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Geshe Tenley continues his teachings on the lam-rim, making use of Pabongka Rinpoche's Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. The text is the seminal lam-rim text of the 20th century. It is a transcription of a twenty-four day lam-rim teaching given in 1921. Offered as a "practical teaching," it is less scholarly than Je Tsongkhapa's Jangchub Lam-rim Chen-mo or The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment and as such it is the text from which most modern lamas teach lam-rim.
Recently, Geshe-la has been focusing on actualizing the teachings through meditation, and spending a good portion of each class guiding us in specific meditations on the lam-rim topics we have been studying to help us understand what is meant by “meditating on the lam-rim” and show us how we can integrate these meditations into our daily practice. As our teachers repeatedly stress, we will not make progress if we only ingest the teachings intellectually. It is only engaging in the three wisdoms (listening, reflecting and meditating) that we will actually make changes in our minds. Receiving this type of practical guidance from an experienced teacher such as Geshe Tenley is a great blessing, and we are very fortunate to benefit from his guidance.
Summary of February 14, 2021 Class
Geshe Tenley began class by addressing how to extract real meaning from Valentine’s Day, today’s holiday, by realizing that we all need to love each other, not just focus on romantic love. Since harmony in relationships and among family members is crucial for a happy life, Geshe-la advised us to follow H.H. Dalai Lama’s advice given a few days earlier for Losar, the Tibetan New Year. His Holiness encouraged his students to review one’s actions over the past year and make a strong determination not to repeat those causing harm to others. Geshe-la advised us to think: "I will keep my family/children/husband/wife/friends in my heart. If we fight, I won’t dwell on it. I will be a better person, and will be more warm-hearted, humble, honest, and trustworthy." This will make for a very meaningful Valentine’s Day and New Year for all.
Next, we practiced calm abiding meditation, preceded by a brief meditation on the breath. Geshe-la reminded us that if a statue of the Buddha is our object of concentration and we are not able to visualize the entire image right away, we can start by mentally visualizing just the face of the Buddha. He also cautioned about the two most common obstacles to our concentration – mental sinking (laxity) and mental agitation or wandering (excitement). At the completion of the meditation, one can visualize the Buddha statue transforming into light and dissolving into us, thus blessing us to be successful in our study of lojong or mind training, the topic of today’s class.
With so much emphasis on studying mind training, Geshe-la asked “Why we are doing this?". The purpose of mind training is to develop bodhicitta, the heart of Mahayana Buddhism. To be successful, one should follow the practices we have been discussing: the Seven-Limb Practice (covered in our prayer recitation of Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa on page 15, the preliminary practices, training in both ultimate and relative bodhicitta, and converting unfortunate circumstances to path to enlightenment see Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, Day Seventeen, Outline 344 – 357 (page numbers vary according to the edition of the book).Geshe-la asked, “How do we know if we have developed bodhicitta?" The answer is that we experience goosebumps or tears when we contemplate others' suffering. Once bodhicitta is developed, we need to keep practicing it throughout life, in conjunction with the Five Powers, which are described in Day Seventeen, Outline 358. These contain the essence of Mahayana Buddhist teachings for both this life and at the time of death so we can skillfully direct our mind to its new rebirth. Geshe-la then reviewed each of the Five Powers.
Geshe-la reminded us that when we are actively dying, it will be difficult to remember and focus on these Five Powers unless we are familiar with them from repeated review and contemplation. Therefore, it is essential that we prepare for death now by reading and applying them to our daily lives. He then related the story of Geshe Tsulga-la, Kurukulla’s beloved resident teacher and Geshe Tenley’s uncle who passed away in 2010. Due to his strong determination to continue benefiting others and his great merit, while dying he was able to practice the Buddha’s instructions with the aid of a blessed pill from the Dalai Lama and pass away in the “sleeping lion” position. Geshe-la advised us also to try to fall asleep in this position so that our sleep becomes meritorious.
Geshe-la concluded his teaching by recommending we read the experiences of dying described in Outline 358 in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand.
Geshe Tenley is the Resident Teacher at Kurukulla Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies in Boston. He was ordained by the late Gyume Khensur Geshe Urgyen Tseten Rinpoche in 1990 and began the program of studies to become a geshe at Sera Jey Monastic University. During the course of his studies, he has received many teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama as well as many other highly qualified masters. In 1998, he received his full ordination (gelong) vows from His Holiness and received his geshe degree in 2008. He began teaching at Kurukulla Center in 2005 and was appointed the Resident Teacher by Lama Zopa Rinpoche in 2010. Geshe Tenley is well-known for his approachability and kindheartedness. His extensive activities in the US and around the world bring great joy and benefit to everyone he meets.