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Improve your mind through the force of merit.
Tibetan teacher Tsoknyi Rinponche points out practices that Westerners often overlook: prayers of aspiration and the accumulation of merit.
The Mirror of Essential Points
The king of perfect dedication
Is the means of increasing the root of virtue.
This teaching is the specialty of Shakyamuni,
Which is not taught by other teachers.
—Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche
Without prayers of aspiration, expressing one’s noble wishes, our meditation lacks something important, a certain vital richness. Your aspirations must be inspired by the altruistic spirit of bodhichitta, awakened heart-mind. Express them in the presence of a holy object or in a sacred place. For example, when you go to Bodhgaya, the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment, first offer one thousand flowers, one thousand butter lamps, and one thousand alms to beggars. Sit next to the Vajra Throne—the seat of the Buddha’s enlightenment—and, with the sacred place as your witness, offer a mandala with a completely open heart to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Then simply sit, let go of your ego completely, and let go of the idea of offering. Now make the sincere aspiration “For the sake of all sentient beings, may I realize rigpa,” the awakened state. Don’t pray selfishly; do not use such a precious circumstance to be egotistical. Instead, make this wish: “Even if I don’t become realized in this life, may I realize rigpa in the next life to benefit countless sentient beings.” The combination of that circumstance and your pure aspirations will be very, very powerful and even can influence world peace.
Unfortunately, these points are missed in the West. The sincere force of our aspirations, the influence of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas as the support, the sacred place itself—all these together create a kind of powerful energy that also enhances our potential for being stable in rigpa. Westerners, though, often don’t give much thought to such matters as aspirations and accumulation of merit; they think these things are mostly for beginners. In fact, making aspirations is an advanced practice for advanced practitioners.
Aspirations and creating merit are not only for enhancing rigpa; they also work for people with low self-esteem. In a developed society, there is really no mention of making aspirations and creating merit, is there? The basic attitude in the air in the West is: “Go and get it.” Whoever wants to go and get it, can. This premise is taken as a given: Everyone has the same opportunities, everyone has the same potential, the same smarts, the same possibilities; the chances are equal and open to everyone. “You can do it just like everybody else; you have the intelligence, you are a human being, you can shape your own success; take it into your own hands.” We hear this said, but what is the reality? Those who are capable go happily along and of course are perfectly fine. For them, there is probably no better system than this materialistic society. But it can be very painful for those who cannot face up to life so aggressively. They feel incapacitated somewhere deep inside, as if they are not complete human beings. Instead they need to hear, “You can still do something. You can create more merit, you can make pure aspirations.” They should be told to do these activities as an antidote to low self-esteem.
Now, merit-creating endeavors combined with aspirations are more than merely tools to improve one’s self-image; they are major factors in attaining buddhahood. Prayers, compassion, and meritorious actions are extremely important because they propel us forward: “The more I practice, the more I learn, and the more I see. Wow! This makes a lot of sense!” Merit also creates perfect situations, spiritual as well as worldly. Otherwise, we are bound by our karma and conditioning. We are under the power of causes and conditions. No matter how much we want to deny this, we cannot escape our habitual tendencies. With lack of merit, we walk the conditioned path, clutching a dry, intellectual, juiceless practice. My teacher, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, did the Ganachakra Puja offering, a feast ritual, every day. Even Dudjom Rinpoche, a fully realized master, engaged in regular practices to create merit.
There are natural forces at work here in the conditioned reality. Take the example of how you create your living situation in the West. You are experts at making yourselves very cozy and secure for your present life. Merit created through skillful means and wisdom, on the other hand, is for more than physical comfort; it is to improve the conditions for your mind. You can actually improve your state of mind through creating positive causes and conditions, through the force of merit. As merit ripens in your mental state due to your having gathered the accumulations and purified the obscurations, realization comes automatically. I suggest that you practice the relative while embracing it with the ultimate, the recognition of rigpa. In this way, relative and absolute enhance each other. In the case of rigpa practice, relative merit helps you to sustain the ultimate essence longer, until you finally attain stability.
I feel very sad sometimes that this aspect is missing in the West. The creation of merit is an essential point. My spiritual tradition attaches profound meaning to the principle of merit. I think we should all move forward to the level where accumulating merit is combined with meditation practice. The Westerner’s intelligence is very sharp, better than the Tibetan intellect. But honestly, your merit is inadequate. Don’t you notice how you are always handicapped, feeling a little frozen? Even though you try your best, circumstances pull you down. It is taught that emptiness expresses itself as cause and effect. If one does not have much understanding of emptiness, then one does not really believe or have much confidence in cause and effect.
Conversely, the more one realizes emptiness, the more conviction arises about cause and effect. There is a need to work equally with merit and wisdom. If you expand the merit aspect of your practice and join it with wisdom meditation, I trust that soon there will be many realized masters in this country!
Tsoknyi Rinpoche, son of the late Dzogchen master Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, is the spiritual head of Ngedon Osel Ling Monastery, just outside of Kathmandu, Nepal. From Fearless Simplicity: The Dzogchen Way of Living Freely in a Complex World, © 2003 by Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Rangjung Yeshe Publications. Reprinted with permission of Rangjung Yeshe Publications.
Image 1: © Don Farber
Image 2: © Marcia Lippman