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 19: February 17-a



Happy Chinese new year, happy Tibetan new year, happy everyone’s new year!

Taking the Bodhisattva and Tantric Vows

I have emphasized that when the Guru Puja is done in the centers, the prayers for taking the bodhisattva and tantric vows must be recited.

However, since there are many people who have never taken bodhisattva and tantric vows, it might be good, just before reciting the prayers, to specifically mention that these are prayers for taking the bodhisattva and tantric vows. Those who have not taken the vows do not have to recite the prayers. Of course, if they don’t think of the meaning of the prayers, they will mean nothing to them, but if they do think of the meaning, they might feel uncomfortable that they are taking vows and making the determination to do this and that when they don’t have to do this and that. If the situation is explained beforehand, they won’t feel confused because they will know what is happening, why the prayers are being done.

It is very important to recite these prayers because many people have taken bodhisattva and tantric vows. By reciting the prayers and taking the vows again, these people revive the vows that they have degenerated.

Their vows become pure again. It is helpful, especially if you have broken bodhisattva root vows, the result of which is rebirth in hell. Taking the bodhisattva vows protects you from the hell realms. And with each second that passes after you have broken a tantric root vow, you are creating the cause to experience that many eons in the eighth level of the hot hells, Unbearable Suffering State, Avici in Sanskrit, which has the heaviest suffering. By reciting the prayer of taking the tantric vows, those who have broken tantric root vows can stop the result of that particular negative karma, rebirth in the heaviest hell realm. Reciting this prayer has very practical benefits—it stops the heavy negative karma of continuously being in this hell realm and it enables you to achieve enlightenment quickly.

Therefore, we should specify at this point in the puja that those who have taken bodhisattva and tantric vows are going to recite the prayers to take the vows again, so that those who do not know about the vows or have not taken them will not feel uncomfortable or confused.

It is also very good to either mention the motivation or to have each person individually generate the motivation for taking the vows. Think, “The purpose of my life is to free all sentient beings from all their sufferings and to bring them to full enlightenment. Because it is not possible to do this without the bodhisattva vows, I am going to take the bodhisattva vows.”

Generate a similar motivation for taking the tantric vows by thinking, “Since it is so unbearable that my kind mother sentient beings have to suffer in samsara even for one second, I need to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible. Therefore, I am going to take the tantric vows.”

It is good to write down these motivations and to repeat them, whether individually or as a group, before the prayer of taking the vows is recited. It clarifies what is happening and also helps those who are taking the vows to generate a strong determination.

So, my advertisement has finished!

The meaning of the Prostration Verse Mudras

It might also be good to know the purpose of the mudras done during the verses of the prostration prayer. With the first line of each verse, you circle the vajra. With the second and third lines, you do the turning lotus mudra. At the end, with the last line, you place your hands together in a hand prostration.

To understand the meaning of these mudras, first reflect on the fact that no matter how many different aspects there are in the merit field, they are just one. What is that? That is the guru. And what is that? That is the holy mind of all the buddhas, the primordial mind with no beginning and no end, the transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness.

“The transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness” is actually a secret term from Highest Yoga Tantra teachings.

Talking about this has reminded me of the time Lama Yeshe gave a talk at the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi many years ago. Gelek Rimpoche introduced each speaker. His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave a talk in the morning; Samdong Rinpoche, head of the Tibetan university in Sarnath, gave a talk on emptiness in the afternoon; and Lama gave a talk on tantra in the evening.

Lama didn’t start to talk immediately. Because of the short period of silence at the beginning, one Tibetan there thought that maybe Lama didn’t know anything about tantra. Lama then gave a talk on tantra, but he made no mention of the actual terms “bliss” or “great bliss.” From what I remember, the point of the talk was that if there is wisdom and control when people have sexual enjoyment, the experience can be meaningful.

I think Lama meant it could be meaningful in terms of achieving enlightenment.

Lama was actually referring to the path of Highest Yoga Tantra. Even though Lama never mentioned actual terms from Highest Yoga Tantra such as “the transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness,” his talk contained the tantric path. Anyone who knew about tantra could see this. I think by the end, Gelek Rimpoche and the other lamas were very surprised by Lama’s skill in talking about tantra without mentioning the actual terms from Highest Yoga Tantra.

Anyway, I’m not going to talk on and on. It’s just that this story came into my mind....

All the merit field is one. No matter how many different aspects there are in the merit field they are all the guru. And what is that? The transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness, the dharmakaya, the holy mind of all the buddhas. This primordial mind, which has no beginning and no end, pervades all existence and is bound by infinite compassion, which embraces all sentient beings. That mind is the absolute guru; to guide us to enlightenment, however, it adopts pure and impure aspects, such as that of a specific guru.

The guru guides us to enlightenment through the three kayas, and this is signified by the mudras you do during the verses of prostration.

The first mudra of circling the vajra signifies the dharmakaya and the mudra of the turning lotus signifies the sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya.

It is also effective to think that from the guru first guiding us to enlightenment through the three kayas, we can then guide other sentient beings through the three kayas. Although I haven’t seen this mentioned in any text, it describes what is going to happen in any case. First think of how the guru guides you and then of how, because of that, you can guide other sentient beings.

This mudra has this very profound meaning. The prostration verses themselves describe what the guru is and the guru’s extensive kindness, and even the mudra describes the kindness of the guru and how the guru guides us.

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Without merit, there can be no happiness or success. Therefore, merit is extremely precious. Think, “I have collected inconceivable merit in the past, I am collecting merit now and I will collect merit in the future.

How wonderful it is!” Each time you rejoice in your own merit in this way, you collect merit like the limitless sky. Each time you feel happiness in your heart at your collection of the merits of the three times, your merit increases like the sky.

Repeat over and over again, “I have collected so much merit in the three times—how happy I am!” Rejoice in this over and over again.

After this, rejoice in the merits of the three times of the buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings. From their merits of the three times, all the bodhisattvas and other sentient beings can receive so much peace and happiness, up to enlightenment. Also, the bodhisattvas completely dedicate all their merit to the numberless sentient beings; they use their merit to complete the realizations and achieve enlightenment for us sentient beings. So rejoice in this, as well as in the merit of all the buddhas.

Think over and over again of the merits of the three time of others, “How wonderful it is, how wonderful it is....” By doing this, you again collect merit like the limitless sky.

Conclude by thinking, “For the benefit of each sentient being, may I be able to collect as much merit as the buddhas and bodhisattvas have collected.”

This, in short, is how to do the practice of rejoicing.

Blessing and offering food

At the end of the morning session, before leaving your seats to go to lunch, transform the food in the kitchen into nectar in a jeweled container (or in whatever container accords with Highest Yoga Tantra). Your attitude in making the food offering should be to achieve enlightenment in order to cause all happiness, including enlightenment, to all sentient beings. Visualize that the nectar becomes limitless, like the sky. Then, meditating that their essence is the guru, offer the nectar to all members of the Guru Puja merit field, all the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha of the ten directions, and all statues, stupas and scriptures in the ten directions.

This is the way to collect the most extensive merit.

After blessing and offering the food, dedicate in the following way.

“Due to these merits, may I, the members of my family, all the students and benefactors of this organization and all other sentient beings never be separated from the Triple Gem in all our lifetimes. May we always collect merit by making offerings to the Triple Gem and always receive the blessings of the Triple Gem”—which means all the realizations from guru devotion up to enlightenment, especially the sutra realization of bodhicitta and the Highest Yoga Tantra realization of clear light. “May the entire path to enlightenment be actualized within my mind and within the minds of all the rest of the sentient beings without even a second’s delay.”

Please enjoy the food; please enjoy the extraordinary bliss.

Maitreya Buddha Mantra

There is a reason that I added recitation of the Maitreya Buddha mantra at the end of Lama Chöpa.The lam-rim prayer requests, “If we are unable to complete the path in this life (not just the lam-rim but the clear light and illusory body of the completion path, which enable us to achieve enlightenment in this life), may we be the heart-son of and never be separated from our root virtuous friend in all our future lives.” [Verse 114.] If even that doesn’t happen, our final request is, “When Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings have stopped and Maitreya Buddha descends, at that time may we meet Maitreya Buddha, receive his prediction and achieve enlightenment.”

The advantage of reciting the Maitreya Buddha mantra is that when Maitreya Buddha descends, if we haven’t become enlightened during the time of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings, Maitreya Buddha looks for us wherever we are and liberates us. We meet Maitreya Buddha, become the direct disciple of Maitreya Buddha and receive teachings and the prediction of our enlightenment. It is a way of achieving enlightenment quickly. It also helps to bring prosperity and many other benefits.

And it is the best mantra to recite to liberate animals, because it means that they are never reborn in the lower realms.