Teachings From the Vajrasattva Retreat

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Soquel, CA USA 1999 (Archive #1055)

This book is an edited transcript of Lama Zopa Rinpoche's teachings at a three-month Vajrasattva retreat held at Land of Medicine Buddha, from February 1 to April 30, 1999. The teachings cover many lam-rim topics, purification practices, mantras, pujas and more.

Chapter 12: February 12-a

Afternoon: Vajrasattva session

Motivation for Vajrasattva practice

Think of the definition of negative karma, or non-virtuous action. It is an action that results in suffering, an action motivated by a non-virtuous thought—by ignorance, anger, and especially the attachment that clings to this life. “Ignorance” here means, in particular, ignorance of karma. Actions motivated by any of these non-virtuous thoughts are transformed into non-virtue.

Think, “In one day how many actions of my body, speech and mind became non-virtues? Taking into account the above definition, almost every one of my actions have been non-virtuous. And it has been like this for weeks, months, years; it has been like this from birth up to now, and throughout beginningless rebirths. I have committed numberless times all these actions that only result in suffering, especially the ripening aspect result of rebirth in the lower realms.

“On top of this, how many times have I committed the ten non-virtuous actions? How many of these ten non-virtues do I commit each day? Besides the negative karmas of killing, stealing and sexual misconduct, how many times each day do I commit the non-virtuous action of gossiping? How many times do I commit the negative karma of covetousness? Of ill will? In my everyday life, how many times do I commit these negative karmas of body, speech and mind? I have committed these negative karmas an inconceivable number of times in this life and I have committed so many more during my beginningless rebirths. I haven’t finished experiencing the suffering results of numberless negative karmas. “On top of this, even when I have taken vows, I have broken them. Even when I have taken pratimoksha, bodhisattva or tantric vows, I have broken the root and branch vows. How many times do I break my vows in one day? How many times have I broken my vows in this life? How many times in past lives?

“And how many times have I created heavy negative karma in relation to each of my virtuous friends? How many negative karmas have I created by breaking samaya, disregarding advice, generating heresy and negative thoughts and getting angry? How many times have I done this in this life? How many times have I done this in beginningless past lives? Even though I might not have created all these heavy negative karmas in this life, I have created them in past lives.

“Not only is my death certain to happen, but it could happen at any moment, even before this session is over. Before this session finishes, I could be in the lower realms, I could be experiencing the heaviest suffering of samsara in a terrifying hell realm, just as Buddha explains in the texts. I could be there at any minute. And with all the heavy negative karmas I have created, it is uncertain when I will again have the opportunity to practice Dharma once I have fallen down into a hell realm. Therefore, without even a second’s delay, I must purify all my defilements and negative karma.

“I am extremely fortunate to have met the Buddhadharma, especially the skillful tantric method of the Vajrasattva meditation-recitation, with which I can purify my negative karma. Just as one small spark can burn a whole forest, Vajrasattva meditation-recitation can purify all the negative karma collected over many eons. And purifying this negative karma is the best thing to do with my life right now.

“The numberless hell beings, who are the source of all my past, present and future happiness, are experiencing unimaginable suffering in the hell realms. I must free them from all their suffering and bring them to enlightenment.

“The numberless hungry ghosts, who are the source of all my past, present and future happiness, are experiencing unimaginable suffering. I must free them from all their suffering and lead them to enlightenment. “The numberless animals, each of whom is so kind and so precious, the source of all my past, present and future happiness, are experiencing unimaginable suffering. I must free them from all their suffering and bring them to full enlightenment.

“The numberless human beings, each of whom is the source of all my past, present and future happiness, are experiencing unimaginable suffering. I must free them from all their suffering and its cause and bring them to enlightenment.

“The numberless asura beings, each of them is so kind and so precious, the source of all my past, present and future happiness, are experiencing unimaginable suffering. I must free them from all their suffering and its cause and bring them to enlightenment.

“The numberless sura beings, each of whom is the source of all my past, present and future happiness, are experiencing unimaginable suffering. I must liberate them from all their suffering and its cause and bring them to full enlightenment.

“The numberless intermediate state beings, each of whom is so kind and so precious, the source of all my past, present and future happiness, are experiencing unimaginable suffering. I must liberate them from all their suffering and its cause and bring them to enlightenment.

“To free all sentient beings from all the unimaginable suffering of samsara and its cause and bring them to enlightenment as quickly as possible, I myself must achieve full enlightenment as quickly as possible. Therefore, I must purify all my defilements, negative karma and downfalls, which are obstacles to achieving realizations of the path to enlightenment. It is for this reason that I am going to practice Vajrasattva meditation-recitation.”

Think also that you are practicing Vajrasattva meditation-recitation for the long life of the Buddha of Compassion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and other virtuous friends. You are doing the practice to pacify obstacles to their lives and to accomplish immediately all their holy wishes. And you can also dedicate your practice of Vajrasattva meditation-recitation to a specific person, to a family member or a friend who is sick or dying or who has already passed away.

Concluding practices

Look at everything—subject, action, object—as an illusion. Looking at everything, even Vajrasattva, as being like a dream, an illusion, dedicate the merits.

When you don’t examine carefully, everything looks as if it is there; but when you examine, it is not there. Everything appears to be inherently existent, even though there is not the slightest inherent existence

there. All phenomena are merely labeled by the mind, so look at everything as an illusion, as being like a dream, then dedicate the merits.

“Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings—which are like a dream, an illusion, and appear to be inherently existent even though they are not— may the I—which is like a dream, an illusion, and appears to be inherently existent even though it is not, even though the I has never had inherent existence—achieve Guru Vajrasattva’s enlightenment—which is like a dream, an illusion, and appears to be inherently existent even though it is empty of inherent existence, even though it has never had inherent existence—lead all sentient beings—who are also like a dream, an illusion, and appear to be inherently existent even though they are completely empty of inherent existence—to that enlightenment—which is also like a dream, an illusion, and appears to be inherently existent even though it is not—by myself alone—who is also like a dream, an illusion, and appears to be inherently existent even though it is empty of inherent existence.”

Meditate on emptiness either during the Vajrasattva recitation-meditation or during the dedication. From the four powers, meditating on emptiness is the power of the remedy. Meditating for one second on emptiness is like an atomic bomb, it is unbelievably powerful in purifying delusions and negative karmas. Even thinking about emptiness, the very nature of phenomena, for one second brings powerful purification. Even though all virtuous actions are the practice of the power of the remedy, virtuous activities without meditation on emptiness are like guns as weapons; even one second’s meditation on emptiness is like an atomic bomb.

“Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, from now on, may every action of my body, speech and mind and everything that happens to me be most beneficial for other sentient beings. Whether I am rich or poor, am healthy or unhealthy, have cancer or do not have cancer, have a good reputation or a bad reputation, am praised or criticized, experience gain or loss, am living or dying, and even if I am born in the hell realms, may everything I experience in my life become most beneficial, through my becoming enlightened and then causing all sentient beings to achieve enlightenment in the quickest way possible.

“I dedicate all these merits in the best way to quickly enlighten all sentient beings, as the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times have dedicated their merits, and as Manjughosha and Samantabhadra realize.”