ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease): Bodhisattva Vows and Seven-Limb Practice

ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease): Bodhisattva Vows and Seven-Limb Practice

Date Posted:
May 2013

A student of Lama Zopa Rinpoche from Texas, United States, lived with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and was almost completely paralyzed. In order to write to Rinpoche and formally request Rinpoche to be his teacher, he used a computer that allowed him to type using just his eyes. In his letter to Rinpoche, Bob wrote that his introduction to the Dharma in 2007 was "transformational.” Rinpoche sent Bob a long letter in response, giving encouragement and sharing some spiritual advice, including how to meditate on refuge and bodhicitta. In September 2012 Rinpoche gave Bob the bodhisattva vows over Skype. Bob took the vows by blinking and having his computer speak for him.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche giving bodhisattva vows over Skype to a student with ALS.
Bob's letter to Rinpoche

Dear Lama Zopa Rinpoche,
I am a 63-year-old former attorney, almost totally paralyzed from ALS [Lou Gehrig’s disease]. I can no longer speak. I take food through a tube in my stomach and require a ventilator connected to a tube in my throat in order to breath. I require the assistance of caregivers 24/7. I am typing this email with my eyes, using a computer that can also speak what I type. Although my medical condition presents some obstacles to Buddhist practice, there are also a number of advantages. I have learned many important lessons from my paralysis.

Most people with ALS suffer greatly. When they go into respiratory failure, they choose to die rather than continuing to live by going on a ventilator. Because of my Dharma practice, I do not suffer from ALS. My joy of life is undiminished. I am working to show others how they too can come out of suffering from ALS by explaining a number of simple techniques to retrain their minds to be more positive and hopeful. My introduction to the Dharma was transformational. I attended 10-day vipassana meditation courses in 2007; I was unable to attend more courses due to my worsened disabilities. Vipassana does not utilize analytical meditation. Nevertheless, I have derived great benefits from this practice, including developing equanimity and introspective awareness.

Fortuitously, last year I discovered on Amazon.com, a treasure trove of Mahayana teachings by Lama Yeshe and by you. After studying more than a dozen of those wonderful teachings, I started using a condensed lamrim as a guide. I studied the practices for each of the three types of individuals. I concluded that this book was too condensed to work well as a roadmap and that I progressed too quickly through the preliminary stages. So, I started over using a much more detailed and very wonderful lamrim, Steps on the Path to Enlightenment [by Geshe Lhundub Sopa Rinpoche ]. I have read Volumes I (The Foundation Practices), II (Karma), and part of III (Bodhichitta) of the five-volume set. Of course, I have been contemplating and meditating.

The teachings resonate with me very powerfully. I’m uncertain to what extent my medical condition will prevent me from engaging in tantric practices. I feel that I’m making good progress toward developing compassion for every sentient being. I would like to take the bodhisattva vows and work toward developing bodhicitta. However, I’m quite certain that trying to do this without a qualified teacher is like a blind person trying to navigate his way through a dense wilderness without a guide. I would like to request you to be my teacher. I pray for your speedy and complete recovery. I am joyfully at your service.

Comment from Ven. Sarah

Rinpoche said: People can use this practice in their room or when they go for pilgrimage in front of holy places and statues and so forth, they can take the bodhisattva vows. When Khadro-la goes to holy places, she takes the bodhisattva vows. 

Initial advice from Rinpoche

My very dear Bob,
I read your letter last night. I have dictated a letter that will come very soon, but I wanted to send you a message right away, first. I very much want to give you the bodhisattva vows.

According to my observation there need to be three pujas done for you immediately. I have arranged already for this to happen, and I will take care of the offerings for the pujas. The pujas that have been done for you (or will be over the next few days) are:

  • gyab shi puja (twice)
  • mamo trü kang
  • drolma yuldog

Then from your side, if you can, read the Vajra Cutter Sutra three times. You can read it mentally.

I will try to give you the bodhisattva vows. Maybe this can be done by computer. After I have sent you my letter, you can read that and if you have anything to say, you can write it back.

Your main practice should be tonglen. I will send you some details on how to do this.

With much love and prayers

Lama Zopa

Letter from Rinpoche

My dearest Bob,
I am so happy to get your letter telling me about your situation. You are so unbelievably fortunate to have read all those Dharma books and especially Geshe Sopa Rinpoche’s books and to like them. There are a few books by Geshe Sopa that we printed on the path of the lower capable being, middle capable being, higher capable being, bodhichitta, calm abiding and great insight. For you to find these books is like somebody by good fortune arriving without knowing [ahead of time] in a place full of wish-granting jewels, where they can pick up and take the jewels.

But these teachings are not only to solve ordinary problems, like taking medicine for sickness. They solve the very root of the problems – dag dzin – holding the “I” as truly existent and holding the aggregates as truly existent. The concept of holding the “I” as truly existent and the aggregates as truly existent while in reality they are not, while they have been empty from the beginning, they never came into existence, they do not exist from their own side – this is the root of samsara.

Buddhism totally eliminates the root of all the suffering in samsara. Without eliminating that by realizing emptiness, one can’t be free from samsara and from the oceans of sufferings in each realm. It also eliminates the self-cherishing thought, which has brought all the problems and all the troubles and all the obstacles to achieve happiness since beginningless rebirths, and also brings all the obstacles to achieve happiness in this and future lives, and all the obstacles to achieve liberation from samsara and ultimate happiness, the peerless happiness of enlightenment. That includes your sickness. What caused it is the self-cherishing thought and, of course, ignorance, the concept holding the “I” as truly existent.

There is a teaching by Lama Atisha’s guru, Dharmarakshita, that talks a lot about how we created a lot of negative karma with the self-cherishing thought in the past and because of that, now at this time, different sufferings and sicknesses are experienced. It is called the Wheel of Sharp Weapons. It talks about how the “wheel of sharp weapons,” negative karma, turns this life and therefore we don’t want to create any more causes for this to happen now.

Instead of thinking, “I am the one with sickness,” it is very good to always think, “‘I’ is what is merely labeled by the mind depending on these aggregates, the valid aggregates; that is the only way the ‘I’ exists in reality.” When you think this way and then you compare your view of the “I” with the way you viewed it before, previously you always saw the “I” as something real, existing from its own side, existing by itself, truly existing. But that “I” is not there. You cannot find that real “I” at all from the tip of the hair down to the toes. You cannot find it in the body aggregate, the feeling aggregate, the cognition aggregate, the compounding aggregates or the consciousness aggregate. None of these is the merely labeled “I” and even all together they are not the “I.” The aggregates themselves are not the “I,” nor can the “I” be found on the aggregates. The “I” cannot be found from the tip of the head down to the toes, but it does exist. It exists in mere name because there are valid merely labeled aggregates. So now, when you compare this with before, it looks like the “I” doesn’t exist, but in reality, if you check up, the “I” does exist. It is not completely non-existent, but it exists only in mere name.

It’s good to think all the time that this sickness is caused by the past self-cherishing thought. Always have the idea that the self-cherishing thought is the enemy, the real enemy. There is no outside enemy. The outside beings – every hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human being, sura and asura – everyone is the most precious wish-granting jewel from whom I receive all my past happiness from beginningless rebirths, all the good things, and also in the present and in the future, all the temporary happiness, samsaric happiness, then beyond from samsara, ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara, then ultimate happiness, peerless happiness, full enlightenment. I receive all of this from every sentient being. Even Buddha, Dharma, Sangha in whom I take refuge in order to be free from all the oceans of suffering in samsara and achieve enlightenment came from every single sentient being; they came from sentient beings’ kindness. Every sentient being is more kind than Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. By quality, of course, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha are very precious, but sentient beings are more kind than Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Therefore, of course, there is no question that freeing sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bringing them to the peerless happiness of enlightenment is most unbelievably urgent. Wow, wow, wow! We need to try to do that in every second. But even to free them from temporary sufferings, whatever problems you can see that they need help with, whatever one can do, one must do.

Generally speaking, if somebody is carrying a very heavy load, then you help them to make it lighter. Or if someone is drowning in the water, you save them. Do whatever you can to help. If somebody has a hallucination, wrong view, give them advice on what to think and so forth. Even giving your seat to somebody in the bus or train is an unbelievable pleasure for you because you can offer that comfort. It’s an unbelievable pleasure, most pleasurable, because of sentient beings’ most incredible kindness to you. It’s so important to you to give even a tiny pleasure – to give money to those who have no money, to share food with those who have no food.

Think in this way about others’ kindness your whole life; live your life with the understanding that others are the most precious, kindest and wish-fulfilling. Then your life is naturally to help others, to stop even the smallest suffering of others. Your everyday life becomes like that. There’s always great happiness in your mind and you live your life for others, even praying for others. You cannot stop world wars or big problems like that, but at least you can pray and then dedicate your prayers and that will help, they have power. It is said in the teachings, the Piled Three Precious Rare Sublime Ones Sutra (kon chog sum tseg pai do), “All phenomena arise due to conditions, they depend on the tip of the wish.” This way your mind is always in a state of happiness. That’s really the best psychology. It’s the best meditation and the best psychology. Keep your mind always happy.

Now think that whatever problem you are experiencing is always caused by self-cherishing and therefore self-cherishing is the main enemy, rather than recognizing self-cherishing as “me,” the friend – that’s where all the suffering comes from. And then even if the suffering is insignificant, you make it into huge mountains of suffering. You exaggerate and then you suffer. For example, in the hotel there are lice at nighttime, and then the next day you move to another hotel. You make it into a huge problem. A huge problem. You order bread and they bring the bread cold, so then you look for another hotel, or you can’t find a hotel, and so forth.

It is mentioned in the Guru Puja: “By seeing cherishing oneself as the chronic disease, the cause of all the undesirable things, put the blame on that and harbor it. Please bless me to destroy the great demon, the self-cherishing thought.”

This is a great meditation. Here, you not only blame the problems on the self-cherishing, but actually use the problems, you give them to the self-cherishing thought. The self-cherishing thought caused you to suffer, so you give the suffering back to the self-cherishing thought and destroy your real enemy, the self-cherishing thought immediately; there is not even the name self-cherishing thought left. At the same time, you see that the real “I” is empty, totally non-existent, and also the ignorance that sees the real “I” is totally empty, non-existent. Then meditate on that for a while, as much as you can. Then look at the aggregates as empty, hell as empty, enlightenment as empty, happiness as empty and suffering as empty.

Then also think, “Cherishing the mothers (i.e. sentient beings) and the thought to lead them to happiness …” Here, it doesn’t have to mean all sentient beings (of course, best is all sentient beings), but it can be even leading just one sentient being to happiness. “[This] is the door arising infinite qualities” means all the qualities, all the good things including full enlightenment. “Seeing this, even though all sentient beings rise up as my enemy …” – that means numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts, numberless animals, numberless human beings, numberless suras, numberless asuras and numberless intermediate state beings rise up as your enemy ‒ “… may I cherish them more than my life.”

These two verses [explained above] are an incredible source of meditation, very extensive.

Please read my book, Transforming Problems into Happiness. There you can find a lot of different practices and also the psychology of how to make your mind happy.

In reality, according to the bodhicitta thought transformation practice, the thought of enlightenment, you are the most lucky person – the most, most, most lucky person. This is because you have to think that you have received the suffering of sentient beings: the suffering of numberless hell beings – amazing, amazing, amazing! – numberless hungry ghosts, numberless animals, numberless human beings, numberless suras, numberless asuras, numberless intermediate state beings. So fortunate! Wow, wow, wow! Like Jesus taking the suffering of others when he was crucified. Or, like many great holy beings.

One bhikshu was meditating on the mountain. He realized that if he went to the king’s palace and gave teachings, so many people would receive the teachings and get so much benefit and a higher rebirth. There would be so much benefit, but he also knew that he would be killed. So he gave up his life. He went to the palace and taught and was killed. I don’t remember the whole story but of course he didn’t get a lower rebirth, he got a higher rebirth. The result would be birth in a pure land.

There is another story about Geshe Chekawa. He had been praying all the time to be born in the hells in order to benefit sentient beings, but on the day when he was going to pass away, he had visions of Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Realm all around him. He told his disciple that he didn’t succeed in his wishes because he was going to be born in a pure land and if he were born there it would be impossible to be born in a lower realm again. Many of my gurus explain that. It’s fantastic.

If you practice tonglen, taking others’ suffering along with the causes of suffering and giving happiness to others, this is the best thing for the time of death. If you do this practice every day, even when you don’t have problems, and at the time of death you can pray like this, it’s the best powa, transference of consciousness to a pure land.

The great yogi Ngapa Chöpawa was going for action tantra practice near Odi. On the way, he saw a lady near the river completely black in color, filled with leprosy and with pus coming out the sores. She could not walk and she asked him to take her across the river, but he ignored her. Then after some time, his disciple, Getsul Tsimbulwa, came. He was not a gelong but a getsül with 36 vows. She asked him the same thing, to take her across the river and even though he was a monk and could not touch women, the minute he saw her, he felt unbelievable compassion and immediately carried her on his back. At the beginning he saw her as an ordinary sentient being, the same as himself, but because he generated unbelievable compassion for her, even though she was covered with leprosy and dirt, even without crossing the whole river, his negative karma was purified and in the middle of the river he saw her as Dorje Phagmo, an enlightened deity, and she took him to the pure land of Dagpa Kachö. If you go to that pure land, it means you will get enlightened. For him, without needing to die, she took him with that body to the pure land. There is a practice to achieve this pure land with this body called the Inconceivable Yoga. I received this from my root guru and other gurus, and I do give this to others from time to time when people need it.

This is incredible. She was not an ordinary being, but an enlightened being, although she appeared to be an ordinary being. This is another new piece of knowledge, a huge discovery for the West. Since your mind is ordinary, obscured, there are so many things you see as ordinary when they are not. There are enlightened beings and bodhisattvas [around], but you see them not as bodhisattvas or enlightened beings, but ordinary. This is a new discovery for the West. There are endless new discoveries for the West explained in the Dharma that people don’t know, such as the amazing qualities of bodhisattvas to benefit other sentient beings.

Asanga was one of the Six Ornaments, the great pandits who wrote so many teachings and commentaries on the Buddha’s teachings that the monks in the monasteries memorize and take examinations on, practice, study, debate and use to subdue their minds and to subdue others. Asanga received teachings from Maitreya Buddha.

Maitreya Buddha gives an example of this new discovery for the West. For example, the same container of liquid appears to pretas as pus and blood, to human beings as water because they have collected more merit, and to devas, worldly gods, as nectar. This is explained in the Madhyamaka, the debating subject.

When many hundreds of people look at the same person, some will like that person and feel so much attachment, some will see that person as totally ugly, and some will see that person as indifferent. There are many different views. The same person appears to all those people in many different ways and they see that person in many different ways. There are many examples of this; it’s the same with food and many other things.

I’ll tell you another story. Asanga tried to achieve Maitreya Buddha. He tried for three years but nothing happened, so he left his retreat. On the road he saw some bird, maybe an eagle, going into its nest in the rock. Each time it flew in and out, its feathers wore a hole in the rock, the rock had worn away. That inspired him and he thought, “Oh, if even a feather can wear down the rock, I must go back to my meditation.” He went back and tried again for three years, but nothing happened, so he left. Then he saw water dripping on the rock that had worn away a hole in the rock. A drop of water is very small but it had worn a hole in the hard rock. Again he was inspired and thought that if water can do this, why couldn’t he be successful in his meditation? Again he went back to retreat for three years, but again nothing happened, and he left his retreat. Then he saw somebody cutting the rock with a thread. Thread is soft and rock is hard but by constantly rubbing the thread against the rock, it could be cut. He was amazed and again he went back to retreat.

For twelve years he was in retreat, but nothing happened. He left and in the road he saw a wounded dog. The backside and tail were completely wounded and full of maggots. He cut flesh from his thigh for the maggots to eat so that they wouldn’t die and he went to pick up the maggots with his tongue, but he could not touch the maggots because the dog was actually Maitreya Buddha. Before he couldn’t see Maitreya Buddha because of his negative karma, but when that was purified through great compassion, he could see. He immediately grabbed Maitreya Buddha and said, “Why didn’t you come before?” Maitreya Buddha told him, “I was there all the time,” and he showed him the spit on his robe from when Asanga used to spit in the cave. Then Maitreya Buddha asked, “What do you want?” He said he wanted teachings. Maitreya Buddha took him to Tushita Pure Land and he received many teachings. He was in Tushita just one morning, but it was 500 human years. Then he came back down and wrote five commentaries.

Abhisamayalamkara is one of the commentaries, but there are others. There are many commentaries to this treatise composed by Indian pandits and great Tibetan scholars and also by Lama Tsongkhapa and many top learned and good-hearted students. Many numberless beings became bodhisattvas and enlightened by practicing these teachings up to now. And still that is happening now in the world, in India and Tibet and different places where people have been practicing.

Then Lama Atisha wrote the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment and condensed everything into that, the method and wisdom teachings. There have been so many commentaries to that lamrim and Lama Tsongkhapa wrote the most extensive commentary. Geshe Sopa has taught that and elaborated on Lama Tsongkhapa’s extensive lamrim teaching, and there are several books. We tried to find a sponsor. We asked a famous Chinese sponsor to help, so she did that. The help, the benefit, is unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable. So many beings achieve renunciation, bodhichitta, emptiness, become free from samsara and have tantric realization.

You are unbelievably, most unbelievably fortunate to receive the sufferings of all sentient beings on yourself and to let them have the dharmakaya, to give them all the happiness and the cause of happiness, merit. For you it’s very good to practice tonglen.

With much love and prayers,

Lama Zopa

Practice Advice

Just briefly, how to do tonglen. When you do tonglen you take away all the sufferings of each of the realms—the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings. There is so much described about all these sufferings. Take it all into your heart. Also take the cause of the sufferings, karma and delusions and even the subtle negative imprint, all together. Take it in the form of smoke and pollution. Take from everyone. There are numberless beings. From everyone you receive the suffering and it goes inside and destroys the ego, self-cherishing thought.

It is the ego, the self-cherishing thought which causes all the suffering from beginningless rebirth—the general suffering of samsara and particularly the sufferings of the devas, human beings and the lower realms—hells, hungry ghosts and animals. It causes not only the past sufferings but also endless suffering in samsara. Then that time, not only the ego, the self-cherishing thought is destroyed, completely smashed, but also ignorance, the root of samsara—holding the I as truly existent—is totally destroyed and becomes non-existent. So same thing, the object of that ignorance—the truly existent I, the real I, the I appearing from there—is completely gone. You see that it doesn’t exist, it is empty right there, it has never existed from the beginning. Stay there a little bit in meditation on emptiness; emptiness only, tong pa nyi. To try to meditate on this is very good. Not just bodhicitta wishing to achieve enlightenment, but also emptiness.

Then after taking the suffering of all sentient beings, give your happiness. To those who don’t have temporary happiness you give temporary happiness, and to those who have temporary happiness but don’t have ultimate happiness you give that. Then to those who have ultimate happiness, who are free from samsara, but don’t have peerless happiness, full enlightenment, you give that.

By generating loving kindness, you give all your past, present and future merits and the results of all the happiness, all the skies of temporary happiness of samsara, ultimate happiness and peerless enlightenment. Give all of this completely to the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings, so they all achieve the dharmakaya mind and their bodies become rupakaya.

Then give your own body in the form of wish-granting jewels. Make charity with your own body to numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings. Think that they receive everything, even enlightenment.

Next, give all your enjoyments. However many hats you have: hats for the summertime, hats for the wintertime, hats for the spring, hats to wear outside, hats to wear inside. Give away all these things, from your hats down to your socks. Also, give away however much money you have in the bank, your house, your car and the people around you. Give all of this to numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings.

When you take the suffering of others, you collect unbelievable merits and purification. Numberless past life negativities get purified each time you do tonglen. Unbelievable, unbelievable obscurations get purified.

When you do the practice of giving, there is unbelievable merit. Each time you give temporary happiness, ultimate happiness and enlightenment to each sentient being so many times, skies of merit are collected.

Each time you give your body, skies of merits are collected. When you give your body to numberless hell beings, even by that, skies of merit are collected because they are numberless.
Then give all your hats down to your socks to each hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human being, sura, asura and intermediate state being, so there are skies of merits. Then give away all the people around you; each time you collect skies of merits.

Wow, wow, wow! Your life is so meaningful and rich. Wow, wow, wow!

Refuge and Bodhicitta

Here is the meditation to do when you recite the prayer for taking refuge and generating bodhicitta:

I go for refuge until I am enlightened
To the Buddha, the Dharma and the highest assembly.
Due to the collection of merits accumulated by me and by others,
May I achieve enlightenment in order to benefit the transmigratory beings.

Think, “I myself have been experiencing the oceans of samsaric suffering from beginningless rebirth.”

Bring to mind the eight major hot sufferings of the hell realms, the eight major cold sufferings, the four neighborhood sufferings [of the neighboring hells] and the ordinary hells. Remember that you have experienced all of these numberless times.

Then think of the sufferings of the preta beings: the general sufferings of heat and cold, hunger and thirst, fear and exhaustion; and the particular sufferings of pretas with outer obscurations, inner obscurations and knots. You have experienced all of these sufferings numberless times.

Think of the sufferings of the animal beings: being eaten by one another, being stupid and ignorant, experiencing heat and cold, hunger and thirst, and being exploited and used for work.

Then think how human beings suffer from birth, aging, sickness, death, being separated from the pleasant, meeting with the unpleasant, and constantly seeking desirable objects but never finding any satisfaction.

Think how the sura beings experience the suffering of envy and fighting with the asuras and how the asuras experience unimaginable mental sufferings when they see the five signs of death. All of these sufferings you have experienced numberless times.

Then there are the six general sufferings of samsara: no certainty, no satisfaction, continually leaving bodies at death, continually being reborn, going from high to low status over and over again and being alone with no companion. And there are the three types of suffering: the suffering of pain, the suffering of change and pervasive compounding suffering.

Think, “Wherever I go is a place of suffering. Whomever I accompany is a friend of suffering. Whatever I enjoy is an enjoyment of suffering.”

And, “How I have been circling in samsara is through the twelve dependent related limbs.” These twelve links are: ignorance, compounding action, consciousness, name and form, the six sense bases, contact, feeling, craving, grasping, becoming, birth, old age and death.

Try to get some feeling of how you yourself have been suffering since beginningless rebirth. Then think, “So if I don’t discover the four noble truths—true suffering, true cause of suffering, true cessation of suffering and true path—I will have to experience the general sufferings of samsara and the particular sufferings of the lower realms forever. Endlessly.”

This is incredible.

Now think, “Like this, numberless hell beings have been experiencing the oceans of samsaric suffering—the general sufferings of samsara and particularly the sufferings of the lower realms—since beginningless time. Wow, wow, wow, wow! Numberless hell beings! I can’t stand for a minute even just one hell being experiencing all this. I can’t stand not liberating that hell being from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and enlightening it. So now there are numberless hell beings suffering like this. I can’t stand even for a second how much they are suffering and how much they will have to suffer endlessly.”

Then think of all the preta beings. “Numberless preta beings have been experiencing the general sufferings of samsara and the particular sufferings of the lower realms since beginningless time. I can’t stand for even a second just one preta being experiencing this, but they are numberless. And they will have to experience all these sufferings endlessly if they are not liberated.”

Now think of the animals. Can you imagine even one animal experiencing all this suffering? You can’t stand for even a second not liberating it, not enlightening it. But there are numberless animals who have been experiencing the general sufferings of samsara and the particular sufferings of the lower realms since beginningless time and if they are not liberated they will have to experience these sufferings endlessly. Wow, wow, wow.

Now think of the human beings. You can’t imagine just one human being experiencing all this suffering. Wow, wow, wow, wow. Now numberless human beings have been experiencing the general sufferings of samsara and the particular sufferings of the lower realms endlessly. And if they are not liberated they will have to continue experiencing these sufferings endlessly. Wow, wow, wow. You can’t stand it.

Now, numberless suras have been experiencing the general sufferings of samsara and the particular sufferings of the lower realms since beginningless rebirth, and if they are not liberated they will have to experience all these sufferings endlessly.

Now numberless asuras—wow, wow, wow—have been experiencing the general sufferings of samsara and particularly the lower realms’ suffering since beginningless rebirth and if they are not liberated they will have to experience these general sufferings and particular sufferings endlessly.

Think, “So therefore I must liberate them all from the oceans of samsaric suffering and the causes, karma and delusion. Therefore, I wholeheartedly go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to be able to do that.”

Completely rely on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in order to help. You can see how serious, how incredibly serious it is to take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This thought relying on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is refuge. It is Mahayana refuge because you have fear of your own samsaric suffering and compassion for sentient beings who are experiencing oceans of samsaric suffering. Then you are relying on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, who have the complete power and qualities. So your mind is qualified with three things; that’s Mahayana refuge. Fear of your own suffering and relying on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is Hinayana refuge; then by adding the third cause, compassion, it becomes Mahayana refuge. The thought relying upon Buddha, Dharma and Sangha with the mind being perfected with these three causes is Mahayana refuge.

So,

I go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.

This first line shows cause refuge—taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha possessed by others’ minds. For Buddha, there is absolute Buddha and Buddha for the all-obscured mind [usually called conventional Buddha]. Absolute Buddha is the dharmakaya, Buddha’s holy mind and the ultimate nature of that. Buddha for the all-obscured mind is the rupakaya, Buddha’s holy body. Then Dharma has absolute Dharma—the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness—and Dharma for the all-obscured mind—the Tripitaka or texts. Then Sangha has absolute Sangha and Sangha for the all-obscured mind. Absolute Sangha is any person, ordained or lay, who has directly realized emptiness. Sangha for the all-obscured mind is four fully ordained people who don’t have that realization, but who are living in full ordination. Taking refuge in both of these is cause refuge.

Until I achieve enlightenment

This contains the result refuge. So you rely on Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, for what? For yourself to actualize Dharma, the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness. Through that, you become the absolute Sangha and through that you achieve the dharmakaya and Buddha for the all-obscured mind. This is the result refuge.

Then when you are generating bodhicitta, you say,

Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me and the three times merits collected by sentient beings and the three times merits collected by all the buddhas,
May I achieve full enlightenment in order to benefit the transmigratory beings.

So here, “In order to benefit” has two meanings.

The first meaning is “in order to liberate the numberless transmigratory beings, the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings; to free them from the oceans of samsaric suffering, the sufferings of the upper realms and the lower realms, and the causes of the sufferings, karma and delusions.”

Think, “As the transmigratory beings have been suffering, experiencing the oceans of suffering of the hell realms, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state from beginningless rebirth, I can’t wait even a minute or second without liberating them.”

Then, the second meaning of “in order to benefit,” is “to bring them to full enlightenment.” Think that you will bring the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings to enlightenment without delaying even one second.

So here, the Tibetan word for “transmigratory beings” is dro la; so dro la pan chir& means “in order to benefit the transmigratory beings.” One meaning of “transmigrating being” is that from the time they are born they continuously go towards death without stopping even for a second. The other meaning is that they migrate under the control of karma and delusion, being born in the six realms and experiencing oceans of sufferings over and over again.

While you are generating bodhicitta,

May I achieve full enlightenment in order to benefit the transmigratory beings.

At the same time meditate on emptiness,

May the I, who is merely labeled
Achieve enlightenment, which is merely labeled
In order to benefit the transmigratory beings who are merely labeled.

If you think of emptiness, tong pa nyi, while you are generating bodhicitta, then by doing the prayer for taking refuge and generating bodhicitta you have generated renunciation, bodhicitta and emptiness, so the three principal aspects of the path are all there. Buddha gave more than a hundred volumes of teachings (Kangyur) and the pandits gave more than two hundred volumes (Tengyur). The three baskets of teachings contain the Hinayana teachings, the Mahayana Paramitayana teachings and the Mahayana Secret Mantra teachings and all of these are included in the lamrim, the path of the lower capable being, the path of the middle capable being and the path of the higher capable being. All these three paths are embodied in the teachings of the three principal aspects of the path. So the very heart of the whole entire Buddhism is practiced here.

While doing this prayer, generally people can use their hands by putting them together at the heart in the form of prostration with the hands cupped like holding a wish-granting jewel. But, for example, in my case, when I was in hospital I couldn’t use both hands, but I could put my left hand up and because I couldn’t bend the fingers of my right hand, I just rested it against the left hand. I felt at a disadvantage because I couldn’t do a full prostration like before. So putting the palms together at the heart also means to prostrate to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and to meditate on generating bodhicitta.

Each time we generate bodhicitta by putting the palms together at the heart, the merit we collect is amazing and unbelievable. Lama Atisha in the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment quotes the Sutra Requested by Palchin:

If someone were to completely fill a buddha field with the seven types of jewels
Equal in number to the sand grains of the Ganges to offer to the Buddha.
The merit collected by putting the palms together at the heart and generating
Bodhicitta would be far greater.

It means that the merit of offering an unimaginable number of buddha fields filled with the seven types of jewels to the Buddha is unbelievable and unimaginable, but putting the palms together and simply generating the bodhicitta thought, “May I achieve enlightenment in order to benefit the transmigratory beings” collects far greater merit.

If you are unable to meditate on emptiness while generating bodhicitta, then when you finish the prayer you can think,

This real I who is seeking enlightenment is empty,
This real action seeking enlightenment is empty,
This enlightenment that I am seeking is empty
And the sentient beings for whom I am seeking enlightenment are empty.

This is based on the advice of the highly learned accomplished lama Je Drubkhangpa. This is some more advice for you.

Seven-limb Practice

The seven-limb practice is very, very important. There are seven very, very important preliminary practices. Usually before any practice, the seven-limb practice is done.

Prostration

Prostration acts against the delusion of pride. It is an antidote to pride, whether it’s a prostration to the guru, or to a buddha, a bodhisattva or a sentient being. You can prostrate even to a sentient being, not because it has special qualities, but to destroy your pride or delusion. Or you can visualize your guru or a buddha or bodhisattva when you prostrate.

I prostrated in Sarnath to the Hindu god to make the caretaker happy, but of course I visualized Buddha when I was prostrating. Of course, they thought I was prostrating to the Hindu god because they could not see my mind, so they didn’t understand to whom I was prostrating. When I went to Tibet with the students we went to Tsurphu Monastery and that time there happened to be a puja. Usually I don’t go to make money offerings but that time I made a money offering to each of the monks personally, but I visualized I was offering to my guru. By thinking of the guru when you make the offering you create the most extensive, unbelievable merit, but even just offering to monks there is unbelievable merit because of the number of vows they have.

In ancient times in India there were four monks—not arya monks who have the realization directly perceiving emptiness, but just ordinary beings. Somebody who was poor and had nothing offered medicinal food to the four monks just one time and due to that good karma the man who had nothing was born in the next life as Kashika, an extremely powerful and wealthy king in India. You can see the cause was just offering one medicinal drink just one time, but the monks were such a powerful object because of living in the 253 vows of a fully ordained monk. So you just can’t imagine the result of even making offerings just one time to a monk like that. Wow, wow, wow, wow.

So normally the benefit of prostrations is amazing. If you can, do full-length prostrations. The full-length prostration is said to be from the Indian pandit Naropa. The place where I am staying now was called Naro-ji Koti before, maybe a hundred years ago. It belonged to the Naro-ji family who are descendants of the great yogi Naropa. Now it is called Tushita and there is a new building, a little bit like a Tibetan style monastery. Next to that is a little house and I am staying there. The Naro-ji family sold the land to us. Some students paid money and we bought it from the family. Probably the family has passed away many years ago now. Maybe, I’m not sure. Their shop is at the bus station in McLeod Ganj. It’s a very, very old shop. A long time ago I went inside and the mother was there and one time the father was there. I’m sure they must have passed away a long time ago. Lama Yeshe lived at Tushita and my root guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, lived here for seven years. So it is a very, very holy place, a Heruka holy place.

So this full-length prostration is unbelievable, most amazing, amazing, amazing merit. If there is one atom under your body when you do prostrations to Buddha, you create the karma to be born as a wheel-turning king one thousand times. This is mentioned in the Lankavatara Sutra. To be born as a wheel-turning king just one time you have to create infinite merit; so much merit, inconceivable merit. Therefore when you lie down doing prostrations, even under one finger or one toe, numberless atoms are covered from here down to the bottom of the earth. Amazing. Wow! That’s the cause to be born as a wheel-turning king one thousand times according to the number of atoms covered. If you have long hair when you do prostrations and the hair covers the atoms, can you imagine? So if your whole body is lying down covering that number of atoms down to the bottom of the earth, can you imagine how many times you create the cause to be born as a wheel-turning king?

So now in your case you can visualize your body the size of a mountain ridge covering the whole earth. Visualize your body is huge like the largest mountain. Then, when you prostrate to Buddha, think that one buddha is numberless gurus, numberless buddhas, Dharma, Sangha and all the statues, stupas and scriptures of Buddha. If you have received a Thousand-arm Chenrezig initiation—the Compassionate Buddha —then of course you can visualize yourself as a thousand-armed, thousand-eyed Chenrezig when you do prostrations. But of course you haven’t received this initiation, so you can visualize your body the size of a mountain ridge prostrating from all four corners and four directions to the Buddha. So how many bodies should you visualize? If you visualize one body prostrating, then according to the size of that body you get the same merit as actually prostrating with that body covering that many atoms down to the bottom of the earth, to be born as a wheel-turning king that many thousands of times. So you can visualize many bodies the size of a mountain ridge prostrating from all four corners and four directions to Buddha. It’s amazing, amazing, amazing, unbelievable merit. Wow!

Then there are ten benefits from making a full-length prostration to Buddha:

  1. You will achieve rebirth in the king’s family, having great wealth and power. This means you will have great influence over others and great wealth to make charity. You can cause many beings to meet the Dharma and teach them the right way to practice and the wrong things to be abandoned. You can give them Dharma wisdom.
  2. You will achieve extensive form. This means a perfect body with complete sense faculties. With a perfect body there are no obstacles to practicing Dharma, taking vows, etc.
  3. All those people surrounding you will be perfect. Their minds will be harmonious to yours, so there will be no fighting or difficulties. They will do exactly as you wish. Your practice of benefiting others will be even more beneficial because you have so much help and support from those around you.
  4. You will be able to make extensive offerings to Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
  5. You will be respected and served by others.
  6. You will be able to listen extensively to the Dharma.
  7. You will have extensive devotion. Without devotion to the guru, you cannot receive blessings so you cannot receive realizations of the path. Without devotion to the Triple Gem you cannot achieve their qualities. Lacking faith is like a vehicle without fuel, or like a city with no electricity, so it can’t function. Devotion is extremely important.
  8. You will have a good memory and a clear mind.
  9. You will achieve wisdom.
  10. You will achieve extensive realizations up to enlightenment. You will achieve the complete perfect qualities of cessation and realization. In Hinayana, you will achieve the right-seeing path, the path of meditation, the path of no more learning, freeing you from the cycle of death and rebirth and all the sufferings of samsara. In the case of Mahayana, you will be able to completely abandon the suffering of rebirth, old age, sickness and death. In the case of Highest Yoga Tantra, the clear light of meaning, you will be completely free. You will cease the disturbing thought obscuration and achieve the pure illusory body.

Even just putting the two palms together has eight benefits:

  1. You will have a beautiful body.
  2. Those around you will be harmonious to your needs so you can best help others. You will live in harmony and be successful.
  3. You will be able to live in pure morality. This is very important. Without the foundation of living in pure morality you cannot achieve perfect meditation. If you practice pure morality everything else is easy to achieve: renunciation from samsara, bodhicitta and emptiness. Everything is very easy if you keep the mind virtuous.
  4. You will have devotion.
  5. You will achieve a brave mind of courage for practicing the Dharma and working for other sentient beings; a mind brave in facing up to the delusions.
  6. You will be reborn as a deva or human.
  7. You will achieve the exalted path.
  8. You will achieve enlightenment.

What you purify is the negative karmas collected with your body, speech and mind, and what you achieve is the vajra holy body, vajra holy speech and vajra holy mind.

Confession

The next one is confession. Confession is the antidote to the three poisonous minds and the cause to achieve the four bodies of a buddha, the dharmakaya and rupakaya. By practicing confession, the negative karmas collected from beginningless rebirth with the body, speech and mind and particularly the broken pratimoksha vows, bodhisattva vows and tantric vows, as well as the heaviest negative karmas collected with the gurus, are completely purified. So think about this.
Then recite the Vajrasattva mantra. There is the 100-syllable mantra and the short mantra, OM VAJRASATTVA HUM. So in your case you can recite the mantras by heart. If possible, recite them with the remedy of the four powers:

  • the power of reliance on Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and sentient beings by taking refuge and generating bodhicitta;
  • the power of putting the blame (regret) by thinking of the shortcomings of the negative karmas;
  • the power of always enjoying (the antidote) which is the action of reciting the mantra itself and doing the meditation;
  • the power of restraint—to not commit the action again.

When you finish reciting 21 mantras, make a promise not to do the negative action again. If you say, “I won’t do this action again,” that might not be true, so the lamas advise you to say, “Those negative actions that I can restrain from, I will not do again; those actions which I cannot avoid, I won’t create them for at least one day, or one hour or even one second.”

If you recite the Vajrasattva mantra 21 times before the next day, if possible with the four powers, the negative karmas you created that day are purified and don’t increase the next day. Otherwise, the negative karma increases; it doubles the next day and triples the day after that. So the next day one negative karma becomes two, the second day it becomes four, the third day it becomes eight, the fourth day it becomes sixteen, and so it goes on like that. If you don’t do Vajrasattva practice, the negative karma increases. That’s why after taking an initiation we usually have to do the Vajrasattva practice; in every sadhana comes Vajrasattva. It’s regarded as an extremely important practice.

If you have broken the root vows, like killing a human being, creating sexual misconduct or telling lies, such as by saying that you have realizations when you don’t and so forth, by doing 100,000 Vajrasattva mantras it purifies this. If you are reciting the 100-syllable mantra you should do that 21 times, but if you are going to recite the short mantra then do it 28 times with the remedy of the four powers, if possible.

Another most powerful purification is reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names, in the practice of the Bodhisattva’s Confession of Downfalls. So for you, it will be so good if you can recite the Thirty-five Buddhas by heart or through the computer. Do this once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once at nighttime. It is said that by reciting the first name, 40,000 eons of negative karma is purified. This is mentioned in other lamas’ texts, but I saw in the Kangyur that reciting the first buddha’s name even just one time purifies one hundred billion (tra trig) times 100,000 eons of negative karma. It’s really, really, really; wow, wow, wow! With the rest of the names, many, many eons of negative karma get purified, such as 7,000 eons, 5,000 eons and 10,000 eons. There is one name, “I prostrate to the Tathagata Glorious Flower.” By reciting that name one time, 100,000 eons of negative karma are purified. Lama Tsongkhapa did 700,000 prostrations by reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names with the title “Tathagata” (De zhin sheg pa) and after that rainfalls of realizations appeared.

So you can do Vajrasattva once a day in the evening before going to bed—at least recite the short mantra. Do the Thirty-five Buddhas practice three times a day if you can. That will make your life so meaningful, even if you just recite it by reading it in your heart from the book. But while you are reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names, if you can visualize also prostrating to each one—wow, wow, wow—that will be so good. Then if you can, visualize that nectar beams are emitted from the buddhas purifying all the negative karma. This way you don’t need to have any fear of going to the lower realms.

Offerings

The practice of offering is the second of the seven limbs. Offering is an antidote to miserliness. The result of making offerings to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is that you receive limitless offerings when you become a buddha. You can practice offering by making charity to sentient beings but here it is making offerings to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

A powerful way to collect merit when offering is with the four powers. The first power is the power of the body living in the vows. There are the upasaka/upasika vows, the five precepts, like the five lay vows of the genyen. Genyen means “nearing virtue” but the meaning of “virtue” here is nirvana, ultimate happiness, the total cessation of delusion and karma. Then there are the eight vows, nyenne. Nyenne is “abiding close,” where “close” means nirvana. Then there is the barma rabjung, the intermediate renunciation, renouncing the householder’s life. Then, there are the 36 vows of a getsul and the 253 vows of a gelong, a bhikshu or fully ordained monk. For women, after the 36 vows of the getsulma, there is the gelobma, and then the 364 vows of a fully ordained nun, a bhikshuni. These are the pratimoksha vows that come from the Hinayana but are also taken in the Mahayana. Then there are the bodhisattva vows and the tantric vows. So, for example, someone who has taken the bodhisattva vows, whatever merit is created throughout the day collects millions of times more merit. Like that, the higher the number of vows you have taken, the more the merit increases.

The next power is the power of the attitude. That is bodhicitta, the thought of enlightenment. If the offering is done with a bodhicitta motivation, you collect skies of merit. This is another way of collecting unceasing merit. That’s why it’s important to live your life thinking that you are doing everything to benefit sentient beings even if you don’t have the realization of bodhicitta. Then you collect limitless skies of merit continually every day. It’s unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable.

Lama Atisha explained in the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment:

If the bodhicitta has taken form or materialized
The whole sky gets filled up
But the benefits of the bodhicitta are much more than that.

Buddha’s field equaling the number of sand grains of the River Ganga

This River Ganga does not mean the Indian River Ganga; this is the Pacific Ocean where it comes out. The benefits of bodhicitta are to be understood in this way.

Filled up with precious jewels and make offering to the Savior of the World (this means Buddha)
If somebody puts their palms together and generates bodhicitta
This one is much more special than that.
This has no end.

It means this benefit has no end. No limit.

Then there is the power of the merit field. This is another way of creating the most extensive merit. When you are making offerings to statues, stupas, scriptures or even buddhas, think of your guru and think that they are manifestations of your guru. Then when you make the offering it becomes an offering to your guru and by offering to your guru you collect the highest merit, the most extensive merit. For example, in daily life when you eat food think of yourself as the guru-deity, not as an ordinary person. Think you are purified in emptiness and become the guru-deity; mainly think of yourself as your root guru, whoever that is. Then, as you eat and drink, think that you are making offerings to the guru. By thinking this way, with each spoonful of food and each sip you drink, you create the most extensive merit; much more merit than offering to numberless statues, stupas, scriptures and buddhas. The merit of offering to all of these is small compared to the merit of offering to the guru. This gives some idea of the power of the merit field.

The last power is the power of phenomena. That is teaching the Dharma.

Buddha mentioned in the sutra that one verse of teaching benefits one sentient being, then the benefits to all are what I said; if it’s two sentient beings it is double that, if it’s three sentient beings it is triple, and it goes on, however many sentient beings there are.

Rejoicing

Lama Tsongkhapa said,

For collecting merits, rejoicing is the best.

Therefore, rejoicing is the way to collect the most extensive merit. Without merit there is no happiness at all. There’s nothing you can do. Even if you get a very high university degree you won’t find a job at all and so forth. Or you won’t be able to get a degree at all. In the same way you can’t achieve realization. So first think,

Without merit I can’t achieve any happiness at all.

Then think,

Therefore the merit is so precious. Merit is so precious.

Then,

I have collected precious merit from beginningless rebirth.

And think over and over,

How wonderful I am, how fortunate I am.

So think like this over and over again. Not only one time, but five times, ten times or more. You can think like this for half a mala or one mala. That’s very, very good. Each time your mind is feeling happiness, great happiness, that’s rejoicing.

Then think of merits that you will collect in the future. That’s so good. When you rejoice in your own merits, the merits double. By rejoicing once the merits become twice as much, by rejoicing again they become four times as much, by rejoicing again they become eight times as much and so on. So you can see now, it’s amazing, amazing, amazing. Wow, wow, wow. How much merit you are able to collect just by rejoicing in your own merits.

Next, rejoice in other sentient beings’ merits. Rejoice in the merits collected by the numberless sentient beings in the past since beginningless rebirth and those that will be created in the future. When you think of all sentient beings that already includes the bodhisattvas. Think that from these merits they get all the temporary and ultimate happiness—liberation from samsara and full enlightenment. When you rejoice in other sentient beings’ merits if the other sentient being’s mind is lower than yours, you collect double the merits that sentient being has collected. So, can you imagine how many numberless sentient beings there are whose level of merit is lower than yours? Then if their level of mind is the same as yours, you collect the same amount of merit. And if their level of mind is higher than yours—for example if you are not a bodhisattva but you are rejoicing in the merits of a bodhisattva—you get half that much merit. So if you rejoice in one bodhisattva’s one day of merit, you get half that much merit and there are numberless bodhisattvas and numberless sentient beings whose level of mind is higher than yours. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. So when you rejoice in their past, present and future merits—wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. It is said by Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo that if you rejoice in one bodhisattvas’ one day of merit you collect half that much, but to collect that much merit without rejoicing would take 13,000 years. Can you imagine?

Next is Buddha’s merit. When you rejoice in Buddha’s merit you get one tenth of the merit. Usually when I rejoice I count the bodhisattvas again separately from other sentient beings. Every single merit that buddhas and bodhisattvas create is dedicated for other sentient beings, for you. Even when they are breathing in and out, it’s only for others, for you, to bring everyone to enlightenment. So even by breathing in and out they collect numberless merits. They collect skies of merits as they breathe in and breathe out so there’s no question that it’s the same with the rest of the actions. So you can see that one bodhisattva collects numberless merits for every sentient being, including you. Wow, wow, wow, wow. So it’s good to again rejoice in the merits of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas together, even though you already rejoiced in their merits when you rejoiced in sentient beings’ merits.

So when you practice, what you can do is rejoice in your own past, present and future merits for one mala or half a mala. Then rejoice in others’ merits for one mala or half a mala. Then rejoice in all the buddhas’ and bodhisattvas’ merits for half a mala or one mala. It all depends on you how many times you rejoice; there’s nothing fixed.

This practice of rejoicing is SO good. It’s unbelievably good because it doesn’t depend on doing anything physical or with the speech; it’s just a mental action. You can do this practice of rejoicing when you are lying down on the beach or while you are walking on the road or when you are eating. You can do this any time. So this is a REALLY great, great, great practice. That is what Lama Tsongkhapa said.

Rejoicing is also a remedy against jealousness. In the West this is a very good practice, even for non-believers, because if you are jealous of somebody else, that prevents others fulfilling their wishes, and through that, it prevents you from fulfilling your wishes. It creates the karma for this. So not only does jealousy harm others, but it also harms you. That’s what happens in reality, but people who don’t understand Dharma don’t realize this. That means the majority of people in the world. (Not only in this world, but in numberless universes and all the sentient beings in the six realms.) You can’t imagine.

So, practice the opposite of jealousness and rejoice. For example, if other people have a beautiful house rejoice, “How wonderful it is they have this beautiful house.” If somebody has a good car rejoice, “How good it is they have this car.” If somebody has a huge amount of money rejoice, “How good it is that person has this money.” If somebody has found a good friend and that is what they wanted, rejoice, “How good it is that person fulfilled their wishes.” And so on like that. When you rejoice, psychologically you are keeping your mind in a happy state. Jealousness brings the mind down. It makes the mind sad and brings the mind down. It leads to depression.

Rejoicing causes others to fulfill their wish for happiness – temporary happiness as well as ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara; as well as full enlightenment, peerless happiness. And by rejoicing, your own wish for happiness gets fulfilled – your wish for temporary happiness, ultimate liberation from samsara and full enlightenment. This is how karma works.

So for example in Taiwan when I see large monasteries, at the beginning, of course, my mind is not in the Dharma, so there might be some jealousness or some unhappy mind. But then I rejoice in the abbot, the person who got the idea to build the monastery, and the skies of merit, the unbelievable qualities. Secondly, I rejoice in the benefactors who gave the money. Wow, wow, wow, wow, there are skies of merit collected. Then I rejoice in the people who built the monastery, in the skies of merit. Wow, wow, wow, wow. So by rejoicing, I collect skies of merit. By rejoicing, it also means the cause is created to be able to build large temples hundreds of thousands of times in the future.

In Nepal, one of the extremely holy places is Swayambhunath. There is a natural crystal stupa, the embodiment of all the Buddha’s dharmakaya, that naturally appeared from the lake when Kathmandu was a full lake. This was predicted by the Buddha. Buddha came to one of the mountains and predicted this would happen in Nepal. Then later the dharmakaya stupa was covered by dust so it became a mountain. There is a stupa built on top of the mountain, but the natural crystal stupa is below, inside the mountain. That’s why most people circumambulate the mountain rather than the stupa on the top. And one great lama of Tibet, Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen, who was like a sun shining and dispelling darkness, did 100,000 prostrations around the mountain. There are many large stupas and statues and temples and hundreds of prayer wheels built all around Swayambhunath. So when I take some guests or benefactors around Swayambunath Stupa, I always tell them to rejoice in all these holy objects, to rejoice in the people who had the idea, in the benefactors and in those who built them.

Rejoicing is the cause to receive Buddha’s holy body that has no negative qualities at all; it is just extremely attractive and perfect beauty.

Requesting to Turn the Dharma Wheel

Requesting to turn the Dharma wheel is a remedy to the negative karma of ignorance. Of course, the more you learn Dharma, the more that eliminates ignorance;.Gradually ignorance is completely eliminated and through that the very heavy negative karma of avoiding Dharma is purified.

If you are reading or studying something that is the Buddha’s teachings, for example the philosophical teachings, and you don’t understand them so you give them up as an object of devotion, thinking, “What use is this to me?” that is avoiding the holy Dharma. If that happens and from the heart you give up the teachings as an object of devotion, it is abandoning the holy Dharma and an unbelievably heavy karma. Abandoning the Dharma is worse than destroying all the statues, stupas and scriptures in the world. It is heavier than that. So if you give up any Tibetan writing, any text or teaching of the Buddha, even a few lines, it becomes abandoning the holy Dharma.

At the beginning of Lama Tsongkhapa’s Great Lamrim (Lamrim Chenmo) it mentions that the negative karma of avoiding the Dharma is dangerous and that there is a very great possibility this can happen to us. We have to know these points and to make sure they don’t happen. Even if you don’t understand the Buddha’s teachings when you read them or when they are explained, you have to think, “Oh I don’t understand this now, but I will understand it in the future.” It is advised by the gurus to think this way so that you don’t give up the teachings as an object of devotion. Then you can achieve the ultimate goal of the perfect holy speech of a buddha and will be guided in all the future lifetimes by the guru.

Requesting to turn the Dharma wheel is an inconceivable cause to meet the holy Dharma again in the next life. And requesting to turn the Dharma wheel creates the karma for you to be able to give teachings in the future.

Requesting to have a stable life

Requesting to have a stable life is an antidote to disturbing the guru’s holy mind and it purifies the karma for not meeting the guru in the future. Don’t think only of this life, you have to think of all the past lives that you have disturbed the holy mind.

The result of requesting to have a stable life is that you receive the vajra holy body. Also it causes you to have a long life as a result of the karma of requesting the guru to have a stable life. The objects you request to have a long life are the gurus and the buddhas in the nirmanakaya aspect.

Dedication

Dedication is a remedy to heresy and anger. The result of dedication is to receive all the qualities of a buddha. Dedication is a method for the merits not to get destroyed by heresy and anger. It is mentioned in the Sutra Requested by Lodro Gyatso:

As in the Pacific Ocean a drop fell
Until the Pacific Ocean finishes the drop doesn’t finish.
Like that, merits dedicated for enlightenment
Even enlightenment is achieved the merit never finishes.

So whatever small or big merit is dedicated to enlightenment, it is all like that. If the merit is not dedicated for full enlightenment, then it can be completely destroyed by anger and heresy. So here by dedicating the merit for enlightenment it becomes unceasing, amazing, amazing, amazing. The merit is preserved, protected and the result is enlightenment. Otherwise if the merit is not dedicated for enlightenment it becomes like a water plant that gives fruit only one time and then no more—you experience the result of happiness and then it’s finished.

You have to understand that besides this, when you dedicate the merit for enlightenment it has to be done by sealing it with emptiness. Even though dedicating the merits means they are saved and become unceasing, still if heresy and anger arise, although that doesn’t destroy the merits completely, they become weaker. It is like, for example, when there is a huge mountain and a lot of trucks come and take stones away, but the mountain is still left. The merits become weaker when they are not sealed with emptiness. By sealing the dedication with emptiness, the merits cannot be destroyed by anger and heresy even if they arise afterwards.

Therefore the way I always try to dedicate is:

Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, by sentient beings and by buddhas (bodhisattvas are included in “sentient beings”), which are merely labeled by the mind,
May the I, who is merely labeled by the mind,
Achieve the deity’s enlightenment, which is merely labeled by the mind,
And lead all the sentient beings, who are merely labeled by the mind,
To the deity’s enlightenment, which is merely labeled by the mind,
By myself alone, which is merely labeled by the mind.

Or you can dedicate:

Due to all past, present and future merits collected by me, by sentient beings and by the buddhas, which are empty from their own side,
May the I, who is empty from its own side,
Achieve the deity’s enlightenment, which is empty from its own side,
And lead all the sentient beings, who are empty from their own side,
To the deity’s enlightenment, which is empty from its own side,
By myself alone, which is empty from its own side.
You can do whichever dedication is more effective for your mind to feel the emptiness.

Taking the Bodhisattva Vows

First recite the prayer for refuge and bodhicitta three times:

SANG GYÄ CHHÖ DANG TSHOG KYI CHHOG NAM LA
I go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha

JANG CHHUB BAR DU DAG NI KYAB SU CHHI
Until enlightenment is achieved.

DAG GI JIN SOG GYI PÄ SÖ NAM KYI
Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me and all the numberless sentient beings and Buddhas

DRO LA PHÄN CHHIR SANG GYÄ DRUB PAR SHOG
In order to benefit the transmigrating beings may I become a Buddha.

With this, take the bodhisattva wishing vow.

Then do the seven limbs with the prayer:

GO SUM GÜ PÄI GO NÄ CHHAG TSHÄL LO
Reverently, I prostrate with my body, speech, and mind;

NGÖ SHAM YI TRÜL CHHÖ TRIN MA LÜ BÜL
I present clouds of every type of offering, actual and imagined;

THOG ME NÄ SAG DIG TUNG THAM CHÄ SHAG
I declare all my negative actions accumulated since beginningless time

KYE PHAG GE WA NAM LA JE YI RANG
And rejoice in the merit of all holy and ordinary beings.

KHOR WA MA TONG BAR DU LEG ZHUG NÄ
Please, remain until the end of cyclic existence

DRO LA CHHÖ KYI KHOR LO KOR WA DANG
And turn the wheel of Dharma for living beings.

DAG ZHÄN GE NAM JANG CHHUB CHHEN POR NGO
I dedicate my own merits and those of all others to the great enlightenment.

Then again do the refuge and bodhicitta prayer three times in order to take the entering vow:

SANG GYÄ CHHÖ DANG TSHOG KYI CHHOG NAM LA
I go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha

JANG CHHUB BAR DU DAG NI KYAB SU CHHI
Until enlightenment is achieved.

DAG GI JIN SOG GYI PÄ SÖ NAM KYI
Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me and all the numberless sentient beings and buddhas

DRO LA PHÄN CHHIR SANG GYÄ DRUB PAR SHOG
In order to benefit the transmigrating beings may I become a Buddha.

Now here you have taken the entering vow, which has 18 root vows and 46 [auxillary] vows to be protected.

After the bodhisattva vow is taken, from that moment onwards, day and night, even during sleeping, the merits continuously increase like the sky.

With much love and prayer...

See you sometime, either in this life or next life.

Rinpoche rang Bob and gave him the bodhisattva vows over Skype in September 2012. Bob took the vows by blinking and having his computer speak for him. At the end, Rinpoche sent him the following message to dedicate:

Please dedicate now like this:

Due to all the three time merits collected by me, by sentient beings and by buddhas, may the bodhicitta, the source of all the happiness up to enlightenment, for me, which I can cause to numberless sentient beings in each realm; may this bodhicitta be generated in me and all sentient beings, and what has been generated, may it increase.

Due to all the three time merits collected by sentient beings and buddhas, which exists but is totally completely empty from its own side; may the I, which exists but is completely empty from its own side, achieve full enlightenment, which exists but is totally empty from its own side, by myself alone, which exists but is totally empty from its own side.

May this world be filled with perfect peace and happiness. The teaching of Buddha, from which sentient beings receive all the happiness; may it last a long time.

Please dedicate well. Thank you very much. It’s very, very nice to speak.

With much love and prayers,

Lama Zopa