Explanation of the extensive offering practice

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A talk given at Cloud Mountain Retreat Center, Washington, USA, in November of 2005

Because the extensive offering practice may be new for some of you, it’s important to understand its purpose and meaning. One purpose of making offerings is to overcome our miserliness, stinginess, and the fear that thinks, “If I give it away, I won’t have it.” Here we counteract those emotions by practicing giving again and again. This helps us to overcome our attachment and fear of poverty—the anxiety that we will lack what we want or need. That fear of lacking is quite real even though we live in the wealthiest country on the planet. Sometimes it seems to me that we have more fear of not having things than people who are poor because now we are afraid of losing what we have, or of not having what everyone else has. In addition, when we ordinary beings have a lot of things, we still aren’t satisfied and content. We want more and better and simultaneously we fear losing what we have.

The mind has this sense of poverty although we have so much. We still feel poor and feel financially insecure. From this we see very clearly that having what we like doesn’t solve the feeling of poverty, insecurity, and lack. Think about that, and look at your thoughts and behavior around possessing things. We usually think, “I feel a lack inside, that something is missing in my life, so I want to buy something to fill that void.” But if we look at our own experience, we see that many times we’ve gotten what we felt we needed to fill the void, but the void is still there. Think about it in terms of your own experience.

We feel poor, so we go out and work hard and earn a certain amount of money. Do we feel financially secure then? Do we feel like we have enough money? Nobody ever feels like they have enough money! I haven’t met one person who feels financially secure no matter how much they have. Similarly we feel a lack of love in our life, so we go out and look for a romantic relationship, or a friendship. We may make many friends or have several lovers, but do we really feel loved inside? Does that fill the hole inside? No. We still feel others could love us a little bit more. We all feel we could use some more love, don’t we? No matter how many people appreciate us, we still feel it’s not enough. We could use some more appreciation. No matter what we have—possessions, friendships, status, romance—it doesn’t really satisfy us. We still feel a sense of emptiness or need inside. Why? Because external objects and people don’t have the power to satisfy the internal lack.

The problem isn’t that we don’t have what we want; the problem is that we cling to what we want. As long as there is the clinging, there will never be any satisfaction. When there is no clinging, then, no matter what we have in terms of possessions, love, appreciation, reputation, or status, whatever we have will be sufficient and we will feel content and complete. But when there is clinging, no matter what we have we feel poor. So the way we have been using to meet our needs—getting external things—has not worked; because the problem isn’t not having what we want, the problem is clinging to what we want. As soon as we start pacifying the clinging and letting it go, there will be peace in the mind.

Stupas at Kopan Monastery, Nepal

The practice of making extensive offerings is a skillful way to train the mind in giving.

The practice of making offerings generates that sense of peace because we give, and offer, and give. We become familiar with giving, which is the opposite of clinging. Even though the practice involves visualizing massive giving and the actual offerings on the altar are comparatively small, we are freeing ourselves from that mind of clinging that says, “I need, I want, I have to have.” That clinging mind is suffering. The practice of making extensive offerings is a skillful way to train the mind in giving.

Even though we simply visualize making offerings, for some of us it is hard to even visualize giving the things that we like, isn’t it? Imagine giving up our house, giving up our favorite possession, giving up the person we love? Oh no! We can’t do that! Although we’re only visualizing giving, our mind is resistant. But the more we do this, the more the clinging loosens, the more peace comes in the mind. When there’s peace in the mind, we can still have things and enjoy being with other people, but our mind isn’t clinging to them. When clinging doesn’t occupy our mind, there’s peace, contentment, and acceptance of the situation. We will accept other people, accept what we have. We will be relaxed. This is one benefit of this practice.

A second benefit is that it creates a lot of positive potential or merit: in Sanskrit and Pali the term is punya, in Tibetan it’s sonam. We need to create this good karma, this positive potential to experience the resultant happiness it brings in our lives. Generosity is one of the chief ways that we create positive potential because a mind that takes delight in giving is a wholesome mind. This virtuous mind automatically creates positive potential. We see the results of our previous generosity all around us: the fact that we have enough to eat, a home to live in, friends, and the possibility to attend this retreat—these all came about because of our having been generous in previous lives. We created that positive potential that ripened in our receiving the four requisites for living—food, clothing, medicine, and shelter.

When we create positive potential by being generous, we dedicate it not simply so that we will have a pleasant life and what we need to live in future lives, but also to attain liberation and enlightenment. Creating positive potential is essential for even having the opportunity to practice the Dharma. For example, not everyone had the opportunity to attend this retreat. So many people wanted to come and had obstacles. For some, external events made it hard for them to come; for others the hindrance was mental—distraction, attachment, anxiety. We can see that just having the opportunity to practice the Dharma is difficult to come by. How many people have the opportunity to do retreat for the next week? There are over five billion people on this planet and how many are doing retreat this week? Numerically only a very tiny percentage. So it takes quite a lot of goodness or positive potential to create the causes for this opportunity. Thus creating positive potential is another benefit of doing the extensive offering practice.

You may be puzzled, “We visualized making offerings to all these buddhas and bodhisattvas, but who are they? And how do I know they exist? Then we make offerings to statues, stupas, and scriptures in so many other countries. This sounds like idol worship. What in the world am I doing?”

Who are the buddhas and bodhisattvas? If we are really aspiring for full enlightenment, we better believe there are some beings who have attained it, otherwise what are we aspiring for? This brings us to understanding the Three Jewels of refuge—the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—and taking them as our spiritual guides. The Dharma is the actual refuge. The Dharma Jewel consists of the path consciousnesses, those consciousnesses that directly realize reality, the emptiness of inherent existence of all phenomena. The Dharma Jewel also includes true cessations, the cessation of each affliction. These two—true cessations and true paths—are the last two of the four noble truths. The four noble truths are the basic foundations of Buddhist belief and practice. The Sangha are those who have actualized that Dharma refuge—any individual who has the nonconceptual union of serenity and special insight on emptiness.

It’s good to clarify what the word “sangha” means because there’s a lot of confusion about it in America. The Sangha we take refuge in are those highly realized beings who directly know the nature of reality. Nowadays some people in America use the term “sangha” to refer to anybody who comes to a Buddhist center. That is very confusing because many of the people who come to the Buddhist center are not even Buddhists, and if we think we are taking refuge in these people, we get very confused because not everyone who comes to a Buddhist center has good ethical discipline or is a kind person. So it’s important to know that the Sangha we take refuge in are those highly realized beings—it may be one individual who is either a monastic or a lay follower. The representative or the symbol of those highly realized beings is the monastic community, a group of four or more fully ordained monastics. Why does the monastic community symbolize the Sangha refuge? Because they are holding the precepts of the Buddha and they are intent on practicing the path to gain the realizations of the aryas who are the actual Sangha Jewel.

In summary, the Dharma Jewel is the realizations and the cessations of suffering. They are our real refuge. The Sangha are those who have realized emptiness directly: they have the true cessations and the true paths. That Sangha is the arya beings, i.e. anyone who has realized emptiness directly. This includes arhats, higher level bodhisattvas, and buddhas. Then the Buddha Jewel consists of the truth body and form bodies of the fully enlightened buddhas. One of the form bodies is Shakyamuni Buddha, who turned the Dharma wheel in our historical age. These are the Three Jewels of refuge, and we make offerings to them because we respect and appreciate them.

Doing some contemplation on the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha is important if we are going to follow the Buddhist path. The Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are our guides and also our goal. We want to become the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha ourselves. If we don’t understand where we are going or who our guide is, we won’t be able to practice in a very clear, methodical way. It takes some time to understand Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, but even if we have a general idea, our motivation and our path will be clearer and more stable.

Why do we visualize the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and arhats? Because they are the ones we rely on to guide us on the path. They are role models for what we want to become. We visualize a lot. And usually it’s not the buddhas and bodhisattvas—we can visualize pizza very easily. If I say the word “pizza” don’t you have a picture in your mind? Do you know what kind of pizza it is, what the topping is, whether it has a thin crust or thick crust? Our visualization is very clear.

If I say, “think of the person you love the most,” the image of that person comes in your mind right away. That is visualization. If I say, “think of your mother” or “think of your father,” you can visualize them easily even if they are no longer alive. An image of our home pops into our mind, easily and clearly. All this is visualization. So the practice of visualization is nothing new, we are doing it all the time. However, we’re usually too busy visualizing objects of attachment and objects of anger to think about the Three Jewels. That’s why it seems harder to think of them; it’s simply because we’re more familiar with other visualizations.

Instead of visualizing objects of attachment, now we visualize objects of aspiration, the Three Jewels of refuge. Instead of visualizing all the people that we cling to, that we have so many unrealistic expectations of, we are turning our mind to those who lead us on the spiritual path. We usually visualize the people we like and the people we’re attached to. You may even have brought pictures of them here to the retreat. We make offerings to those people: we buy them presents, praise them, do things for them. Maybe you are looking around the retreat center to see what you could buy to take home to your family, but there’s not a large selection of stuff! Just as we visualize people who are important to us, and make offerings to them, now we visualize the Three Jewels and making offerings to them. This offering practice is really nothing unusual for us. It’s just that we usually do it by offering to ordinary beings who are the object of our attachments, and the objects we offer are also ordinary. We also are in the habit of making offerings to ourselves. We go to the store and buy this and that for ourselves, for the enjoyment of our self-centered ego.

Usually we visualize a world in which we are surrounded by everybody we like, which means everybody who likes us. Isn’t that the definition of who we like—the people who like us? I’m such a sucker, if somebody likes me I lose all my discriminating wisdom and I like them. I don’t care how mean they are, how awful they are, how immoral they are. But if they like me, my mind says they are good people. If somebody doesn’t like me, it doesn’t matter how highly spiritual realized or virtuous they are, I can’t stand them. Are any of you like that? We totally lose our discriminating wisdom.

So here we are transforming this process, so that we visualize and make offerings to the holy beings who have more love and compassion for us than we have for ourselves—the Three Jewels who will never betray our trust or leave us. Instead of populating our world with people who like us or people we like—and some of these people may not have a good influence on us—we now populate our world with highly realized spiritual beings who have the motivation to only benefit us and to lead us to enlightenment. They’re a wonderful community of friends. Think about it: who’s more reliable, the Buddha or your best friend? Who is going to really help you when you are in trouble, when you are dying? What can your best friend do for you when you are dying? They might sit there and cry and make it even harder for you to die. Sometimes I think best friends are the ones we need to be furthest away from when we die because the attachment to them is so strong. But the buddhas and bodhisattvas teach us the path to enlightenment, which is the greatest gift anybody can ever give us. If we practice the path that they teach us, then when the time of death is there, we’ll be very relaxed and tranquil.

I heard a beautiful story about Ribur Rinpoche. He had cancer and was in a hospital in Washington, D.C. He was very sick and was going in and out of consciousness. At one point he woke up from his sleep and said to his attendant, “Please make offerings.” His attendant replied, “Let’s do that when we get home. We’re in the hospital now, and I can’t set up the water bowls.” Ribur Rinpoche said, “But there are buddhas all around and I want to make offerings to them.” Isn’t that a beautiful story? Imagine being deathly ill and seeing all the buddhas and bodhisattvas in the room with you!

By visualizing them in this practice, we remember these holy beings and this makes us more receptive to their spiritual influence. We are creating an environment filled with virtuous beings who can lead us on the path to lasting happiness and who can show us how to live in a meaningful way. When we are upset, disappointed, or depressed, we usually run to our best friend, hoping they’ll throw their arms around us and tell us how wonderful we are—which doesn’t necessarily change the situation. Now, when we are upset or depressed, we run to the buddhas and the bodhisattvas and say, “Teach me how to deal with this mental state. Teach me the Dharma.” They give us teachings, and when we practice them, the uncomfortable mental state dissipates. We begin to see that the buddhas and bodhisattvas are our real friends. Visualizing the buddhas and bodhisattvas helps us turn our minds to them, to take refuge in them, to remember the Dharma that they teach, and to apply it in our life in whatever situation that we are in. That’s why we visualize the buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Why do we make offerings to them? We make offerings to the people we like. When we appreciate somebody our natural inclination is to give them a gift. And when giving them a present, we feel happy. When we give a gift out of obligation, or to get on somebody’s good side, we don’t feel so good. But when we give a gift to someone we admire, our heart is joyful. In the extensive offerings practice, we think about the qualities of the buddhas, bodhisattvas, arhats, and our spiritual mentors, and then make offerings to them with a joyful heart. In doing so, we create a wonderful link with these beings who are our role models and our spiritual guides. We connect with them through giving them gifts. We give them actual gifts by putting offerings on a shrine and we also give them mentally transformed gifts by imagining the sky full of gorgeous offerings.

What an incredible visualization! What do we usually imagine in our daily life? Before we leave the house for work, we imagine a traffic jam. Then we imagine the meeting we have to go to with people who don’t agree with our opinions. We imagine going to the grocery store, buying things we like, and making offerings to the supreme object of offering—our own ego. In fact, we visualize frequently during the day. Those visualizations don’t bring much joy to our mind, nor do they create virtue. Instead they generally produce dissatisfaction and resentment.

Now we visualize the sky full of incredible beautiful objects, things that are more exquisite than you could buy at Nordstrom’s or Macy’s. Visualize spectacular flowers, fruit, lights, incense and music. Visualize whatever you’re attached to, especially the things you long to have yourself—a stupendous computer that never crashes or succumbs to viruses and worms. A computer that is actually user-friendly. It automatically updates itself and you never have to buy any new software. It is compatible with all your friends’ computers so when you send them a file they can open it. Visualize whatever your mind craves and with a joyful heart, offer it to the Three Jewels.

If you long to have a beautiful home in Costa Rica, imagine one that is more luxurious than you could ever hope to have and then offer it. Offer the wonderful computer, the new car you dream of buying. But now it’s an SUV that doesn’t burn fuel. It’s completely ecologically safe, never collides with another vehicle or injures anyone. Its door never closes on someone’s finger. It has wings and can fly over traffic jams. [laughter] You never have to fill it with gas or change the oil, it never breaks and the model is always in style. It changes color according to the color you want it to be that day, and it doesn’t get dents or scratches and dirt never sticks to it so you never have to apologize to someone for having a dirty car. Imagine this stupendous vehicle and instead of offering it to yourself, to your own ego, offer it to the buddhas and bodhisattvas.

You might wonder, “What are the holy beings going to do with an SUV? Maybe I should keep it for myself. Buddha doesn’t need a computer, I think I better give it to myself.” The point isn’t the practicality of the gift, but to free our mind from miserliness. How joyful to imagine beauty, to free our mind from miserliness, and to make a strong connection with the highly realized holy beings that we admire!

We can also offer people that we’re attached to. At the beginning, this may seem strange, “How can I give a person away?” Remember that what we’re releasing is our clinging, we’re not exiling the person from our life! Think of a person that you are very attached to—your child, your lover, your parent, your dog. Imagine them in their most glorious form and offer them to the buddhas and bodhisattvas. If your mind reacts, “I don’t want to give my child away!” Think, “Would my child be safer under the guidance of the Buddhas or under my guidance? What is of the greatest benefit to my child in the long run?” Do you really want your child to always be clinging to you and doing what you want? Do you want to always cling possessively to your child? Or do you want them to grow spiritually? Do you want them to actualize their buddha nature and attain liberation so that they are free from all suffering forever? Imagine that you offer your dear ones to the buddhas and bodhisattvas with prayers that they attain enlightenment quickly. Imagine your dear ones radiant under the guidance of the Three Jewels.

Imagine flowers that never wilt, fruit without pesticides, apples without wax, pizza, Chinese food and Thai food and offer and offer and offer them, again and again. Let the feeling of richness and abundance pervade you. When we cling to things, there is always a feeling of poverty in the mind. Here, when we imagine things that are even more beautiful than normal and offer them, there is an incredible feeling of richness and joy. Experience feeling abundance instead of feeling the mental state of poverty that miserliness brings. Imagine beauty. Imagine wonderful people and companions, offer them to the holy beings that you respect more than anybody else. They experience great bliss inseparable from emptiness. Imagine that. Feel the strong connection you’re making with these realized beings.

When you visualize making offerings to statues, scriptures, and stupas, see them as symbols of actual Buddhas and bodhisattvas. While some people may find it more meaningful to visualize buddhas and bodhisattvas and offer to them, other people may prefer to imagine offering to the statues, scriptures, and stupas that symbolize them.

The purpose of having a statue is to remind us of the Buddha and the Buddha’s qualities. Looking at a statue in the beginning of meditation often helps our visualization to be clearer. Having a shrine in your home can be very helpful. One day you might be in a frenzy, but when you walk pass the altar and see the photo of your spiritual teacher or a statue of the Buddha, you remember that it’s possible to be calm. That physical image helps us remember our motivation and encourages us to calm our mind. But we do not worship it as an idol. When you see a picture of someone you care about, you feel affection for that person, not for the picture. Similarly, when you bow and make offerings on the altar, you are not worshiping an idol or a statue, but are showing respect to the qualities that that statue represents.

Question: For many of us it’s easier to visualize our partner or someone we care about because there’s an emotional attachment. But we don’t have that kind of relationship with a buddha or a stupa, so they are more difficult to imagine and it’s more difficult to feel a connection with them.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): This is due to habit. We are very habituated with attachment. The objects of attachment pop into our mind so quickly and we come back to them again and again. That creates the feeling of connection. In this practice we are trying to create a new kind of connection. Many of us have ignored the spiritual path most of our lives in favor of following clinging, anger, miserliness, jealousy, and arrogance. So of course we don’t have as much familiarity with the buddhas and bodhisattvas, who represent a totally different direction in life.

Begin by contemplating the qualities of the holy beings. Then think that those qualities appear in the physical form of the buddhas and develop habituation with that. For example, the first time you heard about pizza, there wasn’t strong habituation with it. Maybe when you were little, your parents said, “Let’s go get pizza,” and you didn’t know what it was so your mental image of it was fuzzy and you didn’t feel much connection. But after you ate some pizza, you knew better what it was and your visualization became clearer. So did your feeling of connection and familiarity with pizza. A similar mechanism is at play here. The more we think of impartial love and compassion, universal forgiveness, equanimity, and the wisdom that knows the nature of all existence, the more we become familiar with those qualities and the beings who manifest them—the spiritual mentors, buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Remember when you were a teenager and somebody said, “Think of the person you want to marry.” You could sit there and construct a detailed visualization of what the person you wanted to marry was like. We could spend hours as teenagers talking about it. That person was nonexistent at that moment, but because the mental factor of attachment was highly developed, we could visualize and contemplate that person for hours. Here we are trying to develop the mental factors of faith and confidence in virtue, positive qualities, and the beings who possess them. The more we think of those qualities, such as impartial love and compassion for infinite living beings and the more we visualize those qualities manifesting in the physical form of the buddhas, the easier it will be, due to familiarity, to imagine the buddhas and bodhisattvas and to feel connected to them.

Question: Are we trying to create the kind of emotional connections with the buddhas and bodhisattvas that we have with the people we are attached to?

VTC: Yes and no. In the sense that there is a feeling of connection, yes. In the sense of there being attachment, no. That’s challenging to our mind: how do we feel connected without being attached? It is very important to understand what attachment is; otherwise we will confuse connection with attachment. But they aren’t the same.

Attachment exaggerates the qualities of someone or something and then clings to an image of it that doesn’t exist. The mind confuses the image with the object, thinking that person is who we’ve created them to be. No wonder we run into difficulties in personal relationships! We project all the qualities we want our dream partner to have onto the person that we love and then believe that they are really like that. But as time goes on, we see that they are not the image we created of them and thus we are disappointed. We get angry and blame them for not being what we thought they were, even though they were never that to begin with. It was all our mental creation of attachment.

On the other hand, buddhas and bodhisattvas have the qualities of infinite, impartial love and compassion, so admiring those beings and qualities doesn’t involve exaggeration. It’s suitable to admire and appreciate those qualities and want to be near the beings that have them. It’s said that the buddhas and bodhisattvas care for us more than we care about ourselves, that they love us more than we love ourselves. Think about that one a little bit. We need to open our hearts and minds to accept that so that we can feel their compassion that leads them to teach us the path to enlightenment. But if we want the Buddha to love only us and not other people because we want to be special, we want to be the object of the Buddha’s attachment, then we’re confused. We ordinary beings tend to be possessive, “I want this person to love only me. If they love anybody else, it is no good; it’s not allowable, they have to love only me.” But relationships with spiritual mentors, buddhas, and bodhisattvas are different. They love everybody, and they love them impartially. If we think about it, that’s to our advantage because we don’t always act so well. If the buddhas and bodhisattvas were partial, then we’d run the risk of getting thrown out or rejected in the same way that ordinary beings reject us when we behave poorly. But the buddhas and bodhisattvas love sentient beings impartially; their love isn’t dependent on how we act towards them, whether we praise them or make offerings to them. Their concern is for our wellbeing, not for the fulfillment of ego. Thus we can relax and have some sense of security that no matter how we act, the holy beings will never abandon us. So you see, it’s to our advantage that they care for beings impartially. That doesn’t mean it’s fine to be careless in our behavior, but that when we do slip up, they will forgive us and continue to teach us the path.

Question: Even though anger is nasty, can I offer my anger to them so that they can teach me how to erase the anger?

VTC: Yes. Think, “Anger harms me and others. I want to give up my anger. I’m tired of justifying it and holding onto it so that I have a false sense of power. I want to relinquish it. Buddhas and bodhisattvas, please teach me how to do this.”

Question: What is the meaning of the stupa?

VTC: The stupa is a buddha’s reliquary or monument. Ever since the time of the Buddha, stupas have been made. Sometimes they house the ashes of a holy being. We put a stupa or a bell on the altar to symbolize the Buddha’s enlightened mind. In Buddhist communities worldwide people circumambulate stupas and temples.

Question: We are the ones who create our own karma and experience its results. But in purification practices, it sounds like the buddhas and bodhisattvas can do something about our karma.

VTC: When we do the purification practices, we are doing something about our karma because we are the ones doing the purification practice. For example, in the Vajrasattva practice we imagine Vajrasattva as the embodiment of all the qualities that we admire and that we want to actualize. Then we reveal our negativities and make the determination not to do those harmful actions again. We take refuge in the holy beings and generate compassion for ordinary beings. So by the process of doing these four opponent powers—confession, refuge and bodhicitta, determination not to do the action again, and rehabilitative action—we purify our mind and hinder the ripening of these negative karmas by creating new mental actions, new karma.

The buddhas and bodhisattvas from their side alone cannot purify us. The Buddha has infinite impartial compassion for everybody, so if he could purify all of our negative karma and save us from suffering, the Buddha would have done that without a doubt. A buddha is unrestricted from his or her own side in terms of the guidance and help that they can offer us sentient beings. The restriction is our level of receptivity. From its side, sunlight shines everywhere equally, but it can’t go in an upside down container. The hindrance is from the side of the container. When our minds are closed, the buddhas’ teachings, blessings, and inspiration cannot enter. By doing purification practices, we remove the clutter of negative karma from our minds, thus making our minds more receptive and open to the buddhas’ guidance. So we are the ones purifying our mind. But the holy beings guide and help us along in this process.

Question: The Buddha passed away 2,600 years ago. How can he have impartial love for us?

VTC: Shakyamuni Buddha passed away in India 2,600 years ago. He was the particular buddha of our historic age. According to the Mahayana tradition, Shakyamuni Buddha is a nirmanakaya or emanation body of a buddha. The continuity of the enlightened mind continues on even after that emanation is withdrawn. In addition, there are many other buddhas in addition to Shakyamuni Buddha, and we can take refuge in and rely on all of them. Buddhas and buddhas can manifest on our planet. They don’t go around telling everyone, “I’m a buddha,” because that’s not necessarily the most skillful way to benefit us. In fact, if somebody tells you that they’ve attained realizations or they are an arya or they are enlightened, be very careful. Proclaiming one’s realizations is not an accepted practice in the Buddhist tradition. The great masters are generally very humble and modest.

Question: Are we Buddhists or aspiring Buddhists?

VTC: That depends on the individual. All Buddhists are not Buddhas, so let’s not expect people who are Buddhists to be perfect. Whether we are Buddhist or not depends on whether we want to apply that label to ourselves. Some people like to say, “I’m studying Buddhism” or “I’m interested in Buddhism.” Others feel comfortable saying, “I’m Buddhist.” It depends on the individual.

The actual demarcation for calling oneself a Buddhist is if we’ve taken refuge in the Three Jewels, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. If we’ve made the decision that the Dharma is the path we want to follow and the Buddhas and Sangha are our guides, then technically we have become a Buddhist. We don’t take refuge in a particular Buddhist tradition or in a particular teacher; we take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha that are universal to all Buddhist traditions.

Some people practice the Dharma for many years but don’t like to tell anybody. When their colleagues at work discuss religion and ask, “What religion do you follow?” they say, “Oh, I go to some Buddhists talks.” In fact they’ve taken refuge and precepts and practice the Dharma, but they are in the closet. I think it is interesting to look at that mind that fears other people’s judgment if we say we are Buddhist. That could be a mind that’s attached to reputation. On the other hand, there are people who boast, “I’m a Buddhist,” and seek attention.

Question: Why do we visualize making offerings to statues, scriptures, and stupas, not just the buddhas and bodhisattvas?

VTC: I have the same question. I haven’t had the chance to ask Rinpoche this, but my guess is that perhaps for some people thinking of buddhas and bodhisattvas in pure lands is too abstract. They find it easier to think of statues and stupas that they have seen. However, for me it’s easier thinking of buddhas and bodhisattvas in pure lands. When I read in a Mahayana sutra about a bodhisattva asking the Buddha a question and from the curl on the Buddha’s forehead light radiates in all directions and buddhas and bodhisattvas come from universes in distant space to hear him speak, I can get a picture of that and find it inspiring. People have different temperaments, so what works for one person doesn’t for another. Therefore, several ways are included so people can meditate in the way that inspires them the most.

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