Teachings From the Vajrasattva Retreat

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Soquel, CA USA 1999 (Archive #1055)

This book is an edited transcript of Lama Zopa Rinpoche's teachings at a three-month Vajrasattva retreat held at Land of Medicine Buddha, from February 1 to April 30, 1999. The teachings cover many lam-rim topics, purification practices, mantras, pujas and more.

Chapter 20: February 17-b


Light offering practice

Since there are many light offerings inside and outside the gompa, everyone should do the meditation of offering lights [see Appendix 2]. If there are five thousand lights, for example, everyone will then create five thousand causes of enlightenment, as well as five thousand causes of liberation from samsara and five thousand causes to receive a good rebirth. It is mentioned that from making one offering to buddha, one receives a good rebirth not just in one life but in hundreds or thousands of lives.

Because karma is expandable, one achieves a good rebirth not just once but hundreds or thousands of times. A small good karma or a small negative karma is much more expandable than any external phenomenon.

From planting one small bodhi seed, we get a huge tree with many thousands of branches, leaves, flowers and seeds. Many things come from that one small seed. The inner factor of karma, however, is much more expandable. The results from one small virtue or one small non-virtue are much more extensive than from any external phenomenon.

And, of course, making light offerings incidentally takes care of this life, of your health. Whether or not you know you have life obstacles, any life obstacles are naturally pacified when your virtue is strong.

Not that I checked, but when Princess Diana died, the woman for whom the whole world cried, I thought that if she had practiced White Tara or another of the long-life deities every day—even just recited the mantra twenty-one times—she probably would have escaped from the obstacle. She would not have died in the car crash; she would have lived longer. This is just a thought that came to me. This kind of untimely death can often be eliminated if one practices the meditation-recitation of one of the long-life buddhas. Your virtue becomes stronger through benefiting other sentient beings, making offerings to the Triple Gem, generating strong compassion or bodhicitta, meditating on emptiness or rejoicing, and you collect a lot of merit. Even if there are obstacles to your life, making your virtue stronger can pacify the obstacles that could result in your sudden death in a car accident or something similar.

Daily practice—whether you recite the mantras of these buddhas, do sadhanas or whatever—generally takes care of your life. Such continuous practice somehow prevents the many problems that can arise. One way in which these practices stop the experience of these problems is through purifying negative karma. Even though you are not aware of its effect on your mind, your daily practice purifies the heavy problems that arise from negative karma—and of course, every problem or difficulty that happens comes from negative karma. Even if you don’t do anything special, your daily practice can purify your negative karma, and once that negative karma is purified you are free from those problems or difficulties of this life. Doing these daily practices continuously and well takes care of many things, whether you are talking about health, a long life or success in your work. This becomes the answer, the solution. We look outside and pay a lot of money to try to find the solution to so many problems, but these problems will not even happen if we do these daily practices well. You won’t then need to have operations or go to see psychologists.

Of course, having karma and delusions does give these people their jobs—it is perhaps its one benefit!

Collecting merit through creating virtue in our daily life, through doing daily practice, is actually the best way to take care of our life, to take care of everything. It is the answer to all our problems. And our daily practice can save us many thousands of dollars in expenses. Even a daily practice of reciting one mala of OM MANI PADME HUM can save us from some very expensive problems; it can save us from so much worry and even from falling into debt.

I will just quickly read the introduction to the light offering practice text.

Some people will be familiar with it, but many others may not.

“It is said in The Ten Wheel Sutra of the Essence of Earth (Ksitigarbha), ‘All comfort, happiness and peace in this world come from making offerings to the Rare Sublime Ones (the Triple Gem). Therefore, those who want comfort, happiness and peace should always try to make offerings to the Rare Sublime Ones.’

“In general, all goodness in samsara and nirvana comes from making offerings to the Triple Gem, but specifically, different kinds of offerings bring you different benefits. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, the fourth of the thousand buddhas of this fortunate eon, whose holy mind was enriched with the ten powers, announced in the Tune of Brahma Sutra Clarifying Karmathat making light offerings brings you ten benefits:

  1. You become like a light in the world. (This refers to great holy beings, such as Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, Shantideva, Lama Atisha, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and so forth, who are like lights for many sentient beings. Basically, because you eliminate the darkness of ignorance of so many sentient beings, you become like a light in the world.)
  2. You achieve (when born human) the clairvoyance of the pure flesh eye. (With this clairvoyance your eyes can see very far.)
  3. You achieve the devas’ eye. (There are five types of clairvoyance of the pure eye. Another way of enumerating these, however, gives six types of clairvoyance, the sixth being uncontaminated clairvoyance, with cessation of the defilements. Buddha has this sixth type of clairvoyance, but I’m a little unclear as to whether higher bodhisattvas also have it. If this type of clairvoyance refers to cessation of both the subtle and gross defilements, only buddhas possess it. But if it refers to cessation of just the disturbing-thought obscurations, the higher bodhisattvas— those on the eighth, ninth and tenth bhumis—should also have it. I don’t remember at the moment whether this clairvoyance also involves cessation of the subtle defilements.)
  4. You receive the wisdom of knowing what is virtue and what is non-virtue.
  5. You are able to eliminate the darkness of ignorance, the concept of inherent existence.
  6. You receive the illumination of wisdom; even in samsara you never experience darkness. (Being in a place where there is no light—or in a place where the lights keep going out!—is a result of non-virtuous karma, because it is unpleasant. At the moment we have sunlight during the day and electric light at night; these are also benefits of our having made light offerings to holy objects, such as buddha, in the past.)
  7. You receive great enjoyments and wealth.
  8. You are reborn in the deva or human realm.
  9. You quickly become liberated.
  10. You quickly attain enlightenment.”

These are the ten benefits of making light offerings.

It seems that any offering we make, even ringing a bell or beating a drum, generally has these ten benefits. When we ring a bell, if we think of Buddha and make an offering of the sound of the bell, we receive ten benefits. When we beat a drum, if we think that we are making an offering to Buddha each time before or while we beat it, we receive ten benefits.

It seems that we receive ten benefits from each of the various types of offering if we make them to Buddha. The ultimate benefits are liberation from samsara and enlightenment.

“Devas or human beings who accumulate the merit of making one light offering—or even a handful of flowers—will see the fully enlightened buddha, Maitreya.

“The Sutra of Arya Maitreya says, “Those who offer a thousand lights or a thousand blue utpali flowers or make the pinnacle of a stupa or a holy form will be reborn when Maitreya Buddha shows the deed of gaining enlightenment and will receive his first Dharma Teaching.

“It is also said that those who offer even one flower or rejoice at the merit of others who offer will achieve buddhahood. This means that even if you don’t get enlightened during the time of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching, during Maitreya Buddha’s teaching your mind will ripen and you will gain liberation.

“Offering light, in particular, is a special door of dependent arising for quickly completing the accumulation of merit and receiving great blessings. It is said in the second chapter of the root tantra of Chakrasamvara, who is a manifestation of Shakyamuni Buddha, “If you want sublime realizations, offer hundreds of lights.

“If you want to know the detailed results of making offerings to holy objects or of offering service to the buddha or other holy objects, you should study The Sutra of the One Who Looks with a Compassionate Eye (Avalokiteshvara), The Sutra of Sogyal, where Buddha gave instruction to King Sogyal”—not ‘Sangyal’—“or the Könchog Tala.

“The text, Immortal Drum Sound Mantra, says, “If you devote yourself to the Inconceivable One, the results will similarly be inconceivable.”

In the same way, The Sutra of the One Who Looks with a Compassionate Eye says, “Since the dharmas (i.e., the qualities) of the Buddha Gone As It Is (tathagata) are limitless, making offering to the tathagata brings limitless, infinite, inconceivable, incomparable, unimaginable, numberless benefits.

“The Small Quotation (Lung-ten-tseg) sutra says, “It is possible for the moon and stars to fall to earth, for mountains and forests to rise up into the sky and for the water of the great oceans to completely dry up, but it is not possible for the great sage (the buddha) to tell a lie. Keep this in mind and generate strong devotion to and faith in the root of all happiness and goodness—actions and their results (karma) and the blessings of the Three Precious Rare Sublime Ones. While you have this body and possessions—which are as if borrowed for a year, a month or a few days—night and day, all the time, attend to the practice of taking the essence of this human life, whose short duration is like a flash of lightning, by planting as many seeds as possible in the special field of merit.”

How to make offerings

The text then goes on to talk about what to do when you actually light the candles. After these instructions, the meditation begins.

Of course, many of you are familiar with this from the lam-rim teachings, but I’ll go through it for those who are not. As soon as you turn on the electric light or light the candle, before you offer the light, you must bless it with the mantra OM AH HUM.After that, think that the interferers abiding in the light offerings are dispelled—after you bless the light offering with OM AH HUM, the particular types of interferers that abide in the various kinds of offering cannot possess your mental continuum.

For example, a particular interferer called Tse-bu chig-pa abides in light offerings and, as far as I remember, causes drowsiness and sleep during teachings. If you do not bless the light offering, this particular interferer can possess your mental continuum and cause drowsiness or sleep when you listen to teachings, read Dharma texts or meditate. It interferes when you try to do some Dharma practice.

Similarly, other offerings have particular interferers that abide in them and can create certain obstacles for you. For example, when you offer flowers, if you don’t bless them immediately by reciting OM AH HUM, the interferer that possesses your mental continuum causes very strong attachment, desire, to arise and makes your life very uncontrolled.

Because you are totally overwhelmed by attachment, you have no control, no freedom. This then causes many obstacles to your Dharma practice, to your living in vows. You have no control, no freedom.

If possible, say OM AH HUM as soon as you light the candle. Then, whether or not you have an altar, offer the light to the Guru Puja merit field by thinking that they are all in essence the guru. After that, offer the light to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha of the ten directions by thinking that they are all the guru. After that, offer the light to all the statues, stupas and scriptures in the ten directions by thinking that they are all the guru. With the one light you make offering to every single holy object and thus create numberless causes of enlightenment, as well as numberless causes of liberation, good rebirth and all other happiness. By meditating in this way, you create numberless causes of all these types of happiness, even if what you offer is just one light. If you offer one hundred candles and do this meditation while you are lighting them, when you have finished lighting them, they have already been offered; you have already done the meditation. Even if you don’t have time to do extensive blessings and offerings after you have lit the one hundred candles, you have already done the offering practice, so it is very convenient.

It is the same when you offer water bowls. Recite OM AH HUM while offering the water, then think that this nectar generates infinite bliss in the holy minds of the Guru Puja merit field. If it is difficult to think of the entire Guru Puja merit field, simply think of your root guru and think that he embodies all Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and all statues, stupas and scriptures of the ten directions as well. By the time you have finished filling the set of bowls, you have already made offering to them all. You can meditate in this way each time you offer water. Or when you offer food or water, think of it as nectar and offer it to all the many pictures and statues in the gompa or the meditation room. The essence of all these hundreds or thousands of pictures and statues is your root guru, so think that by this offering, you have increased the infinite bliss in his holy mind.

By the time you finish filling the set of water bowls—whether it is a set of twenty, one hundred, five hundred or a thousand bowls—you have already offered them. Of course, if you have time, you can then do the extensive blessing and offer them again with this extensive meditation of offering.

The light offering meditation

We will now do the meditation. First of all, make charity of all the lights inside and outside the gompa to every hell being, hungry ghost and animal.

At the house where I am staying there are also around 250 water bowls and more than 3,000 light offerings, which are offered day and night, inside and outside the house. We can also offer those.

Now make charity of all these offerings to every human being, asura, sura and intermediate state being. Make charity to all sentient beings.

With the water bowls, we are not just offering empty bowls without the water that they contain. Make charity of all the bowls here and those at the house to all sentient beings.

Now think, “In order to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, I am going to make offerings together with all the sentient beings.” Think that you are making the offerings either together with all sentient beings or on behalf of all sentient beings. If before making the offerings you first think that you have given them to all sentient beings, if you think that the offerings belong to all sentient beings, it helps stop you from thinking that the offerings are yours; it helps you be less egocentric. Therefore, generate a motivation like this.

[The light offering practice is done.]