My Very Dear Keith,
Thank you very much for your kind letter. I am very happy to hear that you want to dedicate your life to daily practice, and also the preliminaries. Here are the answers from my Mickey Mouse observations for your daily practice.
For guru yoga, it would be best to do Chenrezig. In the meantime, you can do the Eight Verses practice, the Everflowing Nectar of Bodhicitta practice. The Chenrezig practice of reciting OM MANI PADME HUM is the most important practice in daily life. The very heart of the purpose of life is to develop compassion for every single hell being, animal being, hungry ghost, human being, sura, and asura being, because the purpose of life is to benefit others. To benefit others, what drives this? The Buddha of Compassion. Without the Buddha of Compassion, it’s like not having fuel in a car or an airplane, you cannot use the vehicle to bring the people to the place where they wish to be for their happiness. Without compassion, you don’t care about others’ happiness, so you don’t help others. If there is compassion, you bring peace and happiness to your family, society, neighbors, area, country, the whole world – to all sentient beings – those who are in different universes and realms, to everyone, without leaving out even one being; you help to benefit everyone.
Compassion helps you develop the wish to be able to help others. Then you see you need general wisdom, Dharma wisdom, and in particular, the wisdom to realize emptiness. What causes the need to achieve enlightenment is compassion generated toward every living being. What causes us to achieve enlightenment is compassion. Because of compassion, you collect extensive merit. That helps you to realize emptiness, and that wisdom causes you to eliminate all the defilements, both gross and subtle. Because of the vast amounts of merit that you collect all the time, with the root of compassion for countless beings, you are able to complete the path. Therefore, you are able to remove the gross and subtle defilements and achieve full enlightenment.
After you achieve enlightenment, you are able to perform perfect works without any effort. You simultaneously work for sentient beings, until everyone becomes enlightened. It is like one sun rising, but it reflects simultaneously in every body of water in the world in the ocean and even in one dew drop. So, working for sentient beings becomes like that. You benefit them without the slightest mistake and bring everyone from happiness to happiness to enlightenment, including yourself.
So, you see now how compassion is the most important thing, the most important realization. It makes life most meaningful and every single action of yours most beneficial for all sentient beings. Therefore, you need to receive the blessings of the special deity of compassion, and that is the Compassion Buddha, Avalokiteshvara.
Please get the book on the Teachings from the Mani Retreat. It explains the benefit of the mantra and the Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) practice. If you get that, I don’t have to explain too much here.
As for preliminary practices, probably you have some understanding why to do these. Lama Tsongkhapa asked Manjushri, “What is the quickest way to achieve enlightenment?” Manjushri replied, “Practice purifying the obstacles to realizations, collect the necessary conditions due to merits, and one pointedly request to the guru.” This means, with the mind of guru yoga – the pure mind seeing the guru as Buddha – with that devotion, making one pointed requests to grant blessings, just like all the lineage lamas who actualized the path and achieved enlightenment. This is what they did. All the realizations and enlightenment that they achieved, enabling them to enlighten all other sentient beings, this is the profit, the advantage, that comes from these practices, including one pointedly requesting the guru with that pure mind of devotion.
For the actual body and mind training of the path, the root of the path is guru devotion, in order to have stable realizations. Then, there are three principle paths to enlightenment: renunciation, bodhicitta, and right view. Then, there is the uncommon path: highest tantra and the two stages.
Your preliminary practices are as follows:
Water bowls: 90,000
Mandala offerings: 300,000
Guru yoga: 80,000
Dorje Khadro: 90,000
Tong-len – the bodhicitta practice: 100,000
Tong-len is making the requesting prayer together with the meditation of giving and taking. Here, each time when you take on sufferings and the causes of sufferings, including the negative imprints, take all sentient beings’ sufferings, including the delusions and karma, negative imprints, and also the undesirable environment. For example, in hell, there is the ice fire, the ice mountain, the burning ground, and the iron house; then the pretas’ environment is a very depressing place with no water, and so hot and cold; the humans’ environment, it is a very dirty place full of thorn bushes. You take the environmental sufferings as well, in the form of black pollution, and you give them to the ego and destroy the ego – one’s own worst enemy. This is the greatest demon that has interfered so far with your being able to achieve enlightenment. It hasn’t allowed you to achieve enlightenment, liberation from samsara, or to enlighten all sentient beings, not even one. In these ways, you can see that one’s own ego is the enemy of all sentient beings, not only an enemy to you.
Also, you collect so many merits by taking on all the sufferings, the causes of suffering, and the undesirable environments. Then, when you practice giving, you collect vast amounts of merits by offering your body as a wish-fulfilling jewel and offering your possessions to all sentient beings. However many possessions you have, you collect that much merit by offering them to sentient beings. Because sentient beings are countless, you collect countless merits with each possession you offer.
Then, by offering all the past, present, and future merits, the three times’ merits, again, you collect so much merit. You offer all your future happiness, present happiness, from the next minute’s happiness up until enlightenment, including liberation and the realizations to each and every single hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human, sura, and asura being. You can see that sentient beings are countless. By giving to each of them, you collect so many merits. You can’t imagine. I think if you really knew how much merit you collect, you would faint, fall down – it might be difficult to get up! I hope it’s not for a long time! I hope people won’t take you to a hospital or a psychologist. I hope your family or friends don’t take you to the hospital because of it!
There is a prayer from Nagarjuna’s teachings:
Whatever sufferings there are, may they ripen on me; whatever happiness I have, may it ripen on sentient beings.
With the first part, you do the practice of taking. With the second, you do the practice of giving. Then you count on the mala (each time you recite the verse). I think you will be blissed out from this practice and the sentient beings will be blissed out!
As for meditations on the lam-rim, please do the following:
Five months – lower scope
Three months – middle scope
Two months – bodhicitta
Four months – right view
With much love and prayer...