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A commentary on the emptiness section of the Seven Point Mind Training text

Mirror of Wisdom includes commentaries on the emptiness section of Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun and The Heart Sutra.

Mirror of Wisdom
Part One: Introduction
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Bodhicitta
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Emptiness
Part One: Learning to Become a Buddha
Part Two: Commentary on the Heart Sutra


We should always begin our study and practice at the basic level and slowly ascend the ladder of practice. First of all, we should learn about going for refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and put that into practice. Then we should study and follow the law of karmic actions and their results. Next, we should meditate on the preciousness of our human life, our great spiritual potential and upon our own death and the impermanence of our body. After that we should develop an awareness of our own state of mind and notice what it is really doing. If we are thinking of harming anyone, even the smallest insect, then we must let go of that thought, but if our mind is thinking of something positive, such as wishing to help and cherish others, then we must try to enhance that quality. As we progress, we slowly train our mind in bodhicitta and go on to study the perfect view of emptiness. This is the proper way to approach Buddhist study and practice.

As we engage in our practice of Dharma there will be definite signs of improvement. Of course, these signs should come from within. The great Kadampa master, Geshe Chekawa, states, "Change or transform your attitude and leave your external conduct as it is." What he is telling us is that we should direct our attention towards bringing about positive transformation within, but in terms of our external conduct we should still behave without pretense, like a normal person. We should not be showy about any realization we have gained or think that we have license to conduct ourselves in any way we like. As we look into our own mind, if we find that delusions such as anger, attachment, arrogance and jealousy are diminishing and feel more intent on helping others, that is a sign that positive change is taking place.

Lama Tsongkhapa stated that in order to get rid of our confusion with regard to any subject, we must develop the three wisdoms that arise through contemplation. We have to listen to the relevant teaching, which develops the "wisdom through hearing." Then we contemplate the meaning of the teaching, which gives rise to the "wisdom of contemplation." Finally, we meditate on the ascertained meaning of the teaching, which gives rise to the "wisdom of meditation." By applying these three kinds of wisdom, we will be able to get beyond our doubts, misconceptions and confusion.


The text advises that we should apply ourselves to gross analysis (conceptual investigation) and subtle analysis (analytical investigation) to find out if we are performing proper actions with our body, speech and mind. If we are, then there is nothing more to do. However, if we find that certain actions of our body, speech and mind are improper, we should correct ourselves.

Every action that we perform has a motivation at its beginning. We have to investigate and analyze whether this motivation is positive or negative. If we discover that we have a negative motivation, we have to let go of that and adopt a positive one. Then, while we're actually performing the action, we have to investigate whether our action is correct or not. Finally, once we have completed the action, we have to end it with a dedication and again, analyze the correctness of our dedication. In this way, we observe the three phases of our every action of body, speech and mind, letting go of the incorrect actions and adopting the correct ones.

We should do this as often as we can, but we should try to do it at least three times a day. First thing in the morning, when we get up from our beds, we should analyze our mind and set up the right motivation for the day. During the day we should again apply this mindfulness to our actions and activities. Then in the evening, before we go to bed, we should review our actions of the daytime. If we find that we did something that we shouldn't have, we should regret the wrong action and develop contrition for having engaged in it and determine not to engage in that action again. It is essential that we purify our negativities, or wrong actions, in this way. However, if we find that we have committed good actions, we should feel happy. We should appreciate our own positive actions and draw inspiration from them, determining that tomorrow we should try to do the same or even better.

Buddha said, "Taking your own body as an example, do not harm others." So, taking ourselves as an example, what do we want? We want real peace, happiness and the best of everything. What do we not want? We don't want any kind of pain, problem or difficulty. Everyone else has the same wish-so, with that kind of understanding we should stop harming others, including those who we see as our enemies. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often advises that if we can't help others, then we should at least not harm them, either through our speech or our physical actions. In fact, we shouldn't even think harmful thoughts.


The text states that we should not be boastful. Instead, we should appreciate the good actions we've performed. If you go up to people and say, "Haven't I been kind to you?" nobody will appreciate what you've done. In the Eight Verses of Mind Training, we read that even if people turn out to be ungrateful to us and say or do nasty things when we have been kind and helpful to them, we should make all the more effort to appreciate the great opportunity they have provided us to develop our patience. The stanza ends beautifully, "Bless me to be able to see them as if they were my true teachers of patience." After all, they are providing us with a real chance to practice patience, not just a hypothetical one. That is exactly what mind training is. When we find ourselves in that kind of difficult situation, we should just stay cool and realize that we have a great opportunity to practice kshantiparamita, the "perfection of patience."

In the same vein, the text also advises us not to be short-tempered. We shouldn't let ourselves be shaken by difficult circumstances or situations. Generally, when people say nice things to us or bring us gifts, we feel happy. On the other hand, if someone says the smallest thing that we don't want to hear, we get upset. Don't be like that. We need to remain firm in our practice and maintain our peace of mind.


The text reminds us to practice our mind training with consistency. We shouldn't practice for a few days and then give it up because we've decided it's not working. At first, we may apply ourselves very diligently to study and practice out of a sense of novelty or because we've heard so much about the benefits of meditation. Then, in a day or two, we stop because we don't think we're making any progress. Or, for a while we may come to the teachings before everyone else but then we just give up and disappear, making all kinds of reasons and excuses for our behavior. That won't help.

If we keep in mind that our ultimate goal is to become completely enlightened, then we can begin to comprehend the length of time we'll need for practice. The great Indian master, Chandrakirti, says that all kinds of accomplishments follow from diligence, consistency and enthusiasm. If we apply ourselves correctly to the proper practice we will eventually reach our destination. He says that if we don't have constant enthusiasm, even if we are very intelligent we are not going to achieve very much. Intelligence is like a drawing made on water but constant enthusiasm in our practice is like a carving made in rock-it remains for a much longer time.

So, whatever practice each of us does, big or small, if we do it consistently, over the course of time we will find great progress within ourselves. One of the examples used in Buddhist literature is that our enthusiasm should be constant, like the flow of a river. Another example compares consistency to a strong bowstring. If a bowstring is straight and strong, we can shoot the arrow further. We read in a text called The Praise of the Praiseworthy, "For you to prove your superiority, show neither flexibility nor rigidity." The point being made here is that we should be moderate in applying ourselves to our practice. We should not rigidly overexert ourselves for a short duration and then stop completely, but neither should we be too flexible and relaxed, because then we become too lethargic.


The next advice given in the text is that we should not anticipate some reward as soon as we do something nice. When we practice giving, or generosity, the best way to give is selflessly and unconditionally. That is great giving. In Buddhist scriptures we find it stated that as a result of our own giving and generosity, we acquire the possessions and resources we need. When we give without expecting anything in return, our giving will certainly bring its result, but when we give with the gaining of resources as our motivation, our giving becomes somewhat impure. Intellectualizing, thinking, "I must give because giving will bring something back to me," contaminates our practice of generosity.

When we give we should do so out of compassion and understanding. We have compassion for the poor and needy, for example, because we can clearly see their need. Sometimes people stop giving to the homeless because they think that they might go to a bar and get drunk or otherwise use the gift unwisely. We should remember that when we give to others, we never have any control over how the recipient uses our gift. Once we have given something, it has become the property of the other person. It's up to them to decide what they will do with it.


Another cardinal point of Buddhism concerns karmic actions. Sometimes we go through good times in our lives and sometimes we go through bad; but we should understand that all these situations are related to our own personal karmic actions of body, speech and mind. Shakyamuni Buddha taught numerous things intended to benefit three kinds of disciples-those who are inclined to the Hearers' Vehicle, those who are inclined to the Solitary Realizers' Vehicle and those who are inclined to the Greater Vehicle. Buddha said to all three kinds of prospective disciples, "You are your own protector." In other words, if you want to be free from any kind of suffering, it is your own responsibility to find the way and to follow it. Others cannot do it for you. No one can present the way to liberation as if it were a gift. You are totally responsible for yourself.

"You are your own protector." That statement is very profound and carries a deep message for us. It also implicitly speaks about the law of karmic actions and results. You are responsible for your karmic actions-if you do good, you will have good; if you do bad, you will have bad. It's as simple as that. If you don't create and accumulate a karmic action, you will never meet its results. Also, the karmic actions that you have already created and accumulated are not simply going to disappear. It is just a matter of time and the coming together of certain conditions for these karmic actions to bring forth their results. When we directly, or non-conceptually, fully realize emptiness, from that moment on we will never create any new karmic seeds to be reborn in cyclic existence. It is true that transcendent bodhisattvas return to samsara, but they don't come back under the influence of contaminated karmic actions or delusions. They return out of their will power, their aspirational prayers and their great compassion.


Without the sincere desire to be free from cyclic existence, it is impossible to become liberated from it. In order to practice with enthusiasm, we must cultivate the determined wish to be liberated from the miseries of cyclic existence. We can develop this enthusiastic wish by contemplating the suffering nature of samsara, this cycle of compulsive rebirths in which we find ourselves. As Lama Tsongkhapa states in his beautifully concise text, theThree Principal Paths, without the pure, determined wish to be liberated, one will not be able to let go of the prosperity and goodness of cyclic existence. What he is saying-and our own experience will confirm this-is that we tend to focus mostly, and perhaps most sincerely, on the temporary pleasures and happiness of this lifetime. As we do this, we get more and more entrenched in cyclic existence.

In order to break this bond to samsara, it is imperative that we cultivate the determined wish for liberation, and to do that we have to follow certain steps. First, we must try to sever our attachment and clinging to the temporary marvels and prosperity of this lifetime. Then we need to do the same thing with regard to our future lives. No matter whether we are seeking personal liberation or complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, we must first cultivate this attitude of renunciation. Having done that, if we want to find our own personal liberation, or nirvana, then we can follow the path of hearers or solitary realizers, but if we want to work for the betterment of all sentient beings, we should at that point follow Greater Vehicle Buddhism-the path of the bodhisattvas-which leads to the highest state of enlightenment.

The determined wish to be liberated is the first path of Lama Tsongkhapa's Three Principal Paths, which presents the complete path to enlightenment. Tsongkhapa said that this human life, with its freedoms and enriching factors, is more precious than a wish-fulfilling gem. He also tells us that, however valuable and filled with potential our life is, it is as transient as lightning. We must understand that worldly activities are as frivolous and meaningless as husks of grain. Discarding them, we should engage instead in spiritual practice to derive the essence of this wonderful human existence. We need to realize the preciousness and rarity of this human life and our great spiritual potential as well as our life's temporary nature and the impermanence of all things. However, we should not interpret this teaching as meaning that we should devalue ourselves. It simply means that we should release our attachment and clinging to this life because they are the main source of our problems and difficulties. We also need to release our attachment and clinging to our future lives and their particular marvels and pleasures. As a way of dealing with this attachment, we need to contemplate and develop conviction in the infallibility of the law of karmic actions and their results and then contemplate the suffering nature of cyclic existence.

How do we know when we have developed the determined wish to be liberated? Lama Tsongkhapa says that if we do not aspire to the pleasures of cyclic existence for even a moment but instead, day in and day out, find ourselves naturally seeking liberation, then we can say that we have developed the determined wish to be liberated. If we were to fall into a blazing fire pit, we wouldn't find even one moment that we wanted to be there. There'd be nothing enjoyable about it at all and we would want to get out immediately. If we develop that kind of determination regarding cyclic existence, then that is a profound realization. Without even the aspiration to develop renunciation, we will never begin to seek enlightenment and therefore will not engage in the practices that lead us towards it.


There are three kinds of motivation we can have for aspiring to attain freedom from the sufferings of cyclic existence. The lowest motivation seeks a favorable rebirth in our next life, such as the one we have right now. With this motivation we will be able to derive the smallest essence from our human life.

The intermediate level of motivation desires complete liberation from samsara and is generating by reflecting upon the suffering nature of cyclic existence and becoming frightened of all its pains and problems. The method that can help us attain this state of liberation is the study of the common paths of the Tripitaka, the Three Baskets of teachings, and the practice and cultivation of the common paths of the three higher trainings-ethics, concentration and wisdom. This involves meditating on emptiness and developing the wisdom that realizes emptiness as the ultimate nature of all phenomena. As a result of these practices, we are then able to counteract and get rid of all 84,000 delusions and reach the state of liberation. With this intermediate motivation we achieve the state of lasting peace and happiness for ourselves alone. Our spiritual destination is personal nirvana. The highest level of motivation is the altruistic motivation of bodhicitta -seeking complete enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. With this kind of motivation, we are affirming the connections we have made with all sentient beings over many lifetimes. All sentient beings are recognized as having once been our mothers, fathers and closest friends. We appreciate how kind they have been to us and we develop the responsibility of helping them to become free from all their suffering and to experience lasting peace and happiness. When we consider our present situation we see that at the moment, we don't actually have the power to do this but once we have become fully enlightened beings, we will have all kinds of abilities to help sentient beings get rid of their pains and problems and find peace and happiness.


If we reflect on the situation in which we find ourselves, we will realize that with so much unbearable pain and suffering, it is as though we were in a giant prison. This is the prison of cyclic existence. However, because of our distorted perception, we often see this prison as a very beautiful place; as if it were, in fact, a wonderful garden of joy. We don't really see what the disadvantages of samsara are, and because of this we find ourselves clinging to this existence. With this attachment, we continue creating karmic actions that precipitate our rebirth in it over and over again and thus keep us stuck in samsara. If we look deep within ourselves, we find that it is the innate grasping at self that distorts our perception and makes us see cyclic existence as a pleasure land. All of us who are trapped in samsara share that kind of distorted perception, and as a result, we find ourselves creating all sorts of karmic actions. Even our good karmic actions are somewhat geared towards keeping us imprisoned within cyclic existence.

We should try to understand that being in cyclic existence is like being in a fire pit, with all the pain that such a situation would bring. When we understand this, we will start to change the nature of our karmic actions. Buddha said this in the sutras and Indian masters have carried this teaching over into the commentaries, or shastras. No matter where we live in samsara, we are bound to experience suffering. It doesn't matter with whom we live-our friends, family and companions all bring problems and suffering. Nor does it matter what kind of resources we have available to us; they too ultimately bring us pain and difficulty.

Now, you might think, "Well, that doesn't seem to be altogether true. In this world there are many wonderful places to visit-magnificent waterfalls, lovely wildernesses and so on. It doesn't seem as if samsara is such a bad place to be. Also, I have many wonderful friends who really care for me. It doesn't seem true that those in cyclic existence to whom I am close bring me problems and sufferings. Moreover, I have delicious food to eat and beautiful things to wear, so neither does it seem that everything I use in cyclic existence is suffering in nature." If such are our thoughts and feelings, then we have not realized the true nature of samsara, which is actually nothing but misery. Let me explain more about how things really are in samsara. The first thing the Buddha spoke about after his enlightenment was the truth of suffering. There are three kinds of pains and problems in cyclic existence-the "suffering of misery," the "suffering of change" and "pervasive suffering." We can easily relate to the suffering of misery, as this includes directly manifested pain and problems, such as the pain we experience if we cut ourselves or get a headache. However, our understanding of suffering is usually limited to that. We don't generally perceive the misery of change, which is a subtler kind of suffering. Even when we experience some temporary pleasures and comforts in cyclic existence, we must understand that these things also change into pains and problems. Pervasive, or extensive, suffering is even more subtle and hence even more difficult for us to understand. Suffering is simply the nature of samsara. When we have a headache we take medicine for the pain or when there is a cut on our body we go to the doctor for treatment, but we generally don't seek treatment for the other two kinds of suffering.

Buddhas and bodhisattvas feel infinite compassion for those of us who are trapped within cyclic existence because we don't realize that our pain and suffering are our own creation. It is as though we are engaged in self-torture. Our suffering is due to our own negative karmic actions, which in turn are motivated by all sorts of deluded thoughts and afflictive emotions. Just as we would feel compassion for a close friend who had gone insane, so are the buddhas and bodhisattvas constantly looking for ways in which to help us free ourselves from these problematic situations. With their infinite love and compassion, they are always looking for ways to assist us in getting out of this messy existence.

None of us would like to be a slave. Slaves go through all kinds of altercations, restrictions and difficulties and try with all their might to find freedom from their oppressors. Likewise, we have become slaves to the oppressors of our own delusions and afflictive emotions. These masters have enslaved us not only in this lifetime but for innumerable lifetimes past. As a result, we have gone through countless pains and sufferings in cyclic existence. Obviously, if we don't want to suffer such bondage any longer, we need to make an effort at the first given opportunity to try to free ourselves. In order to do this, we need to cultivate the wisdom realizing selflessness, or emptiness. In Sanskrit, the word is shunyata, ortathata, which is translated as "emptiness," or "suchness." This wisdom is the only tool that can help us to destroy the master of delusions-our self-grasping ignorance. Emptiness is the ultimate nature of all that exists. As such it is the antidote with which we can counteract all forms of delusion, including the root delusions of ignorance, attachment and anger.


Buddha has stated that for Mahayana practitioners, the self-cherishing attitude is like poison, whereas the altruistic, other-cherishing attitude is like a wish-fulfilling gem. Self-centeredness is akin to a toxic substance that we have to get out of our system in order to find the jewel-like thought of cherishing other beings. When we ingest poison it contaminates our body and threatens our very existence. In the same way, the self-cherishing attitude ruins our chance to improve our mind. With it, we destroy the possibility for enlightenment and become harmful to others. By contrast, if we have the mental attitude of cherishing other beings, not only will we be able to find happiness and the best of everything we are seeking, but we will also be able to bring goodness to others.

In order to cultivate the altruistic attitude, we should reflect on the kindness of all other beings. As we learn to appreciate their kindness we also learn to care for them. We might accept the general notion that sentient beings must be cherished, but when we come down to it we find ourselves thinking, "Well, so and so doesn't count because they have been mean or unpleasant to me, so I'll take them off the list and just help the rest." If we do that we are missing the whole point and are limiting our thinking. We need all other beings in order to follow the path that Buddha has shown us.

It is others who provide us with the real opportunities to grow spiritually. In fact, in terms of providing us with the actual opportunities to follow the path leading to enlightenment, sentient beings are just as kind to us as are the buddhas. To use a previous example in a different context, in order to grow any kind of fruit tree we need its seed. However, it's not enough just to have the seed-we also need good fertile soil, otherwise the seed won't germinate. So, although Buddha has given us the seed-the path to enlightenment-sentient beings constitute the field of our growth-the opportunities to actually engage in activities leading to the state of enlightenment.


There are two methods of instruction for developing bodhicitta. The first is the "six causes and one result," which has come down to us through a line of transmission from Shakyamuni Buddha to Maitreya and Asanga and his disciples. The second is called "equalizing and exchanging self for others," an instruction that has come down to us from Shakyamuni Buddha to Manjushri and Arya Nagarjuna and his disciples. It doesn't matter which of these two core instructions for developing bodhicitta we put into practice. The focal object of great compassion is all sentient beings and its aspect is wishing them to be free from every kind of pain and suffering.

We start at a very basic level. We try to cultivate compassion towards our family members and friends, then slowly extend our compassion to include people in our neighborhood, in the same country, on the same continent and throughout the whole world. Ultimately, we include within the scope of our compassion not only all people but all other beings throughout the universe. We find that we cannot cause harm to any sentient being because this goes against our compassion.

Before generating such compassion, however, we need to cultivate even-mindedness-a sense of equanimity towards others-because our compassion has to extend equally towards all sentient beings, without discrimination. Usually, we divide people mentally into different categories. We have enemies on one side, friends and relatives on another and strangers somewhere else. We react differently towards each group. We have very strong negative feelings towards our enemies-we put them way away from us and if anything bad happens to them we feel a certain satisfaction. We have an indifferent attitude towards those who are strangers-we don't care if bad or good things happen to them because to us, they don't count. But if anything happens to those near and dear to us, we are immediately affected and experience all kinds of feelings in response.

In order to balance our attitude towards people and other beings, we should understand that there is nothing fixed in terms of relationships between ourselves and others. Someone we now see as a very dear friend could become our worst enemy later on in this life or the next. Similarly, someone we regard as an enemy could become our best friend. When we take rebirth our relationships change. We may become someone of a different race or some kind of animal. There is so much uncertainty in this changing pattern of lives and futures. As we take this into consideration, we begin to realize that there's no sense in discriminating between friends and enemies. In the light of all this change we should understand that all beings should be treated equally.

As we train our minds in this way, the time will come when we feel as close to all sentient beings as we currently feel to our dearest relatives and friends. After balancing our attitude in regard to people and other beings, we will easily be able to cultivate great compassion. However, we should not confuse compassion with attachment. Some people, motivated by attachment to their own skill in helping or to the outcome of their assistance, become very close and helpful to others and think that this is compassion, but it is not. Great compassion is a quality that someone who hasn't yet entered the path of Mahayana could have. So, after cultivating compassion and bodhicitta, you should combine it with cultivating the wisdom that understands emptiness. This is known as "integrating method and wisdom" and is essential to reach the state of highest enlightenment.

I always qualify personal nirvana to differentiate it from enlightenment. In the higher practices, Theravadins cultivate a path that brings them to the state of nirvana, or liberation. These are people who are seeking personal freedom from cyclic existence. They talk about "liberation with remainder"-liberation that is attained while one still has the aggregates, the contaminated body and mind. "Liberation without remainder" means that one discards the body and then achieves the state of liberation. To attain the highest goal within the tradition of Theravada Buddhism, one has to observe pure ethics, study or listen to teachings on the practice, contemplate the teachings and then meditate on them. For those of us who are following the Mahayana tradition, however, our intention should be to do this work of enlightenment for the benefit and sake of all other sentient beings. In Mahayana Buddhist practice we also need to follow the same four steps, but we are not so much seeking our own personal goal as we are aspiring to become enlightened beings in order to be in a position to help others.


Mahayana Buddhism consists of two major categories or vehicles. The first is the Sutrayana, the Perfection Vehicle; the second is the Tantrayana, the Vajra Vehicle. In order for anyone to practice tantric Buddhism, he or she should be well prepared and should have become a suitable vessel for such teachings and practices. Sutrayana is more like an open teaching for everyone. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

Even within the Sutra Vehicle, the emptiness teachings should not be given to just anyone who asks but to only suitable recipients- those who have trained their minds to a certain point of maturity. Then, when the teachings on emptiness are given, they become truly beneficial to that person. Let's say that we have the seed of a very beautiful flower that we wish to grow. If we simply dump the seed into dry soil it is not going to germinate. This doesn't mean that there is something wrong with the seed. It's just that it requires other causes and conditions, such as fertile soil, depth and moisture in order to develop into a flower. In the same way, if a teaching on emptiness is given to someone whose mind is not matured or well-enough trained, instead of benefiting that person it could actually give them harm.

There was once a great Indian master named Drubchen Langkopa. The king of the region where he lived heard about this master and invited him to his court to give spiritual teachings. When Drubchen Langkopa responded to the king's request and gave a teaching on emptiness, the king went berserk. Although the master didn't say anything that was incorrect, the king completely misunderstood what was being taught because he wasn't spiritually prepared for it. He thought that the master was telling him that nothing existed at all. In his confusion, he decided that Drubchen Langkopa was a misleading guide and had him executed. Later on, another master was invited to the court. He gradually prepared the king for teachings on emptiness by first talking about the infallibility of the workings of the law of karmic actions and results, impermanence and so on. Finally, the king was ready to learn about emptiness as the ultimate reality and at last understood what it meant. Then he realized what a great mistake he had made in ordering the execution of the previous master.

This story tells us two things. Firstly, the teacher has to be very skillful and possess profound insight in order to teach emptiness to others. He or she needs two qualities known as "skillful means" and "wisdom." Secondly, the student needs to be ready to receive this teaching. The view of emptiness is extremely profound and is therefore hard to grasp. There are two aspects of emptiness, or selflessness -the emptiness, or selflessness, of the person and the emptiness, or selflessness, of phenomena.

People who are unprepared get scared that the teachings are actually denying the existence of everything. It sounds to them as if the teachings are rejecting the entire existence of phenomena. They don't understand that the term "emptiness" refers to the emptiness of inherent, or true, existence. They then take this misunderstanding and apply it to their own actions. They come to the conclusion that karmic actions and their results don't really exist at all and become wild and crazy, thinking that whatever makes their lives pleasurable or humorous is okay because their actions have no consequences.

Additionally, the listener's sense of ego can also become an obstacle, as the idea of emptiness can really frighten those who are not ready for it to the extent that they abandon their meditation on emptiness altogether. Buddha's teaching on emptiness is a core, or inner essence, teaching, and if for some reason we abandon it, this becomes a huge obstacle to our spiritual development. It is very important to remember that discovering the emptiness of any phenomenon is not the same as concluding that that phenomenon does not exist at all.

In his Supplement to the Middle Way, Chandrakirti describes indicative signs by which one can judge when someone is ready to learn about emptiness. He explains that just as we can assume that there is a fire because we can see smoke or that there is water because we can see water birds hovering above the land, in the same way, through certain external signs, we can infer that someone is ready to receive teachings on emptiness. Chandrakirti goes on to tell us, "When an ordinary being, on hearing about emptiness, feels great joy arising repeatedly within him and due to such joy, tears moisten his eye and the hair on his body stands up, that person has in his mind the seed for understanding emptiness and is a fit vessel to receive teachings on it."

If we feel an affinity for the teachings and are drawn towards them, it shows that we are ready. Of the external and internal signs, the internal are more important. However, if we don't have these signs, we should make strong efforts to make ourselves suitable vessels for teachings on emptiness. To do so, we need to do two things- accumulate positive energy and wisdom and purify our deluded, negative states of mind. For the sake of simplicity, we refer to these as the practices of accumulationand purification.

In order to achieve the two types of accumulation-the accumulation of merit, or positive energy, and the accumulation of insight, or wisdom -we can engage in the practice of the six perfections of generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiastic perseverance, concentration and wisdom. Through such practices we will be able to accumulate the merit and wisdom required for spiritual progress.

We can talk about three kinds of generosity (dana, in Sanskrit)- the giving of material things, the giving of Dharma and the giving of protection, or freedom from fear. The giving of material help is easily understood. In the Lam-rim chen-mo, Lama Tsongkhapa's great lam-rim text, we read that even if you have only a mouthful of food, you can practice material giving by sharing it with a really needy person. When we see homeless people on the streets, we often get irritated or frustrated by their presence. That is not a good attitude. Even if we can't give anything, we can at least wish that someday we will be in a position to help.

The giving of Dharma can be practiced by anyone, not just a lama. For example, when you do your daily practice with the wish to benefit others, there might be some divine beings or other invisible beings around you who are listening. So, when you dedicate your prayers to others, that is giving of Dharma, or spirituality. Somebody out there is listening; remember that. An example of giving protection would be saving somebody's life.

In his Supplement, Chandrakirti says, "They will always adopt pure ethics and observe them. They will give out of generosity, will cultivate compassion and will meditate on patience. Dedicating such virtue entirely to full awakening for the liberation of wandering beings, they pay respect to accomplished bodhisattvas." In Tibetan, ethics, or moral discipline, is called tsul-tim, which means "the mind of protection." Ethics is a state of mind that protects us from negativity and delusion. For example, when we vow not to kill any sentient being, we develop the state of mind that protects us from the negativity of killing.

In Buddhism, we find different kinds of ethics. On the highest level there are the tantric ethics-tantric vows and commitments. At the level below these are the bodhisattva's ethics, and below these are the ethics for individual emancipation-pratimoksha, in Sanskrit. If we want to practice Buddhism, then even if we have not taken the tantric or bodhisattva vows, there are still the ethics of the lay practitioner. And if we have not taken the lay vows, we must still observe the basic ethics of abandoning the ten negativities of body, speech and mind. Avoiding these ten negativities is the most basic practice of ethics. If anyone performs these ten actions, whether they are a Buddhist or not, they are committing a negativity.

There are three negativities of body-killing, stealing and indulging in sexual misconduct. There are four negativities of speech-lying, causing disharmony, using harsh language and indulging in idle gossip. There are three negativities of mind-harmful intent, covetousness and wrong, or distorted, views. When we develop the state of mind to protect ourselves from these negativities and thus cease to engage in them, we are practicing ethics. Furthermore, we must always try to keep purely any vows, ethics and commitments we have promised to keep.

In addition to these ten negativities there are also the five "boundless negativities," or heinous crimes. These are killing one's father, killing one's mother, killing an arhat, shedding the blood of an enlightened being-we use the term "shedding the blood" here because an enlightened being cannot be killed-and causing a schism in the spiritual community. These negativities are called "boundless" because after the death of anyone who has committed any of them, there is a very brief intermediate state followed immediately by rebirth directly into a bad migration such as the hell, hungry ghost or animal realms.

We have discussed generosity, ethics, patience and the need for enthusiasm and consistency in our practice. Regarding the remaining perfections of concentration and wisdom, even though we may not at present have a very high level of concentration, we do need to gain a certain amount of mental stability so that we don't indulge in negativities. We must also cultivate the perfection of wisdom, which understands the reality of emptiness. We may not yet have developed the wisdom that perceives emptiness as the ultimate nature of all phenomena, but we should begin by developing our "wisdom of discernment" so that we can differentiate between right and wrong actions and apply ourselves accordingly. All these things constitute the actual practice that can help us to attain good rebirths in future.


We know that if we create any kind of karmic action-good, bad or neutral-we will experience its results. However, this does not mean that we cannot do anything to avoid the results of actions that we have already committed. If we engage in the practice of purification we can avoid having to experience the result of an earlier negative action. Some people believe that they have created too many negative actions to be able to transform themselves, but that's not true. The Buddha said that there isn't any negativity, however serious or profound, that cannot be changed through the practice of purification. Experienced masters say that the one good thing about negativities is that they can be purified. If we don't purify our mind, we cannot really experience the altruistic mind of enlightenment or the wisdom realizing emptiness.

As we look within ourselves, we find that we are rich with delusions. There are three fundamental delusions-the "three poisons" of ignorance, attachment and anger-which give rise to innumerable other delusions; as many as 84,000 of them. So, we have a lot of work to do to purify all these delusions as well as the negative karmic actions that we have created through acting under the influence of deluded motivation.

Let me tell you a true story from the life of Lama Tsongkhapa, who is believed to have been an emanation of Manjushri, the deity of wisdom. When Lama Tsongkhapa meditated on emptiness in the assembly of monks, he would become totally absorbed and simply rest in a non-dual state as if his mind and emptiness were one. After all the other monks had left the hall, Lama Tsongkhapa would still be sitting there in meditation. At times he would check his understanding of emptiness with Manjushri through the help of a mediator, a great master called Lama Umapa. Through this master, Lama Tsongkhapa once asked Manjushri, "Have I understood the view of emptiness exactly as presented by the great Indian Master, Nagarjuna?" The answer he received was "No." Manjushri advised Lama Tsongkhapa to go with a few disciples into intensive retreat and engage in purification and accumulation practices in order to deepen his understanding of emptiness.

In accordance with Manjushri's advice, Lama Tsongkhapa took eight close students, called the "eight pure disciples," and went to a place called Wölka, more than one hundred miles east of Lhasa. There, he and his students engaged in intensive purification and accumulation practices, including many preliminary practices such as full-length prostrations and recitation of the Sutra of Confession to the Thirty-five Buddhas. Lama Tsongkhapa did as many as 350,000 prostrations and made many more mandala offerings. When making this kind of offering, you rub the base of your mandala set with your forearm. Today, mandala sets are made of silver, gold or some other metal and are very smooth, but Lama Tsongkhapa used a piece of slate as his mandala base, and as a result of all his offerings wore the skin of his forearm raw.

We have a beautiful saying in Tibet: "The life-stories of past teachers are practices for posterity." So, when we hear about the lives of our lineage masters, they are not just stories but messages and lessons for us. The masters are telling us, "This is the way I practiced and went to the state beyond suffering."

During his retreat, Lama Tsongkhapa also read the great commentary to Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamaka called Root Wisdom. Two lines of this text stood out for him-that everything that exists is characterized by emptiness and that there is no phenomenon that is not empty of inherent, or true, existence. It is said that at that very moment, Lama Tsongkhapa finally experienced direct insight into emptiness.

Some people think that emptiness isn't that difficult an insight to gain, but maybe now you can understand that it is not so easy. It is hard for many of us to sit for half an hour, even with a comfortable cushion. Those who are trained can sit for maybe forty minutes and if we manage to sit for a whole hour, we feel that it's marvelous. The great yogi Milarepa, on the other hand, did not have a cushion and sat so long that he developed calluses. This is a great teaching for us. If masters or holy beings have created any negative karmic actions, they also have to experience their results unless those actions have been purified. Even those who are nearing enlightenment still have some things to purify and need to accumulate positive energy and wisdom. If this is true even for great masters and holy beings, then it must also be true for us. We have created innumerable negative karmic actions, so we should try to purify them as much as possible. All of us-old students, new students, and myself included-need to make as much effort as we can to purify our negativities, stop creating new ones and create more positive actions. This should be our practice. Many people might be doing their best to purify the negativities they have already accumulated but feel that they are not yet ready to completely stop creating more. As a result, they naturally get involved in negativities again. This is not good. You must do your best to both purify past negativities and not create any new ones.

The practice of purification, or confession, must include the "four opponent powers," or the "four powerful antidotes." The first opponent power is the "power of contrition," or regret. If we happen to accidentally drink some poison then we really regret it because we feel so terrible. This feeling motivates us to go for treatment to detoxify our body, but we also make a kind of commitment or determination not to make that same mistake again. So, we also need to generate what is known as the "power of resolution"-the firm determination not to repeat the negativity.

The other two opponent powers are the "power of the object of reliance" and the "power of the application of antidotes." Taking refuge in the Three Jewels and generating the altruistic mind of enlightenment constitutes the power of reliance. Cultivating any general or specific meditation practice (such as meditation on the equality of self and others) constitutes the power of the application of the antidote. There is no negativity that can stand up to these four opponent powers.

A commentary given in Dharamsala, India in July 1976 on a practice to help invoke the blessings of one's personal teachers and to develop guru devotion.
His Holiness Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche gave this teaching in Dharamsala, July 1976, as personal advice to Nicholas Ribush, who was preparing to undertake a short guru-yoga retreat. It was kindly translated by Losang Gyältsän. Edited by Dr. Nicholas Ribush, who also received Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s kind additional advice in 1976, as given in the notes.

See also the extensive commentary on Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga by Lama Zopa Rinpoche on

A Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga practice booklet, translated and arranged with additional prayers by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, is available from FPMT Foundation Store.



1. Invocation

First there is the invocation of Je Tsongkhapa, who comes from the pure land of Tushita (Ganden). Do the usual preliminary practices as in Jor-chö, according to lam-rim, cultivating bodhicitta [see below and the note at the end].

Tushita is a pure land that is made out of lapis lazuli and precious gems from the surface of the earth. The trees and so forth are made of precious substances. The sand is made of gold and when tasted is as sweet as sugar. There are many beautiful streams.

In this space…just as in Dharamsala we have the palace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, here there is the palace of Maitreya. In front of this is a large area for the giving of discourses. And just as in Dharamsala there are the abodes of Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, here there are the houses of other gurus such as Je Tsongkhapa, Atisha, and Marpa Lotsawa. Also there are other lamas about, meditating or debating with each other.

From a knot of eternity at the heart of Maitreya Buddha, a shaft of light emanates and down it, seated upon a cloud resembling a cluster of thick, freshly-made, snow-white curd, descend Je Tsongkhapa and his two disciples. They come to rest in the space just before your eyes at a distance of an arm-span, seated upon thrones supported by lions, on lotus, sun and moon.

The realm from which they descend—Ganden Lha Gyä—is the realm of numberless gods. (Lha Gyä literally means “one hundred gods,” but the actual meaning implied is “numberless gods”).

2. Requesting the guru to have a stable life

In the sky before me, on a lion throne, lotus and moon disk,
The je-tsun lama smiles with delight.
Supreme field of the merit of mind’s devotion,
I beg you to abide for a hundred eons to increase the teachings.

Since you have invoked all three into the space in front of you, you have to offer the seven limb prayer. The first of the seven branches is usually prostration, but here, as a sign of auspiciousness, you make a request for the guru’s longevity, praying that he will not die soon. Doing this first has great meaning. Also, requesting your guru to live long is the best prayer for your own longevity.

While you recite the words of this verse, offer a short mandala—a physical mandala with only seven heaps on the base plate: Mt. Meru, the four continents, sun and moon. This transforms into a diamond throne [a throne with a double vajra] and when you offer it, it absorbs into the throne upon which Lama Tsongkhapa is seated.

3. Prostration

Your holy mind understands the full extent of objects to be known.
Your eloquent speech is the ear-ornament of the fortunate ones.
Your holy body is glowing and glorious with fame.
To you, who is meaningful to see, hear and remember, I prostrate.

Out of the guru’s holy body, speech and mind, we usually offer praise to the guru’s holy body first, but here, Lama Je Tsongkhapa is first praised for his omniscient mind, the holy mind that knows all phenomena. His omniscient mind is praised first because Lama Tsongkhapa is the emanation of Manjushri.

Then we praise his holy speech—the ear-ornament of the fortunate ones—and his holy body—resplendent, radiant with the glory of fame.

While praying in this way, visualize that your body transforms into innumerable forms, all of which prostrate simultaneously. If you prostrate in this way you will create great merit.

4. Offerings

Beautiful drinking water, variously arranged flowers, fragrant incense,
Light, scented water and so forth;
Actually performed and mentally transformed oceans of clouds of offerings
I offer to you, the supreme field of merit.

These are arranged on your altar and also visualized. It is easy to do—you know how. Also offer a long mandala.

5. Confession

Whatever non-virtues of body, speech and mind,
And especially, actions opposite to the three vows
That I have created from beginningless time,
From the bottom of my heart, I regret and fervently confess them all individually.

We do this for purification. All the negative actions committed in your past lives and this, especially those that contravene the three types of vows—pratimoksha, bodhicitta and tantric vows—should be repented. You should repent all negative actions very strongly, feeling the regret that you would had you taken poison. Say the verse slowly, recite a long mandala and build it up physically.

Why make all these physical mandalas? Because it helps your visualization. For example, when visualizing “now it becomes empty,” it is very important to have the physical object there to visualize its becoming empty; or when making inner offerings, you need a physical kapala [skull cup] or else you can’t purify it as you have to.

Thus the physical mandala is to ensure proper visualization. Also, if you use grain in your physical mandala it is more beneficial if it contains some precious substances. Just as worldly people live in expensive places, if we offer valuable things to the guru it creates more merit. Anyway, we need at least some basic thing for the purposes of visualization, something on which we can visualize. Just as a rabbit’s horn doesn’t exist and therefore we can’t say it transforms into non-existence, for similar reasons we need a physical mandala as the basis for this practice.

When wealthy Tibetans offered mandalas of deities on the ground they would use precious materials such as ground coral for the parts that required red-colored material, lapis lazuli for the blue and so forth. But of course, the type of material offered depends on one’s means.

When you offer chö-yön (water for mouth), for instance, you can offer it in any kind of container—tin, silver, gold—without its affecting the value of the water itself, but while using a more valuable container does not improve the quality of the water, it increases the amount of merit you create.

Mandala is a Sanskrit word; the Tibetan is khyil-khor, which means, literally, circling the center. In a market, the best things are at the center; that’s where the crowds of people go—to that market in the center of town, to get the best things. So mandala means “taking the essence”—nying-po len-pa. Then, at the center of the market, you’ll find the best store; most people congregate around that shop, to take the essence of that shop. Applying this to tantra—the very essence is the non-dual wisdom of bliss and void. As that is what you have to take, mandala means to take that essence for yourself.

If possible, also think about the emptiness of the mandala, from beginning to end. If that is not possible, think of its emptiness at least once. There are different kinds of mandala: outer, inner and secret. The outer is the usual physical one; the inner is the transformation of the parts of the body—skin, blood and so forth; the secret is the offering of the goddesses. Then there’s also the kho-ra nyid-gyi mandala, the mandala of voidness: the mandala is merely imputed and devoid of inherent self-existence. This is the best kind.

6. Rejoicing

In this time of the five degenerations, you strove for many listenings and realizations,
And made meaningful the perfect human rebirth
By renouncing the eight worldly concerns.
In the savior’s extensive deeds I rejoice sincerely from the depths of my heart.

We rejoice in the virtues of others. You should try to rejoice at others’ virtues without feeling any envy or jealousy. Je Rinpoche described five kinds of beings in whose virtuous actions we should rejoice: buddhas, bodhisattvas, the followers of the Shravakayana and Pratyekabuddhayana, arhats of the Shravakayana and Pratyekabuddhayana, and ordinary people. Again, say the verse slowly, recite a long mandala and build it up physically.

7. Requesting to turn the wheel of Dharma

Please, holy je-tsun gurus,
From billowed clouds of compassion and wisdom in the sky of dharmakaya,
Make rainfalls of profound and extensive teachings of whatever is suitable
For the ears of sentient beings who are the objects to be subdued.

We request the guru to turn the wheel of Dharma, that is, to give discourses. Here, offer the nine-heap mandala: one central heap, four heaps in the each of the cardinal directions and four in each of the intermediate directions. This symbolizes the one-thousand-spoked wheel—the central heap is the hub, the others form the eight spokes of the Dharmachakra, and this is transformed into a one-thousand-spoked wheel and offered into the hand of Lama Je Tsongkhapa, requesting him to turn the wheel of Dharma.

8. Dedication

I dedicate whatever virtues I have ever collected,
For the benefit of the teachings and all sentient beings,
And in particular, for the essential teachings
Of venerable Losang Dragpa to shine forever.

There are various types of dedication, for example, that of the body, that for dissemination of the doctrine, that for the continued meeting with spiritual teachers in all future lifetimes and that for receiving enlightenment in this very lifetime. In order to be able to dedicate you must first create merit through performing virtuous actions. When you direct your thoughts to such goals without specific merit being dedicated, that is prayer. Here, since you have created merit through performing the first six branches, you dedicate it.

In the same way as you may offer money to a lama, saying, “Please use this for any purpose that you like,” here you offer your merit to Lama Je Tsongkhapa for him to use for any purpose that he wishes. As you do so, think, “May this dedication benefit other sentient beings and may all aspects of the Dharma in general, and that of Lama Je Tsongkhapa in particular, spread as widely as possible.”

So here you again offer a physical mandala. Build the whole thing up physically again, thinking that you are offering your virtues of the past, present and future in the form of a mandala. For example, your merits of listening to teachings are offered as the sun; your merits of contemplation and learning are offered as the moon. Then make the request: “Please accept these merits for the dissemination of the doctrine.”

You don’t have to say the words of the mandala prayer. Just visualize that the physical mandala is made up of your past, present and future virtues. For example, if you have a piece of gold, you can make it into many different things, such as offering bowls or other religious items, and offer them to your lama, asking him to please accept them in order to spread the Dharma. In this way, then, you offer your merits to Lama Je Tsongkhapa, for the dissemination of his Doctrine throughout the ten directions.

This is a very elaborate seven limb puja. Each branch has four lines, whereas usually there is just one. There is no better practice for purification and the accumulation of a great store of merit than the seven limb puja, and there is no substitute for this practice. Great bodhisattvas on all ten levels do this practice and even they know nothing better than the seven limb puja for purification and the accumulation of merit.


The Preliminary Practices

Actually, your preparations should contain all six preliminary practices.


How does dul-pang-dri-ma-pang work? Before cleaning the room several things should be borne in mind:

a) First sprinkle water on the floor —the dust of delusion is suppressed by the cultivation of bodhicitta, i.e. the delusions that veil your mind are now suppressed.

b) Hold the broom—the right understanding of emptiness—and sweep the dirt to the corner.

c) When all the dirt has been collected together transform it into ambrosia by blessing it with the mantra OM AH HUNG.

d) When you throw it outside think that the Lord of Death, who is always lurking in wait to take your life, receives this dirt-transformed-into-ambrosia as you throw it into his mouth. Completely satisfied, he disappears under the earth. Doing this daily is the best practice for longevity.

When you clean your house there are three ways to think, or motivate:

i) “I would like to follow in the footsteps of Lamchungpa (Skt: Chudapanthaka) who, though at first unable to learn even two words, was taught by Guru Shakyamuni Buddha to clean the monk’s shoes and later the monastery itself; through that he became able to memorize and then, through realizing that dul-pang meant mental impurity, he became an arhat.” Or,

ii) “Sadaprarudita developed a perfect relationship with his guru Dharmodgata. When Dharmodgata was supposed to give Prajnaparamita teachings and the place was very dusty and Sadaprarudita couldn’t find any water that had not been cursed by demons, because he was very courageous and intrepid, together with the five hundred daughters, he sprinkled his own blood to settle the dust. When the gods saw this great being doing this, they transformed the blood into saffron water and sandal. So think, ‘As that mahasattva was so courageous in obtaining Mahayana teachings, so shall I try to follow his example.’”

iii) “Lord Buddha himself, although the founder of the teachings and the greatest of all teachers, would himself erect great thrones and clean houses for the sake of the Dharma, so shall I act in the same way.”

Since you have to clean your house daily you should do it as above. In that way, just by sweeping your room you can create inconceivable merit. So you should be very careful from the very beginning of the day.

By sweeping the room properly you create great merit and receive many benefits:

a) Your mind becomes very clean and active, as the atmosphere is good.

b) It helps others also to have an active mind, as they see your neat and tidy room.

c) It creates special karma to have a very beautiful form in future lives.

d) Those great nagas and gods who are fond of virtuous things are also happy when they see your neat and tidy room. For example, recall what happened when Ashvagosha was debating with Arya Deva: Ashvagosha had accomplished Mahadeva (Shiva), who promised to come and help when Ashvagosha was almost defeated, but Arya Deva took a stone from his shoe and tied it to the top of Ashvagosha’s umbrella. Thus, because it was dirty, Mahadeva did not come as Ashvagosha expected.

e) Most important: in future, when you are enlightened, it creates special karma to actualize the abode—your own Buddha field.

On the other hand, sweeping (wiping or rubbing) symbolizes the uninterrupted path—that is contemplation, or the meditation part of the path in the process of fighting delusion—and the liberated path, when you are liberated from delusions of that path. It creates the karma to achieve those two—the meditation period and the post-meditation period.


If you have seven bowls, offer them. If you have only one bowl, offer that alone. If you have no offering bowls you can use ordinary cups. Also offer some incense.

a) Arranging your altar. You can put reliquary objects, images of your gurus, buddhas and bodhisattvas and so forth. But do not put gold stupas up high and clay ones down low, for example; you should not discriminate between holy objects in such a material way. When you sleep, do not point your outstretched legs towards any reliquary objects. Arranging your altar also means covering thangkas at night and uncovering them in the morning. If you do not do this, at least you should look at them properly. It is said that beholding an image of the Buddha creates more merit than beholding the Buddha himself.

b) Making offerings. These must be free from dishonesty, of which there are two kinds:

i) Dishonesty of material. The things you offer should be free of the five wrong livelihoods: flattery, hinting, giving in order to receive (bribery, where you give something small to get something big), exerting pressure on others (coercion) and being on one’s best behavior (hypocrisy). Such offerings are not fit to be given.
ii) Dishonesty of motivation, that is, motivation influenced by the eight worldly dharmas. For example, if somebody is coming to visit, you make a magnificent offering so that they’ll praise you.

One morning in Pemba, because his patron was coming to visit, Geshe Ben Kungyäl arranged his altar more beautifully and cleaned his room more thoroughly than ever. He then sat down and watched his mind, detected an impure motivation for his activities, so he threw dirt everywhere. His guru Padampa Sangye became aware of this and declared, “This morning, in all of Tibet, the best offering was made by Ben Kungyäl, who threw dirt into the mouth of the eight worldly dharmas.”

If you are offering food, the food that you offer should not be worse than that which you eat.

And most important, when making ritual cakes (torma) and so forth, you should wash your hands and face, clean your nails and offer them properly. Once you have cleaned your offering bowls you shouldn’t put your fingers in them.

Before you arrange your altar, purify the area around it with incense. Your bowls should be set evenly, in a straight line, the correct distance apart. If you do not have offering bowls, you can use a properly cleaned cup. If you need to drink from it, you can take it back, use it, clean it properly and then put it back on your altar.

So all this is preparation, but you make the offerings with the appropriate verse of the seven limb puja.


Generate bodhicitta motivation, wishing to attain enlightenment for all sentient beings.

Then sit in the seven-point posture of Vairochana and watch the motivation. If the motivation is not correct, then correct it. If delusions are strong in the mind, to suppress them you can watch the breath. If this is done it makes eight aspects of the posture. If the delusions are not strong, it becomes the seven-point posture of Vairochana.

Then take refuge:

Taking refuge

Transformation of the surface into lapis lazuli was done when cleaning the room.

In the space in front of you is a throne supported by snow lions. On it is seated Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, the quintessence of all refuges. The size is according to your wish: a cubit in height or four finger’s height; whatever. Regard him as the quintessence of all refuges. This visualization is according to Kunsu Norpulu.

Who takes refuge?

All enemies; on the right side are your father and all male sentient beings; on the left side are your mother and all female sentient beings; and behind you, servants and others. This includes all sentient beings from all the six realms. They appear in the form of humans, as many as the dust of the earth, and you lead them in the chanting of refuge.

Refuge is most important. There are three causes or reasons for taking refuge:

i. Fear: if we are afraid, we think about protection. That is why fear serves as a cause.
ii. Conviction: Though some people take refuge in worldly gods and demons, as the worldly gods and demons are not free from fears, they do not have the power to help us. If one is not free from all sufferings, one cannot help all others become free.
iii. Compassion.

Also, even if free, one should have the skill of helping other sentient beings. Although pratyekabuddha arhats are free from fears and sufferings, they do not have this skill. But Buddha has all four qualities. He benefits all sentient beings, irrespective of who benefits him and who does not. He also has equal immeasurable compassion, without feeling close to relatives and distant from enemies, for example, he has equal compassion for Devadatta, his rival and Rahula, his son.

What is the real taking refuge?

The real refuge is having the mind that fully relies on Buddha, totally. Whatever happens, we rely on the Triple Gem and follow the teachings. According to Vaibhashika, we say, “I take refuge in Buddha.” The words are about refuge, but in the Mahayana path, the real refuge is the mind that relies fully on Buddha, so saying the words is only part of it. If there is the danger of a thief entering your room, you can only rely on someone you know is really dependable. If you are sure that you can rely on someone fully, you appoint him as the guard and give him the key to your treasure. By knowing that Buddha is the one you can rely upon fully, that mind is taking refuge.

How to practice refuge

There are many parts to a motor car, so how should they all be put together? Really take refuge; Take the responsibility of chanting the words of refuge and along with you, all sentient beings chant the words, kyab su chi.wo,

There are two means for this:

a) Wishing bodhicitta - wishing to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.

b) Resolving bodhicitta - Think, “When I am enlightened I will not give up my bodhicitta. Not only this, but I will try to practice the six perfections and the four methods for cultivating other sentient beings.”

So cultivate bodhicitta with the prayer:

Kön chog sum la kyab su dro
Sem chän tham chä dag gi dröl
Jang chub nä la gö par gyi
Jang chub sem ni yang dag kye

Try to think that Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is very pleased and is in a gay mood. But especially now, he is more pleased, and a second guru comes from the first one and dissolves into you. Thus you are transformed into the real Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, as are all the sentient beings who surround you.

This means taking the result as the path. Bodhicitta with result is taken as the path. This is very important.

So after this, to enhance your bodhicitta, recite the four immeasurables. For example, if one sentient being has a headache, thinking that all sentient beings should be separated from headaches creates immeasurable merit. So, cultivating the feeling that all sentient beings should be separated from all suffering is really inconceivable.

So taking refuge is to differentiate you from the traveler of the wrong path. The cultivation of bodhicitta distinguishes you from the traveler of the lower vehicle, the Hinayana path. As the latter is only concerned with attaining liberation for himself, and your path is concerned for all sentient beings, the distinction is vast.

So when this has finished, dissolve the refuge object in one of two ways:

a) The throne, lions, etc. all dissolve into Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, and he melts into yellow light which enters your forehead in the center. Or,

b) Elevate the visualized Guru Shakyamuni Buddha higher in the space before you, and after you have invoked Lama Je Tsongkhapa, the former comes down and dissolves into Je Tsongkhapa.

Thus the third preliminary practice is sitting in the Vairochana position, taking refuge and generating bodhicitta.


This involves the invocation of Je Tsongkhapa from Maitreya’s heart, as before.


This is done by the seven limb practice.

(The offerings were consecrated before—here they are offered during the second branch).


This is the recitation of the migtsema prayer.

This ends the explanation of the six preliminary practices, Jor-chö.


There are physical offerings on your altar; you should mentally transform these and visualize magnificent offerings filling all space.

If you know how to make mental offerings correctly you will never suffer from a lack of materials to offer, since you can offer, for example, the rays of the sun and moon as light, and so forth. Therefore, visualize that all of space is filled by the offerings you make.

Mandala offerings

The mandala of offering is made at the offering verse of the seven limb practice. When you say, Idam guru ratna…, close your mandala base and start the other four lines.

The mandala of request is made after the seven limb practice has finished, that is, after the dedication verse. Then say the prayer, “Requesting the objects of refuge for the three great purposes” (pacification of all wrong conceptions, generation of all right realizations and pacification of all outer and inner obstacles).

After arranging the altar

Do the prayers for purifying the place (Tham chä di ni sa zhi dag) and offering (Lha dang mi yi chhö päi dzä).

While saying Lha dang mi yi… after arranging the altar, perform the following visualization:

First transform yourself into Samantabhadra, holding a precious gem between your hands, as does Avalokiteshvara. From the gem, immeasurable rays go out carrying offerings of argham, padyam and so forth. Then, from each of these rays a second Samantabhadra is emitted, and from each of these a third, and so on, ad infinitum. (In the back of space, a knot of eternity symbolizes these offerings.) Now all those Samantabhadras that have been emitted have to be dissolved back into the original, without any mistake. This is a very difficult practice for us to do. This method of emitting them is found in Tara rituals.

Then say the offering mantra (OM NAMO BHAGAVATE…) three times and the power of truth prayer (Kon chog sum gyi den pa dang…). Visualize that all the offerings arranged on your altar transform into immeasurable offerings filling all space.

In this pure land, many flowers and trees sprout out freshly, like the mushrooms that spring up after rainfall. These, too, can be offered.

Then do the invocation.


Invoke Lama Tsongkhapa and his two disciples into the space in front of you. Actually, there are many ways of visualizing this—here it is brief, but remember that these three are the quintessence of all refuge. The distance between you and the lamas is an arm span. They are at eye-level, seated upon throne, lotus and moon disc, and wearing the three robes of a monk. Je Rinpoche is in the mudra of giving Dharma.

Gyältsab Rinpoche is to the right of Je Rinpoche. His right hand is in the mudra of giving Dharma and he holds a scripture in his left hand. He appears slightly elderly and is tilted towards Je Tsongkhapa.

Khädrub Rinpoche is to the left of Je Rinpoche. His right hand is in the mudra of giving Dharma, and he also holds a scripture in his left. His appearance is more youthful (he died at only 58 years) and he is also tilted towards Je Tsongkhapa.

Je Rinpoche is also of youthful appearance and is rejoicing—in a happy mood and smiling at you.


Now do the first of the seven limbs—requesting the guru to live long, for hundreds of eons, for the dissemination of the doctrine.


Before the offering verse (verse 4), offer the long mandala, the mandala of offering.

You also make other mandala offerings during the practice:

  • While saying verses 5 & 6 slowly (confession and rejoicing), make another mandala offering.
  • With verse 7 (requesting to teach), offer the nine-heap mandala, transformed as explained.
  • With verse 8 (dedication), make a long mandala offering (physically), visualizing the offerings in the form of a mandala.
  • After the seven limbed prayer has been completed, again offer long mandala of requesting.

Following that, say three times the prayer of the special request for the three great purposes (elimination of all negative minds and distorted views, cultivation of all positive minds and elimination of internal and external interferences):

I prostrate and go for refuge to the guru and the three precious gems:
Please bless my mind.

I am requesting you please to immediately pacify all wrong conceptions, from incorrect devotion to the guru up to the subtle dual view of the white, red and dark visions that exist in my mind and in the minds of all mother sentient beings.

I am requesting you please to immediately generate all the right realizations from guru devotion up to enlightenment in my mind and in the minds of all mother sentient beings.

I am requesting you please to pacify all outer and inner obstacles to actualizing the entire graduated path to enlightenment in my mind and the minds of all sentient beings, my mothers. (3x)

The five-line prayer to Lama Tsongkhapa (migtsema)

Mig me tse wäi ter chen chän rä zig
Dri me khyen päi wang po jam päi yang
Dü pung ma lü jom dzä sang wäi dag
Gang chän khä pä tsug gyän tsong kha pa
Lo sang drag pä zhab la söl was deb

Avalokiteshvara, great treasure of non-objectifying compassion;
Manjushri, master of stainless wisdom;
Vajrapani, destroyer of the entire host of maras;
Tsongkhapa, crown jewel of the sages of the land of snow;
To Losang Dragpa, at your fee I make requests.

When we recite this prayer we make requests by seeing external and internal resemblance and inseparability.

External resemblance

  • The emanation of the compassion of all the buddhas is Avalokiteshvara and you, Je Tsongkhapa, resemble Avalokiteshvara.
  • The emanation of the wisdom of all the buddhas is Manjushri and you, Je Tsongkhapa, resemble Manjushri.
  • The emanation of the power of all the buddhas is Vajrapani and you, Je Tsongkhapa, resemble Vajrapani.

Internal resemblance

Not only do you resemble them physically but internally, you also possess their qualities.

  • Avalokiteshvara has infinite compassion and you not only resemble Avalokiteshvara but you also possess his qualities.
  • Manjushri has omniscient wisdom and you not only resemble Manjushri but you also possess his great qualities.
  • Vajrapani has great power and you not only resemble Vajrapani but you also possess his internal qualities; you have the same mind—insight, realizations—as Vajrapani.


Naturally, you are inseparable from these three secret deities: you not only resemble Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani, and you not only have the same knowledge that they have, but you are Avalokiteshvara; you are Manjushri; you are Vajrapani. So, make these requests knowing that he is inseparable from these three.

“Secret” means that just as a spy keeps secret and will not disclose (his identity) at any cost, although Je Tsongkhapa tried not to disclose, still we know his secret, that he is Buddha, i.e. that he is these three deities. Je Tsongkhapa, or any of your gurus, have come in ordinary form, keeping their true identity secret—though they are Buddha, they hide their real form and appear in ordinary form. Think, “Now I really understand your real form”.

Just as Guru Shakyamuni Buddha appears as an ordinary bhikshu, and hides that he is a real, complete Buddha, though they try to do so also, we understand they are really Buddha. Think, “You may or may not try to keep it a secret, but we understand.”

Then visualize as you do with the Vajrasattva visualization that you are surrounded by innumerable sentient beings and immeasurable rays emanate from the heart, throat and crown of Je Tsongkhapa and his two disciples. The rays touch you and all other sentient beings, and all defilements are purified, especially the defilements of the body.

Vajrasattva-type visualization. This is the same as in the refuge section. Negativities leave through the body’s openings, by overflowing and by being eliminated “on the spot”. For example, for one mala think that bodily defilements are cleansed, then speech, then mind, then all three together. See above with refuge visualization. This also purifies all other sentient beings.

(a) Then Manjushri comes from the crown of Je Tsongkhapa and dissolves into your body, entering through the crown of your head—all defilements of the body are eliminated and you should feel inseparable from Manjushri.

As a special sign, you receive the two wisdoms: relative and absolute. Through these you are able to have the four kinds of (relative) wisdom:

1. Great wisdom (or intelligence). You can understand the meaning of a scripture merely by looking at it; you don’t have to rely on others to explain it to you.

2. Clear wisdom. Not only can you understand the meaning of scriptures without relying on others, but you can also discriminate between the word and the meaning without any confusion.

3. Quick wisdom. This is the wisdom that dispels doubt the instant it arises in the mind.

4. Profound wisdom. If you see a word that seems to have no meaning at all, you can go into it deeply and it becomes very profound—limitless from many points of view.

When you invoke Manjushri and he dissolves into you, you receive these four wisdoms and the wisdom knowing the ultimate as well.

The more detailed way of meditating on this is:

Concentrate on Manjushri at Lama Tsongkhapa’s crown:

1. Innumerable Manjushris emanate and dissolve into you all over your body, like falling rain, bringing the great wisdom.

2. Then the OM AH RA PA TSA NA mantra, the thirty-four consonants and sixteen vowels of the Sanskrit alphabet, all Manjushri mantras and all the scriptures of the Kangyur and Tengyur emanate from Manjushri’s throat and dissolve into your throat, bringing clear wisdom.

3. Then many DHIHs emanate from Manjushri’s heart and dissolve into your heart, bringing quick wisdom.

4. Then bows and arrows, swords and scriptures emanate from Manjushri’s implements and sink into your heart, bringing profound wisdom.

Further visualizations

5. The wisdom of explaining. Scriptures and swords together (symbolic of Je Tsongkhapa) are emitted from his heart and dissolve into you like rain: you become very skilled at giving discourses.

6. Debating wisdom. Swords alone are emitted from his heart and dissolve into you like rain: you become very skilled in debate.

7. Writing wisdom. Scriptures alone are emitted from his heart and dissolve into you like rain: you become very skilled in composing and writing.

It is very good to do these visualizations bringing these seven different types of wisdom.

(b) Then Avalokiteshvara comes from the throat of Je Tsongkhapa and dissolves into you„oall defilements of speech are eliminated and you should feel inseparable from Avalokiteshvara. You and all other sentient beings are able to generate boundless compassion, equalizing self with others and bodhicitta in immaculate form.

(c) Then, visualizing ambrosia and rays coming from Je Tsongkhapa’s crown, throat and heart, Vajrapani comes from the heart of Je Tsongkhapa and dissolves into your heart and the hearts of all sentient beings„oall your defilements of mind are eliminated and you should feel inseparable from Vajrapani. You and all other sentient beings become influential and powerful enough to do extensive work for all sentient beings.

Extra practices

Gathering possessions

If you know how to apply the teachings really skillfully, you can interchange the purposes. For example, if you are practicing in order to collect possessions, visualize that rays in the form of hooks emanate from the heart of Je Tsongkhapa and go in all directions, pulling back to you whatever it is that you desire. For more influence, use red color.

The four actions

1. If your practice is mainly for pacifying (shi) diseases or demonic impulses, white rays are emitted from the heart of Je Tsongkhapa. They pacify and eliminate the diseases.

2. If your practice is mainly for increasing (gyä) your longevity or virtue, yellow rays are emitted which dissolve into you, increasing your life span or virtue.

3. If your practice is mainly for special empowerment (wang), red rays in the form of hooks are emitted from the heart of Je Tsongkhapa, go in all directions and dissolve into you, cleansing your defilements. Then red rays are emitted again and, as a magnet attracts metallic substances, whoever you’d like to influence is brought just there, right before you. If you wish to influence the king, for example, the rays bring him into your presence, bowing before you in reverence.

4. If your practice is for eliminating interferences (tra)—internal or external—blue rays are emitted from the heart of Je Tsongkhapa and eliminate the interferences.

(When you offer ritual cakes, the deities take the essence of the cake in different colors depending on the context.)

Accomplishing projects

If you wish to accomplish any work in the universe, visualize that green rays are emitted from the heart of Je Tsongkhapa and that whatever project you want is efficiently accomplished. Green is of the nature of the wind element. Like when a green flag is waved, the train moves. Wind has the power to bring growth of vegetation and so forth. Therefore, green is adopted for the accomplishment of purpose without effort.

If somebody asks you for help, for example, if they are suffering in some way, you can do various practices for them. If somebody is suffering from fever, send cooling white rays; if the person is cold, send warm rays. In other words, depending on the condition, you send “antidote” rays.

Two ways of doing this practice

The migtsema prayer was originally written by Je Tsongkhapa in praise of his own teacher, Jetsun Rendawa, with Rendawa’s name in it—“tsug-gyän Rendawa.” But Rendawa sent it back, replacing his name with Lama Tsongkhapa’s—“tsug-gyän Tsongkhapa”—saying that he was not worthy and that it was Lama Tsongkhapa who really deserved it.

Therefore, since it was first given as praise to Jetsun Rendawa by Je Tsongkhapa and then returned, this prayer in the form of making requests is very powerful. It is the King of Prayers or the King of Requests. It is the pith summary of all teachings and there are many commentaries on it.

If you are doing this practice for your own sake, do it as above; if you are doing it for the sake of others, such as a parent or sibling, change yourself into the other person and then do it.

The most profound thing is the dissolution

Gyältsab-je and Khädrub-je dissolve into Lama Je Tsongkhapa. The throne, lions and lotus then dissolve into the sun and moon, but these two do not dissolve into Je Rinpoche. Your mind is in the lotus, in a bean formed by sperm and blood, your most subtle consciousness is within this.

Je Tsongkhapa gets smaller and smaller in size until he is about the size of your little fingertip. He comes to the crown of your head. Your heart becomes an eight-petaled lotus, in which your mind is located. Je Rinpoche and the sun and moon disks come to the center of your heart. The sun disk dissolves into the blood and the moon disk dissolves into the sperm and Je Rinpoche dissolves into your most subtle consciousness. Instantly, a second Je Rinpoche with sun and moon disks appearsas the first dissolves, the second appears, in the way water bubbles appear immediatelyas soon as one dissolves, another appears; as rain falls into the sea, another drop immediately splashes up. It’s the same as that.

This is very important: we do have the potential to become Buddha, to become Lama Je Tsongkhapa. When Lama Tsongkhapa dissolves, in the next instant a new one appears, inseparable from our mind. When our mind is purified we become Lama Je Tsongkhapa.

[Note: Although the sun is not specifically mentioned in this text, the moon is on top of it, as in Lama Chöpa: lotus, sun and moon. Usually, deities in peaceful aspect sit on a moon disk and deities in wrathful aspect on a sun disk. The symbolic significance is as usual: fully renounced mind (lotus), right view of emptiness (sun) and bodhicitta (moon).]

Your mind and your guru are inseparable: this is very important here, the moment Je Rinpoche dissolves into your most subtle consciousness, the other appears and both are of the same nature. The eight petals of the heart-lotus close up: the interior is very smooth, like a precious substance and full of illumination; the nature of illumination. The closed petals are tied by a white rosary of the sixteen Sanskrit vowels in a clockwise direction, and below that tied by a red rosary of the thirty-four Sanskrit consonants in an anticlockwise direction.

These two rosaries have thus divided the closed lotus into three parts, each of which is surrounded by the mantra—OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHIH—in white, red and blue, respectively.

At the top of this lotus heart is a white, five-pronged vajra with a blue HUM at its center. From the tip of the vajra a small shaft of white light emanates upwards and passes out the crown of your head. This connects directly to the heart of Maitreya Buddha. This visualization creates special karma to be reborn in Tushita right after death. This is the best method of achieving this result. You should always think that this rainbow-like shaft of white light is connected in this way, even when you’re asleep.

Notes from Kyabje Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche

In a southerly direction from one’s place is Mt. Meru, with its four levels. At the top are the gods of the thirty-three. Then there are the seventeen stages of the world of form. Gradually going higher in space there is a realm called Thabträl, which is devoid of war; the asuras cannot go there. Then above that is the realm called Ganden, which is like a city. Again, above that, like a place of solitude, a monastery in space, is the pure realm from which the thousand buddhas of the fortunate eon descend.

So this Ganden that is like a city is again the samsaric gods’ realm and is not the Ganden in which we try to be born. We try to be born in the monastery-like Ganden from which the thousand buddhas descend. It is bodhisattvas who are born in the pure Ganden. They are not necessarily out of samsara but are free of true suffering.

This is a pure place shown by all the bodhisattvas who received bodhicitta in that life. It is of the nature of jewels, as even as the palm of your hand and very blissful; free of stones, thorns and so forth…all ugly things. The ground is very resilient. The base is golden and decorated by lapis lazuli eyes. Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche described this as akin to buildings made of wood and cement: between these basic materials are decorative pieces of various other materials, carved wood and so forth.

There are many beautiful shrubs, flowers, fruits; it is very attractive, with many ponds, large lakes and big trees. There are various beautiful attractive birds above and around the lakes and ponds, which contain only jewel sands. Those beautiful birds continuously proclaim the Dharma in very attractive, sweet tunes and sound. The whole place is full of beautifully scented smells. It is such that simply bringing it to mind makes great happiness arise.

In the center of this pure realm that has complete perfections and enjoyments is a very high Dharma palace and a room called the chamber of the very high banner. (Sim-khang means bedroom, an honorific word for important people’s room; it does not mean a place to sleep).

Inside that there is the kun-ga ra-wa (the fence that pleases all), which literally means bookshelf. In the monasteries there are the very big bookshelves. Here, it means a place for giving teachings. So, in front of that the palace, the chamber of the high banner, is the place where Maitreya gives teachings, the kun-ga ra-wa yi-ge chö-dzin.

In the center of that there is a jewel throne supported by eight snow-lions. On that is the invincible savior, Maitreya. [Rinpoche also mentioned another adjective for Maitreya, “successor”—one who cannot be controlled by delusions, its antonym being “loser”—one who is controlled by delusions. Presumably he means somebody who has succeeded in defeating the delusions.]

All this should be visualized as attractive and beautiful as possible, arousing in you the desire to be there instead of here. Visualizing this makes you see your own house, possessions and so forth as ugly and undesirable, so you want to renounce them. One of the causes of rebirth in the pure realm of Maitreya is the constant thought, day and night, even when you are working, that there is a tube of light connecting the crown of your head to Maitreya’s heart; constantly visualize that you are connected in that way—the tube of light, which actually goes on down to your heart, is connected to your own mind at one end and Maitreya’s at the other. Thus, whenever death occurs, you can transfer your consciousness.

When you practice, send your mind up and down the tube. Don’t visualize a hole at the lower end: the mind is inside here, in the form of light as a bean or sesame seed. This is the main essential practice of transferring your mind to the pure realm. By remembering this all the time, if death suddenly comes, you will remember to spring your mind up the tube. Of course, it goes without saying that your great desire to be born there is only for the benefit of all sentient beings.