Thrangu Meditation Center Outline for 10-9-2011
Quote of the Week: When a simpleton abused him, Buddha listened to him in silence, but when the man had finished, asked him, “Son, if a man declined to accept a present offered to him, to whom would it belong?” The man answered, “To him who offered it.”
“My son,” Buddha said, “I decline to accept your abuse. Keep it for yourself.”
— The Buddha as told by Will Durant
Suggested Dharma Practice for the Week: We have already talked about saying the meal prayer as a way to increase our path in Dharma. Another way is suggested by the 17th Karmapa is that we take a little bit of our food of each meal and dedicate it to the three jewels. We would then leave that offering uneaten.
Last Week: We discussed Vajrasattva practice, but didn’t actually pass out the Vajrasattva mantra. Here it is. It is also in the prayer book on page 87 (purification of White Tara practice).
SAMAYAM ANUPALAYA VAJRASATTVA TVENO PATISHTHA DRIDHO ME BHAVA SUTOSHYO ME BHAVA SUPOSHYO ME BHAVA ANURAKTO ME BHAVA SARVA-SIDDHI ME PRAYACCHA SARVA-KARMASU CHA ME CHITTAM SHREYAH KURU HUM HA HA HA HA HOH BHAGAVAN SARVATATHAGATA VAJRA MA ME MUNCHA VAJRI BHAVA MAHASAMAYASATTVA AH The short version is: OM VAJRASATTVA HUM.
Outline, Comments, and Additions to Page 38-40 of Vivid Awareness
The main purpose of Mandala Practice (the 3rd Ngondro practice) is to develop generosity. Generosity is the perfect antidote to the self-centered or self-cherishing that we harbor.
In every sadhana practice we make offerings. It can be to our guru, to the three jewels, to the bodhisattvas, or to a yidam. If you have a shrine the bare minimum is a statue or picture of the Buddha and seven offering bowls which you fill with water every day (or if you can’t do that every time you do practice) These seven bowls representing offering everything that you have. Since Buddhism originated in India these offerings are represented by the seven offering goddesses called Argam, Padyam, Pupe etc are listed below. I have the pictures of these goddesses and what they are offering (drinking water, washing water, flowers, incense, light, perfumed water, food, and music).
There are two kinds of offering bowl setups for a shrine: the first is more of a Mahayana shrine which consists of 7 offering bowls which usually have just pure water in them. The other is a Vajrayana shrine which usually have 8 bowls and this is depicted on the photograph above. One cannot visually “offering” so in about the 8th Century in India the process became more easily visualized or solidified by picturing the offerings of eight types that were common to that time. In India there were already eight offering goddesses so these were adopted. When we had an important person such a village chief or high religious person or a king into one’s house one would first offer them drinking water. This is represented by the goddess Aloka and when we do the offering mudra in Buddhist practices we say “aloke, ghende, newidye” with each mudra. After offering water, we would wash the person’s feet—we must remember that in those days all streets were dirt and we didn’t want dirt and mud tracked into a center or sacred part of the house. Then we would offer them flowers. In Tibet, there were no flowers 8 months a year so they adopted the custom of giving a cloth scarf or kata which is still done today. Then one would have the dignitary light a stick of incense on the shrine—a practice still done in many Buddhist shrine rooms and we would light a candle. Then we would give them perfumed water to wash their hands in because it would be time to eat. On the shrine we often put a little saffron in this bowl of water. Then we offer food and have a feast. Finally, while we are feasting, we have to have musical accompaniment which is shown by Shabta.
We often think of meditation as sitting there very still, not moving trying to focus our thought down. But having an enlightened mind involves movement and energy shifts and a lightness to it. We we see high lamas together or with their monks and students they are often smiling and joking and laughing. We see light and movement. If we look at these goddesses and the dakinis in Thangkas we see they are dancing because the path to enlightenment is one of lightness and movement. When we are offering we are evoking these goddesses and moving our hands in symbolic movements (mudras) and that is how we should see mandala offering— a joyous act of giving everything to the entire universe.
Actually, mudras come from Indian dance in which every movement in sacred dances (not just Indian, but Bali, Thai, Burmese, Japanese classical, etc.) represent a word or feeling or mood. When we see the movements in in these dances we see the energy ebb and flow with their bodies. It is the same with the movements of Tai Chi and martial arts—we concentrate on inner peace and the body then flows with energy and we are able to block or pivot or strike with immense power and insight.
Indian dance by the 8th century had already developed texts on the body movements in dance laying out over 1,000 movements and what these movements mean and what they go with. To this day we can go to India and study under a master and gradually learn these movements until they become automatic and flowing.
Finally, this technology of the movement of energy in the body was not only used and known in Buddhism, but was the very foundation of ancient science yoga and many other healing modalities.
The 17th Karmapa on Mandala Offering
I will explain mandala offerings briefly. First of all, there are said to be many types of merit, such as conditioned merit and unconditioned merit. It is extremely difficult for ordinary individuals to instill conditioned virtuous merit and unconditioned merit into their beings. Whatever phase we are in, whether the phase of ground, path, or fruition, a great deal of conditioned virtuous merit is needed. It is difficult for individuals who lack merit to even hear the words “path” and “Dharma,” let alone develop the path within themselves. This is why we need to make the accumulation of merit within our beings complete, which we should do by making mandala offerings. It is for this reason that we do the mandala practice.
The sutras and tantras both talk about how to make mandala offerings. Generally, the word mandala is a Sanskrit word that means “to take the essence.” Thus before we offer the mandala we need to identify what the essence is that we are taking. It is the result, the three kayas—the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya. The method by which we take their essence is to continuously offer mandalas to the buddhas and bodhisattvas, which makes the obscurations in our beings become thinner and thinner and the qualities grow stronger and stronger. Ultimately we will manifest the state where all faults have been extinguished and all qualities gained. Then at last we will be able to take the essence.
We need to know what materials mandala plates can be made of. There are three types of material: the best, the average, and the least. The best mandala plates are made of precious substances such as gold and silver. The middling are made of iron or copper, and the least are made of wood, clay, stone, and so forth. Mandalas come in different shapes and colors. For example, pacifying mandalas are square, enriching are round, magnetizing are crescent-shaped, and mandalas for wrathful activity are triangular. Similarly, each of the different activities of pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, and destroying has its own color. There are also large, medium, and small-sized mandalas, but the minimum size it should be is twelve finger widths across. These are the physical characteristics of the mandalas that we can use. When we offer mandalas, there are two types: the mandala of accomplishment and the mandala of offering. The mandala of accomplishment is set up as a representation, and the other mandala is used for actually making offerings. If all the sources of refuge mentioned here—the Buddha, Dharma, yidam, lamas, and Sangha—are present in your shrine room, it is not necessary to have a special mandala of accomplishment. But whether in actuality you have the mandala of accomplishment or not, you should visualize the sources of refuge on the base of the mandala as they are described above,’ whichever type of mandala it may be. Then offer a seven-branch prayer in a way that moves you and with all the branches properly fulfilled.
When you offer one hundred thousand mandalas, the most important mandala is the offering mandala. You mainly make seven-heap mandala offerings on the offering mandala. To describe the seven-heap offerings, the mandala plate represents the golden ground of the earth, and on that ground is the golden earth anointed with fragrant scents, scattered with flowers, and completely circled with a ring of iron mountains around its perimeter. In the middle is the king of mountains, Mount. Meru, surrounded by the four main continents in the four directions and also adorned by the sun and moon to its right and left. Visualize it as a pure land created by the intentions and aspirations of the buddhas. You should make this offering thinking that through the power of visualizing the offering, all wandering beings purify the stains of the defilements and enjoy the state of the four kayas within a realm that is utterly pure.
In terms of how the mandala is offered, we should first talk about what substances you should offer in the heaps. Offering medicinal herbs and other substances that sustain the body eliminates physical illnesses and brings long life. Offering precious stones and the like will cause your needs and wishes to be fulfilled and your purposes accomplished. Offering rice and grain that have been infused with a nice scent has the purpose of being able to elicit faith and generate renunciation in others. Medicinal herbs, grains, or any offering substances other than gems and precious stones for the offering piles get stale quickly, so you should not always use the same herbs and grain over and over again. You may, however, offer gems over and over again.
When you make the mandala offerings, keep some grain and gems in your left hand as you offer the mandalas. Holding the mandala plate with an empty hand does not create an auspicious connection. Then you can make the piles, whether of grain, medicinal substances, or gems, with your right hand. First wipe the mandala plate with your right wrist. In the Kamtsang tradition, we wipe it all the way around twice in a clockwise direction and once counterclockwise. Wiping it twice clockwise is most likely in terms of the outer classes of tantra, and wiping it once counterclockwise is in terms of the inner tantras. The ordinary custom is to wipe twice clockwise and once counterclockwise, but it is also okay to rub it either three times clockwise or three times counterclockwise.
Whether you wipe the plate clockwise or counterclockwise, the main thing is to do it with your right wrist. The reason is that the bodhichitta nerve is on the surface there. Because the bodhichitta nerve is there, this creates the interconnections that make it easier to purify afflictions, misdeeds, and obscurations and develop love and compassion. As you wipe the plate, you should think that this realm that you are taming is cleared of all rocks, mud, gravel, and any other impurities or faults. If you think that, it becomes the practice of purifying a realm described in the sutras on transcendent wisdom. It has all the elements of the practice of purifying a realm.
Hold some grains or gems in your right hand as you wipe the mandala plate, and when you are done place them in the center of the mandala plate. If you do not do that and leave the center empty, there might be the fault that you will be born in a realm that is pure but empty. Then you make the seven piles on the mandala. There is the king of mountains, Mount Meru, in the center and the four continents in the four directions, ornamented by the sun and moon. You should visualize these properly.
There are two different ways you consider the directions: You can consider east to be in front of yourself, or you can consider east to be in front of the mandala. Thus east is either the direction you are facing or the direction those to whom you are making the offering are facing. You consider the direction that those to whom you are giving offerings face as the east primarily to receive the blessing of the sources of refuge quickly. You consider the direction you are facing as the east to offer your body, speech, and mind. Either is acceptable.
In either case you should visualize Mount Meru in the center. These days there is a lot of discussion about whether or not Mount Meru exists, but whether something like the specific Mount Meru we visualize in our meditation absolutely has to exist is a different question. Some people visualize Mount Meru as square and some as round. There is no way it could exist exactly as each and every individual imagines it. Therefore the way you visualize it is not how it is. Instead, the main purpose is to broaden our attitude and actions so that what we call the four continents are purified of all their stains and impurities, so that they may become the pure realms of the buddhas.
Thus what is mentioned here are Mount Meru in the center, the four continents, the sun, and the moon. Alternatively, it would probably be fine to make a new seven-pile mandala with Asia in the east and America in the west and offer it, as long as you offer it properly. But before you made such an offering you would have to think a lot about it and then make something up, which would not be easy. What is essential here is that you transform your offering of Mount Meru and the four continents—that is, the whole universe—into a pure realm. This in turn will transfigure our attitude and vision into something tremendously vast.
For example, in Taiwan and China there is a lot of emphasis on the human pure realm. That human pure realm is precisely what we visualize here as the mandala. This is because a pure realm is not some fine, excellent place that already exists elsewhere. Pure realms come from purifying impure realms; a pure realm is not a place somewhere that has been excellent from the beginning. At first it has an impure nature, and it only becomes pure through being cleansed and purified. In the case of the pure realms of Amitabha and other buddhas, for instance, first the buddhas themselves were ordinary individuals, but through their training in purifying realms, gradually their place, country, and possessions were cleansed of impurities and stains and purified to the nature of pure wisdom. That is how pure realms such as Sukhavati were created, and we ourselves can also train in the same way.
This is a mandala plate, but it is upside down. Visualize it turned over with a smooth flat top. There are two mandalas in the mandala practice. The one above is used to do 100,000 mandalas and is held in the hand.
This is the second mandala place which would go on your shrine. The bottom is the mandala plate picture above (but right side up) and each of these rings are filled with rice so it is 4 stories high. This plate goes on your shrine.