Commentary on An Extensive Six-Session Yoga
Session Five: Making Offerings, and the Relation with the Spiritual Teacher
So we’ve been going through the six-session yoga practice as put together by the first Panchen Lama. And we’ve seen that the main point of it is to help us to remain mindful of the nineteen samayas (the close bonding practices with the five Buddha-families), these nineteen practices which will help us to purify five different aspects of our Buddha-nature. And of course we need to practice those nineteen in our daily lives, not just recite it. And since there are many different styles or versions of this practice… but please try not to get caught up in confusion about the fact that there is a great deal of variation in ways of doing this because, regardless of which way we are doing the practice, the main point is these nineteen close bonding practices, these samayas. That’s the point, not whether we visualize it like this or visualize it like that.
The six-session practice is not the equivalent of a sadhana, but it can be practiced in the style of a sadhana – a little bit similar to a sadhana – or it could not be. And this is true regardless of what length version we’re doing – we can do a shorter version or a longer version – and regardless of what actual yidam form we are visualizing the guru and ourselves as. These are variables: the length of the practice and the yidam that we use.
If we are practicing in the style of a sadhana, then it’s quite important to visualize ourselves as a yidam from the very beginning. And if we’re not practicing in the style of a sadhana, then often we find an explanation of this practice in which it doesn’t say anything about visualizing ourselves as a yidam during the first half of the practice. So, many people, because they don’t receive any specific instruction, just work during the first half of the practice with themselves in their ordinary form. So you’ll hear that explanation as well. It differs in terms of – or that the emphasis is on doing it in a sadhana style or not, and how strictly one understands the basic tantra teaching to visualize ourself as a yidam all the time.
And also we have this point after we visualize the close bonding being, the visualization of the field of merit – you know, you visualize the guru as Vajradhara – how do we bring in the deep awareness being? There was that question. So if we are just imagining ourselves in our ordinary form, then of course we don’t have a HUM in our own hearts, and the lights go out from the HUM in Vajradhara’s heart and bring back the deep awareness beings. And if we are visualizing ourselves as a Buddha-figure at this point, doing it in the style of a sadhana, then we do have a HUM in our heart. And then in this situation – I checked further, and with Kirti Tsenzhab Rinpoche’s commentary there are three possibilities. So either we can still have the lights go out from the HUM in Vajradhara in front of us, or they can go out from the HUM in our own heart, or they can go out from both.
I point this all out because a lot of people get very disturbed when they hear different explanations or read different explanations from different masters. There are all these variations. And it doesn’t really matter because the essence is these nineteen closely bonding practices. So this is an important guideline when approaching any type of Buddhist practice, is to try to differentiate what is the essential point of the practice – what is the most important point or points of it – and differentiate that from the more minor things that can be variable, that don’t really affect the essence of the main aim of the practice. That, obviously, when we don’t have too much experience or knowledge of the Dharma, is difficult for us to differentiate, but at least keep that principle in mind as one hears different explanations of the same practice from different teachers. What will vary is usually the nonessential details. Obviously, any way that you do it has meaning. It’s not that it’s trivial, but it’s not the essence of the practice.
And one other thing. I made a slip of the tongue last time and said something incorrect. This always happens, no matter what teacher is teaching – slips of the tongue happen – and that’s why one always has to be alert and check what the teacher says. So the verse where we do prostration to the guru [verse 8], I had said that the first time we recite it we repeat it three times, and then the second and third time only once. That was incorrect. We recite it only once each time.
Serkong Rinpoche always used to say that it is very dangerous to give any teaching concerning tantra practice because these practices are complex and confusing and it is very, very easy to make a slip of the tongue. That means an unintentional mistake. Usually these are regarded as interferences, and that’s often looked upon in the form of interfering spirits or beings that are causing confusion to come, or making slips of the tongue, and these type of things, and that people will get confused. And so for this reason they always give a torma offering in the beginning – that’s a little cake – to the interfering spirits to go away and not make any problems in the teaching. It’s not that they are chasing away – that there’s going to be a hostile army coming and attacking with guns, bandits, and stuff like that. It’s more on this level of interferences and obstacles. And so it makes a lot of sense, actually, that one tries to be more mindful. But often this happens in giving an explanation of a tantra type of practice that little mistakes come up. One has to correct them, be mindful.
And one other slight point. We were talking about the Sanskrit script that was used a thousand years ago. The Tibetans call it Lantsa, but Lantsa is actually – Lanja would be the correct Sanskrit pronunciation of that. But the name of the script, the original Sanskrit name, is Ranjana. So the Tibetans got the ‘R’ and the ‘L’ interchanged here. And so this also one has to be quite mindful of when trying to figure out where in the world did this come from, this script and the name for it.
So now we are up to… We had visualized the guru in front of us as the field for building up positive force – guru-yidam – and we brought in the deep awareness beings, and we made prostration. And then these eight lines to Chakrasamvara and the eight lines to Vajrayogini are the praises. And this is done only for mother tantra. And in the Gelug tradition, Kalachakra is considered a mother tantra, and so in the Kalachakra six-session guru-yoga practice those eight verses are there – those two sets of eight verses are there – and we recite them. But since other schools, non-Gelug schools, consider Kalachakra nondual, they don’t consider it mother tantra – and so it’s not mother tantra [for them] – and so from that point of view you can leave out the eight verses. There is one translation in English of this Kalachakra six-session that left out these eight verses, and that was undoubtedly on the advice of someone who took the position that Kalachakra, since it could be classified as nondual, it wasn’t necessary. It is, however, in the original Tibetan version of this Kalachakra six-session practice.
As Serkong Rinpoche said: the teacher is going to sometimes make unintentional mistakes; the translator always makes mistakes; and when we listen to it, we make mistakes – when we take notes. So there are many sources of possible mistakes. One has always to check afterwards. Also Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey said very nicely: If we look at history, then the first translations that were made of various texts were never the final version. Every translation that was made was revised and corrected later on. So we shouldn’t expect that these early translations that we’re doing now into Western languages are going to be perfect. So this was the experience going to Sanskrit to Tibetan, the experience going from Sanskrit to Chinese, so it will undoubtedly be our experience as well. Those processes took several centuries – it wasn’t just overnight – to get to the final versions. So we need to keep mindful of where we are living at present in the larger picture of the history of Buddhism.
So now we’re up to making offerings. This is verse A10. And it reads:
So ocean of clouds. So this fulfills the Amoghasiddhi bond to make offerings. And when we say ocean of clouds of offerings, this means trying to imagine the offerings as extensive as the whole sky; in other words, huge. This is quite important when making offerings. The reason for that can be understood on many levels. First of all, we’re giving offerings to all the Buddhas – there are a lot of Buddhas, infinite Buddhas – and offerings to all sentient beings. There are a countless number of sentient beings and a countless number of Buddhas, so we don’t want to have the fear that we don’t have enough offerings to give to everybody. In which case you would be stingy and not give too much to each one. So it’s an infinite amount of offerings, so no problem in giving as much as everybody would like. And also when giving offerings, we’re bringing happiness to others, and we ourselves are developing a happy state of mind in doing that. And it’s very important for that to be as extensive as all of samsara – in terms of the method side of practice. It should be very, very broad-reaching, this happiness, then that helps to get to a subtle state of mind.
This is the method side. They always talk about method and wisdom; and when they talk about bliss, it’s method. One of the aspects of that is that blissful awareness extends over all of space. You get this quite explicitly in Vajrayogini practice. That helps to use that blissful awareness as a method for getting to a more subtle, more subtler consciousness.
We already discussed a little bit what the outer, inner, and hidden offerings are. There’s many, many different levels in which they can be understood. So that is yet another rather extensive teaching. But in general, as we said, the outer offerings are external sense objects. So this can be in terms of water, flowers, incense etc. Or there are many other ways of doing it, many other levels in which we can take outer objects. And inner offerings are referring to things that are within the body and, especially in terms of Kalachakra, we can understand that in terms of the subtle energies of the body. And the secret offerings or hidden offerings are blissful awareness.
And we offer things, both what I possess and those that nobody owns. You don’t just want to say “that I don’t possess” because that could give the impression that you steal it. It’s not that we’re stealing it, that it’s somebody else’s, but it’s “that nobody owns,” which means, for instance, offering the beauty of nature, the beauty of a field of flowers, these sort of things. That even if we’re poor and we don’t own anything, we can offer the beautiful things that nobody owns – a beautiful sky with stars, and so on. May everybody be able to enjoy the beauty of this scenery, for example. This type of thought. It’s not that we go to the public botanical garden and pick all the flowers and give them away.
And we offer things that are both actually arrayed – in other words, that we’ve actually set on the shelf for making offerings – and, likewise, those that we mentally create. And it’s not sufficient to just mentally create; we need to offer at least something material. And, for that, we have the water bowl. In other words, the actual physical object that we offer becomes a basis for labeling, in a sense, the infinite offerings that we imagine. There’s some sort of basis. It’s not just totally imaginary.
Next, we have the making an offering of a mandala to the guru. And this again comes from the Fifty Stanzas on the Guru, where it advises us to offer our guru a mandala each day. And particularly we make a mandala offering when requesting teachings.
A mandala in this context is referring to a representation of the entire universe. And so the universe can be visualized in many ways. There’s Mount Meru and the continents. That’s the abhidharma way of visualizing it. There’s a Kalachakra way of visualizing it, which is different. So with Mount Meru, there’s two versions of it: the abhidharma version and the Kalachakra version. They’re different.
But as Serkong Rinpoche explained as well, that implies that there can be other ways of visualizing or imaging the universe, since there is more than one in the Buddhist system. So if it’s more comfortable for us to visualize it in terms of the planet Earth, or the solar system, or if we have some idea of our galaxy with the stars and so on – whatever visualization. The whole point is that it just represents giving everything to be able to help others and reach enlightenment.
It starts out:
When it says anything physical, verbal, or mental that I or others enjoy, the word “enjoy” is a difficult word. It’s to enjoy, experience – it’s the same word – to enjoy, to experience, or to make use of. Because that word, in both Sanskrit and Tibetan, has three meanings. And here it incorporates all three meanings. So it’s to experience something, to make use of it, to enjoy it. So it’s talking about everything, basically – physical, verbal, mental – that I experience, that others experience, that I enjoy, that others enjoy, that I make use of, use my speech for this, that others make use of.
And the network of my constructive acts throughout the three times is referring to the positive force – “merit,” it’s usually translated. So may that ripen in such a way that it can be of benefit to others.
Host of Samantabhadra offerings. Samantabhadra offerings can be explained in several ways, but the way that Serkong Rinpoche explained it is as follows. And Serkong Rinpoche’s explanations usually were always on an extremely deep level, a very advanced level, with many very far-reaching implications behind it.
So a Samantabhadra offering: you imagine, emanating from your heart, a Samantabhadra figure – one face, two arms – holding a jewel between his two hands at his heart. And it’s fairly small, the Samantabhadra. This Samantabhadra could be at eye level, it could be at heart level, it depends. This is only the beginning of the visualization here. Eye level is usually best. Then, from the jewel, it radiates out infinite offerings. So that can be infinite jewels that radiate out from this jewel in Samantabhadra’s hand. Sometimes people just leave it like that, as Samantabhadra offerings, but it’s actually much more full than that:
So from that one Samantabhadra with the infinite offerings from the jewels, while that stays there, then you imagine two Samantabhadras come – with exactly the same visualization from the jewels that they’re holding. And then in the next row, four Samantabhadras, and then eight Samantabhadras, and sixteen – and as far as one can go, multiplying by two. And then you withdraw it back, stage by stage, step by step. So this is similar to what’s called the subtle generation stage practice.
Again, it’s not necessary to do it in this advanced level, but it also helps us to not get bored with our practice, thinking, “Oh my God, I have to do this every day for the rest of my life. How boring!” But to realize that it may take the rest of our life to be able to actually do it in its most advanced level. So it’s a challenge and something that could occupy us for the rest of our lives, these practices. This I find quite helpful actually. So no need to get proud that I mastered this practice, because there is always a much more complicated level of practice that we can go to. We’ve merely done level one of it, now we can go in to level two of difficulty, and level three and level four. We might not even be aware that there are so many different levels of complexity of doing these practices, but there are.
This is a beginner practice. This is not easy stuff. Often people get involved with Chenrezig practice – Avalokiteshvara – four-armed Chenrezig practice, and they think, “Oh, this is beginner tantra stuff. It’s so simple, so easy. Nothing complex there.” It’s just because they’ve only received level-one explanation. Four-armed Chenrezig practice can be unbelievably complicated and difficult and complex. It’s just a matter of what level of explanation we receive.
Then this verse of the mandala offering continues:
“I visualize these,” it says, here in the English – “I have taken these to mind.” It’s not only that we visualize it, but I bring them to my attention – focus on it – and give it to you.
Often this word “inspiration” is translated as “blessing” and I find that word a bit misleading because it really comes out of a Christian context, not really a Buddhist one. “Inspiration” I think is the better word. The Sanskrit word is adhishthana. “Shthana” means a stage, or a level on which we stand. And “adhi” means superior. So we request you to help us to get stable, in a higher level. And the Tibetan is chingyilab (byin-gyis rlabs). And lab (rlabs) is a wave. And chingyi: Chin (byin) means to brighten, to make more bright. I used to sometimes translate this as inspiring strength – send me waves of inspiring strength. So it’s sort of “uplift me” like a wave. Lifts you up to a brighter state. Chin is bright. I think the closest in our language is “inspiration,” although that has to do with breath. “Inspire” is give us breath, is literally what “inspiration” means, coming from the Latin. But we have to understand it in the Latin way. The point is that usually inspiration lifts us. So I think that’s closer than “bless.”
So that’s the mandala offering.
Then we practice having this healthy relation with the spiritual teacher. This will help us to get this inspiration more firmly. And so first we focus in terms of the healthy relation in terms of our attitude. And so the next verse:
Here we’re doing this in terms of making requests by remembering the kindness of the guru. When we make requests, it’s not that we’re requesting worldly things, but we’re requesting inspiration to gain insight into the teachings, to develop bodhichitta – these sort of things.
When we think of our guru’s kindness here, we are thinking here that, well, the Buddhas (the Blissfully Progressed) have tamed – in other words, they have worked to help beings – throughout the three times and ten directions, but we were not able to meet with such Buddhas. But you, my teacher, in a play of saffron – in other words, coming here in the form of a monk – you have acted like that for my benefit and others’ benefit. So it’s incredibly kind. They are very kind to teach us now. On the basis of thinking of that kindness, we reaffirm our sincere appreciation and respect.
So that’s what is important here, with such a verse, is to try to generate a feeling of appreciation: I am so slow to learn, and I don’t come to class all the time, and I’m so lazy, and I don’t pay attention – and all these things. And yet you don’t give up on me, and you continue to teach. It’s very, very kind. I really appreciate that. I give you a hard time and argue with your teachings, but still you’re patient. Thank you. That’s this verse.
Then the next verse is making requests by reminding ourselves of the teacher’s good qualities. With this, we reaffirm our firm conviction that he or she actually has them. And we reaffirm our trust. So on the basis of that trust and conviction, we make requests:
So what does this verse say? It says that we don’t have the capacity to be able to really comprehend all the good qualities of a Buddha.
One of the questions that was asked was what language did Buddha speak in. The Buddha spoke in all languages. Buddha just said something and everybody understood it in their own language. And nobody could understand, really, that quality. I mean, how could that be? And so, like this, the qualities of a Buddha are beyond our comprehension. How it could work. How could a Buddha speak in all languages simultaneously? How can a Buddha multiply into a million forms, in different places, simultaneously?
Here, obviously, we have to have a properly qualified guru. My guru has qualities that, for me of lesser capacity of mind, I can relate to. These qualities – I can relate to that level of understanding, that level of patience, that level of compassion. Something that fits the capacity of my mind to see and take in.
I find this very, very interesting. If you look at His Holiness the Dalai Lama. And for many of us His Holiness’s qualities, I mean how he does everything that he does (especially if you know him personally) in his daily schedule, how he fits in and does absolutely everything that he does, and is the most learned and the most compassionate of anybody. For most of us, that’s beyond our capacity to really take in. So we relate to gurus who are on a much lesser level than His Holiness. His Holiness, he says that he personally finds great inspiration from the example of Buddha Shakyamuni himself. So His Holiness can relate to yet another level of unbelievable qualities.
So each of us has our capacity of mind of what we can relate to. So for us, the lesser attained Geshes – these people in our centers – are the limit of our capacity to appreciate the good qualities. If we think of an example for our inspiration, it has to be a level above and beyond us, but still a level that we can relate to so that we don’t feel hopeless – that how can I possibly become like that? If we just jumped to the example of all the qualities of a Buddha himself that are in the texts, you can’t relate to that. So then we feel really unable. But if you think of a teacher who is another level above us, then we can conceive of how it would be possible to reach that. So this is what it is saying here, that the teacher is a more holy, more effective object for our thought than all the countless Buddhas, for us to remember the good qualities, to relate to the good qualities.
So that’s this verse. And here it says that Vajradhara praised it as such; Vajradhara acknowledges this. Highly praised by Vajradhara as an exceptional field. So it’s saying that this is valid, this is a valid point. It’s a valid source from Vajradhara. Vajradhara represents the realized clear light mind, the enlightened mind. So from that point of view, this is the method.
Then next in the Fifty Stanzas on the Guru, there’s the advice to remind ourselves of the benefits of correctly relating to our spiritual teacher and the disadvantages of improperly relating. To be mindful of that each day. And so the next two lines are for that.
This is what’s so neat, so nice, about the six-session practice, is that every little line is for a specific purpose. It fulfills a specific close bond or fulfills a specific piece of advice from the Fifty Stanzas, and so on. So it gives us some idea of how these types of practices develop. They all come from sources. And later masters, great masters like the first Panchen Lama, then seeing all these various commitments and so on, they made a type of practice that would allow us to fulfill that. That’s how these practices developed. So that’s incredible kindness, isn’t it?
So the line is:
Question: What is the word that they use for “healthy”? What did you translate it from?
Alex: Well, it certainly is not “surrender.” We’re not talking about submitting ourselves: I’m going to become your slave, and I give up all thinking and making any rational decisions myself. And I am this useless thing; and just order me around, what to do. That is not a healthy relation with a spiritual teacher; that’s joining a cult.
I add in a healthy manner. There’s just one word there in Tibetan, which has many, many different meanings to it, connotations to it. It is to rely on someone. The same word is used to rely on a doctor; that’s the word that’s being used. What you’d do if you have some problem and you go to somebody that you trust who actually is qualified to help cure you. And so they take that word from what one does with a doctor and use it here. You check first is the doctor qualified, maybe you get a second opinion, and you rely on the doctor for a specific purpose – to cure a sickness. You don’t rely on the doctor to take care of absolutely everything in your life.
So, similarly, you go to a spiritual teacher to deal with your spiritual development. Like in India, we always used to make fun when people go to the teacher: “Should I go to Delhi to get my money now?” – become totally mindless, to rule your life. That’s not what one does as a mature adult. One must be mature – mature adult relating to a teacher, not a child or a slave.
This word has both the connotation of “rely” and also “relate” – because you relate in terms of your attitude and relate in terms of your behavior – to relate in a healthy way. That’s why just leaving it with the word “rely” is a little bit: to rely with your attitude, to rely with your actions, that also is… I mean, these words are quite difficult to find exact equivalents in our languages. Often words will have two different connotations that don’t fit into one word in our languages.
So it is saying that we can gain all supreme actual attainments; that would be enlightenment. And common actual attainments would be ordinary attainments of concentration and all these sorts of things that come from having full concentration and so on. All these things come from properly relating and relying to a spiritual teacher.
Now it calls the teacher my guide. We’re not talking about protector, like Mahakala or something like that. The Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit – I’m not quite sure how and why they translated it this way – is the word that’s used for not only protector, but it’s used for specifically Mahakala. But the Sanskrit word that it’s translating is “the one that leads you,” so a guide. One that leads you, and in that way protects you from getting lost: From getting lost from the path, from the spiritual path. You miss the path. You go off on a wrong direction. That’s the connotation. So the spiritual teacher is often called gonbo (mgon-po), this word in Tibetan. You find in the Lama Chopa, in many verses this word is used. “Protector lama.” Actually it’s “my guide,” the one that keeps me from getting lost.
Then comes the line for properly relating to our gurus with our actions. And so this means by supporting their work and helping them. Supporting it either materially, or by cooking for them, or money, or whatever. Supporting them so they can do their work. Helping them in any way and showing respect. When these things are translated by words like to “serve” the guru and so on, these are words that don’t give the proper connotation. It’s not that we become a slave and we have to serve them like our master; it’s not like that. We appreciate what they’re doing, value what they’re doing, and we want to support it, make it more possible for them to help others and to continue to help us. So that it’s possible for them to continue to help others and help us. So the line is:
In other words: I’m going to, if I can, physically help you. And “devote my life” doesn’t mean that I’m going to stand in front of you and let people shoot me instead of you, although obviously one could understand it that way, but I’m going to give my life-energy – what I’m doing in my life – use that to help you, whatever that might be. One can understand that in a very, very wide sense. If we were a doctor, we’d take care of you. If we are a typist… This is my life, so I can use that to help you. I mean, whatever.
So then we make more specific our request for inspiration:
So what will please you is if we practice the Dharma properly and correctly. So this is another way of showing our respect to the teacher, by taking what they say seriously and actually practicing. But that doesn’t mean that we practice just to get our teacher’s approval. That is very neurotic. I want their approval, and if I am a good boy or a good girl and practice nicely, then… Then what? The guru’s going to come and pat me on the head, “Good boy! Good girl!” and we wag our tail. That’s not the point here.
As I sometimes told you, my own teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, thanked me after… In nine years of studying with him and helping him with many, many things, he only thanked me twice in nine years. And so this is the point. I do things for him, or do things for His Holiness, and you don’t do it with the expectation that you’re going to get a “thank you” and a pat on the head. That’s not the point, in terms of what will please the teacher. What will please the teacher is not to do it for an ego pat on the head. Just do it to help others.
Once when I was with Serkong Rinpoche in Italy, many people came to see him and so on. And often people would make offerings, and they would make a big show with a kata and an envelope and presenting it to the teacher so that the teacher knew that this came from that person. With this type of thing. But, once, somebody came and saw him and didn’t do that; and as they left they just very discreetly left an envelope on the table on the side by the door – with actually quite a large offering – and it was only later that the attendants noticed that this person had left an offering like that. And Serkong Rinpoche said, “Ah, this is the proper way.” This is a properly motivated offering, not one just for a “thank you,” but an appreciation.
Question: But it’s so nice to thank. If somebody says “thank you,” what’s…
Alex: Well, you also have to take into consideration cultural factors. In the West, we tend to say “thank you” far more frequently than in Asia.
Participant: It’s just nice, I think, if somebody – If I do something for somebody and the other person says “thanks,” it’s just nice.
Alex: If you do that with an Indian, for example – Indians are insulted if you say “thank you.” Somebody opens a door for us, and we say “thank you.” Do that to an Indian and they would be highly insulted because then the understanding is that you didn’t expect them to open the door. And so they open the door, and so you were very surprised, and then you thank them. From an Indian point of view, of course you open the door. “This is my duty,” and you open the door. You don’t say “thank you.” So it’s culturally influenced, how frequently one says “thank you.” It’s nice, but it depends on the motivation.
I’m just explaining what will please the teacher. What pleases the teacher is that you actually practice. The point that I would like to please my teacher is not that we’re doing things just for their approval. That’s very childish. If we actually do this practice every day, do we expect our teacher to thank us for that? That doesn’t make any sense, does it? We just do it.
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