My very dear Jake,
Thank you for your very kind letter and sorry for the long delay in replying. What you have been doing is excellent.
I am very happy to hear about the preliminary practices you have been doing so far, this is so good. I am not sure if you have been doing the short or long version of the prayer Calling the Guru From Afar. If it is the long version then this is very good, because it contains the entire lam-rim, as well as the tantric path. This is excellent to recite, as it makes one’s life so worthwhile and fortunate, and it is also the foundation for developing devotion.
It is very important to recite one lam-rim prayer each day, such as the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, the Foundation of all Good Qualities or Calling the Guru from Afar (the long version). Also, recite the lam-rim prayer that is contained at the end of your deity’s long sadhana, which contains all the stages of the path—the common and tantric path. Each time you recite it, this leaves the imprint of the whole path—the common path and the tantric path. So, each time you read it mindfully, it brings you closer to realizing the path, closer to enlightenment and closer to liberating all sentient beings from the eons of samsara’s suffering, which is the purpose of our life.
In this life we need to benefit sentient beings, to work for sentient beings; this is the real meaning of life. For this, we need to practice Dharma, to achieve the path and cease all the numberless sufferings and causes: karma and delusion, and the negative imprints. So, the motivation of our life is to be able to liberate all sentient beings from the oceans of sufferings in samsara and enlighten them.
The other reason why we should benefit other sentient beings is that we need their help in order to achieve happiness. Similarly, numberless sentient beings also need our help to achieve their happiness. We need their help and they need our help.
Now, we have all the opportunities to help—we have met the Buddhadharma and a virtuous friend who has revealed the path to enlightenment, the Dharma. We have received a perfect human body with the eight freedoms and the ten richnesses, and we have the opportunity to practice Dharma. We can practice Dharma whenever we wish, and we can listen to, reflect and meditate on, and attain the path to liberation and enlightenment.
So many sentient beings have not had the opportunity to meet the Dharma and due to that, every day, every hour, every minute and every second, whatever action they do with their body, speech and mind, is all negative karma, because their motivation is either anger, ignorance or mostly attachment—clinging to this life. All their motivations are nonvirtuous and all actions done with this motivation of ignorance and mostly attachment, clinging to this life, become negative karma. Every second, every moment, it is as if they are stepping over the cliffs to the lower realms, constantly possessed by the sickness of the three types of suffering: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and all-pervasive suffering. They are totally possessed by the demon spirit possession of the three poisonous minds, with no freedom at all.
Now we have this opportunity to help sentient beings, by having the opportunity to practice Dharma and to attain enlightenment. We have the responsibility to liberate all sentient beings from the oceans of suffering of samsara and bring them to enlightenment. All our past happiness since beginningless rebirths, our present and future happiness—not only samsara’s happiness but ultimate happiness: liberation and enlightenment—and every good thing we have experienced, has been received due to the kindness of each and every sentient being. Now, what is most important is for us to develop ourselves, to study the lam-rim and to understand and achieve the lam-rim by meditating on it—this is what is most beneficial for all sentient beings.
It is very important to read one lam-rim text from beginning to end every day. Practice one meditation on guru devotion each day, following the outlines from the lam-rim. Continue like this until you have stable realizations that come from deep in your heart, that one guru is the same as all the buddhas and all the buddhas are the same as your guru. After that, you need to stabilize this realization, so continue to meditate a little bit each day on guru devotion, no matter how many weeks, months, years or lifetimes it takes.
The other important thing is to spend one session a day meditating on the lam-rim, starting from the beginning, from the perfect human rebirth. Maybe spend one month mainly focusing your session on that, then the next month on its usefulness and one month on the difficulties of receiving it, etc. Keep going like this up to the topic of karma. Keep doing this until you achieve all the realizations, step by step. If you can, spend one month focusing on each of the different lam-rim topics, until your realizations are stable. Really try to develop the realizations. If you do not have realizations at the end, then start again from the beginning of the lam-rim. Even after you have achieved stable realizations, you still need to meditate a little bit each day.
Every day, try to do one meditation on emptiness, using the four-point analysis, the short or elaborate version. You can use different techniques to meditate on emptiness. Also, you can use the Heart Sutra, reciting it slowly, meditating on the meaning. In this way, each day that you are alive, you are leaving so many positive imprints of the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment.
First thing, when we wake up in the morning, rejoice that we are still alive, and that again we have the opportunity to practice Dharma. Remember impermanence and death and think how fortunate we are, by thinking about the eight freedoms and ten richnesses, by having a perfect human body, so we can achieve the three great means in just one lifetime.
Remember that life is impermanent and death can happen at any time. After this life it is not certain where we will be born, it could be in the lower realms. If we are reborn there, apart from the most important thing, that we are unable to help other sentient beings, also we have no opportunity to practice Dharma, and our suffering is so heavy and for an unimaginable length of time. Even being reborn in the higher realms is not sufficient and as I have mentioned before, that is not the real meaning of life. In samsara there is only constant suffering: the suffering of change, which in samsara we call pleasure, and pervasive compounded suffering.
Until we are free from suffering, there is not one second’s break or holiday in samsara; this is how it is experienced, since beginningless rebirths. Think, “I have been suffering in samsara and only experiencing sufferings, so I must be liberated from samsara, I must achieve enlightenment, there is no other solution.”
Then meditate on the outline of the seven-point cause and effect from the bodhicitta section of the lam-rim. The next day, focus on equalizing oneself and others, then exchanging oneself and others. In the break-time, do tong-len practice. After that, think that all sentient beings become enlightened. Think, “This is just mere visualization, really sentient beings are still suffering, so I must liberate all sentient beings from all the sufferings and their causes and bring them to enlightenment, by myself alone. Therefore, I must achieve enlightenment, and I will do all my activities with the bodhicitta mind—every activity I do during the day and night, such as eating, sleeping, walking, going to work, studying, everything. Every action of my body, speech, and mind will then become a cause of enlightenment.”
Practice Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga every day. Also, chant OM MANI PADME HUM each day, to get the commitment done.
I am very happy that you practice the Thirty-five Buddhas on the train—even doing the visualization and reciting the names is extremely important and very worthwhile to do, if you cannot do the prostrations. Also, you can put your hands in the mudra of prostration as you recite the names and visualize that you are prostrating.
Taking the eight Mahayana precepts twice a month is unbelievable, great, and so fantastic!
If you do the long version of Calling the Guru From Afar, then, as I mentioned at the beginning, this has the whole lam-rim within it. If you recite the short version, then it is good to recite one lam-rim prayer each day that contains the whole path, such as the Foundation of all Good Qualities, the Three Principles of the Path, etc. Do this within the practice of Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, before the guru absorbs into you. Stop and at that time, recite the lam-rim prayer slowly and mindfully, reflecting on the meaning.
Also, the Guru Shakyamuni Buddha Daily Meditation booklet has the lam-rim prayers within the practice. So, you can recite a different lam-rim prayer each day. The lam-rim prayer contains the complete path within it; this is so important. Also, you can read lam-rim on the train; this is extremely worthwhile. You don’t always have to practice lam-rim meditation on the cushion; you can do it in the car, and when you are walking or shopping. In this way, take all the opportunities to practice.
Sentient beings have unimaginable suffering. Even one sentient being has been suffering without beginning. It is so unbearable, we need to liberate them as quickly as possible from the oceans of samsara’s sufferings. If we don’t liberate sentient beings, they continue to experience all the sufferings in samsara. The numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings are suffering and cannot stand even one more second of suffering. Think, “I must liberate them and bring them to enlightenment. Therefore, I have to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible, so I need to rely on a Highest Yoga Tantra deity practice.” This is the reason we practice tantra; this is the motivation.
According to my observation, you have a strong connection to Vajrayogini. Later, you can take the initiation and do the practice. You will need to receive another Highest Yoga Tantra initiation, such as Yamantaka, Heruka or Guhyasamaja, as a preliminary in order to take Vajrayogini.
Thank you very much. Please continue with what you have been doing, it is great! I am also attaching my other essential daily practice to combine with what you are already doing, mainly putting emphasis on achieving the lam-rim.
With much love and prayers,