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 17: February 15

Reviewing Vows

We have been talking about the importance of generating regret at having created negative karmas, committed downfalls and degenerated samaya vows. The strength of our regret determines how much lighter our negative karma will become. Simply by generating the power of regret, without all the rest of the practice, we lighten our negative karma.

In terms of confession and purification of negative karma, feeling regret is the main factor. From the four powers, the power of regret is the most important one. Generating regret about the negative karma we have created determines how much negative karma is purified.

Therefore, during the discussion groups or at this time, it might be a good idea to go through all the vows. Those who have taken bodhisattva vows can go over the bodhisattva vows and check how many they have broken. Actually, everyone can go through the bodhisattva vows. On another day, just those who have taken Highest Yoga Tantra initiation can go over the tantric vows, the root and branch vows, the mother tantra samayas and so forth. In this way you will know how many you have degenerated or broken. On another day, the sangha can go over their vows. A group of just those who are living in thirty-six vows can go over the thirty-six vows. On another day, the gelongs, the fully ordained monks, can go over the gelong vows by themselves.

By making you more aware of how many vows you have degenerated, doing this will help your purification during this Vajrasattva retreat.

When you generate the thought of regret, you will have a clear idea of how much you have to regret and to purify. Your practice of purification will then become very powerful and very effective, because you will see how Vajrasattva practice is of the utmost need.

You do not have to finish reviewing each set of vows in one day. You can divide the vows so that they are covered in several discussion groups.

However, you should go over all the different types of vows you have taken at least once each month during these three months.

Generally, besides the general negative karmas, or non-virtuous actions, the ten non-virtuous actions have to be checked. Those who have taken lay vows can go over the lay vows. Everybody, lay and ordained, can go over the bodhisattva vows together. And those who have taken tantric vows, both lay and ordained, can go over them together. And those living in ordination can go over their vows in separate groups. Those who live in thirty-six vows can go over their vows together, and the fully ordained monks and nuns can go over their vows in separate groups.

This is a very effective and powerful way to do Vajrasattva retreat.

You should reflect on all the shortcomings of having broken your vows; reflect on all the harm it does, in this life and after this life, to your own liberation and enlightenment. Going over your vows will help you to do your Vajrasattva practice more strongly and your Vajrasattva practice will help you to keep your vows more purely. These two will help each other.

 

Motivation for Vajrasattva practice

Now, generate a strong thought of regret about the number of times you have committed general negative karmas and the ten non-virtuous actions. First think of the definition of a non-virtuous action. A non-virtuous action is any action that results only in suffering, any action that is motivated by the attachment that clings to this life. A non-virtuous motivation, which means a non-virtuous thought, makes an action nonvirtuous.

The number of times we have done such actions today, this week, this month, this year, since our birth and during beginningless rebirths is inconceivable. On top of that, consider how many times we have created the specific heavy negative karmas, the ten non-virtuous actions, in one day, one week, one month, one year, since our birth and during beginningless rebirths. And even if we have taken vows, consider how many times we have broken our pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric vows in this life and during beginningless rebirths.

Next consider the heaviest obstacle of all, the negative karmas collected in relation to the virtuous friend through generating heresy, anger or negative thoughts towards the virtuous friend, through not following his advice, through disturbing his holy mind, through harming his holy body. We have done some of these things in this life, and those that we haven’t done in this life, we have done in past lives.

Also, one day I will go over the eight shortcomings of making mistakes in devotion to the virtuous friend. These eight shortcomings are explained at the beginning of the guru devotion meditation, after the explanation of the eight benefits of correct devotion to the virtuous friend. It is good to go through these sometimes. It is very powerful.

If we don’t recognize the negative karmas we have created, we won’t generate the thought of regret in relation to those negative karmas and they’ll also be left out when we purify our negative karmas. This is why it is very powerful to examine in this way the various mistakes we have made in relation to the guru and to reflect on the heaviness of these eight shortcomings. Recognizing the specific negative karmas we have created —even if we can’t remember the ones we created in past lives, at least we can remember the ones we have done in this life—causes us to generate a strong thought of regret. Then the thought to purify them arises.

This is the way we should do the Vajrasattva retreat.

Sometimes go over the eight shortcomings. First reflect on the negative, or non-devotional, thoughts you have generated towards the virtuous friend. Think of how many times you have generated anger and heresy. Then think about how many times you have not followed the guru’s advice, harmed the guru’s holy body and so forth. Even if you haven’t done these things in this life, you have done them in past lives, so they need to be purified. You need to analyze the specific negative karmas that you have created with each guru—“With such-and-such guru I created this negative karma” and “With that particular guru I collected these many negative karmas.” Next, you need to go over the eight shortcomings of making mistakes in the guru-disciple relationship. After that, generate a strong motivation of impermanence and death and bodhicitta, and then do the Vajrasattva practice.

This can sometimes be done as a group, because almost everyone doing the practice has met a virtuous friend. Of course, if you haven’t made any mistakes, you can rejoice. Generally, you have also done many good things, so you can rejoice at those. It might be difficult to rejoice and to feel regret simultaneously. Perhaps we can feel regret on rainy days and rejoice when it’s sunny!

Now generate a strong thought of impermanence and death. “I could die right now. I could die today, during this session; even this minute.

That means I could be in the terrifying hells that the Buddha’s teachings talk about, the realm with the heaviest suffering of samsara. I could be there today, during this session or even in this minute. Before this happens, I must purify all my defilements, negative karmas, downfalls and degenerated samaya vows.”

This is a billion times more urgent than finding a hospital emergency room when you have a heart attack. If you have no negative karma, even if you die, you won’t be reborn in the lower realms; you can go to a pure land of Buddha and have a better life. Your death isn’t bad, because you go to an even better life. But if you have negative karma, you go to the lower realms. Therefore, purifying your negative karma is a billion times more urgent than finding a hospital when you have a heart attack.

Think as follows. “If there is one sentient being who dislikes me, who is angry with me, and I cherish this sentient being, I achieve enlightenment.

If I practice bodhicitta with this one sentient being, I achieve all the realizations of the Mahayana path, including the ultimate result of full enlightenment, with cessation of all my faults of mind and completion of all the qualities of the realizations. This is what this sentient being gives me if I cherish them, if I practice bodhicitta with them. I achieve the infinite qualities of a buddha. A buddha’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind have infinite qualities—if I cherish this sentient being, they will give me the infinite qualities of a buddha. This sentient being causes me to become enlightened and to possess infinite skies of qualities.

Therefore, this sentient being who doesn’t love me, who is angry with me, who criticizes me, is the most precious one in my life.

“It is the same with all the rest of the sentient beings. The numberless hell beings are the most precious ones in my life; the numberless hungry ghosts are the most precious ones in my life; the numberless animals are the most precious ones in my life; the numberless human beings are the most precious ones in my life; the numberless asura beings are the most precious ones in my life; the numberless sura beings are the most precious ones in my life; the numberless intermediate state beings are the most precious ones in my life. All sentient beings are the most precious ones in my life.

“Since what they need is happiness and what they do not want is suffering, I must free them from all their defilements and sufferings and bring them to full enlightenment by myself alone.

“Therefore, I must achieve enlightenment and do so as quickly as possible.

For this, I need to purify all my defilements, negative karmas, downfalls and degenerated samaya vows. Therefore, I am going to practice the Vajrasattva meditation-recitation for the benefit of every single one of the numberless sentient beings: for each hell being, each hungry ghost, each animal, each human being, each asura being, each sura being, each intermediate state being.”

There are many people dying right now in hospitals or in other places, from sicknesses and other causes, so dedicate for them. Also dedicate your practice to those people who have cancer, AIDS and other sicknesses.

And as well, dedicate your practice to the long life of our virtuous friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and for all his holy wishes to be accomplished immediately.

Concluding practices

Guru Vajrasattva says, “Son of the race, all your defilements, negative karmas, downfalls and degenerated samaya vows are completely purified.”

Think, as Guru Vajrasattva says, that all your defilements, negative karmas, downfalls and degenerated samaya vows are completely purified.

Nothing in the slightest exists on your mental continuum.

Now practice the power not to commit negative actions again. “The vows that I can protect, I will protect from now on; the vows that are extremely difficult to protect, I will protect for one day, one hour, one minute or at least a few seconds.”

This way of making the commitment is more sincere than saying, “From now on, I will never commit these actions again.” If you say this, when you know that you are going to commit those actions again, you are telling lies in the presence of the holy objects. It is good to be precise about what vows you can and cannot keep. With vows that are extremely difficult to keep, make a determination to keep them for at least a few seconds. Practicing in this way is more genuine, because you are not lying or at least lying less.

Guru Vajrasattva, extremely pleased by your vow not to commit negative actions again, absorbs within you.

 

In emptiness there is no creator, no I; there is no action of creating; there is no negative karma created. All other phenomena are also totally empty of existence from their own side; they do not exist from their own side.

Dedication

While everything—subject, action, object—is empty, totally empty, label in this way: “Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may I achieve Guru Vajrasattva’s enlightenment and lead all sentient beings to that enlightenment by myself alone.” Dedicate the merits meditating that everything is empty—at the same time, it exists in mere name.

“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may bodhicitta, the source of all happiness and success for me and for all other sentient beings, be generated without even a second’s delay in my own mind and in the minds of all sentient beings. And may the bodhicitta that has been generated be increased.

“Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may I be able to offer benefit as extensive as the sky to all sentient beings as Lama Tsongkhapa did, by having the same qualities within me that Lama Tsongkhapa had, from now on in all my future lifetimes.”

Dedicate all the merits you have collected today and all your past merits, as well as all the resultant happiness up to enlightenment. To elaborate, you can also dedicate your own body, by visualizing it as a wish-fulfilling gem, and also all your belongings. Just as Buddha gave everything, including his family and possessions, to other sentient beings, give everything to every single hell being, every single hungry ghost, every single animal, every single human being, every single asura being, every single sura being and every single intermediate state being.

Give everything to all the rest of the sentient beings, all the unenlightened beings, including arhats and bodhisattvas. They receive from you whatever they want, whatever they need, and these enjoyments then cause them to actualize the path of method and wisdom in their mind.

These two paths cease completely all their defilements, and everyone becomes enlightened. Their body becomes rupakaya and their mind becomes dharmakaya. You can think that all sentient beings become enlightened as Vajrasattva or as the deity that you practice.

By dedicating all our merits to all sentient beings, we collect numberless merits; by dedicating our body, we also collect numberless merits; and by dedicating all our possessions, we collect numberless merits. Also, by dedicating the merits of other people, we collect numberless merits.

Each time we collect skies of merit.

Now dedicate all this merit. “Due to all this merit, may whatever suffering sentient beings experience ripen upon me and whatever happiness I experience ripen upon all other sentient beings.”

Also dedicate in this way: “Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, wherever I am—in whichever universe, world, country, area or place— just by my being there, may the sentient beings who are in that universe, world, country, area or place never be reborn in the lower realms. May they immediately be liberated from all disease, spirit harm, negative karma and defilements and may they achieve enlightenment quickly by actualizing the whole path, especially bodhicitta.”

“May those who are blind be able to see; may those who are deaf be able to hear; may those who are lame be able to walk; may those who have cancer or AIDS be healed immediately; may those who have relationship problems generate loving kindness and compassion in their minds, only benefit each other and find peace and happiness; may those who cannot find a job be able to find a job; may those who are poor have wealth; may those who have life obstacles that could bring death in car accidents, airplane crashes or something else be free from life obstacles and have long and meaningful lives; may those who are suffering so much because they have failed in business have success in business and become wealthy, and may their wealth be meaningful and beneficial for other sentient beings, which means it will also be beneficial for that person.

“May everyone in that universe, world, country, area or place achieve perfect happiness. May all those who are possessed by spirits and have become wild and crazy immediately be released by the spirits and recover.

May those in a coma, who are like living vegetables, immediately regain consciousness just by my being in that universe, world, country, area or place.

“Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, which are like a dream, may the I, which is like a dream, achieve Guru Vajrasattva’s enlightenment, which is also like a dream, and lead all sentient beings, who are also like a dream, to that enlightenment, which is like a dream, by myself alone, who is also like a dream.”

With this dedication, the understanding should come in your heart that everything is empty, that nothing exists from its own side.

“Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may any member of my family who has passed away and anyone who has passed away whose name was given to me or for whom I promised to pray or who relied upon me, as well as all the numberless sentient beings who are now experiencing unimaginable suffering in the lower realms, immediately be liberated from all those sufferings and reincarnate in a pure land where they can become enlightened; or may they achieve enlightenment quickly by receiving a perfect human body and meeting a Mahayana guru and the Mahayana teachings.

“Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, whenever I hear that somebody is sick, may just my hearing about it cause that sentient being to recover immediately; whenever I hear that somebody has died, may just my hearing about it cause that sentient being immediately to be liberated from the lower realms and reincarnate in a pure land where they can become enlightened. Or if that sentient being has been born a human being but with no opportunity to practice Dharma, may that person immediately receive a perfect human body and achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible by meeting a Mahayana guru and the Mahayana teachings.

“Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may I, the members of my family, all the students and benefactors of this organization—especially those who bear many hardships to offer service to other sentient beings and the teachings of the Buddha through this organization—as well as all those who rely upon me, for whom I have promised to pray or whose name has been given to me all have long and healthy lives. May all our wishes be accomplished immediately in accordance with the holy Dharma. “And, most important of all, may we be able to actualize Lama Tsongkhapa’s complete, pure path to enlightenment, which unifies sutra and tantra, in this very lifetime without even a second’s delay.

“May all the social service projects—hospices, the leprosy project, schools and so forth—become wish-fulfilling for all sentient beings, causing them perfect happiness and immediately pacifying all sufferings of body and mind. May all the meditation centers be able to spread the complete teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa to all sentient beings by receiving all their needs. May all the projects succeed immediately by receiving all their needs; and may the 500-foot Maitreya Buddha statue be completed immediately by receiving all its needs. May all these centers, statues and projects cause all sentient beings to generate loving kindness, compassion and bodhicitta in their minds. Due to that, may no sentient being experience war, disease, earthquake, famine or any undesirable thing from fire, water, wind or earth. May all these projects, statues and centers cause all sentient beings to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible. May Buddha’s teachings in general and Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings in particular flourish and spread in all directions.”

Multiplying mantras

We’ll now recite the mantras with the names of the buddhas and bodhisattvas to multiply each merit that we collected today one hundred thousand times.

The ...NGO WA DANG MON LAM... mantra is that of the Victorious One who can accomplish all dedications, all prayers. Recitation of this buddha’s name has the power to actualize all of our prayers.

“Due to the eminent blessings of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, unbetraying dependent arising, and my special attitude, may all my pure prayers be accomplished immediately.”