Vows in a New Light
Day 1 Session 1
26 December, 2014 Monlam Pavilion
In his Foreword to the new translation of The Torch of True Meaning, the Karmapa writes:
Many people, when they hear of the highest stages of Dharma study and practice, such as “emptiness” or “mahamudra” want to study and practice them immediately. However, without a stable foundation, which is the essential prerequisite to such advanced practices, even if they were to study or practice them, they would not be able to experience their profundity.
This is the reason why The Torch of True Meaning is such an important text. Composed by the first Jamgön Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, it gives comprehensive instructions on how to practice the ngöndro, the essential preparation for all practitioners before beginning mahamudra. Anyone who wishes to practice the ngöndro of the Kagyu lineage, and in particular the Karma Kagyu lineage, should first read this text carefully and internalize its meaning. They will then have a stable ground for the practice of mahamudra. This is not just the correct way to practice but also the most beneficial.
Picking up the thread from past Kagyu Monlams, the Karmapa resumed his teachings today on The Torch of True Meaning, this time focusing on Vajrasattva. During the empowerment yesterday, Gyaltsap Rinpoche gave a general explanation of the benefits of Vajrasattva practice and its history, so there was no need to repeat these. However, the Karmapa explained, “It is necessary to continue to read the instructions from The Torch of True Meaning. We need to read all of these withnothing left out, so I will read the instructions now.” And he gave the reading transmission for the following section of the text:
- The Instructions on the Hundred-syllable mantra that Purifies Misdeeds and Obscurations.
There are two types of hundred-syllable mantras, the hundred-syllables of the Tathagata taught inThe Tantra of the Manifestation of the Three Samayas and the hundred-syllable mantra of Vajrasattva taught in many tantras. There are two kinds of hundred-syllable mantras of Vajrasattva, the peaceful hundred syllables of all families that can be changed into the name mantras of infinite supramundane deities, and the hundred-syllable mantra of the wrathful heruka, taught in The Highest Tantra of Speech. Although they may not all have exactly one hundred syllables, they are known as hundred-syllable mantras because they are all of the same mantra family.
Here I will describe the stages of visualization of the hundred-syllables of the peaceful Vajrasattva. There are two traditions: that of a single figure in the form of a universal emperor according to yoga tantra, and a coemergent one in union with a consort according to the tradition of the unexcelled yoga tantra. (The Torch of True Meaning by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, translated by David Karma Choephel, KTD Publications and Kagyu Monlam, 2014, p. 47)
No matter how much good we do in this and future lives, it’s necessary to make great efforts to purify our misdeeds and obscurations in various ways. Indian masters wrote that keeping samaya is the essence of achieving common or supreme siddhis. Milarepa also taught that if we do not confess the unwholesome and erroneous things we have done, not just in this lifetime but from beginningless time, it would be difficult to become a true vessel of the teachings, or to meditate on the path, or to understand the dharma.Among all the numerous methods to purify wrongdoings and downfalls,the greatest is the practice of Vajrasattva.If we are careless and do not acknowledge or confess our wrongs, even when they are slight, that small misdeed can grow huge.
The great Indian mahasiddhas also composed treatises that explained these downfalls and their remedies from the mantrayana’s point of view.The vinaya tradition holds that even if we confess and vow not to commit them again, if we incur one of the defeats (killing, stealing, etc.),it cannot be purified. But The Sutra of the Manifestation of Three Samayas explains that due to great compassion in the secret mantra tradition, if we do fasting practice with the three stages of preparation, the actual practice, and conclusion, there’s no defeat or downfall of the pratimoksha vows that cannot be purified. The charya tantra also teaches ways of purification and so does the yoga tantra, stating that if we recite one hundred thousand mantras of Sarvavid Vairocana, we can purify all of our misdeeds.
There are two main traditions of Vajrasattva in terms of preliminary practices. For mahamudra in the yoga tradition, Vajrasattva is usually a single deity. For the Six Yogas of Naropa in the unexcelled yoga tantra, the coemergent Vajrasattva has a consort.
In sum, root downfalls in the tantric tradition are weighty and grave; they are also easy to commit and hard to avoid. If we do commit them, we will fall into the incessant or Avici hell for an incredibly long time.(It is said that during an equivalent period, someone could practice the mahayana path and come to buddhahood.)
However, if we recite the hundred-syllable mantra one hundred thousand times―not just with our mouths but from the depths of our heart―we can purify all the root downfalls of samaya.
Lord Atisha said that the downfalls of the vajrayana happen easily: if we even look at an object and think of it as an ordinary thing,that can become a downfall. If you carefully polish a mandala plate and just leave it out in a dusty place, it will naturally gather dust and grime. It is the same with the downfalls of the Vajrayana.
So one student asked Atisha, “If this is true, it must be difficult to achieve buddhahood through the vajrayana path.” Atisha replied, “There’s no need to worry about this. In the vajrayana, even though it’s easy to commit downfalls, we have a supreme method, the inconceivable meditation on Vajrasattva.”
Some scholars say that if an individual has pratimoksha vows and later takes bodhisattva and vajrayana vows, the pratimoksha vows become an aspect or part of these later two vows. So if that person restores their vows through the methods of the bodhisattva or mantrayana, any violations of the pratimoksha vow are also restored at that time. It is also said that the bodhisattva vows are harder to keep than the pratimoksha vows, and secret mantra vajrayana vows are even more difficult to keep. Just as higher vows are more difficult to maintain, there are also more wondrous methods for restoring any downfalls. So we do not have to fear that these vows are too difficult and we will be unable to keep them.
If someone who has bodhisattva vows and aspirational bodhicitta in their being, incurs a defeat of the pratimoksha vows, this person can once again restore their vows, without being weakened in any way, in the presence of a support. This doesn’t appear in the vinaya, but a bodhisattva needs to accomplish a vast benefit for sentient beings and needs to gather the accumulation of merit for innumerable eons. This is a very long time, so it’s difficult for an individual in that situation to be so tight about the pratimoksha vows. Therefore, this is a particular allowance for an individual bodhisattva, but for Buddhism in general it’s better to hold the vows―holding the vows properly is more in accord with the vinaya and teaching in general.So we can say that in terms of the higher vows, they are more difficult to keep but this is balanced by being easier to restore. For his reason, there is no need to have any fear or apprehension about practicing them.
The Karmapa then spoke about the Vajrasattva practice that would follow after a short break. He wanted to borrow five minutes of our time as he had something to say.
Yesterday we received the Vajrasattva empowerment. After the break, I will give you the reading transmission for the practice and then we will do the practice and recite his mantra.
Kyabje Tai Situ Rinpoche’s tutor said to me that during the Kagyu Monlam, it would be good for us to recite ten million Vajrasattva mantras. Since this would be difficult, I thought about what to do. This year we’re having the Vajrasattva instructions, and it occurred to me that if we all recite the mantra together, we may not reach ten million but together we should accumulate a few million.
In general, we’re all practitioners of the secret mantra vajrayana and accumulate many root downfalls. If they fell upon Atisha like rain, for us they’re like a flood or an ocean. Particularly within the Karma Kamtsang for the last few decades, different situations have happened that relate tothe samaya between master and disciples,and between Dharma friends. We have many downfalls. We may think that we’re very pure within ourselves, but that would actually be very difficult. For that reason, we need to recognize that our downfalls are downfalls and make efforts to purify them. If can do this,we will be able to have harmonious samaya connections, and the samaya within Karma Kamtsang lineage will not be tarnished in any way.
With this important statement, the Karmapa concluded the morning session of teachings.
Day 1 Session 2: Teachings on The Torch of True Meaning
”It is said that doing this visualization is like gathering the accumulations of merit and wisdom for three aeons. ”
Thin rays of sun have finally penetrated the dense fog for the first time in several days, creating a festive feeling in the pavilion. The series of initiations that concluded recently with a grand finale when the Karmapa came through the aisles and in record time, personally blessed 10,000 people with the Maitreya torma, fulfilled our wishes beyond the wildest expectations.
As the Karmapa commented, the Monlam is not really a one man job. However, so far he has been carrying it himself. Just before the teaching on Vajrasattva, he declared he was strong enough to carry The Torch of True Meaning; and sat with all of us reciting the Vajrasattva mantra for forty minutes. Following on as it did, from yesterday’s individual blessing with the Maitreya torma, this too created a sense of intimacy, as if it was a one-to-one encounter with the Karmapa.
The stage now emphasizes the lineage of Karmapas with Mount Kailash in the background and a large gold and copper Shakyamuni directly behind Dusum Khyenpa and the 16th Karmapa. The splendid throne backrest of silk brocade with swirling dragon, displayed during the major empowerments, has been replaced by an abstract pattern. The Karmapa prostrates on a red carpet placed there for the occasion and climbs the steps to the throne. Garlands of red and gold lights twinkle from the back of the Pavilion, a reminder that we are in India, and it is Christmas.
The Karmapa announces he will be discussing the visualisation for Vajrasattva and reads from the new text renamedThe Torch of True Meaning. (p. 47 last paragraph). The text describes the usual Vajrasattva visualization: a white PAM above the crown of one’s head, transforming into a white lotus and the AH into a moon seat; on top is a HUM which transforms into a white five- pronged vajra with a HUM at the centre. Light rays radiate from the HUM making offerings to the noble ones and benefitting beings and are then re-absorbed to transform into Vajrasattva, inseparable from the root guru. And then the text describes the appearance of Vajrasattva, with vajra and bell, right leg forward, left leg bent, Akshobhya Buddha above his head, and mantra garland circling clockwise around a white HUM in his heart. Light radiates, inviting the buddhas and bodhisattvas who dissolve into the HUM and mantra.
But as the Karmapa comments on the visualisation, it becomes clear that he is expanding it infinitely to purify broken samaya for all beings. First he explains the tradition of visualising the white lotus with eight petals, just as it is: a pinkish stem, bluish green at its centre and orange stamens. In the centre of the lotus is AH, the first of the Sanskrit vowels, which looks like a bubble in water. That letter AH transforms into a full moon, the size of the centre of the lotus. The reason to meditate on the white lotus is that it rises unstained by the mud it grows in, representing renunciation from samsara. The full moon represents relative bodhicitta: the motivation to achieve buddhahood in order to bring all beings to enlightenment.
The Karmpa comments: ”If we look within, we see our own attitude is more like a crescent moon than a full moon. We only think about the needs of a few people and we do not have compassion for all beings. When our compassion is complete and full it is like the orb of the moon”.
When we visualize the moon we should visualise it as we see it, flat, and like looking into a mirror. not like scientists show it, like a piece of bread filled with holes and pock marks. The HUM on top should be a Tibetan or Sanskrit letter or even the letter of an old Chinese script. He emphasizes that it is not just the sound that is important but also the shape. The English letters, he says, don’t carry the meaning of the shape of the Tibetan or Sanskrit .
The white HUM, representing the non-dual wisdom of all the buddhas, transforms into a five-pointed white vajra standing on its end. This five-pointed vajra is like a clear white crystal, unblemished on the inside and outside. At the hub of the vajra is a small white HUM and this letter is also vertical, like a lamp in a clear vase. Light from the HUM radiates to all pure and impure world realms. We make offerings up to the buddhas and down to all beings. The light performs both functions.
At this point the Karmapa adds a vast and profound dimension to the visualisation.
On the tip of the light that radiates out there is a Vajrasattva that goes to each sentient being and comes to rest on the crown of their head. So we visualise that the light brings a Vajrasattva to each sentient being and the nectar flows into the crown chakra filling them and purifying their bodies. Then Vajrasattva dissolves into them so their three gates become inseparable from the body, speech and mind of Vajrasattva. The entire environment becomes the pure land and all sentient beings become Vajrasattva.
He points out that there is also another visualisation in kriya tantra in which light rays radiate and a Vajrasattva is on the tip. Clouds shower nectar on all beings, freeing them from the hell of heat and cold, freeing hungry ghosts from hunger and thirst, animals from the suffering of being dumb and mute, in effect, purifying all six realms of samsara and transforming all beings into Vajrasattva. The light also makes offerings to the noble ones: on the tip of the light rays are the offering goddesses which causes extraordinary bliss to arise in all the buddhas. The light then returns with the blessings of all buddhas and dissolves into the HUM. Alternately, we can visualise that the light invites all buddhas to return, and they dissolve into the HUM in the form of Vajrasattva.
This is extremely important.
In the past few days we’ve had many empowerments. What should we do to practise? I’m not going to say practise this or that one. Instead if you have a special feeling of devotion then you should practise that one. It is not necessary to practise all the deities. Realise that you are not meditating on one individual deity, that each deity is a combination of all the qualities of the buddhas. We have to realise that all the deities have all the blessings of all the buddhas. They are not separate, solid, discreet entities. There is a saying: one deity suffices for the Indians, 100 deities don”t suffice for the Tibetans. So many deities came into Tibet, that people forget that if you accomplish one deity you’ve accomplished all the deities.
There is a final warning.
”It is said this visualization serves in place of gathering the accumulations of merit and wisdom for three aeons, “ he explains, “But we have been wandering from beginning-less time in samsara and if we don’t know how to do it, we will keep on wandering,.”
Restoring Broken Samaya
Day 2 Session 1: Teachings on The Torch of True Meaning
28 December, 2014
The Gyalwang Karmapa explained that he needed to finish the oral transmission of the section of instructions on the Vajrasattva practice before giving further information on the visualisations for the practice. He then read the section from “Light radiates out from the HUM (page 48) to “You must meditate until you cannot sit still and are disconsolate” (page 51) [The Torch of True Meaning by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, translated by David Karma Choephel, KTD Publications and Kagyu Monlam, 2014]
Yesterday, he said, he had discussed how the light radiates and performs the two benefits. In the text, this is followed by a discussion of the complete visualisation of Vajrasattva. The light returns and is reabsorbed into the vajra and the HUM, which are transformed into Vajrasattva who is inseparable from your root guru. His Holiness reiterated that in the lower classes of tantra there is no tradition of visualising melting into light; instead the vajra and the HUM immediately transform into Vajrasattva. In this case, the Dorje and the HUM become Vajrasattva instantly. If you can visualise Vajrasattva, in his full form, immediately, that is best. However, beginners often find this difficult and find a gradual visualisation easier.
Vajrasattva is visualised as white in colour, with one face and two arms, holding a five point vajra in his right hand and a bell in his left. He is visualised as white as the interdependent connection for purifying our misdeeds and obscurations. White symbolises cleanliness and purity. To symbolise method and wisdom he is holding the vajra and the bell. His right leg is extended and his left is bent in the position of a sattva.
His right leg is extended so that the big toe of his right foot touches the fontanelle at the crown of your head, and nectar flows into your body. This form of the visualisation makes it easier to imagine the nectar flowing into one’s body. Vajrasattva’s hair is bound in a top-knot and the rest falls down his back. He also wears jewelled ornaments and robes.
As Vajrasattva is usually visualised with consort, what is the origin in tantra for this single male form? His Holiness cited three sources from Indian texts. This form of Vajrasattva is taught in a yoga tantra, theCompilation of Thusness. It is taught in the Sambhota tantra, which is an explanatory tantra about Chakrasamvara and Hevajra. Finally, it is found in the Secret Ornament of the Essence by the Indianmahasiddha, Jamphel Drakpa. In addition, in the Tengyur there is a saddhana for this form of Vajrasattva, also from an Indian source.
The Gyalwang Karmapa then made an important statement about the necessity to do the Vajrasattva practice as a means of restoring broken samaya, the need to take a wider perspective on certain issues, and the need for understanding and forgiveness within the Karma Kamtsang.
In any case, it is particular important to do the Vajrasattva practice this year. As I mentioned earlier, we are all practitioners of the secret mantra.
With the samaya of the secret mantra, it is said that conceiving of something such as a jug as ordinary and grasping at it as being real—being unable to conceive of it as illusory—is a violation of samaya. But that is really difficult, isn’t it? This is why the violations of secret mantra are so intimidating. Thus we must try to purify our downfalls every single day.
Lord Atisha carried a wooden stupa of enlightenment wherever he went, and every day he would confess and purify his downfalls. They said none of his transgressions was not accompanied by a confession. Whatever transgressions occurred, he would immediately purify them before the end of the session. He wouldn’t ever leave the transgressions from one day to be purified on the next. If someone such as Lord Atisha did it in that way, we probably need to confess and purify every minute, don’t we? But confessing every minute would be difficult.
The masters of the past would do their practice in four sessions—this is important. They would do practice in four or six sessions. This is because when any transgression is purified by applying the antidote before the end of a session, it becomes very easy and we can feel comfortable. This is why it is so important.
In addition to that, almost all of us gathered here uphold the Karma Kamtsang lineage. From Dusum Khyenpa to Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, there was never any blemish on the samaya between masters and disciples—the lineage was stainless like a chain of gold. However, in the last few years there have been many situations that have never arisen before. We have had many unfortunate situations that have previously been unheard of, and there have been great obstacles for our lineage, the Karma Kamtsang.
The main reason this has occurred is that we have not kept the samaya of master and disciple properly. We have not remembered that the lord of our family, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, is present—we have forgotten it. Likewise we have not been able to develop a vast attitude towards Buddhism and sentient beings. We have considered some minor, temporary issues as more important than they are, and the fact that this has happened is the reason why our samaya between master and disciple and between dharma friends has not been good.
For that reason, when doing the Vajrasattva practice now, we need to do it to the best of our ability. We need to see our wrongs as wrongs and meditate on Vajrasattva. In particular, Kyabje Shamar Rinpoche passed away this year. He did many different things during his life. But those are all in the past. From one perspective, if you look at it in this way it helps—it helps me–from the omniscient First Shamarpa Drakpa Senge onwards, many incarnations of the Shamar Rinpoche have done great things for Buddhism in general and have been particularly kind to the Karma Kamtsang lineage. For that reason, if we think about their deeds and example, even if we see the deeds of the current Shamar Rinpoche as slightly inappropriate, it is important to be understanding. If we think about the vast deeds and kindness of the previous Shamars, we need to be understanding of and forgive his acts. If we are unable to do so, there is no point in pretending to be a Dharma practitioner.
Thus we have many downfalls and transgressions to purify, and we should all think fervently that they have been purified.
It is important that everyone pray that in the future, just as during the times of the great masters of the past, there may be no blemishes in our samaya and that the precious lineage be undiminished and never wane, remaining till the end of time. The teachings of the Practice Lineage—the teachings of the Kagyu lineage—are a lineage of devotion. If our devotion is not firm, in actuality it is just the same as if the teachings had disappeared and the transmission were broken. So it is important for everyone to understand this.
The great master Drukpa said, “If the students do not get wrong views no matter what the guru does, they have received the blessings.” No matter what deeds or example the guru displays, once you have started serving him as a guru, a student must not adopt wrong views. We need to take what we need, just as bees sipping nectar. When bees take nectar from a flower, they only take what they need—they don’t take everything. So we need to take only what we need, and if we do that, we will receive the blessings.
Even among Dharma friends, if you accept the blame yourself, you have not broken samaya. When some situation occurs among you, you should say, “It’s my fault, I was wrong,” and be able to bring your own faults out into the open. You might think that you have no faults but actually you do have faults. If you can bring them out into the open, it is said that you have not broken your samaya. I think it is very important for everyone to understand this
Meditation is Too Easy
Day 2 Session 2: Teachings on The Torch of True Meaning
After lunch the Gyalwang Karmapa returns to the stage for the final teaching session—which is also the final pre-Monlam activity. Six huge bouquets of flowers adorn the edges, in deep crimson and gold, the colours perfectly complementing the sea of monastic robes permeating the vast hall.
In this final session the Gyalwang Karmapa gives clear and direct instructions on the completion of the Vajrasattva practice, the nature of mind, and how easy meditation actually is.
He first completes the reading transmission of the instructions on the 100-syllable mantra and Vajrasattva visualisation, reaching the end of Chapter 2 (p. 56) (The Torch of True Meaning by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, translated by David Karma Choephel, KTD Publications and Kagyu Monlam, 2014)
He then continues describing the visualisation, first repeating and expanding the descriptions he gave in the previous sessions, and then focusing on the supplication to purify our misdeeds and obscurations.
We begin by visualising ourselves surrounded by our parents, friends, enemies, and all sentient beings. We then prostrate with our body, speech, and mind to Vajrasattva, who is the essence of all the buddhas. The Gyalwang Karmapa explains,
In particular here you recite the supplication where you regret your past misdeeds as intensely as if you had drunk poison. If you swallow poison you regret it really intensely, and so you have the resolve that even at the risk of your own life, you’ll never do such misdeeds again.
We imagine that we lead all sentient beings in reciting the supplication to purify misdeeds. Wisdom nectar begins to flow from Vajrasattva’s body and enters us through the crown of our head, completely filling our body. As it fills our body, we visualise that all our misdeeds, obscurations, and illnesses are carried out of our body in the form of soot, sludge, pus, blood, and parasites. There’s a big flood of them leaving our body, exiting through our pores and lower orifices and then dissolving into the powerful golden earth below. We visualise that we’ve been fully cleansed and purified.
Next the Gyalwang Karmapa offers profound and clear teachings on the nature of mind, describing the essential sameness of buddhas and sentient beings.
There is no distinction in terms of good and bad, or high and low, between the natures of the body, speech, and mind of a buddha and the natures of the body, speech, and mind of sentient beings. The pure nature of the Buddha is just the same as the pure nature of our own body, speech, and mind.We visualise that they mix like pouring water into water, knowing that this is the nature.
He explains the uncontrived, ‘ordinary’ nature of mind:
In the Kagyu tradition we have our own particular terminology. We say ‘the ordinary mind’, and if we don’t know how to understand that properly it can sound like a very strange term. Usually we might think that all the coarse thoughts and cognitions we have in our mind are ordinary mind, but that’s not what we mean here.
Here the ordinary mind means that you don’t alter the mind, you don’t change or adulterate it in any way. It is the unadulterated nature of the mind, not the coarse thoughts and cognitions. What it means is that we rest without changing it, without adulterating or contriving it in any way. We try to get as close to this as we can. And then we rest within this for a short while. If you do this, I think it becomes a practice of emptiness – this is good.
The reason we don’t know how to meditate, His Holiness explains next, is not because it’s too difficult. Actually, it’s because meditation is far too easy… if only we know how to relax.
We ordinary beings do too much in our minds. We contrive too many things in our minds. For that reason, when we don’t know how to meditate is this because meditation is too difficult? Or is it because meditation is too easy?
It’s not because meditation is too difficult. The great masters of the past have said it’s because meditation is far too easy. And yet we ordinary sentient beings contrive too many things—we try to change and alter things in our minds. We are always exaggerating or denying things. When we’re told to just sit and be loose, we’re not able to do it.
Someone says to us, ‘relax’. Then we immediately get tighter. When we’re about to have an injection, the doctor will say, “Just relax.” And then what happens? We immediately become more tense. It’s like that.
After sharing his profound wisdom on the nature of mind, next the Gyalwang Karmapa leads the huge gathering through their final, powerful group practice session.
A perceptible sense of stillness and peace pervades the Monlam Pavilion as 12,000 people unite in body, speech, and mind in the presence of the Gyalwang Karmapa, and together do the practice and recitation of Vajrasattva. Many of those present recite the mantra quietly, while others settle into spontaneous meditation, sitting in tranquil stillness amidst the huge crowd.
The meditation and recitation session lasts for over half an hour, the Gyalwang Karmapa himself reciting the Vajrasattva mantra while seated on his throne, with eyes partially closed, back straight, a look of deep peace pervading his features, in perfect but relaxed meditation posture.
Thousands of voices murmuring the 100-syllable Vajrasattva mantra mingle and merge into a single focused intent. The potency of the mantra of purification is greatly magnified when recited by so many people simultaneously, and in the presence of great masters.
This is an incredibly precious and rare opportunity to meditate for an extended period of time together with Gyalwang Karmapa, supreme head of the practice lineage. Many of those present experience a profound quietening in their minds, and a natural deepening in their practice.
He ends the session, and the teachings, by urging us to love, respect, and care for one another. The love within our hearts is like a moon, the Karmapa says, but now it’s only a partial, crescent moon. “In this sacred place I’m encouraging you all to make efforts together, and try to make the love within our hearts into a perfect, complete, round, and full moon.”