The letter from the prisoner read:
I am a prisoner in Central Florida, USA. I have been a Buddhist practitioner now for over three years. I found Buddhism while in prison, a most fortunate situation. I took refuge vows last year over the phone by your authority with the nun who works for the Liberation Prison Project. She gave me my Dharma name, which is Thubten Jangchug. Even though I have never met you, every time I see pictures of you, I can feel the limitless love you have for all of us. Please, Rinpoche, I am lovingly requesting if you could advise me on my life practices. I am currently getting up at 4 am to do my daily practice and about 45 minutes of meditation every morning. I will be released from prison in about two years and want to devote the few remaining years I have left on this earth with this fortunate rebirth as a human being to living and breathing the precious Dharma.
Rinpoche, I know with your omniscient, clear mind, you know what is best for me. I also would like to make the request to you, humbly and with devotion, to allow me to be your disciple, and accept me and be my lama.
[Rinpoche commented that you could tell by the way the letter was written, the style of the handwriting, that this person is a very kind and goodhearted, sincere person.]
My very dear one,
Sorry it has taken eight months to reply to your letter. I apologize for that. In recent times, I have done quite a bit of traveling in Nepal, southern India, northern India, and other places, traveling and taking teachings from my gurus, like His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I am sure there is no question that laziness is still there. Of course, there is laziness! First, you must know that I am very happy to receive your letter and your total faith toward the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and wanting to practice from the heart.
First of all, because you are in prison, you met the Dharma and were able to receive help from the nun who works for the Liberation Prison Project. Because you are a prisoner, then the Prison Project was able to reach you. If you were not in prison, it is possible that you might not have met the Buddhadharma. So, your being in prison has turned out to be for enlightenment! It turned out to be the means by which you have met the unmistaken path that brings you to inner liberation from the inner prison of samsara – where you are imprisoned by delusions and karma. There are two ways to think of inner prison – you are kept in the prison of samsara by delusions and karma. Buddhism shows the complete, unmistaken, most reliable path for how to eliminate the cause of the samsaric prison – karma and delusions. The way it eliminates delusion is by eliminating its cause, the negative seed or imprint.
Of course, a person practicing Buddhism, especially Mahayana Buddhism, the Mahayana path, is able to eliminate even the subtle negative imprint, achieve full enlightenment, and liberate countless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment. So, this proves that it is not just faith, not just belief, because Buddha, himself, met the guru and received teachings and correctly followed them. Then through listening, reflecting, and meditating, he actualized the complete path to liberation, to enlightenment. He eliminated all the gross and subtle defilements and achieved full enlightenment, besides being liberated from the oceans of samsaric sufferings forever. Then, there are so many great yogis and pandits, like the stars in the nighttime sky, who by following the path correctly, as Buddha taught, achieved liberation and full enlightenment. So, therefore, your being in prison is an incredibly fortunate thing. It means that anyone who blamed you or put you in prison is the most precious, kind one for you. Why? Because through being in prison, you met Dharma. You are able to practice Buddhism and liberate yourself from the oceans of samsaric sufferings, the continuation of which has no beginning, and the causes of negative karma – the gross and subtle obscurations, and so you are able to achieve enlightenment.
So many great scholars from India, Tibet, Nepal, and other places completed the path and became enlightened. In this way, the Buddhadharma is well proven. Up to now it is proven that people can actualize the path. It happens to people who know Buddhism, who know the path and practice it. It is happening to them. Of course, it isn’t happening for those who don’t know the path, who don’t practice it correctly, or who don’t practice as instructed, according to how they are guided. Because of not practicing correctly and due to a lack of understanding of the whole path, even if you practice for billions of years then nothing can happen. This is very important to recognize, to remember. When there is no attainment occurring – you think you have been practicing a long time, but no change is happening in the mind – that means you are making some mistakes and not changing those mistakes, and this blocks the attainment from your mind.
Your main deity, according to my divinations, is Hevajra. For your quickest enlightenment, to be able to enlighten sentient beings most quickly, you need a deity of highest yoga tantra to practice. For you, that is Hevajra (Kye Dorje in Tibetan). This is the main deity to practice being one with, day and night. Then, through this practice, you actually become the deity (which means enlightenment – your body, speech, and mind become the deity’s body, speech, and mind) and then through this, you can enlighten all sentient beings. Through this practice, you bring all sentient beings to this deity’s enlightenment. You are able to free all beings from the ocean of samsaric sufferings and bring them to enlightenment. But to practice this, you need to receive a great initiation. Then, you are permitted to practice, to receive the commentary, and practice the tantric path of that deity.
Until then, you must put all your effort into lam-rim. Meditate on lam-rim day and night, then whether you are eating, walking, sleeping, doing a job, whatever, you do it with a bodhicitta motivation. This makes life the best, most fruitful, meaningful, and beneficial for all sentient beings. That means it is also most beneficial for you. Whatever you do, everything becomes the purest Dharma and, especially, the cause of enlightenment. This is what we need, to achieve enlightenment in order to liberate countless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment.
Even after you have received the initiation, until you actualize bodhicitta, you must put your main effort into lam-rim, to have renunciation of samsara, of this life, and of future lives, etc. The root of realizations is guru devotion, seeing the guru as buddha, which means seeing the guru as all buddhas from your side, through effort looking at it that way. Then, every day, also do some meditation on emptiness.
After you have received the initiation, commentary, and complete teachings, then see if you can plan to do a three-year Hevajra retreat. One very important thing you should do in daily life is one guru yoga practice. You can do Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga. I have written a commentary for it, so you can read that. Then, on the basis of that you can meditate on lam-rim. The same day, when you meditate on lam-rim, if you practice Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga in the morning, then in the evening you don’t have to repeat the whole Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga prayer again, just visualize it there, generate refuge and bodhicitta, then practice the lam-rim meditation.
To achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, you need to actualize the path. That is the main body of the practice, to meditate on lam-rim, but for success in that you need to purify the defilements and the obstacles and accumulate the necessary conditions, the merits. Like when planting a seed, you need to water the seed and provide it with the necessary conditions of soil, etc. In the same way, you need to receive the blessings of the guru in your heart by practicing the guru yoga meditation and making requesting prayers to the guru. You need the support of these three things: purification of defilements, accumulation of merits, and making requests to the guru, who is inseparable from all the buddhas. You need these three in order to achieve realizations on the path, otherwise it is difficult to develop realizations, to be able to transform the mind.
For your preliminary practices, please do the following:
- 100,000 mandala offerings
- 8000 water bowl offerings: In the case of water bowls, you can do them with many other people if there is a center or a place where you can set up many water bowl offerings. At the time of offering, everybody offers all the bowls, but while you work to set up the bowls, you can divide that up between people. This way it gets done quickly. Of course, you can do it alone by yourself as well, but it is much quicker the other way. When you are setting up, many people set up together, and when you offer, you can offer everything that is offered.
- 60,000 guru yoga
- 300,000 tsa-tsas (Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, Tara, Medicine Buddha, Manjushri)
- 400,000 Dorje Khadro
From time to time, please practice nyung-nä, especially, if you can, on the solar eclipse or the special Buddha days, when the merit increases 100 million times. To do nyung-nä on those days is extremely good. Sometimes you can do it a few times in a row, sometimes one by one, depending on what is more convenient. The nyung-nä is a two-day retreat, but it combines many, many powerful practices such as prostrations, reciting mantras, taking the Eight Mahayana Precepts, meditation on deity yoga, bodhicitta, etc. There are many, many powerful practices. So, it is very good to do on those special days when the merit is increased 100 million times. Of course, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it at other times too.
If you can, at least one time each month, take the eight Mahayana precepts. You can take the lineage of this practice from the nun who works for the Liberation Prison Project. Probably that will have to be done by telephone since it may be difficult for her to go to the prison. Anyway, it is much more convenient in this case to do it long distance. She will explain it to you. This is one practice that makes your life so rich in merit. It benefits the whole world, the country, and the area where you are, and causes everyone to achieve enlightenment and fulfill their wishes.
Also, read the Diamond Cutter Sutra four times each month, which means once a week. If you can do that, it is incredibly powerful purification and enables you to be quickly liberated from samsara, because its subject is emptiness. Each time when you read it, it leaves an extra positive imprint to realize emptiness, so each time you read it, you are closer to liberation and enlightenment.
For lam-rim meditations:
- One month lower scope
- Three months middle scope
- One month bodhicitta
- Two months on emptiness
Then, circle back until you receive all those realizations. You don’t have to spend so much time on those meditations in which you achieve realizations.
You can write from time to time if there are things with which you need help.
With much love and prayer, take care with love in Dharma (bodhicitta)...