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Discovering Buddhism at Home



Discovering Buddhism at Home Program

Study Groups following DB at Home

Q&A between Discovering Buddhism at Home students and elders:

A number of FAQ are both posted and answered as part of FPMT’s Discovering Buddhism at Home listserve. For your interest a number of these Q&As dialogues are posted to the left. These are listed according to the various DB subjects. For more information on the Discovering Buddhism program please see:
http://fpmt.org/education/
programs/discovering-buddhism/

Discovering Buddhism at Home -FAQ

Other Discussions of Interest (page 1 | 2)



What are some good English translations of Dharmakirti’s work?

What is the best way to approach the Doing Buddhism at Home program? Is it best to completely understand one module before going onto the next?

What are some good English translations of Dharmakirti’s work?

A student asks:

I was also wondering if anyone knows of an english translation of Dharmakirti’s work?

Pende responds:

Dharmakirti wrote a number of works but the one most often quoted in Tibetan texts that I’ve studied and the one that is a principal text in the curriculum of Geshe Studies, is the Pramanavarttika. A literal translation of this text would probably not be of much use to you, as it is extremely terse, by employing contractions of terms to obtain a verse style.

I would suggest the following texts for your interest:

Recognizing Reality: Dharmakirti’s Philosophy and Its Tibetan Interpretations (S U N Y Series in Buddhist Studies) by Georges B. J. Dreyfus

Is Enlightenment Possible?: Dharmakirti and Rgyal Tshab Rje on Knowledge, Rebirth, No-Self and Liberation (Textual Studies and Translations in Indo-) by Roger R. Jackson

Foundations of Dharmakirti’s Philosophy by John D. Dunne

Dharmakirti’s Pramanavarttika : An Annotated Translation of the Fourth Chapter (Pararthanumana) Author: Dharmakirti, Tom J. F. Tillemans

Pende




What is the best way to approach the Doing Buddhism at Home program? Is it best to completely understand one module before going onto the next?

Nick observes:

Those of us who have been around these teachings for a while would recommend going through the whole course fairly quickly, that is a couple of months per module, as I think even DB@H preliminary materials mention.

The reason is that answers to questions that come up in earlier modules may be found in later ones. The whole lam-rim fits together beautifully and you can only get an appreciation of that once you’ve seen the whole thing.

So if you get stuck, don’t get mad, keep going. Then, when you reach the end, start over, going more slowly, if you like.

An important part of everybody’s practice–even that of high lamas– is the glance meditation. We’re encouraged to review the entire lam- rim in abbreviated form every day, to leave imprints of the whole path on our consciousness. Think of your first pass through DB@H as a more than somewhat extended, two-year glance meditation.

The thing is, when you get to the end, you won’t know everything…you’ll just have a better idea of what you don’t know.

And of course, the purpose of undertaking study of the lam-rim is not just to gain an intellectual understanding of what the Buddha taught but to achieve realizations of it. The seed of realization is, of course, intellectual understanding, but those seeds then need to be nurtured by purification, creation of merit, constant meditation, further study and so forth. It’s not just a life’s work; it’s the work of many lives.

But it has to be done and if we don’t start now, when will we? When will we find this precious opportunity again?

At the fifth meditation course, November 1973, Lama Zopa Rinpoche surveyed the 200 students in the tent behind the Kopan Gompa and said, “If just one person here receives realization of the perfect human rebirth in this life it will be a wonderful thing.”


Discovering Buddhism at Home -FAQ

Other Discussions of Interest (page 1 | 2)

 

Special Section: Discussion on Fear in Practice

Student and Elder discussion: How and when is fear skillful in dharma practice? (This discussion followed a comment by a student about the six realms of existence. Although it isn’t a traditional “Q&A,” everyone found the discussion interesting and helpful. Therefore, we are including it here. May it benefit.)

J.S. writes: 

[Relating to the six realms of existence . . .] fear is useful for the development of renunciation. Fear of the lower realms. Perhaps visualising the lower realms as actual places can help us be fearful of such a prospect, so fearful that we watch our every move as closely as we would if we were walking across a glacier fraught with crevasse’s, or a path scattered with hot coals.

Whatever help’s us avoid action’s, speech, and thoughts that may become a cause for winding up anywhere further from where we are now. Perhaps a bit of a personal thing?

M.H. responds: 

From the unrealized and uninformed of the Buddhist perspective. But from self experience in the conventional sense.

I am not going to say that fear is not useful but I believe that too much fear becomes a barrier. It is a very powerful emotion that can do great harm. Not just mentally, but physically as well. The anxiety, tension and the chemicals that it can create will harm not only the physical body but the brain as well which will cause obstacles to our mind.

To me it is like using anger for energy and determination. The ends are well meant but the method is unskillful.

T. responds: 

Here is my two cents worth.

What we think of as unskillfull methods could be skillful methods in relation to other sentient beings and their karma. When I look at “unskillful methods” what comes to mind is the biography of Milarepa and some of the Mahasiddhas. Were Marpa’s methods of bringing Milarepa to the point where he was ready for realization unskillful? If looked at from a modern, Western perspective we could say that the methods were harsh and abusive, yet due to the fact that Milarepa was a murderer and had many obscurations which needed to be purified, Marpa’s methods were exactly what Mila needed.

I’m not an advocate of fear or harsh and abusive treatment, but I realize that at the beginning of the path, fear could be a positive motivator for change. When we realize deeply that we are impermanent, that we are dying minute by minute, that our death is inevitable, that our mental afflictions are a cause for suffering, that there is a mind continuum and that our actions today affect the future, a shift takes place in the mind. We have experienced suffering, we see the suffering of others around us, and we ask ourselves why do we suffer? I ask myself if this internal shift would take place if I didn’t experience dissatisfaction, suffering and feared it? If everything was going fine, if all was well, would I even sit down to meditate and practice dharma? Probably not. Why should we seek a solution if there isn’t a problem?

But, as we progress on the path our motivation changes and we come to an understanding and insight that the teachings work, that our so-called obscurations and mental afflictions are adventitious and can be purified. Slowly we begin to let go of our attachments and aversions and a sense of joy and satisfaction arises in our practice. The change comes about naturally and as a result of our practice and we leave fear behind.

With all due respect, not until we become Buddhas are we going to know what is really skillful and what is not in relation to other sentient beings. However, when life circumstances call for it we can exercise our Buddha nature based wisdom and act accordingly.

Much happiness to all.

T.

  • responds:

It appears to me that it is “intelligent fear” not fear based in the afflictions that we are to cultivate. Fear of the consequences of actions. All the possible consequences. From this we learn that all of samsara, even the enjoyable parts, are suffering. We are all experiencing samsara and as such are controlled by our afflictions and negative actions. Even if we cultivate virtue in this life, we can easily enter a lower realm in our next life, or an unfortunate human rebirth, or even the god realms. Just being in samsara, whatever level, is suffering. Lama Zopa in “Steps on the Path to Enlightenment Vol. 2″ likens pervasive suffering to a wound. By its nature it is suffering. Add salt and we experience relative pain, add cold water and we experience relative happiness. These relative conditions come and go. The cure is to “get out” of samsara. A “healthy fear” of uncontrolled rebirth will lead to practicing virtue, taking refuge etc…It is an “eyes wide open” sort of thing.

Although, in some text I seem to remember having read that you have cultivated renunciation if you feel like a person trapped in a burning building, desperate to find a way out!

J.S. responds:

Hi All,

Pages 331 & 365 of Liberation in the Palm of your Hand discuss the necessity of fear to develop renunciation. More specifically fear of the lower realms.

Thubten Pende responds:

I have been reading this discussion with some interest. I contributed a few remarks earlier, but thought to add a few more. As we know, the intellectual understanding of Buddhism, while important, is not sufficient to overcome the obstacles to liberation and enlightenment. Lama Yeshe often referred to the challenge of gaining the experience of the Buddha’s teachings as a scientific experiment with out own minds. It therefore seems appropriate to engage in the study and practices that are provided for us and then observe our experiences; perhaps even report them.

When I meditate on the sufferings of the lower realms there are 2 emotions that arise: fear and compassion. I did not plan on those emotions arising, they just did. Fear causes me to avoid the causes for rebirth in the lower realms. Compassion causes me to find a means to help others avoid the causes of rebirth in the lower realms.

I use different means to meditate on the shortcomings of cyclic existence. Sometimes I meditate on the shortcomings of my aggregates appropriated by karma and delusion, namely my own truth of suffering. When I do this by identifying such shortcomings as the misery I experience as a result of these aggregates or the foulness of these aggregates, the emotion of repulsion arises in me; it is unplanned. This repulsion causes me to wonder how I could be so attached to a body and mind that are magnets for misery and utterly foul. It also gives rise to a wish to escape from this condition.

Sometimes when I meditate on emptiness to overcome my attachment to true suffering. The emotion that arises from this approach is one of disinterest in true suffering (rather than revulsion); the thing I was attached to no longer is able to attract me. This approach also gives rise to a wish to escape from the nightmare of ignorance.

My conclusion from these experiences is that different emotions or mental states arise naturally from different ways of thinking. If I understand the method correctly and put it into practice effectively, states of mind arise that counter addictive mental states I want to eliminate. It is up to me to recognize what I need to eliminate and apply the appropriate means to do so. Needless to say, I can always make use of the advice of others who might have a more objective and informed view of what I need!

But alas, it is ultimately my responsibility.

M.H. responds:

My apologies. Perhaps unskillful was not the term or phrase I should have used. Perhaps the phrase “The ends does not justify the means” is a little closer.

Perhaps there is more then one kind of fear? Some that are more useful then others.

This may be a little strong but I will put these thoughts on fear down anyway. I understand that these may only apply to this being. But I think about it every time someone stands up to create an US vs. THEM situation.

I look at the world and see so much hate and division. This comes from fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the other, doubt and uncertainty. It holds the roots/reins of our self-preservation firmly in its grasp. It paralyzes us, makes us tentative. Or it can cause us to rush before we are ready. It can rule and drive us to destruction as we hide in our own paranoia.

To make it short:

Fear is a symptom of our ignorance.

Truly it is a two sided weapon.

F. responds:

If I lived in a damp, cold, unpleasant, uncomfortable, insane place, and, for whatever means, I got to know, or got to have a strong conviction, that over there, passing that mountain, there was a better valley with a temperate climate and pleasant and healthy living conditions… then I would be wonderfully motivated to go and cross over that mountain. And I think my motivation would not be based on fear, but rather on hope or faith in a better life for me and my family. For love, I mean…

I do think, too, that manipulating things in order to generate fear as a motivation for doing something, falls into the category of “the ends justifies the means”, and I don’t know if it is “unskillful”, but it seems to me not very “constructive” kind of motivation, when, and I say when, there are other alternatives more in line with “hoping for a better future”, or generating compassion and empathy and love.

I also find it too difficult to believe that I, or any of us, is in the same, or similar situation, to being trapped in a house in flames. Really, we are NOT. At the same time, there are countless people in the world that ARE suffering much, much more than I am, people in poverty, people living in middle of wars, etc., etc. So, of course, at the end of the day there are cases and cases. And I can admit that Milarepa maybe, for his personal conditions and for the cultural frame in which he was living, might need those rude methods, why not. But I think that, those of us who are fortunate enough to be in the situation of being able to afford building their spiritual path on the grounds of “hope,” “compassion” and the like, rather than on “fear”, should choose to do so. It’s more constructive, I believe. (but a little bit of fear is O.K., of course, it is natural, but I prefer not to use techniques to “inflate” it artificially)

Have a nice day all of you.

M.H. responds:

I thank you for the reply. Constructive and not very constructive fits so much better.

And I agree that we should work toward moving forward instead of keeping ourselves afloat. Reaching for Buddhahood and/or helping others is constructive.

Keeping myself from falling into lower realms seems negative to me.

  • responds:

The LamRim teachings tell us that there are two “reasons” for taking refuge, fear of suffering (not just pain or change, but also pervasive suffering) and conviction that the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha possess the methods to free us from this situation. So, from this I gather that fear is a necessary component that puts us on the path and pushes us forward when other motivators are lacking.

U. responds:

Dear all,

I tend to agree with F. that to base one’s motivation for spiritual practice on fear may not be the strategy of choice, at least for some of us. We have the aggrandized picture of what happens when people are driven by fear and manipulated paranoia out there in our chaotic present world: from war and terrorism to electoral results leading to more possible wars etc. Having been a child in Europe during WWII I fear the hell of war tremendously. As living beings we all fear suffering. I have a nagging doubt that to practice any kind of religion or spiritual path out of fear of my own suffering will only strengthen my grasping and clinging to my “I”. For me personally the only way of conquering fear, any kind of fear, is to meditate over and over again on the emptiness of this fearful “I,” the contaminated aggregates, and on the immense suffering on this world (of all three kinds) so that compassion simply overrides “my” fear. As F. says, it can be a path based on love, hope and compassion, not on fear.

I do not know whether some of you are familiar with the five meditation Buddhas. The mudra of the forth of them, Amoghasiddhi, also sometimes called “Lord of Karma” is the gesture of fearlessness, or “fear not!” His consort is the green Tara.

I write this in regret to disagree with Thubten Pende for whom I have great respect and gratitude for his really inspiring teachings on emptiness (module 12).

U.

M.H. responds:

You expressed it much better then my clumsy words. I live with fears, anxiety and self-doubt. Years of depression have shown me that fears and such will slowly eat you.

S.W. responds:

I wish I could remember the exact source, but somewhere I read that the Dalai Lama advises those suffering from depression to avoid (perhaps only temporarily) meditations on suffering and to focus on such meditations as the precious human life. I’m sure Ven. Sangye Khadro said the same thing in her book “How to Meditate.” Maybe it’s a matter of using the appropriate antidote at the appropriate time.

What do you all think?

J.S. responds:

Well I think, spot on!

Contemplating my death and the possibility of ending up in the lower realms is exactly an appropriate antidote for me personally at the moment to counter my obstacles. And is but one of a number of antidotes I am using.

D.N. responds: 

That makes sense to me . . .

I watch people in depression, and it seems when they focus on their depression they seem to find all kinds of justifications for it, they look for ways to strengthen it in watching.

I suspect it more important to focus on the antidotes instead, as you suggested precious human rebirth, or maybe loving kindness, or just simply sitting in Zen fashion until the mind can become calm. Without some state of calm, new valuable information has a hard time taking root in the mind.

M.H. responds: 

Perhaps there are those. I do not wish to justify it or strengthen it. I wish to conquer it. Be it’s master. I know that at my present state of development and biology that it would be all to easy to slip back into the darkness. I try to keep a constant vigilance but there are days when conditions are right, the dark karmic seeds ripen. Then the work is to bring myself back before those mental obscurations can cause additional damage.

Meditation helps with allowing me to look what is going on calmly. To slow down the cycle of destructive thoughts. Reduce the tension and anxiety that arise so I can focus on what the causes are.

T.Y. responds: 

We use rational fear regularly in our lives; it protects us from danger. For example, if you know that a particular area in your city is extremely dangerous at night, you don’t go there. Why? Fear of the consequences if you do. And, to stay away is a sane thing to do.

Where I live in Australia we have cyclones (hurricanes). There is one crossing the coast right about now; for days the people in that area have been battening down the hatches and, as of yesterday, they began to evacuate some areas. People left their homes and towns to go to safer areas until the storm passes. Why? Fear.

There are rational and intelligent fears that protect us from danger. There are irrational paranoid fears of things that don’t exist. Fear of the sufferings of samsara is quite rational. Just look at the world around you…there is suffering out there that is beyond comprehension. I don’t want to go there. Do you? I doubt it, and one emotion that helps me work hard to stay away from that level of suffering is fear. We are genetically hardwired to fear what is dangerous. That’s a good thing.

You are quite right[, U.,] to say that many of the problems in the world – conflicts, terrorism, wars – arise from fear; irrational fear. But, to dismiss the use of all fear as a motivator is both dangerous and silly.

And, remember that the greatest motivator in Buddhist practice is not fear but the peace, joy and beauty of enlightenment. Think of these two extremes – enlightenment and the karmically created suffering of samsara – as the carrot-and-stick approach to spiritual awakening. Behind us is our knowledge of karma whipping us along; in front, the joy of liberation leading us by the nose.

Enjoy…with wisdom.

Best wishes,

Thubten Yeshe

M.H. responds:

Yes, I see that rational fear is a form of protection. And needed for many hazards in life. But that protection/self preservation instinct can be taken to far. One of those middle way things? I.e., some fear can be healthy, too much fear will bring great suffering.

My sister and parents live on the Texas coast. They get hurricanes. They do let fear control them. My father boards up the house and they leave inland. Sane as you said. Fear is felt outwardly if they take too long or the hurricane is too fast. My sister takes it to the extreme however. She is one who will not leave because of a hurricane. Just a big storm, with proper precautions, nothing to fear as she says.

F. responds: 

Thanks for your last three or four messages, M. You are just human, as we all are, just little poor thingies in middle of this huge world. I can see your very human reasons to rebel against fear, given those years of depression you had to suffer.

Ey, it seems to me that your sister could be a perfect Bodhisattva (for the way she faces those “big storms”)!! Maybe not your father (too much panicking!?)… but, he might still become a good arhat. Sure. There is site for all of us in the Buddahood, isn’t there?

Be happy if you can… or either if you can’t.

Fran

J. responds:

I have been away without access to a computer so I have read with interest the posts.

Fear and the lower realms have something in common, they are generated by our own mental state. To use a mental state that we are all used to from babyhood, fear, that we use an excuse for all sorts of unskillful actions to help us to see that there could be consequences to our actions does not seem so unskillful. It is not as if most of us when we are born absolutely know that actions cause a result. Most people have to be shown this. Many of the actions we all do are horrific for the minds and bodies of other sentient beings. We may not label them that way, unless we are unusually sensitive, but from the point of view of the animal we inadvertently maim or the person who’s feelings we hurt our actions may stay with them for years. For me it is our lack of sensitivity to the lives of others that should scare us. If just describing the karma that we ourselves create is frightening maybe we should think hard about mindfulness in our interactions and thoughts and try to avoid the actions and results.

F. responds:

Thanks for your comment [J.], it sounds tremendously sensible and balanced and very helpful.

I only want to state here one only point of dissent from my part: recognizing the suffering that my actions are co-creating in others not necessarily should SCARE me. Rather, I believe I would feel compassion, and regret, but not necessarily “scare”. More than “scare,” what we are looking for is, as you very well pointed, more mindfulness or awareness, and more care for what we do and care for others.

It happens that just a few minutes ago, while answering the assessment questions of Module One, I re-read the description of a mental factor called “regret”. It says:

“If we regret a destructive action, the regret is constructive leading us to purify past misdeeds… Regret is a mind conditioned by some degree of intelligence that can see the disadvantages of negative actions, and seeks to redress them”.

Yes, I have quoted this out of its context, but still seems to me relevant to this discussion. This “degree of intelligence” is what we need, as with the “intelligent fear” Thubten mentioned. Yes, they are very useful motivations. But they are not the same as simply cultivating fear. If, instead, we can direct our efforts to cultivating regret and the “sane” or “intelligent” (equilibrated?) fear Thubten described, I think we will be doing a healthier choice.

Thanks again, J.. I appreciate that contribution too.

Fran

D.N. responds:

For me, I’ve felt it important to recognize the drawbacks and suffering of Samsara. I don’t feel I’m developing a *fear* of it, but rather I understand it’s not something I want to continue. I see how the suffering continues in this vicious circle. Understanding and knowing you don’t want to repeat the same old crap doesn’t haven’t to be fear, per say, just realizing enough is enough!

See how Samsara is disguised in happiness, open your eyes to the reality of it’s suffering. I wouldn’t call that being afraid or fearful, just finally seeing the light and striving towards the end of the tunnel so to speak.

J.S. responds:

Hi All,

Since I brought the notion of fear up perhaps I should specify where I was coming from. Of course, T.Y. has already clarified much amongst the broad generalisation of the term ‘fear’.

Fear of creating more causes to be reborn in the lower realms specifically. This fear should help us become more vigilant and less complacent in our practise of speech, mental events, and actions. Its aim is enhance or perhaps speed our development of renunciation. That is to sincerely and deeply make effort to engage in virtuous actions only (which brings great joy), and be fearfully cautious of non-virtuous actions, speech, and thoughts (due to their consequences). The more we understand suffering, the more virtuosity we engage in (positive causes planted), the more we don’t want ourselves or any other’s to suffer, the more nourished our compassion and bodhichitta and wisdom becomes. The fear factor is a specific exercise for a specific purpose, the development of renunciation.

U., my guess at fearlessness, is it is achieved by eliminating the causes that would bring us to lower rebirth. The Fearless Victor has no Karmic causes that will enable lower rebirth, therefore has nothing to fear. Using fear of non-virtuosity in the sense of ceasing to engage in it, and being more careful with our selves, well how is that a negative thing?

This is a new concept for me, but I see its value. I’ve always been against fear and tried to be fearless in everything.

Ironically, I would now advise myself, ‘Don’t be so afraid, to be afraid’!

U. responds:

Dear T.Y.,

Aren’t Bodhisattvas and advanced practitioners said to pray at death to be reborn in a sorrowful realm so as to help other sentient beings attain freedom? Therefore, with the proper motivation, wouldn’t it be better to learn to be fearless even of the six realms, whatever they may be? Avoiding to create bad karma is like avoiding to be caught in a hurricane – it is wisdom; fear motivating the avoidance of creating bad karma is like

running away before a hurricane starts without trying to save or shelter the child that cannot run.

T.Y. responds:

Dear All,

Remember that we are talking about the GRADUATED path to enlightenment. It is graduated for a reason.

Whether we look at the path from the perspective of the three scopes or the three principal aspect of the path there is a movement from the least evolved level of motivation and evolution to the higher, more courageous, all-embracing motive of the evolved bodhisattva. Even the bodhisattva’s intent begins with the simple wish to be able to really be an engaged bodhisattva one day; then, with practice and inner development the practitioner becomes able to engage in the genuine activities of a bodhisattva.

Using apprehension as a motivator in the early stages creates the energy that kick starts our practice in a big way. In the dentist’s waiting room today (with apprehension building!) I was reading a teaching on the three principal aspects of the path – renunciation, bodhicitta and right view. The teacher says that renunciation is a ‘without which, nothing’. This means that without developing sufficient dread of continuing in samsara, we don’t generate the mind of renunciation (definite emergence); without renunciation, bodhicitta is impossible and therefore enlightenment is impossible.

In part, this is about owning where we are…right now. And what we are capable of. I don’t know about any of you, but I’m not a fearless bodhisattva and I am painfully aware of how difficult practice is when the conditions are less than perfect. I think, for me, any practice would be impossible in a hellish realm of existence. I have trouble when I have a runny nose!

Definite emergence (renunciation) has two aspects:

1. The recognition of the extreme suffering that it is possible for any one of us to experience in samsara. Right now we are in extremely salubrious circumstances; if we die tonight, where will we be tomorrow? Do you know?

2. The recognition that there is a positive direction in which we can point our noses…towards freedom and enlightenment.

So, we make the decision definitely to emerge from this miserable situation to emerge into enlightenment. Carrot and stick.

With regard to learning to be fearless…yes, good idea. Learn to be a fearless meditator no matter what is happening around you and within you; learn to be fearless in small ways now so that gradually you generate the courage of a bodhisattva. But, don’t try to walk before you can crawl.

Maybe J.S. is on to something: don’t be afraid to feel a bit of reasonable fear. It might be a very wise thing to do.

Love to you all,

Thubten Yeshe

PS – U., maybe think of wise fear motivating the creation of good karma.

T.Y. responds:

Dear U.,

Just one more note on this vexed subject of the use of fear as a motivator. I could not agree with you more, Ulrike, about the negative, manipulative use of fear that we can see in many aspects of our life – politics, the work place, religion, education at all levels and so forth. It is everywhere, and it shouldn’t be anywhere.

In my small experience of Buddhism and of the skill of my teachers, I have never felt manipulated. Above all, I have never felt disempowered by my teachers or their teachings. If I had, I would have run a mile and more. On the contrary, my experience has been that every word is leading me closer to my ability to experience the full, unencumbered, potency my own buddha nature.

I have had the immense good fortune to have personal contact with teachers such as Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. I’m aware that many (if not most) DB@Home students have not had that wonderful possibility with any teachers face-to-face, so there is perhaps a great deal that you must take on trust, and trust in today’s world is a scarce commodity.

If fear was our only motivator, then I would not have hung around for over thirty years. It is not the sole motivator for our practice. From the beginning, before we even know the word bodhicitta, we are encouraged to generate a motivation that embraces others and looks towards enlightenment.

Each of us brings our own karmic propensities to our spiritual practice; and each of us needs to assess our own present capabilities to some degree, acknowledging (but not buying into) our present limitations. Those limitations are not who we are; they are impermanent and, really, non-existent. But, on a conventional level they often rear their ugly heads bringing us to a screeching halt in our practice. If a good kick up the backside can get us unstuck, then I say: Kick away! A healthy recall of what is possible if we lose track of where we need to go can be that kick that keeps us pointed in the right direction. It’s not the whole story.

Love and best wishes to you all,

t.y.

M.S. responds:

Thubten,

Thank you again for bringing it back to the reality of what is. I love your answers because it is coming from experience and from the heart. It is kinda fun when I read through the threads. A subject comes up, and it becomes a like a bees nest swatted by a broom! Us little worker bees (newbies) franticly darting about. “I don’t think this… I don’t think that…” I believe this… I believe that…..” then you have Thubten (and the other wondrous elders) the queen bee centered calm and focused. Releases a couple paragraphs of wisdom and all the worker bees come back to the nest and center again. LOL.

We really don’t know where we will be in the future. Will we be able to practice the Dharma? Could you imagine being reborn in a realm “Dentists”? OH MY! Three countless eons of dentists drilling on your teeth with no novocaine! now if that doesn’t instill fear….giggle.

Thanks again Thubten and Elders for your wisdom.

M.

S.W. responds:

T.Y. and everyone,

I love these examples. I have experienced both the healthy fear the T.Y. describes here and the neurotic, self-centered kind, paranoid kind. A couple of years before this course became available I became caught up in a negative spiral of anger, hostility, and resentment that eventually began to take over my life and led to a *lot* of fear and paranoia. It impacted every part of my life. I had not one moment of peace. I was on fire with anger and resentment almost every single moment. Peace of mind, happiness, became a faint memory. I was lucky enough to run across Ven. Chodron’s teachings on her website and her Lamrim CD’s, which helped me a lot, although it took quite awhile to reverse this relentless cycle of fear and aversion.

Now when I begin to stew in resentment over some perceived slight or wrong, I remember how easy it was to slide down the slippery slope into a metaphorical “hell realm” the likes of which I do not ever want to encounter again. The healthy fear that results from that interrupts my self-pity and points me back on course. So often now when I do purification practice I remember back to this time: how painful it was, how grateful I am to have found the dharma (and this wonderful course!) so that I don’t have to be mindlessly pulled about by my ignorance and anger that can so easily take me where I DO NOT want to go!

When encountering the neurotic fear, T.Y. pointed me towards some practices that involve developing spiritual confidence (I use an extended version of meditation on the Buddha, and it really does help!).

With profound gratitude towards the dharma and our generous teachers,

S.

J.S. responds:

Dear All,

I’m sorry if I’ve stirred a sensitive subject. I never meant to convey that we ALL should use fear as a PRIMARY motivation or even at all. Truly, our practise should be fun, joyous and a very positive experience. I never meant to take away from that. If depression, or any of the negative fruits of fear arise during, and/or because of, our practise, I would’ve thought it best to move away from it, and go to a focus on the positive qualities of our tutelary deity’s and the Three Jewel’s. There many positive way’s to motivate ourselves. My search and exploration of fear of the lower realms is a personal one and perhaps I should’ve kept it that way. Everyone’s input has however helped me, whether in agreement with me or not, I learn from you all. I’m just sorry if I have caused anyone to suffer or to resurface bad experiences in your life.

Sincerely,

J.S.

P.S. Thanks for sharing J. I’ve found your input very useful. It was your earlier remarks that caused a shift in my own experience. Not perhaps the experience itself, but the idea that with wisdom, fear could be utilised towards a positive effect. Since I can’t escape it, specifically when contemplating lower realms, then how can I use it? For me, remarkable.

M.S. responds:

All,

Actually it was a good thing we brought it up. It made us think of our practice in different ways. Just last night I was truly thinking of not so much being reborn in the hell realms but looking at this precious human life. I thought what if I should have a stroke? What if I should lose a lose one of my sensory abilities to where I could no longer study or practice the Dharma? That scares me more than rebirth at this point because I see that as something tangible. I see friends and co-workers who are perfectly fine one day and then in a deadly car crash the next!

So for me right now I agree with working on how precious this life really is. And to do as much as we can with what little time we have so that when that time comes, we may that little bit of wisdom and awareness to where we can make that choice to not be born in the hell realms!

In loving kindness

M.

K.T.Z.M. responds:

Dear All,

I think J.S. is definitely onto something. After looking at some of the posts on this: correct me if I’m wrong(I think most times I am), by using method and wisdom to distinguish whether fear plays a big part in our journey; I think it does to a certain extent, but don’t let it overrun you. The two extremes, right?

When I think about the six realms or even go through the twelve links, the biggest one that gives me an ultimate fear ARE the hell realms. Think of yourself frozen unable to move and watching hell beings tearing your skin, bones and the like off you. You’re in extreme pain and you can’t do anything about it, because it will happen over and over again. It gives me absolute chills to think about it.

I had a fear run through me with meditation, but it passed just as any negative emotion does. I hope this is right, correct me if I’m wrong.

With Compassion,

K.

Many thanks to all of the students and elders who contributed to make this a lively and fruitful discussion! May it be of benefit.

 

Back to Discovering Buddhism at Home FAQ

 

Discovering Buddhism at Home -FAQ

General Practice Questions (page 1 | 2 | 3)



If one is practicing Lama Chopa alone, may the tsog be omitted?

What if for health reasons one cannot do physical prostrations beyond offering the prostration mudra?

Is it necessary to receive permission or have highest yoga tantra to do the Lama Chopa practice?

The Vajrasattva meditation practice has lots of detailed visualizations, but I have always had lots of trouble visualizing. Can you give me any advice?

Where I live there are very few Sanghas and even fewer Buddhist teachers. But I know that taking refuge is a very important foundational step in Buddhism. Do you have any advice?

If one is practicing Lama Chopa alone, may the tsog be omitted?

A student asks:

I thought to start doing the Lama Chopa practice as it also contains the Lama Tsongkhapa prayer, which is part of my ngondro. The question I have is about tsog. Can this be omitted if one practices Lama Chopa without others? Any comments on this practice would be beneficial.

Pende responds:

The FPMT practice book you have correctly states that the tsok offering is an optional practice that may be incorporated into the Lama Chopa practice. Also, the Lama Chopa practice can be used instead of Ganden Lhagye Ma, which is the usual Lama TsongKhapa guru yoga prayer. The “Migtsema” verse is the usual prayer for repetition when counting prayers in the Lama Tsongkhapa guru yoga method.

Pende




What if for health reasons one cannot do physical prostrations beyond offering the prostration mudra?

A student asks:

I have a question about prostrations. Per my doctor’s order, I can’t do the physical part of the prostrations. I do the prostration mudra and visualize instead. Is this OK?

Pende responds:

What I know about prostrations in the Tibetan tradition is this:

1. Physical prostrations are a physical sign of respect. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said a salute is a prostration, from this point of view. The prostration mudra of placing the palms of the hands together is such a physical sign of respect, like a salute. However, there is also mental prostration and verbal prostration. Mental prostration is the attitude of respect; verbal prostration is respectful speech.

2. Prostrations are performed to purify negative karma accumulated by the physical body. Such prostrations are not meant to be easy. The physical discomfort one experiences while doing them exhausts the negative karmic result that would have occurred had the karmic seed reach maturity, such as throwing karma in a hell realm. This is why one of my lamas did his 100,000 prostrations in the coldest time of the year – so it would be harder to do and therefore a more effective means of purifying his negative karma. I believe the people doing fasting retreat are performing such prostrations – made all the harder due to their fast.

As you have a physical disability for performing prostations, you need not concern yourself with #2 above. You may still engage in mental and verbal prostrations.

Pende




Is it necessary to receive permission or have highest yoga tantra to do the Lama Chopa practice?

A student asks:

Hopefully the elders can clarify a quick question. Is it necessary to receive Lung on the Lama Chopa practice? Or is having Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment all that is needed?


Thubten Yeshe replies:
      Lama Chopa does not require a ‘lung’ or transmission. If you have had HYT empowerment you can do the practice with the visualizations.


    However, you may eventually want to have a commentary on the practice. Be aware that usually receiving this commentary entails a commitment to do the puja (without a tsok offering) on a daily basis for life.




The Vajrasattva meditation practice has lots of detailed visualizations, but I have always had lots of trouble visualizing. Can you give me any advice?

A student observes:

The part of the Vajrasattva meditation recitation that gets very difficult for me is all the detailed visualizations. I have a real problem visualizing with any success or stability.


Thubten Yeshe replies:

Visualization is, in one sense, a misnomer for what we should be doing. We are creating a mental image.

Try this: With your eyes wide open look at whatever is in front of you right now (no doubt your computer screen), at the same time IMAGINE your dearest friend or loved one is standing behind you. Don’t turn around! Just imagine this person there. Do you have some sense, some feeling of the person being there? That is visualization.

Perhaps we should call these things imaginations. It is not about creating a visual image.

The whole process becomes easier as we become more familiar with the object. We can imagine our friend behind us because we know this person intimately. When we know the Buddha as intimately, we will have no problem creating the image in our mind.

So, study an image of the Buddha (or another of the buddha forms that you use in meditation) until you become familiar with the image. One way to do this is to draw the image. Even tracing the image, using tracing paper, will help imprint the image in your mind. Study the qualities of the Buddha, too.

Another reason it is easy to imagine our friend behind us is because we cherish the qualities and character of this beloved person. Know the Buddha in every way and the imagery will come.

And, be patient with the process. It can take some time. Relax into the meditations.

Hope that helps. It can be applied to any visualization, not just the Buddha or Buddhist deities.




Where I live there are very few Sanghas and even fewer Buddhist teachers. But I know that taking refuge is a very important foundational step in Buddhism. Do you have any advice?

A student asks:

Hello to all of you. I am a newcomer to this list and to the DB courses. I just completed Module 1 and I am excited about learning and practicing more of the Dharma.

I find myself practicing in isolation, though. There are very few sanghas in my areas of the US, and even fewer teachers. I know that a most important step in Buddhism is taking refuge. I am wondering how one takes refuge and practices when one does not have access to the Sangha. I would appreciate any advice.


Pende replies:

Texts such as Gampopa’s Jewel Ornamant of Liberation describe taking refuge in front of different objects, such as a guru, but also a statue of the Buddha, and also a visualized image of the Buddha. There is no doubt that declaring your refuge in the Three Jewels in front of a living, breathing person who embodies the Three Jewels for you and others is the most powerful, i.e. best way to take refuge, but it is not the only way. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to seek the best methods, but when that is not possible use any valid method you find! Lam Rim texts describe the causes of taking refuge in the context of a person of initial scope spiritual motivation, viz. fear of lower rebirth and confidence that the Three Jewels will save you from that disaster. Then live your live guided by the Three Jewels. I sincerely believe that the more you turn your actions of body, speech and mind to the path taught by the Buddha the more you will find resources for your practice.


Discovering Buddhism at Home -FAQ

General Practice Questions (page 1 | 2 | 3)

What does it mean to be a member of the Sangha?

How do I properly dispose of materials like flyers or computer media that contain Dharma?

What is the process for building a stupa?  Should we consult with a lama before doing anything?

How do I make mandala offerings?

Is it necessary to receive empowerment or permission before reciting the mantra of Green Tara?

What is the level of experience required for the annual November Kopan course?

How do we keep from getting attached to our altars?  I’m finding it hard to meditate as well when I’m away from mine.

I get very anxious since there doesn’t seem to be enough time to get everything done.  How can I better develop patience so I can handle these feelings when they come up?



What does it mean to be a member of the Sangha?

A student writes: 

Are the members of this group part of the Sangha?

T.Y. responds: 

There are a couple of ways to look at this question, and there is scriptural authority for both views.

The highest level of sangha (considered as external beings) are known as Arya Sangha; these are practitioners who have generated a direct realization of the nature of reality (transparency or emptiness) – that is the truth of the mode of existence of themselves and all phenomena. These beings are our guides on the path. The true Sangha is the realization in the minds of these beings.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama can be considered as Arya Sangha; and, of course anyone we meet might be. We don’t really know, and can’t tell from outer appearances. The communities of monks and nuns who hold vows that come down to us from the Buddha are exemplars of the Arya Sangha.

And, of course there is Buddha, Dharma and Sangha refuge on an inner level – our own buddha nature, the realizations that we generate as we travel the path, and the inner transformations that occur as a result.

Best wishes,

Thubten Yeshe


How do I properly dispose of materials like flyers or computer media that contain Dharma?

A student writes:

I was asked to burn some trash from the Dharma Center. I had a couple of questions that didn’t occur to me until I got home. Why does the trash need to be burned? In the trash there was a video tape and a couple of cassettes. Do they need to be burned as well or can they be bulk erased and then disposed of? What about computer media that has Dharma material on it? I’m not sure how well CDs or DVDs will burn. In addition, what is the status of my hard drive if I store any teachings, images etc on it?

Nick Ribush responds:

For a start, here’s what we put at the back of every free LYWA book:

——————————–

What to do with Dharma teachings

The Buddhadharma is the true source of happiness for all sentient beings. Books like the one in your hand show you how to put the teachings into practice and integrate them into your life, whereby you get the happiness you seek. Therefore, anything containing Dharma teachings or the names of your teachers is more precious than other material objects and should be treated with respect. To avoid creating the karma of not meeting the Dharma again in future lives, please do not put books (or other holy objects) on the floor or underneath other stuff, step over or sit upon them, or use them for mundane purposes such as propping up wobbly tables. They should be kept in a clean, high place, separate from worldly writings, and wrapped in cloth when being carried around. These are but a few considerations.

Should you need to get rid of Dharma materials, they should not be thrown in the rubbish but burned in a special way. Briefly: do not incinerate such materials with other trash, but alone, and as they burn, recite the mantra OM AH HUM. As the smoke rises, visualize that it pervades all of space, carrying the essence of the Dharma to all sentient beings in the six samsaric realms, purifying their minds, alleviating their suffering, and bringing them all happiness, up to and including enlightenment. Some people might find this practice a bit unusual, but it is given according to tradition.

Thank you very much.

——————————–

I was disposing of such material the other day and chucked a CD in the fire, and, while it did seem to smell a bit, it disappeared. I’d tend to burn tape too, but there may well be environmental concerns. So far, here, it hasn’t been that much of an issue. I think if you erased it and then threw it out, it might be OK.

Your CPU…mine stands on the floor, containing, as you might expect, loads of Dharma teachings etc., so I certainly don’t put my feet on it. I figure the hard drive is far enough off the floor, in there somewhere, that it’s just about OK. Still, it’s a holy object.

Also, some people don’t feel comfortable calling Dharma material to be disposed of “Dharma rubbish” or “Dharma trash,” from the standpoint that it’s about as oxymoronic as you can get and it may not be creating the best karma, calling Dharma “rubbish/trash”…so personally, I tend to avoid using those terms too.

One more thing: a while back, Lama Zopa Rinpoche said that images (of lamas, buddhas, deities, stupas etc.) should not be burned with the writings…they should be cut out and saved for placement into a stupa or tsa-tsa house or some such, where they can later be

circumambulated and in that way used to create merit. I’m not sure why they have that status whereas words don’t, as it’s usually said that words are a more direct way of communicating the teachings than are visual images, and monasteries traditionally kept the texts above the altar, higher than the statues etc.

It’s a trip!

Much love

n

Merry responds:

Dear all,

Nick asked what it was that the office put out some time back about dharma burn

and such. I don’t find the exact message but this is what we put in the backs of

all Education Dept materials:

Care of Dharma Materials

Dharma books contain the teachings of the Buddha; they have the power to protect against lower rebirth and to point the way to liberation. Therefore, they should be treated with respect – kept off the floor and places where people sit or walk – and not stepped over. They should be covered or protected for transporting and kept in a high, clean place separate from more mundane materials. Other objects should not be placed on top of Dharma books and materials. Licking the fingers to turn pages is considered bad form as well as negative karma.

Disposal of Written Materials and Photographs

If it is necessary to dispose of written Dharma materials, they should be burned rather than thrown in the trash. When burning Dharma texts, it is taught to first recite a prayer or mantra, such as OM, AH, HUM. Then, you can visualize the letters of the texts (to be burned) absorbing into the AH and the AH absorbing into you, transmitting their wisdom to your mindstream. After that, as you continue to recite OM, AH, HUM, you can burn the texts.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche has recommended that photos or images of holy beings, deities, or other holy objects not be burned. Instead, they should be placed with respect in a stupa, tree, or other high, clean place. It has been suggested to put them into a small structure like a bird house and then seal the house. In this way, the holy images do not end up on the ground.


What is the process for building a stupa?  Should we consult with a lama before doing anything?

A student writes:

[My husband] and I have been thinking about this for a while, but got side tracked. Now he has just again suggested that we build a stupa. Nothing too big, just something for our little family. After some research, [we] found out that the normal practice is to speak to a Lama about them coming and choosing the best place to build it. We live on eight acres in the Adelaide foothills so have plenty of room.

Is it considered better to have a Lama choose the spot or is there an alternative? Can you recommend any building instructions and items that we include in the stupa? We would be very grateful.

Thanks in advance.

Garry Benson responds:

At the moment an offshoot of Buddha House (the FPMT centre in Adelaide) is involved in building the Enlightenment Stupa at the De-Tong Ling Retreat Centre on Kangaroo Island, a project blessed by Lama Zopa Rinpoche during his visit in May for the Mahamudra Retreat. . .

The Enlightenment Stupa is being built of mudbrick (as my house is) and they are always on the lookout for volunteers to help with the construction. Details are available on

the website www.detongling.org. Ask Will for a copy of the Spring 2004 Newsletter that contains a great article on The Meaning of Stupas.

The FPMT has established a Stupa Fund after Lama Zopa Rinpoche expressed enthusiasm for the idea at fpmt.org/projects/stupa/. There is a good book entitled ‘Buddhist Stupas in Asia: the shape of perfection’ by Cummings and Wassman, published by Lonely Planet in Melbourne – I have a copy if you want to check it out when you visit.

The following basic notes may be useful.

What is a Stupa?

It refers to a particular type of structure important to many Buddhists in their meditation practice. The word stupa (or in other languages, chorten, thupa, or dagoba) literally means “hair knot” likely relating to the characteristic look of the spires on the buildings. These are designed to represent the shape of the body of the Buddha in his characteristic meditation pose, from his crossed legs in lotus position to his topknot. Indeed, many stupas also have a central pole or spine running up the middle of their interior.

Original Reliquarium

The first stupas are said to have been built to house relics of the Buddha. There are eight, of these at locations which have historical significance in the Buddha’s life. Lumbini (Buddhas birthplace).

Bodhgaya (attainment of Enlightenment), Sarnath (First teaching or Turning of the Dharma Wheel), Sravasti (transmission of the Sutras), Sankashya (descending from Tushita Heaven), Rajagriha (First council of monks), Vaishali (final teaching), Kushinagara (Buddha attains parinirvana). For more information on all of these important sites, see the About Buddhism collection of Buddhist Pilgimage Sites.

Expanding the Concept

It is said that King Ashoka, in about 250 B.C.E. divided the relics of the original eight sites and placed them into “84,000 stupas” – which, although it is probably an exaggeration, gives a sense of the King’s efforts to spread the veneration of the Buddha. It is recognized that there are three other types of stupas, in addition to those containing relics of the Buddha (or of another Buddhist saint, teacher or holy person). These include stupas containing an object or objects used by the Buddha or a saint, stupas commemorating an important religious historical event and those built solely for devotional purposes. There are many benefits said to be connected with building a stupa, among these are long-life, happiness, and the praise of others. Similar benefits obtain to the ritual of circumabulating a stupa.

Representing the Universe

There is more symbolism in the structure of the stupa than just the basic shape of the Buddha body. Basic geometric shapes are evident throughout. Seen from above, the square (representing Earth) and the Circle (representing Water) are clearly elements of the basic design. Seen from the side, the Fire representation – the triangle of the

spire – appears, and atop these are often a semi-circle (Air or Wind), and a flaming jewel (Space). Excellent descriptions of this symbolism can be found at Buddhanet and also The Rocky Mountain Shambala Center. In Tibetan Buddhism, the layout of the floor plan of a stupa is meant to represent all of the elements of the universe, with symbolism quite similar to that of the famous sand mandalas created by Tibetan Monks.

Tashi delek

Garry


How do I make mandala offerings? 

A student writes:

Where would I find instructions for making mandala offerings? I looked on the web site but they were geared towards specific deities?

Kendall responds:

We have a very nice booklet on how to make mandala offerings on the FPMT site.

Just go to: shop.fpmt.org and choose the “Studies and Practices” category from the left column. Then do a search for “mandala”. You will see a booklet that comes up, “How to Make Mandala Offerings”…which is very complete and extensive and inspiring.

That is my recommendation.

Sincerely,

Kendall


Is it necessary to receive empowerment or permission before reciting the mantra of Green Tara?

A student writes:

A newsletter was recently sent out by Ven. Chodron and Sravasti Abbey requesting that everyone recite at least 108 Tara mantras each day on behalf of establishing the abbey.

Does anyone know if empowerment or instruction is required to do this practice? I noticed that in Ven. Kathleen McDonald’s book on meditation there are two Green Tara practices, one a visualization and one a full practice with a short prayer that is recited a number of times.

The letter is available at:

http://www.sravastiabbey.org/FRletter1.htm

Here is the excerpt in question:

“…we request you to recite at least 108 Tara mantras on behalf of

this project. Tara is a female manifestation of the Buddha who brings

success in virtuous activities. Her mantra is om tare tuttare ture

soha. Please recite at least 108 Tara mantras–one time, daily, or

until the Abbey is realized–to strengthen the Buddha’s teachings in

the West by establishing Sravasti Abbey.”

May the Abbey be established swiftly and may it be of the greatest possible benefit to all beings!

Merry responds:

It is not necessary to receive an empowerment to recite the Tara mantra nor the Tara praises. It is always best to receive the oral transmission (or “lung”) of any mantra, but there is no fault to recite this mantra without the lung. If you have questions of this sort about other practices we have two listings of materials on the fpmt shop called: “general practices” and “materials requiring empowerment” The former category are all practices that can be done without any sort of initiation or lung. All of these have been checked with lama Zopa and so you can have confidence that the postings are correct. Further, we are now putting a “practice requirement” on the front page of all our booklets to help clarify this confusion that often arises.

The general rule of thumb is that without empowerment one can not absorb thedeity (any deity) into the heart nor arise as the deity oneself. Without empowerment one must keep the deity on the crown of the head or in front of oneself. If the practice says to “absorb the deity into the heart” and one does not have the empowerment then you visualize the deity melting into light and the light only absorbs into the heart. Hope this helps clarify some of the questions around this rather complicated subject!

May your practice bring about great benefit for others.

Love,

merry


What is the level of experience required for the annual November Kopan course?

In response to a student wondering about the level of experience/skill required for the the annual November Kopan course:

The month-long retreat at Kopan is designed for all skill levels. It was one of my first Tibetan Buddhist intensives and I did it again for my 10th year Buddhist anniversary and it was equally valuable! That is one of its unique qualities – you can walk in as a total beginner (and many do), or participate with many years of experience under your belt and still get a lot out of it. It sounds like your current amount of exposure is probably quite perfect as you have some idea of the concepts and have some familiarity with many Buddhist terms, so you aren’t “learning the language” at the same time.

When over 35 FPMT teachers and spiritual program coordinators came together to create Discovering Buddhism, one unanimous opinion was that there was nothing to compare with going to Kopan! So, if you are leaning at all in that direction, I would encourage you 100%!

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Kendall


How do we keep from getting attached to our altars?  I’m finding it hard to meditate as well when I’m away from mine.

A student writes:

My meditations are steadily growing stronger and I am fairly pleased with the results so far. However, I have noticed that I am developing an affinity for my little altar. When I am away from home my meditations are not as strong or effective. It occurred to me that maybe some of you are experiencing the same thing and may have some fresh ideas or insights on how to address this situation. If you are willing to share, what sort of things are you doing to maintain the quality of your meditations when away? I thought it might help to have some of my things with me so I am putting together a little package for carrying some of the more important items from my altar to use while traveling. Anyone else?

Merry responds:

The FPMT development department is putting together a whole altar kit that will include foldable “puja” (meditation) table, ritual objects, water bowls and more. I think this will be all together within the coming weeks and items can be purchased individually, so keep an eye on the shop for these goods. Maybe this is where you will find that special object to carry with you when you travel.

Oh… then lastly lastly RE: Liberating animals: we do have this practice available both in Vol 2 of Essential Buddhist Prayers as well as alone within “general practices” on the “Prayers and Practices” page of the shop. We have recently received from Lama Zopa a drawing of the altar to be used when doing this practice so in time we will add this to the practice booklet as well.

with love,

merry


I get very anxious since there doesn’t seem to be enough time to get everything done.  How can I better develop patience so I can handle these feelings when they come up?

A student writes:

I have a question for our esteemed elders (Dharma Friends) and groupies… I am having a real struggle with patience. I am Very mindful of it all the more so that I am noticing that I am very anxious because of my lack of patience. I know I am the queen of multi-tasking with family and work, but I was wondering if there were any prayers or practices i can do to start lessening these feelings of ” come on come on…”. I am very aware of the moments I am losing my patience with the outside world (and myself when I don’t seem to find the time for my practice) but are there any meditations for this?

Nick responds: 

My guess is that there are many meditations on patience, mainly of the analytical type. Study the 6th chapter of “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life” and His Holiness’s commentary, “Healing Anger,” for a start. Most lam-rim texts, like “Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand,” will have helpful sections on the shortcomings of anger (like rebirth in hell) and the benefits of its antidote, patience.

But there’s no magic prayer or mantra that will allow you to overcome anger, irritation and impatience right away. Our negative minds are too deep-rooted for that.

First study the teachings; then think about them deeply to convince yourself that they are right (or wrong); then meditate strongly on the conclusion to which you come. This is the gradual method of overcoming specific delusions and developing their antidote.

The blanket technique is to purify all your delusions with, say, Vajrasattva meditation-recitation at least every night before going to bed (you can do it often during the day, too, especially after you blow it). When you do this, you can also single out the particular problems you had that day and focus on getting rid of those and their causes too.

In the morning, generate bodhicitta motivation in general and also set yourself specific goals for the day, like being more patient than you were yesterday and not getting angry. When doing this you can look ahead at your day like a soldier going into battle and prepare yourself for the confrontations with annoying people that you think you’re likely to have.

Then, before you do your evening purification, review your day and see how you did. Then specifically purify your failures; the times you lost it when you said you wouldn’t, for example.

Anyway, there’s loads more on this that could be said, but maybe you get the idea from this summary?

Much love

N.

Discovering Buddhism at Home -FAQ

General Practice Questions (page 1 | 2 | 3)

Could someone tell me how to do light and water offerings without an altar or if I want to make offerings outside?

Can you tell me about the benefits of reciting sutras aloud?

Is it better to read a sutra out loud or is it ok to read it silently?

Are there differences in tantric empowerments between the lineages?

Is it recommended to take tantric empowerments if one knows nothing about the diety and the lama giving the empowerment is not one’s own teacher?

Is it appropriate to discuss our realizations with anyone other than our teachers?

Do you recommend that we keep a meditation journal?

In meditation, how do you get beyond waiting for the next thought to arise?

Is it common for strong emotions to arise during analytic meditation?  It seems counterintuitive somehow.



Could someone tell me how to do light and water offerings without an altar or if I want to make offerings outside?

A student writes:

Hi! Could someone guide me as to how to do light and water offerings in the rest of my house where there is not an altar? Also, can these offerings be done outside? In the daily prayers that I have from FPMT it says to make offerings “according to your capacity”. Can someone explain this?

Merry responds:

We also have an extensive light (or other) offering practice available from
The Foundation Store named Offerings Extensive (Lights and other)

Hope this helps!


Can you tell me about the benefits of reciting sutras aloud?

A student writes:

I’m just curious about the idea of reciting sutras. I can understand the effect that it would have on the person doing the reciting, or even those who might hear the recitation, but how does this affect distant events? The teachings say that even the Buddhas can only teach — that they don’t wash away ignorance with their hands or transfer their realizations directly — so I don’t understand how reciting a text in one place can have a significant effect on beings in another. Maybe I’m just too naive and there is deep wisdom here about the emptiness of things like war?

Thanks!

An elder responds:

Lama Zopa Rinpoche has explained this. He refers to the power of prayer. One of the things that a Buddha has perfected is the power of prayer. This means that if a Buddha makes such and such a prayer – such as “may those who recite these words receive such and such a benefit”….then those who recite those words can karmically hook into the power of that prayer and receive those benefits – of course, they have to have the karma to even want to read the sutra! Of course, the Buddhas pray that all sentient beings will be free from suffering and that hasn’t happened – yet. That is why I think of it as making a karmic link so that a particular prayer can ripen – the Buddha makes the prayer….and then we hook into it karmically by doing this or that – in this case reciting this sutra – and then the benefits can unfold.

Of course, to have war on our planet – to hear about it and be exposed to the suffering situation of it – is also our karma….even if we are not directly experiencing it. For all of us to be born onto the same planet at the same time, there is some collective karma. So, by working on our part of the equation, we can affect the whole situation. And by changing our karma, we change our perception of what is going on…what REALLY IS going on, anyway?

That is my understanding of it….In any case, at the very least, by reciting the sutra with the virtuous motivation to be able to stop the suffering of war and violence – that in itself creates the cause for us to be able to do just that – if not now, then later. It is a both a short term and a long term picture we are considering. Sometimes when these kinds of things seem hard to understand or accept I think to myself….”Well, if it can’t harm and if there is some possibility that it could help, shouldn’t I at least try it?” – and then
approach it as a bit of an experiment to see what happens.

Anyway, hopefully that gives some food for thought. Good question.


Is it better to read a sutra out loud or is it ok to read it silently? 


A student writes:

Is reading a sutra the same as reciting it? I feel odd reading a sutra out loud when I am the only one to hear it. I can feel the power of a sutra by reading it, and I do like to read them, but again, I do feel weird reciting them out loud to myself!

An elder responds:

Here is a quote from Nick in the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive Newsletter regarding
the recitation of sutras:

“It is best to read it out loud (especially if pets or other animals, insects can hear). Reading it silently to yourself is not the way to do it. You should be using your vocal chords, even if it’s just a quiet whisper.”

There are so many unseen creatures who might benefit from hearing the sutra.


Are there differences in tantric empowerments between the lineages?


A student writes:

Properly, this would be a question for our Geshe-la, but since I will not have the opportunity to speak to him before this event, I was hoping someone here might know something about the issue.

There will be a tour of Bhutanese monks coming through our area next week. They are of the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage. HH Dorji Lopen Rinpoche, a Vajra Master and the 2nd highest Lama in the lineage, will be in attendance. In addition to the usual events surrounding monk’s tours (sand mandala construction, dances, teachings, etc.), they are offering some empowerments as well. I am a bit leery of collecting empowerments willy-nilly and like to know what’s up before I make the commitment to undergo one. They are
offering three empowerments: Jambhala, White Tara, and Marpa, Mila, Gampopa (I’m not sure if that last one is three different empowerments or one empowerment with three names). I know nothing of any of the empowerments except White Tara, whom I have a little familiarity with. I would be interested in taking a White Tara empowerment at some point but am not sure if this would be the time. If anyone knows anything about the others, that info would be appreciated.

Does anyone know if there are any differences between empowerments done in the Tibetan tradition compared to the Bhutanese tradition? Would taking this empowerment be the same as taking an empowerment from a follower of the Gelug tradition?

At this point I am leaning toward being safe and waiting until a White Tara empowerment is offered by a tradition I am already committed to. But if there are no differences, there is little reason not to take it now and reaffirm it again later.

Any input would be appreciated.

An elder responds:

There are variations amongst the different lineages of practice -whether they be from Bhutan or from Tibet. Each of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism (Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug) also each has their own lineages of practice and empowerment. In most cases, if you go back far enough, they share lineage lamas. However, the practices have developed in different ways through the centuries. In one respect, a White Tara empowerment from one tradition would be very similar to one from another tradition – however, the practices that are used to help develop that energy that is activated through empowerment may vary.

Other than that, then there is only what I mentioned earlier about empowerment….and anything else that any one may have to add!


Is it recommended to take tantric empowerments if one knows nothing about the deity and the lama giving the empowerment is not one’s own teacher?


A student writes:

This may be a silly question: but is it useful and reasonable to take empowerments without previous knowledge of/training in the particular deity, not from one’s own lama/teacher but somebody else without previous teachings?

An elder responds:

Empowerments are a tricky thing. They establish a very close karmic connection between yourself and the teacher from whom you take them. Also, once you have taken empowerment from a teacher, it is important – necessary – for your own spiritual development to see that person as a Buddha. If you have not already spent some time to check to make sure you can do that, it can be very risky as to break from your teacher is extremely heavy karma. The teacher represents everything that leads you to enlightenment – and once you establish a karmic connection through empowerment, to break with that is like breaking with all that which leads you to enlightenment.

White Tara is a fairly “light weight” tantric practice and sometimes lamas offer it as a blessing, which may relieve you of some of the karmic burden mentioned above, I am not sure. But still, you are bringing that teacher into your more subtle spiritual energetic makeup – so you want to make sure that you want that particular influence!

[Another elder or teacher] may have something more on this from Lama Yeshe as I believe that Lama did speak to this.

Another elder adds:

I think you are right on the mark . . .

And, I would like to add that traditionally, instructions about practices and deities were not given until one had taken the empowerment. This is still true today, especially so for the highest levels of tantra. This makes it doubly important for one to feel completely comfortable to put oneself in the hands of the vajra teacher giving the empowerment.

Much of this will be discussed in the final module on tantra, but empowerments are being offered regularly by many teachers so it is good to have some idea about what you are doing if you decide to take one.

In addition, if life-long recitation commitments are given, it is important to consider the amount of meditation practice you are able to do every day, for the rest of your life, no matter what else is going on.


A student writes:

Thanks for the explanation on empowerments; that is how I had understood it, but I get confused with a number of centers offering empowerments after a two day retreat. How can one check whether one wants that kind of connection with an unknown teacher?

There is another question: in the “Peaceful Stillness of the Silent Mind” Lama Yeshe makes a statement that puzzles me. It is on p.55, answer to the question “What happens during an initiation?”:

“Ideally the mind of the guru and the mind of the disciple merge at the same level. Also, receiving an initiation does not necessitate meeting the guru physically. If you are able to bring the mind up to a certain level, you can initiate yourself. That’s possible.”

How should I understand this?

An elder responds:

For a more detailed discussion of empowerment try Lama Yeshe’s “Introduction to Tantra”, pages 100-104.


Is it appropriate to discuss our realizations with anyone other than our teachers?

A student writes:

Should we discuss or realizations here? Are realizations meant to be kept to ourselves?

Nick Ribush responds:

With all due respect, do you know what a realization is, from the Dharma point of view? Realizations of the path are not easy to gain. I recall being at a Kopan course many years ago and Lama Zopa Rinpoche surveying the assembled Western horde, some 200 strong, and observing, “If only one person here realizes the perfect human rebirth in this lifetime it will be a wonderful thing.” Something like that. And that’s just about the first realization of the entire path, supposedly one of the easier ones to achieve.

Much love,

n

Thubten Yeshe responds:

Further to Nick’s sage remarks…

Let’s think about what we mean by ‘realization.’ In the Tibetan teachings two kinds of experiences are identified – let’s call them insights and realizations.

Insights (in Tibetan, nyam) are those ‘Ah Ha! Moments’ we have sometimes as we work our way through the LamRim as both intellectual and a deeper level of understanding grow. I suspect that they grow in both subtlety and profundity as we travel along the path.

Realizations (Tibetan, tog-pa) are by their very nature a different level of experience altogether.

The difference between these two is determined by the impact the experience has on us. Realizations are definitely transformative; they bring about radical change in how we think and how we lead our lives. Realizations don’t diminish. Insights, on the other hand, have much less impact. Though they may lead to transformation they are not, in and of themselves, transformative.

I can’t speak for others, but for myself I think I have had many insights in thirty years of pretending to practice Dharma, but realizations…well, I don’t think so. Have I changed? Of course, in many ways quite radically. But, when I read the LamRim texts that actually tell me something about the nature of the realizations that occur when we really do the
meditations…well, in Lama Yeshe’s immortal words: Long way to go, baby!

Those insights are important; they are what keep us going, the knowledge that we are making progress. Should we discuss them? I think it is a good thing to do because that is one way that we can confirm the validity of those experiences. It is possible to imagine that we have an understanding of something, but when we discuss it with our teachers or fellow student we might learn that we are off track. One of the great benefits for you who are studying in some isolation from Dharma centers, teachers and other practitioners is this DB Bulletin Board. Here we can ‘try out’ our insights and get some feedback. That will help us make progress steadily, without so many diversions into unproductive areas.

Best wishes,
Thubten Yeshe


Do you recommend that we keep a meditation journal?


A student writes:

I’m curious what our Buddhist teachers and lamas views are on journal writing. This type of writing often contains lots of thinking and intellectualizing, ruminating about the past, expresses wishes for the future, sometimes fantasies are expressed.

Opinions?

I’ve started a mediation journal, which is similar but not identical to journal writing. I think it’d be interesting to track how my meditations go over a period of time.

Thubten Yeshe responds:

I don’t do it regularly, but have done it off and on over the years. I do recommend it to students – a study and meditation journal, not a rumination journal.

It is a useful tool for tracking progress (or the lack thereof), noting questions and doubts, and so forth. Many years ago when I was a new student, I got quite stuck with my meditation. I went to one of my teachers who questioned me about what was happening. After he had listened patiently to my whole sorry saga, he said: But, you have had some good experiences haven’t you? I had to admit that I had, to which he replied: USE THAT!

Sometimes when we are having a particularly difficult time, going back to our journal to remind ourselves that we ‘have had some good experiences’ is very useful. Seeing clearly from our writing what progress we have made is also good for keeping us motivated. A Dharma journal can become another way to engage in reflective (analytical) meditation.

A ‘rumination journal’ can become a place for wallowing in your old stuff, without actually doing anything about it. That’s what we do now, just watch your thoughts if you don’t believe me.

Enjoy,
Thubten Yeshe


In meditation, how do you get beyond waiting for the next thought to arise?


A student writes:

. . . I was reading Bruce Newman’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism” today and something he had mentioned about meditation sessions kicked me in the butt… about grasping subtle thoughts during meditation. How I during my sessions I am spending time thinking about when a thought is going to appear! Anticipating, waiting. “O.k., so now when the next thought comes… acknowledge it and let it go”. Creating another thought, totally defeating the purpose of the whole processes of being in the moment. How do you get beyond that? I guess I should go back to my tried and true method of breath counting until I get the concentration level strong enough to drop the counting? What I’m doing on my daily practice is alternating one morning silent meditation, one morning with guided DB meditation the next and my evening meditation is the short vajrasattva practice. I feel i need to both Lam Rim type meditation along with concentration.


Thubten Yeshe responds:


The thought anticipating the next thought IS the next thought. Just noting that will change the dynamic. You are always ‘creating’ the next thought.

Don’t count, just watch!

A little bit of silent watching before every meditation can be quite useful. And, a bit of LamRim every day – either meditating, or reflecting, or study – is also a good lifetime habit to get into. (I’m talking to myself here! Excuse me. But, good for all of you too.)

Above all have fun,
Thubten Yeshe


Is it common for strong emotions to arise during analytic meditation?  It seems counterintuitive somehow.


A student writes:

Speaking of the emotional pain that can come up as a result of meditation, I wonder if you could clarify something. I practiced vipassana meditation for several years before discovering the Tibetan Buddhist path we are studying here. I went through various stages such as intense rage/pain/grief for months on end (both on and off the cushion) as well as stages where I felt as if my heart were wide open, friendly and loving towards all of life (almost “in love” with all beings, if that makes sense).

Is this a fairly normal experience even for those of us focusing on analytical meditations? I ask this because in the vipassana tradition there is more emphasis on noticing how we feel (or at least there seems to be), and I wonder if those who regularly practice lamrim meditations have a similar kind of experience.

In lovingkindness,

Thubten Yeshe responds:

Firstly, I’m not sure that we can say these emotional states come up ‘as a result of meditation.’ They are there, in the mind. In meditation the mind become more intent on mindfulness, regardless of whether you are doing Theravadin Vipassana, LamRim or tantric deity yoga meditation. It is impossible to do any kind of meditation without mindfulness.

And, yes, I thin that we all go through periods in our practice of emotional turmoil. Perhaps some of the other Elders would like to comment on this.

The point in Vipassana is to understanding working of the mind, to develop mindfulness to the point that you can see beyond, so to speak, beyond the chattering mind that masks our buddha nature.

Spiritual practice in general brings up the stuff from our past. Meditation gives us the tools to recognize the flimsy nature of this stuff that we attribute such importance to; and it give us the tools to transform it.

Best wishes,
t.y.

Discovering Buddhism at Home -FAQ

General Technical Questions



I’ve a computer question that I’m hoping one of you may know the answer to.

If anyone is interested in downloading Tibetan fonts for their Wish Fulfilling Golden Sun, the following link provided free software compatible for Windows and Mac.

I have been trying to sign into my account since last night to pay for my order. Each time I try to sign in, I get the new user screen. In other words, I put the info in to sign on, and the next thing I get is the new user screen.

Do we need to do both the required and suggested readings in order to complete a module? I may not be able to purchase all the titles right now.


A student writes:

I’ve a computer question that I’m hoping one of you may know the answer to.

Since I felt overwhelmed by the number of emails this newsgroup was putting into my inbox, I went into Yahoo and had them sent it in daily digest form. I don’t know if this was the cause but I’ve noticed that sometimes in place of where the message should be is the line “[This message is not in displayable format]” and the message is missing. This seems to happen more with some people than others. (It happens a lot with Dallas’ messages). In order to read the messages I have to go back into Yahoo and look it up. Since this is a bit of a pain. I am hoping that someone out there knows what is causing it and how to fix it.

Mark Gerrard responds:

The problem of some messages not showing up in the Daily Digest seems to be a result of the messages being sent in HTML format rather than as plain text. This only seems to be a problem when you select the Daily Digest option. I’ve changed a setting in the group to not allow attachments so hopefully that will fix things. Let me know on the above address if you still have problems.

Best wishes,
Mark



A student writes:

If anyone is interested in downloading Tibetan fonts for their Wish Fulfilling Golden Sun, the following link provided free software compatible for Windows and Mac.

http://members.aol.com/tib4win/download.htm


A student writes:

I have been trying to sign into my account since last night to pay for my order. Each time I try to sign in, I get the new user screen. In other words, I put the info in to sign on, and the next thing I get is the new user screen.

Answer:

The machine that fails to get the correct result is Win XP Pro Service Pack 1 with Norton Internet Suite. Thanks to your tips, I manage to trace the problem. Norton AntiVirus is not causing any issue. You will need to perform either of the 3 methods below to show information correctly :

1) Turning off Privacy Control in Norton Internet Security

2) Clicking Configure for Privacy Control followed by Clicking on Advance button in Privacy Control and Clicking on Permit for Information about visited sites rather than Block.

3) Clicking Configure for Privacy Control followed by Clicking on Advance button in Privacy Control. Then click Add Site to add fpmt.org and Select the fpmt.org created to Click Permit for Information about visited sites rather than Use default settings.




Do we need to do both the required and suggested readings in order to complete a module? I may not be able to purchase all the titles right now.

A student asks:

I have a Question. The list for suggested reading seems quite long. Are the “suggested readings” compulsory for completing the module? What I mean, are they also included in the Assessment/Completion Card, and you have to read each and every one of them for completion? What I mean is it could incur a lot of money for me to purchase every of those books. Kindly advice.


Merry replies:

For every module you’ll see what is called “required readings” and “suggested readings”. In truth nothing is absolutely required in this program. Everything that is labeled “required” is only for the student who is following this program for a certificate. That is a choice that each student can make at any point along the way. If and when you decide you would like to receive a certificate of completion for this program then all of the requirements must be fulfilled. You will see with each module that you have a “completion card”, which outlines all the requirements to be completed in the module. These requirements can be completed at any time. So for example, if you now start module 1 but cannot afford to buy the required reading (Liberation in the Palm of your Hand) you can complete all the other requirements for this module now (the teachings, meditations, integration practices, and even the assessment questions) and then do the required reading at a later point when you can get the book.

The suggested readings are ones which we have identified as helpful and relevant to each of the given topics. They are a reference list provided for you, for your benefit only. And of course the list is by no means complete, as there are new books coming out all the time.


Discovering Buddhism at Home -FAQ

Module 14 – Special Integration Experiences (page 1 | 2)



Could you give me some guidance on the 35 Buddhas prostration practice and the Vajrasattva purification practice?

Could you give me some guidance on the 35 Buddhas prostration practice and the Vajrasattva purification practice?

A student asks:

What do I need in order to do the Discovering Buddhism Module 14 Integration Requirement? I don’t plan on making a lifetime commitment at this point, but I do want to get the Certificate of Completion.

Please clarify for me exactly what needs to be done for the 35 Buddhas prostrations and the Vajrasattva mantra practice, only to meet the completion requirement of module 14.

I’m very new to, and exploring Tibetan Buddhism right now, so l need very specific guidance.


Another student answers:

I’d say we ALL need specific guidance! :) What you need to do in order to “properly” do the Module 14 requirements is to really have, or simply want to work to have, the conviction deep inside that every single sentient being needs you to do those practices for them to get out of Samsara and that all those purification practices are absolutely necessary for you to help even one sentient being escape the awful existence that is Samsara, much less the “whole lot” of the sentient beings that you want to help. The rest is “just details”. (Details that happen to be given to us by very kind folk so we aren’t flailing in the dark, so to speak. ) Lama Zopa Rinpoche often remarks that one prostration done with the right attitude (bodhicitta) is worth a “gazillion” (my paraphrase) of prostrations doing in a rote manner, just reeling them off.

That attitude is something that you can develop and you can help the development of that attitude by studying the Dharma and doing the prostrations. That attitude can be gained by studying the subject matter of the Lam-Rim, which is exactly what the db@home Program teaches and the purification practices taught in the db@home Program. So, the two go hand-in-hand, so to speak, and each practice, one of learning and other of purification, helps the other get better. Either practice, learning or purification, can be done alone, but it’ll be like trying to making gallons of lemonade without either the lemons or the water, or trying to keep the right proportions so it tastes best (so folk will drink it?) even as you are making it. (There’s gotta be a better analogy out there…)

Every thing you do in the Modules will prepare the foundation that you will need for the Module 14 Integration Practices. Actually, each Module’s materials will pretty much start you out on the practices done in Mod. 14 so that you will already have significant experience with the Module 14 practices when you start the actual Module or be giving you great advice as you go. Unless you have a Center near-by, it might be sometime before you are able to receive (or go to receive) the empowerments for the practices. The practices, as I understand them, can be done without empowerments, but the empowerments (the initiations into the practices) will help those practices immensely.

You note that you don’t plan on making “lifetime commitment at this point”, at this point. That’s fair enough. Sounds like you are taking careful steps. I am not sure, though, what “commitment” you are referring to. Buddhism? The course? The certificate will have no value with out a “commitment” of some sort and if you develop a real commitment, the certificate will simply be a step on the Path.

Hope this helps some.


Thubten Yeshe replies:

I couldn’t have said this better. Good advice for all.


Merry Colony adds:

Again, apologies if this has already been answered, but because there are many opinions about what one can and cannot be practiced with Vajrasattva I will mention here what Lama Zopa Rinpoche says and what you will find within our “The Preliminary Practice of Vajrasattva” book where all the references are clearly made:

According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche one can practice both the solitary Vajrasattva and also the Vajrasattva with consort without empowerment. One can also recite the Vajrasattva mantra or the Heruka Vajrasattva mantra without empowerment. What one cannot do is visualize oneself as the deity without empowerment. Also it is always better to receive the oral transmission of this or any practice, though that is not mandatory.


Discovering Buddhism at Home -FAQ

Module 14 – Special Integration Experiences (page 1 | 2)

Should I begin by practicing Confession of Moral Downfalls or Vajrasattva practice?  Also, could you tell me more about supporting materials for these practices available through FPMT?

Help!  I’m confused about the Confession of Moral Downfalls practice.  Do we prostrate during the confession prayer as well as to the buddhas?  How do we count these prostrations if we are working towards a certain number?

During the Confession of Moral Downfalls practice, when we confess to having caused others to engage in negative acts, does this help to purify their negative karma as well as our own?

If we have physical problems like a bum knee, can we still fulfill our commitment to do 100,000 prostrations?

How can I learn more about Vajrasattva so I can deepen my Vajrasattva purification practice?

When we are doing purification practices, what exactly are we purifying?

What kind of state of mind should we cultivate during the Confessions of Moral Downfalls purification practice?  Is it ok to feel gratitude and love towards the buddhas?

Is it ok to recite the Vajrasattva 100-syllable mantra silently?

I have been noticing certain physical sensations during Vajrasattva recitation.  Sometimes I feel very hot.  Why is this?

Could the elders share any experiences or insights they have had while doing purification practices?

What kind of obstacles can arise during purification practice?

How can one work up to doing prostrations so to avoid hurting themselves?

If we are in a bad mood, is it better to do our prostrations half-heartedly than not do them at all?

Is it common for purification practices to bring to the surface feelings of fear or anxiety or other strong emotions?

Can you tell me more about Nyung Na retreats?

Is it ok to read the book Becoming Vajrasattva even if we haven’t received initiation and oral commentary from a qualified vajra master?

In what order should we approach the materials and practices contained in Module 14?

Can you explain a few details in the Vajrasattva visualization?



Should I begin by practicing Confession of Moral Downfalls or Vajrasattva practice?  Also, could you tell me more about supporting materials for these practices available through FPMT?

A student writes:

Merry,

While I may be able to swing other retreats at a later date, it is obvious to me that I must do the “Confession of Moral Downfalls” and Vajrasattva purification practices at home.

I have a few questions:

Does it matter which practice you begin with?

I notice that the support materials for the moral downfalls practice comes with PC-based support. Is there MAC-based support available, or at least a CD recording of the practice available anywhere (especially if it is in Tibetan)?

Is there a CD recording of the Vajrasattva practice or at least of the long mantra available anywhere? This is the first practice Geshe Jhampa gave me at Deer Park and I¹ve memorized the mantra, hopefully pronouncing it correctly, but I¹d love to check . . .

Also a question about the videos:

Are they primarily just video versions of the recordings and readings we already have, or are they supplemental?

Also, earlier you had mentioned that there might be a DVD version available. Is that still true, or should I go for the VHS version when it comes out?


Merry responds:

It does not matter which of these two practices that you begin with. In the past Lama Yeshe would have had his students do Vajrasattva right off the bat, to get some of the karmic obstacles purified so that we could continue to hear the dharma I suppose. But more recently Lama Zopa advises many people to begin their prostrations right off the bat. SO.. whatever suits you and whichever you have the inclination for is where you should begin.

RE: support materials for Vajrasattva and Prostrations: We have on The Foundation Store (shop.fpmt.org) an audio CD of Kendall leading the Short Vajrasattva meditation. This CD will also be helpful for Module 6 (karma) and Module 8 (Establishing a Daily Practice), where the practice of Vajrasattva is done, but for those who are tackling your Module 14 integration practice of Vajrasattva and who need help with pronunciation or just want the help of an audio guide, here it is!!! You will find it on the CDs, DVDs and Videos page of the shop (Vajrasattva, A Short Practice, Item #E-VJCD). Also on the store is an Educ Dept booklet called The Preliminary Practice of Vajrasattva that contains several VS practices of different lengths for your different needs, commentary by Lama Zopa, and instructions for how to do this practice daily or in a retreat setting. It is highly advisable to get this booklet for help and support (item #E-VPG).

For your practice of prostrations to the 35 Buddhas we also have an audio CD and booklet to help you. The booklet, called The Bodhisattvas Confession of moral Downfalls extensive contains the practice as well as commentary by Lama Zopa Rinpoche on how to make prostrations, how to visualize, how to do the confession prayer and what each of the 35 Buddhas purifies (item # E-CMDG). The audio CD of the same name takes you through the practice from motivation to dedication and is a very helpful tool for learning the names of the Buddhas (Confession of Moral Downfalls CD, Item # E-35BCD).

The videos are supplementary material. Each of the 13 subject videos is introduced by Richard Gere or Keanu Reeves. Following the introduction are 1-2 Tibetan teachers on the subjects including His Holiness Dalai Lama, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Ribur Rinpoche, Chodon Rinpoche and more. Following that are 1-2 Western teachers on the subject including Thubten Chodron, Robina Courtin, Sangye Khadro and more. Following that are 1-2 students being interviewed on the subject. The videos are an excellent supplement to the program and also an excellent thing to show someone who is not quite sure what this Buddhism stuff is all about as they are very accessible with various teachers and not too long. I highly recommend them! The series is also now available in DVD

Hope this helps!!

Love,
merry


Help!  I’m confused about the Confession of Moral Downfalls practice.  Do we prostrate during the confession prayer as well as to the buddhas?  How do we count these prostrations if we are working towards a certain number?


A student writes:

I wanted to introduce myself. I just joined the list and have also just started Module 1 (which I am thoroughly enjoying!) I have been practicing in the Kagyu tradition recently, primarily meditation, contemplations, Tong-Len, Chenrezig and Green Tara. I discovered this program and knew immediately it was for me. I am grateful for this list. Anyhoo…

As I mentioned, I am working on Module 1, but I also want to get started on my prostrations; however, I’m totally confused on the process. I bought the booklet “The Bodhisattva’s Confession of Moral Downfalls”, but I don’t get it. For example, do I prostrate first with
the refuge prayer, then to the 35 Confession Buddhas, then to the 7 Medicine Buddha’s. Does each of these prostrations count as 1 prostration (in terms of the 100,000 prostration goal) or is this whole group of prostrations count as one? And what relationship do the Confession Prayers have to the prostrations? How do they fit in; before the prostrations, after, during every session?

I went to the FPMT FAQ on their website and couldn’t find anything on these questions. Is there a more comprehensive book that outlines this practice? A Website?

Any assistance would be appreciated. Thank you.


Kendall responds:

Probably best is to get the more extensive spiral bound booklet: “The Bodhisattva’s Confession of Moral Downfalls – Extensive” – this has very specific guidelines for how to complete the 100,000 prostrations, how to count them, a commentary on the practice by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, etc.

In brief, yes, you do prostrate while reciting the refuge prayer, the 35 Confession Buddhas and the 7 Medicine Buddhas. Traditionally 100,000 includes 10% extra to make up for any mistakes, broken concentration, etc. So, if you prostrate in this way, your 10% is automatically woven into the practice! You mainly count the prostrations to the Buddhas. If you do three prostrations to
each Buddha, then with each “round”, you do well over 100 – so you count that as 100 (with your 10% included) and go from there.

As I mentioned, I would HIGHLY recommend that you get the practice booklet referred to above. We compiled it especially for DB students ready to do their special integration experiences.

You can see the booklet at:
http://shop.fpmt.org/Prostrations-The-Preliminary-Practice-of-Prostrations_p_506.html

Welcome.

Ven. Constance Miller responds:

Dear Karmen,

Just to add a note to Kendall’s excellent advice and input …

There is also an excellent book available from Wisdom Publications entitled “Everlasting Rain of Nectar” by Geshe Jampa Gyatso, one of the most eminent geshes in the FPMT. The book is also an extensive commentary on the practice of prostrations to the 35 Confession Buddhas. I strongly recommend it …it’s a wonderful resource. Geshe Jampa Gyatso is a superb teacher.

Happy prostrating!

Warmly,
Connie


During the Confession of Moral Downfalls practice when we confess to having caused others to engage in negative acts, does this help to purify their negative karma as well as our own?


A student writes:

. . . I’ve been doing the Confession of Moral Downfalls practice. And a part of the confession prayers has struck me. When the prayer talks of a negative action, it is said like this [paraphrasing]: “whatever negative action I have done, caused others to do, or rejoiced in the doing of…” I guess I had only been thinking about my own actions and how they harm or help others, but I never considered that my actions might cause others to do negative actions. But now, I see it so clearly.

So here’s my question. As I am purifying my own negative karma, is it possible that the purification might have any effect on any person I caused to do a negative action? I know the other person is responsible for their own conditioned mind, no matter what the external factor, but it would be nice if there was something I could. Now, I can do many things in the moment, when I catch myself; but I can’t even remember all the millions of times I’ve done this over
the aeons of my lifetimes.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Thanks.


Thubten Yeshe responds:

Causing others to do negative actions refer to actions done when we order, request or pay someone to do a negative act on our behalf. For example, hiring a hit man (or woman) to knock off someone who is creating a problem for us.

It doesn’t refer to the influence that our negativities may have, unintentionally, on another.

You are correct to think that you cannot purify another’s negative karma. But, your purification may have a positive effect or influence on those around you. Not because you speak about your positive state of mind or the purification that you are doing, but because you are a different person, relating to the world in a new, fresh and cleaner way.

Best wishes,
Thubten Yeshe


Ven. Constance Miller responds:

Thanks for your insightful question.

Actually, the phrase in the Confession prayer that you have mentioned refers to our actually requesting someone else to engage in a negative action, such as when someone asks you to lie, or when we ask someone else (like a butcher) to slaughter and animal for us on a certain day when we are having a big party. There is conscious action taking place on the part of the asker that causes the person asked to engage in non-virtue. Even though we only do the asking, we receive the full effect of the negative action ourselves, because we caused someone else to engage in the action. This is not the same as indirectly serving as a condition by which others may be led into Non-virtuous action, without our being aware of it. That’s out of our control, there is no “intention” on our part involved in such an instance, and so it is not what is being referred to here.

However, when we purify, we are purifying only our own minds … not the minds of those whom we have caused to engage in non-virtue. We can certainly practice tong-len with the motivation to take on their suffering; we can pray to be able to meet those individuals in the future, to teach them the Dharma, so that they too can purify their own minds and their negative karmas. When we practice guru yoga, such as the Daily Meditation Practice of Shakyamuni Buddha, at the end we “become” Buddha and send out light to purify all living beings. In those moments, we can remember all those beings whom we have affected adversely and purify them especially. We can do all those things in our practice. But when we purify, we purify only our own minds and our own negative karma. By doing that, however, we also purify the world, because where else does the world come from but from our minds!

Hope that helps.

Warmly,
Connie


If we have physical problems like a bum knee, can we still fulfill our commitment to do 100,000 prostrations?


A student writes:

[I have a] quick question concerning the prostrations. I am starting to memorize and prepare for my 100,000 prostrations daily process. I hate even saying this because I sound like I’m wimping out! LOL.

But I have a bum right knee and I don’t know if I can do sessions of full prostrations of getting up and standing upright after each prostration. If you have physical limitations is it ok to remain
kneeling and doing the five point prostrations? I know that the old lineage bearer’s till the day they died did full prostrations, but of it comes to the point where my knee cant do it anymore is it as effective doing it that way?

Kendall responds:

Thanks for your email on the prostrations. This question was recently asked to Lama Zopa Rinpoche by another DB student who was asking about this particular practice as she has physical limitations. Rinpoche’s answer was the following:

“Rinpoche said that if they physically can’t do prostrations then they can recite 35 Buddhas names 100,000x with their hands in the mudra of prostration and must visualize many hundreds of bodies prostrating, or their body as very large. Make prostrations to the altar, all Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, statues, stupas, and scriptures in all directions and in this way recite the names.”

Rinpoche added that if they do the visualization well it can be even more meritorious than doing the physical prostration, because of doing the visualization much better.”

So, hopefully this will answer your question. Perhaps just do a few full length prostrations and then visualize the rest until your knee is feeling better, or just as your prostration technique in general! It is better to get up all the way rather than stay down as getting up symbolizes bringing all beings up from the lower realms, so good to get out of there all the way!

For those of you wondering where [the student] got the idea to do this practice, the practice of 100,000 prostrations was specifically recommended by Rinpoche for DB students to do to complete their course, together with 100,000 Vajrasattva mantras, and Nyung Ne practice. So, this part of DB has very special blessings from Rinpoche for DB students. It is part of Module 14: Special Integration Experiences . . .

I am assuming you already have the spiral bound glossy book that describes in great detail not only how to do this practice but also gives commentary, as well as some guidelines for how to complete 100,000 either in retreat or as a daily practice. For those of you not familiar with this, please see:

http://shop.fpmt.org/Prostrations-The-Preliminary-Practice-of-Prostrations_p_506.html

Thanks for your enthusiasm . . . Just do the best you can and enjoy!

Sincerely,
Kendall Magnussen (elder)

Nick Ribush adds:

First, five-point prostrations also involve standing up–you don’t do them kneeling. The five points are your lower limbs (knees and feet on the ground), hands and forehead.

So, if your knee is only temporarily bum, maybe you can do some other preliminaries first, while it recovers–like 100,000 Vajrasattva mantras, 100,000 mandala offerings, 100,000 refuges,
100,000 mik-tse-mas or whatever. If it’s permanently out of commission, maybe you can do those other ones first anyway and perhaps it will recover.

Much love

n


How can I learn more about Vajrasattva so I can deepen my Vajrasattva purification practice?


A student writes:

Just trying to develop an infrastructural routine with meditation and was wondering if the Vajrasattva Purification that includes the four opponent powers as explained by Kathleen McDonald in “How to Meditate” by Lama Zopa Rinpoche would be a good one to do every night (better or perhaps more powerful than the more simple version supplied in mod.2. text)? The sitting one for now by the way. Also does anyone know where I might read the story or history/biography of Vajrasattva so as to better understand etc. the origin of this meditation?

I need a powerful purification. Amazing how many times I catch myself out in a day (a result of finally heeding the advice of starting the day with meditation, it really does make a difference to the mindset throughout the day)! Glad I decided to check up on that one!

Nick Ribush responds:

To know more about the Vajrasattva practice, please see LamaYeshe’s “Becoming Vajrasattva”:

http://www.wisdompubs.org/Pages/display.lasso?-KeyValue=32852&-Token.Action=Search&image=1

Lama Zopa’s “Teachings from the Vajrasattva Retreat” (you can also read it on-line; Jason, you can get a copy from Mandala Books, Melbourne):

http://www.lamayeshe.com/zencart/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=22&products_id=156

And you can get Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s “Daily Purification” little pocket book (fits in shirt pocket) for free from the LYWA:

http://www.lamayeshe.com/zencart/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=22&products_id=86

nxx


When we are doing purification practices, what exactly are we purifying?


A student writes:

On purification…the stains are adventitious and do not affect our Buddha nature and because mind is fluid and impermanent the stains can be removed. A choice is made with each single mind moment, however because of our ignorance sometimes we make wrong choices. That moment is gone, leaving an impression in our mind stream.

So we can begin the purification process by making right decisions but it seems to me this is on a superficial level. What about at the deeper levels? There is Buddha nature and there are stains which are impermanent. Buddha nature is permanent and all pervasive, the essence, and if everything arises from that then what are we purifying? Also, if we are watching our mind stream and a negative thought arises…if we don’t give it energy, if we don’t grasp it but let it go, does it leave any karmic impression on our mind?

The questions come from this space. There are times in meditation when there is no sense of an I who is meditating and nothing that is to be meditated on. The gross senses withdraw and one finds oneself in open space. Sometimes without eyes one can see things and sometimes not. There seems to be no one that needs to be purified and there is no sense of attachment, aversion or any of the other mental afflictions present in this state or so it seems (this too might be delusion) Hope you understand, I’m a really a poor explainer.

Thubten Yeshe reponds:

Yes, you are right we do begin on relatively superficial levels, working to purify the relatively grosser levels of delusion. But, as we work our way through those you will begin naturally to go more deeply into more subtle stuff.

Be patient with the process. It’s like cleaning windows that are very dirty. Sometimes you have to go over them two or three times to get them really sparkling; it is similar with our obscurations and the pristine underlying clear light mind.

Best wishes,
Thubten Yeshe


What kind of state of mind should we cultivate during the Confessions of Moral Downfalls purification practice?  Is it ok to feel gratitude and love towards the buddhas?


A student writes:

I have question for the elders regarding the mental attitude we should have during purification practices, specifically the 35 Buddhas practice.

Is it appropriate, in addition to recognizing that we are in the process of purifying negative karma, to think of gratitude towards the Buddhas as we bow; and is it appropriate to, in addition to feeling that we are being purified, to feel that we are also being filled with positive qualities such as wisdom, compassion, and love?

I also wonder, for those of us who still have a hard time wrapping our minds around the idea of purifying eons of negative karma, if anyone could comment on the psychological benefit, if any, of these practices?

Thubten Yeshe responds:

Yes and yes. Gratitude is wonderful, not to mention good for your mind. Purified is what you should feel, COMPLETELY purified. And, COMPLETELY filled with the positive qualities you seek.

Remember the quote from Lama Yeshe (Module 1): Transformation (purification) is to actualize the positive; that’s all.

While it is essential to recognize and acknowledge the negativities that we want to transform, we don’t need to dwell on them. Our focus needs to be on that positive transformation; so, it is very important to have in mind where you want to go. For example, if you are working to transform anger that arises continually in certain situations, you also need to identify what you want to experience in those situations instead of anger – perhaps it is patience, perhaps loving-kindness or some other positive state of mind that acts as the antidote to your anger. Reflect on that quality – how it will feel, how will your experience of the situation that triggers your anger change. Then, when you are filled with light from the buddhas, when the buddhas dissolve into you, imagine that that positive quality is realized within you. Really feel it.

All of these practices – 35 Buddhas, Vajrasattva, Meditation on the Buddha – are about transforming our minds. They are about becoming a buddha; actualizing our own buddha nature and becoming the pure expression of that buddha nature in every aspect of our lives. So, each time you do the practice, sincerely and with effort, a bit of that old karmic baggage falls away, whether you realize it or not, whether you have an experience of change or not. Is there a positive psychological effect? Of course there is. You’re pointed in the right direction, there has to be. But, more importantly there is a spiritual effect, you are moving closer to enlightenment and change is happening. Often that change is quite subtle, almost unnoticeable, until something occurs that graphically illustrates that it has happened . . .

Actualize the positive, that’s all!

Thubten Yeshe


Is it ok to recite the Vajrasattva 100-syllable mantra silently?


A student writes:

In doing the daily practice of the Vajrasattva recitation practice 100,000 count, is it necessary to verbalize the mantra? Reason being last night I had a interesting experience. I usually start out the mantra at a normal volume then slowly bring it down to a whisper as I speed up the repetition to get through my count. I try to at least 108 before bedtime. Last night as I was visualizing the white nectar flowing from Vajrasattva down through my central channel and out my pores, I started to speed up the mantra. It got to the point where the mantra took over and my vocal cords could not keep up with it. So I stopped verbalizing it and repeated it in my head, keeping count with my mala. The visualization again became so strong that the mantra became one with the stream and my mind could not keep up with the speed of the “vibration” so now it was like the mantra was coming out as “one packet” or “endless sound stream” where my mind was not even part of the process! I hope that makes sense. So I had to back away from the process and just allow it to “be”. Is this common? I finally got the point where I must have had a samsaric thought and realized what was happening. Then proceeded to do my regular counts. I just found that to be very interesting!

Thubten Yeshe responds:

There are three ways to recite mantras: chanting or repeating aloud, sub-vocal recitation and mental recitation.

Chanting needs no explanation.

Sub-vocal recitation is a whispered recitation that is so quiet that someone sitting next to you would not hear it, but it is still vocalized, spoken. Each syllable is recited. If you sit next to someone who is chanting in this way and lean over so you can hear it, it sounds a bit like the buzz or hum of a bee. The mantra is recited in this way very fast. But, a certain level of concentration is required for this to happen, so we get faster as we become more adept in the meditations and visualizations, and as our concentration deepens.

Sub-vocal recitation is the most common way that we are taught to use mantra in meditation. Vajrasattva is no exception. I have only ever heard teachings that recommend that type of recitation in this practice. But, there may be exceptions, and perhaps the other Elders may want to comment.

There are times in tantric practice where mental recitation is used, but there are also some tantras where it is specifically recommended not to use it. Others it is OK. So, it is best to refer to the specific practice for advice in this area.

Hope this is helpful,
best wishes,
Thubten Yeshe

Kendall adds:

If all three “doors” – body, speech, and mind – are engaged, then the virtuous action is more powerful. So, it does have an affect if you don’t actually vocalize the mantras. I asked this to Lama Zopa Rinpoche once wondering if just mentally “reciting” my commitments and such still counted as fulfilling them.

Rinpoche responded that, yes, it did fulfill them but I would miss out on the power of creating virtue with my speech and why wouldn’t I want to include that as well?

Best is to include all three body, speech, and mind for the most power-packed virtue. We need all the help we can get! I am aware that at certain advanced stages of meditation, mental recitation can activate some more subtle aspects of our energetic body and so in that case, it might be more affective in helping to withdraw the mind to more subtler levels. For most of us that are not so advanced, best it to get as much “bang for our buck” as we can out of the practices we do…at least that is how I understood Rinpoche’s advice.

Lots of love,
Kendall (elder)


I have been noticing certain physical sensations during Vajrasattva recitation.  Sometimes I feel very hot.  Why is this?   


A student writes:

This is going to sound kind of weird: When I have been doing the Vajrasattva practice at night as I normally do; several things have become noticeable.

One is that while I’ve been chanting the Vajrasattva mantra I feel an intense heat come over me. Where is that coming from? Also, that it feels like I’m melting into the mantra.

I don’t understand this. It has been going on for the past two months now, and I don’t know what it is in particular. I do feel afterwards very Purified and calm like a gentle rain has fallen and made me clean.


Cameron Hahn responds:

I do not think that we should attach an idea of importance to the physical changes and special experiences that we may notice during these practices. You are merely becoming aware of the purifying powers that these practices bring. Removing negativity that has yet to ripen will bring many changes. It’s great when you can see the changes. Feeling the burning off of these
negative seeds is usually taken as a good sign but try to let it pass without judgment, just knowing that it is.

Tashi Delek,
Cam (elder)


Could the elders share any experiences or insights they have had while doing purification practices?


A student writes:

We had a little discussion some time back about the purpose and place of purification practices such as prostrations, etc.

I wonder if any of the elders in the group would be willing to share any insights or advice regarding these practices with those of us who are just beginning this path? How have these practices been of help to you or to those you know? How have Western practitioners made these
practices “real” and helpful?

Kendall responds:

The idea behind purification practices is that our mind’s basic nature is pure and blissful. What prevents us from experiencing it this way? The defilements of misknowing the nature of reality and the actions we have engaged in with our body, speech, and mind for countless lifetimes under the influence of this knowledge. Because of the presence of so many “bad habits” of body, speech, and mind, it is difficult for us to gain realizations on the path. This negative karmic residue also makes it difficult for the seeds of wisdom and compassion within us to grow and blossom. Our minds are currently like an unkept garden, full of weeds and stones and not so conducive for healthy plants to grow. When we purify, we clean up the field.

It is for these reasons that purification is said to be absolutely essential for gaining realizations on the path of spiritual awakening and why one of the great Tibetan Masters, Pabongka Rinpoche, actually said it was more important to purify and to accumulate merit (positive energy through virtuous actions) than it is to meditate! It is the power of our purification practices and the power
of our well-intentioned virtuous actions that allows our meditation practice to
come to fruition.

For myself, I first entered into the practices of prostrations and Vajrasattva mantras as a bit of an experiment. I figured if these practices did actually work, it was certainly worth the investment of my time and energy and if they didn’t work, well, it wasn’t too much of a loss and I would learn something about myself in the process regardless! I found these retreats to be unsurpassable in terms of clearing away psycho-spiritual garbage that was definitely mucking up the lines of communication between my aspiring spiritual self and my guides in the spiritual life – both internal and external. Almost 400,000 prostrations and 200,000 Vajrasattva mantras later (amongst other purification practices), I am still greatly inspired to keep going!

There is a definite positive affect on both the body and the mind and once you get a taste of how these practices “work” through personal experience, it is not difficult to keep going, except of course for the occasional distracted periods of life or when there is the need to lighten up a bit as the energy is coming too strongly, which definitely happens. These practices are very profound and sometimes we forget to connect the fact that a lot of inner material is getting stirred up because we are reciting this one mantra everyday, but that’s exactly what is happening.

Anyway, those are a few thoughts in response to your question about what is the place and purpose of purification practices. They are essential at the beginning, the middle, all the way to the final attainment of enlightenment. They clear away internal and external obstacles and make the going much, much easier. In addition, they are the absolutely best preparation for our death
time which is really the only thing in life we can most definitely count on……that we will die. As such, it is good to make peace with ourselves and the mistakes we have made in this life and other lives through purification, and prepare the way for better lives of spiritual awakening to come. Purification is the real life insurance policy!

Hope that helps!

With love in Dharma,

Kendall


What kind of obstacles can arise during purification practice?


A student writes:

I have a question regarding resistance to practice. In your reply regarding the benefit of prostrations, you said:

“There is a definite positive affect on both the body and the mind and once you get a taste of how these practices “work” through personal experience, it is not difficult to keep going, except of
course for the occasional distracted periods of life or when there is the need to lighten up a bit as the energy is coming too strongly, which definitely happens. These practices are very profound and sometimes we forget to connect the fact that a lot of inner material is getting stirred up because we are reciting this one mantra everyday, but that’s exactly what is happening.”

I’ve been working steadily but slowly toward my prostration requirement for about three months, and spending about another hour a day or so on meditation and study. Suddenly, about two days ago, I almost can’t stand the idea of either meditating or doing prostrations. I have the urge to pick up a light, fluffy novel instead. This has happened rather suddenly, along with some rather strong fears that have cropped up in my mind. (Suddenly waking up at 5:00 a.m. terrified for no good reason that I can see, etc.) I wondered if this might be a matter of “inner material” getting stirred up. I don’t have a problem with taking a break now and then, but I also understand that once we begin a daily prostration “retreat” we shouldn’t interrupt it if at all possible. I have a lot of respect for the idea of continuity of practice, but I’m not sure if this problem is coming up because I’m pushing too hard, and should therefore back off for a time, or if I should just push through.

I would appreciate any insights or advice you have to offer. Maybe other people have experienced this problem as well.

Kendall responds:

Each person has their own “limits” when it comes to practice. What you describe does sound like a case of “inner material” coming up. Purification doesn’t always come in the most expected ways! Whatever you are experiencing will definitely pass, however, if you have some intuitive sense that you need to “lighten up” a little, it is a good idea to do this. You don’t have to stop practice or study, but maybe take some of the internal pressure off yourself, enjoy the process of it, and maybe go ahead and read your novel a little! You can also allow yourself to “play” with the visualizations some more and not worry about whether or not you are doing it “right”. For example, during one session of prostrations you can focus on the beauty of the Buddhas and the pearls and jewels on their thrones and just prostrate out of devotion. Another session, just think of one or two people you know who are suffering and do the session only for them. Another session, “be the Buddha” and just imagine the feeling of having finished the path and now you are leading others to enlightenment by showing them how to prostrate. This helps the practice to be more “fun” and “light”.

Sometimes we push ourselves a little too hard spiritually and forget to enjoy the ride, getting so focused on “I have to become enlightened. I have to become enlightened. I have to do this. I have to do this.” And the internal critic begins to have free reign. There is a level of internal relaxation and acceptance of oneself in the journey that also has to be developed and supported.

On the other hand, some people do just as well “pushing through” and turning up the heat a little. You really have to check up with your own inner voices. You do have to be skillful because if you push too hard for too long, it can take months for your energetic body to be able practice well again. That “aversion” to meditation can completely take over. This is why in the beginning of retreats, it is advised to start with short sessions and to gradually work into longer sessions. Also, even if a meditation is going well, it is good to stop it “on time”. It is better to leave the cushion wishing you had meditated a little bit longer.

You can also sometimes check up with your dreams. If you are having dreams of being “out of control” or of the elements being out of control, this can be an indication that some adjustment needs to be made. Dreams of being in dirty places, or doing laundry, or washing, cleaning, or shopping for new clothes, eating nice foods, being with teachers, the sangha, etc. are all indications that the practice is taking hold at deeper levels, and this is good. Sometimes negative karma can even ripen in the form of “bad” dreams related to specific karmas that are being purified. These are all signs that the practice is working to clear away negative karma or that positive energy is being created.

There is an energetic imbalance in the body/mind that can come if someone is practicing too hard, or with too much internal pressure, that is commonly referred to as “lung”. It is often experienced as strange pains in the body, especially around the heart region, back, neck and shoulders, and erratic mood swings, especially with anger coming up or over-emotionality. The best way to treat “lung” is to relax – take a bath, get a massage, listen to music, dance, go for walks, watch a movie, it is also sometimes recommended to eat meat to help ground you a bit.

It does seem that in many of the life stories of great practitioners, and even with us more ordinary beings, the realizations themselves seem to come in the periods of relaxation in between the effort of practice and study. It is as if the practice and study cook us, and the relaxation allows the process to come to full fruition. Remember the famous Zen stories of realizations coming “chopping wood, and carrying water”?!

It is a little bit like the analogy of the violin string that is used to gauge one’s meditation practice – if the string is too tight, it snaps, if it is too loose, no music can be played. Each of us needs to play with our internal adjuster until we find just the right blend to make the best tune for realization, and it is VERY personal.

With love,
Kendall


How can one work up to doing prostrations so to avoid hurting themselves? 


A student writes:

I wonder if Merry or Kendall would be willing to comment on how to handle the physical demands of beginning a prostration practice, especially for those who are somewhat or very physically unfit. It seems like a very enthusiastic person could hurt themselves by throwing themselves into 100-200 prostrations a day when they aren’t in shape for it.

Also, is it considered bad form to stop periodically during a longer prostration session to have a sip of water?

Kendall responds:

At the beginning what you can do is focus on reciting through the list of the 35 Buddhas names three times “briskly” and just prostrate while you do it at whatever your natural pace is and don’t worry too much about the numbers. The other start-up method is to prostrate once to each Buddha, but recite the prostration line with their name three times, so that you start out with 35 prostrations each day. Then, slowly, slowly build up from there. As Rinpoche himself has said, quality is actually more important than quantity. If you are just learning the names you can either write them out really big on a piece of big paper and post them on the wall so you can prostrate and recite at the same time, or you can get the practice of prostrations on CD that we have here, and do your prostrations with the CD, but again, at your own pace, not worrying about doing three prostrations to each Buddha.

It is fine to pause for a sip of water or whatever if you are doing longer sets of prostrations. Keeping in mind the main purpose which is to transform our minds, to take care of your physical self carefully along the way is good Bodhisattva conduct! However, best not to break the power of your speech by engaging in conversations and such with others when you are in the middle of a “set”!

Enjoy!

With love,
Kendall

Thubten Yeshe adds:

This is Thubten Yeshe, the dreaded Assessor!

Kendall’s advice regarding prostrations is spot on. And, I would like to add something for those of you who are just starting out on this wonderful adventure.

I have a manageable, but incurable, back injury. Precious Lama Zopa Rinpoche kindly gave me prostrations as one preliminary practice to do… more than I will finish in the next three lifetimes! I didn’t tell him about my back, but eventually I decided to try the practice (which I
had been avoiding for years).

I started very gingerly. I did ten! (no joke) prostrations a day to begin, but slowly, slowly my back became stronger and I increased the number in increments of five until I was up over 100. I will never be able to do thousands per day, but if I hang in there I will make a dent in my commitment.

So, don’t worry about how many you do in the beginning, just do the practice. Although flinging your body on the floor with abandon is part of the practice, the main practice is happening on an internal level. And, without the inner work the rest is just good exercise.

Lama Zopa does say in one teaching on prostrations that merely lifting your little finger with intent is doing prostrations.

Above all – enjoy!

Best wishes,
thubten yeshe


If we are in a bad mood, is it better to do our prostrations half-heartedly than not do them at all?

A student writes:

What we do when it’s time to do prostration practice, but we have a lousy attitude? For instance, in the past week I had day when I felt resentful, grief-filled, generally hated life and especially hated myself. The last thing I wanted to do was to prostrate myself in front of any enlightened beings. (I would rather have hidden from enlightened beings, and crawled away into a
corner somewhere. I wanted to hide from myself.) Maybe I was ashamed to be seen (if that makes sense, given that this is a visualization process.)

Finally after a time I did it, but it wasn’t very heartfelt. It seemed better to at least make the effort – but at the same time it felt a bit hypocritical.

Nick Ribush responds:

Hi friends…

Just to address some of these points very briefly,

1. In terms of feeling lousy, lazy and discouraged…at the very bbeginning of his book, the “Tantric Path of Purification” (page 4), Lama Yeshe says, “We often find that when we meditate on the lam-rim…we encounter many hindrances. We cannot understand why it is so difficult to meditate, to control our minds, to gain realizations. ‘Why do I meet with so many obstacles whenever I try to do something positive? Leading a worldly life was much easier than this. Even an hour’s meditation is so difficult.’ Many such thoughts and questions arise.

“It is not just a lack of wisdom. It is that over countless lives, the negative energy forces of our body, speech and mind have accumulated such that now they fill us like a vast ocean. If they
were to manifest in physical form, they would occupy all of space….”

Lama goes on to explain that basically, we have this tidal wave of accumulated negative karma that washes over us from time to time and is more than a match for our tiny candle-flame of wisdom. And the way we need to deal with this is to focus on purification.

2. In terms of wanting to hide our negative selves from the buddhas, it’s no use. As space pervades all of existence, so too does the enlightened mind. We can run but we can’t hide. Recognize this fact and deal with it! Luckily, they have unbearable compassion for us–
greater compassion than even we have for ourselves.

3. With respect to negative minds, low self-esteem, laziness, lack of motivation and all the other things mentioned: there’s a reason that the lam-rim is arranged in the order that it is. The beginning meditations on the perfect human rebirth and impermanence and death are antidotes to all such thoughts and feelings, so in addition to purification, we need to study, contemplate and meditate on those teachings as well. As Lama used to say (well before Nike thought of
it), “Just do it.”

Something like that.

Much love,

n


Is it common for purification practices to bring to the surface feelings of fear or anxiety or other strong emotions?

A student writes:

I have what may seem to be an odd question for the elders, or for anyone else that may share my experience.

Since I’ve begun this course, and specifically since I’ve begun my purification practice, I find myself waking up in the middle of the night periodically frightened – terrified, really. Sometimes it’s a kind of nameless, formless terror. At other times I am frightened of the consequences of something “real”, but the fear response seems incredibly exaggerated.

Sometimes the same thing happens just as I’m dropping off to sleep. Some event from the day will slam into my consciousness along with an exaggerated fear of the consequences of this event. It would be very convenient if in each case the event happened to be a harmful action
I’ve committed (then at least I could consider it a nudge from my intuition to “clean up”), but no such luck. It’s more like an exaggerated version of the fears I’ve carried my entire life: “Life
isn’t safe; beware of danger from unexpected sources.”

Has anyone experienced this? Is it normal for people to experience an exaggeration in their neurotic patterns, fears, etc. as a result of the purification process?

Thanks so much for any input.

Kendall responds:

It is not uncommon at all to “to experience an exaggeration in neurotic patterns, fears, etc. as a result of the purification process.” It is often said that the process of purification is like washing a very dirty cloth. As you put the cloth in a bucket of soapy water, for awhile, everything looks dirty, the water, the cloth, etc., but as you persevere (and, I imagine change the water a few more times), the cloth and water both eventually appear very nice and clean.

I do know for myself that when I am doing strong purification my mind can get quite “out of control” – strong emotions rising of various kinds, etc. I have not had much experience with great fear or anxiety arising, but I do know others for whom this was the case. As others have mentioned, it is an incredible opportunity to practice at that time and if you can at all make effort to find the “I” who is so afraid and try to identify clearly what exactly that “I” is afraid of….it can become a very interesting meditation on emptiness. Sometimes the karmic wave is just too strong and you just have to “hang on” until the ride is over and just try to do damage control (!).

The other thing that is extremely helpful is to experience whatever it is that you are experiencing on behalf of others with the wish that they will not have to experience this kind of suffering. Also, making strong prayers to your teachers, guides and protectors to help you at this time while karma is ripening. Certainly, there is no way you could experience something unpleasant, whether of body or mind, unless you had previously created the cause to experience it. If you are doing strong purification, it is extremely common that the negative karma “comes out” in some form, whether it be as a headache, bad dreams, etc.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche has said that if you do purification perfectly, complete with all four powers, strongly within the mind, then the negativity will ripen in an extremely light form. The less perfectly we perform our purification practice, the more apparent the negativity is when it ripens. So, to have your karma ripening in experiencing unpleasant mental states is actually quite good and while it is certainly suffering, it will definitely pass.

There ARE times when anxiety or fear, for example of death, are indicating that there are some life obstacles present that need to be addressed. So, if it does seem very “serious”, perhaps it is worth checking this a bit as there are practices you can do to avert life obstacles such as the long life practice of Amitayus, or White Tara, etc.

So, keep in touch if it continues and hang in there!

With much love,
Kendall


Can you tell me more about Nyung Na retreats?


A student writes:

The center nearest me is offering a Nyung Na retreat. Can anyone tell me more about this?

Kendall responds:

Nyung Ne is a fantastic and powerful purification retreat. It is also a “Special Integration Experience” requirement for Module 14 of DB. It is a fairly complex practice that involves doing three to four sessions each day of 2 to 3 hours each. During each session, you invoke the Buddha of Compassion (Thousand-Armed Chenrezig) and offer praises, offerings, and prostration. In addition, you engage in a visualization wherein you become Thousand-Armed Chenrezig. If you do not have the empowerment to do this, you can still participate, however at the time of generating oneself into the great compassionate one, you simply do the visualization at the crown of your head. Then, you receive blessings and recite the mantras of compassion to benefit others. The practice is very clearly outlined in the practice text that you use for the retreat.

The first day of a Nyung Ne retreat, you take the Eight Mahayana Precepts – vows to restrain from killing, stealing, lying, sexual activity, intoxicants, song and ornaments, sitting on high or expensive thrones or beds, and eating after midday. On the second day, the fasting day, in addition to the precepts, you vow not to speak, eat or drink anything until the following sunrise. You take the precepts only for the duration of the retreat. The retreat ends on the morning of the third day.

It is a very intense retreat and an excellent opportunity to experience the power of tantric practices, without actually taking empowerment. It is said that one Nyung Ne retreat is equivalent to doing three months of other kinds of retreats…so, hang onto your hat! It’s main purpose is to destroy the seeds of selfishness in us and to open us up to greater and deeper levels of compassion and love.

That is a very brief overview. You can always call the center to get a more detailed description if you like.

Lots of love,
Kendall


Is it ok to read the book Becoming Vajrasattva even if we haven’t received initiation and oral commentary from a qualified vajra master?

A student writes:

The tantra book included in the Module 1 materials, “Becoming Vajrasattva” . . . states very clearly at the beginning of the book, in the second and third paragraphs, that “the yoga method of Heruka Vajrasattvab should be practiced only by those who have received initiation and oral commentary from a properly qualified vajra master.” Obviously, I am not one of the initiated, so assuming that I should read the book, what is the proper approach to take when reading it, besides proper respect, etc.? Or am I just over-reacting to those words? (The same idea appears at the beginning of “Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand”, which I would also like to read, but have the same question about it.) Or is it just Doctoral level stuff for us Freshmen students to chew on, if we can? Thanks.

Nick Ribush responds:

You treat it with respect, as you would any Dharma book. And you can practice the various short Vajrasattva practices, such as this one:

http://www.lamayeshe.com/zencart/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=22&products_id=86

free from LYWA. You can find similar at FPMT Shop.

Without initiation, you just don’t visualize yourself as the deity.

And Lama’s words should encourage you to go find a properly qualified vajra master as soon as you can.

Much love,

n


In what order should we approach the materials and practices contained in Module 14?


Another student writes:

I’m still fairly confused over module 14. I purchased it sometime ago, but had no idea which book to read first, when to do the practices listed in some of the books, etc.

Is there some instruction for this module that I’m missing or bypassed?

I did some of the Vajrasattva meditation at the retreat this weekend, so I went back and looked at that book. Now it appears this is the long 3 month retreat I’ve heard about, and that you can do it on your own instead, and that this is where those many 100,000 prostration ideas may be from.

But I still feel vague on where this module is to be used in our home studies, etc.

Thanks! Dana

Kendall responds:

There are some general guidelines regarding module 14 at the bottom of the Discovering Buddhism at Home page on our website. Have you already read through this? You can find it at: http://fpmt.org/dbhome/ on the bottom of the page under “More Helpful Resources”.

Merry and I just discussed this and realized that if you just got Module 14 out of context with the complete DB program, it might be a bit confusing. So, maybe start by reviewing the information on the web and then you may also want to consider Module 8, Establishing a Daily Practice. I believe within that are some guidelines on how you might to start to incorporate these powerful practices into your daily practice. Perhaps someone who has done Module 8 more recently
could comment.

Both Vajrasattva and the prostrations commitment are pretty hefty. They can be done either in a retreat setting or as practice at home. The guidelines on the web will give you some idea about both of these options. Personally, I would highly recommend doing the Vajrasattva commitment as a retreat, but you don’t have to. Prostrations can be done as part of your daily practice, building them up over time. There are increasing opportunities to do Vajrasatta as a retreat – you can even do part of this practice in retreat and part at home – there are many options. Before, you had to go to India or Nepal to be able to do this group retreat. Now, there is Sravasti Abbey in Washington, and soon, Vajrapani Institute in California that will offer this opportunity every year. Then there are quite a few long weekend Vajrasattva retreats, especially for the New Year, where you can get a nice sense of what it feels like to engage more deeply into this practice.

This is helpful that you have pointed out that devoid of context, Module 14 needs some more information to fill in the gaps! Please check out the info on the web and if you still have questions, let us know and that will help us to make the information we make available more complete.

Sincerely,
Kendall


Can you explain a few details in the Vajrasattva visualization?

A student writes:

Quick question. On the short meditation for Vajrasattva CD and in the written meditation for the same practice in the back of Teachings from the Vajrasattva Retreat. In the guided meditation it says “They are embracing each other. The father is adorned with six mudras, the mother with five. He sits in the vajra posture, she in the lotus.” In that sentence what is meant by adorned with the six mudras and the five mudras for her?

Nick Ribush responds:

Quick answer.

See Lama Yeshe’s “Becoming Vajrasattva,” pp. 46-47, where Lama talks about these 5/6 ornaments.

Hope you have the book!

Much love

n

 

Discovering Buddhism at Home -FAQ

Module 13 – Introduction to Tantra



What is the difference between an empowerment and an initiation?

While I know it is ok to take teachings from different lineages once we have a strong base in our primary lineage, is it important to stick with one lineage when taking tantric empowerments?

What is the difference between an empowerment and an initiation?

A student asks:

I was wondering if anyone could explain the difference between an empowerment and an initiation?

Pende responds:

Initiation and empowerment are two different translations of the same Tibetan term dbang, pronounced “wong”. According to one definition in the Nitartha Online Tibetan Dictionary, dbang is defined as:

dbang – 1) thob thang, power, force, might, control, potency, influence, authority, right to; 2) (CH ancient rank/ title; 3) (aabhishinytsa scatter, pour; 4) empowerment, initiation, abhisheka; 5) senses, faculty, sense [organ], mental faculty, ability, magnetizing, capacity; 6) ruler, lord, king, sovereignty; 7) [rite of] subjugation/ dominion; 8) be subject to/ ruled/ governed by/ under the control of; 8) * magnetizing; 9) own

Pende




While I know it is ok to take teachings from different lineages once we have a strong base in our primary lineage, is it important to stick with one lineage when taking tantric empowerments?

A student asks:

When you get into the issue of tantric empowerments, it seems that lineage matters quite a bit, as receiving empowerments from a particular lineage creates strong (?) karmic bonds to that vajra master. And, so, I imagine that it’d be karmic soup to take empowerments from high masters from more than one lineage?


Nick replies:

When it comes to tantra, the most important thing is your guru. Any initiations I’ve taken have been with my Lamas’ express or tacit approval. You need to be careful with whom you make that kind of connection and who better to guide you than your guru? If you don’t have one, rather focus on finding one than on running around collecting this initiation and that.


Thubten Yeshe adds:

Lama Zopa pointed out in a private meeting that I had with him that one problem with studying with teachers from the different traditions is terminology. Many terms are defined and used differently in the various traditions. This can lead to misunderstanding and confusion if the student does not understand these differences.

This doesn’t mean that one tradition is right and the other wrong, it means we have to understand the terminology and not be fixed on a single definition. This is easy for advanced practitioners, but often difficult for beginners.