This prayer was composed by the highly attained lama, Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol. Translated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Aptos, California, in February 1999. Edited by Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive Editing Group at Land of Medicine Buddha, March 1999. Revised February 2005, December 2005.
I am requesting the kind lord root Guru,
Who is more extraordinary than all the buddhas:
Please bless me to be able to devote myself to the qualified lord Guru
With great respect in all my future lifetimes.
By realizing that correctly devoting myself to the kind lord Guru—
Who is the foundation of all good qualities—
Is the root of happiness and goodness,
I shall devote myself to him with greatrespect,
Not forsaking him even at the cost of my life.
Thinking of the importance of the qualified Guru,
May I allow myself to enter under his control.
1. May I be like an obedient son, 1
Acting exactly in accordance with the Guru’s advice.
2. Even when maras, evil friends and the like
Try to split me from the Guru,
May I be like a vajra, inseparable forever.
3. When the Guru gives me work, whatever the burden,
May I be like the earth, carrying all.
4. When I devote myself to the Guru,
Whatever suffering occurs (hardship or problems),
May I be like a mountain, immovable.
(The mind should not be upset or discouraged.)
5. Even if I have to perform all the unpleasant tasks,
May I be like a servant of the king, with a mind undisturbed.
6. May I abandon pride, holding myself lower than the Guru.
May I be like a sweeper.
7. May I be like a rope, joyfully holding the Guru’s work,
No matter how difficult or heavy a burden.
8. Even when the Guru criticizes, provokes or ignores me,
May I be like a dog without anger, never responding with anger.
9. May I be like a ferry boat,
Never upset at any time to come or go for the Guru.
O glorious and precious root Guru,
Please bless me to be able to practice in this way.
From now on, in all my future lifetimes,
May I be able to devote myself to the Guru in this way.
By reciting these words aloud and reflecting on their meaning in your mind, you will have the good fortune to be able to devote yourself correctly to the precious Guru, from life to life in all your future lifetimes.
If you offer service and respect and make offerings to the precious Guru with these nine attitudes, even if you do not practice intentionally, you will develop many good qualities, collect extensive merit and quickly achieve full enlightenment.
Note: the words in parentheses (above) are not to be read aloud; they have been added to clarify the text and should be kept in mind but not recited.
1 It has been suggested to change “son” to “child,” however, according to Lama Zopa Rinpoche: “The term ‘son’ is not used in dependence upon the characteristics of the body but of the mind. The term is used because it is normally the son who becomes king. The daughter becomes the queen but not king. Because this example is applied here, the disciple is called the ‘son of the vajra master,’ but it has nothing to do with the body.” [Return to text]
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.
All the different sutras and commentaries are the same in that they all point to faith as the very root of all virtuous activities.
It is extremely important to have this single-pointed faith in the presentation of the Four Noble Truths, the Three Jewels and in the law of cause and effect and so on because then mental transformation and improvement become possible.
Faith is important in all religious traditions. Look at our Christian friends. Because of their faith in God, their understanding of and conviction in God’s work, they engage in so many beneficial activities to help others. In essence, they become better people.
It is the same with Buddhists. Those who have the faith of conviction in the Buddha’s teachings also engage in virtuous activities such as practising generosity and so forth. Whatever religion we are talking about, it all boils down to faith.
When we have the single-pointed faith of conviction in the Three Jewels, we would naturally try to live our lives in accordance with Buddha’s advice. Similarly, when we have faith in the law of cause and effect, we would live our lives according to those principles, striving to abandon that which should be abandoned and cultivating that which should be cultivated.
With faith, the aspiration for the goal of liberation and enlightenment would naturally arise and joyous perseverance in putting in the effort to achieve our goal would also arise of its own accord. We would not need someone to coax, force or encourage us. Laziness, the state of mind disinterested in virtue, would stop.
In dependence on joyous perseverance, we can then investigate: What are the things we should abandon and cultivate? Based on this analysis, after having ascertained what is to be abandoned and what is to be cultivated, the result is belief in that.
Leaving matters at the level of belief is not enough. Having ascertained this knowledge, we should remember and familiarise our minds with it. By using what we have ascertained as the object of our mindfulness, we can then develop single-pointed concentration.
The object of our single-pointed concentration becomes the basis for us to develop a special kind of exalted wisdom, which enables us to ascertain the nature of reality. This wisdom realising emptiness is the very tool we can use to cut the root of cyclic existence, i.e., the self-grasping conception, together with its seeds. This is the way to achieve liberation.
Before we can generate this exalted wisdom realising emptiness, we must first develop single-pointed concentration. In order to develop this concentration, we must first have the special kind of mindfulness that does not forget its object. What are we mindful of? We are basically mindful of an object that we have already ascertained.
To be mindful of an object, we have to first understand or realise that object. Before developing that kind of mindfulness, we need to have belief, i.e., the mind that comes about after the valid cognition that has ascertained its object.
Before we can develop that kind of belief, we must first have the aspiration that is the impetus for us to realise that object in the first place. Where does this aspiration come from? We need to have faith. Without faith, we cannot generate aspiration. We can see then how faith is the root of all good qualities.
There are many different kinds of faith. There is the faith in the minds of those with sharp faculties and those with dull faculties. There are those who have blind faith and those whose faith arises only after analysis and reasoning.
We must have faith in the Buddha’s teachings but before that can happen, we must first understand what those teachings are. We must study, listen, read, think and so forth and on the basis of such activities, we can generate irreversible faith. Irreversible faith can only be generated on the basis of investigating the teachings and understanding them using logic and reasoning.
We should then generate this motivation for listening to and studying the teachings: “Faith is the source of all the higher qualities, all virtuous actions. Since that is the case, in order to develop this irreversible faith in the teachings of the Buddha, I am listening to and studying the teachings.”
Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Don’t be like a hopping rabbit!
Guntang Rinpoche said once we are able to generate stable faith, then joyous perseverance for virtue would naturally arise. But if our faith is unstable, like a hopping rabbit - sometimes strong, sometimes not there at all – then even our prostrations, for example, will merely serve to whip up dust from the ground.
It is also important that we have strong and stable faith in our spiritual masters or gurus.
We also need to develop a strong and stable faith of conviction in the need to analyse and study the teachings of the Buddha. Having such faith in the importance of studying the teachings will help us to complete our studies. Then, no matter how busy we may be, we will always set aside time for our studies.
We will not accomplish or complete our studies if our faith in its importance is like that of a hopping rabbit – sometimes studying, and at other times, slacking off.
Once we have decided, from the very depths of our hearts, that this is something that is very good for us and we must do it, then naturally we will put effort into pursuing our studies. This is because we see for ourselves the need for and the purpose of studying all these subjects. It all boils down to whether we are able to generate in our own minds this determination from the heart. This will then determine whether the effort will spontaneously arise from our side or not.
Our faith in our studies should not be like a hopping rabbit. At the beginning of each module, we feel, “I must study as this is very important.” As the course progresses, however, so does our boredom. When that happens, nothing will be accomplished. The point here is that effort must be applied continuously.
We must keep this in mind. This is not to say that we will not encounter any difficulties during the course of our studies. It is not easy. But when we have this determination from the depths of our hearts thinking, “This is something I must do in this life and I should not miss out on this opportunity,” we will put aside time and the effort will come.
Without this determination from our own side, from the depths of our hearts, no matter how perfectly all the most favourable conditions come together for one to study, everything will be very difficult.
Developing faith depends on us
It is very important that we begin with studying extensively and then reflecting on and analysing what we have learnt. Only then can we gain firm ascertainment of the teachings, which should be followed by constant meditation on them. In this way, realisations can come and extraordinary faith in our teachers and in the great composers of the treatises will arise.
Different levels of faith are generated in this process. When we first listen to and have some understanding of the teachings from our guru, we develop some faith in him. Our faith in our guru deepens when we reflect on and ascertain the teachings we have received from him. Then, when we meditate and develop some realisations based on his instructions, we will generate extraordinary faith in our guru. From there, we can generate irreversible faith in the lineage lamas going all the way back to the Buddha himself.
We can see from this that the power of our faith depends on whether we have done extensive studying, reflection and meditation. The greater the faith in our teachers, the greater will be our effort to put the teachings into practice. Then, we will definitely be able to pacify and remove our suffering.
The sutras say that faith is the foundation of all our virtue. A mind without faith cannot generate virtue just as a burnt seed is unable to produce a plant. When we strongly develop the correct kind of faith, our virtue will increase. For such faith to arise in our minds, we have to study, reflect and meditate on the teachings. We must understand the reasons for and the importance of studying in order to generate the determination to apply ourselves to our studies. We should aspire to be like Lama Tsongkhapa.
Our minds will not change or improve when our faith is weak and unstable and we do not practise properly. Faith comes when we taste and experience the teachings for ourselves and that experience can only come from reflection and meditation. Whether we develop faith or not depends on us.
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.
Leisure and endowment are very hard to find
And, since they accomplish what is meaningful for humanity,
If I do not take advantage of them now,
How will such a perfect opportunity come about again?
Just as a flash of lightning on a dark, cloudy night
For an instant brightly illuminates all,
Likewise in this world, through the might of Buddha,
A wholesome thought rarely and briefly appears.
(Verses 4 & 5, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)1
We should contemplate the meaning of these two verses over and over again. Verse 5 describes our situation. It is very rare and difficult for us to generate virtuous thoughts or engage in virtue. Our primary concern is with the affairs of and the happiness of this life.
On top of that, it is even rarer for us to generate any interest or aspiration to study the profound teachings of the Buddha. The fact that we do have some interest in studying happens, as said in verse 5, through the power of the blessings of the Buddha on our mental continua. Combined with these blessings is the karma and merit we have accumulated in our past lives which has resulted in our interest in Dharma practice and studies now. If we think deeply about this, it seems almost miraculous that we have the aspiration to study the great treatises and difficult texts of the Buddha’s teachings. Since it has happened, we should not leave it at that.
Our aspiration to study must be sustained over time. This is important as we may be discouraged when studying this text, Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds becomes difficult, and the thought comes to give up our studies.
Practising the Dharma is difficult. Trying to study and reflect on the great treatises is even more so, but the main thing is not to give up, to waste this precious opportunity. Reflecting on verses 4 and 5, we should set ourselves a long-term goal and focus on achieving the happiness of our future lives.
There are many benefits of listening to the teachings. One well-known story is that of Vasubandhu and the pigeon. The pigeon used to sit on the roof of Vasubandhu’s house. Vasubandhu, who was a great scholar of the Abhidharma (Treasury of Knowledge), used to recite this text from memory. Simply by hearing Vasubandhu’s recitation, the pigeon was reborn as a human and later also became a great scholar.
We are definitely far better off than the pigeon as we can listen to the teachings as well as understand, at least, part of those teachings. Then, in our future lives, we will definitely have the opportunity to continue to study the great treatises. The fact we have the chance to study this great text on bodhicitta now is definitely due to the result of having accumulated virtuous karma in the past. We should rejoice.
Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Take the essence of your life
“This advice is aimed at those who want to study the Great Treatises”: From the onset, Gungtang Rinpoche clarifies that his advice is not directed at Brahma, the worldly god with clairvoyance and the ability to know past and future lives, or the gods of the desire realm endowed with great wealth and many enjoyments. His advice is directed at those who have a clear mind and who aspire to study the teachings of the Buddha correctly.
“All of us are now enjoying all the favourable conditions for studying. We have obtained this precious human life of leisure and opportunities. Not only that, we have also met with the teachings of the Buddha. We have met with teachers who can show us the path. Furthermore, we are surrounded by Dharma friends who share the same interests and who are able to support us in our practice. So, all the necessary conditions are here now.
"It is difficult to meet with such a perfect assembly of conditions again. Therefore, stop procrastinating in your Dharma studies and practise. Now is the time to take the essence of your life.”
Perfect conditions do not last
When we are in class, we should concentrate and not let our minds be distracted, or worse, fall asleep. Sometimes, we may be overcome by mental distraction or sleepiness due to fatigue but it is important that we do not allow this to happen all the time. If this happens regularly, then we would have slept our way through the five-year program!
At the end of the class, if you were asked, “What did you learn today?” your answer should not be, “I don’t know, I can’t remember.” Again, this may happen sometimes because you are tired. But it should not happen all the time. At the end of each session, you should be able to say that you have learnt something.
We can say, presently, we have the ideal conditions for studying. For example, you have the company of your classmates, who attend class with you. While these conditions exist, we should try to make the most of this opportunity and pay attention, without being distracted. In the future, it is possible that there will be no teacher, translator or classmates. Then, even if you have the keen interest to study and learn, you cannot do so because the conditions are no longer there.
Benefits of studying the Buddhadharma
The numerous benefits of studying the Buddhadharma can be summarised in a single sentence: From studying comes the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong.
We understand the need to turn away from negative actions by studying the Buddha’s teachings and we begin to engage in positive, beneficial actions. Turning away from negativities is the practice of the ethics of restraint.
When we develop the higher training of concentration from hearing the teachings, we will be able to abandon all sorts of meaningless activities.
From listening to the Buddhadharma, we can achieve the sorrowless state of liberation through gradually developing the wisdom that realises selflessness. With that wisdom, we can abandon the self-grasping conception together with its seeds.
Advice from the Kadampa masters
The sun of Dharma has now arisen and is shining on our heads, yet we continue to engage in negativities and inappropriate behaviour. We should really be ashamed of ourselves.
Our appropriated contaminated aggregates are actually filled with unclean substances. Yet we cherish them so much and put in so much effort to pamper them. This is also very shameful behaviour.
After having purportedly generated bodhicitta, the wish to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, it is very shameful that we continue to criticise and put down others.
We should also be ashamed of the fact that having accepted the Mahayana teachings, we remain separated from compassion and wisdom.
And, having entered the vajra vehicle, the Vajrayana, we should be ashamed of the fact that we do not keep our commitments and remain lazy.
At this time when the sun of the Dharma has arisen and is shining on our heads, it is very shameful that we remain unable to improve the actions of our bodies, speech and minds through the processes of listening, reflection and meditation.
I think the main advice here is to listen to the teachings and practise them with the goal of changing and transforming our minds for the better.
There are people who think it is more important not to suffer now, “I don’t care about the future suffering as long as I do not have to suffer now.” This way of thinking is extremely foolish because if we are unable to bear even a small suffering now, how would we be able to endure the suffering of the lower realms?
The teachings as a mirror
When we look into the mirror and see dirt on our faces, we would remove the dirt. In the same way, the teachings are like the mirror reflecting who we are and the faults we possess, which we need to rectify. This is the attitude or motivation we should have towards our Dharma studies.
Just as we should try to clean up the dirty face we see reflected in the mirror, the Buddhadharma points out the kind of behaviour we need to change. Simply knowing our faults is not enough. Feeling depressed or discouraged when we discover our many faults is also not beneficial. We need to do something to change them.
Studying out of a sense of obligation
Studying and listening to the teachings should not be undertaken grudgingly as if one had no choice, like an obligation or like paying taxes. The Buddhadharma will not be beneficial when one has such an attitude. I think this is the reason why, in the teachings, it is said that one should not teach unless one is requested to do so.
Respect for the teacher
It is mentioned in the lam-rim that just as one should have respect for the teachings, one should also respect the teacher. Ideally, one should think of the teacher as a spiritual friend. If this is not possible, at the very least, one should have some feeling of affinity or closeness to the teacher.
Respect for the teacher is important, as the purpose of listening to the teachings is to benefit the mind. If one harbours negative feelings towards the teacher, it is very difficult for the teachings presented to be of any benefit to one’s mind. If it is not possible to generate some affinity for the teacher, at the very least, one should listen with a mind of equanimity, i.e., with an unbiased mind. Then the teachings may be of some benefit. That is why the Buddha had advised that one should not teach those who have resentment or anger towards oneself or those who hold wrong views.
Qualities of a proper student
What are the qualifications of a proper student? The great Indian master, Aryadeva said, in the 400 Verses, that a suitable vessel for Dharma teachings is someone who is non-partisan or unbiased, intelligent and diligent.
Being non-partisan means that the student should not be biased, for example, thinking that one’s views are superior to those of others or that others’ views are mistaken. Instead, one should investigate if the teachings given accord with reality or not, accepting them if they do and rejecting them if they do not.
The student should also be intelligent, which means, in this context, having the ability and wisdom to discriminate between right and wrong. Simply listening to the teachings is not enough.
In addition, the student should also be diligent in seeking out and listening to teachings.
Considering these qualities in the reverse order, they work like this: when we are diligent, we will have strong interest in Dharma study and practice. We will make the effort to practise and to listen to teachings. When we do that, our wisdom to discriminate between what is right and wrong will increase and as that wisdom increases, we will also become non-partisan. Without discriminating wisdom, one tends to become more partisan and such bias only becomes the basis for sectarianism as well as conflict among different faiths.
All major religions came about to serve humanity and to bring peace and happiness to the world. The religious and sectarian conflicts we see today are not the fault of the religions themselves, but originate from the so-called followers who practise in a mistaken way. Therefore, regardless of the religion that we practise, we must study first.
Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Need for consistent effort
This is advice for those who are engaged in serious study of the Great Treatises and philosophical teachings of the Buddha. Gungtang Rinpoche advised that it is a mistake to expect, from the onset of our studies, to immediately become an expert in these topics. At the same time, it is a mistake to quickly forget what has been taught.
As these teachings are extremely profound, Rinpoche pointed out that we need to put effort into our studies. That effort should be constant like the flow of a river. We will not succeed in our studies if our exertions are erratic and irregular.
We need to constantly revise, review and recall what we have learnt. The topics in the earlier, present and future modules of this program are all interconnected. We will not succeed in our studies if we keep on forgetting the earlier teachings even as we listen to teachings on new subjects.
The best way to really learn is through discussion. When we are able to come to a firm conclusion on a certain subject, during the course of a discussion, by applying logic and reasoning, this will remain in the mind for a very long time. In terms of what we can get from our studies, 25% comes from listening to the teacher, another 25% comes from self-study and the remaining 50% comes from discussion.
Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: The thief of forgetfulness
Gungtang Rinpoche said: “We put in great effort to listen to and study many teachings but we lose whatever knowledge we had gained to forgetfulness. It is like working very hard to accumulate wealth and possessions and having them all stolen by thieves and robbers.
"Putting in so much effort in our studies and letting our knowledge be stolen by the thief of forgetfulness is like coming away empty-handed from an island filled with jewels.”
The only way to stop this situation from happening to us is to constantly familiarise ourselves with what we have learnt. Rinpoche’s advice is directed at serious students of the great philosophical treatises. One achieves nothing by constantly forgetting what one has learnt as one progresses from topic to topic.
Instead of simply relying on listening to the teachings, where everything can be easily forgotten within months, one should familiarise oneself with what is taught by constantly reflecting on what has been taught, thinking about the teachings and analysing the texts. The greater the familiarity, the less likely one will forget what one has learnt.
Advice from the Kadampa masters: Warding off procrastination
The great Kadampa masters advise: “Don’t think that something is difficult. By thinking this way, then this thought follows: ‘I shall not do it now. I’ll do it later.’ Avoid this attitude which is like a blind man finding and then losing the wish-fulfilling jewel. He will never find another wish-fulfilling jewel again.”
This analogy can be applied to our Dharma studies and practice. Trying to study and practice the Dharma is not easy. But it is wrong to postpone doing so. Putting off studying a difficult text during the Basic Program essentially means that studying it will never happen.
Also, when we have all the conditions gathered here, we should apply ourselves to our studies because one never knows whether the opportunity will come again.
When we listen to such advice, it is not sufficient to say, “O.K. I will do it.” And still nothing gets done. That is pointless. The main thing here is to try our best to listen and study.
Everyone is different as all of us have accumulated different karma. When it comes to studies and practice, therefore, some will encounter more difficulties than others. When such obstacles arise, we have to think, “This is the weapon of my own evil deeds coming back to me.” Thinking in this way, it no longer matters whether we understand everything or not as long as we have tried our best.
There are some people who are prone to discouragement and disappointment. There is nothing to be said if you are discouraged from the start, without even having tried to put in some effort. But when you really try and you still don’t understand, something can be done to build up your self-confidence.
How do we know that it is a mistake to postpone our studies and practice? We grow older with the passing of time, not younger. As we age, our intelligence, mental agility and clarity decline. If we cannot study and practise now, how is it possible for us to do better in the future?
Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Make sure we do not waste our lives
Gungtang Rinpoche said that we spend 20 years of our lives not thinking about the Dharma and another 20 years, thinking, “Oh, I must practise the Dharma,” but never doing anything about it. Then we spend another 20 years not being able to practise the Dharma, at the end of which we think, “Oh, I didn’t get to practise the Dharma after all.” In this way, we waste our entire lives.
When we examine our own lives carefully, we can see this describes our situation exactly. In the beginning of this module, we did not think of studying. Then we decided we needed to study, yet we did nothing about it.
It is your responsibility to ensure that what Rinpoche said does not happen to you. You have to make sure that this opportunity does not go to waste. You must pay attention when listening to the teachings. Otherwise, even though physically, you spend five years attending classes, you end up knowing nothing. It is important that you try your best to pay attention when you are in class.
Dealing with difficult topics
Whenever you deal with more challenging topics, you must pay attention right from the beginning of the class because the material is all inter-connected. The more you concentrate, the more you will learn.
When you have been attending teachings for some time, especially those who have attended many teachings, you may be present physically but the mind is distracted. It is like that, isn’t it? When you listen to songs, the mind is always concentrated but when you listen to the teachings, the mind is easily distracted. Over time, your attitude towards listening to the teachings becomes more flippant and that is not good.
Sometimes, you console yourself by thinking: “It is all right. It doesn’t matter whether I understand or not. I will try to be better in the next lesson.” This may work, but I think most of the time, things do not really work out this way. Whenever you are at any teachings, you have to make a pledge to yourself: “I’ll try my best to listen and pay attention to what is being said.”
There are also students who have unrealistic expectations. They expect to understand everything they hear there and now. This is impossible. What is needed here is perseverance. With those expectations, when they do not understand a few words, they get upset and uptight. This is pointless. If you really want to learn, then you must persevere.
Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Practising contentment
Guntang Rinpoche advised that just as it is important to practise contentment in our daily lives, to be satisfied with who we are and what we have, practising contentment is also applicable to our Dharma studies.
We are all different - different parents, different genes, levels of intelligence and so forth. We should not expect to have the same results as others but should study according to our own level and be happy and content with what we achieve in our studies.
Some students may feel disappointed or discouraged when, at times, they do not understand the lesson. When that happens, one needs to reflect on contentment – to be happy with whatever one has understood.
It is the same with material wealth and possessions. Some people are wealthier than others. It is also important to think about contentment in that situation. These differences in levels of intelligence, wealth, etc. are the results of different karmas.
Some people put themselves down by thinking they are hopeless and incompetent, incapable of doing anything. This happens to a lot of people. It is completely pointless to do that. When one is already facing difficulties, there is no need to generate more problems for oneself, thinking, “I am so stupid” and so forth. How does that help to improve the situation one is in? We have to accept ourselves for who we are. Instead, we should think, “I have achieved what I wanted to do,” and be happy and satisfied with that.
This is a city centre. Everyone is busy with their personal and work commitments. After a long day at work, we travel all the way here, twice a week, for classes. But it is only twice a week, for two hours per session, unlike in the monasteries where the monks can study full-time. That is their job. When we compare ourselves to these monks, obviously, we are far behind them. But we shouldn’t put ourselves down. Rather, we should praise ourselves, recognising and accepting the limitations that come with being a city centre. We should be content with what we have achieved.
Practising contentment in this way brings happiness, peace and bliss. It is particularly helpful when we are studying together and we find some classmates being able to understand what we cannot. This is from my own experience when I was studying. Sometimes, when I saw other fellow students understanding certain things that I did not understand, I felt discouraged. At that time, I reflected on how all of us have different karma and felt happy with what I did understand. Thinking in this way helped me a lot.
Importance of recitation and preliminary prayers
We have been reciting verses from the root text after reciting the Heart Sutra. I thought this recitation will be beneficial as (1) it helps us to familiarise ourselves with the verses over time and (2) since this is a special text composed by the great bodhisattva Shantideva himself, simply reading and reciting the text generates great merit for us.
In the monasteries in South India, it is customary for the monks to gather and recite prayers for a few hours before any debate session, making strong requests for success in their studies and debates. In the same way, we need to make extensive prayers for success in our studies.
In the great monasteries, there is a saying passed down from generation to generation that it is unnecessary for monks to perform special rituals or pujas to clear obstacles in their studies, as long as they apply themselves seriously to the recitation of the preliminary prayers made before the debates or when they gather to do prayers together. The monks are advised to set a good motivation and reflect and contemplate carefully when they do such recitations. Doing that alone will clear all the obstacles that might arise during the course of their studies.
We should engage in the practice of recitation in the same way. We should make strong prayers during the recitation and think, “May this recitation remove all obstacles and unfavourable conditions that may arise during our studies and practice.”
We may wish to study and practise the teachings of the Buddha, but there are so many kinds of obstacles - outer, inner and even secret - that can occur. The best way to pacify these obstacles is to make very strong prayers combined with the very strong determination to continue one’s studies.
It is possible that, sometimes, when reciting these preliminary prayers, we may get bored or consider the prayers to be a chore, failing to see why we are doing them. You should understand now that these prayers and recitations are very beneficial for us. In fact, since this text is composed by the great bodhisattva, Shantideva, the benefit and merit that one accumulates simply by reciting this text is inexpressible. We should remind ourselves of this when we recite the text or prayers, and perform them enthusiastically.
From the time we start reciting the Heart Sutra till the end of the lesson, when we dedicate the merits, this can all be considered virtuous action. We should do whatever we can to make the lesson enjoyable for ourselves from our own side and to engage in our studies enthusiastically rather than thinking that we are doing this out of obligation and without a choice, like paying taxes.
Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Reliance on the merit field
Guntang Rinpoche advises that during these degenerate times, when our minds are weak and we have so little merit, we need to rely on and make special requests to the deities and Dharma protectors, accumulate merit by doing practices such as prostrations, mandala offerings and so forth and purify our minds of obscurations by relying on the four opponent powers. These are the necessary supporting conditions for us to be able to continue and to have success in our study of the Great Treatises.
Intelligence alone or simply favourable conditions do not necessarily guarantee that one will complete one’s studies. We also need to rely on accumulating merit and purifying the mind from obscurations, as well as making fervent requests to the merit field.
During the course of one’s studies or practices, one will meet with all kinds of external and internal obstacles in the form of sicknesses and so forth. Therefore, it is important to make single-pointed requests to the merit field. However, the main thing that will see one through one’s studies is one’s determination and enthusiasm for studying. Without such enthusiasm and determination, one may continue to come to class but, over time, one’s interest will wane. Furthermore, without such enthusiasm and determination, making prayers may not necessarily be helpful.
Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Relying on valid texts
Gungtang Rinpoche advised that when studying the teachings of the Buddha, we must study texts that are unmistaken and free of error, as the bases for our analysis and investigation of the teachings. We should check whether the contents of these texts accord with the great philosophical treatises.
Relying indiscriminately on texts that do not accord with what is found in the valid texts and Great Treatises will only cause our wisdom to decline. We are not saying here that one cannot read commentaries or texts that offer a more accessible explanation. But those texts must accord with what is found in the valid texts and treatises.
Sometimes, we may find certain texts easier to understand without first checking their validity. Whatever texts or commentaries we study, we should be able to trace them back to the teachings of the Buddha. Whatever we read should accord with the great commentaries composed by the great Indian and Tibetan masters of the past.
1 These verses are quoted from Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life translated by Stephen Batchelor (published: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, 1979). All subsequent references to this text will be from this edition. This text is also commonly known as Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds. [Return to text]
This teaching by the Eighth Khamtrul Rinpoche was given at Tashi Jong Craft Community, Himachal Pradesh, India. Translated by Gerado Aboud; compiled and prepared by Brian Beresford.
When beginning the preliminary practices (sngon gro) of Tibetan Buddhist meditation, it is extremely important to have complete faith in your teacher and in the teaching that he expounds. You should have no doubt that he is a Fully Awakened Being, or Buddha. Especially in regards to the Truth, or Dharma, you should not disparage the teachings of other traditions, holding yours to be superior. Simply consider that the teaching you follow is best suited to yourself. The various spiritual traditions are in accordance with the diverse dispositions and inclinations of the individuals.
The different schools of Buddhism that developed in Tibet, Japan and elsewhere are all teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. Within the Tibetan traditions there are four main schools—Nyingma, Kagyü, Sakya and Gelug. Do not consider the teachings of a particular school to be more advanced, for all traditions teach tantric meditations that can lead to ultimate realization within one lifetime. However, when commencing the preliminary practices it should be clear which system of teaching is more beneficial to your mind, according to your past karmic connections. By following the tradition most suited to you, you should have faith in the Fully Awakened Being and his Truth without any discrimination, because sectarianism is not only detrimental to your practice but is also an unwholesome action leading to miserable results. If you avoid this error, your practice will flourish and will proceed rapidly through all stages of the path.
To arouse energy and enthusiasm in taking the teachings to heart (nyams. len) there are four contemplations that should precede and accompany all levels of meditation. These are the four topics that reverse the tendency of the mind (blo.ldog.rnam.bzhi) from being attracted to worldly occupations: (1) the freedoms and endowments1 of the precious human form, (2) death and impermanence, (3) actions, their cause and effect, and (4) the faults of cyclic existence, or samsara. If well contemplated these will ensure that your Dharma practice will proceed satisfactorily. Try to gain a thorough understanding of these topics as found in various texts and translations. However, merely to read and understand them intellectually is not sufficient. It is vital to keep them alive in your mind from now until the final attainment of the realization of the true nature of the mind and all phenomena. It is not enough merely to see a delicious banquet: you must eat and digest it before its pleasures are known! It is incorrect to assume that because these four topics have been contemplated initially they can later be disregarded.
Why then are these four contemplations so essential?
Firstly, they lead to sustained perseverance in the practice. Buddha Shakyamuni taught that cyclic existence is by nature suffering. In whichever realm of cyclic existence one takes birth, it is pervaded by suffering that arises because of unskillful actions committed out of ignorance, attachment or aversion to the objects that appear in the world. Through the principle of cause and effect of actions, or karma, skillful actions lead to happiness and unskillful actions lead to suffering. Diligence and enthusiasm for intensive meditation arise from the contemplation of suffering and its causes and the appreciation of the fragility of the precious human form: “precious” because it presents one with the most effective means for transforming sorrow. The Tibetan Kadampa masters of the past always emphasized that impermanence and the uncertainty of the time of death should always be remembered, as this alone will lead to buddhahood.
Secondly, the contemplation on these four topics leads to an understanding of refuge in the Three Supreme Jewels. If you realize that the nature of cyclic existence is suffering you will seek to overcome it. As a Fully Awakened Being has transcended the play of worldly sorrows, he has the understanding to lead you beyond misery. The Truth, or Dharma, that he teaches is not separate from him and its validity is confirmed by those intent on virtue, or Sangha, who have realized high levels on the path to the cessation of suffering. In such a way these four contemplations lead to faith in the Three Supreme Jewels.
Thus the essence of going for refuge is said to be fear and faith: fear of the pains of the round of existence and faith in the Three Jewels which give protection from them. This refuge is common to all vehicles of Buddhism, but in the Adamantine Vehicle (rdo.rje.theg.pa; Vajrayana) there are other reasons that can form the basis of refuge such as the Three Roots—of the lama, the yidam, and the dakinis. However, the fundamental refuge is the Three Supreme Jewels.
In the tantric traditions it is stressed that one’s lama, or spiritual master, is the embodiment of the Three Supreme Jewels and is the basis for all other aspects of refuge. All powerful attainments (dngos.grub; siddhis) and realizations arise from devotion to him. This stress on the spiritual master may lead some people to think that the teaching he expounds is his own and not that of the Buddha. However, his practice is consummated because of the means that derive from Buddha and when this fulfillment takes place the Buddha becomes embodied in him. This is because when the spiritual master has realization of the ultimate truth his mind-form is the same as all previous Fully Awakened Beings, and thus there is no difference between the Buddha and him.
The word Buddha, Sang-gyä (sangs.rgyas) in Tibetan, has two meanings. The first means a being who has “awakened” (sangs.ba) from the sleep of ignorance. This signifies all that is to be abandoned on the path, that is the abandonment of the two levels of obscurations: the obscuration of the afflictions (nyon.mongs.pa’i.sgrib.pa; klesa-varana) and the obscuration preventing the realization of all that is knowable (shes.bya’i.sgrib.pa; jneyavarana). The second meaning of the word is a being who has “spread” (rgyas.pa) his intellect to all that is known. This refers to his insight and completion of what is to be attained on the path, the primordial awareness (ye.shes; jnana) of a Fully Awakened Being. Because a Lama has realized both these qualities he is no different from all buddhas.
Dharma, Chö (chos) in Tibetan, also generally has two meanings: written Dharma, as in texts and Dharma that is the realization. When a spiritual teacher has gained full realization, his thoughts arise from a mind that has fully awakened. Such a mind is known as the Dharma of realization.
The disciples of the Buddhadharma are known as the Sangha, Gen-dun (dge. ‘dun) in Tibetan dun, or those Intent on Virtue. In the Lesser Vehicle (theg.dman; Hinayana) they are the monastic community and in the Great Vehicle (theg.chen; Mahayana) they are the awakening warriors, or bodhisattvas.2 However, this difference is not so important as usually the Sangha means all who are disciples of Buddha and his teachings.
The spiritual master, in whom these Three Supreme Jewels are embodied, not only has the experience of what is to be attained and abandoned but also shows kindness in excess of even Buddha Shakyamuni. Since at present we are unable to perceive a universal Buddha such as Shakyamuni, the lama is here to teach from his own experience what must be practiced on the path to complete liberation from all confusion and dissatisfaction.
In Tibet, Buddhist practitioners take refuge in the doctrine of the Great Vehicle until the fully awakened state of being is attained. However, the practitioner himself must also be an awakening warrior because the Great Vehicle doctrine must be in the minds of those who practice it and not just in the texts of past great masters.
You should not seek refuge in the Great Vehicle simply because you dislike the suffering experienced in cyclic existence, which is the motivation of practitioners of the Lesser Vehicle. Nor should you follow the Great Vehicle in order to benefit your relatives and those close to you because, in fact, over beginningless lifetimes we have had similar relationships with all sentient beings. All living beings have been our parents at some time or other and it is for their sake that we endeavor to follow the Great Vehicle.
Embracing all sentient beings with this motivation of an awakening warrior has two aspects: loving kindness and compassion. Just as you do not want to be afflicted with suffering and wish to be happy, so do all living beings. Loving kindness is the wish that all beings may achieve the happiness they desire, while compassion is the wish that they may be separated from suffering and situations that create pain. The numerous methods for developing these two feelings depend upon overcoming the attitude of cherishing oneself more than others, and on developing the attitude that all other beings are more important than oneself. You should never think only of your personal benefit; your thoughts should embrace the needs of all others. This is the basis of the awakening mind, or bodhicitta, that aspires to and ventures into the practices of awakening the primordial awareness for the sake of all other beings.
In the path of an awakening warrior, the four preliminary contemplations, refuge, loving kindness and compassion, should always be maintained.
At present our mind abides in cyclic existence and dwells in ignorance and confusion, yet it is this same mind that proceeds on the path and awakens to the ultimate realization. Just as a man changes his clothes yet does not change his name, the mind that achieves enlightenment is not some other mind from the one we now have. When the man removes all his clothes and stands naked, people still know him as the same man; just so, our mind, bare of the clothes of conflicting emotions, such as passion, aggression, jealousy and their instincts, is the same mind we have now.
The main creator of all emotional afflictions is the ignorance that grasps at “I” and “mine”. From this fundamental defilement all other defilements arise. However, although you may intellectually understand that you do not have an ego it is not easy to eliminate the mental grasping at it. Because of the great strengths of prior tendencies and obscurations it is very difficult to purify this grasping, just as it is not possible to clean thoroughly at once an extremely dirty object.
The method to eliminate the confusion of believing in an ego identity is to avoid grasping at the “self” in your activities. Although the best method for this is meditation on emptiness, most people are unable to meditate on this from the outset. At present you should have faith and then mentally examine which of the five main defilements of passion, aggression, arrogance, jealousy or ignorance is the heaviest. Like cutting weeds in a garden, first you have to cut off the conflicting emotions that are the strongest. If at this initial stage of mental development you let whatever negative emotions arise in the mind and follow them, actions leaving a propensity for future unsatisfactory results are created.
So for a beginner the purpose of practice should be the subduing of mental afflictions. You must think of aggression, desire and so forth as your real enemies and destroy them. Furthermore, you must develop mindfulness so that you can be aware of hatred and other conflicting emotions whenever they arise within your mind. Because most people have poor mindfulness, defilements simply arise and develop, leading to conflict within and without. As your mindfulness increases the opportunity for conflicting emotions to develop decreases. This is how you should practice now.
However, conflicting emotions will not always have to be approached in this way. The approach to them depends on the individual’s level of mental development. At first you have to acknowledge conflicting emotions as your enemy and eliminate them. Later, with increased mindfulness, you may simply watch them arise without trying to destroy them yet not falling under their influence. When you gain realization of emptiness afflicting emotions may be taken in and crystallized into the five primordial wisdoms. Aggression, for instance, may be transmuted into the mirror-like wisdom.
When commencing the preliminary practices your mind can still be easily distracted so you must develop mindfulness and eliminate any mental wandering. If you attempt to deal with negative emotions without the force of concentration then there will be no certainty that your approach will be beneficial. Although there are many ways of dealing with mental afflictions, the main practices you must have throughout the whole path are mindfulness and lack of mental wandering. They both go together since without one the other will not arise, although generally lack of mental wandering is said to be the cause of mindfulness.
These two practices will give you the ability to watch the mind and how it proceeds. For both to develop it is important to meditate on the suffering of the round of existence and impermanence. I personally feel that these two topics are especially effective for integrating the mind and propelling you into practice. Even if you meditate intensely on them for several weeks and then proceed onto other practices, the awareness of these fundamental preliminaries as well as the precious human form and cause and effect should always be maintained.
The spiritual teacher who guides you through the practices speaks out of his own experience since he has achieved the states of being of which he is speaking. Traditionally a teacher would closely examine any disciple coming to him before consenting to give instructions. Only if he was satisfied with the disciple’s qualifications would he give teachings such as those on the extraordinary preliminaries (refuge and prostration, Vajrasattva purification and recitation of the hundred syllable mantra, offering the mandala of the whole universe, and union with the spiritual master) and on further meditations leading to the understanding of the nature of reality.
However, at this present time it is difficult for the teacher to make such an intimate investigation. Therefore you should examine your own inclinations towards the various lineages of teachings. The faith you feel in your spiritual master must grow into the highest devotion, so it is advisable to spend more time investigating different traditions in order that you have no doubt once the commitment has been made.
When Milarepa first went to a Nyingma Lama he had neither much devotion to him nor did he do much practice. Then when he went to Marpa, the holder of the Mahamudra teachings, he was so intent on receiving the teachings that even though he was always rejected, his devotion and enthusiasm never decreased. Eventually, because of his profound devotion to Marpa he was given the complete teachings and went on to achieve full realization. Similarly, you must investigate your own connection with a specific teacher and his teachings. If you have a strong connection with your teacher, then the instructions you receive will be of complete benefit to you. However, this should not lead you to think that your own teacher and teachings are superior to others. To make such a discrimination between the traditions, especially when beginning preliminary practices, will create many obstacles.
The schools of Nyingma, Kagyü, Sakya and Gelug are of the Great Vehicle and all lineages come from Buddha. With the visualization of the assembly tree in the Drukpa Kagyü’s extraordinary preliminary practices prostrations are made to Dorje Chang (Vajradhara) and the specific lineage masters, but they are visualized as being surrounded by the masters from all Indian and Tibetan traditions. Thus the practices must be followed without any trace of sectarian bias.
Think that the lineage you choose to follow is that which is best for you but do not think that it is actually superior to any other lineage. Once you have committed yourself to your teacher it is not advisable to forsake him for another. There is a risk then that apparent contradictions will arise sowing the seeds of doubt within you. This would mean that there would be no certainty of benefits accruing from your practice. The Buddha himself gave many teachings, all of which were meant to suit the different capacities and inclinations of the practitioners present at the time. In the same way the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism are suited to the varying dispositions of students.
From beginningless time we have been under the power of confusion and ego-grasping. It is not a simple matter to purify oneself of these, but if you now have attained a precious human birth and have made contact with the Dharma and teachers it means that you must have had some connection from a previous life. Now you have the opportunity to free yourself from the net of emotional and psychological afflictions. However, it is not sufficient merely to collect many teachings and to read many books. You must actually put whatever you learn into practice and prepare yourself for death. Dharma instructions are only of value if practiced and applied to the activities of life itself. By taking the teachings to heart it gives them weight and significance.
1 Thogme Zangpo in his Commentary to Shantideva’s “Venturing into the Activities of the Bodhisattva” says, “Life in hell, as a ghost or animal, as a barbarian or long-living celestial being, holding perverted views, born when a fully awakened being has not appeared, or born as an idiot are the eight states that lack freedom for Dharma practice. By abandoning them the eight freedoms are gained. Being human, in a central (Buddhist) country, having complete senses, not having committed the five heinous actions, having faith in the Doctrine, living when a fully awakened being has appeared and taught the Truth, when the Doctrine is flourishing and when there are followers and benefactors. These are the ten endowments.” [Return to text]
2 Päl-trül Rinpoche in his Word Commentary to (Shantideva’s) “Venturing Into the Activities of the Bodhisattva” states that an awakening warrior (Byang.chub.sems.dpa’; bodhisattva) “is a warrior (sems.dpa’; sattva) since without any timidity in his mind he courageously practices that which is difficult, performing deeds such as giving his head and limbs to others in order to attain the fully awakened state of being (byang.chub; bodhi).” [Return to text]
The Guru Yoga of Tushita’s Deva Host (Bla-ma’i-rnal-‘byor-dga’-ldan-lha-brgya-ma)
Today the teaching will be a brief discourse on the practice of guru yoga called Gan dän lha gyäi ma. Both Gan dän lha gyäi ma and the Guru Puja are guru yoga in connection with Lama Tsongkhapa. The only difference between them is in the elaboration of the words. In meaning they are exactly the same.
The qualities we need to develop most are wisdom, compassion and power. The practice of this guru yoga in connection with Lama Tsongkhapa is the best method to accomplish all three. Through the practice of this guru yoga we can accomplish these three attributes of the Buddha, particularly his wisdom. Since you have all come here with the will to practice guru yoga, if you listen carefully and practice every day it will be very beneficial for you.
In ultimate nature, Lama Tsongkhapa is form combined with the wisdom, power and compassion of every buddha. When Lama Tsongkhapa manifests in the wrathful form of a Highest Yoga Tantra deity, it is Yamantaka. When he appears in the peaceful form of a bodhisattva, a buddha, it is Manjushri. When he appears in the form of a human being as a master guru of many sentient beings, it is Lama Tsongkhapa. What we see on the altar is a statue of Lama Tsongkhapa.
The full life story of Lama Tsongkhapa is beyond explanation. It comes in such a big volume that it cannot be finished in a few hours. Also it is not necessary at this time to give you a full biography of Lama Tsongkhapa. Lama Tsongkhapa is one with Manjushri. Therefore, the actual nature, the essential nature of Lama Tsongkhapa is the wisdom attribute of the Buddha. There are various ways of accomplishing and increasing wisdom. But this method, the practice of guru yoga in connection with Guru Manjushri is the best method. It is the supreme method for the accomplishment of wisdom.
Many people think that this planet on which we live, this small Earth, is the only world, the center of the universe or the only world with beings. People may think this, but it’s not right. There are countless worlds smaller and larger than this; countless realms of beings other than this Earth on which we live. There are countless impure realms like this one, where beings are endowed with suffering; completely oppressed with suffering, karma and delusion and so forth. There are countless such worlds in the universe and also there are countless pure worlds, pure realms where beings are free from this kind of suffering.
Among these pure realms, the Buddha Heavenly Abode of Tushita is one of such pure realms where beings are separate from all the gross forms of suffering and their cause and even the word suffering does not exist. But it is not the Tushita that is a few yards away [Lama Yeshe’s Tushita Retreat Centre, Dharamsala]. Generally speaking, Tushita is a deva realm. There are many different deva worlds and ordinary Tushita is one of the deva worlds. Tushita Buddha Abode belongs to and is part of the ordinary Tushita deva land but it is separate and much higher—in reality and in essence.
It is in the higher realms of this Tushita of which we are speaking—the one that is separate from the ordinary deva land Tushita—that buddhas, bodhisattvas and many other beings live. They are all completely free from suffering. Of course, the buddhas are completely free from suffering, but even the bodhisattvas and other unenlightened beings are much higher and free from these gross obstacles. By the blessing of the environment itself it is easy for these beings to practice Dharma and to progress and develop their minds. Here, virtuous qualities of mind such as compassion, love and so forth are easy to generate and increase. So, it is a purely heavenly abode where the beings are free from all obstacles and suffering and endowed with everything necessary for spiritual development.
Also the qualities of the Tushita pure land, such as the beautiful flowers, lakes, mountains and so forth there, are not just ordinary substantial phenomena, but manifestations of the buddha mind, reflections of the great beings who live there. The qualities of this abode are beyond the comprehension of ordinary beings. Even the sound of the leaves blown by the wind gives teachings on emptiness, bodhicitta and so forth, and the songs of the beautiful birds in the trees are also Dharma teachings.
From here, in India, the direction of Tushita is to the north, high above us in space. At present, the lord of this abode is Buddha Maitreya. [Geshe Rabten points to his altar.] That painting up there is one form of Buddha Maitreya and that little statue to the left side of Lama Tsongkhapa is Maitreya Buddha. Buddha Maitreya is the lord of this abode Tushita but is not like a worldly lord, like a king or ruler of a country. He is the lama, the master of all those bodhisattvas and other beings who live in this world. He is constantly turning the wheel of Dharma for the sake of the beings who live in Tushita and the other bodhisattvas who come there from other worlds to receive the nectar of Buddha Maitreya’s teachings.
At present in this world in which we live, the Dharma of Buddha Shakyamuni is still flourishing. But this will gradually degenerate and completely end, after which a new era of Dharma will start. That will begin by Buddha Maitreya appearing in this world. Lama Tsongkhapa is, in one way, as I explained before, the combined form of all the attributes of Buddha Maitreya in nature. But at present, he is in Tushita in the form of a bodhisattva called Jampel Nyingpo, remaining there in that form as a chief disciple of Buddha Maitreya. Also, Lama Atisha is also there place in the form of a bodhisattva called Namkha Trimame, another chief disciple of Buddha Maitreya. But although Lama Sumati Kirti [Losang Dragpa, that is, Lama Tsongkhapa] is in Tushita at the feet of Buddha Maitreya, as disciple, as prince of the devas there, other manifestations of him are also in many different forms in many different worlds. Even in this world, there are countless forms of Lama Sumati Kirti helping sentient beings. There are many scriptural sources, stories and reasons to prove that Lama Tsongkhapa is presently with Buddha Maitreya, but I won’t explain them at this time as it would take too long.
Practicing the guru yoga of Lama Tsongkhapa is of great benefit because it establishes a great relationship with Lama Tsongkhapa, Manjushri and Buddha Maitreya as well. It becomes a preparation for us to be able to reincarnate at the feet of Buddha Maitreya when our present life ends and continue towards accomplishing our goal in Tushita.
When practicing this guru yoga, we invite, or invoke, Lama Tsongkhapa from the heart of Buddha Maitreya. I will explain from the beginning what we must do in this guru yoga, including the preparation.
To practice this guru yoga you should first clean your place, the environment in which you are going to meditate. Then, if you have a thangka, statue or picture of Lama Tsongkhapa to serve as a base, or an object, of your meditation, that would be highly beneficial. At the front of that you should arrange all your offerings nicely; place everything in a pure, proper and correct way…the water offering, flowers, incense, light, fruit and so forth.
Then sit facing the altar and begin your practice by inviting Lama Tsongkhapa from Tushita from the heart of Buddha Maitreya and then make the offerings, prostrations and the following limbs.
However, it is not enough just to invite the deity; you must also make certain preparations from within yourself. The best such preparation is to take refuge in the Triple Gem and generate bodhicitta.
Kön chhog sum la kyab su dro
Sem chän tham chä dag gi dröl
Jang chhub nä la gö par gyi
Jang chhub sem ni yang dag kye
I go to the Triple Gem for refuge
I will liberate all sentient beings
And lead them to (or establish them in) the stage of bodhi (full enlightenment)
I will perfectly generate bodhicitta
I will not explain refuge and bodhicitta in detail because I have already explained these in previous teachings.
First we take refuge in the Triple Gem. After taking refuge, what we wish and are willing to do is liberate all sentient beings from all suffering. Therefore, the second line is, “I will liberate all sentient beings.” By liberating all sentient beings from suffering, then where will we lead them; to what kind of stage? It is to liberation, or nirvana, that we wish to lead them. This nirvana is not the ordinary nirvana of the arhats but the ultimate bodhi stage of buddhahood. Therefore, the third line is:
And for that purpose, to liberate sentient beings from suffering and lead them to the stage of enlightenment, then what I want to do, what I am going to do, comes in the next line:
We should recite the above verse three times, not only repeating the words but contemplating the meaning deeply.
After this comes another verse blessing the place or the environment:
Tham chä du ni sa zhi dag
Seg ma la sog me pa dang
Lag thil tar nyam bäiduryäi
Rang zhin jam por nä gyur chig
Everywhere may the ground be pure,
Free of the roughness of pebbles and so forth
May it be in the nature of lapis lazuli
And as smooth as the palm of one’s hand
That is the blessing of the ground, the place where you are meditating. Then there follows another verse to bless the offerings:
Lha dang mi yi chhö päi dzä
Ngö su sham dang yi kyi trül
Kün zang chhö trin la na me
Nam khäi kham kün khyab gyur chig
May human and divine offerings
Actually arranged and mentally created
Clouds of finest Samantabhadra offerings
Fill the entirety of space
There are two purposes of meditation. One is to purify all obstacles and interferences; the other is to grow and develop all the inner qualities. Blessing of the environment—preparing the pure ground, or place, for your meditation—symbolizes purification of the obstacles, all inner roughness. Making infinite offerings to the buddhas symbolizes infinite development of all inner qualities and richnesses.
Now, the actual visualization of this guru yoga will be explained according to this illustration. If you can find such a picture it will be beneficial. The place above Lama Tsongkhapa is the Tushita abode, the abode of Buddha Maitreya. The actuality of this abode is beyond painting or drawing, but to symbolize this actuality we see some radiance, clouds and things like that around the palace. The Tushita pure land is not dependent on the light of the sun or moon. It does not have to be illuminated by some other astrological body; it is illuminated by the radiance of the beings that live there.
The central figure in Tushita is Buddha Maitreya. He is shown demonstrating the Dharmachakra mudra, the gesture of turning the wheel of Dharma. He is not sitting cross legged but on a chair. The significance of this special position is that it shows that he is prepared to get up soon—he is not fully relaxed, settled or firmly seated; he is just about to get up and come into this world as the successor of Buddha Shakyamuni. Showing the Dharmachakra mudra means that he is constantly turning the wheel of Dharma for the benefit of sentient beings, now and also after life in this world.
There are also some other smaller figures to each side of Maitreya Buddha: Atisha and Lama Tsongkhapa’s Nyingma lama, Lhodrag Namkha Gyeltsen. These are the chief disciples and there is also a great assembly of bodhisattvas and many other beings surrounding Buddha Maitreya, receiving Mahayana teachings from him.
After taking refuge, generating bodhicitta, purifying the place, blessing the offerings and so forth, we begin the actual guru yoga by inviting Lama Tsongkhapa from the heart of Buddha Maitreya.
Gan dän lha gyäi gön gyi thug ka nä
Rab kar zho sar pung träi chhu dzin tser
Chhö kyi gyäl po kün khyen lo zang drag
Sä d’ang chä pa nä dir sheg su söl
You who emanate from the heart of the savior of the hundred devas’ Joyful Realm
On the peak of a cloud (water holder) resembling clumps of extremely fresh white curd
The king of Dharma, omniscience Losang Dragpa, with your sons:
I request you to come to this place
This is the invitation. Ganden is Tushita in Tibetan and lha gyä literally means the hundred devas of Tushita, “hundred” being not literal but meaning very many buddhas and bodhisattvas. Gön means lord, or savior. So, the one who is the lord of the hundred devas of Tushita is Maitreya Buddha, who is lord not in the sense of a worldly lord leading a country but in the sense of being the spiritual master, leader or guide of all those beings.
When we meditate here, it’s not that we are inviting Lama Tsongkhapa with strong devotion but up there, Buddha Maitreya and the others are paying no attention to us and just keeping themselves busy with whatever they’re doing. It’s not like that. The way we should meditate is that they are all paying full attention to us, completely involved with what we’re doing. All the bodhisattvas, and Buddha Maitreya in particular, are looking directly down at us with radiant smiles, with much affection and love, looking at us, ready to help.
Thug ka nä means from the heart. This is where Lama Tsongkhapa comes out from. First a pure white radiant cloud, which is in the nature of compassion, emanates from Buddha Maitreya’s heart, or holy mind—the love that Buddha Maitreya has for the sentient beings of this world. It is not just an ordinary cloud but one with deep meaning, symbolizing the purity and perfection of his great compassion. It should be as white and radiant as possible and very thick, like a heap of fresh, white curd. The thickness of the cloud symbolizes Buddha Maitreya’s strong love and compassion for sentient beings. It springs out and rolls down and remains there in front of us. If you meditate and practice seriously, you sit quietly in your room, read the words slowly, then visualize as clearly as possible with all your effort. The cloud rolls down and stops in front of you. At its end there is a large heap of cloud. This is like preparing the way and the seat.
In front of you there are three big heaps of clouds. On the central cluster is a golden throne decorated with precious stones. To each side of it there is a lower, smaller throne. The golden throne is supported by eight lions and on it are a lotus and a moon disk. Then, after visualizing this cloud, when we recite the last two lines of this verse, Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief disciples, or spiritual sons—Gyältsab Rinpoche and Khädrub Rinpoche—emanate from the heart of Buddha Maitreya. Lama Tsongkhapa is an emanation of the wisdom of all the buddhas; Gyältsab Rinpoche is an emanation of the compassion of Maitreya; and Khädrub Rinpoche is an emanation of the power of Maitreya. These three, master and spiritual sons, come down on the white cloud. They spring forth instantly and come down effortlessly, without any difficulty, like being completely tired after a long journey with heavy luggage on their backs; not like that. They come down instantly, suddenly; spontaneously. Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief spiritual sons are one in nature, but when the compassion of Lama Tsongkhapa takes form it is on his right side as Gyältsab Rinpoche and when his power takes form it is on his left side as Khädrub Rinpoche. But all three are one in nature. Therefore, when we practice this kind of guru yoga it helps us accomplish all three attributes of the Buddha: wisdom, power and compassion.
Lama Tsongkhapa is called the king of Dharma not because he is some great monarch who rules over many subjects but because he is an emanation of the wisdom of all the buddhas. Fully accomplished wisdom is that which rules over all of Dharma. Therefore, Lama Tsongkhapa is called the king of Dharma. It is similar when he is called omniscient. In Tibetan, kün khyen means one who knows all—because Lama Tsongkhapa is an emanation of the wisdom of all buddhas, he is omniscient. Nothing is hidden from the Buddha mind. Losang Dragpa (Skt: Sumati Kirti) is his human name, his Dharma name as a human being. So, we are requesting the assembly of all three, master and spiritual sons, to come down and remain in front of us.
The actual way to accomplish wisdom, the method to employ, comes at the end of this guru yoga, where the guru mantra of Lama Tsongkhapa is recited.
Requesting to have a stable life
This second verse is the request to always remain in front of us.
Dün gyi nam khar seng thri pä däi teng
Je tsün la ma gye päi dzum kar chän
Dag lo dä päi sö nam zhing chhog tu
Tän pa gyä chhir käl gyar zhug su söl
In the sky before me, on a lion throne, lotus and moon disk,
The jetsun 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.
Dün gyi nam khar means in the sky, or space, in front of us—about two meters; not too high, not too low, but about the level of our forehead. At that spot there is the heap of cloud, which is in three parts, as explained before. On the center one is the golden throne with lotus and moon disk. On top of that sits Lama Tsongkhapa. On each side of the main throne are two smaller golden ones, also with lotus and moon disks, on which are seated the two chief disciples.
These golden thrones are supported by lions. Actually, they are lions in appearance, but in nature they have the quality of the enlightened mind. Among animals, the lion is king; the victorious one who is not afraid of any other animal. The throne of the lama is supported by four lions, which symbolize the four great qualities of the buddha mind called the four fearlessnesses.
On each golden throne supported by four lions is first a lotus disk, or seat, whose nature is Lama Tsongkhapa’s fully accomplished renunciation. On top of that is a moon disk, or seat, whose nature is Lama Tsongkhapa’s fully accomplished bodhicitta. On top of that sits Lama Tsongkhapa, who himself is in the nature of wisdom, the fully accomplished right view of shunyata. Thus, these three—lotus, moon and lama—symbolize the three principal aspects of the path.
The words in this practice are very simple and easy to read but have extremely profound meanings. Just the words je-tsün lama are highly significant. Je signifies the path in common with the small scope; tsün signifies the path in common with the medium scope; lama signifies the path of high scope. Lama Tsongkhapa, by practicing all these three stages of the path and gradually accomplishing them, finally accomplished the state of buddhahood.
Gye päi dzum kar chän means smiles radiantly with delight, with a radiant delightful smile, which means that Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief disciples, the three lamas, are looking down on us, not in an unhappy or displeased way but in a radiantly smiling way full of compassion, love and affection. The way the lamas look at us delightedly rather than unhappily is an auspicious preparation for our always being able to please our lamas and never disappoint them and have a close relationship with them.
Dag lo dä päi means the faith and devotion of our mind; expressing the strong faith in and devotion to our lama in our mind. Out of strong devotion we want to accumulate great merit in connection with our lama. The supreme field for accumulating merit out of devotion is the lama, therefore, we request Lama Tsongkhapa to always remain so that we can create merit in the highest possible way.
Tän pa gyä chhir käl gyar zhug su söl. Apart from acting as the supreme field for accumulating merit out of devotion, there’s another reason for asking the lama to abide, which is for the dissemination, or flourishing, of the Dharma in the ten directions. For that purpose we also request you, the jetsun lama, to remain for a hundred eons (Skt: kalpa).
Since the flourishing of the Dharma and the happiness of sentient beings is the supreme request, there is no request superior to it, therefore, in this particular practice, it is placed here first. Generally in the seven limb puja, the request for the long life of the lama or the buddhas is the sixth of the seven limbs. But here, because it is such an important request, it is explained first of all.
As I explained before, the most important object—the Triple Lama—is visualized front and center, but also, all of space surrounding the lamas is filled with clouds of offerings, as we visualized at the beginning. So, when meditating on this, we visualize in space many offering deities—many offering gods and goddesses holding various offering objects—on the clouds to either side and above the three lamas.
She jäi khyön kün jäl wäi lo drö thug
Käl zang na wäi gyän gyur leg shä sung
Drag päi päl gyi lham mer dze päi ku
Thong thö drän pä dön dän la chhag tshäl
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.
Next, following the usual order of the seven limb puja, which here we are offering to Lama Tsongkhapa, comes the limb of prostration. We prostrate to the lama by expressing the qualities of his body, speech and mind. Usually when we prostrate to and praise the body, speech and mind of the Buddha, we do it in that order—body, speech and mind—but in this guru yoga, mind comes first, then speech, then body.
We start with mind instead of body because in essence, Lama Tsongkhapa is, in nature, the wisdom of the Buddha; wisdom is the essential aspect of the enlightened mind. Therefore, instead of body, we first praise the buddha mind, the mental quality of the Buddha, of the lama. She jäi khyön kün means the entire extent of knowable objects, everything that exists; jäl wäi means to realize or cognize. So the entire extent of knowable phenomena is realized or cognized by what power? It is realized by the power of the buddha mind, the omniscient mind of the lama.
The second line of this verse praises the qualities of Lama Tsongkhapa’s holy speech. Käl zang na wäi means the ear of the fortunate ones, those who have received the opportunity to practice Dharma in general and the Mahayana in particular. People who have the great fortune of following and practicing the Mahayana Dharma are the most fortunate ones. This ear ornament, gyän gyur, is not an ornament like the earrings Indian women wear. The true ear ornament of the fortunate is not material but is the eloquent speech, leg shä sung, the teaching of the Buddha that is well explained, vast and profound. This is the true ear ornament of the fortunate.
When the fortunate ones, those who practice the Mahayana Dharma, hear a teaching of the vast and profound Buddhadharma, it pleases their ear sense. Therefore, it is called an ear ornament. If that’s true for the Mahayana in general, what need is there to specify the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa? They are unbelievably deep, profound, vast and clear; not indecisive, but extremely decisive and definite. They dig the depths of the Buddha’s teachings and make them clear. In Tibet, the Dharma masters used to say that if you’re undecided about the meaning of a teaching, look to the teachings of Je Tsongkhapa, because they are so decisive.
The next line praises the qualities of Lama Tsongkhapa’s holy body. Because of his omniscient mind and eloquent speech, as explained before, he became extremely famous in the Land of Snows, Tibet, for the glory of his being. Everybody praised him.
Since Lama Tsongkhapa came along later, he did not go to India to receive teachings from the Indian masters, but there’s not a single part of all hundred volumes of teachings of the Buddha in the Kangyur that Lama Tsongkhapa didn’t study and learn. There’s no way to explain in just a few words Lama Tsongkhapa’s qualities. If you are interested you can read his extensive biography, which explains in his life in great detail.
Not only was Lama Tsongkhapa extremely learned in all the texts but he was also highly realized, having gained many great inner experiences through the practice of tantra. If you are really interested, you can read another biography called In Praise of the Sacred Life: the Story of Lama Tsongkhapa, which makes all this very clear. If you can receive teachings on that text it will be evident. What I am giving here is just a very simple introduction. If you want to know these things more deeply, you’ll need to receive teachings particularly on his life.
So, drag päi päl means the glory of fame and lham mer dze päi ku means resplendent form, or that merely his appearance is very powerful and glorious. Just by his appearance he overshadows or overpowers all those who see the manifestation of his form. This power of his appearance is not external power; it is inner power. Through his inner realizations, his inner power, his appearance becomes so powerful to sentient beings that it completely releases them from their life sufferings.
His power not being external means that he has no high rank, social status or external superiority. As you probably know, Lama Tsongkhapa was born in Amdo in East Tibet in a poor family. In the same way that many students came from far eastern Tibet in those days—begging for food along the way and carrying their bedding and other small things on their back on a bamboo frame—Lama Tsongkhapa himself also traveled alone to Lhasa, in central Tibet. It took him about six or seven months. Once there, he met many great masters and not only put great effort into studying all the teachings of the Buddha, but he also meditated on them, realized their profound meaning, and became so glorious that he became like the sun, completely illuminating the whole of Tibet with the light of Dharma. There are many other things like this that could be explained, but we don’t have enough time to go into them now.
The fourth line of this verse tells us that because Lama Tsongkhapa is endowed with such a body, speech and mind, to see his physical manifestation, to hear his name or about his life or to listen to his teachings, and to remember him from our mind becomes beneficial, worthwhile and very fruitful for us. Of course we have to prostrate to the lamas, but first we should know the reason for doing so. If we don’t know why we are prostrating, then even if we do bow down, it won’t become particularly beneficial or be sensible to do so. When we bow down to someone, we need to know the qualities of the object of prostration to make it meaningful. Therefore, this brief explanation of Lama Tsongkhapa’s body, speech and mind are explained. The purpose of prostration is to express our respect and to accumulate merit; this is enhanced by knowing the details of the life and qualities of the object of prostration. Prostration is also an antidote to pride.
After prostration, the next limb is offering. The material offerings you are making should already have been placed on your altar before beginning the puja. The offering limb comes in these lines:
Yi wong chhö yön na tshog me tog dang
Dri zhim dug pö nang säl dri chhab sog
Ngo sham yi trül chhö trin gya tsho di
Sö nam zhing chhog khyö la chhö par bül
Beautiful drinking water, various 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.
Yi wong means pleasing. That means the offerings should be pure, clean and good in appearance. Making an offering that doesn’t even please ourselves is not at all good for the accumulation of merit. Yi wong chhö yön actually means pleasing water offerings, but it doesn’t have to be only water. We can also offer tea, milk, yogurt or any other kind of liquid. However, in this practice it is not right to offer wine, beer, spirits and so forth because Lama Tsongkhapa was a bhikshu. Na tshog me tog means various flowers, many, many different kinds of flowers, some as individual stems, some as garlands and some as flowers for house decoration. There are many different ways to offer flowers. If we can get actual flowers we should offer them by placing them at the front of the altar, but if we can’t, we still have the right to offer all the flowers growing wild in fields and on mountains and cultivated flowers in people’s gardens and in the park. You can offer all these beautiful flowers mentally and make an immense offering of them to the lamas.
The next line talks about offering incense and so forth. We should offer incense that smells good, but the fragrant incense and scented water we offer should be natural and pure, like from sandalwood and flowers, not chemical perfumes and powders or the smell of soap or anything like that. If such natural fragrances are not available we can create them in our mind. Visualize that all of space, the whole environment, is filled with the fragrance of flowers, sandalwood and so forth. Dri zhim dug pö is fragrant incense and nang säl is light.
The light we offer is not only that of butter lamps, candles and so forth—whatever’s on your altar—but also the light of the sun and the moon. You can even offer the electric lights of cities and so forth. Basically, we offer whatever helps illuminate darkness. In the West, big parks, for example, are very beautiful at night, with all their light displays. All these beautiful appearances we take not for ourselves, for our own pleasure, but in order to make an offering of them to the lama. Take it mentally and, in this case, offer it to please Lama Tsongkhapa.
Dri chhab is scented water. This scented water is also natural: sandalwood water, rose water, saffron water and so forth. It is not artificial perfume. If we have this kind of natural scented water we put it in a cup or bowl and offer it. Although it is meant for the body of the lama, we don’t pour it onto the pictures or statues because it might damage them. Sog means and so forth or the like. Here, sog includes the food offerings, the music offerings, and all the other offerings, such as garments etc. These are explained in detail in the offering part of the Bodhicaryavatara.
In the next line, ngö sham means actually arranged, or performed, and refers to those few offerings that we have put on the altar. But we have to offer much more than that. Thus we have yi trül, which means manifested from or created by the mind, a huge collection of offerings that fills all of space. All these vast clouds (chhö trin) of offerings are like an ocean (gya tsho)—in other words, very many.
The last line of this verse refers to the fact that in order to attain buddhahood we need to accumulate vast stores of merit and the best means of doing this is with our guru, our lama; here, Lama Tsongkhapa who is, in essence, our own root guru. There is nothing superior to this, therefore he is referred to as the supreme field of merit, sö nam shing chhog. For example, by sowing grape seeds in a field we obtain a great crop of grapes. Similarly, by accumulating merit in relation to the supreme field of the guru, we obtain the greatest of all results, the supreme fruit of buddhahood. In this way, the lama is also a field that yields fruit, but the fruit we obtain is the supreme fruit, the ultimate goal, therefore the lama is referred to as the supreme field, very different from an ordinary, worldly field.
The next verse is the limb of confession. Here we confess all our downfalls, all the non-virtuous actions that we have accumulated, in front of Lama Tsongkhapa. This comes in these lines:
Gang zhig thog me dü nä sag pa yi
Lü ngag yi kyi mi ge chi gyi dang
Khyä par dom pa sum gyi mi thün chhog
Nying nä gyö pä drag pö so sor shag
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.
The first line is different in some texts, where it is dag gi thog me instead of gang zhig thog me but it means more or less the same thing. Dag gi is actually clearer than gang zhig. Gang zhig refers to the actual downfall itself whereas dag gi means “by me,” the one who actually accumulated these downfalls.
There can be another difference in some texts, where it says lü ngag yi sum, which means “by the three doors of body, speech and mind,” instead of lü ngag yi kyi, which means simply “by body, speech and mind.” It can be either way; it doesn’t really matter.
Thog me dü nä means from beginningless time. All the non-virtuous actions that we have accumulated in the past up to now, from time immemorial up to this moment, all that we have done in the past…this is what it means. What we have accumulated from time immemorial are so many non-virtuous actions—killing and so forth—by body. We have also accumulated countless non-virtuous actions of speech, such as lying. And by mind, we have created even more. To be very precise, we can say that almost every thought we have had has been non-virtuous. That is how much non-virtue we have accumulated through our mind.
We don’t remember most of the non-virtuous actions that we have accumulated in this life, but we should at least be able to remember the gross ones, the most important ones. But while we can be fairly sure of the major negativities we have created in this life, we might have some doubt about the non-virtues that we have accumulated in our past lives. However, we can see that we have a natural tendency to accumulate non-virtuous actions—nobody has to teach us and we don’t have to make any effort to learn them. Very naturally and spontaneously we accumulate many non-virtuous actions. This inherent tendency to create non-virtuous actions in this life is the fruit of past non-virtues, a clear sign of the great acquaintance we developed with non-virtuous actions in past lives.
For example, when actors or dancers they develop acquaintance with their parts and moves they become so accustomed to what they’re doing that their performances become very natural and spontaneous. They don’t have to think about what they’re doing at all. Every movement of their body, every song, comes without effort. Simultaneously, our present spontaneous tendency to create non-virtuous actions is the best proof of the existence of past lives and the accumulation of non-virtuous actions in those lives as well.
The next line says, “And especially, actions opposite to the three vows.” In other words, in addition to all the non-virtuous actions that we have accumulated in general, we also have some extra ones that we have accumulated in connection with the various vows we have taken. Most of us have taken all different kinds of pratimoksha vows: upasaka/upasika,shramanera/shramanerika and bhikshu/bhikshuni vows. In addition to those, many of us have also taken tantric initiations in which we have received bodhisattva and tantric vows. Anyway, each of us should know what vows we have taken. However, more—far more—than the number of vows we have taken, are the transgressions of those vows that we have accumulated; so many that they completely pour over us like monsoon rain. If we look at our daily life very precisely—for example, if we look honestly at what we have done from this morning up to this moment—we’ll find that even in this very short period we have already accumulated many transgressions of our pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric vows.
The final line of this verse reads, “From the bottom of my heart, I regret and fervently confess them all individually.” Nying nä means from the heart. Gyö pä drag pö means with very strong repentance. This means that simply uttering a few words while feeling nothing in our heart is not confession; this does not help us purify our non-virtuous actions. We need to confess non-virtuous actions with strong repentance from the depths of our heart. So sor shag has two different meanings: one is the confession of each negative action individually, one by one; the other is to confess again and again. So sor can be interpreted either way; however, interpreting it as again and again is deeper, more beneficial. It is not enough for us to confess our non-virtuous actions just once. We need to remember and confess them again and again.
Nyig mäi dü dir mang thö drub la tsön
Chhö gyä pang pä däl jor dön yö je
Gön po khyö kyi lab chhen dzä pa la
Dag chag sam pa thag pä yi rang ngo
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 dharmas.
In the savior’s extensive deeds I rejoice sincerely from the depths of my heart.
This is a time of degeneration of the Dharma. The great bodhisattvas and others who practice bodhicitta purposely take birth among sentient beings in such degenerate periods in order to help when it is really needed. The time of Lama Tsongkhapa’s birth was also during this period of the five degenerations, when
1. Beings’ lives are short;
2. There is much fighting and trouble among sentient beings;
3. Delusions are very strong and manifest grossly;
4. Wrong views about Dharma, karma and so forth abound among sentient beings; and
5. All energy, possessions and material power are deteriorating.
So, Lama Tsongkhapa appeared at a time when these five signs were flourishing. He was greatly learned and knew all the texts from India as well as their Tibetan commentaries. He had studied all Nyingma, Kagyü, Kadam and Sakya lineages and received all the practices and teachings of the different traditions. It is very beneficial to study his life.
Mang thö means he had much learning and drub la tsön means he made a great effort to practice. Lama Manjushri appeared to Lama Tsongkhapa and urged him to meditate, so he went directly to meditate as soon as possible. Some people may think that because Lama Tsongkhapa was a great guru and a famous master that he was of high rank and had many luxuries and things like that, but that’s not at all how it was. He didn’t lead that kind of life.
When he and his eight chief disciples left for meditation they went as hermits, without any belongings or possessions. Before they left for retreat Lama Tsongkhapa and his disciples collected everything that they had except their robes and monk’s bowls and sold them to use whatever money they got for offerings. Even so, they had very little money, just a few Tibetan tsang, which is like a few rupees. So, they made offerings by selling their possessions, then left completely for meditation.
First they put much energy into their preliminary practices, living on the mountain, each of them in a different cave. Lama Tsongkhapa himself put great effort into his preliminary practices because they are the foundation of all spiritual development. For example, he made so many mandala offerings using a flat piece of stone as a mandala base that his arm became so calloused that it was almost like a horn. Lama Tsongkhapa and his disciples sacrificed all worldly pleasures such as good food and so forth to live a very simple, meditative life. Some of them even fasted, living on just a few juniper seeds a day. They meditated with great effort for many years until each accomplished the goal of his meditation. Some accomplished the different tantric deities and received direct instructions from them, direct visions and so forth. Many of these deeds are in Lama Tsongkhapa’s great life story, but many are in the secret, tantric, life story of Lama Tsongkhapa, which is a separate text. It is not very long, so it would be excellent if you were to receive teachings on that. So that is the meaning of the line, “In this time of the five degenerations, you strove for many listenings and realizations.”
The next two lines say, “And made meaningful the perfect human rebirth by renouncing the eight worldly concerns.” Chhö gyä means eight dharmas; in other words, the eight worldly dharmas.
The first of these eight worldly dharmas is yearning for the pleasure and happiness of this life only. The second is yearning for praise. When someone praises us we enjoy it very much, so we’re always craving praise from others. The third is yearning for favorable speech, words. We are always seeking for something good, something nice and sweet to hear. The fourth worldly dharma is yearning for material gain in this lifetime—food, clothing, money and so forth.
The fifth worldly dharma is aversion to the suffering of this lifetime. The sixth is aversion to criticism and blame. The seventh is aversion to hearing unpleasant things, the opposite of yearning for pleasant words; a dislike of unpleasant words. And finally, the eighth worldly dharma is aversion to not getting material things.
Thus you can see that in the eight worldly dharmas there are four that we always seek out and four that we always wish to be separated from. They are called worldly dharmas because they are the principles of worldly people, those who do not practice Dharma at all or who do not practice it purely, beings whose whole lives are completely spent and sacrificed for gaining the first four and abandoning the second four. We are completely deceived by these eight worldly principles. They take us away from the true practice of Dharma. Not only do they interfere with our practice of Dharma but they also cause us much trouble and suffering.
All the fighting, death and other sufferings in the life of a worldly person are because of these eight worldly dharmas. From a quarrel between two or four people up to a war between great nations, all is for the purpose of the eight worldly dharmas. Although these eight worldly dharmas interfere with our practice of Dharma and cause us much trouble and suffering, if they didn’t always force us to accumulate non-virtuous actions, they might not be so bad, but the fact is that all the non-virtuous actions that we accumulate individually or in common, from childhood all the way through our entire life, are all incurred through our pursuit of the eight worldly dharmas.
Therefore, these eight worldly dharmas that give us so much trouble are completely unworthy of the attachment we have for them. They are deeply wrong for us to be involved in. But out of ignorance, we worldly beings, not knowing this, get purposely, voluntarily and completely involved in them. True practitioners of Dharma totally renounce the eight worldly dharmas and practice everything that is their opposite. All the great gurus of the past, such as Jetsun Milarepa and Lama Tsongkhapa, renounced the eight worldly dharmas, fought against them with all their might and gained victory over them.
Lama Tsongkhapa said, “Even from childhood I had a spontaneous tendency to be afraid whenever somebody offered me something or prepared a high seat for me, because I realized that all worldly gains are deeply impermanent.” So, chhö gyä pang pä means by renouncing the eight worldly dharmas. Däl jor dön yö je means making this perfect human rebirth meaningful and worthwhile: by renouncing the eight worldly dharmas he made the precious human life that he had obtained worthwhile and fruitful. Lama Tsongkhapa never wasted even a second of his precious life.
The next two lines read, “In the savior’s extensive deeds I rejoice sincerely from the depths of my heart.” Gön po khyö kyi means you, the savior. Lab chhen dzä pa la means in the great wave of your deeds, the vast and profound deeds of Lama Tsongkhapa, I rejoice from the depths of my heart.
Dag chag means I or we; sam pa thag pä means from the depths of our thought or mind; yi rang ngo means rejoice. All together, it means that we rejoice in the great, extensive deeds of Lama Tsongkhapa, not just paying lip service to them but we rejoice from the depths of our heart, from deep within our mind.
Rejoicing is the supreme practice for accumulating merit. Rejoicing counteracts all delusions in general but it is the direct antidote of jealousy in particular. Jealousy toward the goodness and practice of other beings causes our merit and development to degenerate. Rejoicing in the goodness and precious deeds of other sentient beings doesn’t take much effort but accumulates vast amounts merit. In other words, they put much effort into practicing Dharma but simply by rejoicing in their practice, we can create much merit for ourselves.
Requesting to turn the wheel of Dharma
The next verse is a request for the turning of the wheel of the Dharma, a request for teachings.
Je tsün la ma dam pa khye nam kyi
Chhö küi kha la khyen tsei trin thrig nä
Ji tar tsham päi dül jäi dzin ma la
Zab gyä chhö kyi chhar pa bab tu söl
Please, holy jetsun 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.
Je tsün la ma means venerable lama. I explained the meaning of that in Verse 2. Dam pa means holy, or supreme; the supreme guru. Lama Tsongkhapa has given us all the methods and prerequisites that gradually lead us to the attainment of the ultimate goal of enlightenment. Therefore, he is the supreme lama. Khye nam kyi means by you.
The next line says that all of space of dharmakaya is filled with the clouds of wisdom and love. Chhö ku means dharmakaya; kha la means space. Because Lama Tsongkhapa is a buddha, his mind is in the nature of the dharmakaya; his mind resembles space, infinite space. Gathering in this space of Lama Tsongkhapa’s dharmakaya mind are clouds of wisdom and compassion, from which falls rain. Khyen means wisdom; tsei means love and bodhicitta—the method side qualities of mind. Trin thrig nä means by gathering the clouds.
The next lines say, “Make rainfalls of profound and extensive teachings of whatever is suitable for the ears of sentient beings who are the objects to be subdued.”
Ji tar tsham päi means fittingly, or whatever is suitable. We are requesting the lama to turn the wheel of Dharma, to give teachings in a way that fits, or suits, the capacity of the sentient beings. This has a deep meaning. For example, a wise doctor gives medicine to different patients according to the strength of their body. A doctor does not prescribe strong medicine for a person who is very weak because the patient’s body cannot support it; therefore the doctor prescribes a milder medicine; for patients with stronger bodies the doctor prescribes stronger remedies. Like this, in a fitting way, the doctor writes the prescription. A doctor just thinking, “I have this really strong medicine,” and then immediately prescribing it without thinking about the capacity of the patient, may do more harm than good.
It is the same for patients as well. They should take the medicine that suits their body; they can’t just go out and buy the strongest medicine there is without taking into account the strength of their body. Therefore, in the same way, we request the lama to teach the Dharma according to our capacity, for the benefit of all sentient beings. If a lama gives a student of small capacity a very high and powerful practice, it might harm rather than help the student. Dül ja means disciple, the object to be subdued; dzin ma is another Tibetan word for earth, or ground—dül ja dzin ma la means on the field, or ground, of the disciples, the objects to be tamed. Zab means profound; gyä, vast, extensive; chhö kyi, of Dharma; chhar pa, rain; bab tu söl, let pour down. Thus, we are requesting the lama to let pour down the rain of profound and extensive Dharma fittingly on the ground of the disciples.
As I mentioned before, generally in the seven limb puja, the request for the long life of the lama or the buddhas is the sixth of the seven limbs, so normally it would come at this point, but in this practice, because it is such an important request, it is explained at the beginning.
Therefore, the next limb is that of dedication.
Dag gi ji nye sag päi ge wa di
Tän dang dro wa kün la gang phän dang
Khyä par je tsün lo zang drag pa yi
Tän päi nying po ring du säl je shog
I dedicate whatever virtues I have collected,
For the benefit of the teachings and of all sentient beings,
And in particular, for the essential teachings
Of venerable Losang Dragpa to shine forever.
We dedicate all the merits that we have accumulated since beginningless time up to now for two great purposes. One is for the benefit for the doctrine, the teaching; for the flourishing and stability of the Dharma. The other great purpose is for the benefit of all sentient beings. Then, in particular, since this is a guru yoga practice in connection with Lama Tsongkhapa, we dedicate all our merit for the flourishing and stability of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, the essence of which is the three principal aspects of the path: renunciation, bodhicitta, and the realization of shunyata. The essence of the teaching of Lama Tsongkhapa is these three principles of the path and the practice of tantra as well. We dedicate our merit for all that to flourish forever.
Actually, there isn’t any separate, independent doctrine or tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa. In reality, the tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa is the Kadam tradition, which was founded by Lama Atisha. But then we have this term “Gelug,” which makes it even worse. It is not only pronounced incorrectly but it’s also spelt wrong. It should be Ga, not Ge, because Lama Tsongkhapa founded the first monastery, the great monastery on the mountain, Gadän Monastery. Once Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition became established, people started calling it the Gadän lug, Galug for short; lug means tradition. So, Galug means tradition of Gadän.
Now that we have invited Lama Tsongkhapa from the heart of Buddha Maitreya, requested him to remain in front of us as a field of merit and to this field of merit have made all the offerings, including the seven-limb puja, from prostration to dedication, we offer a mandala.
[Here offer a long or a short mandala.]
Recitation of the guru mantra
After the mandala offering comes the recitation of the lama mantra and the practice for accomplishing the three attributes of the Buddha in general and the wisdom attribute in particular.
There are many different kinds of wisdom. First we need great wisdom. But it is not enough simply to have great wisdom; we also need illuminating wisdom, a wisdom that is very clear. But neither are great wisdom and clear wisdom enough; we also need quick wisdom; wisdom that is very fast without taking time. Neither is it enough to have great, clear and quick wisdom; we also need profound wisdom, which can dig deeply into our practice. Superficial wisdom is not of much benefit or use; it understands and realizes only that which is on the surface. It cannot plumb the depths.
Thus, there are four wisdoms, and we can accomplish them all through the practice of the guru yoga of Lama Tsongkhapa. In order to do so we must first rid ourselves of interferences to the development of wisdom; we must purify all our impurities. Therefore, before reciting the lama mantra, we make a specific request:
De tar shug drag söl wa tab päi thu
Je tsün yab sä sum gyi thug ka nä
Ö zer kar po bug chän thrö päi ne
Chig tu dre nä rang gi chi wor zug
Thus by the force of strong request,
From the hearts of the venerable father and sons,
Hollow rays of white light emanate,
Combine into one and absorb into the crown of my head.
This verse means that through our having made the offering of practice and a mandala to Lama Tsongkhapa and by the force of our request made with strong devotion to Lama Tsongkhapa and his two main disciples, three hollow white beams of light, like tubes, emanate from their hearts, combine into one, enter the crown of our head and absorb into us.
Bug chän means hollow, like a tube; chig tu dre nä means combined into one; rang gi chi wor zug means absorb into the crown of my head.
Three light rays emanate from the heart of Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief disciples. The central one comes from Lama Tsongkhapa, one from Gyältsab Rinpoche (to Lama Tsongkhapa’s right) and the other from Khädrub Rinpoche (to his left). You should remember this very precisely because in meditation you have to visualize all the details. The light rays that emanate from their hearts are radiant white in color. They are beams of light but hollow inside, like a tube; empty inside. One starts from the heart of each of the three lamas, but after a short distance they combine into one. The end of this single beam that is a combination of all three absorbs into the crown of your head.
So, when you meditate seriously, you have to make this visualization very precisely. Three radiant white light tubes start from the hearts of the three lamas, concentrate into one, and that very concentrated hollow beam of light absorbs into the crown of your head. Then:
Ö kar bu gäi jug ngog lä jung wäi
Dü tzi kar po o mäi dog chän gyi
Nä dön dig drib bag chhag ma lü pa
Trü nä rang lü dang säl shel tar gyur (or, shel tar dag par gyur)
Through the white light hollow beam of light flows
Radiant white nectar the color of milk.
All illnesses, spirit harms, defilements, obstacles and their imprints, without exception,
Are washed away and my body becomes as pure and clear as crystal.
Radiant white nectar, amrita, flows through the hollow tube of light that has emanated from the hearts of the three lamas. This ambrosia is much more radiant than milk and absolutely white in color. Although in appearance it is like a liquid, it is in nature the buddha mind. It starts flowing down the three tubes of light, which then combine into one—like three rivers that come from three different valleys and unite into one, which then becomes much more powerful—enters our head and flows down into our body.
When the amrita, whose nature is that of the buddha mind, comes into our body it completely washes away all interferences, illnesses—physical and mental—evil influences, downfalls, karmic obstacles, obstacles due to delusion and imprints; all gross, medium and subtle interferences are completely washed away.
Our body is completely rid of them, as it says in the last line of this verse, and our whole body becomes full of light and amrita and extremely radiant, like a light body, like light fills a bulb. Like that, our body becomes completely full of light and amrita, with no external or internal impurities left in it. But this light and amrita are not simply like ordinary water or some other liquid like that—in this light and amrita are tiny letters, tiny versions of the lama mantra, the syllables of the mantra and many different things mixed with and absorbed in it, which I will explain in detail.
If we practice this guru yoga purification very strongly it becomes exactly the same as practicing Vajrasattva meditation. The effect is exactly the same, sufficient for Vajrasattva purification. But when practicing this meditation—the light and amrita flowing down, entering us and purifying all our obstacles and filling our whole body—we should not do the visualization quickly but slowly, stage by stage.
During this time, we recite the lama mantra, this one-verse praise that is the lama mantra of Lama Tsongkhapa. We recite it again and again, all the while visualizing in our mind the entire process of purification. Therefore, if we practice this lama mantra, called the migtsema, correctly, with the right motivation and the proper visualization, it also fulfills many other practices, because it contains within it the profound meaning of many aspects of Dharma; many things are concentrated in these few words.
So, to summarize, we have reached the point of complete inner purification by the white light and nectar that emanates from the three hearts of the three lamas, which are combined into one. This light and nectar absorbs into the crown of our head and enters our body, purifying all our obstacles, external and internal. Our body is filled with light and amrita, then it becomes radiant and completely pure, inside and outside. At the end of the purification, our body becomes completely in the nature of light, like a light bulb which changes completely from the outside.
Our body is completely filled with amrita and light, and within this there are many syllables of the lama mantra. Those who can read Tibetan should visualize the syllables of the lama mantra, which are not as they are written, but are more in the nature of light. They are like light letters. When we say that our body is filled with syllables of the lama mantra, it is not like a bag filled with grain; rather, the syllables fill our body like rain in a fog. With this visualization in our mind, recite at least one mala of the lama mantra. During this one mala, visualize this process of purification, with light coming down from the chests of the lamas, entering our body, purifying the obstacles and filling it with light and amrita, and the lama mantra syllables.
The one-verse lama mantra starts with this line:
Mig-me tze-wäi ter-ch’en chän-rä-zig
Avalokiteshvara who is great treasure of compassion without apprehension.
Chän-rä-zig is Avalokiteshvara. Mig-me means without apprehension, without grasping. This refers to shunyata nature, which is without inherent nature, or void of inherent nature. This shunyata nature is called mig-me. Mig means apprehend and me means without. Mig-me means no true inherent nature to apprehend.
Compassion without apprehension means compassion which is accompanied or supported by the wisdom realizing shunyata. Compassion which is supported by the realization of shunyata is much greater, more profound and powerful than ordinary compassion without the support of wisdom. Tze-wäi is compassion and ter-ch’en means great treasure. The great treasure of this compassion which is supported by the wisdom of all the buddhas is Avalokiteshvara. When the compassion of every buddha appears in the form of a deity, it is none other than Avalokiteshvara. In this prayer we are saying, “Lama Tsongkhapa, you are in the nature of Avalokiteshvara who is the great treasure of the compassion of all the buddhas.” Many scriptural sources and reasons have proven completely that Lama Tsongkhapa is the manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, but there is no need to explain this in detail now. Therefore, this practice of guru yoga will be sufficient for a person who wishes to develop compassion through the practice of Avalokiteshvara meditation.
The next line is:
Dri-me kyen-pä wang-po jam-päi-yang
Manjushri, the lord of wisdom without defilements
Dri-me is without defilement or impurity. Ky’en-pä is wisdom or comprehension, cognition. Dri-me is realizing everything in a pure sense without any mistake or wrong view. The wisdom of every buddha, without defilement or illusion, is the very nature of Manjushri. In other words, Manjushri is the very form of all the wisdom of every buddha. This means, “Lama Tsongkhapa, you are also the very Manjushri who is the lord of wisdom without defilement, the wisdom of every buddha.” As I explained in the beginning, although Lama Tsongkhapa appeared in human form as a spiritual master, in his ultimate nature he is Manjushri.
The next line is:
Dü-pung ma-lü jom-dzä sang-wäi-dag
Vajrapani who destroys the force of mara without exception.
When the power of all the buddhas appears in the form of a deity, it is Vajrapani. Dü-pung means the force of mara and refers not only to some fierce demons, but also includes both external and internal forces of mara. The external forces of mara are the evil forces and the internal mara is the real mara, which is the force of delusions and the imprints of delusions. This means, “Lama Tsongkhapa, you are also the very Vajrapani who is the destroyer of all evil forces.”
In short, Lama Tsongkhapa is the combined form of all three deities; Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani. In other words, Lama Tsongkhapa is the concentrated form of all three attributes of Buddha: compassion, wisdom and power. There are people who wish to practice meditation in connection with Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani and there are those who wish to develop compassion, wisdom and power. If we practice this guru yoga seriously, it will be sufficient. Through this guru yoga, we can accomplish all our goals together.
The fourth line is:
G’ang-chän khä-pä tsug-gyän tsong-kha-pa
Tsongkhapa who is the crown of the sages of the Land of Snows
Although there were countless masters in Tibet, when Lama Tsongkhapa appeared in the Land of Snows he became the crown of all the sages or masters in Tibet.
The next line is,
Lo-zang drag-päi zhab-la sol-wa-deb
I request to the feet of the Lama Lo-zang dr’ag-pa
Lo-zang drag-päi is Lama Tsongkhapa’s personal name. What are we requesting? We are requesting Lama Tsongkhapa to bestow upon us the blessing of the three attributes of Buddha, so that we will receive these three attributes within ourselves; so we will generate, grow and accomplish these three within ourselves. With this meaning in our mind and with the visualization as explained before, we practice the recitation of the lama prayer.
Thus, first we purify all the obstacles and interferences that are within us. After the purification, when all these obstacles and interferences are purified, we must begin the actual practice for the development of wisdom. There are three stages of wisdom. First, we must develop great wisdom. Previously there was radiant white light emanating from the chests of the three lamas, combining into one and absorbing into the crown of our head and purifying us. Now this light suddenly changes color. For the development of great wisdom, the color of the light suddenly changes into yellow. It is not absolutely yellow; it is more like orange. Actually, the amrita flowing in the light tube is this color, so by changing the color of the amrita, it also changes the color of the tube, the light itself. So, everything turns a light orange color.
There is a particular recitation that starts with:
Again the great wisdom comes in the form of orange amrita that fills our body. This means the great wisdom of all the buddhas is transformed into orange-colored amrita which emanates from the chest of Lama Tsongkhapa, comes down through our head and fills our body. If a bottle is filled with orange liquid, from outside and inside the color is completely changed to orange. In the same way, our body is filled with orange amrita. This is not exactly like filling a bottle with an orange water, because it is not only amrita liquid but also, as explained before, it is radiant, orange light. So from outside and inside we become completely in the form of orange light.
The atoms of amrita appear in the form of Manjushri. Here we visualize that the atoms of amrita are in the form of small Manjushris, so our body contains countless small forms of Manjushri. From these Manjushris in our body, light emanates and goes out in all ten directions. This invites and brings back to us the great wisdom of all the buddhas in the form of countless Manjushris in all sizes. They absorb into us through all parts of our body, like rain on a lake. It’s as if all the raindrops are completely absorbed into the lake. We must meditate strongly that we have received the power of the great wisdom of every buddha within us.
Light emanates and goes out to the ten directions. The great wisdom of the Victorious Ones and their sons comes in the form of the deity and fills our body.
With this visualization, the orange-colored amrita and light comes down from the chests of the lamas, then enters and fills our body. All the atoms of that amrita are in the form of countless Manjushris. From these Manjushris, light emanates and goes in the ten directions, inviting the great wisdom of every buddha in the form of countless, different-sized Manjushris. These completely absorb into us, thus we receive the power of the great wisdom of every buddha within us. With this visualization and meditation we make one mala of recitation of the lama mantra.
The next stage is the development of the clear wisdom of every buddha. For the development of clear wisdom, again we visualize the lama with light emanating from his chest and absorbing into us. It is the same colored flow of amrita as previously, but instead of the form of Lama Manjushri in the amrita, it is now the Manjushri mantra. All the atoms of the amrita are not in the form of the body of Manjushri; instead they are in the form of the mantra of Manjushri, OM AH RA PA TSA NA. So, all the atoms of the amrita are in the form of the mantra syllables, which are of very strong radiance. The light of even one syllable can completely illuminate the whole universe, it is so powerful. They are luminous syllables. Because this is for the development of clear wisdom, we should also visualize as clearly as possible that all the lights and everything else are radiant, clear and luminous. These syllables, as I explained before, are not like painted, drawn or written letters. They are all in the form of light letters, absolutely luminous. The light of all the mantra syllables emanates to the ten directions and the clear wisdom of all the buddhas is invited in the form of the letters OM AH RA PA TSA NA in countless numbers, and these absorb in us. So with meditation we recite the lama prayer again with another mala. That is the meaning of the following verse, which we recite before the second mala of the lama mantra.
This is the same prayer as the previous one for great wisdom, but there have been just a few changes. In the first line, it is now säl-wäi ky’en-rab, which means clear wisdom. The second line is exactly the same. In the third line, instead of Manjushri’s body, it is a-ra-pa-tza-näi. The fourth line is the same. Again the fifth line is changed to säl-wäi ky’en-rab, which means clear wisdom. The second line is exactly the same. In the third line, instead of Manjushri’s body, it is a-ra-pa-tza-näi. The fourth line is the same. Again in the fifth line, change to säl-wäi ky’en-rab, clear wisdom. In the last line, there is now zung-ngag, which means in the form of mantra. Having rejoiced in this verse, begin the lama mantra again and recite another mala, doing the visualization that has already been explained. When you have finished one mala of the lama mantra for the development of clear wisdom, then go to the next stage.
Now is the time for the development of speedy or quick wisdom. For that, again the visualizations are similar. The light and amrita are all as before, however, the atoms of amrita are not in the form of the deity’s body nor in the form of the mantra, AH RA PA TSA NA. They are all in the form of the essential syllable of Manjushri, DHI, which is the syllable of the mind of Manjushri. Therefore, for the development of clear wisdom, all the atoms of the amrita are visualized in the form of this seed syllable DHI. From outside, we can see everything very clearly. Our body becomes very radiant outside and inside. From the DHIs in our body, orange light emanates and goes out to the ten directions inviting the quick wisdom of all the buddhas in the form of countless DHI syllables, which absorb into us. Thus we receive within ourselves the quick wisdom of every buddha. With this meditation we practice another mala of the lama prayer after we have recited the following verse:
Again, this is the same verse with a few little changes. Now it is nyur-wäi ky’en-rab which means quick wisdom. The next change is to DHI-yig mar-ser gy’i which means the orange syllable DHI. Again, line five is changed to nyur-wäi ky’en-rab, the quick wisdom of the Victorious Ones and their sons. In the last line, sa-b’ön nam-par means in the form of the seed. After you have finished one mala for the development of clear wisdom, stop and recite this verse; then with this visualization, recite one mala of the lama mantra for the development of quick wisdom.
Still another wisdom is left—profound wisdom. For the development of this wisdom, the visualization is basically the same except the atoms of amrita are in the form of the sword and the scripture—the symbols in Manjushri’s hands. You don’t have to feel any discomfort from visualizing many swords in your body, because all these swords and scriptures are in the nature of light. As before, light emanates from the swords and scriptures and goes into the ten directions, inviting the profound wisdom of every buddha in the same form. A countless number of swords and scriptures absorbs into us; thus we receive the power of the profound wisdom of every buddha in the same form within us. We receive the blessing of the profound wisdom of every buddha, so that our wisdom can penetrate to the very depth of every object of analysis. With this visualization we practice the lama mantra and another mala, after reciting the following verse.
So, if we practice one mala for each, this makes five malas altogether. The first mala is for purification, then there is one mala for each of the four developments of wisdom. If we can practice more than that—hundreds of thousands and ten-thousands or hundred-thousands, it is even better.
The first change is to zab-päi ky’en-rab, which is profound wisdom. The next change, in line three, is to leg-b’am ral-dr’i-yi, which means scripture and sword. All the atoms of amrita are in the form of scriptures and swords. Again, line five changes to zab-päi ky’en-rab. Finally, line six starts with ch’ag-tsän which means the hand symbols. With this visualization, we recite one mala of the lama prayer.
Therefore, if we practice the guru yoga in this way, this practice will be sufficient for many other practices. After five malas of recitation of the lama mantra, if you have time and want to practice more of the lama mantras that is better. When we have finished the lama mantras, we conclude the visualization is with these lines:
Päl-dän tza-wäi la-ma rin-po-ch’e
The glorious precious Root Lama Dag-g’i ch’i-wor pä-däi teng-zhug-la
Remain on my head on the lotus and the moon disk. Kadr’in ch’en-päi go-nä je-zung-te
Hold me out of the great compassion, great kindness Ku-sung t’ug-kyi ngö-drub tzäl-d’u-söl
I request you to grant me the siddhi of body, speech, and mind.
We are requesting the lama to come down on our head, to remain on our head and bestow upon us the blessing of all the qualities of the body, speech and mind of the Buddha. In our visualization, first Gyältsab Rinpoche, who is on Lama Tsongkhapa’s right side, absorbs into him, then Khädrub Rinpoche, who is on his left side, also absorbs into him. From the bottom of the seat of the throne, gradually the golden throne is absorbed to Lama Tsongkhapa, then he comes down and remains on our head, facing the same direction as we are. At that time, Lama Tsongkhapa’s body must be visualized as so radiant and so beautiful on our head. We must visualize that Lama Tsongkhapa has completely accepted and promised to give us all the powers.
The next verse is similar to the preceding one:
Päl-dän tza-wäi la-ma rin-po-ch’e
The glorious precious Root Lama Dag-g’i nying-g’ar pä-möi teng-zhug-la
Remain on the lotus in my heart. Ka-dr’in ch’en-pöi go-nä je-zung-te
Hold me by your great compassion, great kindness J’ang-ch’ub nying-pöi b’ar-du tän-par-zhug
Remain steadily up to the essence of bodhi, buddhahood
We are requesting Lama Tsongkhapa to come down and remain in our heart always, steadily, until we reach buddhahood. So, Lama Tsongkhapa becomes smaller and smaller until he is the size of our thumb. When he is about that size, he enters through the crown of our head and slowly comes down to the lotus at the center of our heart and remains there.
There are much more elaborate forms of visualization but all these are not necessary at this time. This guru yoga and visualization can be so much more detailed, with many more things to visualize, but at the present time this might be too much. At this time, I am giving you a simple meditation especially for the development of the four wisdoms.
Now one short dedication is:
La-ma sang-gyä drub-gy’ur-na
Accomplish the state of Lama-Buddha
This refers to Lama Tsongkhapa who is the lama or spiritual master, and Buddha. He is both lama and Buddha in one. Through this practice we also accomplish this state of the Lama-Buddha, therefore this meditation is called guru yoga or Lama Näljor, or sometimes La Drub, which means to accomplish the lama.
By accomplishing this state of the Lama-Buddha, what is our purpose? That is the next line:
Dro-wa chig-gy’ang ma-lü-pa
All beings without exception D’e-yi-sa-la gö-par-shog
May I lead them to that state.
After we have accomplished the state of Lama-Buddha, then our task is to liberate all sentient beings from suffering and establish them in the state of buddhahood. That is the conclusion of the guru yoga. For those who especially want to practice seriously, if in the practice there are any questions, difficulties or doubts in the practice, or anything that is unclear, then you can come to me and I will solve the problem.
From the Introduction of Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey's short commentary on the Fifty Verses:
The Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion [Skt: Gurupancashika; Tib: Lama Nga-chu-pa] was written in about the first century B.C. by Ashvagosha. This Indian poet was known by many names—such as Aryashura, Matriceta, Patriceta, Matichitra, and Bhavideva—and was a contemporary of King Kaniska of the Kusan Dynasty. Having previously been a strong non-Buddhist believer, he became an extremely devout follower of the Buddha’s path and wrote many works on its various aspects.
Shakyamuni Buddha lived about four centuries before Ashvagosha. He taught sutras dealing with meditative practices for attaining liberation and enlightenment and, in the form of Buddha Vajradhara, tantras covering speedier but more dangerous methods for achieving this latter goal.
Success in following either the sutra or the tantra path to enlightenment depends solely upon your guru devotion, as Lord Buddha indicated in the Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapundarikasutra) and in the Kyedor Shägyü Dorje’i G’ur, an explanatory work to the Hevajra tantra, where he stated that in future times of degeneration he would take the form of gurus and therefore, at such times, gurus should be as respected as buddhas because they are their living representatives.
Guru devotion involves both thought and action. The most important thing is to develop the total conviction that your guru is a buddha—this is a prerequisite for receiving any insight. Whether you are aiming to attain liberation in order to benefit mainly yourself or reach the perfected state of a fully enlightened buddha in order to enlighten all others, your guru can show you the way only if he himself has already gained these achievements. If you doubt your guru’s competence and ability to guide you, your practices will be extremely unstable and you will be unable to make any concrete progress. You must have full confidence that it is possible to become enlightened, that your guru is living proof of this, and that by following the Buddha’s teachings as your guru instructs, you can achieve the same. Only then will it be possible for you to gain any real benefit from your practices.
Seeing only good qualities in your guru, therefore, is the way to develop these qualities yourself. Normally most people are blind to their own shortcomings, while the faults of others shine out clearly. But if you did not possess these same faults yourself, you would be unable to recognize them in others. If there are two pieces of fruit, one ripe and one rotten, and the person next to you takes the ripe one, it is only because of your own greed that you accuse him of being greedy and selfish. If you were unattached to the fruit, it would not matter to you which one he took—you would simply see him as having taken a piece of fruit.
Likewise, if you can train yourself to see only good qualities and never any faults in your guru, this positive outlook will come to pervade, amplify and reflect your own state of mind. As we all have buddha nature within us—the clear, uncontaminated state of pure mind established without any true independent existence—seeing our guru as a buddha gives us the possibility of activating and realizing our own buddha nature. Seeing only our guru’s faults merely reinforces our own shortcomings and negative attitudes; seeing only his perfection enables us to attain the perfection of buddhahood ourselves. Therefore, one of the main practices of guru yoga, particularly in tantra, is to realize the inseparability of our own mind with our guru, the buddhas and our meditation deity, which is a pure manifestation of the enlightened mind. Thus, guru devotion is the root of all attainments.
If your guru acts in a seemingly unenlightened manner and you feel it would be hypocritical to think him a buddha, you should remember that your own opinions are unreliable and the apparent faults you see may be simply a reflection of your own deluded state of mind. Also, you should think that if your guru acted in a completely perfect manner, he would be inaccessible and you would be unable to relate to him. It is therefore out of your guru’s great compassion that he may show apparent flaws. This is part of his skillful means in order for him to be able to teach you; he is mirroring your own faults. Therefore, check within and learn from him how to remove your shortcomings. If you are only intent on criticizing your guru, he will never be able to benefit you.
It was Buddha Vajradhara himself who said that your guru is to be seen as a buddha. Therefore, if you have faith and take refuge in the Buddhist teachings, you will try to understand what Vajradhara meant by this.
Buddhas exert a great positive influence on the world in the same way that the sun does. But just as a magnifying glass is needed to focus the rays of the sun in order for tinder to catch fire, so too is a guru required to focus the buddhas’ virtuous conduct into your mind-stream to inspire you to follow the path. Thus, as living examples representing the buddhas, gurus carry on the work of all the enlightened beings, acting as an accessible focal point for your practices so that you can gain buddhahood yourself.
Through devotion to your guru, showing him respect and making offerings, you accumulate the merit necessary to attain liberation from all suffering. Such service is done not to benefit your guru but for your own sake. When you plant seeds in a field, it is not to benefit the earth—you’re the one who harvests the crops. Therefore, with the proper devotional attitude towards your guru—seeing him as a buddha—the more positive energy you exert in his direction, the closer you come to buddhahood yourself. Likewise, if you hate your guru and generate negative energy towards him, you are deliberately distancing yourself from his enlightened state and freedom from pain. As a result you bring intense suffering upon yourself. Therefore, if you see faults in your guru and tend to belittle him, remember that your opinions are unreliable and that only unhappiness can result from despising the states of happiness he represents.
Remembering your guru’s kindness to teach you during this degenerate age after Shakyamuni Buddha has passed away, you must develop loving respect for him. He teaches you despite your delusions and does not force you to undergo the hardships that many disciples had to endure in the past. He gives you initiations and oral teachings and transmits the unbroken lineages that come from the Buddha himself. He inspires you to attain his state and helps you materially when you need it. Without loving respect for your guru you will never become enlightened; if you don’t respect the state of buddhahood he represents, how can you hope to attain it?
The various aspects of devoting yourself to your guru by means of thought have been taught extensively in such texts as the Gandavyuha Sutra and their scriptural references are detailed in Je Tsongkhapa’s Lam-rim Chen-mo.
Ashvagosha’s Fifty Verses is the most comprehensive summary of devoting yourself to your guru by means of action. Its scriptural sources are a wide range of tantric texts, including the Guhyasamaja, Kalachakra, Chakrasamvara, Vajradakini, and Vajrahridayalamkara tantras. The specific tantric sources for each verse are given in Lama Tsongkhapa’s Fulfillment of All Hopes, his commentary on this text.
As important as guru devotion is for practitioners of sutra, it is even more essential and more emphasized in the study and practice of tantra . This is because tantric techniques are extremely difficult and complicated. If practiced correctly, they can bring you buddhahood within your lifetime, but if not, they can be very dangerous and bring you extremely dire consequences. Therefore, the direct personal guidance of a guru is indispensable.
Since the Fifty Verses outlines specifically how disciples should act with their guru, it is customarily taught before a tantric initiation is given. Once a guru-disciple relationship has been established, disciples are taught guru devotion and the common path of renunciation, bodhicitta, and correct view of emptiness. Then, after receiving the proper initiations, they can be led gradually through the stages of tantra on the firm foundation of guru devotion and the three principal aspects of the path.
The great bodhisattva Khunu Lama Rinpoche gave this teaching to the monks and nuns of the International Mahayana Institute at Boudhanath, Nepal, 14 February 1975. Translated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche and edited by Nicholas Ribush.
The ultimate purpose of listening to teachings is to receive enlightenment. Therefore, before listening to [or reading] this teaching on the Foundation of All Good Qualities [Tib: Yön-ten-shir-gyur-ma], it is necessary to cultivate the pure thought of bodhicitta, the main cause of enlightenment.
We receive enlightenment only by practicing Dharma. Without practicing Dharma, there’s no way to receive enlightenment. Enlightenment can be received only through the practice of Dharma.
There are two types of Dharma, outer and inner. Inner Dharma means Buddhadharma; outer Dharma refers to the non-Buddhist religions, the religions followed by non-Buddhists. Of these, there are five divisions.1 By practicing outer Dharma, you can receive only temporary, samsaric pleasures but you cannot receive enlightenment. To become enlightened, you have to practice inner Dharma, Buddhadharma.
With respect to Buddhadharma, there are four schools of philosophical thought: Vaibhashika [che-tra-mra-wa], Sautrantika [do-de-pa], Cittamatra [sem-tsam] and Madhyamaka [u-ma-pa]. These four schools encompass the two main divisions of Buddhadharma, the Hinayana and the Mahayana. Vaibhashika and Sautrantika are Hinayana schools; Cittamatra and Madhyamaka are Mahayana. The teachings that we should practice are those of the Mahayana; in particular, those of the middle way, the Madhyamaka School, whose view is the best, most perfect and pure. But while the view of the Madhyamaka School is purer than that of the Cittamatra and is that which we should study, when it comes to extensive action, or skillful means, the teachings of the Cittamatra and the Madhyamaka are the same. The Madhyamaka, therefore, contains the best teachings on both profound view and extensive conduct.
The short text by Lama Tsongkhapa that we’re going to talk about here, the Foundation of All Good Qualities, is rooted in the Madhyamaka teachings and it is therefore very important that you understand it.
Verse by verse commentary
The first verse reads:
The foundation of all good qualities is the kind and venerable guru;
Correct devotion to him is the root of the path.
By clearly seeing this and applying great effort,
Please bless me to rely upon him with great respect.
This verse, obviously, is about guru practice. All the good qualities of liberation, the boundless state [Tib: thar-pa], and enlightenment, the ultimate goal, depend upon the guru. Therefore, it is necessary to find a perfect guru who has all the qualities explained in the lam-rim teachings. Our responsibility as disciples is to follow the guru’s instructions exactly, offer service, make prostrations and so forth. By following the perfect guru perfectly, we can receive enlightenment. If, instead, we follow a misleading guide, a false teacher, all we’ll receive is rebirth in one of the lower realms, such as the hells.
Why do we need a guru? Because we’re trying to reach enlightenment and don’t know what it is. The guru knows what enlightenment is. Therefore, we need to find and then follow a guru. Since the extremely kind and venerable guru is the foundation of all good qualities—the good qualities of liberation and enlightenment—the first thing we must do is to find a perfectly qualified guru. Then we must follow that guru correctly by making material offerings, offering respect and service and doing whatever else should be done. But the main thing, the most important thing, the essence of following the guru correctly, is to follow the guru’s instructions exactly.
This text, the Foundation of All Good Qualities, although short, explains the entire graduated path, including the six perfections, especially the perfection of wisdom, and the necessity of entering the Vajrayana path. The next verse, then, explains the difficulty of receiving a perfect human rebirth. It reads:
Understanding that the precious freedom of this rebirth is found only once,
Is greatly meaningful and difficult to find again,
Please bless me to generate the mind that unceasingly,
Day and night, takes its essence.
Since beginningless time, in numberless bodies, we have been wandering through the six samsaric realms, but this is the one time that we have received a perfect human rebirth. A rebirth such as this, which is free from the eight unfree states and possessed of the ten richnesses, will be extremely difficult to find again. We can see how rare it is by meditating in three ways: on cause, example and number. It’s hard enough to find an ordinary human rebirth let alone one with these eight freedoms and ten richnesses; the perfect human rebirth is much harder to find than a regular one.
This perfect human rebirth gives us the chance of continuing to be reborn in the realms of suffering or of attaining enlightenment; it offers every possibility. Therefore, it is highly significant. What we should use it for is attaining enlightenment—since we have received a perfect human rebirth just this once, we should use it to attain enlightenment. Therefore, the teaching says, “Please bless me to generate the mind that unceasingly, day and night, takes its essence.”
The next verse tells us that the perfect human rebirth is not only difficult to find but also decays very quickly, like a water bubble:
This life is as impermanent as a water bubble;
Remember how quickly it decays and death comes.
After death, just like a shadow follows the body,
The results of negative and positive karma ensue.
Death is certain, but when it will arrive is not. One thing that’s for sure is that we are not going to live for one hundred years. One hundred years from now, pretty much everybody alive today will be dead. It is very important to remember impermanence. The Kadampa geshes used to remember impermanence all the time in order to avoid seeking the comfort of the temporal life. They felt that if they didn’t bring it to mind in the morning they were in danger of wasting the entire afternoon, and if they didn’t bring it to mind in the afternoon they were in danger of wasting the whole night. By constantly keeping impermanence in mind, they were able to prevent the meaningless thought seeking only the comfort of this life from arising.
After death, our mind doesn’t come to a complete stop, like water drying up or a flame going out. There is continuity. Just as wherever the body goes, the shadow comes along with it, similarly, wherever our mind goes, our karma comes along too. You must have unshakably firm belief in this.
With respect to karma, there are the ten non-virtuous actions and the ten virtuous ones. We must avoid the former and practice the latter. Thus the teaching says,
Finding firm and definite conviction in this,
Please bless me always to be careful
To abandon even the slightest of negativities
And to accomplish only virtuous deeds.
In other words, “Please bless me always to be careful in the practice of avoiding the ten non-virtuous actions and observing the ten virtuous ones.”
The next verse tells us that no matter how much we enjoy samsaric pleasures, there’s no way to find satisfaction in them.
Seeking samsaric pleasures is the door to all suffering;
They are uncertain and cannot be relied upon.
Recognizing these shortcomings,
Please bless me to generate the strong wish for the bliss of liberation.
Whatever beautiful objects we see, we’re never satisfied; whatever pleasant sounds we hear, we’re never satisfied; and it’s the same with all other objects of the senses. No matter how much television we watch or movies we see, we’ll never be satisfied. This is how it is, and all samsaric pleasures are the door to samsaric suffering. No matter how many samsaric pleasures there are, they are of no value. All past great meditators and holy beings have recognized temporal pleasure as a shortcoming of samsara; as faulty, deceptive. They have never seen samsaric pleasures as valuable or good.
Led by this pure thought,
Mindfulness, alertness and great caution arise.
The root of the teachings is keeping the pratimoksha vows;
Please bless me to accomplish this essential practice.
With this next verse, we request blessings to succeed in the essential practice of keeping the vows of individual liberation. There are seven different levels of pratimoksha ordination, such as bhikshu and bhikshuni, and keeping the pratimoksha vows is root of the teaching and the main cause of liberation. Supported by the pure thought of wanting to receive nirvana, we should keep our precepts with great remembrance, conscientiousness and care.
We shouldn’t be like those practitioners who say that they’re focusing on tantric practice and therefore don’t need to concern themselves with sutra practices, like keeping the pratimoksha vows. We should observe whatever pratimoksha vows we have taken with great care. First it is necessary to generate the mind wanting to abandon samsara. Without renunciation of samsara, we cannot receive even Hinayana nirvana—the liberation of the Shravakayana and Pratyekabuddhayana.
Then, after generating the mind renouncing samsara, it is necessary to generate bodhicitta. Without bodhicitta we cannot receive enlightenment. Therefore, it is necessary to practice bodhicitta. The next verse reads:
Just as I have fallen into the sea of samsara,
So have all mother migratory beings.
Bless me to see this, train in supreme bodhicitta,
And bear the responsibility of freeing migratory beings.
Look at yourself. Since beginningless time, you have been suffering incredibly by wandering endlessly through the various realms of cyclic existence—mainly the hell, preta and animal realms—and just as you have been suffering in samsara since beginningless time, so too have all other samsaric sentient beings. Thinking in this way, cultivate bodhicitta, or, as the prayer says, “Please bless me to receive bodhicitta by understanding this.”
Clearly recognizing that I will not achieve enlightenment
By developing bodhicitta
Without practicing the three types of morality,
Please bless me to practice the bodhisattva vows with great energy.
In order to receive aspirational bodhicitta, the thought wishing to receive enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, and the engaged bodhicitta, actually following the path to enlightenment, it is necessary to practice the three aspects of the perfection of morality—the morality of abstaining from negativity, the morality of creating all virtue and the morality of working for sentient beings. Although this verse mentions specifically the three divisions of morality, it also refers to the practice of all six perfections.
However, the following verse refers more specifically to the last two perfections, concentration and wisdom.
By pacifying distractions to wrong objects
And correctly analyzing the meaning of reality,
Please bless me to generate quickly within my mind-stream
The unified path of calm abiding and special insight.
Here, Lama Tsongkhapa is saying that our minds are always distracted by objects of the senses; for example, attractive visual forms or interesting sounds. Our minds are always concentrated on those. Calm abiding, or mental quiescence [shamatha], is a kind of reversal of our normal attraction to sense objects, the opposite of distraction—it is the control of single-pointed concentration. Shama means peace; tha means one-pointedness. This is to be combined with penetrative insight. In Tibetan, the phrase yang-dag-par-jog-pa means concentrating on absolute nature. In this prayer, Lama Tsongkhapa asks for blessings to quickly achieve the path that unifies shamatha and vipashyana. When we achieve this path, we are close to enlightenment.
Up to this point, Lama Tsongkhapa has been talking about the general training of the mind in the Paramitayana path. Next, he talks about tantra:
Having become a pure vessel by training in the general path,
Please bless me to enter
The holy gateway of the fortunate ones—
The supreme vajra vehicle.
In other words, he’s saying here, “Please bless me to achieve the Vajrayana Path, which allows me to receive enlightenment in this lifetime.” If you follow the general, Paramitayana, path it can take you a long time to collect the necessary merit and reach enlightenment, as long as three countless great eons. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, for example, had great energy but it still took him that long to receive enlightenment. If you follow the Vajrayana path, it’s much quicker. If you fully observe the fundamental practice of keeping the tantric vows and samayas, or pledges, purely, the practice of Vajrayana can lead you to enlightenment in one or perhaps sixteen lifetimes. It’s like the difference between going somewhere by airplane or train. The tantric path is like a plane; the Paramitayana path is like a train.
There are two types of realization, or siddhi, involved. There are the general realizations, of which there are eight—such as the attainment of the sword, the attainment of the eye medicine2 and so forth—and the sublime realization, which is enlightenment itself. The foundation for attaining these two realizations is perfect observation of the vows and pledges, as Lama Tsongkhapa makes clear in the next verse:
At that time, the basis of accomplishing the two attainments
Is keeping pure vows and samaya.
Having become firmly convinced of this,
Please bless me to protect these vows and pledges like my life.
He says, “Please bless me to observe the vows and pledges just as I take care of my life,” because he thinks that in order to receive the “uncreated,” or effortless, stage, it is more important to observe the vows and pledges, the foundation of all realizations, than to take care of the temporal life.
The next verse alludes to the four classes of tantra—the Kriya, Charya, Yoga and Maha-anuttara Tantras.3
Then, having realized the importance of the two stages,
The essence of the Vajrayana,
By practicing with great energy, never giving up the four sessions,
Please bless me to realize the teachings of the holy guru.
The main form of tantra that we should practice is Highest Yoga Tantra, which includes father tantras, such as Yamantaka, and mother tantras, such as Heruka and Kalachakra. This class of tantra also includes the graduated paths of generation (kye-rim) and completion (dzog-rim) stages. One tantric teaching likens these two stages to a flower and its smell. Without the flower, there’s no smell of the flower; similarly, without the generation stage, there’s no way to practice the completion stage.
There are different ways of dividing up the day into sessions, like four sessions of six hours each, two in the day and two in the night, or six sessions of four hours each, three in the day and three in the night.
The next verse reads:
Like that, may the gurus who show the noble path
And the spiritual friends who practice it have long lives.
Please bless me to pacify completely
All outer and inner hindrances.
Here we pray for blessings for our gurus who show us the noble path and our spiritual friends, who follow it correctly, to live long lives, and for ourselves to be able to pacify outer and inner hindrances. Outer hindrances are, for example, external enemies—other living beings who harm us and disturb our Dharma practice. Inner hindrances are such things as the sicknesses that afflict our body and negativities that afflict our mind. We ask for blessings to pacify all those hindrances.
The last verse is:
In all my lives, never separated from perfect gurus,
May I enjoy the magnificent Dharma.
By completing the qualities of the stages and paths,
May I quickly attain the state of Vajradhara.
We pray that in all future lives may we never be separated from perfect gurus, because the guru is the root of the path. Even though there’s benefit in simply meeting a guru, the actual purpose of doing so is to practice; therefore, we pray to enjoy the Dharma through having met a guru and to follow the guru correctly in order to realize the grounds and paths and thereby quickly achieve the enlightened state of Vajradhara.
That is a brief explanation of this prayer, The Foundation of All Good Qualities, which, although short, is a very precious teaching. It contains all the important, essential points of the path to enlightenment. I received this teaching from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Sarnath.
There are five great branches of knowledge: sound, logic, hygiene, handicrafts and inner knowledge. Outer knowledge has been well developed in the West. I’ve also heard about Western psychology, which is the study of the mind, but although I don’t know much about it, I’m sure it’s not like the inner knowledge of Buddhadharma.
Also, there are other religions, like Christianity, and they also have a kind of inner knowledge, but again, it’s nothing like Buddhadharma. All the many non-Buddhist religions have their qualities, but they’re not like Buddhadharma. Within Christianity you find Catholicism, Protestantism and so forth. They all have their own views, but they don’t talk about view like Buddhadharma does; they don’t talk about absolute nature, reality.
Non-Buddhist religions do have a kind of view. They believe in the self-existent I—but this is precisely what we need to abandon. According to Buddhadharma, the self-existent I is the wrong conception that we’re supposed to get rid of.
People in the West aren’t too concerned about future lives. However, I’m not just saying that Christianity is bad and Buddhism is good. If you study religion you’ll come to your own conclusion. Through your own experience you’ll prove to yourself that Buddhism is correct and other teachings are not; you’ll prove to yourself what’s right and what’s wrong.
Within Buddhadharma itself, there are the four types of different doctrine that I mentioned at the beginning: Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Madhyamaka. The view of the Sautrantikas negates that of the Vaibhashikas, the view of the Cittamatrins negates that of the Sautrantikas, and the view of the Madhyamikas negates that of the Cittamatrins. Thus, even within Buddhadharma, there are four doctrines whose views differ from each other. In other words, as long as a view is imperfect, it can always be negated, or contradicted, by one that is more correct.
Of the five great branches of knowledge, what you should study is the fifth—inner knowledge; Buddhadharma. It is very good, very pleasing, that you have come from the West to study Buddhadharma at Kopan Monastery. The teaching of the Buddha is the method whereby you can benefit all sentient beings. Therefore, you should study it well and then, like the shining sun, spread it in the West.
The Dharma that came from India to Tibet contains both sutra and tantra. If you really want to understand all these teachings, you have to become fluent in the Tibetan language, its vocabulary, grammar and so forth.
Guru Shakyamuni Buddha received enlightenment through reciting the mantra TADYATHA OM MUNÉ MUNÉ MAHAMUNAYÉ SOHA. Therefore, you too should recite it continuously. Say it twenty-one times with the TADYA THA at the beginning, then continue reciting without it, as many times as you can. Reciting this mantra once purifies 80,000 eons’ worth of negative karma. This is a very powerful mantra.
I don’t have anything material to offer you to take back to the West as gifts for your family and friends but there is one thing that I can give you—this mantra. This is the one thing I can give you to take back to people in the West. In other words, you should teach this mantra to others.
Therefore, staying at Kopan, you should follow the guru and complete your study of Dharma. Tibetan Buddhism contains great inner knowledge, the best inner knowledge. By living at Kopan, you should complete your study of Buddhadharma, inner knowledge. The more you study Dharma, the deeper it becomes; it gets more and more profound. The more you study other subjects, the lighter they become.
Lama Tsongkhapa wrote several lam-rim texts, such as the Great Treatise on the Steps of the Path to Enlightenment [Lam-rim Chen-mo], the Middle-length Lam-rim [Lam-rim Dring], and the most abbreviated version, A Concise Exposition [Lam-rim Dü-dön or Lam-rim Nyam-gur], sometimes also called Lines of Experience. The subject matter contained in the Great Treatise is explained in the intermediate version and the subject matter contained in the intermediate version is explained in the most concise one, the Lam-rim Dü-dön. All these teachings are condensed in Lama Tsongkhapa’s letter to his disciple, the Three Principal Aspects of the Path. The teaching I have explained today, the Foundation of All Good Qualities, is a short lam-rim teaching in the form of a prayer.
Do you have any questions?
Q. When I study, especially emptiness, I think I understand something correctly and keep going in that direction but later on I see that my understanding was wrong and I wasted time following it. By going off on these tangents, I prevent myself from progressing more quickly in the right direction. How can I relate to the experiences I have in such a way that I don’t waste time exploring what turn out to be wrong conceptions? Khunu Lama Rinpoche. First, I can see that you are all trying to do great, extensive Dharma work, and I will pray for you to be successful and benefit the teaching of the Buddha. With respect to your question, when you are studying or meditating on emptiness, it is possible for fear to arise or for you to realize that what you have always believed to be true is wrong. However, fundamentally, what your mind should be avoiding is the two extremes of self-existence and non-existence. Your pure view of emptiness should be devoid of these two extremes; it should be in the middle way. Then your view of emptiness is correct. Even the conception holding emptiness is empty.
Q. I have a question about relative truth. There are false relative truth and right relative truth. Is it possible for a person who has the wrong conception of the self-existent I to ever perceive right relative truth? There are two ways in which a person can view something: as something there or as something not there. For example, a person looking at tsampa can see it as free from dirt or as contaminated. There are two different ways of seeing it. As long as the person has the wrong conception of self-existence, does that prevent her from having the right relative view, from perceiving right relative truth? Khunu Lama Rinpoche. What is the right relative truth of tsampa? When everybody looks at the tsampa, they see tsampa. Not only that, tsampa has to be viewed through intact senses; senses that are not defective. It is right relative truth if it exists as an object of normal senses. Also, when other people look at the tsampa, they see tsampa. That is what we recognize as right relative truth.
For example, when you’re in a moving train, the trees also seem to be moving. Sometimes you get this kind of wrong conception. Or when a conjurer transforms inanimate objects, like pieces of wood, so that they appear in the form of animals, or when you see a white conch shell as yellow, those are wrong relative truths because they are a projection of defective senses. Also, it’s proven that they’re wrong because they are not seen as that by other worldly beings, those who have not realized emptiness.
Finally, according to the Madhyamaka scriptures, the “I” that is believed to be self-existent by non-Buddhist philosophers is also a wrong relative truth.
Q. Please could you explain the difference between relative and absolute bodhicitta? Khunu Lama Rinpoche. Absolute bodhicitta, the realization of fully seeing ultimate nature, as the Madhyamaka teachings explain, is achieved on the first of the ten bodhisattva grounds. Relative bodhicitta is explained in Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life. There are two types of relative bodhicitta—aspirational and engaged. Aspirational bodhicitta is the wish to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings; engaged bodhicitta is actually following the path to enlightenment.
Even worldly people, those who have not attained the path of seeing, can achieve aspirational bodhicitta. As you know, there are five paths—the paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning. Even those on the first of these five paths can achieve relative bodhicitta. The two types of relative bodhicitta are explained in Shantideva’s Guide, and absolute bodhicitta has been explained by Nagarjuna and also in certain tantras. Absolute bodhicitta is actually ultimate nature.
However, since bodhicitta is the seed of buddhahood, like the seed of a plant, it’s the main thing we need to develop in our mind. Bodhicitta is what we should strive our hardest to achieve. The Buddha himself said that all the buddhas come from bodhicitta.
Q. Many of us will soon be going back to the West. Since you mentioned that we should take the Dharma back with us, what’s the best way to present it? Khunu Lama Rinpoche. You should try to teach the Dharma according to what suits the minds of those listening to you. If explaining absolute nature is appropriate, you can follow the brief explanation in Lama Tsongkhapa’s Three Principal Aspects or the more elaborate one in his Great Treatise, which has more than one hundred pages on emptiness. If you want to explain the method side of the teachings, you can do so according to Shantideva’s Guide, where he talks about the practice of the first five perfections of generosity, morality, patience, effort and concentration. You can also explain right view on the basis of [the ninth chapter of] the Guide, if it fits the minds of your listeners.4 In short, you should teach Dharma in the way that a doctor prescribes medicine. Even if the doctor has the perfect medicine for a patient’s illness, he can’t force the patient to take it. That’s an unskillful approach. The wise doctor treats patients according to their capacity. Dharma should be presented in the same way.
Q. Our minds are always discriminating things like, “I like him; I don’t like her,” and we’re usually so unconscious that we’re totally unaware that we’re doing this. Now I’m starting to realize that discriminating in this way causes suffering. Since developing equanimity is the first step to bodhicitta, how can we equalize our minds in our everyday situations to avoid discriminating between the people we like and those we don’t? Khunu Lama Rinpoche. You should check in the following way. If there’s an outer object that you think is good, bad or ugly, try to see its absolute nature by analyzing every atom. Mentally reduce the object you see as good to atoms, take even the atoms apart, and analyzing it like this, try to see its emptiness. Again, analyze the object you see as ugly down to its atoms, analyze even the atoms, and, in this way, try to see its emptiness. When you do this, you’ll see there’s absolutely no difference between these two objects. In your relative view you discriminate them as different, but in emptiness, you don’t.
Q. How we can unite these two views—the relative with the absolute? Khunu Lama Rinpoche. The mere appearance of an object is the relative view. That should be seen as illusory but at the same time unified with emptiness. The relative view should be one with emptiness. But that doesn’t mean that your view of an object that you believe to be truly existent is really true. This view and the view that sees the object as illusory and empty cannot become one. This is very difficult to realize. Therefore, it is important that you get as clear an intellectual understanding of it as possible. First, understand how things are dependent upon causes and conditions; you must understand the born and the unborn, in other words, dependent phenomena and emptiness respectively.
Q. Rinpoche, you said that we should teach people according to their level of mind. How can we discern this? Do we have enough wisdom to know if it is appropriate to teach Western people who are interested mantras, visualizations and so forth? Khunu Lama Rinpoche. That is hard to answer specifically, but what you can teach is this. Visualize a white cloud in the space in front of you at the level of your forehead. On that is a large throne upon which is seated Guru Shakyamuni Buddha in his usual aspect of a monk adorned with robes, with his right hand over his knee touching the moon cushion and his left in the meditation mudra. He is surrounded on all sides by countless buddhas, bodhisattvas, such as the eight great bodhisattvas, and arhats.
Powerful light rays emanate from Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and the others and enter you and all other sentient beings, who appear in human form surrounding you, purifying all the negativities accumulated since beginningless time and bringing all the realizations of the graduated path to enlightenment. While visualizing this, recite Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s mantra, TADYATHA OM MUNÉ MUNÉ MAHAMUNAYÉ SOHA or OM MUNÉ MUNÉ MAHAMUNA-YE SVAHA, as I mentioned before. No matter which of these two versions you recite, the visualization is the same.
Then make a strong decision in your mind that through this purification, you and all other sentient beings have become irreversible bodhisattvas, thus pleasing the infinite buddhas.
From my side, I will pray for you never to be separated from the guru in all future lifetimes, to complete the path and attain enlightenment as quickly as possible. I will pray for you to accomplish the entire Dharma and to have long lives in order for this to happen. It is not sufficient for just me to have a long life, as you have requested. You, too, should try to live long. So, I will pray for that, but my prayers alone will not be enough; from your side, you also have to try.
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.
GANDEN LHA GYÄMA: THE HUNDRED DEITIES’ JOYFUL REALM
THE GURU YOGA MEDITATION RELATED TO LAMA TSONGKHAPA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
HOW TO ACTUALLY DO THIS PRACTICE
The Preliminary Practices
Actually, your preparations should contain all six preliminary practices.
1. CLEAN YOUR ROOM ACCORDING TO JOR-CHÖ
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.
2. ARRANGE YOUR ALTAR ALSO ACCORDING TO JOR-CHÖ
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.
3. THEN SIT ON LOTUS SEAT (THE SEVEN POSITIONS OF VAIROCHANA) AND CORRECT YOUR MOTIVATION, ALSO ACCORDING TO JOR-CHÖ
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:
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.
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, Lama.la kyab su chi.wo, Sangye.la...
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.
4. VISUALIZE THE MERIT FIELD
This involves the invocation of Je Tsongkhapa from Maitreya’s heart, as before.
5. PURIFICATION AND ACCUMULATION OF MERIT
This is done by the seven limb practice.
(The offerings were consecrated before—here they are offered during the second branch).
6. MAKING REQUEST WITH THREE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 specialempowerment (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.)
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 appears—as the first dissolves, the second appears, in the way water bubbles appear immediately—as 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.
Calling the Guru from Afar is a heartfelt request to the guru for blessings to realize all the stages of the path to enlightenment, as well as a meditation on the nature of the guru. There is both a long version (below) and an abbreviated version of this prayer.
Calling the Guru from Afar: A Tormented Wail, Quickly Drawing Forth the Blessings of the Guru, the Inseparable Three Kayas(Bla ma rgyang ‘bod sku gsum dbyer med bla ma’i byin rlabs byung ‘dren gdung dbyangs):
Composed by Pabongka Tulku at the great insistent request, and with the offering of three hundred silver coins, of Gelong Losang Rabye of Bompa in the faraway area of Tsawa. The scribing was done by the monk Losang Dorje from the area of Den.
Translated by Ven. George Churinoff in Nyung Nä: The Means of Achievement of the Eleven-Faced Great Compassionate One, Avalokiteshvara (Wisdom Publications, Boston, 1995). Permission kindly granted by the translator to replace “lama” with “guru,” which is more commonly used in FPMT prayers, and to replace “families” with “types,” as Lama Zopa Rinpoche considers this to be a better translation of the Tibetan word “rigs,” June 2016.