My very dear one,
Thank you very much for your email.
This is what comes out most beneficial for you. If you can, read the Diamond Cutter Sutra every day. Sometimes, if you are sick and are unable to finish it all in one day, then it doesn’t matter, and you can continue the next day. Otherwise, read it once every day. As you know, this is the Buddha’s teachings on emptiness and it is unbelievable! If you read it then you will understand the benefits, so I don’t need to explain. Also, there is incredible purification from reading it and one collects extensive merits.
By reading or hearing the Diamond Cutter Sutra, you don’t give up faith. The merit you collect is inconceivable, unbelievable, and unimaginable. It is far greater than, for example, offering your body in charity for one day to sentient beings. It is greater than offering your body in the morning for as many times equaling the number of grains of sand in the River Ganges. The grains of sand are not what we usually think of. They are very tiny atoms, one of the seven types of subtle atoms. Then, again at noon, you offer your body to sentient beings that many times. In the evening, again, you offer your body to sentient beings that many times: the number of subtle atoms of grains of sand in the River Ganges. Like that, you offer every day, for eons. The merits of practicing that much charity for sentient beings even for one day is simply unbelievable, let alone three times a day, or for so many years and eons. That merit is unbelievable. Even offering one’s body to sentient beings is unimaginable. The benefits are equally unbelievable just from being able to do that.
Even if you practiced charity like that each day for that many eons, it is a small amount of merit compared to reading or hearing the Diamond Cutter Sutra and not giving up faith. That means if you keep it, read it, memorize it, and study its meaning, then you collect far greater merits than from the previous actions. Reading the Diamond Cutter Sutra is an incredible source of powerful purification of all previous negative karmas collected since beginningless rebirths—all those unbelievably heavy ones. This is in addition to the extensive merit you collect by reading it or just by keeping it. Also, if you can memorize it, it would be very powerful purification.
If you can, practice your deity’s self-initiation. If you are able to, do it once a week. This would be great. See if you can do this.
If you can, do tsog offering every day. This could be within the Lama Chöpa/Guru Puja, and then offer the tsog. You don’t need to chant it unless you want to, you just need to offer the tsog. Again, this is extremely powerful purification of degenerated samaya. It also purifies all one’s negative karma and one collects merit. Doing this practice hooks all the realizations to you. If you can do these practices it will make it so easy for you when death comes, and also while dying.
At the end of each day, if you can, recite the King of Prayers. Also, you can recite the Blissful Realm prayer, the prayer to be reborn in Amitabha’s pure land. Also, there is one prayer that Lama Yeshe used to recite as the dedication to complete the whole path: Lama Tsongkhapa’s prayer for the beginning, middle, and end. These are all very good to do. At least recite the King of Prayers. This is incredible purification; also, you collect extensive merits, especially if you pay attention while reading it. By doing this you will discover all the benefits. They are unbelievable! When you read it, please check out all the benefits. If you do what I am suggesting it will be extremely beneficial for you.
Also, it is important to meditate on the lamrim every day. Meditate on guru devotion every day by following the outlines. Then, do the rest of the lamrim meditations like this: Mainly focus on the perfect human rebirth for one month. The following month focus mainly on its usefulness, and go on like this through all the lamrim outlines, except shamatha—you don’t need to focus on that. Then, mainly focus on emptiness for one month.
To clarify: focus on understanding impermanence and death for one month; the lower realms: one month; refuge: one month; karma: one month; the sufferings of the upper realms: one month; the general sufferings of samsara: one month; the twelve links: one month; the general sufferings, the three types of suffering, the four types of suffering, and the sufferings of the six realms: one month; bodhicitta: two weeks, or one month on each outline of bodhicitta. Do some meditation on emptiness every day. If I have missed any outline, then focus on each lamrim outline for one month.
If you can do self-initiation every day it would be extremely good. You can do the short one, since you have done the Yamantaka retreat along with the fire puja. So, do the short self-initiation every day, and then, if you can, do the long self-initiation once a week. If you don’t have the text, then you could ask the FPMT office, or the other two students you know who do it.
If you can, do Thirty-five Buddhas recitations, with prostrations if possible. Every night recite some Vajrasattva.
If you do the lamrim meditation retreat, that is the best thing. If you are able to do this, it is much better than just counting mantras for a billion years. The purpose of counting mantras is in order to have lamrim realizations. Also, the purpose of counting preliminary practices is to have lamrim realizations, especially realizations on the root of the path: guru devotion, as well as the three principles of the path, the common and uncommon two stages, and to achieve enlightenment for all sentient beings.
In essence, the advice I am giving is to meditate and actualize the path to enlightenment. Meditating and chanting millions and billions of mantras is just for that.
According to my observation, this year looks good for you, but next year looks negative. Of course, this depends on whether one goes to a pure land or has a perfect human rebirth in one’s next life. A perfect human rebirth means to meet the Dharma again, to have a human body with the eight ripened aspects and the ten qualities, which Lama Tsongkhapa emphasized is necessary for attainments, and especially to meet the tantric teachings. If this happens then it is not negative, it is positive. Negative means having life obstacles, but if one’s rebirth is going to be opposite to being able to practice Dharma and develop one’s mind on the path to enlightenment, then it is better to keep this body, even it is old and has many problems, because still one can practice, so it is positive.
You can practice the long sadhana of your deity when you can and especially recite your deity’s graduated path (at the end of the long sadhana). This is very important. Even if you practice the short sadhana, it is still important to recite this prayer every day, as it leaves positive imprints on the mind, to have all the realizations of the tantric path.
With much love and prayers...