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 43: April 16

EVENING: FINAL VAJRASATTVA SESSION

I came back! [Rinpoche had been at the morning puja.]

Palden Lhamo Practice

Since you already blessed the inner offering this morning you don’t need to do it again; you can start the puja from after that part. Of course, it can be blessed again and again, but I’m just saying that since you have blessed it already, you can start from blessing the libation or tea offering.

The blessing I’m doing here is just for my own inner offering! [Rinpoche blesses his inner offering.]

Now to make some noise! [Rinpoche plays the cymbals for a long time; then the Palden Lhamo offering is performed.]

How to make precise dedication

Now let’s do a more precise dedication together, praying together, from the heart.

“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may any of my immediate family members and the previous generations who have passed away”...so whatever I mention, you should also think. In this way the dedication is done together—when everybody does it together, it becomes very powerful. As I mentioned the other day, if you compare doing prayers alone and doing prayers together, doing them together in a group is more powerful. This is mentioned in a thought transformation commentary by one of the Kadampa geshes—I don’t remember exactly, perhaps Konchog Gyaltsen in a commentary on the Seven-point Thought Transformation—where I think he quoted a sutra text. As I mentioned that time, if you compare doing Vajrasattva retreat alone, reciting the mantra alone, with reciting the mantra with others, reciting it together is more powerful. We apply what the text says about doing prayers together to the group Vajrasattva retreat that we are doing together here.

Therefore, if we dedicate together, it is very powerful. If you all think of the meaning while I say the words, it becomes more than just a prayer asking for something: “Please give me this and that.” When we pray by dedicating the merits—not just those we have collected today but all the past, present and future merits of ourselves and others—buddhas, bodhisattvas and all the rest of the sentient beings—heaping them up and dedicating together—it becomes extremely powerful.

“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all the rest of the sentient beings, may any of my immediate family members and the previous generations who have passed away; the deceased people whose names were read out just before—including any people whose names were given to me or for whom I have promised to pray; people who rely upon me, including those who have passed away; and the numberless sentient beings, who are suffering unimaginably in the lower realms, immediately get liberated from the lower realms—the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms—and reincarnate in a pure land where they can become enlightened, or achieve enlightenment quickly by receiving perfect human bodies in all their future lifetimes and meeting perfectly qualified Mahayana gurus and the Mahayana teachings.

“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all the rest of the sentient beings, just by hearing that somebody is sick, may I cause that sentient being to recover immediately, and just by hearing that somebody has died, may I cause that sentient being never ever to be reborn in the lower realms, or if already born there, to immediately reincarnate in a pure land where that being can become enlightened, or if reborn human but with no opportunity to practice Dharma, to achieve a perfect human body, meet a Mahayana guru and the Mahayana teachings, and quickly attain enlightenment.

“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all the rest of the sentient beings, may I, my family members, all the students and benefactors of this organization—especially those who sacrifice their lives offering service for others and the teaching of the Buddha through this organization—and all those who rely upon me—for whom I promised to pray or whose name has been given to me—all have long lives, and may all our wishes succeed immediately according to the holy Dharma.”

We specify this because whatever is according to the holy Dharma becomes good karma. If all our wishes succeed according to the holy Dharma, nothing becomes the cause of suffering, nothing becomes nonvirtue, nothing becomes the cause of the lower realms, nothing becomes the cause of suffering. That’s why that word is very important. Just general success could include non-virtuous actions and therefore we’d be praying for negative karma to succeed. There could be that possibility.

Therefore, to avoid that possibility, we pray for our wishes to succeed, but to succeed according to the holy Dharma. So, for example, we pray for a person’s business to succeed, but to become Dharma, not non-virtuous business.

The most important thing in life is to actualize the very essence of life—the ultimate, real meaning of life—to actualize the path to enlightenment, which is the best way to benefit other sentient beings. Of course, the real meaning of life is to benefit others, but what is the best way to do that? That is to develop the path to enlightenment in your own mind. In this way your body, speech and mind, which normally harm others, will never harm others and will become only beneficial— the cause of happiness for all sentient beings. The only way that that can happen is for you to develop the path to enlightenment in your mind.

Otherwise, from life to life, you will directly or indirectly harm other sentient beings, with ego, with ignorance, anger, attachment and so forth.

Therefore, the best way to benefit others—to actualize the very essence of life, the real meaning of life—is to actualize the path to enlightenment in this very life. In this very life, and even that without a second’s delay—to complete all the realizations of the path to enlightenment, from guru devotion up to enlightenment, especially bodhicitta, which is the one thing that makes your life most beneficial for all living beings and which makes it possible for you to achieve enlightenment and thus to be able to enlighten all sentient beings by yourself. Therefore, it is especially bodhicitta that you should actualize in this very lifetime, on this body, and even that without even a second’s delay.

Also dedicate that all our meditation centers, including Land of Medicine Buddha, and all our social services—schools, hospices, the leprosy project and so forth—can offer service to and become most beneficial for all sentient beings, immediately pacify their sufferings of body and mind, and cause them to actualize the path to enlightenment. “May all our meditation centers be able to spread the complete teaching of Lama Tsongkhapa—the stainless teaching that unifies sutra and tantra—in the minds of all sentient beings by receiving everything they need. And may all our projects succeed, including Rockin’ for Freedom and all the other projects at LMB.”

Some members from our Singapore center, Amitabha Buddhist Centre, have come here to meet during the retreat. The fund-raising director, the secretary and the public relations person have come all the way from Singapore to discuss how many sentient beings to enlighten!

How many sentient beings Amitabha Buddhist Centre should liberate— and how many they should not! I’m joking! Their project is to build a new temple and many holy objects—as usual! Anyway, they have been working very hard for the past two or three years, raising funds in order to purchase land. Now they have the land but there have been many difficulties, many obstacles to building the temple.

Therefore, please, everyone dedicate your own merits of the three times, as well as those collected by buddhas, bodhisattvas and the rest of the sentient beings, for the organizers and members of Amitabha Buddhist Centre to have harmonious minds, to work together in unity, and to have harmonious thoughts so that all their projects—the temple, the holy objects and everything else—will be accomplished immediately, and for the center to be most beneficial for all sentient beings, especially in spreading the complete teaching of Lama Tsongkhapa in the minds of all sentient beings.

And as I normally mention, “May whoever comes to the center—not only human beings but even spirits and insects who come onto the center’s land—from that moment on, never ever be reborn in the lower realms, never ever go back to lower realms again, and just by being on the center’s land, may all their negative karma be purified immediately, and just by being there, may they find unshakable faith in refuge and karma and be able to actualize bodhicitta. Just by coming onto that land, may they be able to transform their minds from ego and self-cherishing into bodhicitta, cherishing others, and without hardship or obstacle, be able to achieve the complete path to enlightenment.”

Similarly, here at Land of Medicine Buddha and at all the rest of our meditation centers, schools, hospices, the leprosy project, the destitute home—however, all those different social service activities that offer service to others—dedicate for the same thing to happen.

Also dedicate all those merits for all the rest of the projects in this organization to succeed immediately by receiving everything they need and for the 500-foot Maitreya Buddha statue to be completed as quickly as possible by receiving everything required.

“May this statue and all our other projects and centers cause loving kindness, compassion and bodhicitta to be generated in the minds of all sentient beings, and due to that, may no sentient being ever again experience earthquakes, wars, famines, disease, dangers of fire and wind—all these frightening things, tornadoes, cyclones and so forth—or any other undesirable thing.”

For example, these past few years, America has experienced many weather problems, which have caused billions of dollars of damage.

Every year it seems that another one happens. Suddenly people have to evacuate their homes, move to another place and so forth. “Therefore, may all our centers, projects, statues and so forth”—the conclusion is this—“cause all sentient beings to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible.”

The difference between dedication and prayer

When we make prayers, when we dedicate, we are using our merit to make these results happen. That’s dedication; there’s something to dedicate.

Making these wishes without having something to dedicate is praying; that’s a prayer. Saying, “Due to this, may (something) happen,” is dedication. However, even when we dedicate, we can visualize the Medicine Buddha and use him as an object of prayer. In that way it becomes more powerful, more effective. It becomes more than dedication —by relying on the Buddha, on the Triple Gem for success, it also becomes prayer.

Rely on Deities, not people

It is said in many of the Kadampa geshes’ teachings that if you rely on people, you get into trouble, into much confusion. Therefore, if success is what you are looking for, rely on deities. In Tibetan, it says lha, which is also the word for worldly devas, so it might sound as if we’re being told to rely on those. But you have to understand from the context what it’s talking about. In certain contexts the Tibetan word lha can mean just worldly gods, but it can also mean deities. Therefore, you have to understand the meaning behind it by looking at the context.

For example, when Lama Tsongkhapa rebuilt the Maitreya statue in Lhasa or started Mön-lam chen-mo—the great Lhasa prayer festival, which runs for the first fifteen days of the Tibetan New Year to commemorate the special days when Guru Shakyamuni Buddha performed many miracles to subdue those different sentient beings’ minds, to liberate them—he relied on the deity Dzambhala. Any merit that you create on those days is multiplied one hundred million times. Therefore, to benefit, to liberate many sentient beings, to bring them to enlightenment, Lama Tsongkhapa established the great prayer festival, so that many people—both sangha and lay—could collect extensive merit. One of the particular things the monks do, for example, is conduct examinations on what they have learned during their thirty or forty years of study—the texts they have memorized, the meaning of what they have studied and so forth. They offer examinations, pray for other sentient beings and debate on the five major sutra texts they have studied.

Also, in the mornings, the Ganden Tripa reads the previous life stories of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha to the monks; the life stories of Buddha’s past lives, when he was a bodhisattva. How for three countless great eons he sacrificed his life for other sentient beings, practicing the ten paramitas. How for three countless great eons he made charity of himself; how he practiced morality and so forth for three countless great eons. How he sacrificed his life for three countless great eons for the sake of other sentient beings, following the path to enlightenment, and then achieved enlightenment and revealed the teachings, the path, to us sentient beings. For that purpose—in order to reveal the path, to reveal the teachings to us sentient beings, to liberate us from the oceans of samsaric suffering, the continuity of which has no beginning, and to bring us to enlightenment—Guru Shakyamuni Buddha sacrificed his life and bore many hardships to follow the path for three countless great eons. He did all this for the benefit of us sentient beings. Buddha’s life story shows us how to practice Dharma, how to follow the path; it contains that. It inspires us to follow Buddha’s example.

The festival also gives lay people the chance to make offerings to the sangha on those days. They come from all over Tibet and make many offerings to holy objects and to the sangha—tea offerings, food offerings, money offerings and so forth. So Lama Tsongkhapa put many things together for sentient beings to collect extensive merit on those days.

The point I’m making is that when Lama Tsongkhapa wanted to build a temple or something and had no money with which to build it, instead of relying on people, he would rely on the deity and make torma offerings to Dzambhala. Then everything would come—just by making torma offerings to Dzambhala, whatever was needed would just come from all directions.

Of course, Lama Tsongkhapa himself was Dzambhala; there’s no question about that! He was the Compassionate Buddha, so there’s no question that he was also Dzambhala, but what the Kadampa geshes were saying was that to have all success without confusion, trust the deity, rely on the deity—which means the Triple Gem. If you rely only on people, you get involved in many things, much negative karma.

Dedication

“Due to all the merits of the three time collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all the rest of the sentient beings, from now on, whatever I do, whatever life I experience—ups and downs, health or illness, wealth or poverty, gain or loss, praise or criticism, good reputation or bad— whatever happens—life or death or even rebirth in hell—the most important thing is that that experience be beneficial for other sentient beings.”

If your life experiences, your actions, are beneficial for other sentient beings, they become meaningful. Those experiences becoming meaningful fulfills the purpose of your life. When your experiences become beneficial for others you are achieving the purpose of your life. Otherwise, no matter for how many eons you lead a healthy life without any sickness, no matter how much power, wealth and so forth you have, your life is empty, meaningless. Therefore, even if your life turns out to be plagued by one sickness after another—migraine headaches or anything else—if those sicknesses help you develop compassion for other sentient beings by experiencing them for others, you can purify all your past negative karma and collect extensive merit; all the time that you are sick, you are bringing yourself closer to enlightenment. In this way, your experiencing life problems becomes most beneficial. Having problems in your life makes it meaningful, productive. Your mind becomes more spiritual, more Dharma. It becomes quicker and easier for you to achieve enlightenment.

You become closer to enlightening all sentient beings.

Therefore, dedicate the merits of the three times for whatever you do, whatever life you experience from now on, to be most beneficial for all sentient beings, to cause all sentient beings to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible.

Also dedicate, “May Lama Tsongkhapa’s teaching, which unifies sutra and tantra, spread and flourish in all directions, and may I myself be able to make this happen.

“Due to the past, present and future merits collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all the rest of the sentient beings, which are totally non-existent from their own side”—they exist, but they are totally non-existent from their own side. They exist, but it’s like they don’t exist. When you see the very nature of that, you see that they exist, but it’s like they don’t. They are not totally non-existent, but it’s like they don’t exist. The way things exist is extremely subtle. When you look at the very nature of phenomena, such as merits, it’s like they don’t exist—“may I—who also appears to the hallucinating mind as not merely labeled by the mind, as inherently existent, but in reality, that way of appearing is totally false, totally non-existent—achieve Vajrasattva’s enlightenment, by thinking of the very meaning of the guru, the absolute guru—which appears to my hallucinating mind as not merely labeled by the mind, as something real from there, but which in reality is totally non-existent—and lead all sentient beings—who appear to my hallucinating mind as not merely labeled by the mind, but who in reality are totally non-existent—to that enlightenment—which appears to my hallucinating mind as not merely labeled by the mind, as something real appearing from there but which in reality is totally non-existent, empty—by myself alone—who again appears as not merely labeled by the mind, as something real, appearing as a real me, a real I from there, which is a total hallucination, which is totally non-existent.”

Then recite the buddhas’ and bodhisattvas’ name mantras that multiply each merit 100,000 times and also make all prayers to be actualized, to succeed.

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

Next Chapter:

Chapter 44: April 17 »