Advice on Practice from the Lama
We are very fortunate to have this opportunity to come together and put the teachings that we have received into practice. In general, we hear teachings, then contemplate and meditate upon them. There is an appropriate time for listening, for contemplation, and for mediation. Now is the time for meditation, for putting into practice what we already understand. Ideally, when you come into a situation like a drubchen, you work with what you know. Whatever you might not know isn’t the issue; the point is to put what you do know into practice.
Lamas and students coming together and practicing in this concentrated way lends power to each individual’s practice; we derive far more benefit than we would by practicing on our own. So it’s important that we understand the uniqueness of this opportunity. If you cannot fulfill your personal aspiration to undertake a long retreat, don’t feel that you will never get anywhere with your practice. If each year you take the time to come to a drubchen or a similar group retreat in which everyone can reinforce each other’s practice, then you can derive enormous benefit. This is an opportunity to make real progress in a very short time. My hope is that in the future these opportunities will continue–both here and wherever there are teachers able to guide motivated students, wherever people wish to gather to help dharma activities flourish.
We are here because we want all that is positive to flourish. As practitioners, we can develop our positive qualities, accumulate merit, and deepen our experience of timeless awareness. There are many ways to do this. Some pertain more to one’s own individual liberation, others to the bodhisattva path, and some to the Vajrayana path.
As pure embodiments of enlightenment, deities manifest in various ways and under different circumstances to meet the needs of individual beings. All deities, fully imbued with such qualities as wisdom, loving kindness, compassion, spiritual power, and the ability to grant refuge, are worthy objects of our prayers.
When we practice in this way, any physical activity we engage in becomes part of our practice. The best way to practice is with your body on your seat and your mind in your body, focused on what is virtuous and positive. Always pay attention to your posture. There is a saying that when the body is straight, so are the subtle channels and the subtle energy moves smoothly, allowing the mind to focus. There is a direct connection between your state of mind and whether your subtle energy is agitated or smooth. Good sitting posture can support and benefit your practice. The more you calm the disturbed, agitated energy in the channels and release blockages, the more your mind settles, reducing afflictive emotions and concepts.
When you recite mantra, you are giving voice to the vajra speech of all buddhas. The compassion and blessings inherent in mantra are identical to those inherent in deity. When you recite mantra with this understanding, you purify your mind-stream of the effects of eons of harmful actions, obscurations, faults, and failings. All negativity is refined away and purified. All buddhas and great masters attest to this. The effort you make physically purifies you on the level of body; the effort you make with your voice purifies you on the level of speech; and the effort that you make mentally purifies you on the level of mind.
Because of the complex details in visualization, development stage practice may seem rather difficult. But don’t think that you are not practicing correctly if you can’t visualize every detail. The key to development state practice is to understand that all visual appearances are the form of the deity–vajra body, the unity of appearance and emptiness. All that is audible is by its very nature the unity of sound and emptiness, vajra speech. All thought, memory, and awareness–all that arises in the mind–is the display of timeless awareness, vajra mind. If you have that certainty, then you are truly practicing, even if not all the details are there. By focusing in this way, you will invoke and receive blessings, your obscurations will be removed, and your abilities to benefit others will increase.
No matter what other connections we may have with each other, we are all here because we love the dharma. Therefore, we try to receive as many teachings and study as much as we can, and then contemplate what we have heard in order to come to a clear understanding of what those teachings mean. Don’t waste that effort. Put into practice whatever you feel you have understood. That is the training. The more we learn, the more we will have to put into practice.
Don’t fool yourselves by pretending to be better practitioners than you are–that won’t get you anywhere. Use the teachings as they are meant to be used, as a taming process. Tame your afflictive emotions and negative karma, the root of samsara. Do this by hearing, by contemplating, and, especially, by putting the teachings into practice. Only you can decide whether you are a practitioner or not. Be honest with yourself; if your negative emotions are diminishing, then you are practicing.
I also would like to reiterate that life is impermanent. It’s important that we understand what is really worthwhile and not waste the opportunity we have. The nature of our mind is buddha nature just waiting to be discovered, like a jewel that we already hold in our hands. Yet we repeatedly put it down and go running after something else. Wouldn’t it be better to appreciate the value of that jewel?
None of the wealth, power, and success that we may acquire in this life will be of ultimate benefit, because we cannot take any of it with us. When we die, our mind will slip out of this life like a hair out of butter, leaving behind everything we thought was so important. Remember what is important. You have the opportunity to bring about extraordinary benefit for both yourself and others. Use it wisely. I want all of you to be mindful of this.
The blessing of a sangha lies in its undivided and harmonious focus on what is virtuous and positive. That is how the sangha should function. If you have reached a level of practice where you can see through the ordinary bonds of ignorance or the afflictive emotions, this is all the more reason to help others who may still need help or guidance. That is what lamas are for, to help others work out their confusion and negativity. I ask you all to do your best. Don’t waste any time.
Always be witness to your own mind. Be mindful, alert, and heedful. There is a Tibetan saying that sangha members maintain their own discipline the way a cow uses her tail to ward off flies. Nobody keeps your rules for you or imposes anything on you. Vow to uphold your own discipline and live up to your own expectations.
During a drubchen, there are formal practice sessions and there are breaks. The breaks aren’t a time to waste or to forget about the practice; use them to practice and create merit in other ways. We need to apply the threefold bond to our practice. The first bond is the preparation–establishing the motivation with which we undertake anything. The second is focusing without distraction upon the practice. The third bond is the conclusion, in which we dedicate the merit of what we have undertaken for the benefit of all beings.
Ideally, you dedicate the merit of your practice from the point of view of threefold purity: understanding the essential nature of the one who is dedicating, the beings to whom the merit is dedicated, and the merit itself. If you don’t feel you can do that, then dedicate by emulating all of the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Say to yourself, “Just as all buddhas and bodhisattvas have given rise to pure motivation, undertaken something virtuous, and dedicated the merit for the benefit of all beings, so do I.” that is an entirely sufficient dedication.