Today is the 15th day of the lunar month. Our group practice for the first 15 days of the first lunar month has come to a perfect closure. In Tibetan Buddhism, the first 15 days of the first lunar month is very crucial, especially to the Gelugpas who would usually celebrate this period with a big ceremony. During the time of Master Tshongkapa (the founder of Gelug), he would usually do great offerings and lots of meritorious acts during this period. The merits accumulated during this period from doing meritorious acts are simply enormous. It is as great as the 15th day of the fourth lunar month.
In the past, no matter how busy I was on this day, I would just take leave and spend the whole day with Master Da Xiong, doing a full day retreat from morning till night. Retreats are important in helping a practitioner achieve very speedy spiritual advancement. That explains why some practitioners choose to go into a forest retreat in order to focus on his cultivation fully, staying away from the worldly activities.
Dharma Brother Liang informed me around 8pm via SMS that he could not attend the prayer session tonight, for he had to work overtime. I replied that it was a pity that he could not join us for the prayer. Luckily I do not need to work today. If I had to work today, I would have told my boss that “Sorry! I can’t come to office today because I have a very important thing to attend to.” I usually did not have to work on such important days, thanks to the blessing of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas. If it clashes with my work, I will put my work aside and do the prayers because of the importance of doing prayers on this day.
Dharma Sister Ling also called me on the phone around 7pm, telling me that her boss wanted her to attend a dinner and therefore she could not come for the prayer session. I told her, “What a coincidence!” Ling said, “It does not really matter because all days are the same.” I told her, “Today is different, for it is particularly important. All the past generations of masters told us that today is particularly important, so we should listen to their advice. Since today is so important, we did a longer prayer in order to generate greater merits that will help to smoothen our spiritual paths ahead.
Dharma Sister De shared with us her dream just now. She dreamt of taking some precious gems and religious items out of a cave. It was a good dream. I used to have many such dreams during the initial stage of my cultivation, taking lots of precious items, entering the dragon palace where the dragon king offered me pearls, jeweled vases, gems and delicious food. In my opinion, when you dream of obtaining precious items, it shows that your cultivation has started bearing fruits.
Now I want to explain clearly the 3 principle teachings expounded by Master Tshongkapa.
First, renunciation. No matter what, you must develop your sense of renunciation, without which you will not be able to accomplish your practice in this life. Renunciation means turning away from all worldly concerns and turning towards spiritual cultivation.
Second, bodhicitta. Without which you will not be able to accomplish your practice and free yourself from the cyclic existence of birth and death. Bodhicitta is crucial. Every practitioner must gradually develop his aspiration to help others during his course of cultivation. In all circumstances, one must take care of the interest of others first, leaving his own to the last. For instance, when you have obtained something, who would come to your mind first for it to be given – your child, or your parents? If that is your decision, you have not aspired to bodhicitta because you have given the priority to your family members. Bodhicitta means giving it to others not related to you. If you give it to someone related to you, you have not aspired to bodhicitta. On the contrary, you should consider giving the priority to others. Of course you can consider giving the priority to those related to you, but you ought to give the priority to others but not yourself. Does it mean that you have accomplished your practice by having developed both your sense of renunciation and bodhicitta? The answer is - not yet.
Third, Madhyamika (Middle Way). If you lack the understanding of the Madhyamika, you will never accomplish your practice. The Madhyamika is crucial in guiding the actualization of your bodhicitta in a correct way. So, before you develop your full understanding of the Madhyamika, you will not be able to accomplish your practice. I hope that you would learn the Madhyamika as part of your practice. Learn the Madhyamika expounded by Master Tshongkapa well.
These are the key points of cultivation. Of course, I cannot expect all of you to be able to accomplish fully what I said. But for those who are very serious about the practice, who strive to free themselves from the cyclic existence of the Six Realms, you should practice seriously. As long as you are stranded in the Six Realms of Existence, you will certainly be prone to falling into the Three Lower Realms (hell, hungry ghost, animal). When you have fallen into the lower realms, it will be very difficult for you to rise again to the higher human realm. So, cherish your present human life and practice well while you still can.