When I Give, I Give Myself

The retreat’s title is a line by Walt Whitman that Sangharakshita used to quote with approval, relating it to practising the Dharma. It sums up the attitude of the bodhisattva, expressed in the culminating verse of the Sevenfold Puja: Transference of Merits and Self-Surrender.

This 6 day retreat emphasises meditation, moving from the fundamental development of bodhicitta to explore Dana Paramita. Meditations and ritual practices will encourage and train us to open our hearts, give ourselves more to life, and find greater freedom.

The retreat will be loosely based on the material in Sangharakshita’s lecture The Significance of Offerings and Self-Sacrifice from his Creative Symbols of the Tantric Path. As well as continuing to explore tonglen (giving and receiving practice), this retreat also look at the principles behind meditations and rituals that focus on generosity and giving ourselves. These include making offerings on different levels, the Mandala Offering, and the Chod practice.

Vessantara won’t give a full introduction to these practices but will focus on the understandings and principles that underlie them all. (However, there will be instruction available if you’d like to learn a set of traditional mudras for making outer offerings, and/or to use a traditional mandala offering set.)

Although the retreat focuses on inner practice, the meditation teaching should help address issues that can affect our outer giving, such as guilt, neglecting oneself, and other ‘near enemies’ of skilful generosity. Clarifying these areas will allow us to be generous in ways that are frictionless and appropriate for us, and help us to be of maximum benefit to others.

This retreat follows Vessantara’s very successful online retreat on the Bodhicitta Practice, and aims to take us further into that field of love and wisdom. (Note you do not have to have attended the Bodhicitta Practice retreat to follow this one.)

If you prefer to listen to the retreat rather than watch, the full series of talks are available on Free Buddhist Audio here.

Session 1 is not recorded as it is an unlead meditation session. If there are any errors, please email us.

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Day 1

Morning session

In this opening session Vessantara introduces the retreat and the themes that will be explored. Vessantara also leads through a meditation session evoking a mandala of protection around us as this retreat starts.

Skip to the meditation dedicating the retreat, or the talk.

Afternoon session

Vessantara gives a short introduction to the practice and then leads a meditation on the bodhicitta, evoking the mandalas of protection and transforming suffering in the light of the refuges, so we are left basking in mudita.

Evening session

In this session Vessantara talks to us about lack and inner riches and how we can be led into downwards and upwards spirals of thought and experience depending on which we place our focus. He then leads through a meditation practice with emphasis on gratitude and appreciation of the life and body that we have.

Skip to the start of the gratitude mediation.

Day 2

Morning session

Vessantara starts by leading a Bodhichitta meditation, then responds to a few questions about the practice. He then speaks about the four traditional types of giving in relation to the five Buddhas of the mandala, adding ‘awareness’ as a fifth way of giving. He raises a question for reflection about how to give in a skilful, healthy way, and then finishes the session with a meditation based around visualising the first kind of giving: material goods.

Skip to the start of the talk, or the Tonglen meditation.

Afternoon session

Continuing the previous session’s themes, Vessantara encourages us to reflect on who we are practicing with on a heart level which transcends time and space, as well as who we are practicing for. We then proceed to a meditation where we practice giving the gifts of friendliness and love.

Skip to the meditation.

Evening session

Drawing day 2 to a close Vessantara unpacks a question that was asked in an earlier session going into giving skilfully, focusing on the contrast we can experience between our idealism and our current state of being and the crossfire between the desire and the reality of those two things. The session then goes on to answering questions in relation to this and a closing meditation practice.

Skip to the questions, or the meditation.

Day 3

Morning session

We start the session with a Tonglen meditation, then Vessantara responds to a question about putting emphasis on giving vs taking in the dark cloud of suffering. He shares a story of a king who’s troubled by a poisonous tree… After the break there are a few questions and answers followed by another Tonglen meditation practice.

To Buddha, Dharma and the Supreme Assembly

I go for refuge until I’m Enlightened.

Through the practice of giving and other perfections

May I attain buddhahood to benefit beings.

Bodhicitta Mantra

Skip to Vessantara responding to questions, or the second meditation.

Afternoon session

Vessantara begins the session by discussing the 8 traditional offerings, and demonstrates the associated hand gestures. He then answers a few questions, clarifying and evoking the heartfelt spirit behind making offerings, before leading a meditation on the gift of fearlessness.

The 8 Traditional Offerings

  • Water for drinking – ARGHAM
  • Water for the feet – PADYAM
  • Flowers – PUSHPE
  • Incense – DHUPE
  • Lights – ALOKE
  • Perfume — GANDHE
  • Food – NAIVEDYA
  • Music — SHABDA

Skip to the questions, or the introduction to the meditation.

Evening session

An exploration of the ways in which we restrict our generosity by putting ‘conditions’ on it, followed by some Q&As and lead tonglen meditation with a wish-fulfilling jewel in the heart.

Skip to the questions, or the meditation.

Day 4

The Bodhisattva is the synthesis of the contradictions inherent in the path: the contradiction between dāna and sīla, and even the contradictions apparently inherent in the so-called goal, such as those between wisdom and compassion, samsāra and nirvāna.

Sangharakshita, The Bodhisattva Ideal – from the chapter Altruism and Individualism in the Spiritual Life.

Morning session

This session starts with a 40 minute mediation, followed by a quick recap of yesterday and the idea of learning to give less conditionally. Vessantara then explores the mandala of offering practice as detailed in Parami’s document which was made available yesterday. This is a practice where we make offerings to the Buddha of everything including ourselves. Vessantara then says a bit about the Vajrayana idea of outer giving, inner giving, secret giving and esoteric giving. He responds to a few questions and ends with a short meditation with a simplified visualisation of making offerings.

Skip to the discussion, the Q&A or the final meditation.

Afternoon session

Vessantara begins by demonstrating a mandala offering, both with a mandala offering set and as a mudra. He then takes a few questions and then leads a meditation.

Research Paper on Generosity and Giving

Skip tot the questions of the second meditation.

Evening session

Vessantara responds to some questions about mandala offerings and the importance of questioning our rational views to make room for the imagination. We finish the day with a meditation exploring the edges between the imagination and direct experience.

Skip to the meditation.

Day 5

Morning session

We start this session with a meditation around the last of the five ‘things you can give’ – the gift of awareness – giving radiant, undivided attention, which Vessantara associates with Vairocana. He then explores moving back and forth between physical and imaginal experience, questioning our assumptions about imagination and reality. This is followed by further exploration around mandala offerings, and a Q&A. We end with a mandala offering visualisation meditation.

Skip to the discussion, the Q&A or the second meditation.

Afternoon session

In this session Vessantara rounds off teaching about mandala offerings. Exploring what the effects of doing mandala offerings are, ‘the signs of success’. He then goes on to lead a meditation session focusing on giving the dharma to all living beings.

Skip to the meditation.

Evening session

To conclude this day Vessantara talks about Chöd practice in relation to mandala offering, he gives us an introduction and overview to the practice. This cutting practice focuses on cutting ego clinging, self grasping and attachment that causes suffering. He then goes on to answer questions from the retreat and then leads through a 6 element practice as an offering practice.

Skip to the questions, or the meditation.

Day 6

Morning session

We start with a 40 minute led meditation again evoking the mandala of protection. Vessantara then recaps yesterday and explains more about Chöd practice. He then tells the story of Surata. This is followed by an exploration of the wisdom and the compassion aspects of the Chöd practice. The session finishes with some more questions and a short meditation.

Skip to the discussion.

Afternoon session

In this afternoon session, Vessantara starts with a reading of a puja (which you can find below) that is in ‘Creative Symbols of Tantric Buddhism’ followed by a meditation based in noticing what is present, and offering it to the Refuge.

Evening session

In this final session we begin with expressing gratitude. Vessantara then summarises what has been explored over the course of the retreat, and concludes with a meditation and dedication of merits.

Skip to the summary, or the final meditation.

Two Pujas

Puja from the Mandala Offering Practice of the Tharpe Delam

OM AH HUM

To that trikaya which is the true nature of all dharmas*,

Nondual, limitless, profound and vast, I make obeisance.

I worship the unmade, the unlimited and the eternal.

I make confession of the sin of not knowing that my own mind is

the Buddha.

Rejoicing in the natural state, the self-aware,

I request the Buddha to revolve the ungraspable, omnipresent,

and all-accomplished Dharmacakra.

I pray that the mundane and the transcendental may be

established in oneness.

Whatever obeisance and worship I have performed, I transmute

into the voidness.

May all beings attain both voidness and great bliss.

[Translated by Sangharakshita, in consultation with Dhardo Rinpoche]

*In Sangharakshita’s original translation, a large number of words were capitalised. In the version given in Creative Symbols of Tantric Buddhism in 2002, most of these capitalisations are removed. Unfortunately, the word ‘Dharmas’ retained its capital, which gives a misleading impression of the meaning. In this context, the trikaya isn’t just the true nature of Dharma teachings; it is the true nature of all phenomena (dharmas) whatsoever. So I’ve amended this version accordingly.

Vessantara, Nov. 2020.

JEWEL MANDALA PUJA

HUM!

All auspicious substances, all auspicious symbols,
All precious jewels, all the glorious elements,
Adorning Mount Meru and its four continents,
All these, the complete universe,
I will offer to all the buddhas.
By this auspicious offering may all merits be accumulated.
By this auspicious offering may all wisdom be perfected.

OM RATNA MANDALA HUM

Materially and imaginatively
I shall present offerings on an unsurpassable and vast scale.

HUM!

Flowers, incense, lamps, food and water,
Canopies, parasols and music, banners and drums,
My body, my wealth, and my cherished belongings
I offer to the Buddha-Jewel and his spiritual sons and daughters, the teachers of
all living beings.
May the two accumulations of merit and wisdom be completely perfected.

HUM! 

I make an offering of lovely storeyed palaces
Adorned with garlands of jewels in the world of the gods,
With a rain of melodious and pleasing songs
And with hundreds of ornaments.
May the two accumulations of merit and wisdom be completely perfected.

HUM! 

I make an offering with jewels, mountains, groves and lotus ponds
Agitated by female swans swimming in them,
With wish-fulfilling trees from which the sweet fragrance of healing
properties drifts forth
And which bend under the burden of their flowers and fruits.
May the two accumulations of merit and wisdom be completely perfected.

HUM!

I make an offering with lovely lotus flowers
Opened by the rays of the sun and moon in a cloudless sky,
And with water lilies having as bracelets bees caught by thousands of
shaking leaves.
May the two accumulations of merit and wisdom be completely perfected.

HUM!

I make an offering with the fragrant, cool, and pleasant sandal-
scented breeze
That makes the flower-buds quiver in its freshness,
With caves and rocky mountains and delightful meadows,
With ponds full of cool water.
May the two accumulations of merit and wisdom be completely perfected.

HUM!

I make an offering with a white autumn moon,
Surrounded by garlands of stars,
And with the sun shining in the beauty of its thousand rays,
The ornament of the worlds in the four continents.
May the two accumulations of merit and wisdom be completely perfected.

HUM!

Imaginatively, I make an offering to the Buddha and his sons and daughters,
With as many atoms as there are in the spheres and oceans of the ten
regions,
And with all the wealth that is deposited
In the hundreds of millions of world-spheres with their oceans and
surrounding mountains.
May the two accumulations of merit and wisdom be completely perfected.

HUM!

To the compassionate ones, the worthy shrines of worship, I make an
offering
With auspicious jars, wish-fulfilling trees,
The seven emblems of state, the eight auspicious articles,
And the seven adjuncts of royalty.
May the two accumulations of merit and wisdom be completely perfected.

HUM!

With my mind permeated by samadhi, encompassing the realm of space
I make an offering with cloud oceans of material offerings, of
archetypal offerings and mystical offerings.
May the two accumulations of merit and wisdom be completely perfected.

HUM!

I make an offering with clouds of flowers like a pavilion resplendent
in its beauty,
With cloud masses of nectar, in which incense and healing substances
are joined,
With clouds of brightly shining lamps, tasty food and sounds of music,
With clouds of oceans of melodious songs of praise.
May the two accumulations of merit and wisdom be completely perfected.

HUM!

May all the Buddhas with their spiritual sons and daughters be pleased
With these weaving clouds of the various goddesses of worship
Representing the vastness that is the cloud of steady pursuance.
May the two accumulations of merit and wisdom be completely perfected.

With folded hands and full of joy
I take refuge in the Guru-Buddha, the Supreme Dharma, and the most
excellent Sangha
For the sake of others until all are in a state of Buddhahood.

Let me confess all the evil I have done
Through karmic actions and negative emotions that
Since beginningless time have tended to drive me to such actions
which have become the cause of fictitious being.

May I always rejoice
In the vast stores of merits of all living beings.

May I continue urging that the Unsurpassable Wheel of the Quest for
Life’s Meaning be kept rolling
For the deliverance of all living beings without any exception.

I pray that the Buddha and his spiritual sons and daughters stay forever and do not
pass into Nirvana
Until the ocean of fictitious being has been entirely emptied.

By this meritorious action may I and all beings
Without exception realise overarching Buddhahood.

Jewel Mandala Puja from the 1993 Order Convention. This version has been slightly edited from the original 1993 booklet.