My very dear Tenzin,
Thank you very much for your kind letter.
According to my observations, the best place for you to go to live as a monk and study is Drepung Monastery. Regarding your question as to what kind of Dharma practice is beneficial, the goal of your life is to actualize bodhicitta in this life (in case you don’t have that realization already). Why bodhicitta? Because the objective of your life is to achieve enlightenment. Not just to achieve liberation for oneself, but to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings. Why? Because the ultimate objective of our life, the real purpose, is to benefit others, to free the countless sentient beings—the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, suras, asuras, and intermediate state beings—from samsaric suffering and to bring them to full enlightenment. Therefore, one needs to achieve full enlightenment.
To benefit others, to bring them to enlightenment, is the ultimate objective of our life, the purpose of our life, so that is the direction in which we have to go, if possible, 24 hours a day. We should direct our life toward causing happiness for all sentient beings, not just temporary happiness, but the happiness of future lives, liberation from samsara, and enlightenment. So 24 hours a day, whatever we are doing, even sleeping, eating, going to the bathroom, should be directed toward that.
For example, when you go to the bathroom, you can recite Vajrasattva mantra, visualizing Vajrasattva on the top of your crown. Nectar emanates from Vajrasattva and purifies all the sentient beings in your heart, including yourself. Then, all your negative karmas come out in the form of kaka and pipi, or you can visualize black liquid coming out, like a waterfall or flood. In this way, we can use our precious human body even when we go to the bathroom. You can do a very valuable meditation like that, benefiting sentient beings. You recite Vajrasattva mantra, purifying all sentient beings, who are in your heart, with nectar, and think that all the negative stuff is coming out. The toilet itself is Yama’s mouth, and all the negative stuff goes inside his mouth. When it goes inside his mouth it becomes nectar. When you are finished, the mouth is closed, sealed with a golden double Vajra. This causes your long life. Think that Yama is completely satisfied and then goes down under the earth.
So, dedicate everything: studying Dharma, taking teachings, making prayers, toward sentient beings receiving ultimate happiness and enlightenment. For sure, you must have read lam-rim, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, so you have some idea how to generate your motivation as well as doing one’s daily activities with the correct motivation, such as bodhicitta motivation. Then, dedicate the merits to sentient beings achieving enlightenment.
In the Wish-Fulfilling Golden Sun, there is more explanation on how to make all your daily activities beneficial, like opening, going through, and closing a door, when you get dressed, etc. Everything is based on benefiting sentient beings.
It is very important that you practice guru yoga in the morning. Sometimes, if you can, do Guru Puja. If not, then practice Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga every day. That is an essential practice, because without guru yoga, there is no devotion, no seeing the guru as enlightened and as Buddha. All the explanation for this practice is taught in lam-rim. Without that devotion, you can’t receive the blessings of the guru and thus you can’t achieve realizations. That means you can’t achieve the objective of your life, achieving enlightenment for all sentient beings. Without this, you can’t enlighten other sentient beings. So, this is the ultimate practice. It is so important to do guru yoga practice in your daily life.
Every day, on the basis of guru yoga practice, do some guru devotion meditation. You can work through the section on guru devotion in the lam-rim outlines. What you don’t finish one day, continue from there the next day. When you have finished, you can work through it again until you achieve a stable realization of guru devotion, seeing the guru as an enlightened being, from your side.
Then, after guru devotion, meditate on a perfect rebirth up to the section on karma (the lower path) for two months. Train your mind in this. When you finish the section on karma, go back and do guru devotion meditation. Then, spend four months on the middle path—meditate on how samsara is in the nature of suffering, then meditate on the twelve links, and then on the general sufferings of samsara—the six, four, three, and deva/human realms and how they are in the nature of suffering. Meditate on the shortcomings of delusions and all these things. Then, meditate on how delusions come totally from the hallucinated mind and superstition and are completely wrong. That is very important. See how you create a totally wrong, non-existent world, a hallucination. Spend the next five months on bodhicitta and the following three months on emptiness. Then, you work through the subjects again in which you did not have realizations.
The preliminary practices you should do are as follows:
- 100,000 water bowls, using the extensive offering practice
- 300,000 tsa-tsas: of Thousand-arm Chenrezig and Guru Shakyamuni Buddha
It doesn’t matter when you do these, whenever it is suitable for you. Also, it doesn’t matter where you do them, wherever is more suitable. You could go to one of the meditation centers or Nalanda Monastery in France, or the Tsa-tsa Factory in San Francisco where lots of tsa-tsas are produced and all the tools you need are available. You could either make the tsa-tsas there or you can get molds and make them at home. You can give people the tsa-tsas for their altar, to put around the house to purify the mind and to collect merit, to plant the seed of enlightenment and to liberate others. The tsa-tsas can be put outside or inside the house, even in the shrine room, but respectfully and very nicely. Or, if someone is building a large stupa, the tsa-tsas can go inside the stupa. There are many ways you can use tsa-tsas.
A stupa has different levels, made of wood or with stone or cement. First, you lift it high up from the ground. Then you have different layers—five, six, or seven layers. You can put all the tsa-tsas around inside it. You can fill up the whole stupa with tsa-tsas inside. Also, on the edge of the first, second, or third level, in this inner space, you can also put water-bowl offerings to Buddha. Otherwise, you can just fill up the stupa with the tsa-tsas. That is such an easy way to build a stupa, and then people can circumambulate it to purify negative karma and achieve enlightenment quickly. Since the world and individuals have so many problems, it’s a way to quickly get out of samsara.
Please also recite 60,000 Vajrasattva mantras.
Recite the Diamond Cutter Sutra every day. That would be great. That is one of the best preliminary practices, the most powerful, quick way to realize emptiness, get out of samsara, and be able to liberate others from the samsaric prison which has no beginning.
You asked, “Shall I engage in highest yoga tantra?” Yes, when you have the opportunity, take it. Chenrezig Gyalwa Gyatso (Secret Chenrezig) came out as your special deity to practice in everyday life to achieve enlightenment quickly so you can enlighten sentient beings.
If you meditate on lam-rim every day, that can be like a retreat, then you use the other time to study Dharma. In this way, you keep your mind in the Dharma, especially bodhicitta. Everything you do, do it with bodhicitta.
Each year, try to do something more intensive, alone, like a fifteen-day or month-long retreat. This could be a deity retreat, after you have received the initiation. Or you could do the lam-rim and preliminary practices. You can do a little bit each day of the preliminaries while you are learning and studying Dharma. Meditate on lam-rim, do some preliminaries, and study Dharma. Sometimes you can do more preliminaries, sometimes more lam-rim, a deity retreat, recitations, meditation, but it should always be done with some lam-rim. Lam-rim is always there, whichever practice you do, whether you are doing deity retreat or preliminaries. Even if you are just relaxing on the beach, the lam-rim should be there. Without lam-rim your life is empty, like an empty container.
Regarding your lung (wind imbalance), according to my observations, it looks like you need a vacation. Walking on the beach, looking at the water or mountains, something to distract the mind would be most beneficial for your lung. Staying in your room alone and intensively practicing and studying may increase the lung. So, you need to be skillful with your mind. From time to time you need to go out just to refresh yourself.
You need to look after your mind. You become the doctor—your mind is the patient, you are the psychologist. You are the parents and your mind is the child. You are the guru and your mind is the disciple. So, you have a child to take care of: your mind. That’s your biggest responsibility. If you are able to take care of that, you can take care of sentient beings, others’, minds.
This is how to prevent yourself from getting lung, Also, some exercise may be good. Try the Six Yogas of Naropa Exercise, the four main exercises. Also the Five Tibetans can be helpful for lung.
You asked how strictly to take the vows of not eating after lunch. I eat many snacks because I have diabetes. It’s best to observe the vows as much as you can, including fasting. It’s the best. Of course, when you are sick or have no energy, then there’s permission not to fast. Then, the food becomes medicine. But generally you should attempt as much as possible to fast after lunch—that’s the best. Try to keep all the vows well.
In short, the more purely you can live in the pratimoksha vows, then the more purely you will be able to live in the bodhisattva vows and tantric vows. That helps you to achieve enlightenment. If these different levels of vows are kept purely, then that means you are able to quickly achieve realizations of the path to enlightenment. Also, your prayers have a lot of power. If your vows are pure, your prayers to the protectors and the triple gem will be powerful, and they will protect you. Even the worldly protectors, nagas, and landlords will protect you. Then, because you are sincere, you are truly living according to the vows, your words have power and they will quickly achieve success for you, to actualize what you need. Your wishes are fulfilled easily, such as for things that you need or to benefit other sentient beings. When you are praying for others’ healing, long life, and freedom from problems, your prayers have much more power. If there is some danger in the world, then the more purely you are living according to the vows, the more power your prayers have to attract even the elements and avert “natural disasters”, so that many people don’t have to suffer. Many people think natural disasters don’t depend on karma, but this is a wrong view. There is no experience which does not depend on karma.
With much love and prayers...