Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga (Ganden Lha Gyäma)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Tushita Meditation Centre, Dharamsala, India 1986 (Archive #266)
Ganden Lha Gyäma: The Hundreds of Deities of the Land of Joy

In this commentary, Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaches on the Ganden Lha Gyäma practice, often translating the Tibetan verses line-by-line. The teachings were given by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Tushita Meditation Centre, Dharamsala, India at the end of the Second Enlightened Experience Celebration held in March 1986.

The teachings were edited and assembled in this format by Uldis Balodis. First published by Uldis Balodis and Kopan Monastery in 1990. Lightly revised by Sandra Smith, September 2020. Tibetan terms checked and revised by Ven. Gyalten Lekden, September 2020.  

Please note: A Highest Yoga Tantra initiation is not required for Ganden Lha Gyäma practice, however, this teaching includes specific instructions suitable for Highest Yoga Tantra initiates. Rinpoche also teaches on more general lamrim topics including the preliminary practices, refuge and karma.

This commentary is now available for download as a PDF file.

6. Karma

Karma definitely brings its own result if there are no interferences. Karma is expandable. One cannot experience the result without having created the cause. Karma which has been accumulated never gets lost.

If negative karma is not ceased by generating the remedy of the path within our mind through purifying by using the four powers, we will definitely experience its result. Similarly, if it is good karma and there is no interference we will definitely experience the result.

The inner phenomenon of karma is much more expandable than external phenomena such as branches of trees or crops. From one small bodhi seed a huge tree can grow, with many branches. One such tree could cover five hundred carriages, and thousands of fruits come from such a tree. But karma is more expandable than that: from one cause we experience so much happiness or suffering. It is without comparison to what comes from a bodhi seed.

For example, the King Ngalänä,4 the wheel-turning king, has power over the four continents and, I think, the deva realm of the Thirty-three. All his power and wealth came from the good karma of making one small offering: he made an offering to Buddha by throwing some grains, four of which fell into the Buddha’s alms bowl, and one fell on the Buddha’s crown. The karma from that offering was small, but the result was unbelievable. This is just considering the temporal result, not to mention that it is a cause to achieve liberation and enlightenment.

That example was in regard to good karma. Regarding negative karma, there is a story in the sutra teachings about Sagama, a woman in a wealthy and powerful family who had thirty-two children.5 The youngest one fought with a minister’s son, but the minister could not take immediate revenge because of the close relationship of the family to the king. But he convinced the king that the woman’s sons were treacherous, and the king punished them by cutting off their heads and sending them to her home. The reason she had to experience this karma is that in one of her previous lives she let thirty-two thieves stay in her house and they killed a cow which they all ate and she felt happy at what had been done. So just that was the cause for her terrible experience in a later life. She did not do the killing or give the order to kill; she simply felt happy. That was wrong rejoicing, and the result was so unbelievable.

If you think about it, the result is unbelievable. You would never dream of such a thing happening. I am sure she never dreamt that such an experience would happen in her life. That we never expect such strange things to happen even though we have created such karma in the past is because we do not see the past karmas fully. We do not have the omniscient mind to see every single karma so when something happens in our life such as meeting some bad circumstances we become depressed or feel shocked; we cannot believe it is happening. This is what Buddha explained in the sutra teachings. The cause is very easy to create, it happens in such a short time, but the result is very difficult to bear; the experience does not end for such a long time, and it is so heavy. A small action can bring an incredible result. Small nonvirtuous actions can bring unbelievable results like in the above example. Whatever small virtues and small nonvirtues we accumulate bring unbelievable results.

There is the story of Gelongma Üpälä Dogchän.6 I think after all her troubles she became a gelongma. She had two sons; one was drowned in a river and the other was eaten by wolves. Then her husband was killed by a poisonous snake. Then her house was burnt down and her parents died. Afterwards she took another husband. One day he drank wine at another house and came back intoxicated and killed their son and made his wife eat the flesh. Then she ran away from him and married another man. He died, and in that country the custom was to bury the wife with the husband’s body even though the wife was not dead. I think that custom existed somewhere like the Middle East. She was buried with the corpse but that night thieves came and dug her out; then she married the leader of the thieves. He was later executed by the king and again she was buried with a corpse. All these experiences happened one after another because in one of her past lives she had been a princess, and I think she killed her maid’s child and then swore repeatedly that she had not. The negative cause was only that, but the suffering result went on and on, one thing after another.

Similarly, we may experience, or see other people such as our friends experiencing, one problem after another. I think a similar thing happened in London not so long ago. A young man, I think Japanese, killed his wife, kept her flesh in the refrigerator and ate it. I think his picture appeared in the newspapers. Even these days very strange, awful things happen, some of which we hear about and some we do not.

During his lifetime King Ashoka was able to build one million stupas in different places in one day and thus accumulate unbelievable merit. He was born as a Dharma king and built many monasteries, which accumulated so much merit. In the sutra teachings it mentions that there are so many benefits from building monasteries. In a book based on the sutras it says that for each brick (or each atom) used in the construction of the monastery we receive benefits for as long as it exists or until the earth ceases. Ashoka accumulated so much merit by building monasteries and making offerings to many monks. He made offerings to the Triple Gem and made charity to sentient beings and so accumulated unbelievable merit during that life. That was because of the karma from having made a small offering to Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. One day as Buddha was begging for alms there were three children playing in the sand. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s holy body was very tall, so the three children stood on one another’s shoulders. They did not have anything to offer so the topmost child offered a handful of sand into the begging bowl with the thought: “I’m offering gold.” The karma was that simple offering but the result was unbelievable. The result is so vast that it does not fit our ordinary minds.

I think it was King Kashika who was born as a king and had many assistants and much material wealth and power because of good karma from one of his past lives when he offered some kind of medicinal drink to four monks. The cause was just that, but the result was being born as a king with all the attendant benefits.

Even arhats, who can see shunyata directly although it is very subtle and difficult to realize, cannot see subtle karmas directly. That is the object only of a Buddha’s holy mind. At the beginning of The Wish-fulfilling Golden Sun there is a direct meditation, the Tibetan text of which was written by a  very high lama from Sera called Phurchok Jamgön Rinpoche, who is regarded as having been an embodiment of Maitreya Buddha. He was extremely learned and noble, with a good heart, and strict in moral conduct. In that it just says, “Karma is very profound,” instead of mentioning the lamrim outlines on karma. It was suggested that it would be better to expand on that, but actually in the Tibetan text it only says “profound.”

Because karma is extremely profound you should not feel careless, thinking, “Oh, I have created some negative karma, but maybe it’s OK; maybe I will not have to experience it; maybe it will disappear or something.” As it is said in the teaching by the Buddha called chedu jöpäi tshom:7

Do not think that having created a small negative karma
You will not experience it later.
As a large pot is filled by small drops of water
Even small negative karmas accumulate.

Negative karma becomes very powerful and heavy because of it increasing, and as I mentioned, even though the karma is small, the result is great.

Of course the heavy negative karmas definitely should be abandoned, but even the small ones should be. We do not desire even the smallest discomfort, even unpleasant things in dreams. So, not only do small negative karmas create great suffering which lasts a long time, but since we do not want even the smallest discomfort, such as bad tasting food, we should abandon them as much as possible. Also, not only do the small virtuous actions bring vast good results, both temporal and ultimate, that we can enjoy for a long time, as we desire even the smallest comfort we should practice even small virtuous actions as much as possible.

The Jorchö practice of cleaning also has ten benefits. As His Holiness explained during the Lama Chöpa commentary, it is a preparatory practice to clean the room before you set up the altar. It is Lama Serlingpa’s tradition that a room where there is an altar, where the merit field is invoked, be kept very neat and clean. That is the reason many of the Gelug monks or lamas who practice the Kadam teachings are very clean and neat. It gives the mind a lot of space—you feel that it is easy to meditate and generate realizations in such a room. But my room is cleaned by other people, not me! Others practice Jorchö on my behalf. The results are that, again, you will receive a beautiful body such that when seen by others, even creatures, it is not the cause for thoughts of dislike to arise, and everybody is happy from seeing it. You will have very thin obscurations. Also you will be born in beautiful places, without rocks or thorn-bushes.

In some ways it seems that some people, especially those in the West, are experiencing such karma that they created in the past, and that practitioners in the East stay in rocky places having thornbushes and so on, which is the result of past negative karma. But they are creating the cause for good future conditions by doing these Jorchö practices. Also, a result is that you will be very strict in moral conduct. Cleaning the place where the merit field is invoked definitely causes a clear mind. When your room is clean, and everything is neat, it seems like it is easier to think. You will have great enjoyments; you will achieve a body of a happy transmigrating being; and you will be able to achieve full enlightenment quickly. As a result of offering even just flowers you will not receive a body which smells badly, instead it will have a naturally scented smell, without needing the effort and expense of putting the smell of another material on the body. Others will be aware of the scent of moral conduct.

I met some lamas like this, even very young boys, when I was a small child. When I was around six years old one young incarnate lama came to Thangme Monastery from Junbesi and slept through the entire puja, but after he left there remained an incredible scented, natural smell, which came from his body. I think at that time people who lived in the mountains did not put perfumes on their bodies. I think it is to do with having lived in pure moral conduct and so on in the present life as well as in past lives. Some monks, especially high lamas are like that. It says here that “one goes before the world.” I think it means we receive things such as enjoyments before other people. Another benefit is that we receive beautiful rather than undesirable things. People always want good things but some people always get the opposite, and some get better things than they expected. Again, we will receive great wealth, a higher rebirth and enlightenment.

Offering light also has ten benefits. The particular benefit of offering light is that it is the cause for the five or six types of clairvoyance and the development of wisdom. I mentioned the clairvoyance of the physical eyes which can see distant things, and so on. Through offering light to the merit field we receive the wisdom which discriminates between virtue and nonvirtue. It dispels the darkness of ignorance. The result of dispelling the external darkness at the altar of the merit field by offering light is that our inner darkness is dispelled. We receive other wisdoms such as the wisdom which understands ordinary existence. While we remain in samsara we will always be in places where there is light at night as well as during the day. Some people have to live where for many months there is no light even during the day, besides at night. They did not make the good karma of offering light in the past and that is the result. Experiencing sunlight during the day and moonlight and electric light at night so that things are always very clear is the result of the past good karma of having offered lamps. Also we will have great enjoyments and receive bodies of the happy transmigrating beings, and also enlightenment.

This is a sample; there are some differences according to the offering, but basically the results are the same. Each of the offerings of argham, padyam, pushpe, dhupe, aloke, gandhe, naividya and shapta has all these ten benefits. There are some slight differences but basically they are the same. So when we say argham, padyam, pushpe, dhupe... it is good to remember that each time we perform these mentally transformed offerings, and the mandala offering, each has these abbreviated ten benefits. The accumulation of merit is so unbelievable.

It is said in the Sutra of the Compassionate Lotus:

Besides the actions of making offerings to an actual buddha and Buddha’s relics and stupas, even just making an offering by thinking the word “Buddha” is a cause of enlightenment.

So every single offering to Buddha becomes a cause of enlightenment. In the Chenrezig Sutra it says:

Accumulating merit in relation to the supreme merit field, even with a motivation concerned only with the happiness of this life, and while dedicating only for the benefit of this life, for example praying, “May this become the cause of happiness of only this life, and may it not become the cause of enlightenment,” without choice that merit will definitely become the cause of enlightenment. Once a farmer has planted seed in the field and all the necessary conditions are present, even if the farmer prays, “May it not grow,” it will grow. It is similar with the offerings made to the supreme merit field, the Buddha.

When we do self-initiations, for example, most of the time is taken up with making offerings. There so many offerings done in the sadhanas. One set of offerings, then again an offering to this, again an offering to that, again an offering to this. If they are not important, if it is not an essential thing to do, then Vajradhara, Guhyasamaja or Yamantaka or the lineage lamas, would not have included them. They would not have included them just to fill time. The question may arise: why so many? Why not start the self-initiation at the very beginning instead of doing all this? When I do not think of the benefits these questions come. It is a skillful means of the Buddha because it is so important to accumulate merit. In the sadhanas there is much emphasis on the practice of accumulating merit by making actual offerings according to our capability as well as offering extensive mentally transformed offerings.

It may seem a little strange for me to say this, but I think it is beneficial to understand it. Of the actions for correct devotion to the virtuous friend such as obtaining advice and offering various services such as cleaning the holy body, massaging or offering water—the services mentioned in The Essence of Nectar—the least is material offering, and that should be the best that we can come up with. Guru yoga practice subsumes other practices such as the various types of offerings found in the sadhanas; the benefits are much greater than performing those other practices. That is why the Lama Chöpa direct meditation [LC 84] starts with:

Zhing chog dam pa je tsün la ma
The supreme field of merit, my perfect, pure guru

I explained jetsün lama, the virtuous teacher, earlier. Zhing chog means the supreme merit field. The supreme merit field in relation to which we can complete the accumulation of the highest, most extensive merit most quickly is the virtuous friend; and that is accomplished by correct devotion mainly with these three actions. The offering of a bath meditation is a substitute for actually offering service.

Higher bodhisattvas are able to practice purification and accumulation of merit such as by making prostrations by transforming one hundred bodies. The second bhumi bodhisattvas can transform one thousand bodies. The power increases with higher bhumis. I do not remember exactly, but the ninth and tenth bhumi bodhisattvas can transform holy bodies equal to the number of atoms in the three galaxies and accumulate merit by making offerings and so forth to that many buddhas. But we have only one body, not many, and it is very fragile; it cannot last a long time. It is not like rock, or iron. Our life is very short. Therefore, if we do not accumulate even the small merit and purify the obscurations that we can with this body by doing the essential seven-limb practice while we have the chance, it is extremely ignorant of us. The bodhisattvas have so many bodies, but we have only one, so we have to do much more than them.

Lama Tsongkhapa explained in the Great Lamrim:

If you do not do as said in the sutra teaching, “In relation to the holy merit field, with devotion we can plant the seed of merit which is the root of all panaceas, all happiness, all good things, all the time, so may we be able to dig the field of merit with the spade of devotion,” it is a great loss.

What Lama Tsongkhapa is saying in reference to the sutra is that if we are dependent on crops and if we have land but do not sow crops during the right seasons, it is regarded as a great loss. We would be unable to not plant crops on the land. Each year has four seasons and it is possible to grow something in each season, and it would be a great waste to not plant anything at those times. If someone does this it is regarded in the world as very foolish. So if while we have the chance to accumulate the merit which is the root of all happiness, all benefit, all good things, each day during the four sessions, all the time, and we do not do it, it is extremely ignorant. During each day of the year there is the chance to constantly accumulate merit. We can plant crops only four times in a year, perhaps only two times, that is all, but we can accumulate merit all the time. So if we do not do it for one year while we have the opportunity, it is a great loss. Aside from four sessions a day, if we do not plant the seed of the crop of all happiness in the field of merit even for one hour or one minute, it is an unbelievable loss. So there is no question about a month or a year. When we plant a physical crop we cannot plant something on top of it until it has grown and is harvested. But we can accumulate merit with the holy object in every minute, every second. Not only four times a day, but all the time. Therefore if the opportunity is missed even for an hour or a minute, it is extremely ignorant and a great loss. That is what Lama Tsongkhapa is saying.

Through remembering such quotations you will have an incredible opportunity to create the cause of happiness with your body, speech and mind within each twenty-four hours; any happiness you wish for—nobody is stopping you. You have unbelievable freedom. Seeing that helps very much. You will not see the point in being depressed when you see that you have this incredible opportunity and freedom. The only problem is that from your own side you do not take the opportunity, the freedom, that is there.

Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo said,

We need to accumulate merit and purify obscurations until we achieve enlightenment. Therefore, as beginners we have to attempt to accumulate merit and purify the obscurations throughout our entire life.

Then Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo gives the essential advice:

Of the two things—meditation and purifying obscurations and accumulating merit—purifying obscurations and accumulating merit should be the principal activity.

Also, in his lamrim Kadampa Geshe Jayülwa8 said:

If we attempt to accumulate merit, to purify obscurations and requests and then train our mind in lamrim, the realizations of the graduated path to enlightenment will happen by the way.

“Request” means to request the lineage lamas of the lineage of the graduated path to enlightenment. The Kadampa geshe continues:

Even if we think we cannot generate these realizations for a hundred eons, it’s possible to generate them within ten years, or within seven years, within three years—even within a month or a week. It’s possible to generate what is called renunciation of samsara, what is called bodhicitta, and shunyata.

This advice is from the experience of those Kadampa geshes who dedicated their lives, who knew the skillful way of practicing.

You may think, “I’m so evil. I have done so many bad things. My mind is so degenerated, full of disturbing thoughts and so scattered that I cannot concentrate even for one minute, so how is it possible that I can become a bodhisattva in this life?” It is something you do not expect or think you can do. However, it is possible if you practice as Lama Tsongkhapa advised, as the Kadampa geshes and other lineage lamas practiced lamrim. Their biographies relate how they practiced lamrim and spent their entire lives engaged in these preliminary practices for purifying the obscurations and accumulating merit, and training the mind, and contain the advice they gave from their experiences. These are the basic things. Besides during sessions, even during break-times you should practicing awareness of every action of body, speech and mind continually, so that they become a practice of guru yoga, or renunciation, or bodhicitta, or dependent arising and emptiness. Then even mundane actions becoming a method of accumulating merit and purifying the obscurations.

Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo is saying that to think, “Oh, I have finished the ngondros of a hundred thousand prostrations and mandala offerings and this and that,” and sitting with your mind comfortable and relaxed—in other words, the mind not energetic, like that of a person who has been busy mentally and physically day and night and then retires to comfort and relaxation—you reach nowhere. You may complete some numbers of them but if you then live your life relaxed without continually attempting to accumulate virtue and purify, you reach nowhere.

Then Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo goes on to say that if what you are doing accumulates merit and purifies the obscurations you don’t need to exhaust yourself and worry about not finishing the one hundred thousand. It is not so much the numbers that are important, because if the practices are done skillfully it accumulates much merit and purifies many obscurations, the cause of realizations, and therefore the realizations come. Even if you do not finish a hundred thousand, realization can arise in your mind.

The purpose of counting the number is not that having finished one hundred thousand or four hundred thousand you do not need to do any more. It does not mean that now you have no more obstacles and obscurations. If that were the case then you would become enlightened as soon as the sets of one hundred thousand preliminary practices are completed as there would be no obscurations left. It would take just that. Rather, Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo is saying that the purpose of counting the number is to increase the merit through rejoicing. When you have done many, you and also others can feel happy. That is rejoicing. If you rejoice, the merit is greatly increased.

If we really want happiness, all success, we should put all our effort into accumulating merit in relation to the holy objects and accumulating merit with respect to sentient beings. The other thing is confession to purify the obstacles to happiness and the good results we are seeking. Otherwise it is like milking a horn rather than where milk comes from. Milking something we cannot get even one drop of milk from at any time. Or trying to produce oil by pressing sand. It is having a great desire to receive happiness and success in whatever we want but never thinking of the actual cause of happiness and never putting it into practice. It is our own fault that the accumulation of merit is never done and that we are not concerned with putting the cause of happiness into practice. We recite and read scriptures, we do the prayers, we live where there is Dharma, where all the teachings are available, but somehow we expect to receive happiness without ourselves creating the cause, and we expect to not experience undesirable things without purifying their cause, the nonvirtuous karmas and the obscurations.

Also, we have the attitude that all the undesirable things that we see and hear are due to the faults of other people. Besides not thinking about the causes of undesirable things and obstacles to success that we have accumulated ourselves, and not purifying them, which is what we should do, we create more obstacles by blaming it on others. We have the attitude that all the undesirable things we experience come from other sentient beings. That it is other sentient beings’ fault. So besides not purifying the obstacles which have been accumulated and that we are experiencing, on top of that we accumulate more and more, mountains, like all the atoms of this earth. Due to this, obstacles and undesirable things continuously happen, one after another. As long as we do not stop creating obstacles by creating negative karmas, and as long as we do not purify what has already been accumulated, we will experience undesirable things and have no success in gaining temporal or ultimate happiness. There will be no end to it, no end at all. Thus we live our lives complaining, with anger, and jealousy, and heresy—all the nonvirtuous thoughts. This life is spent like that and the next life will be the same. Even if we are reborn as human beings we will again live the same lifestyle. So it goes, on and on. In this way the suffering of samsara has no end. Even though there is a possibility that it can be ended, we make it endless. We can end it, but what we do in practice makes it endless.

It all depends on a change in attitude. That is the entire key. To stop experiencing all non-success, all undesirable things, to find all we wish for, the key or the door is to change our attitude, to make the mind better. To be more devoted to the holy objects, more and more compassionate toward sentient beings, to have the thought of loving kindness. It is important to relate everything that we experience in everyday life, be it good or bad, to karma. Otherwise Buddhism becomes just something to speak about to other people but not to actually practice; then the purpose of studying and listening is only to be able to explain it to others, but is nothing to do with our own life, nothing to do with our own mind. Then there is a big gap between Dharma and oneself. A big hole. As one Kadampa geshe says: “A person could almost fit between the Dharma and yourself!” That expresses the feeling that the Dharma has not touched our mind. It is far removed from our own mind.

If you always relate the everyday experiences of your own life to the lamrim, for example to the teachings on karma, then all experiences, bad or good, miserable or happy, become a teaching on lamrim for you. Then more and more faith in karma arises and you will gain inspiration. Since you do not wish to experience the problems, the true sufferings, it persuades your mind to think of the cause; then you see that the cessation of the cause is the ultimate happiness. Because you then see the possibility of a remedy—the path, methods to cease the karma and obscurations—it persuades you to practice that path. The problems, the undesirable things you experience, such as disease, illustrate to you the teaching of the four noble truths. Those undesirable things that you experience arise because of the samsara, these aggregates caused by karma and disturbing thoughts. As you do not want the suffering of samsara, these problems are persuading you to renounce the entire samsara, and in order to renounce that, you should renounce this life. To have renunciation of this life you should meditate on the first part of the lamrim: the way of correctly devoting to the virtuous friend; the prefect human rebirth—the three types of usefulness of it and how it is difficult to find again; impermanence and death; aversion arising from awareness of the sufferings of the three lower realms, then refuge and karma.

These problems you are experiencing are also persuading you to generate compassion and the thought of loving kindness for other sentient beings. As you yourself have so many problems but have no desire at all to experience even the slightest problem, similarly each sentient being wishes for temporal and ultimate happiness, a happiness without these problems—but does not have it. It is not only you; there are so many other sentient beings who do not have the slightest wish to experience problems, but whose lives are full of problems and  sufferings, and are devoid of temporal and ultimate happiness, even though they have a great desire for all happiness. So your problems are teaching you to think of others, the numberless sentient beings, who are suffering and are devoid of happiness, and to generate the thought of loving kindness and compassion. That leads to the arising of the thought which seeks to work for other sentient beings, to do something to free them all from all sufferings and to lead them to the peerless enlightenment. That in turn leads to the thought to achieve enlightenment oneself.

So when there is a problem such as a disaster or something you do not like happens, if you think that the problem is caused solely by others and that you are blameless and have done nothing wrong, that shows you have not meditated on lamrim, especially on karma. It proves you have no faith in karma.


Notes

4 Wyl: nga las nus. Skt: Mabhvata. [Return to text]

5 See Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, p. 434. [Return to text]

6 Wyl: utpala’i mdog can. Skt: Utpalavarna. [Return to text]

7 Wyl: ched du brjod pa’i tshoms; Skt: Udānavarga. In Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, the title is translated as The Sayings of the Buddha. The author of this text is Dharmattrāta (Tib: Chökyob; Wyl: chos skyob). [Return to text]

8 Wyl: bka’ gdams dge bshes bya yul ba. [Return to text]