My dear Jonathan,
Thank you for your kind letter expressing your holy wishes. The ultimate goal of life is to liberate each numberless sentient being from each realm in the ocean of samsara’s suffering. Therefore, we need to achieve enlightenment. To do so as soon as possible, my observation came out for you to practice Guhyasamaja as your main deity. Besides that, you can also take the initiations for Hayagriva and Gyalwa Gyatso, when the opportunity arises.
Regarding your first question, I have already answered it during the teaching. Lama Tsongkhapa asked Manjrushri, the embodiment of all the Buddha’s wisdom, “What is the quickest way to achieve enlightenment?” Manjrushri answered, “Purify defilements and collect extensive merit.” There are so many practices to purify defilements and collect extensive merits, such as Vajrasattva, and prostration to the Thirty-five Buddhas and the ten-direction Buddhas, Dharma, Sangha and scriptures, which are all your gurus. There are so many other practices to do with Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, and sentient beings, such as generating loving compassion. The stronger the compassion we generate for sentient beings, the quicker we achieve enlightenment. For example, look at Maitreya and Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha generated stronger compassion so he achieved enlightenment quicker, because his bodhicitta was stronger.
Tong-len practice is extremely good and we collect limitless skies of merit. When we give our merit from the past, present and future, as well as our body and material things, this results in happiness from now up to enlightenment, including all happiness in this life and future lives, and liberation from samsara. There is so much to give and when we give to each sentient being, we collect limitless skies of merit so many times. Tong-len is giving our happiness to other sentient beings and experiencing all their suffering. With this incredible practice, we can achieve enlightenment quicker. When we take on the suffering of others, we collect incredible, limitless skies of merit. This is the very heart of the Mahayana teachings; the brave heart developing bodhicitta. Strong compassion serving others is the quick way to achieve enlightenment.
The other most powerful purification is obtaining advice from the guru and doing service for the guru. This collects the most extensive merit and purification. Whenever we are able to please the virtuous friend, we purify any heavy negative karma and collect the most extensive merit. This is something to achieve, all the time, because all attainment comes from pleasing the guru. We have to know about the great obscuration of harming the holy body and holy mind, criticizing the guru, of heresy arising and giving up the guru. These are very heavy obscurations, and include breaking advice. This is something into which we have to put every single effort. Do not create these heavy obstacles and do collect extensive merit. If we become careless about this, we create obstacles and suffer endlessly in the lower realms, and we cannot achieve enlightenment.
Secondly, one-pointedly requesting the guru, is guru yoga. We see the guru as Buddha by looking at Buddha’s quotations and reasoning on this. Then, one-pointedly request the guru to grant blessings and realizations. Do this strongly every day. We receive blessings from the guru in our heart by seeing the guru as pure, with no mistakes. This is like pouring water over the seed of a fruit, which then grows and later produces a flower and fruit to enjoy, like enlightenment.
Thirdly, the actual body of the practice is meditation on mind training on the path to enlightenment. The root of the path is guru devotion, the three principles of the path, the two stages of tantra, the completion stage, then enlightenment. Until we attain the realization of bodhicitta, we must put effort into the lam-rim outline on guru devotion. No matter how many months or years it takes, we must do guru devotion. Next meditate on lower capable beings. Spend six months or one year training the mind on the lower capable being topics, by following the outlines of the perfect human rebirth up to karma. Finish the perfect human rebirth topic in two days or one week, depending on how elaborately it is done. Next, train the mind on the middle path, then bodhicitta, then emptiness. After this, go back to the topics for which we haven’t attained the realization, and train again.
Then practice tantra, with a commitment or sadhana, after achieving a stable realization of bodhicitta. After this, train in the generation and completion stages of tantra. First, practice the generation stage, then the completion stage. Train in our life like this. Another way is to train the mind in guru devotion every day until we achieve realizations. The most important is guru devotion, then the lam-rim, which is the root of the path to enlightenment. If the root is not there, we cannot have realizations of the path and we cannot achieve enlightenment, bodhicitta, and great compassion for sentient beings.
After taking the samaya vows as the basis for attainment, if we cannot preserve them, then there is no attainment; so much depends on that. Even for lay people, there are pratimoksha vows, bodhisattva vows and tantric vows. After taking an initiation, there are samaya vows. Preserving these vows is even more important than our life, because without them we can’t attain enlightenment. It is like the five lay vows and abstaining from the ten non-virtues. Without the pratimoksha vows, we can’t practice the bodhisattva and tantric vows.
So, my answer to your question is including what Manjrushri explained to Lama Tsongkhapa, and also what I explained as the heart practice. Please take care of your life with Dharma and bodhicitta.