7.5 mins read.
What on earth are blessings?!
You, who love all beings without exception,
Are the source of happiness and goodness;
And you guide us to the liberating path. ~ The Liberating Prayer
And what does it mean to say that Buddhas are the source of our happiness? For example:
Buddha’s function is to bestow mental peace on each and every living being every day by giving blessings. We know that we are happy when our mind is peaceful and unhappy when it is not. It is therefore clear that our happiness depends on our having a peaceful mind and not on good external conditions … Through continually receiving Buddha’s blessings we can maintain a peaceful mind all the time. Buddha is therefore the source of our happiness. ~ The Mirror of Dharma
I don’t know about you, but questions about this have come up over the years, such as “Surely we are happy on our own sometimes?! If Buddhas didn’t exist or weren’t around, would we never be happy? Just generating peaceful and virtuous minds is supposed to make us happy, why do we need blessings as well?”
How do I explain this to myself, let alone to people who know nothing about Buddhas? It seems pretty deep and mystical. Can we understand this without relying on blind faith? I’d be interested to hear what you think about this. This is my understanding so far.
Enlightened beings (Skt Buddhas) are beings imputed on enlightenment, who possess enlightenment, who embody enlightenment, who ARE enlightenment. Enlightenment is reality. Living beings are in unreality because of our ordinary conceptions and appearances. We are in darkness because we don’t know we are manifestations of bliss and emptiness; but the light of omniscient wisdom effortlessly finds its way through every chink, and any peace in samsara’s prison comes from this. In his Mahamudra teachings of 2003, Geshe Kelsang says:
Generally every living being without exception receives the blessings of enlightened beings every day, and because of this they will experience from time to time some small inner peace. Without any particular reason, they are happy. This is the function of enlightened beings, their job.
Without the existence of enlightenment, I think we would be practically powerless to be happy. The blessings of Buddhas are the nature of bliss and emptiness, compassion and wisdom, enlightenment. They hold us all up from falling into utter darkness. It is simply far far less effort to go along with our ignorance and other delusions, assuming that everything we see is real. If there was no enlightenment, there’d be only samsara at its worst. No light. The trend toward disorder, the law of entropy, would prevail.
It looks like their minds are generally darkness, covered by self-grasping ignorance. From this darkness, sometimes, from time to time, they develop a positive mind, a peaceful mind, a calm mind, like lightning. ~ Mahamudra 2003
So basically, without enlightenment existing, then everything would be darkness, wouldn’t it? Don’t you think? I mean, it’s far less effort to believe that everything is as real as it appears.
And also we have Buddha nature — we already have that spark of enlightenment inside us at our deepest level, at the level of our very subtle mind. At the moment it ignites just briefly when we fall asleep at night and when we die and we can’t do anything with it. But there’s a spark there.
I mean, our clear light mind is not even human, right?! We’re talking about a limitless consciousness, unbelievable, luminous, infinite. It’s perceiving only emptiness (though not realizing it). It lasts a very short while and then our subtle and gross minds reappear along with all their mistaken appearances. But it’s in there — we all have that spark inside us, our actual Buddha nature. It’s as if the enlightened beings ignite that spark. The way to enlightenment is through enlightenment.
Whenever we are relatively virtuous, non-deluded, and peaceful, at that time our minds are already conjoined with the peaceful non-deluded reality of enlightenment, which means we are already experiencing blessings. Therefore, whenever we experience any degree of inner peace, it is good to recognize that experience as moments of blessing, and enjoy those moments with an understanding of the deep and close connection we have with enlightened beings. When we experience inner peace, right there is our Buddha nature, right there is Buddha, and right there is Buddha’s blessings. When we do this, the blessings and peace grow in power. This works for everyone, in any tradition.
Making an effort to receive blessings
Because in case you were wondering, there is no suggestion that you have to be a believer in Buddha or indeed subscribe to any particular faith to get blessings or to be happy. That would defy all observation and common sense. Everyone has Buddha nature, the potential for enlightenment, and is capable of experiencing inner peace. Everyone receives blessings, often without even trying. Such as this purring cat next to me.
And we can experience these blessings even more if we know what is going on. They become powerful blessings. They can transform us. As it says in How to Transform Your Life, likening the sun to Buddha’s blessings and the closed shutters to our lack of faith:
Even when the sun is shining, if our house is shuttered, only a little light can enter and our house will remain cold and dark; but if we open the shutters, the warm rays of the sun will come pouring in.
All this is probably why our main commitment for refuge in Buddha is to “make an effort to receive Buddha’s blessings”. Venerable Geshe-la said in 2003:
Without receiving the blessings from enlightenment [sic], we are powerless, we have to remain in samsara’s prison in life after life, endlessly.
People in other traditions work on receiving blessings just as Buddhists do. Faith in holy beings makes us receptive to blessings; we believe in blessings and so we receive them more loudly and obviously, like turning on a radio to tune into the radio waves. Take Patricia, for example, who is always wishing me and everyone else a blessed day, “May you be blessed, God bless you.” And who, despite her aches and pains, more often than not has the broadest smile on her beautiful face.
By developing strong faith, our mind will open and the full sun of Buddha’s blessings will come pouring in. ~ How to Transform Your Life
Seeing through the virtual reality
What does it mean if we’re not enlightened? It means we’re not in reality. We are identifying ourselves with delusions and mistaken appearances, believing that’s all there is.
We have mistaken dualistic conceptions about most things, and that includes samsara and enlightenment, if we’ve heard of them – we think they are inherently unrelated, as if they exist in a totally different place and time, but do they? Is it like America being here and Africa being there and never the two land masses shall meet?
Samsara is like a virtual reality that exists within the space of bliss and emptiness – it is pervaded by space and surrounded by space, it’s just that people in that virtual reality don’t know they’re in it. (Or to use another analogy, it is like someone with their head stuck in a cloud of delusion being oblivious to the infinite sky around them.) We believe that everything we see is far more than mere appearance and really exists, solid and real, including all the painful stuff, including even (and especially) our avatar-like self. But we can learn to see through this to the pervasive truth, space-like emptiness and bliss. We can wipe out or purify the source code of our samsaric virtual reality, ignorance, and replace it with the source code of enlightened appearances, bliss and emptiness.
If you imagine switching off all the mistaken appearances of samsara, what is left?
There is a beautiful passage in the Isolated Body chapter of Tantric Grounds and Paths where Venerable Geshe-la explains what life is like for a Yogi or Yogini who has gained the realization of the union of bliss and emptiness:
Once they have this experience, they simultaneously perceive any objects, such as forms, that appear to them as manifestations both of emptiness and their mind of bliss. Because they have a deep recognition of emptiness and their mind of bliss as the same nature, they can view all phenomena that appear to their mind as manifestations of their bliss, and this special way of looking at phenomena causes them greatly to increase their experience of bliss, just as a fire will increase if more fuel is added to it.
May all happiness and joy be fulfilled
May all suffering quickly cease
And all happiness and joy be fulfilled. ~ The Liberating Prayer
Back in the day I asked Venerable Geshe-la about the correct usage of the passive tense “be fulfilled”, when I was a Tharpa editor and sent The Liberating Prayer to prepare for publishing. I even foolishly suggested some other wording, maybe something like “And everyone attain happiness and joy”. But luckily he ignored me because happiness and joy are indeed already here, they don’t need to be attained, they just need to be fulfilled. How? By letting go of the hallucination of mistaken appearances so that our already peaceful Buddha nature can mix with enlightenment permanently.
When we rely on blessings, we can go very deep in our meditations. We can be transported quite rapidly to very pure states of mind, our delusions gradually giving away to an indescribably deep peace that comes from wisdom and connection to the sacred.
And through this we can start to hold the space for others, and our prayers have power:
Please nourish me with your goodness,
That I in turn may nourish all beings
With an unceasing banquet of delight. ~ The Liberating Prayer
This is why, for example, it is legit to focus on one’s mother as Buddha Tara. When we search for our mother using wisdom, we cannot find her in her body, her mind, or anywhere else – the mother we normally see does not exist. There is no inherently suffering living being there. Yet she has performed the functions of Tara for us and so can rightly be identified as such. This recognition allows for huge blessings to pervade the situation and relationship, transforming both of us. Check out this article for more of what Geshe-la said about that.
Allowing ourselves to have this experience
As this is traditional retreat month in the modern Buddhist tradition, I wanted to add one more thing. Sometimes I think that we don’t allow ourselves to go deep because we feel we don’t have time. “I don’t have time to be blissful! I don’t have time to dissolve myself and everyone else away because there are 50 texts awaiting me, the dog is hungry, and I have to get to work!”
One solution is to allocate yourself time each day for a meditation practice, and, however long or short it is, let that be the happiest time of the day when you really do allow yourself to go deep, knowing that everything else can wait till after your session.
Another solution is to do occasional retreats, when “we stop all forms of business and extraneous activities so as to emphasize a particular spiritual practice” – in other words we have all the permission in the world to stop thinking about all our normal stuff. Therefore we can afford to go deep in the sessions and keep that thread of mindfulness throughout the breaks.
Over to you, I look forward to reading your comments 😊
You asked for thoughts on how it us that we literally can’t feel positive minds without buddha’s blessings. When I started practicing I had a very secular, putting out the fire of my immediate suffering view and was grappling with all the Buddha language. At some point I started identifying the Buddhas as literally the thing they are the Buddha of– Avalokiteshvara, for example, literally is compassion. Then it is simply tautological– Avalokiteshvara IS compassion, so if I experience compassion I am experiencing his emanation and blessing, and if I embody compassion I am acting as his emanation and bestowing his blessing. I then could develop a playful relationship with the Buddhas in this way– hunting for them in myself and the world, using their images to focus my mind, playing with seeing them in inanimate objects. At some point they started to come to life– being open enough to it allowed compassion itself to act as this being I have a relationship with in my life because through focusing on compassion and believing it could come into my life if I searched with wisdom, the blessings came flooding in.
I don’t know if that is what Geshela meant when he said that, but it’s really helped me to understand the Buddhas and how they function.
This is really good! Sounds obvious when you say it, like many profound things. Thank you.
Thank you so much for articulating this so clearly… how it is possible to receive blessings and literally experience our whole sense of being flip from darkness to light… this was an incredibly beautiful article, and is soooo worth contemplating, again and again and again x thousands, to motivate us to yearn for these blessings from our deeply kind Guru, who can make what appears to us as spiritually impossible, completely possible, just through our sincere kind heart, openness and requests. And anyone can get these blessings if they really wish, as you cited!!
I disclaim this with the fact that I am still practicing experiencing blessings (and I still very often forget due to lack of mindfulness!). But when I do experience them— for me blessings feel like a profound sense of wholeness and lightness is enveloping every aspect of my cells and my mind. It comes when I contemplate the fact that our kind Guru loves us soooo much unconditionally and purely, and has been trying to reach out to us and help us at every stage of our life (in this life and past lives).. even when we felt like we were in the darkest most painful times. He embodies the total union of a mind of bliss perceiving nothing but emptiness, and through this existence he’s been trying to connect with us forever to help all suffering beings in all universes experience what he’s experiencing (who has ever been more compassionate? Who has ever been more patient, gentle and kind?)
Blessings for me feel like wholeness, freedom, joy, lightness, and brightness— totally saturating every cell of my body and entire mind, and washing out any feelings of dullness, stuckness, and negativity. And when the blessings are held tranquilly in the mind they expand even more into a powerful sense of confidence, love, creativity and brilliance, that simultaneously feels so humbled that our kind and compassionate Guru could make this happen.. for myself and for all living beings usually suffering within the depths of dark ignorance.
Blessings radiating from the heart feels like an experience that is so powerful, warm and blissful, it feels like it is exploding outwards and transforming everything that usually appears around me into purity… I seem to understand intuitively and with clarity who I truly am and why things appear and have appeared to my mind. Even who I usually think I am is erased away by all those blessings, and it becomes so clear, in a deeply experiential way – not just on paper – that I’m not stuck in who I thought I was, I have the choice to become the purest being/Bodhisattva along with all the other holy beings.
I feel like you’ve articulated blessings so well- it aligns with my experience so far, that has been difficult for me to put into words. Again, thank you 🙏
May all living beings constantly receive blessings.
This is such a beautiful comment that shows the power of blessings in practice — you show how with even relatively little effort, big results are forthcoming when it comes to blessings. I really appreciate you sharing this with us. I have already read it several times 😍😇😁 and hope everyone else gets to read it too.
Thank you 🙏🏼 ✨❤️ So very much appreciated!!!
My pleasure 🙂