On Prayers and Aspirations

This teaching was given by Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche in the context of the Lotus Garden vajrayana retreat in 2012. The prayer book referred to here comprises the initial prayers of the traditional Mindrolling Chö Cöd, which is made available during programs at Lotus Garden and not otherwise distributed. However, this teaching applies to those prayers and aspirations done by practitioners and Tibetan Buddhist sanghas in general.

Prayer flags at Lotus Garden

View of Lotus Garden

In the absence of the physical presence of the Buddha, the prayers and aspirations embody the Buddha’s qualities and power. In the Buddhist tradition, they serve as a support or reference for the practitioner on the path of virtue.

The prayers and aspirations in the prayer book are the words of the Buddha and the Dharma that best remind us how to maintain the view, how to sit in meditation, and what qualities to cultivate and abandon. They remind us of how easily contrivance and deliberation can come into our meditation, and they remind us how to generate the right aspiration.

When reading prayers, the most important thing is not to read them with a sense of obligation. On the other hand, prayers should not be read as if that alone will benefit you on some level. Prayers should always be read with a sense of voicing the view of dharma, and in this way supporting your mind to not deviate into personal thoughts and interpretations—even seemingly good ones. If compassion were your motivation, for example, to ensure that your compassionate motivation is not manipulated or distorted by any gross or subtle agenda, you could supplicate the buddhas and bodhisattvas to protect your mind and motivation:

In order to nourish, support, and mature my motivation,
May I voice this motivation in the words of the bodhisattvas.
May these recitations act as the basis of merit. From them,
May exertion arise and thus may my mind always be protected.

In Tibetan, the collection of prayers is called the chö cöd. In transliteration, this is spelled chös spyod: chös is for chöpa, or “dharma practitioner,” and spyod is “conduct.” So the meaning is “that which supports right conduct, or action, in accord with the dharma.”

Our particular chö cöd is of the Mindrolling tradition, and the prayers included in it are in Tibetan, Tibetan phonetics, and English translation. Because this makes the book quite heavy, the latter sections containing the Protectors, Yamantaka, and so on will become a second book. A translation of the entire Minling chö cöd would comprise about six similar books, into which you would insert your yidam practice or other prayers. But even in the one volume of prayers we have now, there is plenty for you to do.

The core of your daily practice should be your ngöndro or yidam practice, shamatha, or whatever other main practice you are doing. That should be seen as the crown jewel, or adornment, of your practice. To support that practice and make it even more beautiful, there are the many beautiful prayers and supplications in the chö cöd.

Certain disciplines are done every day, such as refuge and bodhichitta, the seven-branch offering, and the mandala offering. If you are doing ngöndro, the refuge and bodhichitta sections of the ngöndro text are sufficient; you don’t need to do them twice. Just make sure that you recite the refuge, bodhichitta, seven-branch offering, and mandala offering before doing your main practice.

In the latter part of the prayer book, there are three main aspirations that are done later in the day. If you have time, you can do all three or you can alternate aspirations each day. These prayers are done regularly, along with your main practice.

On auspicious days, you can choose to do specific prayers. On a full moon day, you might read the Praise to Shakyamuni Buddha or the Prajnaparamita Sutra. On the eighth day [of the lunar month], you could do a Tara practice or Amitayus, the Buddha of long life, and the long life supplications. On the tenth day, if you are not able to do a Guru Rinpoche feast, you can read the seven chapters of the Barche Lamsel. These could also be done every day, but when there are time constraints, you can also choose to take certain things out.

When you have a collection of prayers, you can do them in various ways to make your daily practice more beautiful and abundant. Instead of rigidly segregating or separating your practices, learn to be flexible about bringing in variations. Even in terms of the practices for dispelling obstacles, there is flexibility. In the Minling chö cöd, alone, there are six or seven variations, including the dispelling practices of Yamantaka and Prajnaparamita. You can choose one of them as your main dispelling practice, or you can choose two and alternate them.

There are also the prayers for various anniversaries, such as the anniversaries of the deaths of teachers or great beings, and for the beginning and end of the year. If you do not have the particular sadhana practices that are done on these occasions, you can do prayers from the chö cöd. When a loved one passes away, if you have the time you can read all the prayers from beginning to end. In this case, just read from page to page without going back and forth. This reading is offered to the enlightened ones and is called “offering the dharma in memory.” Because these are the words of the Buddha in the form of dedicated prayers, you can read them to build up your own merit, or dedicate the merit to the person or animal that has died.

When you have a collection of prayers, it is about what you connect with and how you connect with it. The important thing is to allow your practice to really blossom in your mind and to make it beautiful. This is how one should relate to the prayer book called the chö cöd.

These initial sections of the chö cöd were translated—taking great care to avoid misinterpretation or distortion of any kind—by Jetsün Dechen Paldron, with the assistance of Tulku Dragpa Rinpoche, and the nuns of Samten Tse. For their years of dedication and for the tireless production efforts of Jeannie Pickett and Lama Roar, we are most grateful. The best way to repay that kindness and exertion is to engage in the practice, study, and contemplation of these texts as best as we can.

Posted: 21 December 2016

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