Welcome to the journey to enlightenment.
The purpose of life is to benefit other sentient beings and the greatest benefit you can offer them is to liberate them from their suffering and its causes. In order to do that you need to attain enlightenment and to do that you need to achieve the lam-rim, the gradual path to enlightenment.
To make that possible, you have to purify all the negative karma and defilements you have collected over your beginningless rebirths and accumulate extensive merit. These are the conditions necessary for you to actualize the path.
Life is like last night’s dream. Don’t hold on to it as too solid or inherently existent. The following advice on practice is given with the intention of making your life—this most precious human life that you have received just this once—as meaningful as possible. In the past, you have sacrificed your life and died numberless times creating the cause of suffering in samsara but have almost never sacrificed your life for the sake of Dharma, especially trying to bring other sentient beings to enlightenment. So, do as much of what follows as you can, and don’t worry—be happy.
The purpose of doing preliminary practices is for you to purify obstacles to achieving realizations of the path to enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings—defilements, negative karmas and downfalls—and collect extensive merit. Furthermore, to cause such realizations to ripen within your mind, you need to receive your guru’s blessings through the practice of guru yoga.
Therefore, you should base each preliminary practice on the particular guru yoga that you do, such as the Six-Session Guru Yoga, the Guru Puja [Tib: Lama Chöpa], the Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga [Tib: Ganden Lha Gyäma] and the guru yogas of various deities, such as the Tara Guru Yoga.
When practicing guru yoga, focus on the guru yoga meditation at different points of the practice—for example, after visualizing the merit field or during direct meditation on the lam-rim at the stanza on guru devotion—in order to develop guru devotion and realize that the guru is buddha. Meditate on the guru as buddha with the help of scriptural citations and logic as well as your own personal experience that supports the mind that sees your guru as all the buddhas and all the buddhas as your guru.
Specific preliminary practices include:
- Prostrations by reciting the Thirty-Five Buddhas2
- Mandala Offerings3
- Samaya Vajra5
- Dorje Khadro (burning offering)6
- Water Bowl Offering7
- Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga8
- Heart Sutra9
- Diamond (Vajra) Cutter Sutra10
- Arya Sanghata Sutra11
- The Golden Light Sutra12
- Nyung-nä retreat13
- OM MANI PADME HUM recitations
- Four immeasurable thoughts14
For more information on these practices, refer to the end notes for this chapter.
NOTES ON THE TSA-TSA PRACTICE
If you have a certain number to do with different deities, divide the total amount by the number of deities.
It is very important that you make the tsa-tsas well, with no air bubbles or cracks.17 Once created, these holy objects help other sentient beings easily purify inconceivable negative karma and create merit, the cause of extensive happiness, which definitely brings them to enlightenment quickly.
Holy objects have unbelievable power for you to collect limitless skies of merit and achieve all happiness—temporal samsaric pleasures and the ultimate happiness of liberation and enlightenment. Even if you don’t know or cannot teach Dharma, if you make holy objects, then not only in this life but after this life, wherever you are in the six realms, for however many years the holy objects you made last, every day they liberate sentient beings from the lower realms and samsara by helping them to create merit, planting the seeds of liberation and enlightenment and purifying their minds.
Generally for an action to become virtuous and the cause of happiness, the activity needs to be motivated by a virtuous mind unstained by ignorance, attachment or anger; only then does the action become virtuous. So first you have to put a lot of effort into making your attitude pure so that your daily actions such as working, eating, sitting, walking, sleeping etc. become virtuous.
With holy objects such as statues, stupas and scriptures you do not have to have a mind unstained by ignorance, attachment or anger to create merit. For human beings or even animals, simply seeing a holy object becomes a cause of achieving inconceivable awakening and enlightenment by purifying vast numbers of defilements. The special advantage is that just by their existence, these holy objects make it easy for us ordinary living beings to create merit.
In the Sutra of the Mudra of Developing the Power of Devotion the Buddha explained,
The minute you see a holy object you create infinite merit,
So without question, if you actually make prostrations,
Offerings and so forth, you create far greater merit.
The White Lotus Sutra says,
Just making one sound or cymbal offering,
Just offering a single flower
To the form of one who has gone to bliss (buddha) on a stone wall,
Even if the offering is made with an angry attitude
That living being will gradually see ten million buddhas.
The Buddha’s teachings say that the benefits of making holy objects are as limitless like the sky but the Buddha explained their very essence to King Indrabodhi: as many atoms as there are inside a stupa or statue of Buddha (or, in this case, tsa-tsa), for that many lifetimes will you be reborn as a king, human or deva; you also create that many causes of perfect concentration, including calm abiding and the different levels of meditative states of the form and formless realms, that many causes of the arya path and that many causes of enlightenment.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE TSA-TSAS AFTER THEY HAVE BEEN MADE
After the tsa-tsas have been made you can paint them; give them as presents for somebody’s altar; place them on a high shelf or a ledge just below the ceiling and offer small electric lights to each one; put them into big statues or stupas as relics; put them on a mountain in a respectful high place protected from the weather, such as a dry cave; or put them into your local Dharma center or a tsa-tsa house. Tsa-tsas should always be treated respectfully; if put in a box they should be upright and kept clean in a high place.
Please don’t worry about the large number of practices you may have received—this is a plan for your whole life. If you work or are studying, the way to complete these practices is to do a little each day. Of course, you can get more done in retreat, which can mean a weekend, seven or fifteen days, a month or two or more.
When doing preliminary practices in retreat,18 always spend the first session concentrating on guru yoga, with emphasis on guru devotion meditation. Start subsequent sessions with about a half hour of lam-rim meditation and for the rest of the session do your preliminaries, based on a guru yoga practice. In this way your preliminaries retreat also becomes a lam-rim retreat—your lam-rim meditations make your preliminary practices much more powerful for purification and the accumulation of merit and your preliminary practices make your lam-rim meditation extremely effective in quickly transforming your mind into the path to enlightenment.
1 The refuge preliminary refers to reciting the refuge formula while meditating on the meaning. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for the preliminary booklet on how to do this practice. Read Refuge in the Three Jewels, a teaching by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. [Return to text]
2 The booklet Preliminary Practice of Prostations is available from FPMT Foundation Store. Read advice about the Thirty-Five Buddhas Practice in Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book. [Return to text]
4 Recite the Vajrasattva mantra as many times as advised. References: Becoming Vajrasattva, by Lama Yeshe, Wisdom Publications; Teachings from the Vajrasattva Retreat and Daily Purification: A Short Vajrasattva Practice, by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, LYWA; and The Preliminary Practice of Vajrasattva , from FPMT Foundation Store. [Return to text]
6 Dorje Khadro (burning offering): If you get a statue of Dorje Khadro, you can look at the statue rather than visualize. Dorje Khadro statue and the Dorje Khadro sadhana are available from FPMT Foundation Store. Read the Burning Offering to Dorje Khadro, a commentary by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. [Return to text]
7 Water Bowl Offerings: The Extensive Offering Practice and Altar Set up & Water Bowl Offerings booklets are available from FPMT Foundation Store. You can also join group retreats that do extensive water bowl practices (at the Kopan Nunnery and Vajrapani Institute), where you are able to count the numbers of all the participants' water bowl offerings, towards your number. [Return to text]
8 Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga: This refers to counting the five-line Lama Tsongkhapa mantra (mig-me-ma). Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga sadhana is available from FPMT Foundation Store. Read a commentary by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. [Return to text]
9 Refer to Heart Sutra Practices and Instruction for Retreat booklet, available from FPMT Foundation Store.
14 Four immeasurable thoughts: Recite each verse with meditation; this helps to develop bodhicitta and you collect limitless skies of merit. The main thing is not to just recite the words but to meditate on the meaning. You can recite the extensive version once, the short version for your count, and conclude with the long version again. [Return to text]
15 Tong-len: Do this practice by reciting either verse 95 of the Lama Chöpa or Nagarjuna’s verse, “Whatever sufferings sentient beings have, may they ripen on me; whatever happiness I have, may it ripen on sentient beings.” With the first part, practice taking; with the second, giving. Count each verse you recite on your mala. Tong-len is a very powerful way of quickly actualizing bodhicitta and achieving enlightenment because you purify all your defilements and collect extensive merit. And by the way you achieve liberation from samsara, the happiness of all future lives and, without question, the happiness of this life. Do not just recite the words but mainly meditate on the meaning. [Return to text]
17 Avoided if tsa-tsas are made using a pressure tank. [Return to text]
18 Advice on how to do retreat, available from FPMT Foundation Store: