Preparing for the Session
The meditation should be performed in a quiet, pleasant place, or in a part of your dwelling that is appropriate. Begin by mindfully sweeping and cleaning the area of practice.
Upon the table to be used as the altar, you should arrange an image or a statue of the Buddha, as well as of the three Bodhisattvas symbolizing the three essential Buddha-attributes: Avalokiteshvara (compassion), Manjushri (wisdom) and Vajrapani (energy or right action); and also Arya Tara who symbolizes the activity of all the Buddhas. In this manner, Buddha Form is represented.
In addition, to the right of the assembly, place a copy of a sacred scripture, preferably one of the Prajnaparamita Sutras, to symbolize Buddha Speech.
Finally, to the left of the assembly, place a miniature stupa (reliquary monument) to symbolize Buddha Mind.
If a text of the Prajnaparamita is not available, any Buddhist sutra can be substituted. Similarly, if the images or statues are difficult to obtain, just a statue of the Buddha will suffice.
Even that is not indispensable. The one absolute essential is a proper state of mind.
Next, one sets forth offerings. These should consist of water, flowers, incense, light, food and sound. They should be set out as elegantly as possible to denote heartfelt respect and appreciation.
When all has been prepared, seat yourself cross-legged upon a cushion, facing east in the vajra posture (both feet folded in your lap, with the soles facing upward) or the half-vajra posture (one foot up and the other drawn under the body). If both of these are too difficult, try to adopt one of them for a little while and then sit in whatever position is comfortable.
The Preliminary Meditations
Now reflect: "Our bodily actions are good, bad or indifferent in accordance with our state of mind. Therefore mind-training comes before all else. Now that we enjoy the good fortune of being in the human state and are accordingly endowed with greater powers of thought and achievement than other beings, how sad it is that we should spend our lives striving merely for happiness in this life.
"If striving thus were really productive of permanent happiness, then among the many people in this world endowed with power, wealth and friendship, there would surely be some blessed with a large measure of real and lasting happiness. But in truth, though there are indeed relative differences in the amount and intensity of happiness enjoyed, every single one of us-be he a ruler or warrior, be he rich, middle class or poor-is subject to all sorts of physical and mental suffering, especially torments of the mind."
Carry this reflection further by seeking within yourself the causes of suffering and happiness.
As you come to know the nature of these causes more fully, you will recognize the mind is the ultimate cause of suffering and that there are also subsidiary factors that either augment or decrease the impurities of the mind. These impurities can be removed; and once the mind has become stabilized, it can be transformed into an enlightened mind as skill in dealing with hindrances increases.
Contemplate like this for some time and, gradually, generate the sense that it is so.
It is vitally important to eliminate the cause of suffering and to acquire the cause of happiness.
However, to attain any kind of lasting happiness, we must diligently accumulate its causes and to eliminate suffering, we must use appropriate means to prevent the arising of its causes.
These two purposes can be accomplished only by full recognition of the true causes of joy and sorrow.
To accomplish these two purposes, it is useful to rely upon and show the utmost confidence in the Buddhadharma, a confidence that gains its strength from the most probing analysis undertaken in the light of inquiry and reason.
Then mentally recite these words:
I go for refuge to the Buddhas, the fully Enlightened Ones, who guide beings by expounding to them the pure, true teachings of the Dharma, which is the fruit of the supreme wisdom derived from their direct experience.
I go for refuge to the Dharma, which affords full transcendence of all suffering and leads to true happiness; for the Dharma connotes the elimination of all negativity and the fulfillment of all creative qualities as a result of wholesome thought and action, functioning through body, speech and mind.
I go for refuge to the Sangha, the supreme community, whose feet are firmly set on the path to enlightenment. Upon them I place my unswerving reliance for that spiritual assistance of which I stand in need.
In the space before your forehead, visualize a resplendent throne.
Upon it sits Buddha Shakyamuni, his legs crossed in the vajra posture.
His right hand is in the gesture of calling the earth as witness.
It points downward, with the tips of the fingers touching the seat of the throne. His left hand holds a bowl full of nectars of wisdom, the palm at the level of his navel.
Buddha Shakyamuni is visualized as being slightly larger than the other members of the sacred assembly. He shines with a golden radiance.
To either side of the throne and a little to the front stand Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, Buddha's two chief disciples, each holding in his right hand a metal staff and in his left a bowl.
The Buddha and both of these disciples are dressed as monks.
To the right of the Buddha is Avalokiteshvara (Tib. Chenresig), his body white in color. He is seated upon a lotus throne, hands joined palm to palm at the heart.
To the left, also upon a lotus throne, is Manjushri, his body golden in color. He holds a sword of wisdom in his right hand and a sacred text in his left.
Seated upon a lotus cushion in front of the Buddha is Vajrapani, dark blue in color, holding a vajra in his right hand and, with his left, showing the threatening gesture.
Behind the Buddha, also seated upon a lotus cushion, sits Arya Tara, emerald green in color. Her right hand is in the gesture of giving blessings and her left hand holds a blue lotus as she reveals the gesture of giving refuge.
All four of these Bodhisattva figures are seated on lotus thrones.
They all wear silken robes and jewelled ornaments. Their bodies are radiant with light and life.
To the right of this holy assembly is a mound of sacred texts containing the essence of the teachings symbolizing the true path to enlightenment and the true cessation of suffering.
To the left of the assembly is a glorious stupa to symbolize the supreme wisdom of all Buddhas.
You should regard the visualized assembly to be of the true essence of all refuge objects.
Now visualize your father and male relatives, including those who have previously passed away, as being seated to your right. Your mother and all female relatives are seated to your left. Your enemies are seated in front of you and those whom you esteem are seated behind you.
Surrounding them are all the beings in the universe. These are visualized as appearing in human form. In your mind you see this great concourse of humanity joining with you in reciting with rapt concentration the words of refuge.
One contemplates the virtues of the supreme body, speech and mind of the visualized assembly and light rays issue forth from them.
It falls upon the entire concourse of living beings, both you and those around you. You should imagine that this light purifies you and all others of every spiritual stain and obscuration.
Then, with heartfelt attention, recite these words twenty-one times or as much as possible.
NAMO BUDDHAYA NAMO DHARMAYA NAMO SANGHAYA
Thereafter, turn your mind to the beings around you, who are exactly like you. They want lasting happiness but continually neglect to bring about its cause; they long to be spared their ever-present suffering, but fail to abandon its cause. Understand clearly that suffering will never cease until its cause has been erased. Far from decreasing, it will remain with you forever until you abandon its cause.
The way to eliminate the cause of suffering is not easy to discover. However, already you have begun to go a little way forward by investigating what to hold on to and what to let go.
You must practice arduously and progress in skill until you discover the whole of that transcendence and growth, something essential to the happiness and comfort of the living beings, whom you have learned to universally cherish.
With these waves of thought in the ocean of your mind, chant the following verse.
To the Buddhas, the Dharma and the Supreme Community,
I turn for refuge until enlightenment is gained.
By the strength of my practices, such as the six perfections,
May enlightenment be attained for the benefit of all.
Next concentrate on the refuge objects visualized before you.
Offer the seven-limbed prayer in their imagined presence. These seven limbs are as follow.
The first is that of prostration. Here one collects the objects of refuge and pays homage to them. One can either offer a full prostration to them, touching the ground with arms, forehead and fully extended body; or a half-prostration touching the ground with forehead, elbows, knees and toes; or simply place your palms together and intone the following verse, keeping the mind in the sphere of concentrated veneration.
To the Enlightened Beings of the three times,
And to the Dharma and the Supreme Community,
I reverently pay heartfelt homage
With a spirit infused with joy.
The second limb is that of making offerings. We visualize offering all material things, together with all the pure and naturally beautiful phenomena in the world. We take these into our mind and offer them to the visualized assembly, in conjunction with the following words.
Just as Manjushri and the other Bodhisattvas
Made countless offerings to all the Buddhas,
So do I now make offerings
To the Buddhas and host of Bodhisattvas.
The third limb is that of acknowledging our shortcomings and failures, both those in this life and those of previous lives.
Reflect upon the cause of our sufferings, which is negative karma and delusion. Of these, delusion is the greater foe, for it is delusions that activate our negative karma. Thus they bring misery to every living being. These delusions, the mental defilements that wreak the most fearful harm, are the true enemy of all living beings.
Having remained constantly under the power of this great enemy for so long, we have surely stored up a formidable supply of negative karmic instincts that, unless we take remedial measures, will bear us a bitter fruit indeed; for our karmic seeds cannot fade away or decline of their own accord. Now is the time, here in the presence of the refuge objects, to acknowledge our failings of this and previous lives and to regret them. We should resolve that henceforth, even in dreams, we shall commit no more of them.
Reflecting this way, repeat the following verse.
Throughout the beginningless time of samsara,
In this and all previous lifetimes,
I have collected countless negative karmas
Through my wrong understanding and folly,
Often even rejoicing in my errors,
And woefully enslaved by ignorance.
I acknowledge all this wrongdoing
And bow before you in humility.
The limb of rejoicing is next. One rejoices in the goodness and merit of oneself and all others. The cause of happiness is goodness, which, as well as conferring immediate benefits, also produces forces that will lead to great benefits in the distant future. Fully rejoice in the vast reservoir of meritorious energy shared by you and all others. Meritorious energy is the best friend and true protector of all beings. Reflecting in that way, you should recite the following words.
In that supreme mind which shines on all beings,
Bringing aid and benefit to every sentient being,
I profoundly rejoice with the utmost veneration.
I rejoice in the thought of enlightenment and in the Dharma,
That ocean of happiness for every sentient being
Wherein abides the welfare of all that lives.
The fifth limb is the prayer that the great masters turn the Wheel of Dharma. One implores all the enlightened masters who have attained to perfect knowledge of spiritual practice to turn the Wheel of Dharma for the benefit of all sentient beings. This request is made with the following verse.
With hands folded in salutation,
I entreat the Buddhas of the ten directions
To cause the lamp of the Dharma to shine brightly
For all those wandering amidst suffering wrought by delusion.
Next is the limb of requesting the masters not to pass away, but to remain in the world and work for the evolution of the living beings. One entreats the Buddhas not to enter final nirvana, but to remain forever to guide and protect all sentient beings. This is done in accordance with the following verse.
With hands folded in salutation,
I implore all Buddhas thinking to enter paranirvana
To remain in the world for ages without end,
So that life will not become lost to darkness.
The seventh limb is that of the dedication of merits. Here, by means of the following verse, one requests that the merit of performing this practice and also any meritorious energy of yourself and all other beings, may be turned to the aspiration that all living beings may attain happiness and perfect enlightenment.
May any meritorious energy generated
By my engaging in this spiritual practice
Be dedicated to the enlightenment of all beings
And may they be made happy in every way.
The Mantra Recitation
Concentrate for a while on Buddha and the visualized assembly.
When you have a clear picture of them in your mind, visualize a flat, luminous disc in the center of the chest of each. In each disc is a symbolic syllable, or mantric seed sound as follows: MUM for the Buddha; HRIH for Avalokiteshvara; DHIH for Manjushri; HUM for Vajrapani; and TAM for Tara.
Each of these symbolic syllables is surrounded by a mantra. Thus, there are five mantras. At this point in the meditation, you should recite each of them seven, twenty-one, one hundred and eight or as many times as possible.
The Mantra of Buddha
OM MUNI MUNI MAHA MUNAYE SOHA
The Mantra of Avalokiteshvara
OM MANI PADME HUM
The Mantra of Manjushri
OM WAGI SHVARI HUM
The Mantra of Vajrapani
OM VAJRA PANI HUM
The Mantra of Arya Tara
OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA
Then to symbolize that all the outer deceptive phenomena are the same in their nature of emptiness, you visualize as follows.
Avalokiteshvara slowly dissolves into light and vanishes into the Buddha's head. Manjushri dissolves into light and then into the Buddha's neck. Vajrapani dissolves into his chest. Tara into his navel and the two chief disciples into the two sides of his body.
Thereafter, you should retain a clear visualization of only the Buddha. Concentrate as long as you can in this way.
After that, the Buddha also changes slowly in to pure light, beginning from the top and bottom and vanishes into the luminous disc at the center of his heart. The disc dissolves into the mantra. It, in turn, dissolves into the symbolic syllable it surrounds. The symbolic syllable then changes into light and only a dot at the top is left. That also slowly vanishes, until merely the formless clear light remains.
Fix in your mind for some moments in meditation upon the emptiness nature of all appearance.
Next, to symbolize all the relatively existing pleasures that spring forth and become manifest, though they are the same in their very essence as voidness itself, you should visualize that the entire assembly reappears as before, in the space in front of you.
Close the meditation session in a spirit of enthusiasm and joy.
As you rise from your meditation cushion and go about the various activities of the day, carry the vision of Buddha and the assembly with you at all times. Merge it with your every activity.
When you take your meals, offer a small portion to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as a means to remind yourself of the spiritual path.
Then, at night as you go to sleep, you can visualize that your head lies peacefully in the lap of the Buddha.
Thus, with all deeds and at all times, you should attempt to keep the Buddha for your witness and use your body, speech and mind always in creative, positive ways.
If you practice this meditation once a day, twice a day (morning and evening) or four times (morning, afternoon, evening and night) you should begin with short sessions and then gradually build them in length, increasing the time as your maturity in concentration and attention grows. If you practice in this way, there is no doubt that many beneficial effects will arise.