An expression of your Compassion: A teaching by H.E. Tsem Rinpoche
Rinpoche gave a really lovely teaching to a few of us yesterday about the significance of doing pujas (literal translation: a set of rituals and prayers done to remove obstacles). Here is the full, unedited transcript of his teaching, straight from the Buddha’s mouth! ~ admin
Why do we learn and do pujas?
When we see people have problems, when we see people suffering and having difficulties, we ourselves do not have a lot of ability to help and to assist. We ourselves do not have much wisdom, we don’t have any power, we don’t have any effect, we’re not doctors, we’re not psychologists, we’re not healers. Right now we’re not. So it’s very hard when we see other people suffer from sickness, suffer from obstacles, suffer from pain or suffer from losing something, or suffer from a loss, a death of a pet or a family. We typesuffer a lot and they suffer a lot. But you see, this suffering is an energy. This suffering is an energy that can be lust, that can be hate, that can be anger, that can be giving, that can be helping. It’s just an energy and how we direct it is up to us.
So when we see someone that we love and we care about, or other people – a centre member, our friend or anyone – and they need help, our heart goes out to them. Our heart going out to them and our energy put into sorry for them can be directed better. It can be directed in a form of a puja.
What is a puja? I’m not giving you the literal translation. A puja is an expression of your compassion for another person, another being. A puja is an expression, an action, a direct initiative to do something for someone who has an obstacle, who has a problem, who has a difficulty, who has some kind of pain or sickness or fear. And so, to watch these people have fear and pain and suffering and difficulties, and we don’t do something about it doesn’t make us a better person, doesn’t help our spiritual practice, doesn’t make our minds become enlightened or open up.
To do something for them is very, very correct way of opening our minds up – practising emotional generosity, expressing compassion, expressing care. Why? Because the pujas that you guys are practising are not made up. They’re not ineffective and they’re based on an enlightened Being; in today’s case, Medicine Buddha and last time, you practised Tara. These days, Tara and Medicine Buddha really have a lot of effect, they really have a lot of blessings, they really have a lot and a lot of power to help.
So what happens is that we who do the pujas become a gateway, become a connection to help that person. So instead of just looking at someone and saying, “Oh, poor thing, poor thing; Oh poor this, poor that”, if the child is suffering from whatever reasons and they can’t do well in their studies, they’re going to fail and they can’t move on in their studies, if we do a Manjushri puja for them, it is an expression of our concern and our care; and it has energy and it will bless that person. If that person is very sick – same thing, we do a Medicine Buddha puja and we can expedite or quicken their healing.
So a puja is an expression of our care, our initiative and our sincere concern for another being. So when people ask you what is a puja, you say not the literal translation (because the literal translation is “to clear obstacles”). But the human definition, the human meaning of puja from my point of view is an expression of your compassion; an expression of your care.
So when you do puja in that way, it is very effective. Why? Any action that is preceded by or motivated by compassion or Bodhicitta has much more effect. Any action we do that is motivated by any form, any level, any amount of Bodhicitta or compassion has more power. Why is that? Two reasons:
(1) When it is motivated by Bodhicitta or compassion, you are tapping into your real mind, your Buddha nature. When you tap into your Buddha nature, you push yourself to become a Buddha – very effective for yourselves.
(2) A second reason is when you’re motivated by compassion and care, that is the main ingredient for Dharma practice. So for Dharma practice to have effect, our mind must be free of selfishness. Selfishness and Dharma does not match; selfishness and Dharma protector practice doesn’t match; selfishness and Medicine Buddha doesn’t match; selfishness and Manjushri doesn’t match. Selfishness and Dharma practice doesn’t match.
Why selfishness and Dharma practice cannot mix
Hence if we do selfishness with Dharma practice, even after 10, 20 years, there’s not much result. Why not much result? Because our mind is still selfish. So selfishness here is not good or bad. It is a ingredient that must be removed from the soup, until the soup tastes good.
Therefore, if you do Dharma work with selfishness, it’s harmful for yourself! It’s not effective for others. Why is it harmful for yourself? Because even though you’re practising something so good from great Lamas, after so many years, you have no results, very little result – it’s harmful because you waste your time. You receive something so great, but you cannot…
Like a hungry ghost who, even if you give them very good food, their mouth is the size of a pin. They cannot fit it in, even if you give them such nice food. It cannot fit. Even a little bit, they have to squeeze it in like that. That’s really a hungry ghost. And when the hungry ghost takes the food and it goes down their long, thin, grey neck, when it comes to their stomach, it burns like gastric. It burns and burns and burns – in fact, the food creates pain. Why? They have the karma to experience that.
So therefore, if you do Dharma work, Dharma practice, Dharma meditation, Dharma anything with selfish motivation or innate selfishness, the effect is very little. Why is it very little? Because Dharma and selfishness is the opposite.
If you have oil and you put a wick on top and you want to light it, but you keep putting water, it will burn out. Even if you have oil, it will burn out. Even if there is oil in the lamp, if you put water, the water mixes with the wick and the fire has to go out even if there is still oil. So oil is like Dharma – it can light up a room. You can open up the oil, you put a wick on top, floating (like in Chinese temples), and you light it; it lights up and you can see things in a dark room. But if you keep putting water, the light goes out, even if there is oil.
So water is like selfish motivation in this case; oil is like Dharma. Hence, if you have oil and you can light and you can see, why do you need to move around in the dark like this? Why you keep putting water? Similarly, if you do Dharma work, people think, “How come I do my sadhanas for so many years, I do my mantras for so many years and I do Tsok, and I don’t have any power and in fact, my mind becomes more lazy and worse?” Because you haven’t removed the main ingredient – selfishness.
If selfishness never gets removed, how many years do you have left to your life? How many years? Aren’t you afraid of your death? Aren’t you afraid to be alone and close your eyes and no one can help you? Aren’t you afraid of what you’re going to see after death? If you are selfish and you cover your actions, it means you’re afraid people know you’re selfish. But you know what? People knowing you’re selfish is quite scary but what’s even more scary is when you die and your selfishness comes back to you. That’s very scary.
So hence, if you’re selfish, your Dharma work cannot get results. So two options: (1) get rid of Dharma work and be selfish or (2) get rid of selfishness and do Dharma work. Of course, it has to be number 2. Very simple. The more selfish we are, the more ineffective our practice is. The more water we put into the oil, the less we can light.
So therefore, instead of thinking of how to get how to get rid of selfishness, instead of blaming, instead of hiding, instead of avoiding, we should just stop the selfishness. You see, if you just stop the selfishness, you win. Why? You don’t have to put energy to hiding, to avoiding, to defending, to protecting your ego. You don’t have to. Why? Put the energy towards cutting your selfishness out, not toward covering selfishness! Both ways is energy; both ways, you have to use your petrol.
So therefore, it’s time for us to wake up and do something now. Now! Why? What are we waiting for? What result are we waiting for? What time, what year are we waiting for? How many years do we need to wait? How many years? When we started Dharma 10 years ago, 20 years ago we said we’re going to do Dharma. And then we start and we go, “Oh, it’s difficult, I’ll do it next year. Oh, now I have work, I’ll do it 2 years from now. Oh, when I’m 30 or 40, I’ll do it.” And then we keep making time to delay the real, actual Dharma practice. And what happens? When we look back, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years are gone.
And a lot of these people who ran away from Dharma, they run away from themselves because they’ve been running and running and running, so when they face the real Dharma, they run again. Why do they have to run? Because they never create the causes to face themselves. Never. How do you know that? Where there’s smoke there’s fire. So you use an example like this: because they’re not successful in any part of their life. Because they’re not successful in any part of their life, you know when they’re running away from Dharma, they’re running away from themselves. If they’re very successful in other parts of their life and they run away, okay… maybe there is something else involved.
So let’s say that Beng Kooi just works a normal job, she cannot get married, she doesn’t have many friends, people don’t like her and then she joins Dharma. After 5 or 6 years, she runs away.She says, “Oh, Rinpoche’s bad, the Dharma students are bad, the Ladrang’s bad, KH is bad, Yoke Fui is bad, this is bad, that is bad.” They run and tell other people that. Fine. Stupid people listen and say, “Oh, maybe it’s true huh…” Smart people say, “Wait a minute… but you didn’t do much with your life. Your don’t have many things in your life.” So if you keep saying it’s bad maybe the problem is not Dharma; maybe the problem is you. Why is it you? Because why is it that you fail at everything? You can think that way. My point? This is not criticism for people who left. This is for us to examine by logic about ourselves – how we run away.
How pujas connect us to the blessings of the Buddha
Pujas is a beautiful expression of compassion, which is a key to open the Buddha’s heart to bring blessings for the person we’re praying for. So why do we do pujas? In order to show our concern, love and care for someone else. That’s why we do pujas. And pujas are effective because they’re based on an enlightened Being, rituals that collect merit and purify negative karma and aspirational prayers that are dedicated toward that person for their future.
And on top of that, that person might also sponsor the puja: maybe they cannot do the puja, maybe they don’t know how, or they’re too far away, or maybe they’re too sick or they have too many obstacles, so they cannot do the puja. So when they give you the money to buy the items, and you offer the Buddha, you make a connection for them. You represent them to the Buddha.
So therefore, the reason for sponsoring puja, or sponsoring Sangha to do pujas or sponsoring food is that you cannot do it or you cannot be there. So in spirit, you’re there by making offerings. So the monks represent you; or you, the Dharma Sangha, represent them towards the Buddha. And therefore, the pujas have that kind of effect.
So even people cooking in the kitchen…that’s why in the monastery, there are monks who don’t do the pujas; they cook and supply for the monks. They collect merit also and it is an expression of their compassion to help the person through the puja. So therefore, all work in the kitchen – serving, puja, whatever – is all Dharma work, it is an expression of compassion.
And also, when we do the pujas, we alone don’t have power. We alone don’t have attainments, we alone didn’t do our Dharma practice so we have power. So we need to invoke the Buddhas. So to say, “Oh, I don’t have power, I cannot do anything, I’m normal and I don’t do anything” – it’s just another expression of laziness, selfishness. Laziness is from selfishness. The mother to the laziness is selfishness. Laziness is the son to the mother. The mother is selfishness; the son is laziness.
So therefore, to sit around and say, “I cannot, I cannot, I cannot, I cannot,” is pure, 100% laziness. And to accept laziness and accept selfishness and to say, “That’s how I am” and to accept to do that is a very bad sign. Why is that a bad sign? Expect more problems, expect more obstacles, expect more suffering, expect more. Why? Buddha punishes you? No. Your own selfishess punishes you.
So therefore, when we do pujas, we should do it knowing we cannot do much but pujas is the way for us to care and love and help, even though we don’t have power. And to learn the pujas well and to learn the rituals well.
Learning the rituals well
Why do we need to learn the rituals well? Why? Because if we’re highly attained, we don’t need rituals, we can heal someone just by blowing on them. We can help someone by speaking Dharma. We can purify someone even if we beat them. We can purify their karma if we’re highly attained. If we’re highly attained, we can scare them. When we walk by, we shout, “rah!” and they jump, they’re very scared – their karma is purified… If we’re highly attained, we can do that to people. We can scare them. If we’re highly attained, we can scream and shout at them, and make them very sad, and make them angry and make them run away. We can even save their life if we’re highly attained. We can scream and shout at them, we can scare them, we can do many things to them if we’re highly attained. Why? Because we can do it directly, we don’t need puja, we don’t need the Buddha. We are the Buddha.
If you’re highly attained, you are the Yidam. You think or visualise, “I am Yamantaka”, so if I slap you, it is not me; it is Yamantaka slapping you. And the person will have effects: their life will be saved, karma purified, obstacles pushed away. So highly attained people don’t need to contact the Buddha to contact you. They are the Buddha, they are the Yidam. They themselves are the Yidam already. Remember a Yidam is not a God; a Yidam is something you can attain.
So a highly attained person can be a Dharma protector’s emanation, can be a Yidam or have become one with the Yidam or have gained some attainments close to the Yidam. So when they do it to you directly, they don’t need a puja. When Kensur Jampa Yeshe scolds us, or screams at us – he has screamed at me! – it is Yamantaka screaming at me. I don’t have any anger, I don’t have any negative thinking, I don’t run away. I listen and I say I’m sorry because I know he’s purifying my karma. Much better than a puja; quicker, faster and direct. Much faster.
When Kyabje Zong Rinpoche beat the monks severely, the monks live, their diseases are gone. Why? Because Kyabje Zong Rinpoche is already Heruka. When they scold us, and they tell us off and they shout at us and scream at us, we feel pain, we feel anger, we wonder, “Why like that?”, but if we feel like that and we let go and say, “No, it’s a blessing,” and don’t think anymore and let go, it becomes a puja. Even in a non-Dharma work, when people shout at you, it means they love you. When people tell you off, it means they love you. If you reject the love, you’re quite stupid. Even in a normal world.
So therefore, people like us – we don’t have that power so therefore, we need to invoke Yamantaka; we need to invoke Setrap, we need to invoke Tara and Medicine Buddha because we don’t have the power. But if we do Yamantaka well and we do Manjushri very well, we become Manjushri, we become Heruka, we become Yamantaka: “I am Yamantaka” Why? Then the power is directly from the power from the person. Why is the power directly in the person? Everyone can become Yamantaka. Everyone.
So therefore, ordinary people like us, we cannot directly affect people; we cannot do it directly. Hence since we cannot do it directly, since we cannot affect them directly, we have to do it indirectly. Indirectly can be pujas, indirectly can be doing Dharma work, indirectly can be studying Dharma, indirectly can be doing retreats, indirectly can be holding our samaya. Why? If we hold samaya, we gain attainments. If we do Dharma work, we gain merits to become better people. If we do pujas, we bless that other person.
You see, so indirectly we can do – through Dharma work, through charity, through pujas, through retreats, through holding our samaya. Those are indirect ways to help other beings. We help other sentient beings – that’s why we hold samaya. We wish to benefit other sentient beings – that’s why we have Guru devotion. We wish to have help others and benefit a certain person – that’s why we do pujas. We wish to be of tremendous benefit to others, therefore I become a monk and I hold my vows well so that I can study the Dharma with no distractions. That’s why we do Dharma action.
Every Dharma action should be motivated by Bodhicitta or an artificial Bodhicitta – then it becomes real. So therefore, if you have the power, you do directly. If you don’t, I don’t, we don’t, we do it indirectly. That’s the purpose of pujas.
Much care, and prayers, Tsem Rinpoche