Guru Puja is the Heart Practice I

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An Introduction to the Guru Puja

The first part of this teaching introduces the Guru Puja and explains why tantra is such a quick path to enlightenment. The second part is a commentary to Pabongka Rinpoche’s heartfelt advice on the importance of practicing this Guru Puja and why all our meditation should be integrated into the lamrim.

Listen to the original Introduction 24 mins 37 secs 
Gyalwa Ensapa, in the lineage of the Panchen Lamas. (Photo © 2018 Himalayan Art Resources Inc. Photographed Image Copyright © 2004 Rubin Museum of Art)
Gyalwa Ensapa, in the lineage of the Panchen Lamas(Photo © 2018 Himalayan Art Resources Inc. Photographed Image Copyright © 2004 Rubin Museum of Art)

I want to give a little introduction to the Guru Puja (Lama Chopa) that we normally do at the start of our practice during retreats.

One reason we do this Guru Puja first is because it’s a highest tantra practice. From the four classes of tantra—kriya, charya, anuttara and maha anuttara—it belongs to maha anuttara tantra. More importantly, this Guru Puja is the root of the path to enlightenment. In other words, correctly following the virtuous friend with thought and action is the root of the path to enlightenment. (Here we have to say “following” rather than “devoting” because devotion sounds like it is only the mind, whereas following includes the actions—there is a difference.)

Without the practice of correctly following the virtuous friend with thought and action, the root of the path is not there. Then there is no actualizing the path to enlightenment and no enlightenment. So you must have this understanding very clear in your brain, or heart. You have to know that this is the most important thing in your practice. And there are many different levels of guru yoga, but this Guru Puja is the highest.

“Without the practice of correctly following the virtuous friend with thought and action, there is no actualizing the path to enlightenment.”    

Panchen Losang Chökyi Gyaltsen composed the Guru Puja. He was the first, or third, in the lineage of Panchen Lamas, and the incarnation of Gyalwa Ensapa who achieved enlightenment in one brief lifetime of degenerate times. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche used to say that Gyalwa Ensapa achieved enlightenment very easily, without needing to undergo much hardship like Milarepa, due to the particular quality of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings.

Panchen Losang Chökyi Gyaltsen. (Photo © 2018 Himalayan Art Resources Inc. Photographed Image Copyright © 2004 Rubin Museum of Art)
Panchen Losang Chökyi Gyaltsen. (Photo © 2018 Himalayan Art Resources Inc. Photographed Image Copyright © 2004 Rubin Museum of Art)

Before composing the Guru Puja, Panchen Chökyi Gyaltsen checked the Buddha’s teachings along with previous guru yogas from great Indian yogis and pandits, such as Saraha, Nagpa Chopa, Tilopa, Naropa and so forth, who achieved enlightenment in one brief lifetime of degenerate times, or in the bardo. He also checked many of the guru yogas composed by the enlightened Tibetan lamas of the past from different traditions, Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug. Then he integrated the best of all the practices into this extensive guru yoga practice.

Knowing this, should make you should feel incredibly fortunate to be able practice the Guru Puja. It is not just some blah, blah, blah that we recite to pass the time and fill up the day. This is the most important practice in your life, the root of the path to enlightenment. It was through practicing this Guru Puja that an uncountable number of fortunate beings, like stars in the sky, were able to achieve enlightenment in the quickest possible way.

“It was through practicing this Guru Puja that an uncountable number of fortunate beings, like stars in the sky, were able to achieve enlightenment in the quickest possible way.”

The strict way of practicing Guru Puja is that only those who have received highest tantra initiation are allowed to recite or hear the words, but now it has become very common to do the practice publicly. For example, when Tehor Kyorpon Rinpoche of Drepung Loseling Monastery was in Bodhgaya, he wouldn’t allow his disciples to do Guru Puja outside at the stupa where everyone could hear it—whether they were aware of what they were hearing or not. That’s because strictly speaking only those who have received a highest tantra initiation, without having lost faith or degenerated their minds, are a suitable receptacle to hear tantra. That’s why Rinpoche would not allow his disciples to recite the Guru Puja in public even though many Gelugpa monasteries do this. So it depends on the lama.

Tehor Kyorpon Rinpoche was a great lama who became a lharampa geshe with Serkong Rinpoche in Tibet during the New Year Prayer Festival and then left for the mountains to meditate and actualize the path. He went to a cave high up on a huge mountain near Lhasa, whose peak is obscured by clouds. Gradually his disciples, who had also studied philosophy, came to join him. They lived in caves around his hermitage, meditating and attempting to actualize the teachings. Later Rinpoche guided a group of monks in Dalhousie, India, meditating on lamrim, then tantra. He would check the monks before accepting them to make sure they could manage. Geshe Jampa Wangdu, from whom I received the chulen instructions, went there. From the many different chulen practices, I took the instructions for taking the essence from flowers in case it became rare in the future.

“Renouncing the self-cherishing thought every day is the quickest way to achieve lamrim realizations.”

I didn’t take any other teachings, but I did ask the question, “What is the quickest way to actualize the lamrim?” Geshe-la answered, “By practicing the remedy to the self-cherishing thought,” which means practicing bodhichitta. Renouncing the self-cherishing thought every day is the quickest way to achieve lamrim realizations. Then I asked, “Which is more beneficial, purification or collecting merits?” Geshe-la replied that from his own experience, purification was the more important of the two for this life.

Anyway, the conclusion is that we are most incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to do the Guru Puja, to be able to hear the words, read it, and—especially for those who have received initiation of highest tantra—to practice it.

Watch Rinpoche give a short introduction to the importance of practicing the Guru Puja during the Mani Retreat, ILTK, 2017   14 mins 48 secs

WHAT MAKES TANTRA SO FAST?

At the beginning of the Guru Puja, when we generate the second bodhicitta (LC 5), which is the special bodhicitta motivation to practice tantra, there is the expression “quicker and quicker” or “quickly, quickly” (nyur wa nyur wa).

LC 5MA SEM CHÄN THAM CHÄ KYI DÖN DU DAG GIFor the sake of all mother sentient beingsTSHE DI NYI LA NYUR WA NYUR WAR DÖ MÄI SANG GYÄI shall quickly, quickly in this very life,LA MA LHÄI GO PHANG NGÖN DU JÄActualize the state of the primordial Buddha-Guru-Deity.

The meaning of this first quickly is that tantric practice is quicker than the Mahayana Paramitayana path. The second quickly means that highest tantra practice is quicker than lower tantra.

Tantric practice is quicker than the sutra path

It is possible to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings by practicing the Mahayana Sutra path, but it takes three countless great eons to complete the two types of merit required, the merit of wisdom and the merit of virtue. The merit of wisdom is the cause of the dharmakaya and the merit of virtue is the cause of the rupakaya. The reason it takes such a long time to complete the causes for these two kayas is because the Mahayana Paramitayana path doesn’t have the great skill needed to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime.

Tantra has greater skill than the Mahayana Paramitayana path because it has the four completely purified results. These four are the basis for tantra and what makes it the quick path to enlightenment.

1. THE ORDINARY BODY IS COMPLETELY PURIFIED INTO THE DEITY’S HOLY BODY.  When you become enlightened, your ordinary impure body is completely purified into the deity’s holy body. So you meditate on that happening now. This is how tantric practice works, by bringing the result into the path. Each time you do this, you purify an unimaginable amount of negative karma and defilements collected since beginningless rebirth, and collect extensive merits.         

2. THE ORDINARY PLACE IS COMPLETELY PURIFIED INTO THE DEITY’S MANDALA. You visualize that as the deity your enlightened wisdom manifests as the mandala you will experience in the future. It happens now. Visualizing the mandala of the deity is so powerful, that again, each time you do this you purify many tens of millions of eons of negative karma and collect extensive merits in a short time. Now you can see why tantra is the quick path to enlightenment, and how it is possible to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime by practicing it.

Mandala of Lama Tsongkhapa.
Mandala of Lama Tsongkhapa.

“Tantric practice works by bringing the result into the path. Each time you do this, you purify an unimaginable amount of negative karma and defilements collected since beginningless rebirth, and collect extensive merits.”   

3. YOUR ORDINARY ACTIONS ARE PURIFIED INTO THE DEITY’S PURE ACTIONS. When you achieve enlightenment, each light beam emitted from your holy body will purify and liberate countless sentient beings from suffering. So you visualize that what is going to happen in the future, happens now. That is why the meditation on emitting light beams comes so many times in the deity sadhanas. Sometimes the beams are visualized emitted from the seed syllable, and sometimes from the holy body of the deity, purifying all sentient beings. It is said in the texts, that this meditation collects more merit than the bodhicitta practice of taking and giving (tonglen) in sutra, where you take other sentient beings’ sufferings on yourself and give away all your merits and happiness to others.

4. IMPURE ENJOYMENTS ARE COMPLETELY PURIFIED INTO THE DEITY’S PURE ENJOYMENTS. You visualize your impure enjoyments becoming limitless, like the limitless skies of completely pure enjoyments and offerings that appear to the buddhas, and think it is happening now.

When you visualize yourself as the deity, you first purify the ordinary aggregates into emptiness, then generate as the deity’s pure aggregates and on that label “I.” The meaning of vajra is “inseparable” and vajrayana is the mind of inseparable method and wisdom, where the method is focusing on yourself in the aspect of the guru-deity’s holy body, and the wisdom is having the understanding that even though the deity’s aspect appears to you as truly existent, it doesn’t actually exist. You have the appearance of it being truly existent, but you understand that it doesn’t exist. For us, we always have the hallucination of true existence until we achieve enlightenment, except in equipoise meditation. So here, it is like recognizing the dream as a dream while you are dreaming. You have the appearance, but understand that it’s empty—the “aspect understanding there is no inherent existence.” The Tibetan is nam-par rang-zhin me-par, which means, “the aspect has no nature,” where no nature refers to the nature according to the point of view of ignorance, i.e. inherent nature.

Deity practice is done with these two, your mind unified with method and wisdom. Focusing on the deity’s holy body is the method and understanding that it is empty is the wisdom. This is how your practice becomes Vajrayana. If you leave out the wisdom, it is not Vajrayana practice. If you leave out the method, it is not Vajrayana practice. For your mind to become Vajrayana, vajra has to be the inseparability of these two. This is what brings you to enlightenment, like a boat crossing the ocean of samsaric suffering and its causes, karma and delusions, including even the subtle defilements. This is why it’s called Vajra-yana, where yana means “vehicle.” If you practice this way—wow! You collect an inconceivable amount of merit. It is such an incredibly powerful way to purify negative karma. That’s why this is the foundation for tantra. Here I’m not particularly talking about highest tantra, but lower tantra. Of course, highest tantra has additional techniques, but this is the very basis.

Statue of Kalachakra, Kurukulla Center, Boston. (Photo David Zinn)
Statue of Kalachakra, Kurukulla Center, Boston. (Photo David Zinn)

“Deity practice is done with your mind unified with method and wisdom. Focusing on the deity’s holy body is the method and understanding that it is empty is the wisdom. This is how your practice becomes Vajrayana.”

Highest tantra is quicker than lower tantra

The meaning of the second quickly in the special generation of bodhicitta (LC 5) is that highest tantra practice is quicker than lower tantra. The lower tantra has all the methods mentioned above and that’s why enlightenment can be achieved in one lifetime through practicing it. However, that one lifetime requires first doing long life meditation to achieve the realization of immortality and prolonging your life to a thousand years. Then, by practicing for many hundreds of years, enlightenment can be achieved.

Highest tantra is quicker than lower tantra, because enlightenment can be achieved not just in one lifetime, but in one brief lifetime of degenerate times. In the past, most people in the world lived for a hundred years but now the lifespan has become much shorter, maybe around 60, 70 or 80 years. Fewer and fewer people have a very long life. Through the practice of highest tantra enlightenment can be achieved in one brief lifetime of this degenerate time, and even within a few years, because it has the most skillful method and wisdom.

Highest tantra has the greater skill of being able to cease the gross mind, which the lower tantra doesn’t have. The gross mind doesn’t go to enlightenment; it has to be ceased. The mind has gross, subtle and extremely subtle levels, just as the body has gross, subtle and extremely subtle levels. It is only the third of these, the subtlest levels that go to enlightenment, and it is only highest tantra that has the method to cease the gross mind, by actualizing the subtlest level of mind, the clear light. If you are able to experience the clear light in this lifetime, you will achieve enlightenment in this lifetime. Actualizing this third and subtlest level of mind, the clear light, is like an atomic bomb—it is the quickest way to cease the gross mind, the defilements, and to cease the dualistic view.

“If you are able to experience the clear light in this lifetime, then you will achieve enlightenment in this lifetime—it is the quickest way to cease the gross mind, the defilements, and to cease dualistic view.”

Tantric implements. (Photo Ricardo de Aratanha)
Tantric implements. (Photo Ricardo de Aratanha)

There are many different techniques for actualizing the clear light—the Six Yogas of Naropa, Kalachakra and so on. The whole point is to achieve this clear light because that is the direct cause of the dharmakaya. Then you achieve the illusory body, the direct cause of the rupakaya. First, you achieve the impure illusory body, then after some time you achieve the clear light of meaning, which is the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness. The previous one was the example clear light, the clear light with an image, with a concept. That mind is togpa, concept. After achieving that meaning clear light that directly ceases the disturbing-thought obscurations, you then achieve the pure illusory body and then, after that, you achieve the unification of those two. Then you achieve the unification of no more learning. That’s the ultimate goal to be achieved, the unified state of Vajradhara. You can then manifest numberless forms of your body, speech and mind—even each atom of your body can manifest numberless forms—and work effortlessly for numberless sentient beings until they are all brought to enlightenment.

So the second quickly in “quickly, quickly” (LC 5) refers to the fact that highest tantra practice is quicker than lower tantra.

The special quality of integrating the three deities

THE SPECIAL QUALITIES OF GURU PUJA

One reason this Guru Puja is so special is because it integrates the practice of the three highest yoga tantra deities: Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka and Chakrasamvara. Generally, in the Lama Tsongkhapa tradition one practices tantra by integrating these three deities. One way to do this is by doing the sadhanas of the three deities each day. Doing the sadhanas of the three deities each day is related more to the generation stage, then there is a way of integrating the practice of the three deities according to the graduated completion stage…  

Read Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s full teaching on this here.

Then, in particular, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, from whom I received many initiations and teachings, used to say that Gyalwa Ensapa and many other of Lama Tsongkhapa’s disciples’ disciples were able to achieve enlightenment easily, in a brief lifetime of degenerate times, without needing to bear much hardship like Milarepa, because of this tradition’s special quality of practicing the three deities—Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka, Chakrasamvara—every day without separation.

In the Guru Puja, the three deities are integrated into the practice. You begin by generating as Yamantaka;  the second merit field (LC 9-14) is the body mandala of Guhyasamaja visualized on the Guru’s holy body; and the extensive offerings are from Chakrasamvara. That is what makes this Guru Puja an even quicker path to achieve enlightenment.

Conclusion

Now you can see what is contained in the Guru Puja. It’s a very secret practice through which enlightenment can be achieved in a brief lifetime of degenerate time. So many great yogis in India, Tibet, Nepal and other places, like stars in the sky, achieved enlightenment in one brief lifetime of degenerate times by practicing this. Therefore we are extremely fortunate to be able to practice this, and to receive the blessing of the Guru in the heart, from which the realization comes.

Some of these subjects are very secret and I may have already created the cause to be in the hot hells! Anyway, I think almost everybody here has devotion to tantra, to the Dharma and to the Mahayana teaching.

Watch Rinpoche give a short talk on why tantra is so quick during the Mani Retreat, ILTK, 2017   11 mins 10 secs

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE VAJRAYANA

Listen to the original teaching on Misconceptions about the Vajrayana  12 mins 51 secs

Since I am talking about the Mahayana and Vajrayana, I just want to mention here that it is a very big mistake when we talk about Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana to think that Vajrayana is somehow different from Mahayana. That is a huge mistake.

First of all, if you are going to believe what other people say, then according to the Chinese temples in Taiwan, the Tibetan religion is Vajrayana and Chinese Buddhism is Mahayana. But if you go to Nepal, the Newaris (not the Sherpas or Tamang) will tell you that they practice Vajrayana and the Tibetans practice Mahayana. So what about that?!

The Newaris believe they practice Vajrayana but I have never actually seen any public study of the tantric path. For example, Vajrayogini is a very common practice in Nepal, because the country is a very holy place of Vajrayogini and Heruka. Yet I have never heard of anyone actually studying that tantric path. Mostly it seems the initiation is simply passed down from father to son for generations. (I don’t know when it started). It’s not like in the Tibetan tradition, where the lama gives the initiation in public and then you receive teachings and commentary on the whole path to enlightenment for whichever deity you are practicing. There is a lot to be studied. At the tantric college they memorize many hundreds of pages of commentary (tika) and then recite it by heart in public with all the other monks. The tantric subjects are also debated. It is not only sutra that has debate—geshes are examined through debate on tantra as well.

The shrine of Samvari, Boudhnath stupa, Nepal.
The shrine of Samvari, Boudhnath stupa, Nepal.

“It is a huge mistake to think that Vajrayana is somehow different from Mahayana.”

As far as education is concerned, it is only in the Tibetan tradition that the complete Buddhist teachings of Hinayana, Mahayana Paramitayana and Mahayana Vajrayana are learned in depth, preserved and spread. Many people are not aware of this. There are some Chinese abbots in Taiwan who understand that Tibetan Buddhism is complete. They know that although some individuals make mistakes, the Buddhist teachings themselves are pure, and have been preserved and spread. Some abbots and even some abbesses know that. But there are many others who have no idea. They don’t go to the monasteries to check what is being studied, or how it is studied. They don’t realize that the program begins with extensive study of the five great sutra treatises and then moves on to tantra. They don’t go to the monasteries to seek out the high lamas, abbots and many learned teachers to do research and ask questions. They don’t go and check all the texts for themselves to find out whether tantra was taught by the Buddha or not. They simply believe what other people tell them—that tantra is Hindu, blah blah blah, and many other misconceptions. There are many great lamas and geshes they could ask, but they don’t do that because there is not much connection.

“Without bodhicitta, there’s no way to practice tantra.”

Image from Boudha Stupa, Nepal. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
Image from Boudha Stupa, Nepal. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

Of course there are some who check, and some who then go on to take initiations from great lamas. But many don’t. They simply believe what they have been told. The Tibetan tradition has many great yogis and enlightened beings in both lay aspect and monk aspect. There are highly attained beings like Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, along with other great lamas in the other traditions whose realization has gone way beyond and who possess all the qualities. When those who don’t understand Vajrayana meet with such great holy beings in places like Bodhgaya and at public gatherings, they may become confused and critical because they don’t really know the teachings and haven’t examined them.

So if you are going to go by what other people say, then if you go to Nepal, the Newaris will tell you that they practice Vajrayana and the Tibetans practice Mahayana, which means sutra. Even though there are so many Tibetan monasteries where tantric initiations are given and people are actively engaged in studying and doing tantric retreat, still the Newaris believe that they are the only ones who practice tantra, not Tibetans. There are great, highly qualified lamas, whose realization has gone way beyond and great scholars who are benefitting sentient beings like the sun rising, but still the Newaris think, “We are the ones who are practicing Vajrayana, the Tibetans practice Mahayana Sutra.” Are you going to believe that? If so, it is a big mistake. You would never hear a Tibetan say something like this—unless of course they haven’t studied and been influenced by others while living in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, or another Chinese country. It’s also possible that a Tibetan who hasn’t studied might say, “We’re Vajrayana, not Mahayana.” That is because they have no understanding.

Without bodhicitta, there’s no way to practice tantra. There’s no foundation for tantra without bodhicitta—because bodhicitta is the heart of the Mahayana teaching. In order to generate bodhicitta, you must first develop renunciation, which is explained in the Hinayana teachings. So this is all part of a gradual practice for one person to achieve enlightenment, you need to achieve all these realizations. First, you must practice the three higher trainings, which are explained in the Hinayana in order to achieve personal liberation; then you practice the six paramitas with bodhicitta; then you practice the generation and completion stages of tantra. All of these are like steps along the path for one person to achieve enlightenment. Nothing is contradictory. It’s all part of the gradual practice for one person to achieve enlightenment. That’s why Lama Atisha composed the Light of the Path to Enlightenment. It was to show this.

Therefore it’s a huge mistake to talk about Mahayana and Vajrayana as though they were separate, because Mahayana has both Paramitayana and Vajrayana. If you are going to say Mahayana, then you should say Mahayana Paramitayana for the sutra and Mahayana Vajrayana for the tantra. Otherwise you are making a big mistake that could cause a lot of misconceptions. People might think that those who are practicing tantra don’t practice bodhicitta, and that they don’t study and practice the Mahayana Paramitayana sutras. That is totally wrong.

Buddhist monks process on Boudha stupa. (Photo Piero Sirianni)
Buddhist monks process on Boudha stupa. (Photo Piero Sirianni)

Pabongka Rinpoche’s Advice on the Guru Puja

Listen to the original teaching on Pabongka Rinpoche’s Advice  19 mins 28 secs
Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche.
Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche.

I want to give an explanation of Kyabje Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s comments and advice on the importance of practicing Guru Puja. Then you will understand how important the Guru Puja is and how fortunate we are to be able to practice it.

Kyabje Pabongka was a great enlightened being who benefited sentient beings and the teachings of Buddha like the sun rising in this world. He wrote many texts on tantra and sutra, and many of the tantric commentaries, like those on Heruka, Tara Cittamani and Vajrayogini, are still very widely used to this day. He also had many great lamas as disciples who in turn benefited sentient beings and the teachings of the Buddha like the sun rising in this world, such as His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche. There were great lamas and also hundreds and thousands of learned geshes.

Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, who was Heruka, gave this advice on Guru Puja to his benefactors, the Pundusangs [either pundusang or sangdusang check]. They were probably the wealthiest family in Tibet and also practitioners. The advice was given to them, but also applies to us.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PRACTICING GURU PUJA

The complete vital points of sutra and tantra

Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo advised

If you are able to practice Guru Puja every day, it encompasses all the complete vital points of sutra and tantra.

This is very important advice. There are many guru yoga practices, but they don’t necessarily have the complete vital points of sutra and tantra, especially not sutra. However, this guru yoga practice is complete, with bodhicitta and all the stages of the path to enlightenment—the gradual path of the lower capable being, middle capable being and higher capable being. After the common initiation (LC 54) is completed, there is a prayer covering the whole path to enlightenment (LC 84-114), both the vehicle of the cause and of the result.

The verses covering the vehicle of the cause encompass the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment—renunciation, bodhicitta and right view—practiced on the basis of guru devotion. As I already mentioned, guru devotion is the root of the path to enlightenment, which enables success in actualizing all the realizations of the path from perfect human rebirth at the beginning up to enlightenment. Within this, there are also verses on lojong, or thought transformation (LC 96-98).

Actually, the entire path to enlightenment is thought transformation. We start by transforming the ordinary thought that sees the guru as an ordinary being into a pure devotional thought that sees the guru as a Buddha. This is done by looking at the guru as a buddha. It is a total transformation of the mind. Then we transform the ignorant mind that doesn’t see the preciousness of this perfect human rebirth into the realization of how extremely precious it is by discovering the eighteen qualities this rebirth possesses. So thought transformation is there from the beginning of the path up to enlightenment. However, when the path to enlightenment (lamrim) and thought transformation (lojong) are specified as two separate things, then thought transformation refers to the particular section for transforming the mind (LC 96-98) within the practice of bodhicitta (LC 89-99).

At the end of the prayer covering the stages of the path to enlightenment are verses on the vehicle of the result, the generation and completion stages of tantra (LC 109-111). So you can see how all the vital points of the complete sutra and tantra are included in the Guru Puja. You can see how incredibly important this practice is and the great benefit to be gained from doing it.

A monk applies gold to the statue of Lama Tsongkhapa in front of the stupa of his relics at Ganden Monastery, Tibet. (Photo Ven Tenzin Tsultrim)
A monk applies gold to the statue of Lama Tsongkhapa in front of the stupa of his relics at Ganden Monastery, Tibet. (Photo Ven Tenzin Tsultrim)

“There are many guru yoga practices, but they don’t necessarily have the complete vital points of sutra and tantra. This guru yoga practice is complete.”

The ear-whispered lineage of Ganden

Pabongka Rinpoche says

This Guru Puja is like the very heart advice of the transformed scripture of the Ganden ear-whispered lineage (ganden nyen gyur).

The Tibetan nyen gyur translates as “ear-lineage“ or “whispered-lineage.” It is the “lineage passed from ear to ear,” which means it is extremely secret. Ganden is the name of the monastery built by Lama Tsong Khapa, the Joyful Monastery. These teachings passed through Lama Tsongkhapa so they are called the Ganden teachings. The practitioners of Lama Tsongkhapa’s lineages are called the Riwo Gandenpa.

This Guru Puja is described as like the very heart or essence of the ear-whispered lineage of the transformed scripture of Ganden. It means that this is a most precious teaching and the quickest way to achieve enlightenment.

Enlightenment in one lifetime

Then

The great yogi Chökyi Dorje and Gyalwa Ensapa did this Guru Puja as the heart practice and achieved enlightenment, the state of unification, in one lifetime.

Drubchen Chokyi Dorje. (Photo © 2018 Himalayan Art Resources Inc. Photographed Image Copyright © 2004 Rubin Museum of Art)
Drubchen Chokyi Dorje. (Photo © 2018 Himalayan Art Resources Inc. Photographed Image Copyright © 2004 Rubin Museum of Art)

Drubchen Chökyi Dorje was a great yogi who achieved enlightenment in one lifetime like Milarepa. But don’t think that since he achieved enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate times, he must have lived on nettles! Yes, he had the same realizations as Milarepa, Milarepa, but that doesn’t mean he did it the same way by only eating nettles. Drubchen Chökyi Dorje is someone who achieved enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate times by practicing this guru yoga practice of Guru Puja. And through his incomparable practice of guru devotion—cherishing the guru more than his own life, regarding the guru as most precious and dedicating his life to follow the guru’s advice.

During the First Dharma Celebration (EEC1), we requested His Holiness the Dalai Lama to give a commentary on mahamudra, and during the Second Dharma Celebration (EEC2), to give a commentary to the Guru Puja. Alex Berzin was the translator for the mahamudra and there was only one thing Alex didn’t understand—the word for Mount Everest. In Tibetan, Mount Everest is called Chomolungma. There’s another place in Tibet called Chomolhari, which is in Pagri. To reach there from Sikkim you go through Bhutan and into Tibet. It is beyond Domo Geshe’s monastery in Tibet where I became a monk. Pagri used to be a very active trading place. There were tomatoes, cups and so on from India; nuts, chilis, peppers and so on from Bhutan; and other goods from Lhasa and Shigatse. There is one snow mountain in Pagri called Chomolhari, which has a very holy cave, or hermitage, of a great yogi. I think that is the place His Holiness was talking about, not Mount Everest. I think that hermitage belonged to Drubchen Chökyi Dorje. During the mahamudra commentary I thought His Holiness said that Drubchen Chökyi Dorje is still living there in Chomolhari, near Mount Everest.

“The Guru Puja is a very secret practice through which enlightenment can be achieved in a brief lifetime of degenerate time.”

Gyalwa Ensapa achieved enlightenment in one lifetime without having to endure great hardships. 
Gyalwa Ensapa achieved enlightenment in one lifetime without having to endure great hardships

Gyalwa Ensapa was the first incarnation of the Panchen Lama. Gyalwa Ensapa also achieved enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate time. However, as I mentioned before, His Holiness Song Rinpoche would often say that he did so by eating delicious food and enjoying a very comfortable life! Of course nobody has ever achieved enlightenment without bearing hardships to practice Dharma but those hardships could have been experienced in many of their past lives. I think the reason Rinpoche used to talk this way about Gyalwa Ensapa was to express the special qualities of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teaching.

Both Drubchen Chökyi Dorje and Gyalwa Ensapa did this Guru Puja as their heart practice and achieved the state of the unification of no more learning within one lifetime. In other words, they achieved the state of enlightenment, the unification of the holy body (rupakaya) and holy mind (dharmakaya).

Conclusion

Then Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo says

All the previous holy beings of our tradition also did this Guru Puja as the heart practice. It has few words but encompasses so much. It has great blessing and the profound vital points. Just that much is enough.

Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo is saying that this much is enough as an introduction to the importance of the Guru Puja. Now there is a specific instruction for the benefactor

If you can practice this Guru Puja along with the Great Terrifying Vajra—Solitary Hero Yamantaka—and Vajrayogini, it is a profound and quick way to achieve enlightenment. This has so much extra benefit.

Here Pabongka Rinpoche is giving advice to do one’s deity practice on the basis of the Guru Puja. Yamantaka and Vajrayogini are given as examples, but it doesn’t have to be only these. What it means is to practice both a father tantra and a mother tantra. If you can do this on the basis of the Guru Puja, it becomes an extremely profound and quick special path to enlightenment.

Geshe Losang Sherab offers a mandala during the long life puja at Kopan, Nepal, 2017. (Photo Bill Kane)
Geshe Losang Sherab offers a mandala during the long life puja at Kopan, Nepal, 2017. (Photo Bill Kane)

INTEGRATING ALL YOUR PRACTICE INTO LAMRIM

Listen to the original teaching on which this Integrating Your Practice into Lamrim is based 28 mins 8 secs

The one sublime key opening hundreds of doors of the scriptures

This last part of the advice was for someone whose name I didn’t write down. It might have been somebody from China, a high official, or a Tibetan. Kyabje Pabongka talks about how to practice and says

It is better to integrate even your meditation practice into the king, the graduated path to enlightenment, which is the one sublime key that opens the hundreds of doors of the Buddha’s scriptures.

The lamrim teaching is called the one sublime key that opens the hundreds of doors of the Buddha’s scriptures. This is because, if you understand the lamrim, then when you read any teaching on Buddhist philosophy from sutra or tantra, whether it is a scripture of the Buddha or a commentary to the Buddha’s teachings composed by the ancient yogis and pandits or great enlightened Tibetan lamas and highly attained meditators, you will look at them differently. Through your understanding of lamrim, you will you see everything as the gradual practice for one person to achieve enlightenment. You will realize that nothing is to be renounced or discarded. Any scripture you read will appear to you as a practice and advice. Whether it is from the Buddha’s teachings (Kangyur) or their commentaries (Tengyur), everything will become a commentary to the lamrim. That’s why Pabongka Rinpoche advises that even your meditation practice should be integrated into the king, the gradual path to enlightenment. He says

There is nothing of greater importance than this.

There is nothing more important than integrating your meditation practice into the lamrim, the graduated path to enlightenment.

Cloth-wrapped Tibetan texts. (Photo Ven Tenzin Tsultrim)
Cloth-wrapped Tibetan texts. (Photo Ven Tenzin Tsultrim)

Somebody might claim, “Oh, this meditation is so profound and secret. It was discovered in the mountains,” or “on the beach,” or “under the ocean!” (I’m just joking.) If you regard something like that as the most important practice, rather than trying to understand, practice and integrate the lamrim, then you won’t be able to generate the realization of guru devotion, which is the root of the path to enlightenment. Without that, you can’t generate renunciation, which is the foundation for bodhicitta. Without renunciation, you won’t generate the realization of bodhicitta in this life. Then, you won’t realize right view, and without that, you won’t be able to practice tantra correctly. You also can’t practice tantra correctly without bodhicitta. Even if you have renunciation, but you don’t have bodhicitta, your tantric practice will make you fall down to the Hinayana path. There are stories about yogis who practiced Hevajra, but fell to the lesser vehicle path. When Lama Atisha reached a certain bridge on his way to Tibet, he mentioned about a yogi whose practice of tantra had caused him to be born in the hell realms. If you lack either bodhicitta or emptiness, you can’t practice tantra correctly. No matter how many eons you practice, you will never achieve enlightenment. Not only can you not achieve enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate times, it’s impossible to achieve enlightenment at all.

“You may spend your life doing some practice that somebody tells you is so secret and special but if you don’t practice and integrate your meditation into the lamrim, you won’t see any real progress in attaining this path to enlightenment.” 

Therefore, what Pabongka is saying here is that for your meditation practice to be effective, and your life to really enter into the path to enlightenment without being sidetracked, you need to develop the realizations in a step-by-step manner. Otherwise, if you spend your lifetime just doing some small meditation like watching your breath, or being aware that you are walking and so forth, nothing more than that, you will reach nowhere. Even though you are doing some meditation, it’s just one technique and you will end up with no development in your mind. Or you may spend your life doing some practice that somebody tells you is so secret and special, blah, blah, blah, blah… But if you don’t practice and integrate your meditation into the lamrim, you won’t see any real progress in attaining the path to enlightenment.

Rinpoche doing prayers at Aptos, California, June 2017. (Photo Ven Losang Sherab)
Rinpoche doing prayers at Aptos, California, June 2017. (Photo Ven Losang Sherab)

“Your practice of bodhicitta should directly strike the target of self-cherishing thought, destroying it completely.”

Your lamrim practice must hit its target

Then Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo says

It’s extremely important for this lamrim practice to hit the right spot.

Your lamrim practice should exactly hit its target, like shooting an arrow. For example, your practice of bodhicitta should directly strike the target of the self-cherishing thought, destroying it completely. Your practice of patience should directly hit the target of anger and smash it. Your practice of right view should directly strike the target of ignorance and destroy it. That way it is not just intellectual but beneficial to your mind.

The example is that of cutting down a tree, if you know how to strike the exact spot, it will easily fall, but otherwise it can take a long time.  Or, if you are going to kill a human or animal, if you know the precise vein to press it will cause immediate death, whereas by cutting and hitting other parts of the body it will take a long time to die.

In the same way, the way to practice is that whenever the delusion arises you apply the lamrim teaching right on that. This is extremely important.

Don’t just rush through the words

It says

You don’t need to recite many other prayers.

Here it is saying you don’t need to read many different prayers, just do what is really important.

Right now, don’t allow your practice of Guru Puja, The Inseparability of Bliss and Voidness, to be the mere recitation of the words.

The Inseparability of Bliss and Voidness is the name of the text and the literal meaning of Guru Puja is “Pleasing the Guru.” Pabongka Rinpoche is saying not to just rush through the words.

You should do the practice as elaborately as possible and as slowly as possible, making sure you hit the right spot. Relate it to the commentary and meditate on whatever you can: taking refuge, making mandala offerings, confessing downfalls, reciting migtsema and so on.

Do whatever practices you can in accordance with your time to collect merit and purify negative karma.

Reciting the Sangata Sutra, New York, 2016. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)
Reciting the Sangata Sutra, New York, 2016. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)

“When you read the prayers mindfully, it leaves a positive imprint on your mind and in the future you will easily be able to understand the words and meanings.”

Don’t be distracted

Then Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo says

In particular, the lamrim prayer of the Guru Puja contains the stages of the path to enlightenment (lamrim), thought transformation (lojong), the generation and completion stages of tantra and also the transference of consciousness (powa).

TRANSFERENCE OF CONSCIOUSNESS

The lamrim prayer also contains transference of consciousness (powa). Many lamas do powa with Guru Puja. They do the whole Guru Puja, then when they come to the verse on powa, they do the “hic!” to shoot the consciousness of the person who has died to a pure land. They visualize Amitabha Buddha, Vajrayogini or another buddha on that person’s crown, then shoot their consciousness to a pure land.

Read Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s full teaching on this here.

Many lamas use simply this transference of consciousness prayer (LC 112) at the end of the lamrim prayer (LC 84-115) when somebody dies to transfer the consciousness to a pure land. If you want to do this, first do the Guru Puja up to the stanza on powa, then chant the prayer slowly and do the meditation. Dedicate all the merit for the person who has passed away.

This lamrim prayer encompasses the profound elaboration of the vital points of the complete path of sutra and tantra. So don’t just rush through the words. You should think about the profound meaning as much as you can. Even if you are unable do profound meditation, at least read through the lamrim prayer mindfully.

Even if you are unable to do the profound meditations and remember the profound meaning of all the verses, at least don’t let your mind be distracted when you are reciting the lamrim prayer. Be mindful. Don’t recite the words with your mind thinking about something else—traveling, going on holiday, going to the beach, trekking and so on. At least pay attention to the prayer. When you read the prayer mindfully, it leaves a positive imprint on your mind, and in the future you will easily be able to understand the words and meanings of the pure and complete path. Then you will be able to practice, gain realizations, cease the defilements and achieve enlightenment.

If you do that, it will definitely leave a special imprint of the complete pure path on your mind and you will definitely achieve the essence of your wishes.

The essence of your wishes is enlightenment.

Crossing a hundred rivers by one bridge

Then it says

If you put all your effort into your practice hitting exactly the right spot—the delusions—it is like crossing a hundred rivers by one bridge.

If you put all your effort into integrating your practice like this, it is like crossing a hundred rivers by going over one bridge instead of having to wade through each river separately. This practice encompasses everything. It says

This is the heart of the transformed scripture of the ear-whispered lineage of Ganden. It has incredible blessing, unequalled by other practices. It is extremely important and definite to rise.

So this is a brief introduction. Then at the beginning of the commentary to the Guru Puja, there are incredibly inspiring stories of those great yogis who achieved enlightenment by practicing the lineage of this Guru Puja.

Tibetan text, wrapped and protected. (Ven Tenzin Tsultrim)
Tibetan text, wrapped and protected. (Ven Tenzin Tsultrim)

Watch Rinpoche give a short teaching on Pabongka Rinpoche’s advice during the Mani Retreat, ILTK, 2017  20 mins 23 secs

Additional Resources for Study

Rinpoche arriving to teach at Black Mountain, North Carolina.
Rinpoche arriving to teach at Black Mountain, North Carolina.

FPMT Retreat Prayer Book

PHOTO OF BOOK

Contains the current version of the Guru Puja practice put together by Lama Zopa Rinpoche for use at retreats and for daily practice, the Lama Chopa Jorcho, along with other prayers.

More Free Teachings by Rinpoche on Guru Puja

Three teachings on Guru Puja available for free download in pdf form.

A short commentary on Guru Puja given by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Langri Tangpa Centre, Brisbane, Australia, 1991. Edited by Ven. Ailsa Cameron.

The Geluk-Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra

PHOTO OF BOOK

Teachings by His Holiness 14th Dalai Lama on the Gelukpa Mahamudra lineage given during the FPMT-sponsored first Dharma Celebration, EEC1. Translated by Alex Berlin.

Teachings from the Medicine Buddha Retreat

Teachings from a three-week Medicine Buddha retreat led by Lama Zopa Rinpoche in California in 2001, including several sessions of Guru Puja.

Teachings from the Vajrasattva Retreat

Teachings from a three-month Vajrasattva Retreat in California led by Lama Zopa Rinpoche in 1999, with several instructions on the Guru Puja practice.

PHOTO OF BOOK

Union of Bliss and Emptiness  

PHOTO OF BOOK

Teachings on the Guru Puja practice given by His Holiness 14th Dalai Lama during the FPMT-sponsored second Dharma celebration EEC2. Translated by Thubten Jinpa.

About the Guru Puja is the Heart Practice Series

“All the previous holy beings of our tradition also did this Guru Puja as the heart practice. It has few words but encompasses so much. It has great blessing and the profound vital points.”

Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo quoted by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, long life puja, Kopan, Nepal, 2017. (Photo Bill Kane)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche, long life puja, Kopan, Nepal, 2017. (Photo Bill Kane)

This multimedia series is based on six sessions taught by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the first Light of the Path Retreat in North Carolina, 2009, where Rinpoche gave a wealth of teachings and instructions on the Guru Puja, and especially introduced the lineage of chanting to be used within the FPMT. Through teachings and inspiration, Rinpoche emphasized that this Guru Puja is to be taken as the very heart of our practice, just as it has been for generations of great masters and yogi-practitioners of the past.

The original teachings and chanting from Light of the Path have been supplemented by other multimedia material taken from similar teachings given by Rinpoche at retreats around the world, along with links to related materials.

Guru Puja is the Heart Practice is divided into six multimedia titles.

Part One: The Importance of Practicing Guru Puja

Part Two: An Introduction to the Chanting through to the Prostrations

Part Three: The Offering Section

Part Four: Renewing the Bodhisattva Vows to Mantra Recitation

Part Five: The Tsog Offering

Part Six: The Lamrim Prayer to the Verses of Auspiciousness

About the Heart Advice Series

The goal of the LYWA Heart Advice Series is to preserve and make available Rinpoche’s unique style and lineage of teachings and practices. Heart Advice is a series of core teachings — the “heart advice” — taken from the experiential instructions of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. You can read more about the goals of the Heart Advice Series here.

The main resources for the Heart Advice titles are Rinpoche’s major retreats, commentaries and transmissions given since 2008, although other Archive materials supplement these.

The first title in this series was Bodhisattva Attitude: How to Dedicate Your Life to Others.

The Heart Advice Series is dedicated to the long life and perfect health of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, to his continuous teaching activity and to the fulfillment of all his holy wishes.

About LYWA Multimedia

Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive