Rinpoche gave the following advice to a nun who wanted to do a three-year retreat in Nepal.
Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche gave the following advice to a nun who wanted to do a 3 year retreat in Nepal.
My very dear Melanie,
Thank you for your kind email and postcard. Sorry for the long delay in replying. According to my observations you should perform these practices:
40,000 refuge prayers
4000 mandala offerings
300,000 water bowl offerings
400,000 Dorje Khadro fire pujas
1000 recitations of the Diamond Cutter Sutra
9 Nyung Nyes
You need to do these preliminary practices and achieve whatever realization of the lam rim that you don't have already. Put effort into actualizing realizations of the lam rim.
If you are able to have very stable deep realizations from the depths of your heart, and you can see the guru as one with all the buddhas and a buddha as one with all the gurus, with no difference between them, then it is OK, but if you don't have this realization yet, you must put effort into this until it is stable.
If you feel no attraction to pleasurable things in your heart, including reputation and people praising you, it is OK, but if not, then you need to totally change this in your mind. You need to be stable when you meet with the four undesirable objects and four desirable objects, such as being happy when you acquire something and being unhappy when you don't, wanting to be happy and not wanting to be unhappy, wanting fame and not wanting notoriety, and wanting to be praised and not wanting to be criticized.
When you receive praise, your mind should not change. When people criticize you, your mind is stable. Your mind is not bothered whether you receive desirable objects or not. When these things are exactly equal your mind is stable.
This is the best definition of having realized the graduated path common to the lower capable being, the first stage of the lam rim: renouncing this life. In other words, you totally change your attitude, and, instead of seeking happiness for this life, seek happiness for your future life.
You need to feel that the desire realm, form realm, formless realm, and the whole of samsara are only in the nature of suffering, and you feel aversion to them as you do to dirt or to being in the center of a fire. You are totally uninterested in being in samsara for even one second, and you have aversion to and fear of being here.
It is like how it feels to be caught in prison, trapped. You can't stand it even for a minute, and all you can think about is to be free from that, totally wanting to be free from it day and night. So, if this is how you feel toward the whole of samsara, day and night, unable to find any attraction in all the samsaric pleasures, not just for a short time but for weeks and months, then this is having the realization, as Lama Tsong Khapa explained in the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, of really renouncing samsara, realizing the nature of samsara, and feeling that it is unbearable and that you have to be free from it.
In the same way, you realize that hundreds of sentient beings feel like that, exactly like yourself, and this is unbearable. You want them to be free from all sufferings and their causes. This is realizing great compassion, when it spontaneously arises without any effort, day and night continuously.
Then there is the way a mother feels who has one child who has fallen down a deep hole into a fire. She wants to save her child from that suffering, by herself alone, so she jumps down herself to rescue her child. Or there is the way a daughter or son feels who realizes that their mother, the most kind being, has fallen down the hole into the fire, or is drowning in the ocean, and they, alone, want to go and save her. Not only do they have that wish, they actually go and do it. This thought to work to liberate all sentient beings from all sufferings and their causes and to bring them to full enlightenment by yourself alone, and that you are going to achieve enlightenment in order to do this must spontaneously arise day and night. Whenever you see a sentient being in your daily life and you feel this spontaneously, then you have realized bodhicitta.
Then, after having trained in this, you see all phenomena as empty, and you have a definite understanding that they are empty in your heart. Realizing that an object/ phenomenon exists in mere name, merely imputed by the mind, means seeing how a phenomenon exists as a unification of emptiness and dependent arising. This is the middle way view, which Buddha Shakyamuni, Nagarjuna, Lama Tsong Khapa, Marpa, and Milarepa and so forth realized and expressed. This is the view of the Prasangika school, the most subtle one. When you have this realization, you have the unmistaken realization of emptiness. This is the sign of completion, as is mentioned in the Three Principal Aspects of the Path.
Then comes the tantric path, realizing the gross and subtle generation stages and the five parts of the completion stage.
So, please check what realizations you have of the lam rim and if you find any that you don't have, then please put all your effort into those. Read Liberation in the Palm of your Hand, Lama Tsong Khapa's Lam-rim Chen-mo, and try to have extremely valid realizations. This is the most important thing, not only the most beneficial thing for you but for the whole world. This is the best gift to the world and for all sentient beings. Especially put effort into achieving bodhicitta.
According to my observations, it came out very good for you to practice shiné, calm abiding, meditation. This came out most beneficial.
Pure morality is the most important cause of shiné, and I am sure you have that, there is no question. Whether you do a three-year retreat on a deity or not, try to practice shiné. The object that came out most beneficial for you is to practice shiné on the clarity of your mind. Use the nature of the mind as the object of shiné. If that is very difficult, then choose another object the various objects of shiné, something on which you can easily keep concentration.
If you are able, try to achieve the nine stages of shiné, as is explained in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. According to my observations, it is best for you to do a one-year Hayagriva retreat and then practice shiné. Maybe that is because the retreat will create a lot of merit and purify a lot of obstacles so that you can achieve shiné. So, this is my advice.
I still regret that I didn't really get to spend time to talk to you at Kopan the last time when you asked if it was OK to practice Lama Tsong Khapa guru yoga. However, if, after all these years, your mind has lived in the lam rim, then that is the main point of one's life.
Whether you receive commentary on guru yoga and all those specific meditations or not, the main point is to have those experiences of guru devotion as I mentioned before. That would be incredible. Then, this mind becomes a wish-fulfilling jewel that brings all success up until enlightenment, and eliminates all the defilements, besides liberation from all the sufferings and causes and completing all the realizations. At the same time, you are able to cause this for all sentient beings. From being able to accomplish that mind of guru devotion, you bring all the success to yourself and to so many sentient beings.
I hope you have really meaningful time, very happy, satisfied time on retreat, and, of course, that is how it will be if one's mind is in the lam rim. Then, one's life is satisfied, happy, and wish fulfilling; it all depends on that.
Hopefully, some time in the future, we can do some work together translating Dharma texts.
With much love and prayers,