Long story short, I was in a, what was for me, an extremely terrifying and stressful situation last week. Coming from a non-spiritual phase in life into Buddhism, I was open to deity practice and devotion, but not particularly attracted to it. However I turned to Amitabha and Guanyin mantra chanting to help me through this situation. I don't know if the mantras are intended for such purposes, but they provided me some solace anyway. One thing led to another, and by yesterday, I had gone through Garchen Rinpoche's Amitabha empowerment video given in this page:http://www.drikungseattle.com/march-2014-archive.html
" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Now that I am out of that situation, I am sort of happy that I got to view a different take on things, but also have a bit of regret since I am not at all sure whether this is right path for me, at least right now. This is a set of doubts that came up during the last week:
1. Are the Buddhas real beings or are they supposed to represent aspects of our own enlightened minds? How are we supposed to think about them during practice? If they represent aspects of our enlightened mind, would it be possible to totally make up a Yidam and have the practice work if one believes in it sincerely?
2. What does it mean when we beseech the Buddhas to stay in samsara? I mean where can they possibly be off to? I could understand this if it were from a Theravada point of view, with the analogy of a flame going out, however I thought that Mahayana taught that samsara and nirvana are like the two sides of the same coin. What would happen to Amitabha Buddha after his lifetime for example?
3. According to Garchen Rinpoche, all the Buddhas have the same nature or basis(or something to that effect I think), so doing one practice is equivalent to keeping one's commitment to all of them. How does this extend to the benefits of each different practice? Can one expect to live a long life if one does a Amitabha sadhana instead of White Tara, or expect to take rebirth in Dewachen by doing a White Tara sadhana? How about purification similar to the Guru Rinpoche mantra by chanting the Mani mantra instead? While this may sound a bit ridiculous, I am trying to make sense of this in relation to my first question. This easily makes sense to me if I think about the Buddhas as beings "out there", however if it is one's enlightened mind we take refuge in, then is it because we are invoking those specific aspects which give rise to these specific benefits?
6. What exactly gives the mantras their power? Or the seed syllables? Out of all the possible sounds, why are these ones special? Is it because we associate them with the Buddhas? If so, does it mean that they don't have any power unless one believes in them?
7. After reading up a bit on empowerments a bit more, I really am not sure whether I got it at all. I did not visualize Garchen Rinpoche as the deity throughout the empowerment neither did I visualize myself as the deity, however I followed all the instructions in the video to the best of my ability, and imagined the vase touching the top of my head. I understand that the view on recorded empowerments is divided, however it seems Garchen Rinpoche believes that it is possible, so assuming that it is, did I actually receive the empowerment?
8. I really do not have much of an idea about how to go about the practice. The translator mentioned that one visualizes the red Hri symbol at the heart, visualizes Amitabha Buddha in one's mind in space, and then chants the mantra Om Ami Deva Hri, thus purifying one's body and speech. At the end one was asked to imagine little small Hris coming out of Amitabha's mouth, and settling into the Hri being visualized at the heart centre. So this is what I am doing, after which I read the Dewachen Wishing Prayer by Karme Chagme Rinpoche. Finally I finish with reciting Guru Rinpoche's mantra for a while. Am I doing this right?
9. Probably the most helpful thing I took away from this was Garchen Rinpoche's teaching that the Self Grasping is the cause of all suffering, and that loving kindness and compassion are the causes of all happiness. So am I understanding this correctly if I understand that the goal of the practice is to minimize suffering by eliminating all self grasping and maximizing happiness with cultivating Boddhicitta? Does wisdom in Mahayana Buddhism mean understanding and comprehending emptiness?
10. What is the difference between Metta and Boddhicitta? Is the nature of Theravadan nirvana incomplete according to Mahayana because their adherants have not developed absolute boddhicitta? I ask to understand the difference in the nature of the practice between Theravada and Mahayana, since both aim to develop(according to my lowly understanding) compassion and wisdom.
11. I understand the need to have a teacher now. These are not all the questions that I have, and no doubt I will encounter many more in the future. I would like to keep things simple now, go back to a practice of cultivating shamatha and compassion. However, is it okay if I do so now after vowing to do the practice to the best of my ability? Garchen Rinpoche said that the root samaya is Bodhicitta, I am screwed in that case.
I say this since I find developing compassion and feeling connected to people quite difficult(oddly enough, I find it ridiculously easy in the case of animals).
12. Are there any practices I can do so that I can come across a teacher faster?
I know these are a lot of questions, and I don't expect anyone to answer all of them, I would be grateful though if I could receive an answer for at least some of them.