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Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Holy Objects : Pilgrimage

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche (Last Updated Nov 21, 2013)
Advice for Pilgrimage 
This advice was given to a student who attended the introductory course at Tushita Meditation Centre. She made a good connection with Rinpoche, doing kora late one night and receiving advice and gifts from Rinpoche. Then Rinpoche heard she was doing pilgrimage after the course and gave this advice.

Pilgrimage needs faith. More faith, more happiness. Otherwise, we are just like tourists looking at ruins. Pilgrimage is not just going to holy places and taking pictures. We go to holy places for blessing, so it’s good to do practices at the different holy places.

Of course, it is good to recite Buddha’s mantra and meditate on the Heart Sutra, even something short like this, and then to recite a lam-rim prayer and different praises to Buddha. There are three different praises to Buddha; the best one is Lama Tsongkhapa’s In Praise of Dependent Origination. Then there is the Praise of the Buddha—Unrivalled Lion of the Shakyas by Lama Tsongkhapa and Praise of the Exalted One (?). It is good to do different praises to Buddha. Use Lama Tsongkhapa’s In Praise of Dependent Origination most of the time, because it talks about emptiness.

Pilgrimage is good if you know how to do pilgrimage. Otherwise it’s just travelling like a tourist. Also, when we go to these holy places it reminds us of impermanence. Once these places were great cities, but now there are just stones. A thousand years ago these places were quite different, but even though there are just stones now, these stones are so precious. Amazing. Can you imagine how blessed these places are? They are places where the Buddha was. Many Tibetan people take away earth from holy places.

One time I went to the place where a monkey made offering to Buddha and the guide took some of the earth to give to me. Then an Indian doctor who was with me got angry at the guide for giving me the earth! That earth is now at Kopan with many other holy things from different places. [Note: Many people give Rinpoche holy objects, like blessed stones or fish from Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar.]

So, do different lam-rim prayers at these holy places and make prayers to have realizations. At the beginning, do prostrations. You can recite the preliminary prayers  that we do traditionally at Kopan [see FPMT Retreat Prayer Book, pp.13-17]; this includes prostrations by reciting Buddha’s name (Lama tonpa chom den de…). Then do the seven limb practice. Then recite the different praises to Buddha and lam-rim prayers.

If you have time, carry the story of the holy places with you and read that story in the different places to the people who are doing pilgrimage. If you are going on pilgrimage, read a book describing the holy places and read about what the Buddha did in those places. You can also read the stories of the great pandits. 

Practicing in Bodhgaya
Rinpoche gave the following advice on the benefits of practicing in Bodhgaya to a group of Russian students.

I think you are very fortunate to be able to come to Bodhgaya, where a thousand buddhas will descend, place their holy feet, display holy deeds, and achieve enlightenment. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is the fourth of the thousand buddhas. The rest of the buddhas will descend here and will also display the twelve deeds, and the holy deed, achieving enlightenment.

There is a place in Bodhgaya called the Vajra Seat. This ground is blessed. Before becoming enlightened, Buddha blessed this ground so it would not be destroyed or cracked, but would stay firm. It is said that there are no earthquakes in Bodhgaya because it is blessed by Buddha, and also that this will be the last place to exist when the world ends.

On top of receiving the blessings from this holy place, where already four buddhas have descended, so many other enlightened beings, yogis, and great bodhisattvas have come here to do pilgrimage, to pray, and to bless this place.

It is very good while you’re here to make as many circumambulations and prayers as you can under the bodhi tree and inside the temple in front of the Buddha. Even though it is said that the bodhi tree has been cut down three times, it has the same roots as at the time of the Buddha.

The great bodhisattva and pandit, Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen from Khunu, who gave an extensive commentary on the Bodhicaryavatara to His Holiness the Dalai Lama a number of years ago, said that when he was circumambulating the stupa one day, something was seeping out of the tree. It was not the rainy season, everything was dry, but something was dripping out of the tree. He took one drop and put it on his tongue and it was sweet. Nectar was dripping from the tree while he was circumambulating.

Most people have heard that there is a Tara statue outside the stupa that spoke to Lama Atisha. Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen said that, in fact, all the statues outside the stupa spoke to Lama Atisha. Inside the stupa, the paintings also spoke to Lama Atisha. To the question, “What’s the quickest and best way to achieve enlightenment?” a female aspect of Buddha answered “Bodhicitta.”

Holy objects speak to beings like Lama Atisha, who have pure karma and a pure mind. As it is mentioned in the lam-rim teachings by Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo and also in other teachings, bodhisattvas who have achieved the great path of merit see buddhas in the nirmanakaya aspect. They see statues in the nirmanakaya aspect, so the statues speak. The higher bodhisattva who has actualized wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, who has achieved the path of right seeing, see the statues in the sambhogakaya aspect. Then, when they become enlightened, they see other buddhas as being oneness. When they become enlightened, they become oneness with all the buddhas, like water coming from many different sources but all flowing to the ocean and becoming one.

It is very good to use the holy place of Bodhgaya as much as possible to purify your mind, the negative karmas and defilements, to collect extensive merit, and to plant the seed of the whole path to enlightenment. Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen Rinpoche, the great bodhisattva, usually advised people to recite the extensive, bodhisattva dedication prayer – the King of Prayers – under the bodhi tree. Also, it is very good to recite any of the lam-rim prayers, either based on the Guru Puja or Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga. You recite the lam-rim prayer and, as you recite the prayer, practice meditation and make a strong request to the Buddha to receive realizations of each path.

You can especially meditate on bodhicitta under the Bodhi tree, either the seven techniques of Mahayana cause and effect or equalizing oneself and others and exchanging oneself for others. To meditate on bodhicitta under the Bodhi tree would be your best offering to Buddha. Also, reciting the Heart Sutra and then meditating on emptiness is very powerful.

You can also practice in the following way. After you sit down, remember the kindness of Buddha, the qualities of Buddha, and the kindness of the Buddha. Buddha sacrificed his life for others for three countless great eons. He practiced morality, patience, perseverance, concentration, wisdom, and so forth. He then completed the two types of merit: wisdom and virtue, achieved full enlightenment, and revealed Dharma to sentient beings. All of this was done for sentient beings, for our benefit. That is incredibly kind. Buddha is kinder than all the rest of the buddhas, with kindness as vast as limitless space. You can think like this a few times and meditate on the kindness of Buddha.

Then you recite: “La ma ton pa chom dan da de shin sheg pa dra chom pa yang dag par dzog pai sang gya pal gyal wa shakya thub pa la chhag tshal lo/ chho do/ kyab su chhi wo/ jin gyi lab tu sol” Recite Buddha’s name, which expresses all Buddha’s qualities, 21 times. Then, visualize nectar emitting from Buddha and entering your body and mind, purifying you and all sentient beings.

After reciting the Buddha’s name, recite a praise to Buddha, such as that written by Lama Tsongkhapa, called “Praise To Buddha Having Found The Realization,” realizing that all phenomena is unified with emptiness and dependent arising. Or you can recite any other praise to Buddha.

After this, Buddha melts into light and absorbs into you, and you become empty. Your wisdom perceiving emptiness arises in the manifestation of Buddha, in that aspect. Then, you visualize the mantra at your heart and beams of light emanate from you. As soon as the beams touch the hell beings, instantly their evil karmas and defilements are purified and they all become Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. The same happens when the beams are emitted and touch the hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras, and intermediate state beings. As soon as the beams touch them, all their defilements and negative karmas are completely purified and they all become Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. Then you rejoice, “How wonderful that I have enlightened all sentient beings into the essence of Buddha.” After this, you make the dedication, to actualize bodhicitta and seal it with emptiness, and dedicate to achieving enlightenment for sentient beings.

There is a prayer that contains the Buddha’s past lives and bodhisattva life stories, when he made his lives of incredible benefit to other sentient beings. There is also a prayer which contains the bodhisattvas’ life stories, the Jataka Tales, at the end of Chöd practice. It is very good and inspiring to recite that prayer like this, “May I be able to practice like you. You did this…etc.” You can pray from your heart to Buddha.

Then at the end, dedicate the merits: “Due to all the past, present, and future merits collected by me, and the merits of the three times collected by others, may the bodhicitta which is the cause and source of all happiness for myself and all sentient beings be generated within my own mind, the minds of my family, and the minds of all sentient beings, without the delay of even a second, and may that which is generated increase.”

Make a very strong prayer. Especially in these times, the world is suffering so much. There are so many wars and so much killing and torture due to the turmoil of the negative emotional mind, its anger, desire, and self-cherishing thoughts. It is very important to make a strong prayer to actualize bodhicitta within yourself and in the mind of all sentient beings, and dedicate the merits to that. If one dedicates the merits to achieving enlightenment for sentient beings, it’s like putting a drop of water in the ocean. By putting the drop in the ocean, it becomes inexhaustible.

When you dedicate all your past, present, and future merits, and the merits collected by others in the three times, you combine the merit of so many sentient beings. There are so many bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas collect so much merit in every second because their motivation is bodhicitta, for the benefit of all sentient beings without discrimination. So, whatever action they perform, they collect merit as vast as the sky. Even each in and out-breath is for the benefit of all sentient beings.

The appearance of all these merits as truly existing from their own side is totally non-existent and empty in reality. Also, how does the “I” appear to you? It doesn’t appear as merely labeled by the mind. It appears not as merely labeled by mind, and it is this which is the very subtle object to be refuted in the Madhyamika Prasangika school. This is a hallucination. How does enlightenment appear to you? Again, same thing, it does not appear as merely labeled by mind. Enlightenment appears as existing from its own side. That is a hallucination; it is empty. When you think of all sentient beings, how do they appear? Again, they do not appear as merely labeled by mind, even though they are merely labeled by mind. That is a hallucination; they are empty. We aspire to lead beings to enlightenment, which is empty, by myself alone. We might thing that “myself alone” is something real That is a hallucination; it is empty. While you are dedicating, you meditate on emptiness, on each phenomenon. In this way, it becomes a perfect, pure, stainless dedication.

There are two things to explain about the dedication. When you dedicate merits, small or great, to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, you put together your merits and others’, and by putting them together they become inexhaustible. If a virtuous action is not performed with bodhicitta and is not dedicated to achieving enlightenment, and anger arises, it can be destroyed completely. But if the merits are dedicated to achieving enlightenment, and then anger arises, it can’t completely destroy the merits, it can only make them weaker. It’s like a there is a huge mountain and you take many trucks of stones from the mountain, so it becomes less, but still the big mountain is there. Like this, the merit becomes less but is not completely destroyed if it is dedicated to achieving enlightenment for sentient beings.

When you dedicate merit the best method to protect it is by sealing it with emptiness. The way to do that is either by looking at everything as empty or by meditating on dependent arising as you look at each phenomenon as merely labeled, for example, the merit of the three times, which is merely labeled by mind; the “I” which is merely labeled by mind; achieving Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment, which is merely labeled by mind; then leading all sentient beings who are merely labeled by mind to enlightenment, which is merely labeled by mind, by myself alone who is also merely labeled by mind. You can dedicate the merits by meditating on subtle dependent arising or on emptiness, which come to the same conclusion. By dedicating the merits by meditating on emptiness, the merits are protected.

You can also dedicate merits to the spread of the Buddhadharma, to the Buddhadharma existing for a long time, especially Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, and for the Buddha of Compassion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the one object of refuge for all sentient beings, to have a stable life, and for all his holy wishes to be fulfilled immediately. You can also dedicate in the same way for other virtuous friends. It is very important to pray for their long lives.

Then dedicate according to the King of Prayers, “I dedicate all the merits to be able to follow the holy deeds of the bodhisattva Samantabadra, Manjugosha, as they realized. I dedicate all the merits in the way the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times dedicated merits, in the way that they admired the most.”

Request that Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings be completed in one’s own mind and in the world. Request that your family members meet, completely actualize, and spread Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings in the world, and that the teachings exist for a long time. Dedicate the merits like that.