[From a teaching on Essence of Wisdom: Stages of the Path by Lama Tashi Topgyal. Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso. ]
Why practice the generation stage? […] Why do we do it? What does it do? Why do we need it? Do we need it?
We need the practice of the generation stage because we have bodies. And we have attitudes about those bodies. We are made up of five aggregates and five elements, including sense organs and sense objects and so on. And we have attitudes, deep seated, but mistaken attitudes about our aggregates and our elements and our senses. We are deeply convinced that they are bad, they are impure. We need to change our minds. We need to wash ourselves free of these mistaken concepts. Unfortunately, we cannot wash ourselves free of these things in one single session like washing clothes in a washing machine and getting all of the dirt out of them. The only way that we can overcome this longstanding habit of the projection of impurity is by gradually replacing it with an opposing habit. So what we are doing in generation practice is cultivating and reinforcing and gradually strengthening the habit of seeing ourselves and our world as divine.
We need to do this not because we are not divine. We need to do it because we are divine, but we refuse to admit it. We refuse to admit it because of our fixation on a self. Because of our fixation on a personal self and, therefore, an externalized and separated self of phenomenon or things, we suffer terribly. And we become attached to all the things that seem to bulwark that sense of self and adverse to and against to and anything and anyone that might seem to threaten that.
So the short answer to why we need to practice the generation stage is because we are victimized by our own self-fixation and by the kleshas that we generate based on that self-fixation.
The solution to this is to switch our object of identification.
Presently, we primarily identify with this shifty construct of a self. It’s shifty because it is simply a mental construct and because it doesn’t exist.
But we have a very, very long history of not looking at the shiftiness; not seeing where the concept of a self breaks down, ignoring that and believing in its existence. And part of believing in ourselves — as we think we are — means believing in our kleshas. Our kleshas are strengthened by our belief in them; belief that they truly exist, and even worse, the belief that they are somehow worthwhile or justified.
Well, what happens when you switch the object of identification? You stop thinking of yourself as yourself; and you start thinking of yourself as a wisdom deity. These wisdom deities with whom we identify are not made up. They are real. Their reality is what we call spontaneous presence. Not only are they real in or as spontaneous presence, but they are perfect, which means, among other things, Lama said, that they have no kleshas. When you begin to identify with someone – that wisdom deity – who has no kleshas, you begin the process of stopping your belief that your kleshas exist.
We constantly tell ourselves “this is what I do,” “I get angry at this,” “this makes me sad,” “this makes me happy.” and so on. And all of that is pinned on your thought “this is who I am.” But as you start to question that, you stop thinking of yourself as so-and-so. You start identifying more and more with –whether it’s Kechari, Guru Rinpoche, Vajrakumara, Yamantaka , any other deity — none of whom have kleshas. None of whom have these problems. None of whom have preferences. None of whom like some people and dislike others. None of whom have good days and bad days.
Gradually, as you identify with these you start to feel better, Lama said. Physically, your body — because you’re identifying your body with the body of the deity, the chosen deity — your body starts to be more and more at ease. No matter what’s going on in your world, no matter what age you’ve reached, you start to feel better, physically. And as your body becomes growingly more and more at ease, your mind supported by your body, starts to naturally fall into a state of ease, natural ease.
That’s why yogins have always said, “Who cares that I’m getting older? I feel better and better.”
Now the culmination of our inevitable aging process is our equally, even more inevitable — death. About death, Padampa Sangye said, “Death is not loss. It is awakening for a yogin.”
And what about how we relate to the world? The mahayana teaches us that we need to love everyone, care for everyone. The vajrayana reinforces that and goes even further. Not only do we need to love everyone, we need to recognize the divinity of everyone and everything.
Lama said yesterday and I forgot to translate it, so I’ll insert it here: Every time a vajrayana practitioner thinks of earth as ordinary earth or thinks this is good soil or that’s bad soil, they’re violating samaya. Every time you denigrate water, you think, this water’s good or that water’s bad, or fire or air or space itself, you’re straying from the vajrayana path, not in the sense that you should feel guilty and hit yourself in the head for it, but that’s not the path. You’re off track.
When you identify with a wisdom deity who has no kleshas and you believe that they have no kleshas and they are your true nature and when you see that everyone and everything you deal with is divine, your kleshas will start to become irrelevant, for example, pride. Pride, Lama said, is always comparative. Pride is not the thought, “I am good.” It’s the thought, “I am better than so-and-so.” Without comparison, there’s no way you can be proud or jealous for that matter.
Once you understand that everyone is equally divine, pride is irrelevant. So as you identify more and more through this gradual accumulation of a positive healthy habit with the deity, your body feels better and better and your kleshas weaken.
And this is something that we can all experience. We may not be siddhas or have a profound realization of the nature of our minds, Lama said, but we are more than capable. Every one of us of can experience these benefits of the generation stage. And the benefit of your practice of the generation stage will become obvious to you when you experience problems.
The proof of the benefit of the generation stage practice, as with any aspect of dharma, is how you behave under pressure, under crisis. If you have the habit of seeing yourself as your yidam, so that you respond to crisis by praying to your yidam and your guru inseparable, by meditating upon them, you will perceive whatever situation — problematic or unpleasant situation you’re encountering — to the extent that that habit is strong in you, you will perceive it as dreamlike.
You will experience the dreamlike quality of things. And although you may briefly fall into despair, you will recover in an instant from that through the blessing of your yidam. To understand this, you need to understand that this is not just technique. This is not just a use of the imagination to improve your mind. It’s more than a technique because these deities are real. They’re absolutely, utterly real. They’re not made up. They are symbolic but they are not just symbolic.
We really have nowhere else to turn to than dharma practice. Because no matter how well our lives may go, at some point or another, each and every one of us has to deal with some kind of crisis, some kind of loss. And the world as we know it provides no answers.
The world may give us some way to manipulate the conditions, ameliorate them slightly, but beyond that, it gives us no tools for dealing with our pain. All the world provides us in options are drugs, including alcohol, which we might use temporarily to escape our pain or suppress it or distraction. Lama said we might turn on our favorite music or something else we do to keep ourselves distracted from our pain.
The problem with all these solutions, whether it’s drugs or distraction, is that we’re trying to take a trip away from our pain. And that trip must, at some point, come to an end. We always have to come back down from our mundane vacation from reality.
But the generation stage is a trip that is unending; we never have to come down from it.
And as you cultivate the habit of generation stage practice your mind will soften; your mind will change. Your dreams will change and your body will change. I guarantee with 100% certainty, Lama said, that everyone here is more than capable of achieving that. More than capable of achieving real, perceivable changes in how you experience; changes that you will notice.
And these are among the benefits of generation stage practice.
And it really comes down to the fundamental point that in the generation stage, we are switching our identification from this ludicrous, impossible mental construct that we, nevertheless, insist on believing in — to a wisdom deity who has no kleshas, who has no problems. And that’s fundamentally, Lama said, what the generation stage is about.