In praise of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s presentation of modern Buddhism

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(I guess this particular article is directed mainly at Kadampas, though I hope the rest of you find it a bit interesting too.)

Have you had a chance yet to download your gift ebook of Modern Buddhism?! It’s wonderful that it is completely free, because reading and practicing all the instructions in this book is, I think, like reading and practicing all of Buddha’s essential teachings on Sutra and Tantra.

My teacher Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has presented Kadampa Buddhism with mind-boggling skill. For example, in the “old days” (circa early 1980s), we all practiced the long sadhanas (prayer booklets) that took hours because that is all we had; also we arguably had more time as we had less aggressive distractions. Now Geshe Kelsang has provided his students with short practices such as Heart Jewel, Prayers for Meditation or, most recently, The Yoga of Buddha Heruka, which nonetheless contain absolutely everything. In his books and live teachings, he has encouraged us to dive straight into the very essence of Buddha’s teachings from the beginning, and then unravel it all backward.

From the get-go, practitioners are now encouraged to meditate daily on bliss and emptiness, which is the ultimate Buddhist meditation and actually contains every meaning of the spiritual path (included in the so-called “five seeds” of renunciation, bodhichitta, the wisdom realizing emptiness, and generation stage and completion stage of Highest Yoga Tantra). We truly learn to sow all five seeds together and reap their results together, as advised by Geshe Kelsang’s teacher’s teacher, Je Phabongkhapa. This is the real union of Sutra and Tantra as taught by the Kadampa tradition’s founder Je Tsongkhapa.

But at the same time we are encouraged to learn and deepen our experience of all these five seeds (and their components) by gradually receiving teachings on all the stages of the path of Sutra and Tantra, which are taught in authentic and practical detail in 22 outstanding books and on the three study programs worldwide. This is skilful (a) because it shows a complete understanding of how little time (and patience!) we have, and how we cannot and will not wait for years to get to the essential point, and (b) because starting at the end and working backwards is the very best way for us to practice! It truly brings the future result of our spiritual practice into the present path, making it happen now, not some time in the ever-receding future. (See this article for how simply to relate to our best and purest potential whenever we practice.)

Whenever we are connected to a peaceful mind we are connected to Buddha’s mind. It is connecting with our Buddha nature. We need to associate with that potential, get there, and stay there. We want to liberate our peace, our love, our compassion, our wisdom so they expand and pervade the universe. We are removing the obstructions from our Buddha nature.

I think of Modern Buddhism as being our modern-day Kadam Emanation Scripture. It is a magical, blessed book as it can be read on so many different levels. If you are just getting interested in Buddhism, you can download the book for free and find out all about Buddhism in general and bliss and emptiness in particular. Then, if you wish, you can slowly but surely gain a more extensive understanding of all these subjects through more reading and meditating on the other books. And people who have been around for a while say they find Modern Buddhism exceedingly helpful in presenting the very essence of everything they have already learned.

“We need modern ideas, but we also need ancient wisdom. If we deny ancient wisdom we are making a big mistake.” ~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

It is possible to take Geshe Kelsang’s presentation for granted if it is all we have known. However, just from my relatively short experience of how things have evolved in the past 30 years, let alone taken in the historical context of the presentation of Buddhism over the past 2500 years, I am aware that it is uncommonly skillful. Geshe Kelsang is a spiritual genius, wielding Manjushri’s wisdom sword to cut through the labrynthine complications of modern living and modern mind-sets — all the more miraculous given his entirely unwired background (it’s safe to say there was no Tweeting in Tibet…).

But do you agree that each of us could do with thinking about how to keep these teachings alive ourselves by figuring out how to practice effectively in our own modern wired life? Can we, the Smartphone generation, learn to meditate?! Can we gain all the same realizations as our predecessors?! Geshe Kelsang has done everything in his power to help us, so what do we need to do from our own side? If we can figure this out together, then we can repay the kindness of Geshe Kelsang and of his teachers and their teachers all the way back to Buddha, and make sure there is hope for future generations.

Your turn: In the comments, I would love to hear if and how you are all using modern-day methods to stitch Buddhism into the fabric of your daily life and make actual progress.