Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on August 13, 2014

I am struck by the impossibility of my helping everyone and everything in every situation, at least where I am today. I wish I could. This thought would be depressing if depression could help, but that would only make things worse. So here I am, stuck right in the middle of all this everything, like a teacup packed in cotton.

The Buddhists teach that we must first learn to help ourselves before we can be of use to others. I am reminded of the Gospel quote from Matthew "… first take the speck out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Buddhism is a self-help story, but where do we turn for guidance? Being a non-theist does not mean that there are not higher levels of awareness, beings more advanced than ourselves. There are, but how to contact them?

And there are scores and scores of great beings who have already died and passed from this world. They are said to have entered their "paranirvana," a more rarified state than our earthly bodies. My question is: are they still reachable? If their enlightened state is still out there somewhere, can a mere beginner like me reach them and somehow invoke their presence? That is my question.

The sacred texts unanimously state that we can supplicate these great being and receive their blessing, but how? I have been thinking about and working on this for some time and what I find is that we CAN contact these great beings, but we actually have to ask, invoke, and supplicate them. It takes true sincerity and a certain braveness or audacity on our part. I, for one, didn't know how to do it and felt self-conscious (and embarrassed) for even trying. The embarrassment comes from the contrast between my usual more cynical view (what I see as hypocrisy and obscurations on my part) and suddenly (at least figuratively) getting on my knees. I hope no one is watching but, of course, I am watching myself.

For starters, I found that my mind was not clear enough, not purified enough to see much beyond my own self, so I began removing some of my own obscurations through various dharma practices so that I could see more clearly, just like we would clean a pair of dirty glasses. And I gradually learned to take those practices I learned in my on-the-cushion mediation-laboratory and graduate them to life off-the-cushion, the rest of my day, using them in everything I do. For me that was a huge step.

I have written about purity and purification recently, and how embarrassing it can be to suddenly want to be pure after so many years of embracing the whole enchilada, leaving the super-purity aspects to ther church-goers and fundamentalists. Ultimately samsara and nirvana may be one and the same, and in that view there is nothing that is impure. I could perhaps grasp that concept intellectually, for what that is worth, which by itself was not much. But since I have not yet realized that very high view, I found that I had to get on my knees in the old-fashioned way and see about purifying my approach just a wee bit, like a lot. In other words, I had to get down from my high (and dry) horse. It is a bit of a paradox that we have to first purify ourselves in order to accept everything just as it is, impurities and all. I have always been of the come-as-you-are persuasion, warts and all, at least theoretically, but unable to realize those words in actuality. I don't see everything as pure, at least not often.

And purity is not as simple as my stopping smoking (or whatever other bad habits I had), although that did help. Purity (or purification) involves removing or putting aside whatever "attitude" we have that is obscuring our view so that we can, quite literally, see. Unfortunately, except perhaps in the event of extreme personal loss, etc., we can't just set our obscurations aside and get a glimpse of clarity. I found that I had to actually remove the cynicism and other mental stains by "hand-washing" my bad habits, through standard dharma practice, and that takes time and knowing how to do it. Gradually I began to actually (and without second thoughts) supplicate these great beings.

In the Catholic Church that I grew up in, someone has to be dead for something like forty years before they can be declared a saint. I have no idea how they came up with that number, but it is no help for those of us who would like to (or need to) meet saintly beings right now in this life. The Tibetans do one better. They make an active search for their best and brightest, find them as babies or toddlers, and give them special training. Best of all they then share these special beings with the entire community. What could be more efficient than that?

Reaching these higher beings involves forgiving ourselves (and our jaded views) enough to sincerely ask and invoke their blessing. We have to find true sincerity (and be of one mind) right in the middle of our usual duality, cynicism, and hypocrisy (whatever our jaded view is), and that takes a bit of nerve and time.

Also, we have to know to whom we are speaking when we ask these great beings for their blessing. We have to have a connection. One way to begin is to read the biographies of these great beings. In Tibetan these are called Nam-Tars and they are spiritual biographies, with all the mundane stuff we usually see omitted. The Tibetans are not concerned with what school you went to or all of the non-spiritual events in the life. Instead, a Nam-Tar is a biography of only the spiritual steps, stages, and break-through events that we attain.

Anyway, we can start out by reading about the lives of great beings. We can also ask ourselves why we are invoking this particular being. What is the connection we see between ourselves and that being or do we just pick one at random? I find that there has to be a real connection, something in the spiritual being that sparks us, something we identify with deeply, some appreciation and devotion to the particular being, earnestly felt. We are forging a connection and it has to be heartfelt.

Over time, being around the dharma, I found that I naturally picked up on or resonated to certain great lamas and bodhisattvas. Not sure how that happened or why, but it did. I had my favorites, the ones I naturally identified with. One of them was Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava in Sanskrit), often said to be the second Buddha. I liked his mantra, "OM AH HUM, GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUNG" and found myself saying it a lot. When I went to Tibet I made a great effort to visit the various caves and special places where Guru Rinpoche meditated and stayed -- that kind of thing.

I would bring whatever image and idea of Guru Rinpoche to mind often and felt that, at some level, I kind of belonged to him or was in his lineage. Guru Rinpoche was special to me, and I wanted to be under his protection. In my case, I would carry this devotional supplication around with an open heart and touch on it frequently throughout the day. I would keep the channel open. All I know to ask for and the only thing I need to receive is the blessing of this great being. A blessing is a mixing of our mind with that of the great being, at least temporarily. That is why we supplicate.

Mixing our mind with the mind of our guru or with the mind of a great being like Guru Rinpoche is very much a part of dharma practice, and it is generally called 'guru yoga'. As I gradually learn to rub off my obscurations, what remains is the mind itself, purified of my rough edges. This mixing itself is called receiving the guru's blessing. You know it when you get it, and, as they say, you can get it if you try. There is no mistaking it.

Those great beings of past ages are gone, but not gone far. They are still there in the mind and we can request their blessing, but we have to deeply ask for it. We can't just order it up like an item on the menu. We must supplicate these beings, as the Tibetans call it. One famous supplication is a practice titled "Calling the Guru from Afar" by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé, a long poem or doha that calls on many different great beings. I recently recorded (and videoed) this song as chanted by Lama Karma Drodhul.

Supplicating, invoking, requesting the blessings of these great beings is not only possible, it is doable, but (at least in my case) it requires some real purification on my part.

[Recent photo taken.]