One thing I missed out [in a previous advice] was how to circumambulate holy objects. In the beginning, of course, it is important to do a strong motivation and generate bodhicitta; then there are unbelievable skies of benefits from circumambulating. If __ has [information about] other benefits than those here, she will give it to you. This can be read before going to the stupa and any other holy objects, or it can also be read there if that is more convenient.
It is very important to remember to recite the mantra for increasing each circumambulation ten million times. Then circumambulate, doing meditation to purify not only yourself or your nose (I thought I should bring in some jokes suddenly) but also to purify the sentient beings of the six realms—all together or one by one, purifying each realm separately. If you are going around more times—for example, if you are going around six times—then you can focus on purifying a different realm during each circumambulation. Dedicate at the end, then it collects skies of merits.
Even if you circumambulate one or two times, you are enriched by so many skies of merits and receive very deep purification. This is an extremely important practice for quick enlightenment, because of the method—the extensive meditation, the special mantras and so forth.
Also when you make extensive offerings—not only food offering—you can follow the same extensive offering practice I put together for light offerings and what I often do before eating. So you can follow this same practice when you make offerings to the statues. This is a very important practice, a very quick way to get out of samsara and achieve enlightenment and enlighten sentient beings. It is deep like the ocean. Doing this practice purifies our negative karma, so that the mind can be transformed into the path to enlightenment.
When you go to Rajgir, of course if you have many hours or even the whole day then you can read the Eight Thousand Stanzas of the Prajnaparamita Sutra; even just one volume. This has been done in a few hours at Rajgir by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, also with many monks.
Or you could read the Madhyamaka text, Entering the Middle Way, or Lama Tsongkhapa’s important texts that have a good explanation of the interpretive and definitive meaning of emptiness and so forth.
When you go to Nalanda, you can chant the prayer written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama about the Seventeen Pandits. That is a beautiful prayer to the Seventeen Pandits. [Read more about the pandits and Nalanda in Mandala magazine, July 2012]. You can also recite praises and homage to Shakyamuni Buddha and chant mantras—the Guru Shakyamuni mantra and name—and do Guru Shakyamuni meditation.
Also remember the kindness of all these great pandits, scholars, highly attained and enlightenment beings —even some who were not enlightened at that time, but were highly attained beings. I don’t mean to go through all the stories of the Seventeen Pandits, but you can talk, remember or read about the main ones, such as the Six Ornaments and the two sublime disciples—Nagarjuna, Asanga, Chandrakirti and especially Lama Atisha. You can have a far-out time going through some of their enlightening stories.
You can also read some teachings of Nagarjuna, Shantideva or Lama Atisha, such as Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment or other teachings by Lama Atisha. You could read one chapter of the Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life (Bodhicaryavatara), for example, the chapter on patience, the benefits of bodhicitta or the chapter on exchanging oneself for others (you sell yourself and buy another, HA HA!!!!). However much you can read depends on the situation, the people, etc. Even a little bit is very good, of course if you do more, then it is more beneficial.
You could also read lam-rim prayers, do lam-rim meditations and request to have each of those realizations that are mentioned in the lam-rim. This is very good. It makes them very happy and is a very good offering. Or you can read any teaching and then think to try to practice that way, exactly as it says.
Another possibility is to do tsog offering, Lama Chöpa (Guru Puja) or Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga. Do the tsog offering according to your time. It doesn’t mean you have to do everything, or that everything has to be chanted. It depends on how much time you have.
The essence is very important—rejoicing in these qualities and the three time merits of all these holy beings, especially the extensive benefit that has been done, is still happening and that will happen in the future, through the texts that have been written and that are continuously being studied in the monasteries, and especially those that are integrated in our life through lam-rim practice. Numberless beings have already become enlightened in the past and the present and will also be enlightened in the future. So, make strong prayers to become like them.
When you are at Nalanda, according to the time you have, first think about the meaning of Buddha, and how kind the Buddha is to you, like the limitless sky. Also think, “How kind the Buddha is to all my mother sentient beings (amala in Tibetan language), without leaving even one out.”
There is still more I would like to explain about the first practice, the Praise to Shakyamuni Buddha (La ma tön pa…). There are so many benefits.
If it is possible to go to the stupa in the morning, then you can recite other prayers that you normally do, inside and outside the stupa, and also recite some while circumambulating.
When you do circumambulation you don’t need to go slowly, you can just go normally or in a quick way. The main thing is to do the meditation, to be able to do that while going quicker, then there are more merits created in a short time. You can also recite mantras when you circumambulate, such as Chenrezig, Vajrasattva, Guru Shakyamuni name and mantra, Mitukpa or migtsema mantras. You can also recite the names of the Thirty-five Buddhas, the five powerful mantras for purification and any others that you know. This is excellent. Also if you have memorized any texts, you can recite them.
When you are at Bodhgaya, all around the main stupa there are many other statues, small and big ones. I think some have been taken away and replaced with black ones that I think are Hindu deities. Anyway if you think it is still Buddha and worship it, you are taking refuge to Buddha and not a Hindi deity.
In Sarnath I once went to a Hindu temple. I think it was to make one individual person happy—I think it was a caretaker. When I was there, I was thinking all [the statues] were Buddha, not Hindu gods or devas, so I did not have any opposite refuge, wrong refuge, because I took refuge to Buddha.
All these statues around the stupa, small and big, all spoke to Lama Atisha when he was circumambulating. It wasn’t just one Tara statue, which is what most people think.
Also it was said by Kyabje Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen, the great scholar and great bodhisattva, that the carved pillars from King Ashoka’s time and Nagarjuna’s time that are outside the temple; that they were like that naturally, not carved.
Of course when you are in Bodhgaya, you can do Guru Shakyamuni Buddha meditation under the bodhi tree. This is very good. In the evening time dedicate all the merits by reciting the King of Prayers; this could be under the bodhi tree. Also you can recite the prayer spreading of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, to spread in your heart and to every being in this world, and to all sentient beings. Also you can recite the lam-rim dedication prayer.
This is just advice. I know you don’t have a lot of time, but this is to give you an idea and also to help others and also maybe for the future.