Questions Regarding the Lam-rim
Rinpoche answers questions from students at a Dharma center about the lam-rim. Edited by Michelle Bernard.
Q: How can one’s wishes be fulfilled? How can one transform the power of prayer into the power of activities?
In daily life, one thing is the practice of kindness towards others, human beings, animals, or any other living beings, to help those in need. Sincerely, from the heart, we help others’ wishes to be fulfilled, whether human beings or animals, whoever needs help. They have a problem, so you help. If an insect is drowning in the water, you take it out, you help it, so you cause that being’s wish to be fulfilled. Or maybe there is an old man walking along who needs help, there is a problem or maybe some danger, so you help.
Whether it is big or small, whatever help somebody needs, you try to give it. Like someone needs to know how to get to a place, for example, so you explain how to get there and it helps that person’s wish be fulfilled. Anything like that, whether it’s small or big, we help in whatever way we can. If you can’t help, you pray and dedicate the merits for that person’s wish for happiness to succeed now.
Serving other sentient beings is one cause, because it makes their wishes be fulfilled. A consequence, a result of that karma, is that it fulfils your wishes. As a result of that, whatever wishes you have are fulfilled. Whenever you have some wish, other people help, even sometimes without you needing to ask, you receive help, and your wishes just happen like that.
The most powerful way is serving the guru, fulfilling the wishes of the guru; that is extremely powerful. Even if you do very little, the object is so powerful. Also, from the smallest act performed with this life’s parents, the karma is very powerful; the good karma is so powerful that you start to experience the result in this life.
There are three types of karma: karma that you create in this life and see the result of in this life; karma that you create in this life and experience in the next life; and karma that you create in this life and of which you experience the result after many, many lifetimes, many eons. Those are the three types of karma.
The smallest service offered to your parents brings very good karma. It is very powerful, you see the result, and have success in this life. That doesn’t mean only in this life, it means in many, many future lifetimes. In a hundred thousand lifetimes you experience the result: success and happiness. And if the smallest disrespect is committed with your parents, the negative karma is very powerful, because parents are very powerful objects. If a small negative karma is created, a small harm is committed, because of the power of the object you start to experience the problems and heavy sufferings in this life. Then, of course, in the lower realms, and in future lives when you are born as a human being, you experience problems for many, many lifetimes.
Ordained monks and nuns are more powerful objects than parents. More powerful than them are arya beings, those who have wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, and arhats, who have completely removed delusions and karma, are free from samsara, and so are more powerful. Between numberless arhats and one bodhisattva, one very new bodhisattva who just generated bodhicitta, the very new bodhisattva who has just generated bodhicitta is much more powerful than numberless arhats, as far as the power of the object is concerned.
This is an example of how powerful a bodhisattva is: if you look at a bodhisattva with respect and a calm, devotional mind, the karma is more powerful and the merit you collect is more than if you offered your eyes to numberless beings in the desire realm, form realm, and formless realm. That includes all the numberless beings in each realm. Offering one eye to one sentient being is unbelievably difficult to do, but here are all the beings of the desire realm, the animals and human beings in the desire realm, who desire the five sense objects, external objects, sense pleasures, and then the numberless form and formless realm devas.
If one looks at a bodhisattva in a disrespectful manner, with negative thoughts, like when you get angry with somebody, when you feel jealous, when you don’t like somebody, that negative karma is heavier than taking out the eyes of all living beings in the desire realm, form realm, and formless realm. Taking out the eye of one person or animal is negative karma, but here the negative karma of taking out the eyes of numberless beings in the desire, form, and formless realms is compared to looking at one bodhisattva like that. So, how powerful is one bodhisattva. Also, it is mentioned in the Bodhicaryavatara by the great bodhisattva Shantideva that if you get angry with a bodhisattva for one second, that negative karma makes you be born and abide for eons in the heaviest hell realm. There are eight hot hells, of which number eight is the heaviest; it lasts for one intermediate eon. That suffering is the heaviest suffering in all the hell realms, the heaviest of all the sufferings of samsara.
According to the Hinayana, one fingersnap can be divided into 65 units of time, but according to the Mahayana it can be divided into 365. When you take pictures with a camera, you can take many hundreds in a second. If you get angry with a bodhisattva for this shortest time, that negative karma makes one be born in the eighth hot hell, the last one, the most unbearable hell realm. So, with the negative karma collected from beginningless rebirths, there is no question, no need to say that one won’t be reborn in a higher realm. What this is saying is that the negative karma of one who is not a bodhisattva looking angrily even for the shortest time at a bodhisattva makes you be reborn and abide in the number eight hot hell, the heaviest one, for eons. The bodhisattva is so powerful. There is so much other negative karma collected from beginningless rebirths. Even just with anger, all the anger of minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months, so much in this life and in past lives from beginningless rebirths—it is very hard to see how you are going to be born even in the deva or human realms, without mentioning the pure lands.
Now we should understand the positive aspect. If one respects a bodhisattva or makes offerings or offers service to a bodhisattva, one can imagine how powerful the good karma is; it is unbelievable. Between the numberless bodhisattvas and one buddha, one buddha is unbelievably more powerful than numberless bodhisattvas. Numberless bodhisattvas’ power is small compared to the power of one buddha. Between numberless buddhas and one guru, as powerful as these objects are, they are less powerful than one guru. One guru is much more powerful than numberless buddhas. That means the guru is the most powerful among all the objects, starting from our parents in this life. How that person becomes a guru is like this: first there is recognition. As it is explained in Lama Tsongkhapa’s lam-rim, the definition of a disciple is, “One who relies upon.” The virtuous friend is the object to rely upon, so that is the definition: “object to rely upon, object to be devoted to.” That is the definition of the virtuous friend in the philosophical teachings and Lama Tsongkhapa’s Lam-rim Chen-mo. With the recognition of oneself as a disciple and the other person as the guru, one takes teachings. It doesn’t have to be a complete teaching of a text, it can be just a few syllables of a mantra or one verse. If one receives it with the recognition of oneself as a disciple and the other person as the guru, then the Dharma connection, the relationship of guru-disciple, is established. From that time, this person becomes the most powerful one in your life, more powerful than all the buddhas.
As I explained about the bodhisattva, getting angry for the shortest time leads to rebirth in the lowest hot hell and abiding there for eons. With the guru, it is much, much heavier negative karma and one suffers in the lowest hell realm for much longer. Between a bodhisattva and the guru there is Buddha, and, as I mentioned, the guru is more powerful than numberless Buddhas. If one gets angry with or criticizes the guru, or after having made a Dharma connection gives up the guru, when the guru is no longer in accordance with one’s own desire, when one sees the guru as being against one’s own wishes, not according to them, then it creates much heavier negative karma. It is explained this way in the lam-rim teachings that, even if one didn’t get angry with the guru, but after one had established the Dharma connection, with just a few syllables of mantra that the guru taught, or an oral transmission, with the recognition of oneself as disciple and that person as guru, if one forgot or didn’t devote oneself to the guru, one would be born as a dog for 500 lifetimes as a result of that.
After that, one would be born, some lamas say, as a scorpion. According to His Holiness Zong Rinpoche, one great ex-abbot of Ganden Monastery, a great pundit, one would be born as a scorpion. According to Pabongka and other lamas, the interpretation of that word is “lower caste,” that you are born as a human being but in a lower caste. Lower caste means everybody looks down on you and you have no freedom. Even in worldly matters you never get a high position, and people don’t respect you. If you are born in a lower caste, everybody puts you down and you don’t get many opportunities, you don’t have much power so you can’t benefit many people. They don’t listen to you; so you can’t benefit them.
Now you can see that the guru is the most powerful object. From such small services to the guru, the karma is the most powerful good karma; the merit you collect is the most extensive, you will start to experience the resulting happiness in this life, and in many lifetimes. Because of such incredible power, in the case of purification, the guru is the most powerful—bringing the most extensive merit and most powerful purification. You become that much closer to realization of the path, liberation, and enlightenment. That means you become closer to enlightening all sentient beings: the ultimate goal of our life, liberating them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bringing them to enlightenment.
Obeying every single piece of advice given by the guru, every time you accomplish it, so much negative karma is purified, and you come closer to liberation, enlightenment, and to enlightening all sentient beings. For example, cleaning a room or a house where one’s spiritual master, the guru, is staying, becomes unbelievably powerful purification, and each time you clean away the dust, so much negative karma is purified, you accumulate so much merit, and become closer to realization and enlightenment. You become closer to realizations each time, then closer to liberation, and closer to enlightenment, which means closer to enlightening all sentient beings. The most powerful thing is obeying the guru’s advice, then offering service and respect to the guru, and, lastly, if one has material goods, making offerings to the guru. You collect the most extensive merit with the guru. Whatever offering is made, even a very small object, you collect the most extensive merit. That makes it so easy to achieve realizations and to develop the mind in the path to liberation and enlightenment. More merit means it is easier to achieve realizations and enlightenment.
The most powerful thing is pleasing one’s own guru’s holy mind, with whom one has established a Dharma connection. Pleasing the guru’s holy mind is the most powerful purification. All the heavy negative karma is purified and one collects the most extensive merit, which brings one to enlightenment very quickly. In our daily life, the one who is the champion or the best disciple is the one who pleases the guru most and is living always according to the guru’s advice. The definition of who is able to correctly devote to the virtuous friend is that disciple who is able to do whatever the guru says. That is the definition of one who is correctly able to devote to the virtuous friend. The best disciple is the one who always pleases the guru, living according to the guru’s words.
So how can one fulfil one’s wishes? The most powerful way is obtaining the guru’s advice, offering service, and making material offerings. However, the main thing is pleasing the holy mind of the virtuous friend.
The other thing I mentioned is serving sentient beings, helping with whatever they need. By fulfilling their wishes your wishes are fulfilled as the consequence or karmic result. The other way is fulfilling the guru’s wishes; this is the most powerful thing. From that, one attains guru devotion, the root of the path to enlightenment, and realization of the graduated path of the lower capable being, the perfect human rebirth, which is easy to lose and difficult to find, impermanence and death, then the suffering of the lower realms, and the realization of refuge and karma. Following that is realization of the graduated path of the middle capable being, from the Four Noble Truths, understanding true suffering and the true cause of suffering, then how samsara is in the nature of suffering. Then there is renunciation of samsara, finding not the slightest interest in samsara, the desire realm, form realm, and formless realm; you don’t find the slightest attraction in all of those samsaric pleasures, you see only suffering. By having renunciation of these then, if you don’t have compassion, you enter the Hinayana path and achieve the five paths to liberation: the path of merit, preparatory path, right-seeing path, path of meditation, and no more learning.
After renunciation, developing compassion for sentient beings, you actualize bodhicitta, and from that you can have the realization of bodhicitta. Then you enter into the five Mahayana paths: the Mahayana path of merit, path of preparation, right-seeing path, path of meditation, then no more learning. There are five Mahayana paths to achieve enlightenment. According to the Paramitayana, there are five Mahayana paths and ten bhumis; you are able to achieve all of this. On the basis of bodhicitta there is the tantric path to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime. Then, by practicing highest tantra you achieve enlightenment in a few years.
Success in all of these comes by following the guru’s wishes, by following his advice, offering service, and making offerings; the most powerful way is pleasing the holy mind of the virtuous friend. All your wishes can succeed, including all the realizations of the graduated paths of the lower capable being, middle capable being, and higher capable being, up to enlightenment; one is able to have success. After that is the great success: One is able to liberate numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment. This is unbelievable success: to bring numberless sentient beings to enlightenment. Therefore, there is no question about other success, such as temporal happiness, that comes along the way, or whatever wish you have regarding temporal happiness.
The third thing is making prayers, such as praying to Medicine Buddha for wishes to be fulfilled and success. Pray to Medicine Buddha for everyone to fulfil their wishes and have success. Reciting Medicine Buddha name mantra is very powerful.
The other answer is that obstacles come from negative karma, and negative karma comes from delusions, from ignorance. To fulfil one’s wishes, there are two ways to do this. In essence, one method is to purify the negative karma already collected, which brings obstacles, by practicing purification. The other way is to collect merit. The cause of success is merit and good karma. Success is what we want, not suffering. The cause of happiness is only good karma, merit, so we need to collect merit.
Q: Can one transform the power of prayer into the power of activities?
Yes, it is the same. Basically, I already answered this, but specifically, reciting Medicine Buddha name mantra is very important for this, transforming the power of prayer into the power of activities. Reciting the name mantra of Medicine Buddha is special for that, because in the past when Medicine Buddha was a bodhisattva, he made the prayer, “May anyone who recites my name prayer receive this benefit, this happiness, that happiness, solve this problem, solve that problem, then may they become enlightened.”
Buddha has skies of qualities, and one of those qualities is the ten powers. One of the powers is the power of prayer. They achieve these ten powers, including the power of prayer, when they become a Buddha. Once you achieve the power of prayer, all the prayers you made before happen.
So, by praying previously that “anyone who recites my name mantra should achieve this happiness, that happiness, solve this problem, etc.”, when they become a Buddha they achieve the ten powers, including the power of prayer. That earlier prayer gives all the power to the name mantra. Why their name mantras have so much power, are so powerful for purifying negative karma, and are so powerful in bringing success in whatever we pray for is because, in the past, when they were bodhisattvas, they made prayers with bodhicitta. All of this comes from their compassion for all sentient beings.
The other name mantra to recite for all our prayers to succeed is one particular Buddha’s name: Chom den de de zhin shak pa da chom pa yang tak pa zo pai sang gye ngo wa dang monlam tham che drub pi gyal po la chag tsal lo. This is one Buddha in particular whose benefit to sentient beings is that whatever prayer they make will succeed. We should recite this at the end of our practice. When we dedicate the merits for many different things, success in attaining realizations is the main thing, yours and others; for the Guru’s wishes to succeed; and for Buddha’s teachings to last a long time in this world. At the end we should recite this Buddha’s name for all the prayers we made to succeed.
Q: How can one meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings in life after life and receive blessings from the lineage lamas until enlightenment?
For that one must study Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings in this life. If you study Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings you make a strong connection, then this creates karma to meet them in the next life. Also, you chant Mig me tse we, Ganden Lha Gyäma, the practice of Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga. One of the benefits of Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga is that you are able to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings in the next life, from life to life; this is a special benefit. There are other guru yogas with different deities but the special benefit of Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga is that you are able to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings in the next life. Reading and studying Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings leaves karmic imprints to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings in future lives, then you are able to study and actualize them.
Every day you should make this prayer, which comes at the end of Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga: “In all future lifetimes…due to all the past, present, future merits collected by me, the three time merits collected by others...” (others means all sentient being and Buddhas) “...may myself, my family members, and all sentient beings...” (whenever we pray we should include all sentient beings as much as possible, to follow the bodhisattva’s attitude), “May I, all my family members, and all the people with whom I have connections, harmful or helpful, and all sentient beings, in all future lifetimes, may Lama Tsongkhapa be a direct guru for us, and may we never be separated from the pure path that pleases all the Buddhas, all the victorious ones,” (this means Buddhas). This prayer is very important to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings from life to life.
Why is it so important to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings? Why is it so emphasized? Because Lama Tsongkhapa’s teaching has the clearest explanation of the Prasangika school’s view of emptiness, and the clearest explanation about how to achieve shamatha (calm abiding, shi-nä), including the clearest explanations about the subtle obstacles. There are two obstacles: the attachment of scattering thought and sinking thought. The attachment of scattering thought can be gross and subtle, sinking thoughts also are gross and subtle, and the subtle one is extremely difficult to recognize. Many famous meditators are unable to find it, they believe they have achieved perfect meditation, but actually they have not, so Lama Tsongkhapa made the clearest explanations.
Without calm abiding meditation you can’t achieve great insight: meditation on emptiness. By realizing and meditating on emptiness, you unify analysis with shamatha, which is able to bring extremely refined rapturous ecstasy of the body and mind. Without great insight you can’t achieve the arya path, the resultant path, the Mahayana right-seeing path. In the Hinayana there is the right-seeing path and the path of meditation, the arya path. In the Mahayana there is the Mahayana right-seeing path and the Mahayana path of meditation. You can’t achieve those arya paths.
If you don’t achieve the arya path what happens is that, by achieving the right-seeing path, you remove the all-labeled disturbing thought obscuration, the intellectual defilements, and by achieving the path of meditation, you remove the simultaneously born disturbing thought obscuration. After removing all those completely, including the negative imprints, the seeds of delusion, then you achieve nirvana, the sorrowless state, arhatship. It is the same with the Mahayana path: without great insight you can’t achieve the Mahayana right-seeing path and Mahayana path of meditation. Without achieving this you can’t remove disturbing thought obscurations and subtle obscurations, which block our mind from becoming omniscient. You can’t achieve those paths. If you can’t achieve those paths then you can’t purify those defilements and you can’t achieve enlightenment. It is like that.
Also in tantra, Lama Tsongkhapa gave the clearest explanations as to how to achieve the illusory body and things like that, those extremely difficult subjects. Lama Tsongkhapa made them very clear, which makes them very easy to understand. By learning Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, which give the clearest explanation and guidance, by studying and understanding, you have correct understanding, correct practice, then correct realization. It gives the most certainty, and it is easier and quicker to achieve enlightenment for all sentient beings.
That prayer is very important. There is another prayer to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings: “Due to all the past, present, and future merits collected by me, and the three time merits collected by others, may I and all my family members, and all sentient beings, meet the teaching of the victorious one, the pure wisdom...” (this means Lama Tsongkhapa) “...who is living in pure morality and a brave heart, doing the extensive bodhisattva deeds and yoga of the two stages, the essence of which is transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness.” This prayer was composed by the Fifth Dalai Lama, to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings. It is very important to recite this prayer many times, even in one day.
There are two prayers. One is: “Due to the three times merit collected by me and collected by others, human beings, and Buddhas, may Lama Tsongkhapa be a direct guru for me, my family members, all the people I have a connection with, and all sentient beings in all future lifetimes, and may we never be separated from the path that pleases all the Buddhas, the victorious ones.” That one is very important.
The second one is the prayer composed by the Fifth Dalai Lama, which is another prayer to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings.
You have a question about Dewachen, the pure land. One lama asked Panchen Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen, “Will I meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings?” Panchen Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen was one of the incarnations of the Panchen Lama, who composed the Guru Puja, which is the highest tantric practice and the most extensive guru yoga, which brings enlightenment in a brief lifetime of our degenerated times. He didn’t reply to the lama. Then the lama asked, “Can I be born in Amitabha’s pure land?” Then Panchen Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen said, “Yes”. This shows that being born in a pure land is much easier than meeting Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings.
Also, in Amitabha pure land, some of my gurus said there is no tantric teaching so you can’t achieve enlightenment. That’s why the bodhisattvas in Amitabha pure land, Dewachen, pray to be born in our continent, in our world, because there are tantric teachings here, they can practice tantric teachings, and achieve enlightenment. That explanation also shows how our human body in the southern continent is so precious because it gives the opportunity to practice tantra, to achieve enlightenment quickly. In Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand by Pabongka Rinpoche it is mentioned there are bodhisattvas in those pure lands who pray to be born in our southern continent to be able to practice tantra. However, my root guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, said that you can practice tantra in Amitabha’s pure land and can achieve enlightenment there. There are different answers.
The question is: Will one meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings in Dewachen? If so, how does one make the dedication?
My idea is that rather than putting things off till the next life, the most practical thing is to study in this life as much as possible, learn as much as possible, and practice as much as possible. That is very important. That way definitely you meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teaching in the next life. Practice this Lama Tsongkhapa guru yoga prayer. The Lama Tsongkhapa guru yoga prayer is regarded as very, very important because it has the benefits of all guru yoga, but the special advantage is that there are about nine benefits of practicing Lama Tsongkhapa guru yoga. One particularly special thing is you can develop wisdom. Manjushri guru yoga is for wisdom; other guru yogas don’t have that specific advantage. Lama Tsongkhapa is Manjushri himself, so by practicing Lama Tsongkhapa guru yoga you achieve wisdom: great wisdom, clear wisdom, quick wisdom, profound wisdom, writing, debating, and explaining wisdom. One gets to develop these things, even after one month of doing Lama Tsongkhapa practice. It is a common experience. Then there is also the benefit of being born in Tushita pure land, Lama Tsongkhapa’s pure land, Maitreya Buddha’s pure land, and in future lives to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings.
You can practice Lama Tsongkhapa guru yoga according to highest yoga tantra. There is a very secret meditation that goes with the migtsema, which contains the practice of the guru entering the heart; that is very secret. To do these things at the end of guru yoga you need the highest yoga tantra great initiation first. Without this highest tantra initiation you can’t do these practices, so you just do the normal one that doesn’t require the initiation.
If there are tantric teachings in Amitabha pure land then you can become enlightened. There aren’t different qualities of enlightenment, enlightenment is one quality. That means there should be the same tantric teaching as Lama Tsongkhapa taught, so there has to be emptiness, shamatha, and the tantric teachings of the clear light and illusory body. It basically means the correct teaching of the tantric path.
The pure land is not only Amitabha pure land; there are many pure lands. There is the pure land of Vajrayogini, and the pure land of Heruka; there you definitely become enlightened. There are many pure lands of different Buddhas. In Shambhala, the Kalachakra pure land, you can become enlightened; there is tantra there.
Q: To become enlightened you must learn tantric teachings?
Ultimately, yes. Even if you practice Mahayana, paramitayana sutra, the five paths and ten bhumis, even the tenth bhumi bodhisattva before becoming enlightened has to receive the initiation, and then do Buddha Vajradhara practice with the wisdom mother, the consort. Then, you stop the gross mind and actualize the extremely subtle mind of clear light. That becomes the direct cause of the dharmakaya. The illusory body becomes the direct cause of the rupakaya; that’s how you become enlightened. Ultimately, you become enlightened by depending on tantra. Without depending on tantra you can’t become enlightened, even for the tenth bhumi bodhisattva who is close to achieving enlightenment.
Q: If Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings will only be available for 5000 eons, after that 5000 eons will we be able to meet Tsongkhapa’s teachings maybe in another pure land?
Yes, that’s possible. There are other universes, so there are pure lands where there is opportunity. As long as there is the tantric path that Buddha himself actualized, that Lama Tsongkhapa actualized, if it is the correct one, it’s the same. It doesn’t mean you don’t pray to be born in a pure land; you can pray to be born in a pure land.
There are some pure lands where you can become enlightened. There are pure lands like Amitabha pure land, where once you are there you are never reborn in a lower realm. But with some other pure lands, it is possible to be born again in a lower realm, when you have finished your karma there; there are different types of pure land. Usually, when I make prayers, even for other sentient beings to be born in pure lands, I pray to be born in a pure land where sentient beings can become enlightened. The words, “where sentient beings can become enlightened” make a difference.
Q: Normally those other pure lands are not commonly mentioned – Amitabha pure land is very commonly mentioned.
Yes, because Vajrayogini and Heruka are highest tantric deities, so they are only mentioned where people do these deity practices, in Nepal, Tibet, or India. Nowadays, Tibetan monks who have escaped from Tibet and are living in Tibetan monasteries are practicing, and many Tibetan people are living in India, but amongst Indians themselves Buddhism has almost completely degenerated. There are some Theravadin temples. Where highest tantra practice has spread, then the pure lands of Vajrayogini and Heruka are known. But the general ones are Amitabha pure land and Chenrezig pure land.
In Lama Tsongkhapa’s collection of teachings there is a prayer to be born in Amitabha pure land; it seems Lama Tsongkhapa emphasized it and it is quite important. One reason why Amitabha pure land is good is because, for example, to be born in Tushita pure land you need to have very pure morality, otherwise it is difficult to be born there, whereas it is very easy for ordinary beings to be born in Amitabha pure land; that is its great advantage.
Making prayers to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, to be born as a human being again, to take a perfect human rebirth, and to meet a perfect guru, who is giving Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings—one can pray that whenever death happens those things happen next, in order to have realizations of the path to enlightenment. That is important whether we are reborn in a pure land or not.
The best thing is to meditate on the path, the lam-rim, and to actualize it. The best thing in this life is to have realizations, some development, and as much as possible to have lam-rim realizations, of guru devotion, the three principle paths, then the tantric path and the highest tantric path; while you have the opportunity, do it in this life. That’s the most important thing. Then, if you don’t become enlightened in this life, pray to have a perfect human rebirth in the next life, the opportunity to practice where tantric teachings exist, to have a perfect environment, with all the conditions to practice tantra, and a perfectly qualified guru teaching Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings. Whatever path you haven’t developed in this life then in the next life you develop that. That is important. The purpose of pure lands is, if you are not able to actualize the tantric path in this life, then you are reborn in a pure land and become enlightened there, where there are tantric teachings. You become enlightened there for sentient beings’ sake.
Q: Is it more difficult to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings than to reach Amitabha’s pure land?
Yes, is more difficult to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings than to go to Amitabha pure land. When you are born in Amitabha pure land, you become a bodhisattva there and possibly also achieve the Mahayana higher paths, then you come down into the world to benefit many sentient beings as a bodhisattva.
It is not that being born in Amitabha pure land is like being in a god realm. It is totally different, everything is pure, there are not even words like suffering rebirth, old age, sickness, and death, and no anger or desire, those gross delusions, arise. There is no such thing. You definitely receive teachings and then develop the Mahayana path. Then, as a bodhisattva you come to a world, such as a human world, to benefit many sentient beings.
Q: So, it is best is to pray to be reborn in Amitabha’s pure land because then you cannot be reborn in the lower realms.
That is for sure. Pray to be born there.
If a bodhisattva comes into the world that means it is only to benefit others. In the pure land you also accumulate merit, then you come down to the human realm to benefit others. Also, if there are some tantric teachings existing, then you practice tantric teachings and become enlightened. You can do that.
Q: But if you are studying Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings is there some danger of being reborn in the lower realms?
No, if you practice Dharma, you aren’t reborn in the lower realms. If you don’t practice Dharma, then you are reborn in the lower realms.
If you practice Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings in this life, which means also practicing morality and all the necessities to receive a perfect human body in the next life, then you will meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings again, and will be able to practice tantric teachings again. One can do it that way or go to a pure land and come back as a bodhisattva—that’s according to one’s own wishes.
Q: Which way is faster?
Both ways are faster. Which way is faster depends on the individual person, on your practice.
Q: The blessings of the lineage lamas…?
The blessing of the lineage lamas: that is making a request. There is Lama Tsongkhapa’s prayer making a request of all the lineage lamas from Buddha up to one’s own root guru, which is done by meditating that all these are the essence of one’s own root guru, that they are one.
There is the conventional guru and the ultimate guru. The ultimate guru is the absolute guru, the absolute guru is all the Buddhas’ dharmakaya, transcendental wisdom, non-dual bliss and voidness, that which has no beginning and no end and pervades all phenomena, and, because it is bound with infinite compassion, manifests any time sentient beings’ karma ripens. Without delaying for a second it immediately manifests in any form that fits sentient beings—for higher bodhisattvas, the sambhogakaya, for lower bodhisattvas, the nirmanakaya, and for ordinary beings who have impure karma, in an ordinary form having delusions, having the sufferings of samsara, having mistaken actions. It manifests as ordinary beings to those who have impure karma. In that way they can communicate, sentient beings can receive teachings, and can be guided from happiness to happiness, to enlightenment. It also manifests as animals, even in animal form, all types of forms, exactly whatever is needed, according to the karma of the sentient being.
The absolute guru also manifests through the conventional guru, who gives us initiations, vows, or teachings. Guiding us through this conventional guru, it frees us from oceans of samsaric suffering and brings us to enlightenment. From Guru Shakyamuni Buddha down to the root guru—they are all one, they are all the root guru. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is the root guru. That absolute guru manifests as this conventional root guru, but they are one manifestation, one being, the same, one mind. All the lineage lamas are one mind, down to the root guru; it is all the essence of the root guru. It manifests the lineage lamas like that. With this awareness one makes request to all the lineage lamas. With one-pointed devotion, make a request to become like them, to receive their blessings.
The meaning of blessing is to give their qualities, their realizations. Usually it is advised to do the preparatory practice Jorcho, in order to receive realizations. Lama Tsongkhapa asked Manjushri, “What is the way to achieve quick realizations of the path to enlightenment?” Manjushri answered, “To purify the mind of the obstacles to realizations and to collect the necessary conditions, the merit, to collect extensive merit, that’s one thing. The other one is one-pointedly making requests to the guru,” that means with devotion. The third one is meditating on the path.
There are three things; just meditating on the lam-rim, on the path, is not sufficient. We plant a seed in the ground. To make the sprout grow, we have to add water. It has to have perfect soil, otherwise the seed cannot grow. It is exactly the same to be able to receive realizations of the path in your heart. That realization has to come from the blessings of the guru. The blessing of the guru comes from your devotion, by looking at the guru as Buddha. The Buddha explained, Lama Tsongkhapa explained, Milarepa explained, and it is explained in the lam-rim, how to meditate and how to look at the guru as Buddha. There are quotations from Buddha Vajradhara, Lama Tsongkhapa, many great yogis, and great Tibetan lamas, who explained those quotations with reasoning. By looking at the guru as Buddha you see Buddha, then by seeing Buddha you have a pure devotional mind towards the guru. The stronger and greater the blessing one receives from the guru, the quicker one achieves realizations and is able to enlighten numberless sentient beings.
Therefore, devotion becomes so important, becomes the root of everything up to enlightenment. After you achieve enlightenment, you enlighten numberless sentient beings—that comes from one’s devotion to the guru. The blessing is like water; it comes from one’s own devotion.
Along with that one meditates on the path, then one can have realizations. Without the practice of purification and collecting merit, as explained in the lam-rim outline, and without one-pointedly requesting the gurus with devotion, by just meditating on the path, the mind becomes very dry; and the practice can’t affect your mind. As Manjushri explained to Lama Tsongkhapa, this is what we have to understand.
One needs to practice the six preparatory practices, or one can practice Lama Chöpa, the most extensive guru yoga, combined with the Jorcho preparatory practices. You can combine those two. That is extremely good. It contains what Manjushri explained: purifying the mind of obstacles and collecting extensive merits. The very special one-pointed requesting prayer that Lama Tsongkhapa composed is in this; this prayer is to all the lineage lamas down to one’s own root guru.
When all this is finished you can meditate on the path. You read the lam-rim prayer, which becomes a direct meditation on the whole path. Along with that you meditate on each part of the lam-rim, on whichever realization you haven’t achieved, until you achieve that realization. Go step by step. Or you finish the prayer and then meditate on the lam-rim. You need to receive a commentary and learn how to meditate on the lam-rim as Manjushri explained, purifying, collecting merit, one-pointedly requesting, then meditating on the lam-rim. You need a commentary on the six preparatory practices, to learn that, then you will know how to meditate on the lam-rim, and how to make realizations possible.
This is how it is normally advised to meditate on the lam-rim, on the basis of the preparatory practice with prayers and meditations, called Jorcho, which, combined with Guru Puja, is very powerful. You can do that, but you can do it also on the basis of the short lam-rim outline as in Lama Tsongkhapa’s guru yoga.
Q: What are the six preparatory practices?
They are called preparatory practices because the whole practice starts from cleaning your room and setting up the altar; then assuming the meditation posture and creating your motivation— the practice of refuge and bodhicitta; then purifying the place, blessing the offerings and invoking the merit field; then the seven-limb practice, including mandala offering; and finally making requests to the lineage lamas.
The seven limb practice is very, very important. It is very important for purification. There is confession, purifying negative karma, the obstacles to realization, then rejoicing, which is the easiest way to collect the most extensive merit, then increasing the merit, and dedicating the merit, thus making the merit inexhaustible. Prostrations, making offerings, all of these are to collect extensive merit. Requesting to have a stable life, to turn the Dharma wheel—all are very important. The seven limb practice is so important for achieving realizations; it creates enlightenment.
Mandala offerings are a means to collect extensive merit, in order to have realizations. Make a mandala offering with requests for the three great purposes, and then a mandala offering to collect extensive merit. After that, make the requesting prayer. After the mandala offering, make the requesting prayer to the lineage lamas, then meditate on the lam-rim, and recite the meditation prayer in the lam-rim. After that, the merit field absorbs into you. The guru descends on your crown in the form of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, and then again you make the request. After that make the dedication.
There are more details than this; it is just a rough outline. This is the procedure of how to meditate on the lam-rim. On the basis of these things you meditate on the lam-rim, then one is able to have experience and realizations.
Q: A question about the pure land: if one is praying to be reborn in a pure land, then has one been liberated from samsara?
Being born in a pure land doesn’t remove the delusions. The seed of delusions, the negative imprint which gives rise to them, is not removed just by being born in a pure land. You are born in a pure land due to collecting merit and prayer, but you don’t remove the delusions just by being born in a pure land. Only by actualizing the path can you remove delusions. A pure land is not any part of the three realms, but being born there doesn’t mean you cease the delusions. If there is a possibility to actualize the path in that pure realm, the paths of merit, preparation, right-seeing, meditation, and no more learning, then you can remove delusions and achieve realizations.
Q: How can one become a qualified disciple like Dromtonpa and Milarepa?
Milarepa had a powerful mind and body capable of really bearing hardship. He could sacrifice, renounce life, was able to bear hot and cold, and had such a strong mind and body. If you are like that then you are able to complete the path.
It is explained in the teachings that to create the cause to achieve that, if there is something difficult that other people cannot do, then voluntarily you take the responsibility on yourself to do it. This kind of thing becomes the cause to achieve a very powerful mind and body like Milarepa, which can practice Dharma so powerfully and bear hardships. You are not weak in mind and body, and unable to continue to practice, or when a problem comes, your mind collapses and you are unable to continue to practice.
You give your life to the guru, you surrender. Drontompa and Milarepa completely knew how to devote to the guru, with one hundred percent devotion, one-pointed, with no doubt that the guru is Buddha. One completely surrenders to Buddha, to the guru, to their advice. You become like the guru’s limb, like his legs and hands. If one is able to look at Buddha, see the guru as Buddha, one-pointedly devoted, and completely give oneself to the guru, following his advice, then you become a disciple like Drontompa and Milarepa.
Therefore, we must pray every day to be like Milarepa and Drontompa, to devote to the virtuous friend like them. Then in this life or the next life we can become like them, perfect disciples like Milarepa. Also, there is Kadampa Geshe Chekawa, a champion, another incomparable example, also Bodhisattva Norsang, Bodhisattva Always Crying. These are normally mentioned in the lam-rim.
Q: How can one request teachings in order to get the greatest benefit?
Regarding requesting teachings, there is not much explanation. With a respectful manner, make prostrations, kneel down with your two palms together, and make the request for the teachings. There is not much explanation about that. If you know what it is you want to request, to benefit your mind, then you can request it. If you don’t know what to request, what is more beneficial, the most necessary for you, then you ask the guru to give whatever the guru thinks is most beneficial. You request the guru and leave the decision up to the guru.
Making the teaching most beneficial depends on how you listen to the teaching. One has to follow the lam-rim. At the beginning of the lam-rim, Lama Tsongkhapa explained from the lama’s side, how to give teachings, and from the disciple’s side, how to listen to teachings. You have to follow those outlines.
One must listen to the teaching by avoiding the three mistakes of the vase: not being like an upside down vase, or a vase with a hole in it, or a vase that has stains. One should listen by practicing the six recognitions, as explained in the lam-rim, in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, and the Lam-rim Chen-mo. The essence is that the guru is like a doctor and you are the patient with a chronic disease, delusion, from beginningless rebirths. The teaching is medicine for the chronic disease, the delusions, to heal. Look at the guru as the Buddha giving the teaching, and think that the teachings will last a long time in this world.
If one listens to the teaching avoiding the mistakes of the vase and with the six recognitions, then the teaching becomes very beneficial. You are listening to the teaching to benefit your mind, not just for interest or study, to collect information so that you can teach others, or to get reputation, power, or wealth. For those who listen this way, the teaching benefits their minds so much; every single word touches the heart. For those who don’t listen to the teaching properly, it doesn’t benefit their mind, it becomes just collecting information, like studying in school or university. The person doesn’t use the teaching to subdue the delusions.
A last word about the lam-rim meditation: Even if you don’t do the lam-rim meditation based on the preparatory practices or combined with Guru Puja, if you are doing the long version, you can do it on the basis of Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga. If it is short, you can make mandala offerings to collect merit. It is short but the essence is still there: the practice to purify the mind, collect merit, and requesting the guru’s blessing. Then, when you have time, you can do the long version. There is a commentary that I gave some years ago, so you can study that. It will tell you how to meditate.
I hope you find something useful in tonight’s talk. I hope there is some benefit, something useful, to make your time worthwhile (laughs).
Thank you so much.