7.5 mins read.
Sitting in my new PJs this bitterly cold December morning, about to start my meditation, I was wondering how can I imagine being all blissed out in the Pure Land of Heruka and Vajrayogini (Keajra) when my unhoused neighbors are freezing half to death outside on the streets and piglets are having their tails cut off while conscious?
The Pure Land cannot just be an extension of my privilege – that is, “I have a relatively comfy life and I’d like it to continue and improve in Keajra when I die, please!” We can’t get to Keajra out of attachment to the status quo. The Pure Land only arises from our utter distaste (as Geshe Kelsang puts it) for samsara’s evil dealings, and a heart broken into 1,000 pieces (like Avalokiteshvara 1,000 arms) from witnessing others’ suffering. `
The bliss of the Pure Land doesn’t actually come from all those endless cool objects of enjoyment, but from being in the position to effortlessly free everyone from samsara because our mind just is bliss and emptiness. The enjoyments are simply a means to an end. Hence this verse from the Heruka sadhana:
I offer to you, synthesis of all Buddhas of the ten directions, all my daily enjoyments – eating, drinking and enjoying any other objects of desire.
May I quickly attain enlightenment and become like you so that I will effortlessly benefit all living beings.
On the cusp of Heruka and Vajrayogini month, which starts on January 3rd, I’d like to share a couple more vignettes on the subject.
Transforming our jobs
I have a friend here in Denver called Shala, who is still in the middle of (hands down, no competition) the toughest year of her life working as an ICU nurse with COVID patients. What is as terrible in some ways as the lonely choking deaths she has witnessed is her frustration at the administrators at all levels who cannot or will not do a decent job of supporting the frontline healthcare workers, leading not just to their exhaustion and lack of protection but to unnecessary sentinel patient events.
How does she get past this to carry on, month after month, I asked her. The answer is by remembering renunciation, focusing directly on the patients (trying to make them as peaceful and comfortable as she personally can), and constantly asking the Buddhas to bless the situation.
Shala has given me a lot to think about. In our day to day work lives (if we’re lucky enough to still have one of those), including running a meditation center or another non-profit (which some of you do), it’s easy for us to get annoyed with our co-workers or managers if we feel that we are dependent on them for success. To avoid this at work (or indeed wherever things are not working out), we need the fearlessness to look at our own actual painful situation — including our own frustrations and griefs and shame and trauma and rage — and sit with these long enough to develop renunciation.
Samsara’s job is to make us suffer. We are not “wholeheartedly accepting” suffering (as in the necessary practice of patient acceptance) if we are at the same time brushing it off as quickly as we can. It doesn’t work to bypass samsara’s nature, saying “Oh yes, I know! Samsara is bad!” while being prepared to keep living with it and making it work — we have to detest it very deeply, have a lifelong grudge, if we are to muster sufficient activity to abolish it.
All this of course done within the framework of identifying ourselves with the vast sky of our limitless potential, not the dark clouds of our delusions and mistaken appearances. We’re the sky looking at the thunder, who knows full well that the sky is still alright, that no thunder can ever harm it.
We are not inherently impure or ordinary or even suffering! Holding to that is identifying ourself incorrectly, as Geshe Kelsang explains so clearly in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra (which would be a wonderful book to dust off and read this month). Which is just as well because it means that we can change.
We also need always to keep our eye on the ball by staying directly and personally focused on the living beings we’re trying to help in our area, not on the faults of our team and/or others who are seemingly sabotaging our best efforts. This compassion and love will go a long way to protecting us from daily anger (not to mention self-pity).
And we are not talking just, “Oh that’s a shame!”, but about a compassion that finds the suffering of others unbearable and so will keep us going day after day for their sake, without becoming mentally side-tracked or full of inertia by taking everything personally.
Thirdly, we need to channel the frustration at things not going as well as we would like (eg, due to inefficiency, bad management, selfishness, prejudice, disharmony etc) into the determination to attain enlightenment as quickly as we possibly can. Because that way we can DIRECTLY help each and every living being every day through our blessings and emanations (bypassing all management, lol). Developing pure view and practicing being in the Pure Land — where there is “not even the name of mistaken impure appearance” — is a must if we are to do this skillfully.
Transforming our families
I am currently part of a family of six cats. Over two months ago, a mom arrived with five tiny new cats, and they’ve grown up mainly knowing the world of me and my apartment/jungle-playground. For a brief moment in their endless samsaric lives, and unlike the vast majority of other animals, they have the karma to be wanted. They have a devoted cat mom and sympathetic human relatives wanting to take care of them, offering them food, warmth, companionship, and love. They are even lined up for great homes in other families.
But as I was watching them this morning while they slumbered next to me, it struck me quite deeply that, even if they get to spend the next 16 or so years in relative comfort and security, these innocent trusting little folk are at some point going to become sick, old, and dead. And then what? Then where?
These few months are a snapshot in time, a vanishing moment given the endless suffering they’ve already been through and the endless suffering that awaits them. My heart was breaking when I looked not just at today’s challenges (for example, Kendrick feeling sad and hungry because he simply can’t abide cat food, and who can blame him), but the fact that this discomfort is NOTHING compared with the rest of it. And the fact that he doesn’t even know that, nor can do anything about it. Looking at me with that tilted kitten head, he doesn’t even know how to plead with me not to forget him, not to let him suffer — not now, not ever.*
It is bad enough just contemplating what lies in store for these six individuals, but that of course gets me thinking about all my family, blood related or otherwise, furry or fur-less. And everyone else in the six realms of samsara’s wasteland.
Turning the pain into power
I have seen the promised land!
So said Martin Luther King Jr – and did he keep going, I was wondering, despite endless odds, through the power of his faith and imagination? Was he already in some sense in the Pure Land, with the courage and power to lead others to that state? Do we have to be seeing the world that we want to create? I would say, Yes, we do.
Great compassion will be the new normal.
So said Gen Losang in the Summer. The ONLY solution we really have to this year and to every other terrible year is to become a Buddha as quickly as possible for the sake of others. And the only way to do that is to practice being a Buddha in the Pure Land now, making sure that Kendrick and everyone else is a mere aspect of our mind of bliss and emptiness, never separated from us, never again forgotten. For once we are in the outer or inner Pure Land of Heruka, this can happen fast for all our friends:
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. ~ The New Essence of Vajrayana
Over to you. What does the Pure Land mean to you? How are you going to spend Heruka and Vajrayogini month?
*Postscript: Kendrick died at 3am on Christmas day after a rapid decline.💔
He provides another compelling reason why not to feel a moment’s survivor’s guilt about hanging out in the Pure Land, given that I can do almost nothing for him while identified as an ordinary being. However, prayers work, so please let’s pray for this small cat and all other animals, whether beloved companions or hitherto completely unwanted.
Practicing Tantra is not as hard as you think
Sorry to hear about Kendrick🙏🙏🙏
Thank you always for your writing and wisdom. Your words inspire insights and experiences of depth.
I have wanted to do a completion stage retreat with Gen Samten for many years. I’m not going to CA this year because of Covid and so I signed up! Yes!
Interesting point about privilege and focusing on the pure land while so many are suffering. I am often in touch with suffering and as a performer I tend to exaggerate samsara with comical and dramatic effects. Every song I write and every skit I perform has a challenge and an uplifting aspect of the pure land. Not always in dharma language but in its essence.
In my daily practice after my offerings and prayers, I imagine all six realms and ask for blessings to free each realm from suffering. With hell beings I ask for a drop of blessings to touch their minds. A stream of pure light to get through the layers and spark their Buddha nature.I wonder what they might have done to be in this realm. And pray that they may exhaust their negative karma now in this moment.
Through this process I’m able to imagine and experience these blessings entering others. I don’t feel I’m generating as the deity feels more like I’m a conduit. But maybe I’m not identifying it correctly.
Happy holidays to you💃
I really like the way you started this article. I too wonder how I can imagine I’m a pure being in a Pure Land, when there’s so much suffering in the world, and when I’m suffering too – from slipping on the ice yesterday, bruising my 60-year-old hip and elbow, pulling my wrist and shoulder. (I tell my self-cherishing to shut up – it could have been worse!) This article is so helpful! It reminds me to “just do it”, just imagine it, just go with it, and helps me feel like I can. Thank you!
I will add sweet Kendrick to my prayers. I’m hoping that he was already a Buddha – here to teach us something. I often think this way about all animals – that perhaps they are all Buddhas, teaching us.
I’ll be spending Heruka and Vajrayogini month, as well as February and half of March, engaged in KMC NY’s Winter Retreat on The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra – from my home. I’ve never done more than a month-long retreat, and that was almost 11 years ago. Looking forward to this!
Happy New Year Luna! Thanks for being here. 🙂
With a coffee and mince pie I break from an endless round of self made household chores to sit with my long time sick cat, who watches wisely, silently asking why am I not using this unusual period of quiet my life has entered into, to fulfill its real meaning. I click on this post.
I am so resonated by these words, Luna, which echo everything ive seen and thought and am still thinking.
Tam, one of maybe 30 cats Ive had in this life, waiting with dignity and patience for a death i have no control over, nor his suffering, just like the others. Discouragement always nagging me to feel I have and still am failing him and them. A working life spent in nursing, some recent work in hospital.
Instead of skimming this post while running, running always, I was hooked in with wisdom blessings and sat reciting Tara mantras as I read it, and re-read, contemplated, – so rich, so complete these blessed words, thank you Luna.
So what to do this coming Vajrayogini and Heruka month?
Something please, to burn away the threads and suckers that feed my lurking unbeleivable belief that there is, somehow, something worthwhile in this morass of speechless tinselled vileness, and that stop me thinking of enlightenment,
‘I can do this, I must do this now’.
Some Blissful Path retreat, Migtsema, Lamrim, and Vajrayogini Body mandala are on the menu.
But what I really pray for is to be able to find a deep unbreakable and everlasting heart connection with Venerable Geshe-la, Guru Vajrayogini and an immovable mountainous faith in him and his teachings, and a stick of renunciation dynamite welded into my heart.
For little Kendrick and all the countless millions, the little stray who comes to my back door for food, we have to do this, I have to do this. I must do this now. And even as I write I feel the strangulating net of self grasping pulling at my intention, and all the suffering I have already seen has still not touched my heart deeply.
And what does the Pure Land mean to me? Its total conviction in something better, in a better me, a valid way out of suffering, and its how things appear when the mind is appearing purity – a fullness of heart, like the sky watching the thunder. Its the beauty and pure potential in every living being. Its completely different. Its a conviction that I can get there too, that my spiritual guide is there already and with love he will take me too if I can give him my complete trust. Is it also a gentleness. A deep inner confidence and unobstucted feeling of connection with others. Its pure joy. Its smooth and swift and instantaneous. It also to my ordinary mind appears fictitious.
How do I become urgent and bursting with tantric bodhichitta while maintaining a gentle hearted accepting of my current limitations approach though?
With much love
Hi Helen. Im doing retreat also with kmc ny and gen samten and it is incredibly wonderful, he is doing 10 weeks of oral instructions of mahamudra and I rejoice that myself and other people here such as Jeannie are doing this retreat. I highly recommend it or of course any other retreat that floats your boat. Just a suggestion 🙂
So sorry to hear about Kendrick. Will add him to my Powa prayers together with the many who have died from Parvo virus in the past few days that we take care of in Mallorca. Thank you for these insights. I find them so helpful in the work I do with my cat rescue charity and definitely agree that our work helps with our renunciation and compassion. Looking forward to developing more insights during Vajrayogini retreat in Janary. Much love Sara x
‘Om mani peme hum’ for all our very kind,very precious mothers 🙏🏻❤️