A rising tide lifts all boats ~ the power of Sangha

I wrote this article several years ago but this weekend June 4-6, 2021– with many people all around the world celebrating Venerable Geshe-la’s 90th birthday both live and live-streaming — has reminded me of the power of our Sangha.

You know, there is nothing fixed about you. You can change the narrative of yourself, go down a whole new road. For example, of these two, which to identify with?:

I am now middle aged with all those affairs of the gorgeous young me with the beautiful young lovers behind me, increasingly wrinkly and achy atranscending fear and anger.jpgnd irrelevant, and heading for the graveyard (via smelly old folks’ home).

= dead end street, no happy ending in sight.


I am a spiritual practitioner with incredible opportunity and strong renunciation and compassion, like Buddha and all previous practitioners, heading closer and closer to the Pure Land and the ability to liberate all living beings. I am Heruka, trampling on delusions, wielding the wheel of sharp weapons to cut through the self-grasping of all living beings.

= liberating path to somewhere completely new and blissful.

Or whatever story line we like. You can figure something out, especially with the help of Dharma. Conventional truth depends entirely on mental perspective – that’s maybe why it is also called “relative truth”. So if we give ourselves a different perspective on whatever is going on in our lives, the meaning of our life changes. For example, in the context above, I have found in the past that periods of solitude or being fired from a job are not galling but a springboard to far, far greater things.

NKT Summer Festivals 

international assemblyThe recent summer festival (2016) was amazingly inspiring in this respect because there were 4,000 people focusing on a vision of being enlightened, not ordinary, all in the same place at the same time.

Wheel of sharp weapons

I’ve been having wonderful conversations and connections with an unusual assembly of cool people from all over the place. No one is normal around here. I have loved sitting in the temple with this huge Sangha, and there are plenty more practitioners back home too. I’ve been wondering about the causes and conditions we and others around the world must all have created to have met this fully realized Spiritual Guide, these ear-whispered instructions, this Tantric technology, this quick path to full enlightenment. It was feeling to me like we have done most of the work just to get to this point, perhaps in many previous lifetimes, and now all we have to do is fall off a log, spiritually speaking.

We can and usually do have pretty ordinary views of ourself and others, but there is nothing ordinary about any of this. There doesn’t have to be anything boring or ordinary about anything or anyone in our world. The key is to remember this every day, even when we are back home and at work.

The “Sangha” is not an exclusive club, by the way. There are no rules of entry. There is not a single person who does not equally have the potential to attain the happiness of enlightenment so, as soon as someone wants that, even a little bit, they are on their way. And who knows what spiritual work anyone has already done in this or previous lives?

Oral InstructionsAs it says in Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

“Through the wheel of sharp weapons of the exalted wisdom of bliss and emptiness,
Circling throughout the space of the minds of sentient beings until the end of the aeon,
Cutting away the demon of self-grasping, the root of samsara,
May definitive Heruka be victorious.”

It is said that thousands of Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples attained enlightenment. Despite my faith in the methods, and Geshe Kelsang’s oft-stated conviction that we modern-day practitioners can gain the same results, I admit I used to be a bit skeptical about this: “Steady on! That’s a bit unrealistic, surely! Maybe two or three people could go all the way?!”

(I still thought even two or three would be pretty good … after all, think of the power of even one more person in this world having Geshe Kelsang’s realizations of meaning clear light and pure illusory body?!)

A rising tide raises all boats

meditatingBut you know that expression, “a rising tide raises all boats”? Of late I have been beginning to intuit that as some of us start to gain deep completion stage realizations, we might all start doing it. If you or me or any of the Sangha gain realizations, others around us will be raised naturally due to our karmic interconnections and the fact that our minds are not inherently separate. Let alone fellow practitioners, even our family and friends and colleagues will naturally experience benefits. I didn’t find it at all hard during this Festival to appreciate my rather epic fellow international Sangha, old and new, because I could tell that we are all in this together. We rise and fall together, aspects of Guru Vajradhara’s mind.

It is not the individual, isolated, separate me who will attain enlightenment after all – that is the me that has to dissolve away so that I can identify with my actual self. In Tantra we learn to impute ourselves no longer on a contaminated deluded mind and meaty body, but on our own indestructible, blissful very subtle mind and body. These, once purified by dissolving all phenomena into ultimate truth emptiness, will transform into the actual mind and body of a Buddha. How hard can that be? Once we’ve been shown how to do it?! As Nagarjuna says:

“For whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible.”

jumping with joyLike I said, even if one or two people were to gain the union of meaning clear light and illusory body and be like Geshe-la, this world would transform. So what about ten? Or a thousand!? It is degenerate times alright, but the blessings of Heruka and Vajrayogini become more powerful in degenerate times; so who is to say that collectively we cannot and will not transform this thing? When the distractions are few and the Festival blessings strong, it all seems perfectly doable. Now I just have to tune into this refuge in Sangha every day.

(Clearly I wrote this article when Festivals were still live, the pandemic not even thought of. Hopefully it may double up as encouragement to get back to a live Festival later this year or next year.)

You might enjoy this video:


Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

17 thoughts on “A rising tide lifts all boats ~ the power of Sangha”

  1. What a beautiful, encouraging post! I had the good fortune to hear these teachings at Summer Festival and also to be sharing a house with amazing Sangha friends, including Gen Sanden from Abbotsford. We would go to hear the teachings, prepare meals together, and then share Dharma again at mealtimes. Gen Sanden wouid also answer questions and expand on the teachings in the evenings, which was priceless – he loves Dharma so much! Now a group of us are transcribing the teachings together and my wonderful Sangha friend Carol is hosting discussion groups on the Oral Lineage of the Mahamudra so we can keep building on what we learned. It is so true that “a rising tide raises all boats” and my Sangha friends near, far, and online have lifted us all up again and again. The more I practice the more I appreciate how precious the Sangha jewel is! Thanks again for yet another wonderful post.

  2. I love this post of yours 🙂 I just got back from fall festival in Toronto and was so happy to be with so many practitioners, many of whom are probably already enlightened, and just soak it all in. Thank you Luna Kadampa.

  3. Thank you for posting this. It’s inspiring to reflect that we are karmically connected, and our minds are not inherently separate. Thinking in this way increases motivation to do the practices, especially with the motivation to bring about healing in this world, because I’m more certain that my prayers and practices are actually felt by (and helping) others.

  4. I thought about this article when listening to the commentary regarding the incredible sporting success of the GB cycling team in Rio. It has been very clear there that having an excellent devoted coach has been central to the level of training undertaken and the devotion to the task from all the team members. Then, during the games as the medals have been won, the confidence and conviction of other team members has grown and grown. The effect has been to lift each one of them higher and higher. This is a great analogy for the message you are sharing with us here.🌸💕🌸

  5. Those blessings were like pure super fuel. I delight in your practice Brooke! 🌸💕🌸

  6. For the first time post-festival, I have sustained my practice, my mindfulness, my peace of mind and joy in practicing dharma. I have practiced The New Essence of Vajrayana every morning since my return 8 days ago. I have never been happier and feel “light”, like I am exactly in the right place. I wanted to share this with all of you….I have been practicing with the NKT for almost 20 years but feel this summer festival provided the conditions for me to make a new level of commitment to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. Love to you all, Brooke

  7. The Festivals always gives one the opportunity to get to a pure world, or Pure Land of Buddha… Geshe la says; Through the power of faith and correct imagination we stop all our appearances of an impure animate and inanimate world…And we need your teachings that l value so much… Obrigado

  8. What a beautiful post, Luna! I loved when Gen-la Kyenrab reminded us of VGKG’s teachings in Berlin where he explained the origins of the “universe” and spoke of wind being mere name. I thought more about where that world came from and realized that of course it was created by the minds of those reborn into it. They created that world with their karma. Then I got to thinking how we Kadampas are creating our future world(s) collectively (I always seem to forget about collective karma). We are creating a pure land for each other (and others) to be reborn into. I LOVE this idea. I want to help create the best possible world for all of us – the one VG has envisioned for us!

  9. Hi Luna, your reflections of the Summer Festival have kept it alive for me – thank you.
    I was very lucky to spend a delightful 2 weeks there this year. The effect of having so many Kadampas together was as you say very uplifting. Everyone trying to keep a happy mind and being their best was such a perfect example that it became effortless to be that too. I had a perfect moment of joy in the packed shower block – everyone was queuing for the loo, the shower, sharing the basins, chatting, relaxed, making room for everyone. It was so clear that happiness isn’t our external circumstances.
    I also felt so cherished – although it was busy, I felt everyone cared that you got in the temple, that you had a seat, that you got a delicious meal.
    And I agree with you that the possibility of enlightenment never seemed so tangible. Genla Kyenrab taught that Geshela says we can all be enlightened, that it’s easy because we have the perfect conditions AND added ‘you may become enlightened in this teaching’ Well……….I was most inspired by that – in my heart Guru Sumati said ‘you can do it – I will help you’ it didn’t actually happen for me in that teaching – but maybe for someone it did!

  10. Thank you so much for this uplifting article. Recently, I’ve been recognizing how extremely fortunate I am to have this lifetime for myself during Geshla’s lifetime of teaching. These teachings came to me quite late in this life. Seems to me that, by me searching for so long these lessons, Geshla’s had time to write, translate, teach and prepare the path for me.
    What really turned on a light for me was your statement: “Been thinking about the extraordinary causes and conditions we and others around the world must have all created to have met this fully realized Spiritual Guide.” This brought a new, much deeper realization and gratitude for us all who share this time on the same planet right now.

  11. Thank you, Luna for the inspiring and encouraging article…so true!!
    Though I was not at the Summer Festival, through our interconnection,
    and of course,blessings from our Spiritual Guide, and the internet… I could definitely feel my practice and happiness and bliss invigorated. ;-))

  12. Thanks for this article. It’s a wonderful angle to look at refuge in the Sangha jewel. I appreciate it very much and enjoy the analogy of the boat. It’s very helpful.
    This festival really was so encouraging, we all really can do it. This morning as I was meditating I thought maybe there is a way to use the dream analogy to get rid of my mistaken appearance. In a dream I feel I am real and I am not aware of my ordinary body. Perhaps being Heruka is the same..
    Let’s continue to lift each other up!

  13. I agree! Ive seen this many times, whether you simply help the centre 1 or 2 days or week, are a great meditator or have a ‘good’or ‘bad’ practice, without freedom we are all progressing together. We are all Sangha jewel, connected in a web of blessings, from one heart to another. Likes cells in a vast body that is being cared for and nurtured by our Spiritual Guide, the healthier the body becomes the more invigorated and well being we become. Have you noticed how everyone in this tradition has a very unique ‘look’? Everyone is different and each person stands out like a beacon of light. I personally believe each of us is a deity in Heruka’s body mandala, each with a specific function and place. Despite what our ordinary mind may appear us we, in reality, are Hero’s and Heroines. 🙂

    1. Someone has to be 🙂 And feeling happy about the Sangha is a good place to start as pure view is catching — everyone around us can become a Hero or Heroine, even (or especially!) when we find ourselves back in the charnel grounds of everyday life. Pure view is quick Tantric technology for increasing our love and respect for others. Thank you for a beautiful comment.

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