Faith & Devotion

Ivan Bercholz

We in the west have a very hard time with faith, we want to be self-sufficient, self-motivated, self, self, self, self. We are very self-oriented. Faith is viewed as a weakness, a pitfall of the ignorant. Many see faith as a form of ignorance in modernity, I assume that it’s partially because of those on the Christian Right ignoring common sense and making morally questionable decisions based on their “faith”. There’s also the idea that faith is a precursor to science. That science is where trust should be placed and that religious faith and devotion is a remnant of times past to deal with the unknown. Regardless of the reasoning, faith is seen as a path of ignorance. It’s also my experience that many Western Buddhist practitioners feel somewhat superior to the many Asian practitioners that have faith instilled at a young age without much understanding. Doing many things that westerners consider to be superstitious. I feel that this is a shame, because pure faith is a beautiful quality. It’s the gateway to the opening of spiritual qualities and accomplishment. It takes us out of our egocentric frame point of reality and opens us up to the possibility of egolessness. We’ll get more into the different kinds of faith later in the week, and why it’s actually a very logical skillful means in Vajrayana that does not make it a product of the two extremes.
When you look to the great scholar/saints of our tradition, they may all manifest very differently in their activity, but there is a very common thread in all of them: devotion. They all, no matter how high their realization, have immense and palpable devotion in their own teachers, in lineage of teachers that came before, in the Buddha, in the teachings and the efficacy of practice. If these great accomplished masters have and display such devotion, certainly we must try to emulate that as well. But faith can’t be manufactured, it’s not just a decision. Oh, I will now have devotion. done. 

It’s very much a quality and feeling that needs to be developed. But in order for it to develop, there needs to be an opening, a willingness. 
If a door is closed and locked, guests can’t enter a home. If our mind is closed to devotion, blessings cannot be received. While it’s most ideal for the doorway of devotion to already be open when one starts on the Vajrayana path, if there is a willingness, an crack of openness, then it is certainly a quality that can and will develop through the beautiful practice of Ngondro. 
One major difference in the western world, when it comes to how we relate to Dharma, is that the seed of devotion that was instilled from infancy in children from Buddhist countries in the past in Tibet, China, India, etc, mostly isn’t present here, even in Buddhist households. In modernity, most have faith in science and “common sense”, and veer toward the extreme of nihilism. Some others feel burned by their previous faith or their parents faith in a theistic tradition that just doesn’t feel right to them and want to get away from that way of thinking. For those coming from different spiritual backgrounds, at least there is a the seed of what it’s like to have faith, and for them the primary obstacle is getting beyond the extreme of eternalism. Rinpoche says very clearly in Cascading that the quality of faith, even if in an eternalist tradition, is much better than the extreme of nihilism because there is an opening there. 
So, in Vajrayana practice, where faith and devotion are paramount, many of us are somewhat starting at a disadvantage. But that’s fine and the good news is that it’s never too late. 
Developing devotion will look different for all of us according to our karma. Some can develop confidence in the teachers and teachings through analytical study, by learning the pitfalls of samsara and the skillful means of the Buddhist path to extricate beings from suffering. From that understanding faith and devotion can take root. For some it’s more intuitive. We may encounter a special being and be stopped by their presence and how they live the teachings fully. This was very much my path. 
Regardless, it will be subtly different for all of us and that’s okay. All that I’m trying to get across here is how paramount faith is on Vajrayana path, and hopefully you will keep an openness to the idea of it’s benefit if the door was previously closed. At the very least, we should not look down on it. 
If the seed is there, or openness to it, then we can be fertile ground for the practice of Ngondro to till our fields of awakening. If there is no seed, no glimmer of openness, then there is no chance for the bountiful crop of blessings to penetrate our hearts and the positive qualities of this wonderful practice to take root.
Ivan Bercholz of Shambhala Publications is the Executive Vice President and Publisher of Bala Kids. He is also a Faculty Member of the Vajrayana Foundation Dudjom Tersar Ngondro Program 

The Bardo of Meditative Absorption

The bardo of meditative absorption may be described as the period of time we spend in meditative equipoise. It terminates when we arise from this state. It is called a bardo because it is not like our ordinary current of deluded thoughts, nor is it like phenomenal perception as experienced in the course of life. It is a period of meditative stability, a state of concentration as fresh and untarnished as the sky. It is like a motionless ocean in which there are no waves.

It is impossible to remain in this state when the mind is full of thoughts (appropriately likened to a gang of robbers), or even when it is occupied with more subtle mental undercurrents, mixed and matted together like threads. Stable meditation is impossible in such circumstances.

The teachings say that meditators must not fall under the power of their thoughts, which are like thieves. They should instead have undistracted mindfulness and powerful diligence with which they can prevent their concentration from disintegrating.

The dream bardo and the bardo of meditative absorption are subdivisions of the present life. The bardo of the present life naturally includes our practice. Even if it is intermittent, it life naturally includes our practice.

Even if it is intermittent, it is of necessity performed within the scope of our present existence. It is only here that we can meditate.

Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdral Yeshe Dorje –
Counsels From My Heart
 Shambhala Publications

The Hundred-Syllable Mantra

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The Meaning of the Hundred-Syllable Mantra
The mantra is a prayer evoking Vajrasattva’s promise. Here are the words with their equivalent meanings.

Most highly praised,

Vajrasattva! The sacred link between us—

Guard it closely. O Vajrasattva,

May you remain firmly with me.

May you completely satisfy me.

Make me blossom fully.

May you always be loving toward me.

Bestow on me all accomplishments.

In all my actions

Make my mind most virtuous.

HUNG (The vital seed syllable of Vajrasattva.)

HA HA HA HA (Syllables indicating the four boundless attitudes, the four empowerments, the four joys, and the four bodies.)

HO (A laugh of pleasure at those.)

O Victorious, Virtuous, and Transcendent One of all the Tathagatas,

You are the diamond—do not forsake me.

Make me a diamond holder.

O great being of the commitment,

May I be inseparably united with you.

This entails performing positive actions as antidotes to negative ones. In this case, it refers to the essential points of visualizing the deity, reciting the mantra, concentrating on the negative actions and obscurations being washed away, and so on.

This is to give rise to intense remorse for the negative actions one has performed in the past—as if one had taken poison.

This is the firm resolution to refrain from negative actions in the future, even if one’s life is at stake. These last two powers are complete when at the end of reciting the mantra, one verbalizes one’s parting, in verse or as prose, with such prayers as “In ignorance and confusion . . .” Even if one cannot do this, giving rise to true regret and recognizing the fault in future wrongdoing will automatically produce the resolution to refrain. There is not one of us who has not entered the door of the Secret Mantra Vehicle. And once we have done so, if we do not subsequently keep the commitments, we will go to hell; if we do keep them, we will attain Buddhahood. There is no other destination than these two. The Secret Mantra Vehicle commitments are very subtle, numerous, and difficult to keep. Even Lord Atisha said that after he had entered the Mantra Vehicle, he committed fault after fault in rapid succession. So for us who have few antidotes, weak mindfulness, and no vigilance (we do not even know the different categories of vows, nor the point at which we break the precepts), there can be no doubt that breaches of our vows are falling on us like rain. We should therefore do the practice of Vajrasattva every day and recite the hundred syllables twenty-one times. By doing so, our downfalls will be blessed and their fully ripened effect will be prevented from growing greater. And by reciting the hundred-syllable mantra one hundred thousand times, all our downfalls will be eradicated, as the Ornament of the Essence says:

Clearly visualize Vajrasattva Enthroned on a white lotus and moon: By reciting twenty-one times The hundred syllables according to the ritual, Downfalls and the like will be blessed And therefore not grow greater. Thus the greatest accomplished beings have taught, So do this practice constantly. If you recite it one hundred thousand times, You will become the very embodiment of total purity.

Torch Lighting the Way to Freedom
Complete Instructions on the Preliminary Practice of the Profound and Secret Heart Essence of the Dakini
By Dunjom Rinpoche Jigdral Yeshe Dorje 
Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group
Shambhla Boston & London 2011

We offer these words of advise to our sangha as we remember and pray for Venerable Dhomang Gyatrul Rinpoche who entered Parivirvnan on April 8th.

As Lama Tharchin Rinpoche said, in speaking of Kyabje Thinley Norbu Rinpoche’s parinirvana:

“It is like doing one mantra on a holy day where the merit multiplies by millions. During this time, we can remember Rinpoche’s wisdom, his kindness, how much that has penetrated our mind, how our lives would be inconceivable without him … We can come together and pray, make aspiration prayers together that immediately this life has set we can be reborn in the Pureland, that we can practice together and attain fully enlightened Buddhahood always together. Then we don’t have any separation, from life to life.”  

See Orgyen Dorje Den for Parinirvana of Venerable Dhomang Gyatrul Rinpoche Puja Schedule and Swift Rebirth Prayer