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 3: February 7-b


Motivation for thirty-five Buddhas practice

“The purpose of my life is to free all sentient beings from all their suffering and bring them to full enlightenment. To do this, I myself must achieve enlightenment, so I must actualize the steps of the path to enlightenment. Therefore, I need to purify all my defilements, negative karma and downfalls.”

Think of the lower realms, of the hell realms. “If I were now in a hell realm, how would it be? I would be totally overwhelmed by suffering, by the heaviest suffering of samsara. I would have no freedom to practice Dharma.”

Then think, “Even though I’m not dead yet, my death could happen at any moment. At any moment, I could be there in the most terrifying hell realm, the Unbearable Suffering State. Therefore, without even a second’s delay, I must purify all my defilements, all my negative karma, and all my downfalls. Therefore, I’m going to do prostrations with the meditation- recitation of the Thirty-five Buddhas, The Confession of Downfalls, to cause all the happiness up to enlightenment to all sentient beings; in other words, to benefit all sentient beings.”

Your attitude should be one of wishing to purify, but at the end expand your attitude to include others with the wish to benefit all sentient beings by bringing them all the happiness up to enlightenment. With the strong wish to purify in order to benefit others, you then do the prostrations. Even if we do just a few prostrations, if we do them with this strong thought of purifying in order to benefit others, each prostration and recitation of each of the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names becomes extremely powerful.

Feeling purified at the end of the prostrations

After the prostrations are finished, it is very important to generate strong faith that you have been completely purified of all defilements, negative karma and downfalls. You are completely purified by beams emitted from all the holy objects in the merit field and by the power of the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names. The names of the Thirty-five Buddhas are unbelievably powerful; reciting each name once purifies so many eons of negative karma. Reciting the name of the first Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, just once has the power to purify 80,000 eons of negative karma. You can think of this from time to time during the prostrations, but it is especially important to generate this strong faith of having been purified at the end. In a commentary to Vajrasattva, Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo mentions that it is important to generate strong faith when Guru Vajrasattva explains that the negative karma has now been purified. How much negative karma is purified is determined by how much faith we can generate. Our mind creates the negative karma, but our mind can also purify it.

Of course, there is a dedication already included within the Thirty-five Buddhas’ prayer, but at the very end, when you have stopped prostrating, you can say, “Whatever merit I have collected by doing prostrations, making offerings, confessing, rejoicing, requesting the Buddhas to have stable lives and to turn the Dharma wheel, I dedicate it all for sentient beings to achieve enlightenment.”

Calling the Guru from Afar

When you recite Calling the Guru From Afar, it’s not just a question of reading the words; you have to do the meditation. Visualize your root virtuous friend on your crown, with the awareness that he encompasses all the buddhas. It is with this awareness that you should do the practice Calling the Guru from Afar. Meditate on the kindness of the guru and make a strong request to the guru, just like a child calling for its mother. Just as children totally rely upon their mother and appeal to them for help, make a strong request to the guru. Visualize Lama Yeshe or your root virtuous friend on your crown, then recite the prayer.

At the end, recite the verse, “May I never rise heresy even for one second in the actions of the glorious guru. May I see whatever actions are done as pure. With this devotion may I receive the blessings of the guru in my heart.” This is an extremely important prayer, because generating negative thoughts such as anger, heresy and so forth is the heaviest obstacle to achieving your own success and the success of others. Your own success refers to your achieving enlightenment, with cessation of all the faults of the mind and completion of all the realizations. The success of others refers to your bringing all other sentient beings to enlightenment. Since generating negative thoughts towards the guru is the heaviest obstacle, this prayer is extremely important.

Those who have received a great initiation of Highest Yoga Tantra can meditate here on the guru entering the heart. Or you can meditate that the guru melts into light, absorbs into you at the point between your eyebrows and blesses your body, speech and mind.

Generating yourself as Heruka

At this point [in the long Vajrasattva sadhana, after having taken refuge], those who have received a great initiation of Heruka can generate themselves as Heruka, as Lama describes. That is up to the individual.

Motivation for Vajrasattva practice

Next we have to generate a pure motivation for doing the Vajrasattva meditation-recitation so that our practice becomes pure Dharma. This can be a continuation of the motivation we generated before the prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas.

Generate strong renunciation of this life, a strong wish to cut attachment to this life, to samsaric happiness and perfections. Generate renunciation of samsara by thinking very strongly of impermanence and death, that your death could happen at any moment, which means that you could be in the lower realms at any moment. Therefore, you must purify right now, without even a second’s delay. And you must purify not just for your own happiness but for that of all sentient beings. Try to generate some feeling of bodhicitta, the altruistic thought to achieve enlightenment for the sake of other sentient beings. Think, “I must free the numberless sentient beings, who are the source of all my past, present and future happiness, from all their sufferings and bring them to enlightenment. Therefore, I’m going to do the Vajrasattva meditation practice.”

Simply to feel, “Oh, I’m going to be reborn in the lower realms; therefore, I must purify,” is rather self-centered. Even though that thought does happen, it should somehow lead to your practicing Vajrasattva for others. You should feel in your heart that you are doing the Vajrasattva practice for the numberless other sentient beings. There is, perhaps, no need to recite “I myself will become Heruka for the sake of all living beings....” In its place you can have a very short break, just to again strengthen your bodhicitta motivation for doing the Vajrasattva practice. Perhaps you can meditate for three seconds on renunciation, two seconds on bodhicitta and half a second on emptiness! Just leave a very short silence in which you generate a strong motivation of impermanence and death, and bodhicitta. Then simply start visualizing Vajrasattva.

Ringing the bell at the end of the mantra recitation

At the end of the mantra recitation, you can recite the Vajrasattva mantra together and ring the bell. When we do sadhanas, in some parts the ringing of the bell is an offering and in other parts, such as here with the Vajrasattva mantra, it is to meditate on emptiness. The sound of the bell is to remind us that the way all phenomena exist is by being merely labeled by mind, so nothing has inherent existence. Even though everything appears inherently existent to us, no phenomenon has inherent existence. Every phenomenon is totally empty. With this awareness, you ring the bell and meditate on the meaning of the sound of the bell. And the bell itself signifies wisdom, emptiness. Also, in emptiness, there is no I, no creator of negative karma; there is no action of creating negative karma; there is no negative karma created. Meditate also on this.

Thinking that the negative karmas are purified

When Guru Vajrasattva says, “Your degenerated commitments are now cleansed and purified,” generate very strong faith that, as I mentioned before, all your defilements, negative karma and degenerated samaya vows have been completely purified, just as Vajrasattva says.

To be more specific, you can also think that you have completely purified all the negative karma you have collected with your body, speech and mind during beginningless rebirths; that you have completely purified all the pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric vows you have broken during beginningless rebirths; and that you have completely purified the heaviest negative karmas, those in relation to the guru, collected during beginningless rebirths. Try to see your mind as totally free and pure.

Making the vow not to commit negative actions again 

Before Vajrasattva absorbs within you, to complete the remedy of the four powers, you apply the power not to commit negative actions again by saying, “From now on I will abandon all the negative karmas that I can. The subtle ones, which are difficult to give up, I will abandon for either one day, one hour, one minute or at least a few seconds.”


Because of the commitment you have made, your crown-Vajrasattva is extremely pleased with you. Vajrasattva melts into light and absorbs within you. Those who know the Highest Yoga Tantra meditation of the guru absorbing into the heart can do that at this point.

The three doors mentioned here refer not to your gross body, speech and mind but to your subtle body, speech and mind. The body and mind have three levels—gross, subtle and extremely subtle. Here it is referring to the extremely subtle level. This is also a secret subject, but in any case, I have already mentioned it.


When you do Vajrasattva meditation in daily life, you normally do the dedication at this point. You do the dedication with awareness that you; the action of dedicating; the merits; the goal to which you dedicate the merits, enlightenment; and the sentient beings for whom you dedicate are empty of inherent existence. By looking at all these as empty, you then dedicate, “Due to these merits may I achieve Guru Vajrasattva’s enlightenment and lead all sentient beings to Vajrasattva’s enlightenment.”

Or you can look at everything as a dream. You, the action of dedicating, the merits, enlightenment, the sentient beings—everything is like a dream. It’s like you are doing the dedication in a dream. When you do this, the understanding that naturally comes in your heart is that nothing is real, nothing exists from its own side. You then fulfill the definition of a pure dedication. As mentioned in The Seven-point Thought Transformation, “Abandon food mixed with poison.” What is the poison here? The poison is the concept of inherent existence. When your dedication is not mixed with this poison of the concept of inherent existence, it becomes pure.

Another way to dedicate is to do what I normally do—say “merely labeled this” and “merely labeled that.” Covering everything with the term “merely labeled” has the same effect; the understanding that comes into your heart is that everything is empty. You use the words “merely labeled,” but it causes you to understand that everything is empty.

You can do this dedication here or at the very end of the session. “Due to the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and other sentient beings, may Jaffa’s father, who has passed away, all those whose names have been given to me, who rely upon me and for whom I have promised to pray, and all those who have passed away immediately be liberated from the lower realms, never ever be reborn in the lower realms. May they always receive a perfect human body with the four Mahayana Dharma wheels (which means always having all the necessary conditions to practice Mahayana Buddhism, such as being born in the right environment, in the right family and with the opportunity of meeting and practicing Mahayana Buddhism and actualizing the path). By being ordained in the teachings of the Buddha as a child, may they not waste their lives from the time of their youth. By meeting perfectly qualified Mahayana virtuous friends and only pleasing their teachers’ holy minds, may they be guided by them. Because of that, may they train their minds well in the three principles of the path and then complete the ripening of their mind in the generation stage and in the liberating path of the graduated completion stage, and thereby achieve the unified state of Vajradhara, which has seven qualities, including continuous compassion, great bliss and so forth. May they quickly achieve all this.

“Whenever I hear that a sentient being is sick, may my hearing about it cause that sentient being to immediately be healed. Whenever I hear that a sentient being has died, may my hearing about it cause that sentient being to immediately be liberated from the lower realms and reincarnate in a pure land, where they can become enlightened, or receive a perfect human body in all their future lifetimes and achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible. If the being is simply born a human being, they may have no opportunity to practice Dharma, so may they receive a perfect human body and then achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible by meeting a perfectly qualified Mahayana guru and the Mahayana teachings.”

Next Chapter:

Chapter 4: February 8 »