Think, "The purpose of my life is to benefit others, and the highest benefit is to bring them to full enlightenment." This causes happiness in this life and, more important than that, causes ultimate happiness: liberation from samsara, and more important than that: causes peerless enlightenment. The greatest benefit is to bring sentient beings to full enlightenment, and to do that most quickly you need to practice Highest Yoga Tantra. It is not enough to practice lower tantra. If you practice only the Mahayana Sutras preceding the five paths and ten bhumis you have to collect merit for countless great eons. That means sentient beings that rely on you and have karma with you have to suffer for an unbelievable length of time. By practicing Highest Yoga Tantra, you can achieve enlightenment in one brief lifetime.
According to my observations, it came out good for you to practice a few deities. You don’t have to do this right away. First is Guhyasamaja, king of tantra. Generally, if one has studied this path well, one comes to know all the subjects, so that's why it is called king of tantra. When the opportunity comes you can take the great initiation of this deity. It will make you so fortunate, because it will allow you to hear the commentary for this path, to learn and meditate, and to actualize. It is the quickest way to eliminate defilements and the dualistic view and the quickest way to complete the merits of wisdom and fortune.
The other deity is Hevajra. You can practice whichever of these two deities you feel more connected to.
The other deity for you to practice is Most Secret Hayagriva, with which you have a karmic connection, according to my observation. This is a powerful deity to pacify obstacles, a controlling deity.
It doesn't matter which great initiation you take first. After the initiation you can do some practice. At the moment, the most important thing is to create a foundation, studying and meditating on the stages of the path to enlightenment, the lam-rim. That means you need to have the realization of guru devotion, renunciation, bodhicitta, and right view.
First, read the lam-rim text Essence of Refined Gold three times. Read Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand once. Read the Lamrim Chenmo five times. This is to make your mind familiar with the fundamental path, so you have good knowledge of lam-rim. Different books have different clarifications and that gives a very good, grounded understanding. This is the essence of all the extensive sutra teachings from Buddha and all the commentaries from the enlightened Indian pandits, including Lama Tsongkhapa and all the great, highly attained Tibetan lamas. Therefore, this is the very heart of the whole entire Buddhadharma, including Buddha's whole 84,000 teachings, which are the remedy for the 84,000 delusions.
Whenever you read lam-rim teachings, you are reading the heart of all the Buddhadharma.
Here, I want to recount something from my own experience. When I came to give teachings for the first time in your country, I went to see a very high abbot to ask Dharma questions, but we didn't have a good translator. My feeling was that it was very difficult to receive answers from either Sangha or lay people to questions on how to begin the path to enlightenment. That was my feeling. Of course, it doesn’t mean there are no bodhisattvas or Buddhas among the laypeople and Sangha. Just keep this in mind. Now, the lam-rim teachings have been spread from our centers.
There are many sutras and life is very short. The sutras are very extensive explanations of the path, but one doesn't know how to integrate and practice them as a graduated path to enlightenment. At one time there was degeneration of Buddhism in Tibet and a lot of misunderstanding about tantra came about. People thought that if one practices tantra one cannot practice sutra, and if ones practices sutra one cannot practice tantra; they thought they were contradictory. The Dharma was revived in Tibet when Lha Lama Yeshe Ö invited Lama Atisha to Tibet. The first time, he went to look for gold to offer to Lama Atisha so he would come to Tibet, but he couldn't find any. So, again, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö went to look for gold to offer to Lama Atisha and went to nearby Nepal, where he was caught by an irreligious king. So, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö sent his nephew Jangchub Ö to the irreligious king with gold to release him from jail, but the king wasn't satisfied with the amount. So Lha Lama Yeshe Ö said to his nephew, never mind, send the money with the translator Lama Nagtso, to offer to Lama Atisha, and ask him to go to Tibet to spread and revive the BuddhaDharma for sentient beings in Tibet.
After reading all the lam-rim texts and studying them, then meditate step by step in order to have stable realizations of guru devotion and renunciation of this life and future lives, which means detachment from this life, future lives, and samsara, so the mind is free.
This does not mean ceasing the imprint (the seed) of delusion, it means stopping delusion arising by realizing that life is so short, the nature of death and impermanence, and how samsara is only in the nature of suffering. After that, achieve the stable realization of bodhicitta and right view. Meditating on right view should be done a little bit every day, it is not necessary to realize it only after realizing bodhicitta. Your main effort should be put into lam-rim realizations, later you can do more tantric practice, and then tantric practice is more successful. It is like ice cream is made more delicious by a lot of cream.
I am just giving you a plan, how to go about learning Dharma in a clear way, with depth and a solid grounding, so that when you learn tantra you have a rich understanding of it and why there is a need to practice tantra. The more you practice lam-rim, the more you have realizations, then tantric practice becomes the quicker path to enlightenment. Practicing the lam-rim is the real practice of Dharma, in the heart. Your heart is in Dharma and in the path to enlightenment.
Don't think that this is too much; don't squeeze yourself and be scared or worried. I am just saying this is your project, your plan. If you are building a house, garden, city, anything, everything has a plan for how to do it, how to complete it. So, this is how to plan. Once you have the plan, gradually you will complete the project, however big it is. Always looking for the easiest way, so that you don't have to bear hardships, becomes an obstacle to completing the big project.
The biggest project among projects, the greatest success among successes, and the greatest happiness among happinesses is achieving enlightenment. Not only that, but the main goal is to liberate sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment. So, now, you can gradually get used to these practices in the practice of daily life.
When you wake up, generate the bodhicitta motivation, which is based on rejoicing that you did not die up till now, even last night, when so many people did, that you are here today and able to practice Dharma. You can think of the card of His Holiness the Dalai Lama that we handed out, and direct your life to the benefit of sentient beings. Think: For that, I am going to practice the lam-rim, not only in sitting meditation but in working life, and practice the three principal aspects of the path: renunciation, bodhicitta, and right view, focusing most on bodhicitta.
Chant the mantra with Chenrezig meditation. First, visualize thousand-arm Chenrezig, and purify yourself with nectar from Chenrezig’s heart. After reciting one mala of OM MANI PADME HUM, Chenrezig absorbs into you. The ultimate nature of Chenrezig’s mind and the ultimate nature of your mind are one. Stay there for a bit, then arise as thousand-arm Chenrezig. At your heart is a moon disc with the mantra around it. From there, you send out beams to purify all sentient beings, realm by realm.
You can do washing Dharma practice, or, in tantric practice, it is called washing yoga. After you have washed, set up offerings, water bowls, etc.
Then, do prostrations, reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names. It’s the most powerful practice. By reciting each name you purify many eons of negative karma, and combined with prostrations you create inconceivable merits and good luck.
Then, practice Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga. It doesn't matter if you don't understand it, just do it; it is still very worthwhile. There is the practice I put together; this came out very good for you to do. Please study the commentary on Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga. Practice Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga to have the realization of guru devotion, the root of the path to enlightenment, which makes you successful in attaining the whole path to enlightenment. This practice has eight or nine special benefits, especially achieving wisdom, meeting Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings in the next life, and at the time of death being born in Maitreya's pure land: Tushita Heaven.
With Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga there is a meditation prayer on the whole path to enlightenment called The Foundation of All Good Qualities and that is extremely important. When you read it mindfully it becomes a direct meditation on the whole path to enlightenment. That means you plant all the seeds of enlightenment in your heart. That means, each day, when you do this, it brings you closer to the realizations of the path to enlightenment and each day closer to enlightening all sentient beings. You don't need to recite only that prayer, you can alternate and recite Calling the Guru from Afar by the great enlightened being Pabongka Rinpoche.
Then, before the guru enters your heart, meditate on the lam-rim, as I have mentioned before, following the outlines. You can read some pages of lam-rim, not like you are trying to finish it. Read mindfully so that it leaves a strong imprint. That itself is meditation on the lam-rim, relating it to one’s own life. Think that Guru Lama Tsongkhapa is giving you the teaching. At other times in the day, whenever you find time, you can continue and read the lam-rim text.
Maybe, in the evening, if you can, do prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas once. Otherwise, just do the purification confession practice of Vajrasattva. Recite one mala, half a mala, or at least 21 long mantras. If you wish you can recite the short mantra for the rest of the mala.
The visualization and recitation, purifying with the four remedial powers, is very important, not just reciting the mantra. For the confession practice to become powerful depends on the four remedial powers, with strong regret. Practicing with the four remedial powers is the main thing that makes negative karma less, and makes confession perfect.
At the beginning of the confession, it is advised in the lam-rim teachings to examine your life from the morning, how many actions have become Dharma/good karma. Each time you find good karma, rejoice. Each time you find negative karma, then regret and purify with regret by practicing Vajrasattva, not only for this day, month, and year, but from beginningless rebirths.
Then, if you are able, recite the King of Prayers, however much you can. That is one method for being born in Amitabha pure land. This is the most extensive prayer for sentient beings, the bodhisattva’s prayer.
There is also Lama Tsongkhapa's powerful prayer, the Tok ta ma prayer, at the beginning and the end.
Make the short dedications that can be done normally at the end of sessions:
May the bodhicitta that is fulfilling all one’s wishes for happiness, including all sentient beings’ wishes, including ultimate happiness—enlightenment—may it be generated in one’s heart, and the hearts of one’s family, and in all sentient beings’ hearts. In those whose hearts where bodhicitta has been generated, may it increase.
Then, recite His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s long life prayer in English and also recite the prayer to fulfill His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s wishes: "tong nyi nying je".
Due to the past, present, and future happiness of the three times generated by myself and others, may I be able to offer limitless skies of benefit to sentient beings like Lama Tsongkhapa, by having received all the qualities of Lama Tsongkhapa in me.
Due to the three times merits collected by myself and others, may I be able to offer limitless skies of benefit to sentient beings and to the teachings of Buddha, like Lama Tsongkhapa, by having the same qualities within me as Lama Tsongkhapa has, from now on and in all lives.
Due to all these merits, may all the father and mother sentient beings have all happiness, and may all the lower realms be empty forever. Wherever there are bodhisattvas, may all their prayers be accomplished immediately. May I cause all this by myself alone.
In all my lives, through the victorious one, Lama Tsongkhapa, acting in person as the Mahayana guru, may I never turn aside for even an instant from the excellent path praised by the victorious ones.
Due to the three times merits collected by myself, my family members, and all sentient beings, may all the projects in the FPMT be completed immediately and receive all the needs to benefit sentient beings immediately, to be most beneficial, especially the activities spreading and preserving the complete, stainless teachings of Buddha and Lama Tsongkhapa, and building all the holy objects in different parts of the world, especially all the Maitreya statues.
Due to the past, present, and future merits collected by me and by others, who are empty from their own side, may the “I,” which is empty from its own side, achieve Guru Shakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment, which is empty from its own side (if you are practicing Lama Tsongkhapa guru, just say Lama Tsongkhapa), and lead all sentient beings, who are empty from their own side, to Guru Shakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment, which is empty from its side, by myself alone, who is empty from his own side.
Just as the brave Manjushri and Samantabhadra, too, realized things as they are, I too dedicate all these merits in the best way, that I may follow their perfect example.
I dedicate all these roots of virtue with the dedication praised as best by the victorious ones thus gone of the three times, so I might perform good works.
By pacifying all signs of obstacles and by perfecting every single required condition, may the Dharma tradition of the Dharma king Tsongkhapa be preserved and developed.
Due to the two types of merit collected over the three times by myself and others, may the teaching of the far-famed Victorious One's pure wisdom blaze forth.
Finish with multiplying mantras, adding Medicine Buddha’s name (below) to what is already in the FPMT prayer book.
CHOM DÄN DÄ DE ZHIN SHEG PA DRA CHOM PA YANG DAG PAR DZOG PÄI SANG GYÄ MÄN GYI LHA BAIDURYA Ö KYI GYÄL PO LA CHHAG TSHÄL LO
To the bhaghavan, tathagata, arhat, perfectly completed Buddha, Medicine Guru, King of Lapis Lazuli Light, I prostrate.
In conclusion, I am giving you the general guidelines for the lam-rim, to study each topic, one by one. It is extremely important to read them slowly, with mindfulness.
I have given you instruction for daily practice, your job, and all other activities. The most important, beneficial Dharma is performed with the motivation of bodhicitta, whether you are in your house, at your job, eating, sleeping, whatever. This motivation means everything is dedicated for all sentient beings to be free from all the suffering realms.
The other advice I gave you is regarding preliminary practices—various methods to purify and collect merits. You don't have to worry about how you are going to do all this; just do things one by one, or a little of a couple of the preliminaries every day, or do a little more on Saturdays or Sundays. I am not talking about right now, but later, when you can do these practices. When you find time to do a five-day retreat or one-week retreat, then you can do more of these practices. Sometime you can do a deity retreat; however, the lam-rim should be present all the time. Even if you are doing a lam-rim retreat, you should also do the preliminary practices. Before doing the preliminary practices, you need to read the commentaries. We can discuss this.