must be some release for people, and if they cannot find it, their system malfunctions and they have a breakdown.

From their attachment there can be a buildup of all sorts, and in part I think a buildup of sexual energy, can’t there?  There is a sexual tension arises in people’s minds, affecting them both mentally and physically. Of course if they continue to turn to objects of attachment, especially attractive males, attractive females, attractive bodies, and so forth, then what can we expect?  Generally, what we do to find release just makes our situation worse.   We can expect this. Due to our own self-grasping in part, it will be like this:  things building up in our own mind and becoming more and more unbearable for us, then we will seek just like everybody else some kind of release from it all.

What other people do and what we as Kadampas do must be different. How then can we prevent this buildup taking place, leading to again and again a need for release, a desperate need for release?   We can meditate on renunciation.  We can consider the impurity of the body to stop our exaggeration.  We can realize that our sexual attachment comes at a terrible price in this life in terms of the problems and mental suffering it creates.  We can think about the problems it will create at the time of our death and beyond and realize it is just not worth it.  Am I going to go another round in samsara just for a few moments of contaminated pleasure?  Moksha means release, we let go realizing we no longer want to follow what our delusions say.  It is like we have been possessed, and we are released from our possession.  By letting go, we get release, because the release comes from a build up of tension from wanting and expecting things to be different.  With the mind of renunciation, we stop looking within the dream, we have given up on it, so we do not expect anything from it.

As well, we can meditate on love and compassion, as I explained before.  We try not to forget that the bodies that we are attracted to are the basis for suffering living beings, an “I” imputed onto a contaminated aggregate.  If we find their bodies attractive, it causes them to identify more closely with their contaminated aggregates, which keeps them trapped in samsara.  We can also meditate on unconditional love that does not seek anything from the other person, but just wishes to make them happy.

We must know that the only true release is what we will experience with the wisdom realizing ultimate truth.  When we realize ultimate truth, emptiness, directly, then there will no longer be any buildup. What we will experience is a permanent release. A permanent, on-going, eternal release, otherwise known as liberation. It is a state beyond sorrow.  This is what we should seek. Permanent release. Then there will be no inner buildup leading to pain and suffering ever again.  We don’t have to wait until we have a direct realization of emptiness for this to have an effect.  Whatever extent to which we have some understanding of emptiness, it can be effective right now.  The more we apply this understanding, the more it will work for us, until eventually it uproots all our delusions.

It is best we train in all three: nonattachment or renunciation, compassion or Bodhichitta, compassion, and the correct view of emptiness.  Perfect.  It will work.  If we train in all three, then we will be able to transform graveyard cities full of moving bones into the charnel grounds of Heruka and Vajrayogini.   We try now to patiently apply ourselves without any expectation. It does not matter if we don’t succeed straightaway.  With joyful effort, we must patiently apply ourselves.  If we eventually succeed in doing this, think about what we will have to offer to others.  Living beings are increasingly finding their condition more and more unbearable, but we will have a solution.  To gain such a solution, we must be taking the medicine ourselves. If we are to bring about a change for others, first of all we must bring about a change, a deep change, for ourselves. This requires us to actually try. 

Then, we will make things better for ourselves, and every day we will create the cause for that permanent release in the future. Even now, we will find definitely we can experience some relief from the buildup of tension, some release.  With our present understanding, we can prevent this buildup that takes place in our minds.

Happy Tara Day: How to ignite Tara’s fierce and raging fire in our life

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

Praising Tara by her destroying opponents

Homage to you who by saying TRÄ and PHAT
Completely destroy the obstructions of enemies.
You suppress with your right leg drawn in and your left extended,
And blaze with a fierce and raging fire.

I think there are two ways we can understand this.  First, her wisdom blessings act like a fierce and raging fire that radiate out in all directions like a protection circle, dispelling all obstructions of enemies, keeping them at bay.  Second, because she is a Buddha she has universal compassion even for those who would oppose the Dharma.  To destroy the obstructions of enemies means she has the power to destroy the delusion obstructions and the obstructions to omniscience of her would-be enemies.  Geshe-la once famously said in Toronto that “Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.”  In the same way, Tara completely destroys opponents by destroying the obstructions to enlightenment on their minds.  This shows her skill in loving living beings while directing wrathful energy against their delusions.

Praising Tara by her purifying demons and the two obstructions

Homage to TURE, extremely fearsome one,
Who completely destroy the chief of demons.
With the wrathful expression on your lotus face
You vanquish all foes without exception.

Where do demons come from?  They are mere karmic appearances to mind, ripening from our negative karma.  The way to actually destroy all demons is to purify the negative karma that sees or appears anybody as a demon.  Nobody is a demon from their own side, they only become such when we view them with a deluded, contaminated mind.  This is how she purifies all demons.  It also says she vanquishes all foes without exception.  In Buddhism, there are no outer enemies, only inner enemies.  To vanquish all foes without exception, therefore, refers to her ability to vanquish the inner enemies of the two obstructions – delusions and their imprints.

Praising Tara by the objects she holds in her right and left hands

Homage to you whose fingers perfectly adorn your heart
With the mudra symbolizing the Three Precious Jewels.
Adorned with a wheel of all directions
Whose radiant light outshines all.

Buddhas hold different implements in their hands to symbolize their inner qualities and abilities.  Her hand in the mudra symbolizing the Three Precious Jewels indicates that she is the synthesis of all three jewels, and that she also performs the function of all three jewels.  She blesses our mind like a Buddha, she teaches and protects the Kadam Dharma, and she helps us like loving Sangha.  I’m assuming the wheel here refers to the Wheel of Dharma which outshines all because it enables us to escape from samsara.

Praising Tara by her crown ornament and the sound of her laughter

Homage to you whose very joyful and shining crown ornament
Radiates a garland of light;
Who, with your mirthful laughter of TUTTARE,
Subdue the demons and worldly gods.

Here, we can imagine that infinite light rays radiate out from Tara’s crown ornament, bestowing blessings and peace on all living beings.  We can then rejoice in her enlightened actions, wishing to gain the ability to do the same ourselves.  Mirthful laughter means a merry or amused laugh.  We should never underestimate the power of laughter.  More often than not, we take everything too seriously.  This makes us tight and our grasping stronger.  But when we can laugh at the absurdity of samsara, then it takes the sting out of it.  Samsara makes me laugh!  In particular, it is important to be able to laugh at ourselves and our delusions.  This is one of the most powerful ways of cutting the power of our delusions over us because we are able to view them from a distance and laugh at how ridiculous they are.  Being able to laugh at others in a way that also enables them to stop taking themselves or their samsara too seriously is a whole other level of skill at mirthful laughter.  Normally, people can take it wrong that we are laughing at them or their plight, and they can become quickly offended.  But Tara has the ability to use skillful mirthful laughter to even subdue demons and worldly gods, disarming their ill intent or pretension. 

Praising Tara by her accomplishing divine actions through the ten directional guardians

Homage to you who are able to summon
All the directional guardians and their retinues.
Frowning and shaking, with the letter HUM,
You rescue all from their misfortune.

In the Tsog offerings, we invite the directional guardians, evil spirits, zombies, givers of harm, smell-eaters and other such beings from the charnel grounds, offer them Torma and Tsog offerings, bless their mind, and effectively “enlist them” to help Dharma practitioners and flourish the Dharma instead of oppose them.  From a deeper point of view, we imagine that all of these beings are actually emanations of the principal deity sent into the realms of samsara to help the beings in every terrifying corner of the six realms.  From the letter HUM at the heart of the principal deity, light rays radiate out and invite these beings to come before the deity to then work on the deity’s behalf.  When we recite this verse, we can imagine Tara does the same, inviting all such beings from the charnel grounds who come before her, and then commit to working on her behalf to rescue all beings from their misfortune.  In this way, she also rescues these beings themselves from their misfortune by inspiring them to engage in virtuous actions of protecting practitioners.

Praising Tara by her crown ornament

Homage to you with a crescent moon adorning your crown,
And all your ornaments shining brightly;
With Amitabha in your top-knot
Eternally radiating light.

Here we can imagine different details of Tara’s form, recognizing them all as manifestations of her inner realizations.  Buddhas have the ability to manifest their mind as form.  When we engage in checking meditations of different deities, we focus on different aspects of their form recalling the inner realization it represents.  A moon in Buddhism symbolizes the realization of emptiness.  The ornaments of a Buddha’s body typically symbolize their inner realizations of the six perfections.  Amitabha in her top-knot indicates Amitabha is her spiritual guide.  Amitabha is the Vajra Speech of all the Buddhas, and is the same nature as Geshe Langri Tangpa, the author of Eight Verses of Training the Mind, our root text for Lojong practice.  Recalling this, we can generate faith that through our reliance on Tara we will be able to realize emptiness, complete the six perfections, and train in transforming adverse conditions into the path.

Praising Tara by her wrathful posture

Homage to you who dwell amidst a garland of flames
Like the fire at the end of the aeon.
With your right leg extended and left drawn in,
You destroy the hosts of obstructions of those who delight in the Dharma Wheel.

Buddhas engage in four types of enlightened action – pacifying, increasing, controlling, and wrathful actions.  Wrathful actions are forceful actions that skillfully differentiate between the person and their delusions or faults.  They are able to be ruthless with delusions while being loving with the person.  They are like a wisdom anger against the inner objects to be abandoned along the path.  If we fail to make the distinction between the person and their delusions, our wrathful actions are just ordinary anger and usually wind up harming living beings.  Pacifying and increasing actions are relatively easy to do without delusions, controlling actions can be done if we are free from attachment to the other person doing what we want, and wrathful actions can only be performed with compassionate wisdom differentiating clearly the person from their faults.  They also typically require the other person to have faith in us to receive well our wrathful actions, but this isn’t always necessary.  Buddhas are often surrounded by blazing wisdom fires indicating their ability to burn through negativities and protect others with great power.  When we recite this version, we imagine Tara radiates such powerful energy around her like the fire at the end of the aeon.  Her right leg extended symbolizes her ability to swiftly come to the aid of living beings.  Because she is the completely purified wind element, she can move as fast as mind to any object.  If we think of the moon, our mind is instantly there.  But how does it get there?  By being mounted upon winds.  Tara is the wind all virtue is mounted upon.  Her right leg extended shows her swift ability.

Happy NKT Day: Why we are encouraged to follow one tradition purely without mixing

The first Saturday of every April is New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) day.  Normally, on this day we generate a mind cherishing our tradition.  I’m sure there are many other people who will write about all of the different reasons why they cherish this tradition, and I rejoice in all of that.  But here, I am going to intentionally stir the hornet’s nest a bit by talking about a particular type of cherishing of the NKT, namely generating the mind that wishes to follow one tradition purely without mixing. 

One of the core principles of the NKT is while respecting all other traditions, to follow one tradition purely without mixing.  This is an extremely vast subject.  Venerable Geshe-la (VGL) explains in Ocean of Nectar that we need to be careful when introducing the subject of emptiness to those who are not ready because doing so can lead to great confusion.  I would say even more so, we need to be careful when introducting the subject of following one tradition purely without mixing, as this is a special spiritual instruction that can easily give rise to much confusion and doubt, including thinking that such an approach is closed-minded, anti-intellectual, and sectarian.  To many, this instruction can seem very strange, even cultish.  Many people might even wind up rejecting the NKT precisely because this is something taught within the NKT. 

This post (and the linked, more extensive document) attempts to explain the rationale behind this instruction so that people can be happy with putting it into practice.

What is the advice?

This is probably best summarized in Understanding the Mind, where Geshe-la says:

“We must be careful not to misunderstand the effort of non-satisfaction. Practising this effort does not mean that we should become dissatisfied with our tradition or with our main practice, and try to follow many different traditions or mix together many different practices. Every Teacher and every tradition has a slightly different approach and employs different methods. The practices taught by one Teacher will differ from those taught by another, and if we try to combine them we shall become confused, develop doubts, and lose direction. If we try to create a synthesis of different traditions we shall destroy the special power of each and be left only with a mishmash of our own making that will be a source of confusion and doubt. Having chosen our tradition and our daily practices we should rely upon them single-pointedly, never allowing dissatisfaction to arise. At the same time as cherishing our own tradition we should respect all other traditions and the right of each individual to follow the tradition of their choosing. This approach leads to harmony and tolerance. It is mixing different religious traditions that causes sectarianism. This is why it is said that studying non-religious subjects is less of an obstacle to our spiritual progress than studying religions of different traditions.”

Geshe-la also elaborated during the Dorje Shugden empowerment in 1995 when he said:

“Sincere practitioners of the Kadampa Buddhism of Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine should understake as their heart commitment to cherish the Kadam Dharma, the doctrine of Je Tsongkhapa, and to practice and teach this to others without mixing it with other traditions.  We must take some responsibility to enable pure Buddhadharma to flourish throughout the world.  If we make the commitment to accomplish this aim, then this is called our heart commitment.  Keeping this heart commitment is the basic foundation for receiving Dorje Shugdan’s protection, blessings and special care continually.  Because Dorje Shugden is an enlightened being, he has compassion for all beings and is ready to to give his protection, blessings, and special care, but from our side we also need some necessary conditions.  These are to cherish Kadam Dharma, to practice Kadam Dharma purely without mixing it with other traditions, to teach Kadam Dharma without mixing it with other traditions and to take some responsibility to help pure Dharma flourish throughout the world.  Doing this as our commitment is the best method for receiving Dorje Shugden’s protection, blessings and special care continually.”

Following one tradition purely is spiritual advice, not a rule

Throughout all of VGL’s books, he gives countless pieces of advice about how to transform our mind into the enlightened state.  This instruction on following one tradition purely without mixing is likewise spiritual advice given to us by our Spiritual Guide.  Like all instructions, we are free to follow it or not.  It is our choice.  VGL explains in Transform Your Life that if we do not at present understand a given instruction, or do not see its utility, we should avoid various extremes.  To put the instruction into practice when we do not understand it or when we disagree with it would be one extreme (leading to a wide variety of problems).  To reject the instruction would be another extreme.  The middle way he teaches is to not reject it outright, but to put it aside for later when it does seem to be important or useful for our spiritual practice.  Once we see the instruction as something that is important, if we still have doubts we should follow his advice in Clear Light of Bliss when he quotes Buddha Shakyamuni as saying ‘do not believe me because I am called Buddha, instead verify for yourself.’  We should examine all the arguments with an open mind, contemplating deeply their meaning without any preconceptions or attachments to our view, and then only decide to put this instruction into practice when we ‘want to’ and we ‘see its value’ for our spiritual development.  This approach should likewise be used when it comes to the spiritual advice to follow one tradition purely without mixing. 

If we relate to this instruction like a rule imposed upon us from the outside, but we do not ‘want’ to follow it, then the result will be we generate resentment towards the rule and towards those who make it.  This then undermines our faith, we can generate all sorts of negative minds, and eventually this can destroy our spiritual practice. 

So, in short, when should this instruction be practiced ?  When we want to put it into practice.  Who does it apply to ?  Only those who wish to apply it to themselves.  All moral discipline is self-imposed.  We apply it to ourseleves because we see the benefit of doing so and the harm of not doing so.  We take refuge vows because we wish to center ourselves within Buddha’s teachings.  We take Bodhisattva vows because we wish to center ourselves within the Mahayana.  We take Tantric vows, because we wish to center ourselves within the part of the Mahayana that is the Vajrayana.  Specifically, our Tantric vows entail a commitment as to whom is our Spiritual Guide, our teacher.  We do all of these things from our own side because we want to and see the value of doing so.  We place limits on the sources of our spiritual understanding and practice (Buddha’s Hinayana teachings for those who have taken refuge and Pratimoksha vows ; Mahayana teachings for those who have taken Bodhisattva vows ; our Spiritual Guide’s teachings for those who have taken Tantric vows). 

VGL has added a fourth layer of vows for those who wish to be NKT teachers and officers, namely the internal rules of the NKT, which he has correctly labeled as A Moral Discipline Guide.  VGL said that for us, these vows are more important than even our Tantric vows.  It is our choice whether we wish to assume these guidelines as part of our moral discipline or not.  Nobody can force us to do so, nobody is requiring us to do so.  We do so because we wish to.  If we wish to do so, then we are authorized by VGL to teach NKT Dharma and be an officer in an NKT center.  If we do not wish to do so, then we are not authorized by VGL to do these things.  We may still consider him our Spiritual Guide, appreciate his good qualities, put his teachings into practice, etc., but we do not have these special authorizations to teach or be an officer.  The internal rules have many layers of meaning.  It is not up to anybody outside of us to say whether we have the intention of keeping the moral discipline of the internal rules.  Only we can say.  So if internally we wish to take on the internal rules as part of our moral discipline, unless there is a gross violation of these rules that requires action, it is up to us to use our own wisdom to decide how to put these instructions into practice.

What is mixing traditions? 

In order to understand this instruction, we must understand what it means (and what it does not mean) to mix traditions.  To understand this, we must first understand what it means to mix in general.  To mix means to combine two or more things in some way. 

What does it mean to mix our mind with teachings in general ?  To mix our mind with teachings means to familiarize our mind with the meaning of a teaching.  It is to gain an intellectual understanding of the meaning of a teaching and to believe (or appreciate) that meaning to be true for your mind and practice.  In Understanding the Mind, VGL states :  “Basically Dharma practice is quite simple because all we need to do is to receive correct Dharma teachings by listening to qualified Teachers or by reading authentic books, and then mix our mind with these teachings by meditating on them.”  In Joyful Path, VGL explains that we mix our mind with teachings (meditate upon them) in three different ways :  through listening to (or reading) Dharma instructions, through contemplating their meaning (analytical meditation) and through placement meditation on them. 

To mix spiritual traditions, therefore, means to do this process of mixing our mind with teachings in general with the teachings from more than one spiritual tradition.  If one is an NKT practitioner, to mix traditions would mean to mix one’s mind with teachings from the NKT and from a tradition other than the NKT.  The internal rules of the NKT state that the NKT will always be an entirely independent spiritual organization.  What distinguishes the NKT from other traditions is its three study programmes.  In the definition of the three study programmes, all three programmes state clearly that their content is derived exclusively from the teachings and commentaries of VGL.  Therefore, any teaching that does not come from VGL (either directly from him or indirectly through an authorized NKT teacher) would be considered as belonging to another tradition.  A clear test as to whether something is part of the NKT or not is whether it has been published by Tharpa Publications.  Any book or source published by something other than Tharpa Publications is necessarily from another tradition.   Any teaching received by a spiritual teacher other than one who is an authorized NKT teacher would necessarily be a teaching from another tradition. 

Mixing is not a black or white thing, but actually has many many levels of subtlety.  Just as there are many different levels of ignorance, so too there are many different levels of mixing.  It is impossible for us to be completely free from any mixing until we are a Buddha, so the question is not whether something ‘is’ mixing or not, the question is whether somebody has within their mind the intention and the desire to go in the direction of completely abandoning every last trace of mixing within their spiritual understanding and practice.  If one has this intention, then over time we gradually gain a deeper and deeper understanding of what it means to mix, and in this way we can gradually improve the purity with which we practice.  Wanting to do this is part of cherishing the NKT.

In short, the nature of the inputs into our spiritual understanding determines the nature of the outputs of that spiritual understanding (unless we have perfect discriminating wisdom, which none of us have, or at least I do not).  If we have only NKT inputs, then it guarrantees we will have only NKT outputs (internal realizations, teachings, etc.).  If we have NKT and non-NKT inputs, then our spiritual understanding will be a mix of multiple sources, which will result in a mixed output (or at least a great danger of this).  Therefore, unless we can claim we have a perfect discriminating wisdom and experience of NKT teachings, even if we do not want to mix, we will not be able to not mix on some subtle level if we read other tradition’s teachings.  This is especially true for those spiritual teachings that are quite similar to NKT teachings.  There seems less risk of mixing by reading Christian books than there is in reading books on Tibetan Buddhism, especially those books written by diciples of Trijang Rinpoche, even if they are also Dorje Shugden practitioners.

If we understand that the way in which we attain enlightenment is by mixing our mind inseparably with that of our Spiritual Guide, it is clear that if we mix our mind with the teachings of a different Spiritual Guide we will be mixing.  Our mind will be a ‘mishmash’ (as VGL calls it) of our Spiritual Guide’s teachings, of the other Spiritual Guide’s teachings and of our own thinking of how to combine these two.  It is possible for us to take VGL as our Spiritual Guide and continue to mix his teachings with those of similar (or dissimilar) traditions, especially when we are at the beginning of our practice and our discriminating wisdom and experience are undeveloped.  However, he still advises us against doing this.  But there are many pieces of advice he has given us that we are not yet ready to put into practice and he encourages us to put those aside for later.  The instruction on following one tradition purely without mixing is no exception.  However, there definitely comes a time in our practice where we want to start leaving these other sources behind and instead mix our mind completely and exclusively with the teachings of our Spiritual Guide.  By doing so, we can mix our mind more thoroughly with his mind, draw closer to him and his blessings, and eventually attain enlightenment.  It is clear that we cannot fully mix our mind with his if we are still partially mixing our mind with teachings from other traditions. 

I understand this is challenging for some

I understand that this instruction is challenging for many people because it seems contrary to our normal way of thinking about things.  My first teacher told me, “The things we find the most difficult at first later wind up being the teachings that bring about the greatest transformations in our mind.”  So I encourage everyone to investigate for themselves with an open mind.  In the early 2000s, I wrote the attached document in answer to questions some of my students were asking about this topic.  I try address every angle of the question.  If you still have some doubts or hesitations about this topic, I encourage you to look through the arguments presented, in particular work through the answers to the objections that arise.  If you still have questions about it, I’m happy to try provide my thoughts. 

Here is the table of contents of what is contained in the larger document.

This document is organized as follows :

  1. References within VGL’s teachings on this advice
    1. On following one tradition purely without mixing
      • From Understanding the Mind
      • From Great Treasury of Merit
      • From Meaningful to Behold
      • From the Commentary to the Dorje Shugden empowerment, Spring Festival 1995
      • From the NKT internal rules
  2. On sectarianism
    • From Joyful Path
    • From Clear Light of Bliss
  1. The mind with which we examine this question
  2. How to understand this instruction
    • Following one tradition purely is spiritual advice, not a rule
    • What is mixing traditions ?
    • What are the causes of mixing ?  Why do people mix ?
  3. Rationale for the spiritual advice to follow one tradition purely without mixing
    1. Considering valid reasons
      • Advantages of not mixing
      • Disadvantages of mixing
      • Disadvantages of even slight mixing.
    2. Contemplating useful analogies
      • Analogy of the burning room
      • Analogy of climbing a mountain
      • Analogy of a Formula 1 racing car
      • Analogy of commitment to a partner
      • Analogy of specialization
  4. Refutation of objections to not mixing
  • Objection 1.  We can gain a better understanding of a subject when explored from multiple perspectives
  • Objection 2:  We can gain a higher and deeper understanding of universal truth through synthesizing multiple systems of thought.
  • Objection 3 :  All religions say the same thing, just with different metaphors and means.  So what is the problem with me studying and reading other traditions.  Does that not also take me in the direction of enlightenment ?
  • Objection 4:  OK, I agree we should not mix traditions.  I am 100% committed to VGL, I know what we are all about and I don’t want to mix.  So what is the problem with me reading other sources ?
  • Objection 5:  But I do not have freedom because I cannot be an NKT teacher or officer of an NKT center if I still want to go to other things.  So I am not free to choose.
  • Objection 6:  But it can be argued that just because one is in a relationship with somebody else does not mean that they cease to be friends with other people and other women.  In the same way, it is not mixing or violating my commitment to my spiritual path by reading other books, etc., as long as I am clear as to who is my Spiritual Guide.
  • Objection 7: But we are Buddhist, so everything depends upon the mind.  Reading other sources is not from its own side mixing, it depends upon the mind with which we do it. 
  • Objection 8:  Come on !  Certainly you are exaggerating to say it is a fault to even read or be exposed to teachings from other traditions.  Don’t be so paranoid !
  • Objection 9:  It still seems very closed-minded to be so categorical in shunning anything that is non-NKT.
  • Objection 10:  OK, even if I agree with all of the above, certainly it is more skilful to say nothing, since people will misunderstand and leave the Dharma as a result of this misunderstanding.
  • Objection 11:  OK, I agree, something needs to be said.  But why do you have to do it in such a foreceful way. 
  • Objection 12:  OK, point taken.  But what makes an action skilful is whether the action does not undermine the faith of the other person when you engage in it.
  • Objection 13:  OK, fine !  Just tell me what I can and cannot do.
  • Objection 14:  If that is the case, then why do different teachers have different policies and standards on this one ?
  • Objection 15:  But how does your standard compare to that of the NKT as a whole ?  Are you more strict ?
  • Objection 16:  Wait a minute !  I can understand why there would be an issue with Tibetan Buddhism in general, but certainly it is not a problem with Mt. Pellerin.  After all, their teacher was also a student of Trijang Rinpoche, he is friends with VGL, and they are Dorje Shugden practitioners.  Are they not basically a Tibetan version of us, and we are a Western version of them ?  So their teachings can help improve our understanding of VGL’s teachings.  We are all talking about the same thing, so there is no mixing going on.  So it should be OK.  It seems we should at least make an exception with them.
  • Question 17:  OK, I understand all of this and it makes sense.  How practically then are we to implement all of this at the center given the sensitivities involved ?
  • Conclusion


I dedicate any merit I may have accumulated from writing this that all beings may find the spiritual tradition that speaks to their heart, and that all beings may joyfully follow one tradition purely without mixing, regardless of what tradiction speaks to them.  I pray that those reading this do so with an open mind and understand that advice such as this is offered by Geshe-la out of his infinite compassion for us understanding what is spiritually the most effective way of progressing along the path.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Lay people need to overcome sexual attachment too

(8.69) Putting so much effort into beautifying it
Is just like polishing a sword that will be used to harm you.
It seems the whole world is pervaded by this madness
Because people believe beauty is only external.

(8.70) Having contemplated the piles of bones in the burial ground,
Once we turn our mind elsewhere
And see graveyard cities full of moving bones,
How can we find pleasure in them?

In Meaningful to Behold Venerable Geshe-la said that attachment to sexual pleasures is one of the most universal forms of desire. This attachment in our mind sows the seeds of the destruction of all our meaningful relationships.  So many people as a result of sexual attachment go off with other people or end their existing relationships. Then, they wonder why in the future none of their relationships are stable.

We want to find people attractive, and we can.  We just need to do it in the right way.  If we have attachment to people, we find them to be very attractive, but we view them in the context of what they can bring us.  Affectionate love naturally finds people attractive, but it is totally different because it does not seek anything for oneself – it just admires and appreciates the good qualities we see in the person we love.  Nothing is wrong with that.  We need to mentally make this distinction, because otherwise we will never abandon our attachment because we like finding others attractive.

If someone came to see us for some advice, and said to us that they suffer from strong sexual desire, what would be our advice? What would we say?  If we do not know, then it says something.  This is a big problem for people, so we need to internally realize some answers.  The reality is this is a huge problem for pretty much everybody, yet nobody talks about it.  We hide in shame with it or we even glorify it with poetry.  We all suffer from this attachment, but we are still all convinced it is our friend, and we react very negatively when somebody comes along and challenges our view.  Why?

It’s not just monks and nuns who need to work on sexual attachment, but lay people, too.  Thinking that this problem is one experienced only by the ordained is ridiculous, so naive, really if we feel this, so naive. Thinking, “I actually enjoy my sex life, I have a good sex life, I don’t have a problem with this. This is only a problem for the ordained.” Ridiculous.  If you want to see how much difficulty you have with sexual attachment, take a temporary vow of celibacy (3-6 months) and see how your mind does.  Just because lay people give in to their sexual attachment does not mean they don’t have a problem with it.

(8.71) Furthermore, we do not come to enjoy others’ bodies
Without acquiring material possessions.
We exhaust ourself in non-virtuous activities to gather these,
Only to experience suffering in this life and the lower realms in the next.

(8.72) When we are young, we do not have the resources to support a partner;
And later we are so busy that there is no time to enjoy ourself.
When at last we have accumulated the resources we need,
We are too old to indulge our desires!

(8.73) Some, under the influence of desire, work like slaves.
They tire themselves out working long days
And, when they return home in the evening,
Their exhausted bodies collapse like corpses.

(8.74) Some have to experience the disruptions of travel
Or suffer from being far from home.
Although they long to be close to their partners,
They do not see them for years at a time.

(8.75) Some, confused about how to earn what they desire,
Effectively sell themselves to others.
Even then they do not get what they want
But are driven without meaning by the needs of others.

(8.76) Then there are those who sell themselves into servitude
And work for others without any freedom.
They live in lonely, desolate places
Where their children are born with only trees for shelter.

We need to think about why we would give up our spiritual life to return to a worldly life.  People do.  They primarily do so because Dharma practice does not give them immediate rewards like worldly life can.  Their impatience for results kills their spiritual practice.  Very sad, actually.  They do so because they are not thinking about death.  We have to ask ourselves if it is enough to have a happy, comfortable life.  We have the opportunity to lead a fully spiritual life, become a spiritual guide, even.  This is the most meaningful existence a living being can have.  Why are we not interested?

Happy Protector Day: Viewing Our life as a Training Ground

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 3 of a 12-part series aimed at helping us remember our Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden and increase our faith in him on these special days.

We are continuing with our discussion of how to rely upon Dorje Shugden during the meditation break.  In the last post we discussed how we can take personal responsibility for removing the faults we perceive in others.  In this post we will discuss how to view our life as a training ground for becoming the Buddha we need to become.

How can we understand this?  Dorje Shugden knows who we have karma with to be their Spiritual Guide.  We each have the karma to be the spiritual guide of certain beings.  Dorje Shugden knows this and he knows what karma we have with them.  If we ask him to do so, Dorje Shugden can manage our karma in such a way that he forges us into the Buddha we need to become.  Primarily Dorje Shugden provides us with favorable conditions and arranges everything to be perfect for our practice. 

But he is so powerful, he is also able to ‘use’ our negative karma and ‘transform’ it into the spiritual path.  We can adopt the wisdom view that he “gives” us now the problems that our future students will have so that we can learn how to use the Dharma to overcome these problems.  We have the negative karma on our mind to experience anything and everything.  Dorje Shugden is able to manage the flow of the ripening of our negative karma so that the negative karma which does ripen is that of our future students and it ripens in a context where we will be able to transform it into the path.

What are the benefits of relying upon Dorje Shugden in this way?  It will create indestructible karmic links between ourselves and our future students that will ripen in the form of us being their spiritual guide in the future.  We will gain the realizations we need to be able to help the beings with whom we have the closest spiritual karmic connections.  It will enable us to find great meaning in all of our inevitable difficulties in life.  Life will still be difficult, but these difficulties will be part of a larger project to forge us into the Buddha we need to become. 

Practically speaking, how do we view our life in this way?  The key lies in viewing everyone as an emanation of Dorje Shugden for our practice.  The view we adopt of others determines the qualities we draw out.  This is so because view itself is a creative action, it is not a passive observation.  We do not view others in a particular way because they ‘are’ that way (they are not any way), rather we view others in a particular way because it is most beneficial to them for us to do so.

The view we adopt is to view others as emanations of the Spiritual Guide.  We can maintain pure view of others.  We consider them to be Buddhas appearing in the aspect of ordinary beings so we can act normally with them.  By acting normally with them, we gain the realizations we need to attain enlightenment.  We can maintain pure view of their actions by considering all of their actions to be the supremely skillful actions of a Buddha.  For example, if they make some big mistake, we can view it as they make mistakes to teach us things.  If we assent to the appearance of others as being ordinary, engaging in ordinary actions, we will simply plant the karma which will give rise to the appearance of ordinary beings engaging in ordinary actions.   In this way, we re-imprison others into contaminated aggregates engaging in non-Dharma actions and us into a world of ordinary appearances.

If instead we imagine that others are by nature emanations of Dorje Shugden engaging in supremely skillful actions to lead us to our swiftest possible enlightenment we plant karma which will give rise to the appearance of others as emanations engaging in the actions of a Buddha.  In this way, we free others from contaminated aggregates and we create the causes for them to engage in the actions necessary to lead themselves to enlightenment. 

But how do we do this, especially when we see others acting in deluded and unskillful ways.  There are two key questions we can ask ourselves to be able to maintain this view:  First, what do their actions teach me?  Second, what do their actions give me in terms of an opportunity to practice?  Our answers to these questions point us to the wisdom that is able to receive perfectly reliable Dharma instructions and opportunities to practice from whatever others do. 

We can even do this same practice with our own body and mind.  If we assent to ourselves as being an ordinary being engaging in ordinary actions, it will creates the karma for the recreation of that appearance.  But if we view our ordinary body and mind as emanated for us to practice overcoming in order to forge us into the Buddha we need to become, it will plant the karma for that appearance to arise in the future.  For example, if we get sick, it is for us to practice with.  If we have a delusion, it is for giving us an opportunity to practice the opponents, and so forth.

This view is extremely beneficial for both ourselves and for others.  We are able to transform whatever happens to us into the path to enlightenment and we are able to receive the blessings of the spiritual guide through everyone.  It also karmically reconstructs others and ourselves into pure being.  By imagining that they are Buddhas engaging in a Buddha’s actions, it karmically reconstructs them so that they will later actually engage in enlightened actions and become a Buddha. 

In sum, the practice of Dorje Shugden can be reduced down into four simple ideas:

  1. Renew our spiritual motivation, that what matters to us is creating good causes for spiritual progress.
  2. Request with infinite faith that whatever happens to us (or others) is perfect for our swiftest possible enlightenment.
  3. Accept with infinite faith whatever subsequently arises as the perfect conditions we requested.
  4. In those perfect conditions, practice to the best of our ability.  To practice means to try to send our mind in the direction of enlightenment by striving to abandon our delusions and by cultivating virtuous minds.  It does not matter whether we succeed in actually doing so, what matters is that we try.  If we try, we create good causes which will ripen in the future in our ability to do it. 

We can use our reliance on Dorje Shugden to overcome all our delusions.  This practice was explained to me by the great Gen Togden many years ago.  He said we can overcome our anger through relying on Dorje Shugden by considering that anger wishes things to be other than they are.  When we rely on Dorje Shugden, we know they are perfect, so there is no basis for wishing they are otherwise, thus there is no basis for anger.  He also said we can overcome our attachment through relying on Dorje Shugden.  We think we need something for our happiness, but we do not know.  So we make requests to Dorje Shugden that if this is what is best, then please arrange it; if not, then we request him to please sabotage it.  Finally, he explained we can overcome our ignorance through relying on Dorje Shugden.  Dorje Shugden is a wisdom Buddha, so we can request him to bestow his blessings so we will always know what to do in all situations.

How to Engage in Vajra Recitation of Sadhanas and Listening to Teachings

Just as there are three levels of mantra recitation – verbal, mental, and vajra – I would say there are three levels at which we can recite sadhanas – verbal, mental, and vajra. Mental recitation of our sadhanas is superior to verbal recitation, and vajra recitation of them is supreme. When we learn how to do this, it feels as if guru Heruka is reciting the sadhanas in our mind for us, like a blessing or an empowerment. We can do the same with listening to Dharma teachings, giving Dharma teachings, and contemplating and meditating on the Dharma.

Mantras are Buddha’s Speech and the Nature of Pure Winds

All of this is derived from Tantric Grounds and Paths. The short version is simple: mantras have four levels, form, speech, wind, and mind. The form is the written letters, the speech is the spoken mantra, wind is their nature before being spoken, and mind is their ultimate nature of bliss and emptiness. There are three types of mantra recitation – verbal, mental, and vajra. Mental recitation is superior to verbal recitation, and vajra recitation is superior to mental recitation. Verbal recitation is saying the mantra out loud with our speech, mental recitation is saying it with our mind, vajra recitation is listening to the mantra arising in our mind, understanding its conventional nature is pure wind and its ultimate nature is the bliss and emptiness of the Dharmakaya, or the definitive guru. So just as we say “Dharmakaya dreaming,” we can also say vajra recitation is “Dharmakaya speaking.” It is our definitive guru reciting the mantras in our mind as a blessing – quite similar to an empowerment. The Dharmakaya – the Truth Body of Guru Heruka – is speaking in our mind.

There is no reason why we cannot practice the guru yoga of the wind and mind levels of mantras. Indeed, doing so brings them alive and feels like an empowerment every time we engage in vajra recitation of any mantra. The definitive guru is speaking directly into our mind. The nature of speech is wind – in this case the pure winds of our guru mixed inseparably with our own. The duality between ourself and the guru has dissolved, we “listen” to him infuse his vajra speech in our mind understanding his winds and our winds and his mind and our mind are inseparably one.

Three Ways of Reciting Sadhanas – Verbal, Mental, and Vajra

So how does this connect to recitation of sadhanas? Just as there are four levels to mantras, so too there are four levels to sadhanas. Just as there are three ways of reciting mantras, so too there are three levels to reciting sadhanas – verbal, mental, and vajra. Geshe-la advises us to memorize our sadhanas so we can recite them mentally as opposed to just verbally because doing so is more powerful. In exactly the same way, implicit within the teachings on vajra recitation of mantras is the possibility of vajra recitation of our sadhanas. 

The nature of Dharma is speech, and the nature of speech is wind. All Dharma is the nature of a Buddha’s speech, which is the nature of the purified winds of our guru. What is a sadhana? It is the speech of our guru. It has a written level (the words on the page), a verbal level, a wind level, and a mind level. 

For me, the key link is a sadhana is a scripture. In Tantric Grounds and Paths, Venerable Geshe-la says, “Some scholars have raised the question: ‘What is the real nature of scriptures?’ This is very difficult to answer in terms of Sutra teachings alone. If we say scriptures are mind, then we have to explain how they can be communicated to others, but if we say scriptures are sound or visible form, we must explain how matter can express meanings. How can a sound, which is devoid of awareness, become an object-possessor? These problems can easily be resolved if we consider the Highest Yoga Tantra teachings on winds. The inner nature of scriptures is wind, which is conjoined with awareness. When the scriptures are recited they become sound, and when they are written down they become form.”

From this, it is easy to understand how we can engage in our sadhanas as vajra recitation of them. It’s exactly the same as mantras. Both are Buddha’s speech and both are the nature of pure winds. Both can be “listened to” (with faith) arising in our mind from guru definitive Heruka, like our guru engaging in the sadhana for us in our mind like a blessing or empowerment. When we actually try it, we will see how it can be done and how much more powerful this is than mental recitation alone. Mental recitation is engaging in the sadhana with our ordinary mind, vajra recitation is engaging in the sadhana with our guru’s mind. When we engage in vajra recitation of our sadhanas, it feels as if the guru is revealing to us the hidden meanings of the sadhana directly into our mind. The recitation of each word of the sadhana is like a request for blessings, “please reveal to me the meaning of this word” and the understandings that dawn within our mind when we do so are the guru directly infusing his pure winds and minds into our own. It feels as if he is engaging in the sadhana for us in our mind, carrying us to enlightenment, and all we need to do is enjoy the ride. When we combine this with the emptiness of our guru, the sadhana, and ourselves, we let go of our grasping at these three as being distinct. The are experienced as inseparably one.

How to Vajra Listen to and Vajra Give Dharma Teachings

When we understand this, it also opens up new ways of “listening to” Dharma teachings – or even to giving Dharma teachings as well. When we listen to Dharma teachings, we can not just listen to the words as verbal speech, we can ”hear them” as the pure winds of definitive Heruka arising from the Dharmakaya, and indeed we can do this with an awareness of the emptiness of the three spheres of the teacher, the teaching, and the listener. The whole teaching is a vajra recitation taking place witin our mind, mixing our winds inseparably with our guru’s pure winds, like an empowerment. As these pure winds course through our mind, they blow open the obstructions in our mind, directly revealing new understandings. It is like our guru going, ”and if you thought that was amazing, let me show you this…” This gives a whole new meaning to having our “mind blown.”

This is likewise true for giving Dharma teachings. Anybody who has given Dharma teachings has had the experience of feeling as if it was Geshe-la speaking through us. Ideas or explanations come out of our mouth which we have never heard or understood before. When we give Dharma teachings, we need to essentially get out of the way and let the guru teach through us. We can center ourselves in the Dharmakaya, let is ”speak” through us as pure winds, giving rise to understandings within our mind, and words out of our mouth. All four levels of the Dharma discourse are present – form (our students taking notes), verbal (our words), wind (Dharmakaya speaking), and mind (our mind remaining mixed inseparably with definitive Heruka). Verbal teaching is good (repeating Geshe-la’s words), mental teaching is better (sharing the understandings we have gained through our own contemplations and meditations), vajra teaching is supreme (allowing the guru to teach through us).

How to Engage in Vajra Contemplation

Normally when we contemplate the Dharma, we do so with our ordinary mind asking ourselves, ”what does this mean?” or ”how does that make sense?” or ”how does that work?” etc. This is a very good thing to do. Venerable Tharchin says listening to Dharma is trying to understand how the guru sees things. Contemplation is transforming that understanding into our own. We start to see things as the guru does. But there is absolutely no reason why we cannot engage in vajra contemplation instead. Instead of directing our questions of ”what does this mean?” and so forth to our ordinary mind, we direct the same questins to our guru. We ask him, ”what does this mean?” We are essentially asking him to reveal the meaning to us through his blessings. Indeed, Geshe-la directly teaches us that every time we get stuck in our meditations, we should image our guru at our crown or our heart, offer a mandala, and then request blessings to be able to understand. We then imagine we receive blessings and new understandings dawn. Where do these understandings come from? They arise from definitive guru Heruka inseparable from our own mind. We ”listen” to them arising in our mind, recognizing them as by nature the pure winds of our guru. Dharmakaya speaking.

To get some experience of this, we can train in reciting the Three Principal Aspects of the Path. The entire scripture is written from the point of view of Je Tsongkhapa speaking directly to us. It is a teaching. We can read it. We can memorize it and mentally recite it. Or we can vajra recite it, imagining he is speaking directly into our mind. We “listen to” him recite it directly into our mind, like a blessing empowerment. As he does so, he is revealing to us the deep meaning. He is showing us directly what he sees within our mind. Where does this speech come from? It arises from his Dharmakaya. The Three Principal Aspects of the Path are what the Dharmakaya has to say. Dharmakaya speaking. More profundly still, we can first dissolve Lama Tsongkhapa into our heart, mix his Dharmakaya with our own root mind to the point where we feel his Dharmakaya is our root mind, and then we listen to him give this teaching in our mind, revealing directly its most profound meanings. We can do the same with all of our scriptures.

We can even meditate in the same way. When vajra ”ah ha” moments arise, we can meditate on them, familiarizing ourselves with the new understanding so that we never forget it. But we don’t need to meditate with our ordinary mind. We can meditate with our guru’s mind. We can view these new understandings not as ”our” realization, but rather ”his” realization arising within our mind like an emanation. Part of his mind is in our mind. The object of meditation itself is his realization in our mind, or more profoundly, mixed inseprably one with our mind. There is only his mind, and on that basis we think our mind, our realizations. We can even ”hold” our object of meditation with his mind by using his completely purified and fully developed mental factors of mindfulness, alertness, concentration, and so forth. Why do so with our ordinary mental factors when we can do so with his?

Don’t be Afraid to Contemplate the Dharma

Sometimes people object to new ideas they haven’t heard before saying, ”where does Geshe-la say this?” And if he does not explicitly say something somewhere, it is default assumed to be ”wrong.” This is a premature conclusion which is actually quite harmful to our practice – it can be a form of holding onto wrong views or at the very least it can be closing the door to discovering the profound depths of the Dharma. We arrive at this default premature conclusion because we, quite understandably, want to rely upon our guru’s teachings and not make up our own lineage. We feel as if some new idea not explicitly taught must be making up our own lineage and since we don’t want to rely upon something unreliable, we reject anything that is not explicitly taught.

The key to overcoming our doubts of this nature is realizing there are three types of wisdom – the wisdom arising from listening, the wisdom arising from contemplation, and the wisdom arising from meditation. Listening refers to audibly listening to teachings or reading Dharma books. Contemplation refers to when we consider ourselves the teachings, including connecting the dots between the different teachings so that they become integrated into a coherent whole of our Dharma understanding. We need to realize how all of the teachings relate to one another and are not only non-contradictory, but mutually reinforcing. We contemplate the Dharma until we come to some sort of ”ah ha” moment, and then we meditate on that to familiarize ourselves with our new understanding so that we don’t forget it. We should not be afraid to ”contemplate” the Dharma, indeed, we are encouraged to do so.

But how do we know if our new understandings we discover are reliable? I have discussed this point with Gen Rabten, and we concluded there are four tests we can use. First, does this new understanding contradict any known instruction? Second, does the new understanding naturally follow from all known instructions? Third, we can request Dorje Shugden – the protector of the Dharma within our mind – to thoroughly sabotage this new understanding if it is wrong or be reinforced if it is correct. And fourth, does this new understanding take us higher up the mountain towards the peak of enlightenment (as opposed to just being an interesting, but ultimately irrelevant avenue)? If our new understandings satisfy these four tests, then we can have sufficient confidence that they are reliable at least as stepping stones to higher understandings. This doesn’t mean these new understandings should be considered ”definitive Dharma.” We very well may realize a few years later that the understanding was good, but not good enough. We discover some new nuance and our understanding becomes refined. We are encouraged to refine and refine our understandings over time.

Geshe-la encourages us all the time to ”make your own commentary,” and he explains how he does so when he describes how he develops oral lineage teachings. We rely upon the guru through vajra contemplation, we write down what we understood, we work with it through contemplation and meditation, fine-tuning it until it is exactly right. Making our own commentary is not meant to replace Geshe-la’s holy scriptures, rather doing so is our way of mixing our mind more deeply with what he has taught us. Our commentary represents our best possible understanding of what is being taught at the time we write it, and our commentaries will improve over time as our understanding deepens. Stepping stones. Parts of the path. What I have shared here is my understanding as it has been revealed to me. If others perhaps also find it helpful, all the better.