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 35: March 4

Evening: Final Vajrasattva Session

Playing Cymbals

[Rinpoche arrives just in time for Palden Lhamo puja.] I couldn’t stand not playing the cymbals!

My style of playing cymbals doesn’t follow any particular tradition. It’s just my own tradition. Ven. Michel plays according to the tradition of Shekar Monastery in Tibet, a branch of Sera Me Monastery. (Sera Monastery has two main colleges, Sera Me and Sera Je.) I don’t know what the situation is now, but before, when Tibet was independent, Shekar Monastery had about five hundred monks. In Tsang, on the way to Tashilhunpo Monastery, it is situated on a very high rocky mountain, which is supposed to be Tara. The monastery is supposed to be situated on Tara’s chest.

I went to Tibet on pilgrimage twice in the 1980s, but I don’t remember seeing Shekar Monastery at that time. I remember it, however, from the very first time I went to Tibet, when I was a small child. I went with my two alphabet teachers (both of whom were my uncles), a nun and a Tibetan man. When you looked up at the monastery from down below, you thought, how could anyone possibly get up there? The monastery was situated high up on a very high rocky mountain. From below, you had to go round the mountain and then climb up on a road that had been made by putting big logs through the rocks. Grass had grown from the rocks to cover the road. But once you reached the place, you found that the monastery was very clean and neat, with many young monks.

This is the impression I had many years ago when I saw it. Apart from that first impression, I don’t remember very much. I remember going up there and how clean and neat it was inside, but that’s all. For the rest, I think I might have fallen asleep.

Each Gelug monastery usually has a debating college, and they mainly study the five major sutra texts—Vinaya; Pramanavarttika; Madhyamaka, which is about the two truths; Abhisamayalamkara, which is about the five paths to enlightenment; and Abhidharmakosha. There is also a tantric college for the study of rituals. Every day they do many pujas, some of which are wrathful pujas, and they also do religious dance, perform mandalas, and other things. The umdze, or leader of the pujas, of Shekar Monastery, now lives in Thamo Nunnery, a Gelugpa nunnery down below Lawudo in Solu Khumbu. He leads the protector pujas and the nuns lead the Vajrayogini self-initiations.

Many years ago the umdze came down to Kathmandu, so I asked Tubten Pende to learn the way his monastery played the cymbals and to use that style for the Mahakala practice at Nalanda. That was the idea.

My own way of playing the cymbals just came from ego....

[Rinpoche plays the cymbals.]

I hope Palden Lhamo is not disturbed—I made a lot of noise.

Maitreya Prayers

These are very good translations of the prayers. I don’t know who did it, probably somebody from Madison. Geshe Sopa Rinpoche translated one of the prayers to Maitreya Buddha at Amitabha Buddhist Centre the last time Geshe-la was in Singapore, but I’m not sure whether this is the same translation. Geshe-la did not translate Prayer for a Statue of Maitreya but another short prayer, Prayer for Spontaneous Bliss. Prayer for a Statue of Maitreya is a dedication for the sentient beings who build an eminent statue of Maitreya Buddha, Loving One, or who create the necessary conditions for building such a statue to enjoy the Buddhadharma at the holy feet of Maitreya Buddha.

The translation of Prayer to be Reborn in the Land of Bliss, which is a prayer to be born in the blissful field, has been done extremely well. I didn’t check it carefully, but it appears to be a good translation. I thought it would be good to alternate the reciting of King of Prayers with Prayer to be Reborn in the Land of Bliss. These prayers have different presentations, different tastes, and this can be very helpful for the mind. Reciting these prayers is especially helpful for those who don’t know how to dedicate because they contain all the important things that we should request to happen. You can recite Prayer to be Reborn in the Land of Bliss and there is another short Maitreya Buddha prayer that can also be done. [See the FPMT Prayer Book for all these prayers.]

Spreading the Dharma in Russia and Mongolia

There is a dedication for a Russian student, Andrey, who translated for Alex Berzin when he went a few times to Russia to teach Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism. I think he is also the one who translated Transforming Problems into Russian. Andrey invited me to Russia quite a number of years ago, but so far I haven’t made it. I last saw him during Geshe Sopa’s two-month course last year.

After the last time we talked, Andrey went back to set up a retreat center in Russia. People in Russia and Mongolia like very much to do retreat; they think retreat is the best thing to do in life. People in Russia and Mongolia think that doing retreat is the best Dharma. In addition to a center in the city, we discussed having a retreat center. There was a plan for me to go to Russia this year, but after Andrey returned, the whole Russian economy collapsed, and he said that now was not a good time to come. That was his view.

There is another Dharma group in Russia, led by Trinley, a Tibetan monk. Trinley is the only Tibetan who came to the West as a lay person, spent a few years translating in the West, and then became a monk.

Normally it’s the other way around. He is the only Tibetan who spent a few years in the West and was then inspired to become a monk. He translated for a few years at Dorje Chang Institute and Mahamudra Centre in New Zealand, then went back to Dharamsala to become an ascetic monk. Trinley was the translator at Dorje Chang Institute after Lama Chödak, who became more famous in New Zealand than the geshe for whom he translated. The translator became more famous than the teacher!

After becoming a monk, Trinley continued to translate in New Zealand for two or three years. Once he told me that his main meditation was practicing the antidotes to the delusions. In his daily life, whenever delusions arose or there was a danger of their arising, he would apply their opponents. He would use the lam-rim meditations to stop the arising of delusions.

On returning to Dharamsala, Trinley became an ascetic and lived for five years on the mountain. His Holiness then sent him to Russia to teach Dharma. I think His Holiness sent him to Russia because he is a very simple monk who isn’t interested in material comfort and is very dedicated to helping others. I think that the simple style of life in Russia would suit Trinley.

Trinley has been teaching the lam-rim to a Dharma group in Russia, and this group has been inviting me to Russia for the past three years.

They have sent letters to me a few times, and recently, when the whole group came to Germany when His Holiness the Dalai Lama was teaching there, because they are eager, they again invited me to come to Russia. They also asked if the group could be part of FPMT. Trinley took some initiations from me when I was at Mahamudra Centre.

I have been thinking how to help Russia and Mongolia with their economic problems. My idea is to spread as much as possible the practices of reciting manis and of taking the Eight Mahayana Precepts.

During the teachings people could be invited to recite OM MANI PADME HUM as much as possible to develop their compassion and to take the Eight Mahayana Precepts and thus practice pure morality. This would affect the country so that the economy could be developed.

Anyone, young or old, can immediately do these practices, so the practices can spread from this.

I’ve been thinking about starting a monastery in Mongolia.

Establishing a pure monastery with young, new monks might help the country. A youth group in Mongolia and two monasteries have invited me to Mongolia. The youth group wrote to say that one million Mongolians have converted to the Christian religion because so many Christian priests have come there. The priests have built hospitals and schools, and many people in Mongolia have become Christians. When I read this, I felt responsible to help Mongolia. The Christian religion is needed in the world for the many people who have the karma to be guided from suffering to happiness only through that means. The Christian explanation of God as the creator is the only explanation that suits some people. However, even though Christianity is good, it doesn’t teach the complete path to liberation or to enlightenment. Besides not having the complete path of tantra, Christianity does not have complete teachings on renunciation, bodhicitta or emptiness. And since Mongolia is a Buddhist country and has always been a Buddhist country, I felt responsible to help.

My plan is to go to mainland China and then to Mongolia after Geshe Sopa Rinpoche’s teachings this summer. There have been two lam-rim groups in mainland China, one in Chengdu and the other in Nanjing, for the past few years, and they have been very anxiously awaiting a visit. So I plan to visit them, then Mongolia and perhaps make a short visit to Russia.

I would like to start a city center in Mongolia where Dharma could be taught in English. Young people in Mongolia are very keen to learn English, so if they are taught Dharma in English they can learn Dharma and English together. They get what they want, which is to learn English, and we get what we want, which is for them to learn Dharma.

That’s the deal! The Western monks and nuns could also teach Dharma to the old people in the city.

Since there is a lot of interest in retreat, I was also thinking to organize the recitation of one hundred million OM MANI PADME HUMS once every year in Mongolia. People could gather together and recite the mantras in a retreat. This might be financially difficult for people, so I am thinking to set up a fund to make it easy for people to come every year to recite one hundred million manis. I am hoping to establish similar annual group retreats in perhaps ten different countries. It is a very common practice in Tibet and Nepal, especially in very high mountains.

In Tsun, where Geshe Lama Konchog came from, they do this practice every year. When Geshe Lama Konchog lived there, the local people did such retreats many times. People would come from all the surrounding villages; everyone would bring whatever food they could and pool it together. During the retreat, everyone would take the Eight Mahayana Precepts then recite manis.

The guru of Dodrub Rinpoche, a reincarnate lama whose past life was Tsechu Rinpoche, brought incredible benefit to Nepal. He was the head of the Buddhists in Nepal. This lama made statues in Tibet, then he came to Nepal, where he lived in Helambu and Tsun and spread extensively the practice of Chenrezig, especially recitation of the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM. In those early times, Dodrub Rinpoche’s guru made it the law in various areas of Nepal that people were not to kill animals. This lama did so much to spread the nyung-nä practice and the recitation of the mantra of the Buddha of Compassion and brought incredible benefit to Nepal.

Even though it is not the law of Nepal, there is still a law that prohibits the killing of animals in mountain areas such as Solu Khumbu and Tsun.

If the Nepalese officials hear that some Sherpas have gone into the forest to hunt animals, they search for those people and punish them. Some years ago I heard of some Nepalese who were captured and punished by the officials for killing animals.

The great lamas of the past established very good moral law in these mountain areas, but I think the country has now become much more degenerate. It is not like it was before. It seems that more and more Sherpas are killing animals and selling the meat as a business. The Sherpas don’t usually kill the animals themselves but hire Tibetans to do it. There are certain Tibetans who spend their whole life working as butchers. The Sherpas hire these people to do the killing, but it is the same as doing the killing themselves. More and more people are now engaging in this business.

We once tried to recite one hundred million manis at Lawudo. Many Western students and some local Sherpas participated. We recited a lot of mantras but didn’t reach the total, so I asked everyone to continue reciting the mantras at home.

I would like to organize a group recitation of one hundred million manis every year in about ten different places, including Mongolia. We would need funding to make it easy for people to come and do the practice, otherwise, it might be difficult for them to spare that much time.

By doing such a retreat, many people will be liberated, saved from the lower realms. We usually liberate animals, but organizing a retreat like this would help to liberate human beings from the lower realms and samsara. It’s a way to bring them to enlightenment. Taking the Eight Mahayana Precepts and reciting manis are such simple practices, but they bring benefit as extensive as the sky. They result in skies of benefit but are very simple to practice.

Perhaps we can pray for the success of this idea of organizing such retreats in ten different countries. I thought one retreat could happen at Chenrezig Institute in Australia, but I am not sure. It might be difficult.

People could recite the mantras individually, but it might not be so easy for them to recite the mantras in a group for a long time.

In Tsun, at the end of the recitation of the one hundred million manis, Geshe Lama Konchog used to arrange a celebration with religious dances, and people would come from all over to attend the celebration.

Anyway, this is just some news! What I was actually going to mention is that Andrey has been very, very sick. He has been translating Dharma texts into Russian and is planning to translate Lam-rim chen-mo. I don’t know of how much benefit I can be there, but he’s very keen for me to come to Russia to do something.

However, he has been very sick and is going to have a heart operation.

I’m not sure of the date of the operation, but he has asked me to pray for him. If my divination is correct, there is no danger to his life, and the operation will be successful.

Please dedicate the merits you have created today to Andrey and to all the other people whose names were mentioned before. May they immediately recover and then fulfill the purpose of being healthy, which is to make their life beneficial at least for themselves and at best for others, by actualizing the realizations of the lam-rim, especially bodhicitta.

People put unbelievable effort into being healthy; they will try billions of things, every single thing they can think of, to be healthy. But when, after all that effort, they become healthy, what do they then do with their lives? What is the purpose of putting all that effort into trying billions of methods to become healthy? The purpose is not clear. When they think of the purpose of life, they are confused.

We, however, are unbelievably fortunate because we have met Dharma and because after meeting the Dharma, we have generated devotion to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and have practiced loving kindness and compassion for others. Therefore, even if we only have one hour left to live, there is so much that we can do. And the best thing to do if we have only an hour, or just a few minutes, to live, is tong-len practice, the practice of taking and giving. This is the best way to die, the best way to end our life, and the best way to go to a pure land. Even if you have only one minute left, you can do the bodhicitta practice of tong-len. There are many other practices you can do, but the best one is bodhicitta.

Without talking about days, weeks, months or years of life, there is so much that we can do even if we have just one hour left to live—or even one minute. Compared to other people, we are extremely fortunate, because we have met the Dharma. The healthier we are and the longer we live the better it is, because our life always has meaning. Since we have devotion to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, every single second of our life is worthwhile.

If these people whose names have been mentioned don’t have the karma to recover, may they be born 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 by meeting perfectly qualified Mahayana gurus and the Mahayana teachings.


“Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may those sick people whose names have just been mentioned and all other sentient beings who are sick or likely to become sick immediately be liberated from all their sicknesses, and may sentient beings never ever experience sickness at all.

“Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may just my hearing that any sentient being is sick cause that sentient being to recover immediately.

May just my hearing that any sentient being has died cause that sentient being never to be reborn in the lower realms; and if they are already in the lower realms, may it cause them to immediately be liberated from the lower realms and reincarnate in a pure land where they can become enlightened, or to receive a perfect human rebirth in all their future lifetimes and achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible through meeting perfectly qualified Mahayana gurus and the Mahayana teachings.

“May those who are living or who have died, including the students and benefactors of this organization, who sacrifice their lives in the service of others through this organization, and all the rest of sentient beings, have Lama Tsongkhapa as our direct guru in all our future lifetimes.

May we never be separated from the unmistaken path that is highly admired by the buddhas. May we all actualize as quickly as possible within our minds the complete path—the three principal paths and the two stages of Highest Yoga Tantra—as Lama Tsongkhapa did.”

Good night.

Next Chapter:

Chapter 36: March 6 »