My very dear Charles,
Thank you very much for your kind email, and I am sorry for the long delay in replying.
Regarding your practice, in the morning start with generating the correct motivation, you can use different motivations that I have put together, then begin the day by doing prostrations and reciting the names of the Thirty-five Buddhas. This doesn’t mean you only visualize the 35 Buddhas, you can visualize that you are prostrating to numberless Buddhas. Do it as many times as you can. If you recite fast, then that way you get to recite the Buddhas’ names three to four times for each prostration, so this has incredible benefits. This is more important than reciting slowly. In this case, it has incredible benefit to recite fast. In this way, so much negative karma gets purified so quickly.
Then, in the evening it is very important to do Vajrasattva practice, with the four opponent powers.
Then, on the basis of doing a guru yoga , which can be either long six-session guru yoga, Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, or Guru Puja, practice lam-rim meditations.
If you are doing either six-session guru yoga or Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, then you need to include the recitation of a lam-rim prayer, such as the Foundation of all Good Qualities, Calling the Guru from Afar, etc. As you recite, meditate on the meaning, and in this way receive blessings from the guru.
When you meditate on the lam-rim, such as guru devotion, seeing all the buddhas as one’s guru and all one’s gurus as all the buddhas, it is important to use reasonings, by using quotes, etc. Do guru yoga practice and meditate on guru devotion every day. Then, whatever lam-rim prayer you recite, do it mindfully. In this way, each day you are making your life highly meaningful, planting the seeds of the path to enlightenment, and each day brings you closer to achieving all the realizations, to achieving enlightenment, and closer to liberating all sentient beings from the oceans of samsara’s suffering and bringing them to enlightenment. So, every day that you recite a lam-rim prayer makes your life so meaningful.
The other thing is to recite the gradual tantric stages of your deity. This is usually the prayer at the end of the long sadhana, which goes through the stages of the path of the deity. Reciting this each day leaves incredible imprints of the generation and completion stage, the whole path to enlightenment.
It would be very good for you to read the Lam-rim Chen-mo from beginning to end, not just like reading a book, but relating it to your own life. If it brings up questions you can write them down and discuss them with other students from time to time. Read it thoughtfully so that it actually becomes a meditation. Then read Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand in the same way, as a meditation.
It is important to start this right away. After you have finished these books, then you can either start again, or you can then read The Essential Nectar. Use this one as a daily meditation practice, reading a few pages each day, slowly, meditating on the meaning, thinking how it relates to your life. You could also use The Essential Nectar even now, while you are reading the other two books. The point is to read a little lam-rim every single day, think about what you read, and use it in your life. This way, slowly, you come to know the lam-rim outlines by heart. It is important to do one meditation every day on guru devotion and then, on top of that, one other lam-rim subject (you can base that on where you are up to in the books), such as perfect human rebirth. The point is to have realizations, so continue to do the meditations until you achieve stable realizations. If you can, do lam-rim meditation every day for 10 or 15 minutes – longer is better.
The other meditation that is important to do every day is to do some direct meditation on emptiness. You can use the Heart Sutra or different teachings, using quotations, different reasonings, and logic, and use those to meditate on emptiness.
It is also very important, depending on who your deity is, which initiation you have received, to do that sadhana – the long or medium version. For other initiations you have received, you can just do the short sadhana or the essence. Then, do whatever other commitments you have.
Regarding your practices, I checked, and this is what came out most beneficial for your quickest enlightenment. I am listing them here and also I have incorporated them into the attached document that has more information:
- 200,000 refuge
- 50,000 Vajrasattva (you should also do this each evening)
- 200,000 prostrations by reciting the 35 Buddhas’ names
- 100,000 Dorje Khadro fire burning practice
- 10,000 water bowls
- 30, 000 tsa-tsas of: Buddha, Padmasambhava, Vajrapani (divide the number between these)
- 100,000 tong-len – This is your bodhicitta practice. With meditation, recite the words, and mainly meditate on the meaning. You can use the verse from Lama Chöpa on bodhicitta (that is recited three times in the lam-rim prayer) or you can use the Nagarjuna verse: “Whatever suffering sentient beings have, may it ripen on me….” etc.
Tong-len will be an unbelievable preliminary practice. This is the most powerful purification and way to collect extensive merit, develop one’s heart in bodhicitta, and bring you and all sentient beings closer to enlightenment by actualizing tong-len.
Please read the Sanghata Sutra a little each day, even just a line or two, more of course is better, but keep this going. Also, try to read a little of the Golden Light Sutra each day. This will take care of you completely, forever, bringing all good wishes for yourself and bringing you to complete enlightenment for yourself and all sentient beings.
Regarding your deity, whichever you feel you have the closest connection to, then do that deity’s practice. If you feel you don’t have your yidam, then let me know, and I can check which deity you have the strongest connection with. But you already may know this.
The most important thing in your life, what makes your life most meaningful, is to have a bodhicitta motivation in everything you do, whether it is working, talking, on the beach, etc. Whatever activity you do, do it with a bodhicitta motivation. In this way, whatever you do brings you closer to enlightenment.
Lam-rim meditation doesn’t only mean it has to be done when you are sitting, you can do it any time; you can make every moment a meditation on the lam-rim – remembering guru devotion, bodhicitta, renunciation, emptiness, etc. Whatever section you are up to in the lam-rim, use that throughout the day. Meditation when sitting is just one aspect, it is not the whole thing. It is important to start the day by setting one’s motivation carefully so all activities are based on that.
With much love and prayers...