Meditation Explanation by Geshe Topgyal
A Teaching by Geshe Dakpa Topgyal
Question: Would you give us some suggestions about how to go about visualizing?
Answer: Even in shamata meditation, the calm-abiding meditation, we always use some image, such as the image of Buddha. We may use a picture or statue of Buddha to get a sense of what Buddha looks like, but then we simply create a vision, this same image we’re using as the focal object, in our mind. You must create or conjure in your own mind and then remain aware of that image without thinking of that image. That is one form of visualizing.
Visualization in the Buddhist Tantric practice uses different Tantric deities. The purpose is to experience them as real for spiritual purposes. Through this, you will have some sort of personal communication between you and the visualized deity.
If you are visualizing a rose, you must first have a conceptual or intellectual understanding of what a rose is like, what characteristics distinguish a rose from other flowers. And then, based on the conceptual idea of a rose, you have some sort of imagining of the rose, the plant, the bud, the blossoming. Go through this process until the flower blooms. Then simply rest with the rose, fully bloomed. This is the easiest way to visualize.
If you are visualizing the Buddha, do the same thing. Create a ground or place that is free from flaws or imperfections. On top of that ground, imagine a huge lotus. From there you build the lower part of the Buddha sitting in a lotus position. Then you slowly build, like an artist, slowly, slowly, the upper body until you see his two hands. The left hand is holding the begging bowl, which is filled with nectar, but not overflowing. The right hand is in the teaching mudra. Buddha is ready to teach you according to your spiritual needs.
You might need to rest there until you can build more, including Buddha’s face with the physical sign of enlightenment, the crown protrusion. That is the main physical sign of enlightenment. Usually in pictures, you see coiled hair, elastic and flexible; it is soft, with a sweet smell that is spiritually appealing.
Keep building until you see the complete body of the Buddha. Once you have the full body, you rest there with some sense of feeling that in the Buddha’s face is boundless joy and a slight smile for the world and particularly for yourself. Rest your awareness on that image, conjoined with the sense of contentment. You are visualizing at the same time that you are meditating.
In the beginning, it is not possible to imagine the Buddha in one second. In higher Tantric practice, Tantric practitioners can visualize in less than a second the most complex mandala with many deities in the north, south, east, and west. And they can imagine this the size of a sesame seed.
But this is how you start, bit by bit, until you get the whole picture. If you have a tendency to think upper part, lower part, you will definitely lose parts of the body. You should not concentrate on a specific part of the body, but be general.
Question: What about his eyes?
Answer: His eyes are half-open.
Question: I have been meditating for about fifteen years. About eight or nine years ago, I became able to keep my mind still and focus much better. But now my mind goes everywhere. I’m not able to concentrate without thoughts popping in.
Answer: Oh, how to quiet your mind in meditation or how to quiet your mind in your day-to-day life?
Questioner: Either one would be fine.
Answer: Yes, yes, yes. When you are meditating, are you directing your mental focus on your breath or an image?
Questioner: A candle or one point.
Answer: You are doing this the right way, but your problem is when you are doing this, you can’t concentrate, right? When you focus on the flame of a candlelight, are you satisfied with this as the object of your focus, or are you struggling to choose the candlelight or something else?
Questioner: Most of the time, a struggle.
Answer: You should choose. Definitely. Choose the candlelight and allow all other appearances to dissolve. Rest there, and try to imagine that all other appearances besides the candlelight dissolve into empty space around the candlelight. Try not to conceptualize, in the form of seeing different shapes, colors, so and so around the candlelight.
Questioner: I will be focusing on the candlelight for a couple of minutes, and a thought will pop into my head about something I need to do later that day or something that has happened in my life.
Answer: Yes, that is the main problem when we are meditating: Thoughts. Pleasant memories of past experiences. Or worries. Or something that needs to be done about yourself or your family. One thought comes, and it brings many others. The best thing is before that single thought brings many others, try to make that thought subside. Make that thought subside by not paying attention to it, by not elaborating on it. Put it aside.
If that does not help, bring your focus on your breath. If that does not help, start counting your breaths. Start counting from one to seven or one to twenty-one, then back to one. Once you reach one, you should not think, I have reached one. Don’t conceptualize or think; discipline yourself to sit there when you have stopped counting, without thinking. That is most helpful in dealing with thoughts.
Gradually, mental discipline comes. Your mind gets self-discipline to ignore thoughts. The mind no longer entertains itself with thoughts.
Question: If you’re practicing with your breath, should you also do visualization on top of your breath?
Answer: No, one should not combine. The breath should be your object of visualization. At the same time, it’s important to know that there can be no thoughts in your mind. From time to time, it’s important to see what’s really left after ceasing thoughts and memories. What’s behind cessation of thoughts, emotions, concepts, and ideas? That is difficult to recognize and understand, what’s behind.
Once we get there, once all conceptual thoughts cease, and we are able to rest a little longer, that allows us to search for what is left behind after the complete cessation of thoughts and emotions. Gradually, gradually, we are able to recognize the essential nature of mind, the mere, pure, bare awareness or the experience of mere knowing.
That is very important in mahamudra practice, using consciousness itself as the object of meditation. That is very difficult, right?
Preparation and prayers before meditation practice
There are two types of prostrations, full length, in which you touch the whole body on the ground, and short prostrations, touching five points of the body on the ground. You touch the head, the two hands, and the two knees. Not feet, no discipline when the feet are touching (laughter).
In Buddhist practice, prostration illustrates honesty, sincerity, being nonjudgmental, humility, and respect for all living beings and the path of the practice. These things must be present in daily life.
When doing prostrations, we are encouraging ourselves to follow the spiritual example of Buddha and an awareness of his kindness, what Buddha left behind for us, mainly his teachings. We are opening our hearts to the fully enlightened beings and taking spiritual example from them, encouraging ourselves to live according to the teachings and to integrate whatever we know about the dharma in our daily life by showing respect, sincerity, humility, and honesty to the Buddha.
Question: Do you have to get initiated to do prostrations?
Answer: No, no, you don’t need initiation to practice prostrations.
Question: I thought you had to take refuge.
Answer: If you don’t see spiritual meaning to prostrations, then it’s better not to do them. If you have an understanding, you don’t need further instructions or initiations to do prostrations. Buddhists believe that making prostrations creates positive merit. Positive merit means spiritual energy. Here, merit does not mean a reward because you did something good. Here, merit means spiritual energy that serves a similar function as fertilizer, heat, and moisture to germinate the seed.
Question: I thought of it as penance, say, like a hundred hail Marys.
Answer: No, it’s not like that. In Tantric practice, the main technique of meditation is to utilize the vital energy in our body. Like prana or chakras in the body. By performing prostrations, we unblock blockages in psychic channels which disturb progression of spiritual practice or spiritual energy. "Chakra" means subtle points of the body where intense energy is stored, like the crown or the heart. Some people compare it to an electric transformer, where energy is stored. Blocked by what? By our negative energies or by consuming the wrong food.
Question: Would you demonstrate a full-length prostration?
Answer: A full-length prostration, I need a swimming pool. Expensive, yes? In a prostration, we touch the chakras, one at the crown, one at the throat, one at the heart. When there is room, we do three prostrations before the teaching, before taking a seat. For a practitioner, making prostrations brings spiritual awareness, conducive to preparing our mind to meditate. The effect depends on the practitioner, how much he knows about meditation, how much and how deeply he understands the meaning behind the physical act of performing prostrations.
For correct form, place your two feet together, as the military do when standing at attention. Place your hands together, as people do in prayer, but move your thumbs inside, touching your ring fingers. This represents the jewel in the lotus or the dharmakaya. Focus your attention. Then touch your folded hands to your crown, forehead, throat, and heart in that order.
Kneel to the ground, your weight on your knees and hands. Your hands should be flat on the ground in front of you. Touch your forehead to the ground.
When you stand, don’t slide your hands back and then stand; don’t fold your hands so that your weight is on your knuckles and then stand.
Do three prostrations.
If you do a full prostration, place your entire body flat on the ground, your arms stretched out past your head, your hands flat on the ground, then bend your wrists so your hand go up, your thumbs still touching.
Keep your toes down. Stand and repeat.
Do this often; it is good for your body.
Om namo majushriye
Namo utamma shriye soha
I pay homage to the Buddha
I pay homage to the dharma
I pay homage to the sangha
(Repeat 3 times)
Every spiritual practice must be done by taking refuge. When we say we are taking refuge in Buddha, dharma, and sangha, we are taking pleasure in the possibility of achieving or attaining full enlightenment. We see the individual has the spiritual potential to reach enlightenment, and second, we see the external cause of teachings and the right path are available.
We take pleasure or joy in the possibility of obtaining liberation or nirvana or enlightenment by opening our heart to the guidance of Buddha. That is the meaning of refuge.
Lama la kyap su chi wo
Sangey la kyap su chi wo
Cho la kyap su chi wo
Gendun la kyap su chi wo
I go for refuge in the guru
I go for refuge in the Buddha
I go for refuge in the dharma
I go for refuge in the sangha
(Repeat 3 times)
We cannot successfully practice meditation with a strong sense of "I-ness." Ordinarily, we have a strong tendency to need to protect the "I," even if it means harming others. Since we have a notion of I-ness, in order to protect or acquire the happiness of that I, we cause harm. We achieve happiness at the price of others. This should not be in us during the period of meditation practice. In order to get rid of that I-ness, we generate bodhicitta. We generate bodhicitta to temporarily remove the innate or instinctual sense of I-ness.
One must have experience in remaining fully saturated by the moisture of taking refuge and generating bodhicitta. Saturated means filled; your entire feeling and thoughts must be filled with the force of generating bodhicitta and taking refuge.
Every Buddhist practice must start from that state of mind, saturated with the force of generating bodhicitta, compassion, and taking refuge. Because of this, whenever you read any short or long complete form of Buddhist practice, you will find taking refuge and generating bodhicitta at the beginning. You will not find any Buddhist practice that does not start with taking refuge and generating bodhicitta.
Sangey cho dang tsok kyi chok nam la
Jang chup par du da nyi kyap su chi
Dak gee jin sok gyi peh so nam kyi
Drol la pen chir sangey drug par shaug
I go for refuge until I am enlightened to the Buddhas, the dharma, and the sangha.
From the virtuous merit that I accumulate by practicing giving and other perfections
May I attain the state of a Buddha to be fully able to benefit all other sentient beings.
(Repeat 3 times)
The four immeasurables: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity
We cultivate taking joy or delight in the happiness of others. When you talk about the happiness of others, when you see the happiness of others, when you think about the happiness of others, when you hear the happiness of others, there should be an unfabricated sense of joy or pleasure. That feeling of joy should be present in every movement of one’s mind. This is what we call love.
Compassion is a pure, sympathetic wish or desire for others to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. There must also be a full force to act whenever your help is needed. You make yourself available to others. In the same way, joy and equanimity.
Question: Could you talk more about equanimity?
Answer: Equanimity means whatever we do, whatever we say, there should not be any discrimination, such as the tendency to hold someone closer to you simply based on the reason that he or she did something you liked. In the same way, in every act of thinking, talking, doing, there should not be the element of holding someone distinct from you simply based on inconclusive reasons.
We see that all our present relationships are like this. We hold someone close to us based simply on "He is my friend," or we hold someone distant based on "He is my enemy." We say, "He did something good for me," or "He did something bad to me."
Whether one can cultivate equanimity in the proper way is based on your understanding of the true nature of relationships. Relationships are ever-changing, no guarantee. This year’s friend can be next year’s bitter enemy. This year’s bitter enemy can be a useful, helpful friend next year. Right now, we are doing this, saying, "He’s my friend," based on certain reasons.
With equanimity, we look at who people really are. We look at their humanity. We are not attached or repulsed for some simple or single reason. Being nonjudgmental is part of our daily practice.
Question: Does that mean you should not be attached to causes or commitments, like a political cause or a national issue?
Answer: The main thing is to devote yourself to a good cause. Are you talking about that?
Question: Well, that would depend on what you think, right? What you think is good may not be what your neighbor thinks is important.
Answer: Yes, you are right. Therefore, wisdom is important.
Question: Wouldn’t that mean you should look with equanimity at causes that lead to geopolitical conflicts? Is keeping a distance from a cause part of developing equanimity?
Answer: If we do this with lack of wisdom, not knowing where this leads, even if a cause seems to be a good cause because we see a short-term good result, there might be long-term negative consequences. It all depends on wisdom, on how far we can see. We forget long-term results, such as deforestation. We see good results for this generation, but there are terrible problems for the next generations, such as no forests, pollution.
Then, if possible, you do a short visualization. You visualize what we call the merit field. In the sky in front of us is an attractive throne of precious gems, upon which is a cushion of lotus supported at each corner by a pair of snow lions. Seated upon this throne is the Buddha Shakyamuni, of purest gold in color and adorned with a crown protrusion. His right hand is in the gesture of touching the earth, thus invoking it to witness his awakening, and his left hand rests in his lap in the meditation pose, holding a bowl filled with pure white nectar that cures all beings of their miseries and sufferings. He sits in the vajra cross-legged position, wearing a brilliant saffron robe and slighting smiling at us.
Hold that visualization for a few minutes or for as long as you wish. While you hold that image as clearly as possible, genuinely feel that the visualized object or enlightened being or Buddha is present before you. Feel genuinely that enlightened being is present before you.
Prayer of the Seven Limbs
As you hold the visualization, do the Seven Limb Prayer, which is designed to purify negativities and accumulate merit.
Chak tsal wa dang cho ching shak pa dang
Jay su yee rang kul shing sol wa yee
Kay wa chung she dak kyi chi tsak pa
Tom jay dak gyi jang chup chen pur ngo.
With my body, speech, and mind, humbly I prostrate
And make offerings both set out and imagined.
I confess my wrong deeds from all time,
And rejoice in the virtues of all.
Please stay until entire samsara ceases
And turn the wheel of dharma for us.
I dedicate all virtues to great enlightenment.
(Repeat three times)
Then say your purification mantra, seven, twenty-one, or 108 times.
Direct the recitation to purify your negativities.
Om vajra satto hung phed
(Repeat three, seven, twenty-one or 108 times)
Offering the mandala
Then make the mandala offering. At the end of the mandala offering, you should sincerely imagine the enlightened being that you visualized in front of you joyfully accepts the material offerings of your mandala. Imagine that, as a result of the enlightened being accepting your mandala offering, you receive profound teachings on emptiness. The teachings pour on you like a shower, filling up your entire body, making your entire body blissful. Hold that for a few minutes before engaging in the shamata meditation.
It has great meaning to imagine your whole body filled with teachings, making your entire body blissful.
Sa shee po kyi juk shing may tok tram
Ree rap ling shee nyee da gen pa dee
Sangey shing la mik deh bul war yee
Dro kun nam dak shing la cho pur shaug
Idam guru ratna mandalakam niryatayami
Filled with the smell on incense,
Covered with a great blanket of flowers,
The great mountain,
The four continents,
Wearing a jewel of the sun and moon.
In my mind, I make them the paradise of a Buddha,
And offer it all to you.
By this deed may
every living being
experience the pure world.
Idam guru ratna mandalakam niryatayami
(Recite one time)
Then enter into the shamata meditation. Meditate for at least 15 minutes.
It is really not a good idea when you come out of meditation to immediately let your mind go back to daily life. It is not a good idea to let your mind start its normal thinking process, to resume normal activities. As a technique to prevent your mind returning to normal activity, recite this mantra, and keep your awareness on the mantra.
"Tayata gate gate…," this is all talking about emptiness, expounding on or revealing the meaning of emptiness. If you have some understanding of emptiness, try to bring your understanding in line as you recite this mantra.
Question: Could you translate?
Answer: Ooh. This is a hard one. This mantra comes from the Heart Sutra. "Tayata" means suchness or emptiness. "Gate gate" means gone, gone. "Paragate" means gone beyond. "Parasamgate" means gone beyond bliss. "Bodhi" means enlightenment. Gone into eternal bliss of enlightenment. "Soha" means to be, let it be so. Or "Amen," it means what?
Question: Does it mean, let it be so? Is it so? So be it? Que sera sera?
Answer: So "Tayata," means emptiness, then "Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone beyond in blissfulness of enlightenment, let it be so."
Question: So it’s essentially, "Moving through emptiness into blissfulness toward enlightenment?"
Answer: Yes, you’ve got it.
Question: How many times do you do it?
Answer: Three times, seven, twenty-one, 108. In Buddhism, the number itself has some spiritual meaning.
Dedication means dedicating your wholesomeness or goodness to your meditation practice. Actually, dedication has three purposes. In Buddhist understanding, our good deeds or merit or spiritual energy can be easily destroyed by even one moment of negative emotions. Dedication helps us to protect that positive merit from the destructiveness of negative thoughts and emotions. Second, it not only helps us to protect merit or positive energy, but also helps to enhance or increase the force of the merit. Third, the dedication prayers keep us from extinguishing positive merit by using the merit on mundane wishes, rather than on a substantial or material cause to achieve ultimate happiness. The dedication prayers help us to dedicate the positive merit to the higher purpose of enlightenment.
Yang pey gyal kam kun dang sa chok dir
Ney muk truk tso la sok mi jung shing
Dro nam cho jur dey kyid tso wa dang
Pun tsok peljur lek tsok gey gyur chik
May there be no illness, dispute, or war
At all existing levels, from home to the universe
May everyone experience joy, peace, and spiritual splendors
May the glory and riches of goodness ever increase
(Pause for reflection)
Sem jin ney pa chee nyih pa
Nyur du ney leh tar gyur chik
Dro wey ney nee ma lu pa
Tak du jung wa mey pur shok
May all who are sick and ill quickly be freed from their ailments.
Whatever diseases there are in the world, may they never occur again.
(Pause for reflection)
Gey wa dee yee key wo kun
Sonom yee shee tsok rap sak
Sonam yee shee ley chung wey
Dam pa ku nyee top putr shok
By the goodness of what I have just done,
May all beings complete the accumulation of merit and wisdom,
And thus gain the two ultimate bodies that merit and wisdom make.
(Pause for reflection)
So this is the short practice. This is very condensed, but complete. It contains the essence of Buddhist practice.
Notes from a teaching by Geshe Dakpa Topgyal in Columbia, South Carolina, November 10, 2001.