Blessings may be ineffable, but I don’t think they are entirely mysterious. It is possible for our consciousness to be affected by others’ states of mind; in fact it happens all the time.
Have you ever walked into a room where someone is feeling incredibly hostile but not saying a word nor even making a face – they are just sitting there but their negative energy is practically palpable? Before you know it, you feel uneasy as well, and if you’re not careful you can become quite negative.
Alternatively, have you ever walked into a room where someone is feeling incredibly open and loving, and again they are not saying a word but you can feel their positive energy and it uplifts your own mind?
If we can be affected by ordinary people’s minds in this way, (I think some Western psychologists call it “resonant empathy”), perhaps it is not so hard to get a sense of how blessings work. As described in What are blessings?, blessings are “transformation through inspiration” — how? By being affected by the infinitely creative, loving and wise minds of holy beings, which are not something we randomly run into but everywhere all the time. The function of a Buddha or enlightened being is to bestow blessings, it is as if they cannot help it! Blessing everyone is their job! My teacher Geshe Kelsang’s definition in Mahamudra Tantra:
Enlightenment is defined as an omniscient wisdom whose nature is the permanent cessation of mistaken appearance and whose function is to bestow mental peace on all living beings (by bestowing blessings).
(BTW, anyone whose mind fits the definition above is a Buddha (Sanskrit for “Awakened One”), regardless of what tradition they appear in). Buddhas’ minds are always everywhere, they pervade all phenomena, including us. Why? A Buddha’s mind is inseparable bliss and emptiness free from all obstructions. Everything is always empty of inherent existence. The emptiness of all phenomena is always indivisible with the bliss of a Buddha’s mind.
It is also very helpful to remember that whenever you generate a positive mind, such as love or compassion or inner peace, this is no different to the inner peace of all enlightened beings, you are already mixing your mind with theirs. And recognizing this allows their blessings to pour into you effortlessly.
As mentioned in Blissings, we can receive the blessings of all enlightened beings through our Spiritual Guide. Our Spiritual Guide is able to appear as a person we can relate to — who can teach us or set a good example — but the actual or definitive Spiritual Guide is the so-called “Dharmakaya” (“Truth Body” or omniscient mind). This is described as the “pervasive nature of all things stable and moving”. This verse from Offering to the Spiritual Guide sent (nice) chills down my spine when I first heard it, and still does:
Pervasive nature of all things stable and moving,
Inseparable from the experience of spontaneous joy without obstructions;
Thoroughly good, from the beginning free from extremes,
O Actual, ultimate bodhichitta, to you I make requests.
(Ultimate bodhichitta from a Tantric point of view is the same as Mahamudra, the union of bliss and emptiness. There are different levels of this, and in this verse it is referring to the ultimate bodhichitta that is a Buddha’s omniscient wisdom, which is the Truth Body or Dharmakaya completely free from obstructions).
Everything is always empty of inherent existence, and where there is emptiness there is bliss. They are indivisible. Why?
There is no such thing as an object without a mind (or “object-possessor”) knowing it, and no such thing as a mind (object-possessor) without its object. The object emptiness is not inherently existent or “out there” independent of mind; like everything else its very existence depends on the mind knowing it. Which mind? It is the clear light mind of bliss that knows emptiness non-dualistically, that sees it directly free from any mistaken appearance, which is the actual object-possessor of emptiness. And this mind likewise cannot exist without emptiness as its object. They exist only in relationship to each other — just as you cannot have a husband without a wife or a wife without a husband.
Omniscient wisdom, the nature of bliss, is therefore always mixed inseparably with the emptiness or ultimate nature of all phenomena including you, me and everything else that exists. At the moment I have mistaken appearance that blocks me from seeing this, but it is true, and through blessings I can feel it. Eventually we will realize the union of bliss and emptiness for ourselves.
In this respect, does the Dharmakaya seem so different from my Grandfather’s understanding of a creative God?
I find even my limited and clumsy understanding of how bliss and emptiness pervade all phenomena is crucial to understanding the spiritual technology behind tuning into blessings. Wiser folks than me can make more comments on this in the box below and you can consult Great Treasury of Merit pages 189-91 for incredible commentary on the verse above.
Visualizing blessings as lights and nectars
Bliss is the same nature as love and compassion, and so it radiates eternally and spontaneously from all enlightened beings – hence, “blissings”. To feel that we are receiving blessings having asked for them, it can be really helpful to visualize them flowing from holy beings (or their minds) into us in the form of blissful lights and even nectars — clear light, white light, multi-colored lights, it doesn’t matter, whatever seems right. Different Buddhas are associated with different colors so you can find out about that whenever you want — for example, if you want healing blessings, believe you are receiving blue lights and nectars, for blue is the color of Medicine Buddha.
All traditions understand the power of blessings and anyone can experience them in this way. In fact Jon Dicks says on Facebook: “Maybe what we feel is a akin to the experience of Hildegard of Bingen when she had a vision: ‘And it came to pass, when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming….’ I put this in because many religions, in addition to Buddhism, talk about blessings and being blessed.”
And even if we don’t fully understand the spiritual technology, it still works.
For the previous articles on this subject, see What are blessings? and Blissings.
Your turn: please share your understanding or experience in the comments box below.
Regarding Adam’s comment…
The first time I heard the teachings on emptiness was the first time I knew for certain Buddhism was going to force very beneficial growth in me. But I still sympathize with Adam’s point of view, and here’s why.
We are taught that all of this is really only about changing my own mind, ultimately so that we can be of real benefit to others. I accept the teachings on emptiness just as they are because they made sense the very first time I heard them, and for someone who questions everything that was something of a relief. Because of this I don’t need to be convinced of the value in driving a wedge under my own fixed interpretations of all of my experiences. However, reinterpreting perception is about getting our mind to a point where we can respond to experiences in more beneficial ways, it’s not about denying realities we find too uncomfortable to face. That’s simply denial. One of the many problems with denial is that it may actually result in us contributing to another person’s suffering. For example, what’s happening in Sudan right now is actually happening. Teachings on emptiness probably shouldn’t be used to make that reality evaporate, rather they can be used to make any feelings of hopelessness we might have about the situation go away, enabling us to do something, however small.
Denial is such a tempting go-to and could only the perceiver, if they have the insight, knows if they are denying or using emptiness for good.
Dear Madeline, you’re definitely making an important point. I think that might be one of the reasons why Chandrakirti begins his great treatise on emptiness (Guide to the Middle way) with a praise to Compassion. Without compassion – whose observed object is necessarily other’s suffering, mediation on emptiness will never transform us in to those supremely wise friends of all the world, Buddha’s. Also Je Tsongkhapa makes it clear with these beautiful words, that we cannot dismiss conventional truths and appearances, in fact they are essential for gaining a perfect realization of emptiness:
“Whoever negates the conceived object of self-grasping
Yet sees the infallibility of cause and effect
Of all phenomena in samsara and nirvana,
Has entered the path that pleases the Buddhas.
Dependent-related appearance is infallible
And emptiness is inexpressible;
For as long as the meaning of these two appear to be separate,
You have not yet realized Buddha’s intention.”
As soon as I read Dougal’s teaching from Geshe-la “there is NO relationship between another person’s actions and our feelings” I thought of the chapter on Patience in Shantideva’s guide to the Bodhisattva’s way of life:
“Thus, the harm we receive is entirely our fault;
What reason is there to blame it on others?”
Verse 45 chapter 6, Relying upon Patience
Both Shantideva and Geshe-la are supreme teachers of Dependent Relationship so we can be sure that they are not negating it. and yet they both say that we cannot blame others for our feelings. Rather they are making clear the cause and nature of our experiences….. Which is certainly something to think about, which is also why I will stop there 🙂
I was thinking too that this was the context in which Venerable Geshe-la said it, but I wasn’t there (or if I was i seem to have forgotten ;-)), so I don’t know. Dougal?
This is the thing when talking about emptiness: it’s easy to go off on a tangent and everyone winds up talking about different things so it’s good to be really specific and single pointed in what is being discussed.
I’ve spent the last 2 years pretty absorbed in Heart of Wisdom, memorizing the text and so on (rejoice), so i don’t intend to go off on a rant but I will briefly say this…
External objects do not need to be negated and shouldn’t be. Understanding the negated object is the most important thing in realizing emptiness. Imagined modes of existence should be negated. The imagined I (the i that seems to exist as separate to mind and more than just appearance), world and others all seem to exist outside mind, this deceptive imagination that is grasped at to extremes confuses everything.
Thanks for this. It’s wonderful. Clear, concise and easy to read – just like we need it 🙂
I’m glad you found it so, Tim, it is a profound subject in many ways and I didn’t want to over-simplify nor over-complicate things!
It really is perfect. On an inexpressible topic. Wow! Mind blown.
Glad you like it 😀
“Enlightenment is defined as an omniscient wisdom whose nature is the permanent cessation of mistaken appearance and whose function is to bestow mental peace on all living beings (by bestowing blessings).” Probably one of the most beautiful “things” I have ever read! One of my favorite “things” to do is to generate as Vajrayogini and go for walk around the neighborhood reciting the three om mantra. My grandest wish is that this “event” is blessing the minds of all those living beings I walk past. How wonderful is that?
As my good friend Shantideva said, ” Just as on a dark and cloudy night a flash of lightening for a moment illuminates all, so for the worldly, through the power of Buddha’s blessings, a virtuous intention occasionally and briefly occurs.”
One of my teachers once told us the Geshe-la told him what it would be like to be a Buddha – to receive offerings and give blessings! How blissful is that!
My expereince of samsara is one of mostly some form of suffering ( like Chandrakirti”s samsaric bucket) where every once in awhile I experience mental peace. It is not the “event” I am at or the “thing” I am doing. It is merely Buddha,s blessings. I cherish those moments of mental peace which as blissful as they are, only sets me up for another knock against the wall of the well. Mental freedom is what I seek and the blessings from my teachers and my Spiriual Guide is what has helped me so far – so i have faith in those “things” to keep me on my path to a suffering free experience.
Thank you for a lovely comment, Ike.
(You might have to give a quick explanation of the bucket analogy so readers know what you are referring to :-))
Chandrakirti in Guide to the Middle Way refers to our samsaric existence like a bucket being pulled up by a rope in a deep well. Up, Up, Up we get banged around quite a bit! Like the bucket tied to the windlass living beings are tied to samsara. Like the windlass is forced to turn by the person at the well, living beings are forced to wander in a confused state in samsara. As one turn is followed by another, one rebirth after another captures living beings. The bucket tumbles so quickly with ease but much effort is required to get to the top again – with lots of clanging against the stoney side of the well. One of my favorite descriptions of an ordinary life! Just my paraphase — see Ocean of Nectar for a better description page 26 – 27.
i was asked a question only this morning about this – what do you think?
Ven Geshe-la has said that there is no relationship between another person’s actions and our feelings. i’ll just repeat that. he said that there is NO relationship between another person’s actions and our feelings. but if that’s really true then how do blessings work?
as the person who asked said: answers on the back of a postcard please…..:-)
Dougal, what do you reckon?! What did you reply to him/her?
well – i was asked by my Teacher: for me to ponder on, rather than for me to tell him the answer, i think! 😀
i dunno, tbh. there *does* seem, intuitively, to be some kind of mysterious relationship between our karma and that of others: we can create collective karma, and we can, apparently, influence others’ karma (bestow blessings? direct the blessings of enlightened beings in their direction?) – for example, through the practice of transference of consciousness for the deceased, or taking and giving (once we have enough realizations, like Milarepa).
but Geshe Kelsang said that there is *no* relationship between another person’s actions and our feelings. Buddha said “I cannot take away your suffering like pulling a thorn from your flesh”.
so i wondered… if the function of Buddhas’ blessings is to transform our mind from a negative to a positive state, and if it’s our *intention*, rather than our feeling, that determines whether our mind is positive or negative, then could we infer that Buddha’s blessings work by changing our intention to a positive one, rather than simply by making us feel better? of course, once our intention becomes positive, then this will create the perfect mental environment for our own positive karmic potentials to ripen, and *these* will give rise to pleasant feelings.
if that’s correct, then our pleasant feelings are coming (and can only come) from our own previous actions – Buddha can’t give them to us. but what a Buddha *can* do is bless our mind: influence us to develop a positive intention, and through that intention we can create positive actions and experience the pleasant feelings that are their results.
i’ve not heard back from my Teacher yet about this theory! 😀
I’m going to think about it. Anyone else, please jump in…
Great article as always, and interesting question Dougal! I don’t know… I tend to feel that receiving blessings is essentially just tapping into the ultimate nature of reality… which is of great bliss and emptiness, which in turn is the nature of Buddha, of the dharmakaya, which pervades all. And also (and this bit probably isn’t quite right, but it’s how I feel it) it’s like we’re getting in touch with our true nature, our buddha nature; watering our seed which will one day transform into the truth body.
So I guess thinking in this way, then the pleasant feelings arise from the ripening of previous positive karma, and in turn engaging in an action of receiving blessings plants seeds for future happiness, and indeed experience of blessings.
Yet it’s difficult to reconcile everything with the notion of other’s actions having no relationship to our feelings (and vice verse). I suppose other’s actions are entirely dependent upon our karma, and our feelings also dependent on karma, and our own mindfulness etc… so perhaps it’s just distinguishing between the internal and external, as an action is external and our feelings are internal – we allow a depedent-related-and-lacking-inherent-existence-phenomena to trigger feelings, the unpleasant ones arising from self-cherishing/self-grasping.
Now, in terms of blessings, is it possible then to affect someone’s mind entirely from our side, or the ‘side’ of Buddhas (or vice-versa)? Or does it always need some kind of reliance, or some inner-ripening? Karma works on a subtle level that we can’t (yet) really fully understand, so, I cannot really say… And indeed we’re dealing with minds much subtler than our gross ones – perhaps, since the very subtle mind transforms into the mind of a buddha, then it perhaps makes sense that buddhas can ‘access’ this mind and bless us, or indeed they always are, so it’s just up to us to tap into it (which of course is a dependent-related process…).
I don’t know if any of that made sense, but it was interesting thinking and writing about it!
The big mistake everyone makes is this:
Things exists outside of mind.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
People, planets, stars, buildings are all inside the mind. The mind is the nature of emptiness. We all like to believe we are experiencing the same people, the same world. No. Buddha’s are reflections of our own inner nature.
I don’t mean to be so serious, but external objects do exist ……apparently…..:)
I would say you really have to look at the context of what he was saying, by looking at the people he said it to. This sentence is not law, but a truth if one chooses it as a their perspective. Think of this example : If we have no dharma and someone yells at us we react negatively, we FEEL hurt or anger. Our feelings are in direct relation to others actions. If the same person came up and kindly spoke to us our feeling would be completely different. Now we have new dharma experiences and beliefs, and someone yells at us but our spiritual practice allows us to remain unaffected and at peace; this new way of being is our blessing from our Guru reaching other. From this place we are best able to calm the persons anger. Whether a person comes to us from anger or from love, our peace is our (and their) blessing when it does not leave us. This dharma perspective (gift) is so we may grow free from feeling hurt by others actions, but others feelings are still hurt or happy by the actions of us. If we put this into practice we become free from mindlessly allowing others actions to control how we feel, and we grow in helping other people, who cant control it, feel better and eventually learn this truth for themselves. All this change, is the blessing that begets more peace.
If a person physically hurts us, we will feel pain; if they pleasure us we will feel pleasure. A buddha’s blessing will change the way we feel. There is no relationship between a persons actions and our feelings because we choose to no longer allow that to be, and from this cause the effect of increased peace will arise. The same is true in reverse as where we once were blind to buddhas blessing we felt not buddha’s peace, but as we allowed our Guide to nurture us, we grew in his peace. The moment we bring patience where anger once was, or deeper peace where lessor peace was, we bring blessing to our self and those around us. Our anger affects others feelings, our peace arisen from our mind blessed by buddha effects others too. Just as Powa Sadhana can send our loved ones to a pure land, from no effort of their own, so too can buddha’s effect the way we feel through blessings.
Adam said ‘I don’t mean to be so serious, but external objects do exist ……apparently…..:)
Maybe ‘existence’ is a conventional truth – just a better class of impermanence.
We don’t normally say that an explosion exists or existed (though there’s no logical reason not to say so). And we don’t normally say that the universe occurs. Yet an explosion and the expanding universe are similar entities, just operating on different timescales.
From our point of view an explosion is a transitory event, but the universe is ‘permanent’. An explosion happens, the universe exists.
We don’t normally say that an eclipse exists, and we don’t normally say that Stonehenge happens. Yet both phenomena are the temporary coming together of masses in a geometrical configuration. In one case sun, earth and moon in a straight line, in the other case, stones arranged in a circular pattern.
Relative to our lifetime an eclipse is a temporary phenomenon, whereas Stonehenge is more permanent (built to last 4000+ years).
But there is no absolute distinction between phenomena that exist and phenomena that occur or happen. The distinction is arbitrary, based on the following considerations:
(1) The universe consists of myriads of particles in a constant state of movement.
(2) These particles form aggregates which hang together for a time and then disintegrate.
(3) Aggregates that hang together for more than a substantial fraction of a human lifetime (eg a car) ‘exist’. Aggregates that hang together for a tiny fraction of a human lifetime (eg a flash of lightning) ‘happen’ or ‘occur’ .
Yet although I think my car exists, it is actually a series of events. The car I arrived home in tonight is not the car I set out in this morning. It has rusted a bit. Its gears are worn. Its spark plugs are increasingly burnt. Its tyres are slightly less legal. Its windscreen-wipers are more knackered.
So to say that some ‘thing’ exists is ultimately an arbitrary statement. All we are saying is that its rate of disintegration is negligible on the timescale of our lifetime. In reality, all functioning phenomena are impermanent – it’s just that some are more impermanent than others.
All ‘things’ are impermanent, and so all things are in reality processes. Things do not stay the same from one millisecond to the next. Anything composed of atoms is composed of parts in a constant state of flux. Existence is merely impermanence viewed in slow-motion.
Very good point, borne out by the synonym for “thing” in Tibetan = “functioning thing”. (Someone once told me that native Americans talked of “events” rather than “things”, but i haven’t gotten around to corroborating that.)
If someone knows that all things, stars, planets, space, are in their mind, that is not enough to solve their problems. Until wisdom deepens and allows this truth to become one with their inner being it remains merely knowledge. When we can change the course of stars and the suffering reality of others in the world, then this truth will have power. For some, merely learning the effect anger has on their lives causes them to practice patience. From patience arises more peace for them and in their relationships. Even though this person may believe in a seperate self and outer world, it is because there is no seperate self and other that patience functions for them. So even though what you are saying is true, it is merely the root truth of a tree that bears the many fruits of Buddha’s teachings. Because of this core truth, Buddhas are not outside our mind, nor are others or our galaxy, and all of Buddha’s teachings function. When this root is found by a compassionate being, the fruit of a pure land, for all, can be dreamed as true. Simply knowing that things are not outside our mind but within it will not cause the compassionate use of that truth to transform the world from suffering. There are many self serving people who believe everything is one with their mind and many spiritual systems that propound it too, so for me its about what you do with that truth, or the bounty of fruit that you share with your world.
Spot on… and beautifully said.