For the benefit of all sentient beings, I am going to listen to the teaching on the Avalokiteshvara guru yoga method.
Guru Shakyamuni Buddha showed different paths, the Hinayana and Mahayana, or the Lesser Vehicle and the Great Vehicle, according to the capabilities of sentient beings, the objects to be subdued. Within the Mahayana path, there are two yanas, or vehicles: the Paramitayana and the Mantrayana.
Many Tibetans who haven’t really studied well do not even recognize the Mantrayana, or Vajrayana, as part of the Mahayana path. Without knowing that, they discriminate, “I am a Vajrayana practitioner, not a Mahayana practitioner.” Their conception of a Mahayana practitioner is someone who practices only the bodhisattva sutra path and never practices Vajrayana teachings. Many people discriminate this way, not knowing that Mantrayana, or Vajrayana, goes under the title of Mahayana.
The Mantrayana is also called “the path of secret mantra.” As said in the Vajrayana teachings, you should do the practice in secret. Why is this path secret? It is said in the teachings that the secret mantra can be achieved with much effort and by keeping it secret. It is not said in the teachings that the secret mantra can be achieved by exposing it to other people like a supermarket. With much effort means by bearing much hardship. No matter how long it takes or how difficult it is to achieve this path, you bear all the difficulties.
After you have taken an initiation, you also have Vajrayana precepts, or pledges. No matter how difficult they are to observe, you have to keep the tantric samayas. You have to take more care of them than your own life. By doing that, you then achieve the path of secret mantra.
That’s just briefly what it means when it says in the teachings that secret mantra can be achieved with much effort and by keeping it secret.
While I was talking about this, the thought came that if you really wish to practice Dharma purely, there’s no way to do that without bearing difficulties. To practice pure Dharma you have to bear difficulties. The biggest difficulty you have to bear is facing your delusions. Not one sentient being has been freed from samsara, so there is no doubt that no one has achieved enlightenment, by following delusions, by allowing yourself to be under the control of delusions. You have to bear the difficulties of facing your enemy, the delusions. Delusion is your enemy, and you are the enemy of your delusions. Without recognizing this, no sentient being has been freed even from samsara. There is no one who has become free from samsara by living a comfortable, luxurious life doing whatever the delusions want to do.
First of all, you can check the life story of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of the Dharma. He practiced austerities for six years. He lived an ascetic life by renouncing the power, fame, and great material enjoyments of a king’s reign. Even though he had the chance to have all these things because he was born in a king’s family, he completely renounced them all.
Also think of all the difficulties that Guru Shakyamuni Buddha bore when he was a bodhisattva. In the sutra teachings, it says that when he was taking teachings from other buddhas, he used his skin as paper, his bones as a pen, and his blood as ink. There are many stories of the great austerities he experienced to receive teachings, of even one verse, when he was a bodhisattva. There are many stories of the difficulties he went through, such as putting a thousand nails into his body, when he was a bodhisattva.
It is similar with Tilopa, Naropa, and other great pandits. Just to receive initiation and teachings, Naropa had to go through twelve great difficulties over many years. It’s quite a long story that some people might have heard. First of all, he couldn’t find his guru, Tilopa, and once he’d met his guru, he couldn’t receive teachings and had to go through twelve great difficulties. After all that, he then received initiation from Tilopa.
It is similar with Marpa. There are many stories of how he bore great difficulties to go from Tibet to India on foot in ancient times. He went to India three times to meet his guru, Naropa, and receive initiations and teachings from him and from many other great yogis. He didn’t come by car or by plane for even an hour. At that time, the country was very primitive, much wilder than now. Just to receive teachings, Marpa bore all these difficulties—danger from wild animals and flooded rivers, as well as incredible heat in India—three times.
It is also clear in the life story of the great yogi, Milarepa. Most of you have probably read his life story. Milarepa had to build a tower three times. Each time, after he had built the tower, his guru Marpa would make him put the stones back exactly where they came from. Milarepa didn’t have any coolies or other people he could hire. His back even became one big infected wound, with blackened skin and pus, like you see on pack-horses. Even though Milarepa had this wound on his back, Marpa didn’t say: “Oh, you have a wound—you should go to hospital.” He had to keep working. Even though he had the wound, he still carried heavy loads of stones.
There are also incredible stories about how Lama Tsongkhapa bore great difficulties for many years to purify negativities and obscurations and to collect merit. When they were in caves in various isolated places, he was instructed by Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom, the main guru from whom he received most of his teachings, especially those on emptiness.
Even though Lama Tsongkhapa was a distinguished teacher, the crown of all the learned lamas in Tibet, with knowledge of the Dharma, extremely learned and extremely wise in all the teachings of sutra and tantra, and even though he was giving teachings to many thousands of disciples, his guru, Manjushri, instructed him, “Give up all this, even giving teachings to other sentient beings. You must go to a cave in an isolated place and do retreat.”
So, in the middle of giving teachings to many people, Lama Tsongkhapa left for an isolated place, taking eight disciples with him.
I think His Holiness Song Rinpoche mentioned during the course that if you check the life stories of the very learned monks in the monasteries in Tibet, it is definite that they lived a very simple life before and bore many difficulties, including not having enough food. They studied and practiced Dharma in the monasteries with very limited material enjoyments. There are many stories of learned geshes whose only food was tsampa, and they would even run out of that. Sometimes they would have just one small sack of tsampa, so they would make black tea, sprinkle just a little tsampa on it, then drink that. They would just live on that, taking teachings, studying, and debating the whole day and night. There is not much time to sleep, because even at night they have to study and debate. The whole class has to debate. For many years there is no sleep. Only the lazy ones in the classes, those who don’t understand or study much, would talk and sleep.
There are many different classes, such as Madhyamaka and Prajnaparamita, where all the monks in the class have to debate. I heard about this; it’s not my personal experience. I’m not sure about my previous life but it’s not my present experience. That’s why I don’t understand Dharma.
In Madhyamaka class, I think they spend three years debating at night, so they have no sleep. In the daytime they take teachings, go to pujas, study, read, and memorize, then at night the whole class has to go to the courtyard for debate. There is a debating yard outside where there is a platform and ground covered by sand made by grinding small pieces of stone. For three years the Madhyamaka class spends the whole night there. They undergo great difficulties to study Dharma.
Some geshes live this way. They have a small sack of tsampa and just sprinkle a little on black tea. Sometimes they don’t have even tsampa and live on just black tea. After one or two weeks, when the monks who are living in the next room come to know about it, they sometimes help out. And at certain times, the monk’s benefactors show up and give them some tsampa and food. They then make a little sack of tsampa last for many months.
Because they don’t have enough food, their bodies become very weak and ill, but their mind is still completely concentrated. They are the opposite to worldly business people, who are completely concentrated on the works of this life. They bear incredible difficulties—not wearing much clothing, not eating much, and not spending much money—just for the pleasures of this life. Even though they have enough food and clothing to last for one or two hundred years, they still worry and suffer a lot, bearing great difficulties. In order to obtain the tiny pleasure of this life they undergo incredible sufferings and difficulties. They spend the whole day and night in this way. If their methods were correct and enabled them to receive what they expect it would be okay, but their methods are not right. Their minds are full of worry. These worldly people are completely concentrated on worldly actions, on creating nonvirtue, day and night. These learned geshes, however, even though they don’t have food to eat and their means of living are meager, their minds are completely concentrated, day and night, on the Dharma. They have no time to be concerned about temporal enjoyments. Even the well-educated, learned geshes definitely lived a very simple life and bore many difficulties when they were studying Dharma.
It is the same with the great meditators and also the Kadampa geshes, the great bodhisattva followers of Atisha.
Even though the material enjoyments of these monks who are studying are so poor that sometimes they don’t have tsampa and have to live on black tea, even though they are really bearing difficulties to study Dharma, there is not a single story of anyone dying of starvation. It is also the same with the meditators who completely renounce this life and lead ascetic lives. There are numberless stories of worldly people, people who never worked for the happiness of future lives or enlightenment for the sake of sentient beings but concentrated only on working for their own happiness of this life, who died of starvation. There are numberless stories of people who completely dedicated their lives to running after food, clothing, and fame and who died of starvation. There are even stories of people who had enough food, clothes, and money, but were unable to use them and died of starvation.
Kharag Gomchung, a Kadampa Geshe, said, “A great meditator dying from cold and starvation has never been heard of in the past and won’t be heard of even in the future.”
The idea to mention this came from the story about practicing secret mantra, since it can be related to what we will be doing in these two weeks. We think it is unbelievably difficult, as if we were already in the hells. I’m joking! This is great pleasure compared to that.
We can’t say how our life will be in the future. I’m talking about the future in this life, not in the future life. We can’t clearly see how our life will be in the future, without mentioning the long trip of our future lives. According to our individual karma, we might have to experience a more difficult life than this. We can’t be sure. If you think about the sufferings of the lower realms, the sufferings of the animals, hungry ghosts, and hell beings, our practicing Dharma is a great pleasure. We are bearing difficulties to practice Dharma, not to create the cause of suffering. If you think of the suffering of those sentient beings, this is incredible pleasure. Having the chance to practice Dharma is something that you can be happy about all day and night. You have the chance to recite the six-syllable Avalokiteshvara mantra, which is the essence of the whole Dharma. And we are not reciting this just for ourselves, for the happiness of our future lives or to be free from samsara ourselves. It is a method to bring the happiness of future lives, freedom from samsara, and enlightenment for the benefit of others.
If you think of all the benefits of this Dharma practice we are doing, it is incredible. First of all, practicing Dharma to free yourself from samsara, from all samsaric suffering, is something greatly worthwhile no matter how much difficulty you have to bear. However, that is for one person, yourself, but what you are doing is trying to practice Dharma, to do this retreat, not only for one person, yourself, but for one other sentient being.
Let’s say we are practicing Dharma, doing this retreat not for you but for another sentient being, to obtain their happiness. This is something that you can really rejoice in day and night. No matter what great difficulty you have to bear, it is all pleasure to work to obtain the happiness of even one other sentient being. To work to obtain the happiness of even one sentient being is extremely worthwhile. It is really a great pleasure to bear such difficulties to practice Dharma.
To bear difficulties to obtain happiness for even one sentient being is a great pleasure, so there is no doubt about working to obtain happiness, making it possible for them to achieve enlightenment, for numberless other sentient beings. Even if we have to give up our life for three countless great eons, many trillions of times, to obtain the happiness of one sentient being, if you think of the kindness of one sentient being, it is still nothing. There is no way that can compare to the kindness of that sentient being. It is insignificant compared to the kindness of that one sentient being.
When your mind feels discouraged or you feel it is difficult to practice Dharma when you meet difficult conditions, it is also extremely useful at such times to remember especially the sufferings of the animals, pretas, and hell beings. It helps to destroy laziness and the evil thought of the eight worldly dharmas and doesn’t let you be controlled by them. It is very useful to remember the sufferings of other sentient beings.
You can also relate the sufferings of other sentient beings to yourself. “If I were now born like this, how would it be?” You can watch the sufferings of other sentient beings like watching a movie, but you can also relate those sufferings to yourself. “If I were born there now, how would it be? Would I be able to bear it or not? If I were now born in the cold hells (remember the sufferings explained in the teachings), how would it be? If I were born as a preta , I wouldn’t get a single piece of food or a drop of water for hundreds of years. I wouldn’t be able to find even a damp mark of water on the sand. If I were born like this, passing my whole life suffering from hunger and thirst, what could I do?”
Relating these sufferings to yourself is very effective. The difficulty you believe you are now experiencing disappears. It becomes a pleasure.
With meditations like this, meditators try to control laziness and the evil thought of the eight worldly dharmas, which seeks the pleasure of this life.
It is also extremely useful to remember worldly people, people who do not practice Dharma.
The great bodhisattva Shantideva said in his teachings: “For the small pleasures of this life, farmers and fishermen bear the sufferings of heat and cold. If they can bear such incredible difficulties for that meaningless action, there is no doubt that it is worthwhile to bear the difficulties of practicing Dharma.” That is the conclusion.
You can also relate this to people in the West who bear many difficulties to do meaningless actions, actions that don’t bring happiness in future lives, free them from samsara, or bring them enlightenment. These nonvirtuous actions cause them to be born in the realms of the suffering transmigratory beings. You can think of examples in the West of people who dedicate their life to working very hard day and night. You can also relate it to the Sherpas here. They get up in the early morning to do meaningless actions. The whole day long they go up and down, carrying big heavy loads or they bear many difficulties to work in the fields or in the forest. They suffer to climb mountains and sometimes die on the mountains. Even though it is dangerous, they still go. Before they go on an expedition, they sometimes go to ask a lama to make an observation about whether or not they will be safe. Even though they are not sure, they can give up their life for such a meaningless action.
It is the same for the tourists who climb mountains just to obtain the small pleasure of reputation. They know it is dangerous, but they even give up their life for that. They can spend millions and millions of dollars and years and years to prepare for an expedition. Their work is completely empty, like an empty pot.
Even when they come back home at night, the Sherpas are working, making things with wool and things like that. They bear incredible difficulties just for the pleasures of this life.
It is similar with the Nepalis in Kathmandu. In the village near Kopan, they get up very early in the morning, two or three o’clock, when it is very cold and go to cut wood to make money. They don’t have shoes. To hide the difficulty, they get up and sing. The singing distracts their minds from thinking of the cold and other difficulties. They get up very early in the morning and go to the very high mountain at the back of Kopan to get firewood. When the sun rises, they come back to the village then go to sell the wood. In the daytime, they then work in the fields, with all the difficulties of rain, cold, and the hot sun.
So, you can relate to many other worldly people. They think it is worthwhile, but the great difficulties they bear are actually empty, meaningless.
So, it is said in the teachings that secret mantra can be achieved by keeping the secrecy. You should keep secret the Mantrayana deity yoga practices and the mantras of the deities, and even the symbolic implements, such as vajras, bells, and rosaries, which signify the path of secret mantra. Besides the teachings and mandalas of secret mantra, even the implements should be kept hidden. By keeping them secret, you achieve secret mantra quicker. If you show them to others, like in a market, it will postpone your achievement of the realizations of secret mantra.
That’s also why mantras are usually recited quietly in retreat. There are different ways to recite mantras, but generally you recite so that you can hear it yourself but a person next to you can’t. You recite with that much sound. By keeping secret any special deity that you practice, you don’t lose the power of the blessing, and it’s also easier to receive realizations.
That is why the Vajrayana teachings are called secret mantra. It can be achieved by practicing it secretly.
Many people who do not know how to practice secret mantra, who do not understand even the meaning of the title, display everything, just like in a supermarket.
The meaning of mantra is “guarding the mind.” Guarding it from what? From clinging, or attachment, and the view of this life.
It means guarding the mind from attachment, the view of this life, and the three lower realms. It means guarding the mind from the whole suffering realm of samsara, which means all six realms, and from seeking and being bound to the blissful state of peace for self. It guards the mind, or in other words, it guards oneself. It means the same thing. It is related to guarding the mind but it means guarding you from all these problems and from binding yourself to the blissful state of peace. It also guards your mind from the impression of the subtle dualistic view, or she-drib, which is another name for obscurations to the objects of knowledge. The ignorance that believes in self-existence causes things to appear as truly existent. This subtle dualistic mind that makes things appear self-existent leaves an impression on the consciousness. So, it is referring to this impression.
Mantra guards the mind in these different ways. Instead of saying “mind,” you can say, “Mantra guards me from this and that,” which is effective. The way mantra guards you is by guarding your mind. If mantra did not guard your mind from those different hindrances, there’s no way mantra could guard you.
Secret mantra is not only to guard your mind; it has many functions and benefits. Even the three-syllable mantra, OM AH HUM, or just one syllable has all these powers. For instance, the six-syllable mantra OM MANI PADME HUM, contains the whole path, the whole Dharma. There is not a single Dharma that is not contained in that mantra. MANI is method and PADME is wisdom. The whole path to enlightenment is divided into method and wisdom, so that is contained within this mantra. MANI refers to all the method and PADME to all the wisdom that enable you to achieve enlightenment. Somebody who knows the meaning of the mantra can recite this mantra one time and remember the whole path. In the short time it takes to hear this mantra you are reminded of the whole path to enlightenment and all the qualities of a buddha. It is said in the teachings to recite the six-syllable mantra, which is the essence of the whole Dharma.
Some people think that mantra refers to verbal recitation but it’s not only that. This mantra has all the powers explained in the meaning of guarding the mind. Mantra means the whole path that enables you to achieve the unified state of Vajradhara. The literal translation is “vajra holding.” Vajra holding sounds like a funny kind of enlightenment, but it contains extremely profound secret explanations of the Vajrayana teachings. It is the path that is the remedy to impure, or ordinary, view and conception.
There are three different names for the path of secret mantra. In the term Vajrayana, yana means the vehicle of the result or of the method.
If there is time tomorrow I will give a brief introduction to the meaning of each of the three names just so you have some idea of what tantra, or secret mantra, is. Understanding the title will give you a general idea of the method that quickly takes you to enlightenment.