Welcome to the journey to enlightenment. The aim of life is to benefit others and the highest benefit is to liberate sentient beings from suffering and its causes. For that one needs to achieve enlightenment. For that, one needs to achieve the gradual path to enlightenment. To make that possible, one needs to purify negative karma and defilements collected since beginningless rebirths, and collect extensive merit, which are the necessary conditions to actualize the path.
Life is like last night's dream. Don't hold onto it as too solid or inherently existent. This practice advice is to make life as meaningful as possible—this most precious human life, which we have received this one time. We have sacrificed our life and died countless times, creating the cause for suffering in samsara. But we have sacrificed our life for Dharma so little, especially bringing sentient beings to enlightenment. So, do as much as you can…and don't worry, be happy.
Read Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand for detailed information and a background understanding on lam-rim meditations. Then, every day use The Essential Nectar by Geshe Rabten for daily guided meditation instructions on how to do lam-rim meditations. The other way to do the daily meditations is to follow the Lam-rim Chen-mo guideline or the guideline at the back of Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. It is best if one can memorize this outline. Many Tibetan meditators, those who really meditated, memorized the outline. This is the basis upon which to meditate. Meditate daily for two hours, one hour, half an hour, 15 minutes, whatever you can do, according to how your situation is. You can do four sessions a day, three, two, or one. The length of time is up to the individual. The most important thing is continuity, as this really helps. If one day you meditate a lot and then take a break or holiday from the lam-rim, it won't develop the mind continuously. Whatever the length of time you can spend meditating on the lam-rim is good. Just don't stop meditating.
The meditation focus can rotate, i.e. three months on guru devotion, then three months on the lower path, etc. Do this all the way up to emptiness, then start again with guru devotion. Continue these cycles until you have achieved the realization of each stage. For guru devotion, continuously do the daily meditations until you have a stable realization, when you can see all the buddhas spontaneously. Then, meditate on the lower graduated path, from precious human rebirth up to karma, but mainly on impermanence and death. This is the most important meditation since it helps one gain all the other realizations. After this realization, when you don’t have even the slightest interest in the happiness of this life, no clinging, only interest in the happiness of future lives, liberation, or the happiness of others, and true renunciation, which could take weeks, months, years, then meditate on the middle path. When you have this feeling arising spontaneously, with renunciation of the whole of samsara, then dedicate your life to realizing bodhicitta, where you don’t have even the slightest thought of seeking happiness for yourself, only for others. You should have this day and night, with the thought to achieve enlightenment. Also, meditate on emptiness a little each day, using any unmistaken text, like the Heart Sutra or Mahamudra. Meanwhile, continue to train the mind in the other lam-rim steps. After some time, you can try to achieve shi-nä by focusing on a meditation object.
Reciting a lam-rim prayer every day is the fundamental practice of everyday life that renders each day of your life most meaningful. When you recite a lam-rim prayer mindfully from beginning to end, your recitation becomes a direct meditation on the entire path to enlightenment. This practice leaves imprints, or seeds, of the realizations of the whole path to enlightenment on your mental continuum. This means that you come closer to enlightenment, which, in turn, means that you come closer to enlightening all sentient beings. And this is the main goal of your life, the purpose of living. So, by doing the direct meditation on the lam-rim, this is what happens in your life every day. There are various lam-rim prayers: The Three Principal Aspects of the Path, Foundation of All Good Qualities, and Hymns of Spiritual Experience are all by Lama Tsongkhapa. There is also Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo's long version of Calling the Guru from Afar. You can also meditate on any other prayers that contain the essence of the whole path to enlightenment. If the practice of tantra is also mentioned at the end of the prayer, that too is good. According to the number of times you do the direct meditation of the lam-rim prayer each day, you will receive that many advantages each time, each day. If you have received a highest yoga tantra initiation, then it is also good to recite the prayer of the graduated path of tantra. Again, if you recite it mindfully, it plants the seed of the whole path to enlightenment.
There are two different glance meditations: one is the direct meditation on the lam-rim, which is the foundation of the common path; the other is the direct meditation on the tantric path, which is the extraordinary path. This helps one to prepare for all the realizations of the path, in this life or definitely in a future life. When you meditate on the lam-rim, you can bring in the teachings and information you have learned from reading other authentic Buddhist texts to add to your meditation and make it more effective. By reading and studying various teachings on guru devotion, you can add what you learned to the outlines of your meditation on guru devotion. You can do the same with many other teachings, such as the teachings on the nature of samsara, bodhicitta, emptiness, and so on. By adding material you have learned from other teachings, you can make your meditation more effective.
It is your guru's instructions that enable you to make your practice most productive and to gain quick realizations. During break time, during life between your sitting meditations—not breaks from your Dharma practice—while you're standing, walking, or sleeping, you should try to live your life with the experience that you generated in your morning meditation. Live your life with the mind that has been transformed in the lam-rim, whether it was transformed by meditation on guru devotion, impermanence and death, on how this life's human body is highly meaningful, on the suffering nature of samsara, on bodhicitta, or on emptiness. In this way, not only do you make your life highly meaningful during the sessions, but your life also becomes most productive and highly meaningful even during the break times. This is because with that positive attitude, with the experience of the lam-rim, all your actions, first and foremost, do not become negative karma. This helps you always to be mindful to practice Dharma, to avoid engaging in negative karma, and thus, negative karma doesn't happen. By helping you to not create negative karma, then all your actions become causes of liberation and enlightenment, and therefore, the remedy to samsara.
This instruction about practicing in the break times is extremely important—it means that your meditation sessions help your life during the break times and that your break times become meaningful and fruitful. Lama Tsongkhapa, in the Foundation of All Good Qualities, was referring specifically to this practice when he talked about taking the essence of the precious human body all day and all night. This is also recommended and explained as the meaning by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: to live one's life in the experience that is generated in one's morning meditation session. Thus, your working life also becomes meditation, becomes unified with Dharma and with your meditations on the lam-rim, especially the lam-rim. In this way, you can keep your mind peaceful and stable always, your mind is no longer up and down; you have peace, satisfaction, and fulfillment in your life. You can benefit others better and benefit them more with your positive Dharma mind, which is always a peaceful mind.
PROSTRATIONS TO THE THIRTY-FIVE BUDDHAS IN THE MORNING
If possible you should recite the Thirty-five Buddhas of Confession three times with prostrations (so that it becomes 105 prostrations) every morning or whenever you can.
You can see how urgently we need to practice the Thirty-five Buddhas of Confession. Reciting these names while remembering our past negative karmas purifies this karma. If we do not purify this negative karma we will not be able to achieve a perfect human rebirth with the eight freedoms and ten richnesses and instead will have to experience the opposite of these.
The Thirty-five Buddhas exist in order to purify the various negative karmas created by sentient beings. Even just reciting the names of these Thirty-five Buddhas one time purifies so many eons of negative karma. It is like an atomic bomb—so quick and powerful to destroy negative karma. You can see how urgent and important it is to purify negative karma in our in daily life, and, not only that, but by not purifying negative karma it increases (see Vajrasattva).
Lama Tsongkhapa did many hundreds of thousands of prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas with the practice of confession in the cave in Olga. Lama Atisha also did many prostrations every day, even when he was very old. Many of the lineage lamas of the lam-rim did prostrations every day and achieved many realizations through this practice. So, this is essential for our daily life practice. It is very healthy and the best thing we can do in order to not have regret in the future.
[For more information, see the Thirty-five Buddhas pages in the Practice Advice section of the Advice Book.]
VAJRASATTVA RECITATIONS AT NIGHT
In the evening recite Vajrasattva mantra to stop whatever negative karma was created that day from multiplying. If you don’t do that then the negative karma doubles by the next day, then doubles again the third day, and so on. This way negative karma left unpurified by Vajrasattva practice multiplies so much that by the end of the week, month, year, and so on till the end of your life, even one day’s one negative karma becomes huge like a mountain and so heavy. Since negative karma increases, just one atom of negative karma multiplies to become the size of the earth. So, even though you didn’t commit a heavy negative karma, because negative karma multiplies day by day, even ONE small negative karma becomes unbearable and causes you to be reborn in the lower realms and experience so much suffering for many eons. Then, because of continually creating more negative karma in the lower realms, it becomes so difficult to reincarnate back into the higher realms, and this makes it so difficult to practice Dharma.
Doing Vajrasattva recitation at the end of the day stops negative karma from multiplying the next day, week, month, year, and so on. So, this is unbelievably powerful and makes your life so light, so easy. It really makes you happy and peaceful inside—in your heart and your inner life.
Vajrasattva not only purifies today’s negative karma but also this life’s negative karma and the negative karma from yesterday, last week, last month, last year, and so on. It purifies the negative karma that has been created from birth until now and also the negative karma created in past lives.
Purifying negative karma makes it so easy to achieve liberation and to actualize the path to enlightenment. Purifying negative karma also means you don’t have to suffer, or you have very little suffering and very few obstacles. By purifying, you don’t have to experience all those eons of suffering in the lower realms, which are the result of not purifying even one negative karma, and you don’t have to experience again and again without end the four suffering results that arise from each negative karma that is not purified.
Therefore, the conclusion is that even if you finish your preliminary practice of Vajrasattva you can’t just relax and stop reciting Vajrasattva mantra, saying “I have finished my preliminary practice of Vajrasattva”. You still need to do the long Vajrasattva mantra at least 21 times (or the short Vajrasattva mantra at least 28 times) every day in order to purify negative karma and stop it from multiplying.
MEDICINE BUDDHA MANTRA
Medicine Buddha's mantra is recited for success. Since we have so many problems—of course we need success. Since we don’t want to have problems, unhappiness, or suffering and what we do want is to have success, happiness, inner growth, and all the realizations of the path to enlightenment (lam-rim), we need to recite Medicine Buddha mantra every day.
Buddha advised Ananda, his attendant, that even animals who hear Medicine Buddha’s mantra will never be reborn in the lower realms. The highly attained Kyabje Chöden Rinpoche, who has completed the whole path to enlightenment, said recently that by reciting Medicine Buddha’s mantra at the time of death one is reborn in the pure land. So, Medicine Buddha’s mantra is not only for healing, but also to recite for animals and people all the time, whether they are alive or dying.
If you recite Medicine Buddha mantra every day, it will purify your negative karma and help you to never be reborn in the lower realms. If you don’t purify negative karma, then when death comes you will be reborn in the lower realms as a hell being, hungry ghost, or animal, and you will have to suffer again and again without end. Therefore, you need to purify negative karma right now. If you cannot bear the present suffering of the human realm—which is incredible joy compared to the suffering of the lower realms—then how will you be able to bear the suffering of the lower realms, which is unbearable and lasts for an incredible length of time? The suffering of the lower realms is a billion times worse than all the human realm sufferings put together.
Medicine Buddha’s mantra saves you from having to experience all these things, so it is much more precious than vast amounts of gold and diamonds, wish-fulfilling jewels, and zillions of dollars. All this wealth means nothing because it can't purify negative karma. Even if you were to own that much wealth it is far more precious to recite Medicine Buddha’s mantra just once or even to hear the mantra just once because by doing so it leaves the imprint of the whole path to enlightenment on your mind, helps you to have realizations of the whole path to enlightenment, eliminates all the gross and subtle defilements, and causes you to achieve enlightenment.
With Medicine Buddha mantra you can liberate so many sentient beings from suffering and bring them to enlightenment. So, you should recite the mantra with full trust in Medicine Buddha— knowing that Medicine Buddha will completely take care of your life and heal you. With full trust, know that Medicine Buddha is always with you—in your heart, on your crown, in front of you. There is not one second that Medicine Buddha does not see you or have compassion for you.
CHENREZIG, COMPASSIONATE-EYE LOOKING ONE
Everybody, old and new students alike, should practice Chenrezig. The practice of the recitation-meditation of Chenrezig Compassionate-Eye Looking One is to cause all happiness, temporary and ultimate—happiness in this and all future lives and the ultimate happiness of liberation and enlightenment—for all sentient beings. Then, your own happiness, temporary and ultimate, comes by the way. The mantra has so many benefits, especially if one recites it with bodhicitta. The practice and realization of bodhicitta is the most important thing in life because it fulfils the wishes of so many sentient beings for happiness—each and every one of them—as well as your own.
With bodhicitta you can eliminate samsaric suffering as well as its causes and achieve liberation and enlightenment, because bodhicitta helps you to have the wisdom directly realizing emptiness that eliminates the gross and subtle defilements.
Bodhicitta is what makes the Arya bodhisattva able to abandon the suffering of samsara, rebirth, old age, sickness, and death by achieving the right-seeing path. Even though the arhats of the lesser vehicle path have wisdom directly perceiving emptiness and many other inconceivable qualities, they still have the remainder of the suffering aggregates.
Bodhicitta is the door to the Mahayana path to enlightenment and the root of the limitless qualities of Buddha’s holy body, speech, and mind. The courageous bodhisattvas are able to bear all the hardships of working for sentient beings, no matter how hard it is and even if it costs their life. As bodhisattvas see how beneficial it is to work for others, even if they are going to be killed by other sentient beings, they are able to bear it, and on top of that they experience and enjoy limitless joy by bearing hardships for sentient beings, even being killed. For them, it is like drinking nectar, or like a swan that is so happy to swim on the water after the heat of the day. The bodhisattva abandons the thought of achieving liberation from samsaric suffering, the cause of delusions and karma, for oneself as one would discard used toilet paper, having not the slightest interest, not even an atom, and only has aversion to actualizing ultimate happiness, nirvana, for oneself.
Bodhicitta causes a bodhisattva to complete the two types of merit—the merit of transcendental wisdom and the merit of virtue—and bodhicitta is the cause for achieving the two kayas, the holy body and holy mind, Rupakaya and Dharmakaya, which is the ultimate goal. The whole purpose of achieving the two holy bodies is only to do perfect work for sentient beings. That is also because of the bodhicitta motivation. There are so many sentient beings, and even if it takes three countless great eons to complete the merit to bring every single one to enlightenment, what causes one to make the determination to do this is bodhicitta.
No matter how many eons it takes to generate one single virtuous thought in one sentient being’s heart, the bodhisattva will go for it, will do that, without being discouraged. It is said in the Ornament of Sutras by Maitreya: “The bodhisattva, the child of the Victorious Ones, whose mind is stabilized in supreme perseverance for ripening sentient beings, in order to ripen even one virtuous thought, does not get discouraged even if it takes thousands of ten million eons.”
So, you can see that what drives bodhisattvas to bear hardships and to continuously work for sentient beings is derived from bodhicitta, and bodhicitta comes from the root—great compassion. So, the root, the compassion, is like the fuel, the electric power station—all the vast benefits come from this.
And it is great compassion that has made so many sentient beings already become enlightened, as well as that which is making so many sentient beings in this present time become enlightened and that which will make so many sentient beings be enlightened in the future. It is great compassion that makes so many buddhas work for sentient beings, without any error, doing perfect work for sentient beings until they achieve enlightenment.
It is great compassion that causes buddhas to have omniscient mind and perfect power to benefit all sentient beings. And your great compassion is the source of peace and happiness for so many sentient beings—the source of all their temporary and ultimate happiness as well as your own. That includes this world, the country where you live, your family, parents, companion, children, and yourself. Without compassion in your heart there is only ego, which harms directly and indirectly all sentient beings, including the world, your country, family, parents, relatives, companion, and yourself. Depending on how much you are able to practice compassion, you have that much peace and happiness in your life and in your heart.
Your compassion is the source of happiness even for animals and people that you meet in everyday life. Without compassion there are personality-ego clashes and many other problems, such as anger and jealousy. Without compassion life gets trapped in problems, like a mouse trapped in a cage, or an elephant drowning in mud and unable to get out, or a fly getting caught in a spider’s web and then being eaten by the spider, or a fly who lands on a candle and gets completely covered with hot wax and drowns. Life gets completely caught up in problems and continues like that, and then you die—just like the fly. This is the main reason why one needs to practice compassion. So, compassion is the most important Dharma practice in life and the most important meditation.
Living life with compassion and working with compassion is the best thing you can do. Then, when you experience problems you can experience them for others, which means using your own problems to develop compassion for others. That means you are using your problems to achieve enlightenment—your problem becomes the path to enlightenment. It is the same when you have sicknesses, such as cancer or AIDS, you can experience these with compassion. That means experiencing them for other sentient beings—to cause them all happiness, including enlightenment. This way your sickness becomes the path to enlightenment. All your problems—relationship problems, sickness, lost business, lost job—become very important and useful. This becomes a very special, champion practice. Before you practice Dharma, these are things to be abandoned and that you dislike, but now they become something that you need to develop your mind in the path—very powerful and special.
Also, when you die, dying with compassion is the best way to die. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often makes the comment that dying with bodhicitta is “self-supporting.” You don’t need anybody around you to help because you have no need—you guide yourself. You become the leader, leading yourself to the happiness of future lives.
In order to develop great compassion you need an understanding of the Buddha’s teachings on how to develop compassion, but even if you are able to say these by heart and meditate on them, that alone is not enough in order to achieve realization. You also need to have realization with the support of the Deity of Compassion’s blessing. Therefore, you must practice the Deity of Compassion Avalokiteshvara and do the meditation-recitation of the Compassionate Buddha. If you want to know more benefits of this practice, you can read Teachings from the Mani Retreat.