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 23: February 21-b


Motivation for Thirty-five Buddha Practice

I’m always very happy to lead others in the motivation—but not to do the practice myself!

“The purpose of my life is to free all sentient beings from all their suffering and its causes and bring them to full enlightenment. Therefore, I must achieve enlightenment; therefore, I must actualize the steps of the path to enlightenment; and therefore, I must purify all my defilements, negative karmas and downfalls.

“If I were now in the lower realms, in a hell realm, how would it be? I would be completely overwhelmed by the heaviest suffering of samsara.

Besides this, I would have no opportunity to practice Dharma.

“Not only is death definite but it could happen at any moment. It could happen today; it could even happen right now. So, before death comes, I must purify all my defilements, negative karmas and downfalls without even a second’s delay.

“Having all these defilements, negative karmas and downfalls is billions of times more harmful than having taken a deadly poison. Even though taking the poison can cause my death, that alone cannot cause me to be reborn in the lower realms and suffer there for many eons. But if I die with these defilements, negative karmas and downfalls on my mind-stream, I can be reborn in the lower realms and experience suffering there for many eons. Therefore, I must purify all these negativities right now without even a second’s delay.

“To bring all happiness, up to enlightenment, to all sentient beings, I’m going to do prostrations while reciting the names of the Thirty-five Buddhas and the Confession of Downfalls.”

In your heart, feel that you are making each prostration for the benefit of every hell being, to free them from suffering and bring them to enlightenment; for the benefit of every hungry ghost; for the benefit of every animal; for the benefit of every human being; for the benefit of every asura; for the benefit of every sura; for the benefit of every intermediate state being. You are doing every single prostration for them.

General confession

Next is the general confession. [Rinpoche reads General Confession up to “...have created the ten negative actions by means of body, speech and mind....”]

Think of how the ten non-virtuous actions appear to you. If they appear to you as not merely labeled by your mind, as real ten non-virtuous actions that exist from there, think that that is a hallucination, that is the object to be refuted. Those ten non-virtuous actions are totally nonexistent right there. Reflecting on the emptiness of each negative karma is the most powerful way to purify negative karma. While you are listing the various negative karmas and regretting them, at the same time purify them in emptiness. It is extremely powerful to do this as you go through the various negative karmas.

“I have engaged in the five heinous actions...”—meditate that they are empty—“...the five parallel heinous actions...”—empty—“...I’ve transgressed the vows of individual liberation...”—empty—“...contradicted, transgressed the bodhisattva vows...”—empty—“...broke the tantric commitments...”—they become empty. Here it would be better to use “vows” than “commitments,” because the word “commitment” is used more to refer to prayers. We are referring to the samaya vows taken during initiations, and reciting prayers is just one part of this.

“I’ve been disrespectful to my kind parents and spiritual master...”— that becomes empty—“...and spiritual friends, the vajra brothers and sisters...”

—empty. “I’ve committed actions harmful to the Three Jewels...”— empty—“...avoided the holy Dharma...”—empty.

There is a mistake here [in the FPMT Prayer Book]. It says “stolen from the sangha,” but it should say “criticized the sangha.” Stealing from the sangha doesn’t happen much and perhaps only applies to lay people.

Criticizing the sangha, however, is what happens most, and it applies to both lay and sangha.

“...criticized the sangha...”—again, it becomes empty—“...harmed living beings...”—empty. “These and many other destructive actions I’ve done...”—empty—“...have caused others to do...”—empty—“...have rejoiced in others doing...”—empty.

“In short, I’ve created many obstacles to my own high rebirth and liberation and have planted countless seeds for further wandering in cyclic existence and miserable states of being. Now, in the presence of spiritual masters...I promise to refrain from doing these negatives actions again in the future....” As I mentioned in relation to the Vajrasattva practice, think, “From now on, I will abstain altogether from those that I can, and will abstain for a day, a night, an hour, a minute or at least a few seconds from those that are difficult to abstain from.”

At the end, feel that you have completely purified everything, and dedicate the merits. “I dedicate the merits of having done prostrations, made offerings, confessed, rejoiced, requested the gurus to turn the Dharma wheel and to have stable lives to achieve enlightenment in order to enlighten all sentient beings.”

Motivation for Vajrasattva practice

Generate a strong thought of regret and an intense thought of impermanence.

From the bottom of your heart, think that death will happen and that it could happen right now. What would happen then? Think, “I must achieve full enlightenment in order to offer extensive benefit to all other sentient beings, who are the source of all my past, present and future happiness. I must free them all from all their sufferings and bring them all happiness, including full enlightenment. This is why I am doing the Vajrasattva meditation-recitation.”

Concluding practice

From the holy mouth of Guru Vajrasattva: “Son of the race, all your defilements, negative karmas and degenerated samaya vows are completely purified.” Think that your mind has become completely pure, exactly as Guru Vajrasattva said.

Make a vow to abstain from now on from those vices that you can abstain from and to abstain from the difficult ones for one day, one hour, one minute or at least a few seconds.

“In emptiness there is no creator, no I; there is no action of creating negative karma; and there is no negative karma created. Nothing exists in the slightest from its own side. Everything is totally empty. Everything is totally empty of existing from its own side.”

While your mind is contemplating in this way, looking at all phenomena as totally empty, dedicate the merits.

“Due to all the three time merits collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may I achieve Guru Vajrasattva’s full enlightenment and lead all sentient beings to Guru Vajrasattva’s enlightenment by myself alone.”