Je Tsongkhapa Day ~ thinking globally, acting locally

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Today, October 25th, is Je Tsongkhapa Day ~ you can read more about it in this talk. In it, Geshe Kelsang says:

Guru Sumati Buddha HerukaAlthough Je Tsongkhapa had the highest realizations of Highest Yoga Tantra he never physically showed that he was a Tantric yogi. He lived like as an ordinary pure practitioner, emphasizing by his outward appearance the pure practice of moral discipline. However, his daily life was that of a Bodhisattva, and his inner realization of experiencing the union of great bliss and emptiness day and night was the very essence of Highest Yoga Tantra.

Practicing Buddhism on different levels at the same time

So here are some short musings of what this day means to me.

Our main object of refuge in modern or Kadampa Buddhism is Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka – our Spiritual Guide is appearing as Je Tsongkhapa, with Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart, and Buddha Heruka (or Buddha Vajradhara) at his heart.

This reveals our outer, inner, and secret Dharma practice through which our Spiritual Guide is drawing us all into his heart of bliss and emptiness. We want to and can become just like him.

Guru Tsongkhapa is the embodiment of moral discipline and renunciation and, totally trustworthy and relatable, represents the visible or outer structure for helping others, such as the organized centers, ordained community, and lay Pratimoksha community. Not to mention practically helping people each day.

Je Tsongkhapa emanates from Guru Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart, who is the embodiment of his inner realizations of love, compassion, and bodhichitta, which flow effortlessly throughout the whole world of living beings.

And Buddha Shakyamuni in turn emanates from Heruka and Vajrayogini at his heart, who are the embodiment of the secret or hidden Tantric practice of bliss and emptiness that sources and pervades all phenomena, that is reality itself, that already exists as the solution.

Think globally, act locally

This always reminds me that we can and do practice on different levels: outer, inner, and secret.

Outer (renunciation)

Geshe Langri Tangpa and mouse
Look carefully …  🐭

It helps others a great deal if we are practicing renunciation, contentment, and ethics. We need to be observing the ten virtuous actions, for example, whoever we are, and trying to keep our word and avoid pretension and deceit. Whatever our walk of life, we can’t show crazy examples even if we have powerful realizations — no one can follow those, especially in these degenerate times; and, thanks to self-cherishing, everyone’s moral discipline goes to pot given half an excuse. Along with kindness and basic decency.

Whoever and wherever we are (high profile or low key) and whatever we do every day (high powered or below the radar), we are always acting moreorless locally, as it were. Geshe Langri Tangpa paid a lot of attention to one mouse, for example, and I have seen Geshe Kelsang spend many minutes blessing a bee that was dying next to his window one hot summer day.

When he first got to England, also, in the late seventies, Geshe-la would routinely be teaching the profound perfection of wisdom to an audience of … 7 people! But with the same enthusiasm with which he later taught 7 thousand.

Inner (bodhichitta)

We generally only have a certain limited number of people we are practically able to help on any given day, especially when we compare that number to countless living beings. You could say that it’s never enough, that there’s always more to be done, even if we practically die trying.

Perhaps à propos nothing, but it seems relevant to me, Joe Di Maggio was once asked by a reporter why he always played so hard, even if there were only a few people in the stands. He replied:

Because there might have been somebody in the stands who’d never seen my play before, and might never see me again.

And that reminds me of that starfish story … you know the one, I also repeat it here,  but the point being that even helping one person makes all the difference to them.

starfishSo we try to help everyone in our path each day, and the more the merrier on one level. But on another level it doesn’t really matter how many people we can meet and help directly because our heart can always be in the right place, always vast with bodhichitta, encompassing all living beings. In that way we are also making a difference on a deeper level, heading toward enlightenment rapidly so that we can help everyone all the time through emanations and blessings. Sure, Geshe-la could have been teaching thousands of people in the same amount of time he spent looking after one bee; but the fact is that this bee action was just as significant in some ways.

And if we have a big heart, each of these seemingly limited actions is a like a portal into helping everyone, so it becomes limitless.

Get out the vote! I was just thinking about voting, for example. The way to make my vote really count is to cast it with a mind of renunciation and bodhichitta, wishing for all beings to live in the freedom of bliss and emptiness. And, while I’m at it, I can pray for our dear leaders, whoever they end up being, to have wisdom and compassion.

Secret (blissful wisdom)

Then there is the solution that always lies at our hearts and at the heart of reality. If we remember that we and everything else is the nature of bliss and emptiness, we are making a difference on an even deeper level – we’re already in the process of drawing everyone into that state. We can remain tethered in the solution, and therefore in hope and refuge, as described a bit in this last article.

This way of practicing on outer, inner, and secret levels is the union of Sutra and Tantra — something else Je Tsongkhapa’s Kadampa tradition is famous for.

True refuge

refuge from the stormEverywhere we look these days there seem to be insurmountable problems – sped up climate change, factory farming, politicians and populace gone wild, mental health crises, not to mention all our own stuff. This can be immensely discouraging if we stop there, if we never get off social media and the 24/7 news cycle.

But true refuge involves not just understanding the doom and gloom of it all, but that it is all mere name, not as real and fixed as it appears deceptively to our sense awarenesses. Not an atom of it exists from its own side, so a lasting solution is possible; even though we will have to dig deeper than the delusions and karmic hallucinations to get to it.

True refuge involves not just a reasonable and woke fear of our own and others’ suffering, but faith in the solution – liberation and enlightenment — and the holy beings who have already attained it or who are on their way. Faith in enlightenment and holy beings — especially in our Spiritual Guide who is showing us an actual alternative to suffering — is crucial. We need this faith to be able to bring ourselves and others to that state, not to mention to stay sane and positive in the process.

Today I think lots about how kind my Spiritual Guide is for managing to appear in my life despite these challenging times to show me exactly how to get us out of here. There is a verse in Offering to the Spiritual Guide that expresses this for me perfectly:

To the coarse beings of these impure times who, being so hard to tame,
Were not subdued by the countless Buddhas of old,
You correctly reveal the excellent path of the Sugatas;
O Compassionate Refuge and Protector, to you I make requests.

When I think about Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka, and especially when I allow him to enter my heart and mix with my mind, it fills me with inconceivable hope. It fills me with refuge. It fills me with the energy to keep going despite the crazy appearances at every turn.

That is what Je Tsongkhapa Day means to me. I’d love to hear what it means to you, if it does. And to conclude with Geshe Kelsang’s words:

Today we remember Je Tsongkhapa’s great kindness and dedicate all our virtuous actions so that his Dharma will flourish throughout the world and provide many living beings with the great opportunity to attain liberation and full enlightenment.

Over to you.


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!

28 thoughts on “Je Tsongkhapa Day ~ thinking globally, acting locally”

  1. Je Tsongkhapa day means – I’m forever indebted to his great kindness. I pray that everyone meets Kadam lamrim, the three precious jewels!!

  2. Bonjour,je vous lis depuis la Belgique et je voulais vous dire combien vos articles sont pour moi ,à chaque fois,un remède radical contre mes doutes perturbés.Comme une étincelle dans un petit tas de paille en mon cœur. Alors je tiens à vous remercier du fond du cœur.(désolé je n’arrive pas a parler anglais)

  3. This was so lovely Luna!! How nice to have something right on hand to read about this day.
    Loved it!

  4. So looking forward to hearing your teaching directly when you visit us soon in South Africa. Travel safely.

  5. Thank you for another beautiful article on Je Tsongkhapa day Luna 😊❤️💙🌈

  6. I have a question regarding Je Tsongkhapa. I rely on him very explicitly when I do Offering to Spiritual Guide and I would rely on him daily when I used to do Yoga of Buddha Heruka (the shortest sadhana). As my renunciation increased, thanks to the four white hairs signaling a slow and painful loss of my enjoyments and very soon life itself, I switched to New Essence of Vajrayana. It’s a BIG shock that Je Tsongkhapa is not part of the visualization anymore. I checked the older Essence of Vajrayana and I only see his name in request to lineage Gurus. I don’t even hear his name in the New Essence of Vajrayana. I am experiencing a sense of loss. All my attention, offerings and prayers go to the principal figure Heruka (which is lovely!) but its not Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka anymore.

    Please help resolve my concerns. Thank you!

    1. Four white hairs 😆 You can think that Guru Tsongkhapa is the same nature as Buddha Heruka, because he is. I see no harm in even visualizing Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka during this practice, at least during refuge, as long as your main emphasis is on Heruka.

      1. Yay! I will visualize Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka during the refuge prayers, that helps me a lot. Thank you for the advice!

        If I may ask one more question.. (pretty please!). I am trying to correlate my experience with manifest aging with the teachings on patient acceptance. The single most profound change I have made in my life style is getting up earlier to do new Essence of Vajrayana daily and it came with the language saying “I DO NOT accept this” to the current aging in particular and to all sufferings of samsara and future lives in general. Its like having a chip on the shoulder that super charges my energy. I actually never want to forget my sufferings, otherwise my efforts start to thaw and get milder and samsara gets comfortable and okay again. But Geshla generally says forget your problems, stop thinking about them and we also think that my sufferings are insignificant. I am afraid that by practicing the last two instructions, my renunciation mellows down as well.

        Do you have any advice on how not to see any contradictions here?

        PS: I cant thank you enough for your time and patience, and invaluable help in my life. Thank you!

        1. He says forget your problems UNLESS you are using them to generate renunciation; and that they are insignificant compared with the sufferings of countless other beings, so you can use them to generate compassion.

          1. Thank you for clarifying. I have the fault of remembering teachings but not using them in the required context (a fuzzy pot!), will be mindful of it and put in effort to be sharper. Thank you!

          2. Oh no Luna, I contemplated this further and I am discovering I may have a similitude of the great fault of sectarianism.

            When I would experience suffering, I would do some taking and giving or contemplate how my suffering is insignificant and as a result, momentarily experience some compassion (as these practices are intended to generate). HOWEVER, then I will feel better as I begin to forget about my suffering, and then I would slide back to business as usual of going for refuge again to samsara (unknowingly), believing things are okay, thereby making my samsara tolerable again and okay to sustain.

            You say “forget your problems UNLESS you are using them to generate renunciation”. But I want to train in renunciation all the time. Does that not imply that I should NEVER forget about my problems? And, when I generate compassion, I am not supposed to dilute my renunciation as a result so even though training in compassion does make my suffering look insignificant, I should still keep them in the foreground?

              1. I’m afraid I will be in AZ with Kadam Morten! Do you happen to know already where you’d be around Feb 16-18, 2019? I could stop by where you are if you are a plane’s throw away.

  7. Thank you so much for your helpful and inspirational words. I look forward to reading your posts. I have a photo of Geshe-la near my bed and it’s the first thing I look at in the morning. It centers me and renews my feelings of refuge and faith especially on this day.

  8. This special day I awoke early and did heat jewel,at my schrine
    The day was blissfull I spent it with my daughter,who has four children,
    Just the two youngest came out for the day one being six weeks old
    The other one two years ,what joy to just pushing her pram
    Thank you for your article si get so much from them always

  9. A really beautifully encouraging article. From the bee, to 7 people to 7 thousand people. All equally important. Understanding that the people in your office are as important as objects of cherishing as those we see and read about in the international media. We never know what a difference we are making to others so keeping that open loving heart means we will always be giving as much as we can. Thank you for this encouragement ❤️

  10. Love all your writings. Theyre so helpful especially to find them during the day in my feed and be brought home. Moral discipline and renunciation feel like an ongoing development to me, which is fine. “Remain natural while changing your aspirations” Day by day, year by year my Kadampa path unfolds more. Happy Je Tsongkhapa Day!

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