My very dear Linda,
Thank you very much for your kind letter. It is amazing all the practices that you are able to do, and that since you have taken the initiation you have never missed practicing the sadhana, and that you do it every day. All your sincerity and openness, your kind heart – especially that you feel connected with all beings – is amazing. I would think that a bodhisattva who has bodhicitta would feel this way, without any barrier of any kind, feeling connected with all human beings, whether they be Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Ven. Wongmo (who is sitting here), George Bush, Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, anyone, all those people that other people do not like, such as Mao Tse Tung, etc. When you feel like that, it shows the sign of a good heart, then, the thought to benefit everyone without partiality will come and also the feeling of being connected not only with human beings, but with all animals, cockroaches, rats, poisonous snakes, slugs, mosquitoes, tigers, crocodiles, octopi, etc.
According to my observations, it wouldn’t be good to go to the place you mentioned. It wouldn’t be most beneficial. Your work as a cranio-sacral therapist is good; working as a children’s therapist would also be good. Working in Universal Education wouldn’t be as good. Anyway, you shouldn’t have too much of a permanent, fixed mind for life. Just do whatever is beneficial each year, from time to time, like that. Having too much of a fixed idea, of something concrete for your whole life, brings trouble. Whatever and whenever you find something beneficial, then at that time, at that place, do it. The only thing that should be fixed is Dharma practice. What I mean by Dharma practice is developing the mind in the path, meditating on lam-rim, and doing the preliminary practices.
The most important thing is the continuity of developing your mind in the lam-rim, the stages of the path to enlightenment. It doesn’t matter if you are in Africa, Tibet, on the moon, in Iraq, etc. – whether you are rich or poor, whatever – continue to develop your mind in the lam-rim. That is the most important thing.
So, after you have read the whole lam-rim, like Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand or the Middling Lam-rim, and you have some idea, then practice guru devotion meditation every day. How long you spend on it is up to you; even if it is just ten or fifteen minutes you should do it, until you see the guru as all the buddhas and one buddha as all the gurus, with a very stable feeling, 100% without question, from the bottom of your heart. This is a stable realization that lasts not just for a few days or hours, but continues for months and years.
Then, train the mind in the graduated path of the lower capable being, no matter how many months or years it takes, even lifetimes, until you achieve the realization of each meditation, from perfect human rebirth – how it is found just once and how difficult it is to find again – through impermanence, death, suffering of the lower realms, refuge, and karma.
After that, train the mind in the middle capable being’s path. Then, train the mind in the graduated path of the highest capable being. By training the mind in the path of the lower capable being, your mind becomes totally detached from this life. The best quality of the realization of the first lam-rim is that you are able to equalize praise and criticism, a bad reputation and good reputation, receiving material things and not receiving material things, pleasure and difficulties (problems). When these things happen, you are able to equalize them. This is the best definition of achieving the first lam-rim: renunciation of this life.
The middle lam-rim is total detachment from samsara and samsaric pleasures – total renunciation. You see human beings and also devas’ bodies as only in the nature of suffering, like looking at kaka as kaka, and not nectar. While looking at the samsaric body, which is only in the nature of suffering (even though it might be looked at by some as something very pleasant), you realize it is only suffering. If you see a person as nectar, then you are cheated completely. You die from eating that nectar. If you realize poison as poison, then you abandon it, so it doesn’t harm you. You are protected. You see the samsaric body, pleasure – everything – is in the nature of suffering. So, you have aversion to this, not attraction. Attraction does not arise for even one second. Even in dreams, there is only aversion. You want to be free from samsara every second of every minute. You realize renunciation of samsara by meditating on the suffering of samsara: the suffering of the deva realm, human realm, true sufferings, and the true causes of suffering – all the shortcomings of the delusions. You have aversion to delusions and karma.
Then, you develop the realization of bodhicitta, the higher capable being’s path. You have unlimited compassion toward all sentient beings and their suffering, and you want to cause them to be free from all sufferings, by yourself. You also want to cause them happiness – and to do it completely by yourself alone. Then, in order to be successful in that, the thought seeking enlightenment arises 24 hours a day, spontaneously, without any effort. As you see each sentient being, you feel this spontaneously. This means you have the realization of bodhicitta.
Therefore, you should develop the mind step-by-step, like this. First, the lower capable being’s path, then the middle path, and then the higher path. The other important thing is emptiness. You should do some meditation on emptiness every day. You can use different techniques from different teachings, whichever you find inspiring. To know if your understanding, your realization, of emptiness is correct or not, check if you find a contradiction between emptiness and dependent-arising. If you are able to unify these two on one object, on the “I,” or on any phenomenon – that while the object is empty, it exists in mere name, is merely imputed by mind, that while it is existing, it is empty of existing from its own side – then that is the definition that what you realize as emptiness is correct. If it doesn’t come to that point, then the conclusion is that your understanding is incorrect.
So, until you achieve bodhicitta, put your main effort into lam-rim. Secondly, do tantric practice, but spend more time on the lam-rim than on tantric meditation. Then, after realizing bodhicitta, spend more time on tantra, the generation stage, and do some meditation on the completion stage.
At the moment, the best place for you to do your three-year retreat would be Land of Calm Abiding in the U.S. That would be good. However, when you are prepared, there may be other places that you can think about.
You have mentioned that you need guidance in your life and you feel insecure. For this, mind training in the lam-rim is the main thing that you should do in this life. If you don’t complete the path in this life, then you continue in the next life.
Whatever other activities you do in this life, in the break from sitting meditation, do not make it a break time from lam-rim meditation and Dharma practice. Rather, when you do your job or other things, try to do them with bodhicitta. Live life with bodhicitta. Also, you can relate to the meditation that you do in the morning; you can live the rest of your life that day with that feeling. In this way, whatever activity you do becomes Dharma, especially with bodhicitta. Everything becomes the cause of enlightenment and happiness for all sentient beings.
So, for the moment, that is all. Again, thank you very much for all your dedication, your life dedicated to Dharma and sentient beings. Please dedicate the merits and pray for us to receive all the funding for the 500-foot Maitreya statue. Also, please pray for all the projects offering service to the Sangha, to the FPMT Sangha, all the monasteries and Sangha in the world; for the holy objects in the world to be able to enlighten all sentient beings quickly; for all the social service projects in the world to be most beneficial; for Dharma centers to get help with their finances, debts, and difficulties, and for every center to be of most benefit for the Buddha’s teaching, in particular, Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings; and to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible.
With much love and prayer...