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In the final post in this series, I will be looking at the dedication verses at the end of the Sadhana.
As well as generating a strong virtuous motivation before the Sadhana, we should also be very careful to not let our concentration wane at the end of the Sadhana, but dedicate just as strongly.
Each Sadhana performs a certain function, and we can ascertain this function by reading the Dedication. In the Prayers for Meditation the dedication reads:
“Through the virtues I have collected,
by practising the stages of the path,
May all living beings find the opportunity
To practice in the same way.
May everyone experience
The happiness of humans and gods,
And quickly attain enlightenment
So that samsara is finally extinguished.”
From this dedication we can see that the purpose of engaging in the Prayers for Meditation is actually to benefit others.
We start by recognising that we have generated a vast amount of merit by engaging in the practice. Then we dedicate all these virtues or merit to three main goals. Firstly we dedicate our merit so that all living beings will find the opportunity to meet the Lamrim teachings and practise them as we are doing. If we believe that Lamrim is the way to make our lives truly meaningful, then wishing others to have the same opportunity is the ultimate expression of our cherishing love for them.
Secondly we wish for all living beings to attain fortunate rebirths in future, and be spared lower rebirth.
Finally we wish that all living beings quickly attain enlightenment, so that samsara will come to an end.
If we meditate on these dedications and gain a deep understanding of what this Sadhana will achieve, we will easily develop a strong motivation to engage in the practice sincerely and with strong concentration.
One important benefit of dedicating properly at the end of the Sadhana is that it prevents our merit from being destroyed by delusions such as anger. If we fail to dedicate properly after performing any virtuous act, the merit will be destroyed the next time a delusion arises in our mind. Geshe-la says delusions are like a thief whole steals the treasure of our merit. Therefore it is essential that during the dedication we pay attention to the meaning of the words, and feel in our heart that the merit is firmly dedicated to these three aims.
Another benefit is that the karmic effect of making these dedications is that it creates the cause for us to experience these benefits ourselves in the future. As we are dedicating the merit to the benefit of all living beings (whose number is countless), the merit we generate is likewise almost unlimited. We can even dedicate the merit created by the dedication.
I hope you have enjoyed this short series on how to practise Sadhanas. It was hearing these instructions and using them in my practice that was responsible for my current level of practice – if you put them into practice I am sure you will receive much benefit. Thanks for reading, and best of luck!
May all living beings find great joy in practising the stages of the path, and quickly attain enlightenment for the sake of all living beings.
Making Progress Every Time we Practise
We know from the previous post that every time we do a Sadhana, our Spiritual Guide and all the other countless Buddhas are present with us. Given this recognition, we should concentrate on making spiritual progress every time we engage in our formal practice.
There comes a point in everyone’s spiritual development when we turn a corner. At some point we need to stop paddling and splashing around in the shallows of Dharma having superficial fun, and wade purposefully away from the shore, before swimming steadily and confidently towards the sun of Enlightenment on the horizon.
Every time we do a Sadhana, we do another stroke on our journey. We need to ask ourselves, is this stroke going to be a half hearted affair, or is it going to be a big, confident stroke, with all our arms and legs engaged at the same time, propelling us as far as possible through the water?
Before we start we need to make a determination: ‘I am going to put full effort into this practice, and it will be another massive step for me along the spiritual path.’
During the Sadhana we need to keep one part of our mind saying ‘I need to make as much progress as possible doing this’.
At the end of the Sadhana during the dedication, we need to generate a feeling that we have progressed further along the path, and we are much further on than we were when we started. We might not feel like that initially, but I think we should try to generate a strong feeling of accomplishment. Our own view is deceptive, and regardless of how we felt the Sadhana went, even the fact that we sat down and performed the activity generates vast amounts of merit.
But like Maria Tonella observed in a comment to another post: we need to score ourselves. Geshe-la repeatedly gives us benchmarks by which to measure our progress – see Modern Buddhism for examples.
We should practise like Geshe Ben Gungyal and if the meditation went well, we should congratulate ourselves and give ourselves a hearty pat on the back. We should promise ourselves to maintain this level of effort. We should be careful not develop pride in our achievement, but we should derive great satisfaction and confidence that we are making progress.
If the Sadhana and meditation did not go well, we should try to identify why we were not successful. Was it because we were lacking in effort? Do we have major distractions in our life which are affecting our concentration? Did we not fully understand the object of meditation? If there are good reasons why were were not as successful as we would like, we can try to make changes which will overcome these problems. If it was down to a lack of effort we should extract a promise from ourself to try harder next time, and remember the advantages of our practice.
Regardless of whether our Sadhana went well or not, we should rise from our cushion with a positive mind which is looking forward to our next meditation session.
Just as we need a strong determination at the start of our Sadhana, we also need to make a very strong dedication at the end. This will be the topic of my final post in this series.
Coming next: Dedication
Interaction, not Recitation
A very common mistake is to treat the Sadhana as an exercise in recitation. We read or sing along to the Sadhana, but we are on ‘automatic pilot’ and the words come out without any thought as to their meaning.
We should learn not only the words, but the meaning of the words. In each of the chapters regarding the Lamrim meditations in The New Meditation Handbook, Geshe-la writes the following before giving the contemplation:
“… we recite the Prayers for Meditation while concentrating on the meaning.”
It is the meaning that we need to know and understand. The words are the indicators of the meaning.
As we go through the Sadhana, we should bring this understanding into our mind at that time. First we generate a strong mind (feeling) of going for refuge. We don’t just recite the words: we actually generate the feeling of going for refuge. Next we generate Bodhichitta. We don’t just recite the words: we generate a strong feeling of the motivation of Bodhichitta.
This makes the Sadhana an interactive process, rather than a passive one.
When we do our main Lamrim meditation, this is our opportunity to really familiarise our mind with that particular object. Then, next time, we recall this deep familiarity when we come to the appropriate point in the Sadhana. The Sadhana becomes a mental gymnastics routine!
The CDs of the Sadhanas go quite quickly if we are practicing in this way, and in the beginning it is all we can do to simply recognise the intellectual meaning of the words. However, as we become more and more familiar, we will be able to generate the feelings indicated by the words, until we can produce fully qualified minds one after the other throughout the Sadhana. This will make the Sadhana extremely enjoyable and meaningful.
Another tip is to view each line of the Sadhana as an implicit request to our Spiritual Guide ‘Please reveal to me the meaning of these words’. By turning the Sadhana into a series of requests in this way, the meaning of the words will quickly become clear.
Now that we know we should be generating the minds indicated by the words of the Sadhana, we should now think about why Sadhanas are phrased the way they are.
How Should We View Sadhanas?
Sometimes the way we view Sadhanas interferes with our ability to practice them effectively. A fundamental mistake is to treat the Sadhana as an ordinary samsaric object and ‘doing’ a Sadhana as an ordinary samsaric activity.
We may think: ‘I am doing the Sadhana and IT will make ME feel good’.
It is incorrect to view a Sadhana as something that will DO something to US, through its own power. This is treating the Sadhana as an ordinary samsaric object, like chocolate. Worldly people think that chocolate DOES something TO them: makes them feel good from its own side. However we all know that when we eat chocolate it is good to start with, but the more we eat, the less pleasurable it becomes, until it turns to pain.
In the same way, this view of Sadhanas may be effective to begin with. We may get some good feelings due to the delusions such as pride: ‘Aren’t I good, doing my Sadhana every day?’. However reasons like this are hollow. The good feelings they generate will fade quickly. Over time we will lose our motivation and the Sadhana will become mundane.
So how should we view Sadhanas?
I think of a Sadhana as a tool we need to use in order to make something. It is a tool to manufacture enlightenment in our own mind. The Sadhana is something we need to use to generate particular states of mind. We generate these minds based on the instructions in the Sadhana, and they become permanent parts or our mind due to the power of familiarity. This is the method for becoming an enlightened being.
We should view a Sadhana as a machine that we need to power and operate. By using the Sadhana, we will slowly generate enlightenment in our minds.
By the end of the Sadhana we need to be satisfied that it has achieved its function. We need to have felt something in our heart during the Sadhana. If we did not, I do not think we were fully successful. What is it that we should feel? That depends on the Sadhana, and I will answer this question in the last of this series of posts.
So now we know the correct way to view a Sadhana, how should we actually practice them? I will answer this in the next post.
Coming next: Interaction, not recitation
In this series of six posts, I will give some reflections and tips on how to get the most out of our daily meditations by looking at Sadhanas and how to practice them.
If we have a daily practice, then we will be doing a Sadhana (probably the same one) every day. If we do not understand the advantages and the correct way to practice Sadhanas, we may become dissatisfied and potentially abandon our practice altogether.
The most obvious question is ‘Do we have to do Sadhanas? Can we not just do meditations on their own?’
Of course, we can do meditations like this, but they will be far more effective done as part of a Sadhana. Amongst other functions (such as helping us form a strong connection with the Buddhas), the practices within Sadhanas are the best way to prepare our mind for meditation.
“We all have the potential to gain realizations of each of the twenty-one meditation practices in this book. These potentials are like seeds in the field of our mind, and our meditation practice is like cultivating these seeds. However, our meditation practice will be successful only if we make good preparations beforehand.
“If we want to cultivate external crops, we begin by making careful preparations. First, we remove from the soil anything that might obstruct their growth, such as stones and weeds. Second, we enrich the soil with compost or fertilizer to give it the strength to sustain growth. Third, we provide warm, moist conditions to enable the seeds to germinate and the plants to grow. In the same way, to cultivate our inner crops of Dharma realizations we must also begin by making careful preparations. First we must purify our mind to eliminate the negative karma we have accumulated in the past, because, if we do not purify this karma, it will obstruct the growth of Dharma realizations. Second, we need to give our mind the strength to support the growth of Dharma realizations by accumulating merit. Third, we need to activate and sustain the growth of Dharma realizations by receiving the blessings of the holy beings.
“It is very important to receive blessings. For example, if we are growing outer crops, even if we remove the weeds and fertilize the soil, we shall not be able to grow anything if we do not provide warmth and moisture. These germinate the seeds, sustain the growth of plants and finally ripen the crop. In the same way, even if we purify our mind and accumulate merit, we shall find it difficult to meet with success in our meditations if we do not receive the blessings of the holy beings. Receiving blessings transforms our mind by activating our virtuous potentials, sustaining the growth of our Dharma realizations, and bringing our Dharma practice to completion.”
To increase the power and effectiveness of our meditations, several things should be done. Specifically, we need to do the following:
- Develop a virtuous motivation
- Accumulate merit
- Purify negativities
- Receive blessings
- Dedicate our merit from the meditation
The Sadhana will lead us through these preparations in the most effective manner possible. It will also perform other functions depending on which Sadhana we are following.
So in summary, we need to do Sadhanas because they make our meditation practice highly effective, and perform other virtuous spiritual functions, such as helping us form a strong connection with the Buddhas.
Coming next: How Should we View Sadhanas?
I began the meditation by considering that when Buddha looked, he could not see any living being which had not been the mother of all the rest.
I thought about this and brought it into my life right now.
Who was the lady who operated the till when I bought the Heruka Sadhana? That was my mother
Who was the woman who gave me a cafetiere of coffee yesterday? That was my mother.
Who is the man can I hear talking as they walk past the window of my cottage as I meditate? It is my mother.
Who is asleep upstairs? It is my mothers.
I kept on going until it felt like my mother was everywhere.
Then I thought about what that would feel like. When I see my mother, her face lights up with delight. She holds out her arms to me and hugs me tight. She holds my hand. It feels like she holds me in her heart more dearly than any jewel. (I am crying now).
I tried to bring this feeling across so that it was the same for everyone I meet. I felt this feeling of being held in loving care by all living beings. I felt as if I was held in a vast mind of loving kindness. I remained in this wonderful feeling for the rest of the meditation.
May all living beings gain the realisation that all living beings are their mothers, and realise their own minds for the sake of all living beings.
Practice in the meditation break
I will strive to recognise all the people I meet today as being my mother: feel like they are my mother, and relate to them with wisdom and compassion.