My very dear Alice,
I am very sorry I wasn’t able to see you this time. I checked regarding your schools and it came out that …College looks better. Regarding your question about which branch of Eastern medicine to study, for this you need to give me the names of the different choices in order to check, otherwise it is difficult.
Then regarding your request about what retreat to do, I checked and what came out best is prostrations by reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas 100,000 times. Do whatever amount you can in retreat, then after that continue each day until you complete 100,000.
In retreat, you can do four or five sessions and get more done. Before starting the sessions, go over the lam-rim as motivation. Read lam-rim books such as The Essential Nectar by Geshe Rabten, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand and other lam-rim texts that you can use as a motivation. At the beginning of each session, spend half an hour or 25 minutes reading a lam-rim book and slowly thinking about it, relating it to your life.
After that, begin the prostrations for one hour or however long you want. Please read my teachings on the Thirty-five Buddhas. At the end of each session, do the confession prayer (in the Thirty-five Buddhas practice) and then do a good dedication.
Think that all the negative karma collected since beginningless rebirth is purified; that nothing slightly exists.
- In emptiness there is no I, no creator - meditate a little bit on that.
- There is no action, creating negative karma - meditate a little bit on that.
- There is no negative karma created – meditate a little bit on that.
This becomes an extremely powerful meditation on emptiness; the three circles by sealing with emptiness.
"Due to all the three-time merits collected by myself, all sentient beings, buddhas and bodhisattvas, by having generated bodhicitta in my heart every day, may everyone in the world live their life only to benefit everyone and may no-one harm others. Whatever they do with their body, speech and mind, may it only cause enlightenment and happiness to all sentient beings, and may no-one experience war, famine, disease, torture, sickness, dangers of earth, water, tsunami, wind or dangers of the weather.
"Due to the past, present and future merits collected by me and the three times merits collected by others, may the most precious wish-fulfilling thought of enlightenment (bodhicitta) be generated in my mind, in the mind of my family members and all sentient beings. May that which has been generated; may it increase.
"Due to all the three times merits collected by myself, numberless sentient beings, buddhas and bodhisattvas, who exist but are empty from their own side, may the I, which exists but is empty from its own side, achieve complete Buddha’s enlightenment, which exists, but is empty from its own side, and lead all the sentient beings, who exist but do not exist from their own side—they are empty—and may I actualize this by myself alone, who exists, but is empty from my own side."
So, do at least two of these dedications. These you must do, but if you want to do more that is great.
At night-time, at the end of session you can also do extensive dedications, such as the King of Prayers one night and the next night the Lama Tsongkhapa prayer, with no beginning and end. This is what Lama Yeshe used to do when he wanted to do more dedication prayers.
Every morning, do the practice of blessing speech. You can get an explanation of how to do this in the booklet Taking the Essence, [available from FPMT Foundation Store], then bless your mala [also in that booklet].
Then generate your motivation. You can use the booklet I am enclosing about bodhicitta as a basis to generate motivation.
After motivation, clean your room. It doesn’t depend on having dust, it is a type of practice— cleaning the abiding house (abiding with Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha). The guru, for example His Holiness the Dalai Lama, means there is really a Compassion Buddha in your room, so the cleaning you do is guru yoga practice, like cleaning the guru’s room, with the meditation of the guru being oneness with all the buddhas. So, clean with that meditation and mindfulness.
Think that this is where the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are abiding, so clean with that meditation, then also think that you are cleaning sentient beings’ negative karma and delusions. These are all cleaned away. The broom or vacuum cleaner is the path to enlightenment—the lam-rim, the stages on the path to enlightenment.
Think about the basic thing, bodhicitta—ultimate bodhicitta and the wisdom perceiving emptiness, which directly sees the defilements. The other one is the all-obscuring mind, the thought of enlightenment—bodhicitta. Think that you are cleaning away the delusions to these realizations.
If you are throwing garbage away, think that the garbage can is like the open mouth of the Lord of Death. Think you are putting all the delusions into the mouth of the Lord of Death, who lives nine stories under the earth. So, the Lord of Death opens his mouth very wide. Normally it is opened to take your life away, but here it is open for all the negative karma and obscurations. They go into his mouth and become nectar in his mouth. Then the Lord of Death’s mouth is closed and sealed with a huge golden double vajra, then he goes down under the earth. So, this meditation helps your long life.
If you have an altar already nicely set up and if you have holy objects on your altar, look at them with your two palms together, thinking that they are all manifestations of the guru. However many different statues, stupas and buddhas that you have—all the different aspects—think that they are all the embodiment of your guru, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since you have taken teachings from His Holiness, look at each picture and each holy object with your two palms together, with that mindfulness meditation. Think they are all the guru, so this becomes guru yoga practice.
Then perform the offerings on your altar. Make pure offerings, not crooked. If mentally crooked, then the external offerings are crooked.
If you read Liberation in the Palm of your Hand, it explains how to make offerings, so I don’t need to explain this. You can also find commentaries on how to make offerings correctly. For example, it explains how to obtain the offerings—not through wrong livelihood etc. Anyway, it is useful to read actual commentaries on how to perform and set up the offerings. These commentaries are useful to read and to understand.
When making offerings, it is good to cover your mouth with a cloth, mask or scarf, so that you do not breathe on the offerings and they become dirty.
It is important that everything is clean. Think that you are offering nectar; don’t think that you are just offering water, but think it is nectar. Visualize that it is nectar and offer; that it is in the nature of great bliss.
Visualize the Guru Puja merit field when we offer, thinking that everyone in the merit field is a manifestation of our root guru. Think that each buddha in the merit field has numberless pores and each pore is all the gurus, then offer, thinking that it generates bliss. Every time we make an offering, think that it is generating infinite bliss in the holy mind. That is the very essence of offering. This is why we make offerings and how we collect merits.
At least have this understanding, then whatever offering we make to a picture of Buddha or a statue, picture, scripture or stupa—even one tiny grain of rice or a tiny flower, no matter how small——what we get is all the happiness. What we experience from beginningless rebirth up to now, that much we will experience in the future. The benefit we get doesn’t stop; we will receive all the happiness—oceans of happiness and liberation from the oceans of samsaric sufferings, all the way up to achieving full enlightenment—the completed qualities and cessation of all the gross and subtle sufferings. Still the benefit of making offerings continues after enlightenment, as we are able to liberate numberless sentient beings— every hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human being, sura, asura and intermediate state being—from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and its causes. We cause numberless beings from each realm to achieve full enlightenment, great liberation.
Only when there are no sentient beings left and all have been brought to enlightenment, is the benefit that we create completed. This is the benefit we receive when we offer even one tiny flower or grain to a statue, stupa or scripture; this is the complete benefit that we get. It is most amazing, amazing, amazing. It’s hard to comprehend with our ordinary mind, it is beyond that. Amazing!
When we make offerings to holy objects—not only Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, but any holy object—the benefit that we get is incredible. Actually this is the best business and we get the greatest profit. So, this is the best business to focus on.
Generally, if you can, it is good to make as many offerings as possible. Make extensive offerings if you can. I heard that you came here to my house from time to time to make water bowl offerings. That is great, and I thought it is very wise that you took time to come here to make offerings. Also in the future you can do that any time—you can come here and help make offerings.
Then, after the offerings, sit down and set up your body in the seven-point position of Vairochana. These seven positions are to not have obstacles, but to have success in meditation.
Then examine the mind and set the motivation. Generate the purest motivation. Please use the booklet on bodhicitta that I have enclosed as a basis. Sometimes you can use the motivation that I did in the Wish-fulfilling Golden Sun book, which has the levels of motivation . The last one is about practicing tantra.
So on one day, use the bodhicitta book and the next day use this prayer and then other ones that you find helpful.
Then do Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga. Sometimes if you are able to, do Lama Chöpa (Guru Puja), however, the main one is Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga. This is very, very good, as it has the lam-rim prayer inside. Make sure you use a version that has the lam-rim prayer, such as The Foundation of all Good Qualities, within it. The whole path to enlightenment is within this prayer, so read it mindfully every time. In this way it plants the seed for the whole path of enlightenment and causes you to achieve all the realizations. [The Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga practice booklet is available from the FPMT Foundation Store.]
Then do one mala or more of the mig-me mantra. If you do this for one mala, then for half a mala concentrate on purifying and for the other half mala concentrate on receiving all the qualities. If you do two malas, then do one and a half malas on purifying and half a mala on receiving all the qualities. If you do three malas, then do two malas on purifying and the last mala on achieving all the qualities.
When you are concentrating on purifying, think that you are purifying mainly negative karma collected with the guru from beginningless rebirth, such as harming the holy body, breaking advice, giving rise to heresy, giving up the guru after having made a connection and giving rise to non-devotional thought. All this karma that you have collected since beginningless rebirth is purified. So it is like washing a dirty cloth, the water becomes very black and dirty, or when you wash a dirty glass, the water becomes totally black, or when a water pipe strongly pushes clean water up and all the dirt is pushed out and the pipe is so clean, instantly.
The main negative karma that you are purifying is negative karma collected with the guru, then also other negative karma collected with sentient beings since beginningless time.
Also while reciting the mantra you can meditate on reciting the six types of wisdom, so put your main effort on whichever wisdom you want most. The other wisdoms you can do more quickly.
Please read the booklet on Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga and also the commentary I have given.
After finishing this practice, do prostrations. Please read the commentaries on how to do prostrations correctly, or you can also ask Ven. Sarah.
During the retreat, at the beginning of each session, you can read a different lam-rim prayer such as Calling the Guru from Afar, the Three Principals of the Path etc. These can be used as motivation. Each time you do that, it plants the seed of the whole path to enlightenment and brings you closer to actualizing enlightenment. It brings you closer to liberating the numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bringing them to enlightenment. So, it has all these unbelievable advantages.
At the evening time, recite Vajrasattva during the last session or do prostrations while reciting Vajrasattva mantra. If you can, do one mala, half a mala or at least 21 long mantras. If you prefer reciting while sitting, you can do that.
Regarding the question about obstacles that you mentioned, I checked and what comes out beneficial for the situation is for both you and your friend to read the Arya Sanghata Sutra three times and the Diamond Cutter Sutra five times.
Attempt to make as many offerings as possible every day. This is the easiest way to collect unbelievable, most extensive merit.
Prostrations are also an unbelievable way to collect merits with each prostration. You collect inconceivable merit to be reborn as a wheel-turning king for so many lifetimes. However many atoms your body covers by doing prostrations, that many number of times you will be reborn as wheel-turning king. If you think about your whole body and how many atoms it covers when you prostrate, even your hair and your fingers—that many number of atoms that you cover, that many times you will be reborn as a wheel-turning king. Think how many atoms are covered just by your finger— how many atoms are under just that—so now, here it is the rest of your body, so the merit is unimaginable, unimaginable. Prostrations are a most amazing way to collect extensive merit and the cause of success.
Then in daily life, make charity towards sentient beings as much as possible. There are many different ways, even making charity to ants [Note: Rinpoche just translated a booklet on how to do this]. As there are a lot of ants, you can give them food and you can also make charity to birds and human beings—especially to people who have the same guru. It is not necessarily charity of money; it can be giving even food, tea or water—whatever people want or need, and especially if they have the same guru, you collect most extensive merits by making offerings of water, candy, biscuits or whatever.
So please try like this, I am sorry we didn’t get to meet this time.
With much love and prayers,
PS I am attaching some general advice on lam-rim etc.
My very dear Alice,
I wanted to add one thing to the letter I sent you.
Regarding offering, one of the highest ways to make offerings is to offer to the guru’s pores. This means the guru’s students, the guru’s family, the guru’s animals, the guru’s dog, the guru’s friends and the guru’s relatives. If the guru is a lay person, then the guru’s child, or the guru’s wife or husband are all pores of the guru. Then, even if you offer one glass of water or one piece of candy to the guru’s pores, such as a student of the same guru, by thinking this is the guru’s pores, you collect the most unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable merit—much more merit than having made offerings to numberless buddhas, Dharma, Sangha, statues, stupas and scriptures of the ten directions.
The merit of having made offerings to numberless buddhas, Dharma, Sangha, statues, stupas and scriptures is far less than having made one tiny offering to the guru’s pores. So this is how to make offerings the smart way, so one’s merit goes up and doesn’t go down.
So, making offerings to the guru’s pores, even just a glass of water or candy, or giving one flower, collects far greater merit than having made offerings to the numberless buddhas, Dharma, Sangha, statues, stupas and scriptures in the ten directions.
Similarly, by offering one biscuit, one container of water or one carrot to the pore of the guru, such as the guru’s horse, you collect most amazing, unbelievable, unbelievable, greater merit than having made offerings to the numberless buddhas, Dharma, Sangha, statues, stupas and scriptures in the ten directions.
So, just think about this, in terms of creating the most merit, to purify obstacles that you are experiencing and to do it in the smartest way, for the most benefit.
With much love and prayers...