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 5: February 9-a


The Four Powers

I would like to outline the four powers in relation to the Vajrasattva practice, just in case they’re not clear to everybody. In long sadhanas, the reason that we recite the refuge and bodhicitta verse again before the Vajrasattva practice, even though we have begun the sadhana with refuge and bodhicitta, is to make sure that we practice the remedy of the four powers. It is to ensure that our confession is perfected with the remedy of the four powers.

The teachings mention that when a person falls down on the ground, they get up by depending on the ground. In a similar way, we purify any negative karma collected in relation to the holy objects of guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha by taking refuge and we purify any negative karma collected in relation to sentient beings by generating bodhicitta, which means by depending on the sentient beings. This is the power of dependence. Some people translate it as “the power of reliance.”

This translation is also fine, as we purify negative karma through relying on refuge and on bodhicitta. In terms of the power of dependence, we purify negative karma through depending on Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and on sentient beings. I think that both translations are meaningful.

The prayer book mentions the power of regret, or the power of reflecting on the shortcomings of negative karma. The term for this is nam-pa sün-jin-pa’i tob in Tibetan. Sün means mistakes and jin means giving. It means giving the blame to the negative karma for whatever specific problems you experience. The power of regret is mentioned at the end of the long Vajrasattva sadhana, just before Guru Vajrasattva says that everything has been purified, but it should also come before you recite the Vajrasattva mantra or while you are reciting it.

The way to do this is to first think of the definition of negative karma, or non-virtuous action. A negative karma is any action that brings a result of suffering. This is the general definition of a negative karma, or non-virtue. To make the definition more specific, we can say that a negative karma is any action that is motivated by a non-virtuous thought. This can mean ignorance or anger, but we should think in particular of attachment, because we live most of our life with the non-virtuous motivation of the attachment that clings to this life. For ordinary beings like us, our usual attitude is one of worldly concern. This means that during each twenty-four hours, all our activities become nonvirtues, because our motivation is worldly concern. It is like this from our birth until our death, and it has been like this throughout our beginningless rebirths. Because this has been our attitude, our actions have become non-virtue. This applies even to those who are practicing Dharma. We think that we are practicing Dharma, but while we might create some virtue, we mostly create non-virtue because our motivation is the attachment that clings to this life.

Once you have clarified what non-virtue is, you can then see that all your actions throughout your entire life have been negative karmas. You have this broad perspective. On this basis, the result can only be suffering and obstacles to realizations.

After this, consider all the times that you have broken your pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric vows, not only in this life but also in past lives. Breaking these vows has very heavy shortcomings.

On top of that, think about the heaviest negative karmas of all, those collected in the relationship with the virtuous friend. These include harming the holy body of the guru, disregarding advice, disturbing the holy mind, generating angry or negative thoughts towards the guru and giving up the guru. You have done these negative actions in this life and in beginningless past lives. This is the heaviest negative karma.

When you examine each of these different negative karmas in this way, you can see the whole package. What needs to be purified—the obstacles to achieving enlightenment and to doing perfect works for all sentient beings—becomes very clear.

Then feel strong regret. The teachings say that you should feel as if you have swallowed a deadly poison. If there’s poison in your stomach, you’ll immediately do everything you can to get rid of it. In the same way here, you can’t wait even one second to purify all these negative karmas. Since death can happen at any moment, you must purify them all. It’s unbearable to delay freeing yourself from all these negative karmas for even one second.

Think like this just before you start to recite the Vajrasattva mantra or while you are reciting it. This is the way to practice the power of regret. The power of the remedy, nyän-po kün-tu chö-pa’i tob, refers generally to any virtue because virtue is the remedy that purifies negative karma. Here, taking refuge, generating bodhicitta, meditating on Vajrasattva and reciting the mantra are all part of this power of the remedy.

At the end of the sadhana, after Vajrasattva says that you are purified, you practice the power not to commit the negative actions again. This is how you perfect the practice with the remedy of the four powers. It is very important to do this when you do Vajrasattva retreat. Make sure that you practice the four powers, and as strongly as possible.

Thinking that the negative karmas are purified

The literal translation from the Tibetan [of rig-kyi bu, “child of good family”] is “son of the race,” but the term “son” has nothing to do with the physical body. It is similar to “vajra master’s son” in an initiation. Generate strong faith that all your defilements, negative karmas and degenerated samaya vows have been completely purified. Everything has been purified.

Next, practice the power of not committing the negative actions again. As I mentioned yesterday, make the vow so that it does not become telling lies or it lessens the vice of telling lies. Guru Vajrasattva is extremely pleased with you and absorbs within you. Your body, speech and mind are blessed in the essence of Vajrasattva’s vajra holy body, holy speech and holy mind. In emptiness there is no I, no creator; there is no action of creating negative karma; there is no negative karma created. All these are totally empty—not space, but like space.

With continual awareness of everything as empty, dedicate the merits. “Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may I achieve Guru Vajrasattva’s enlightenment and lead all sentient beings to Guru Vajrasattva’s enlightenment by myself alone.” When you say “Guru Vajrasattva,” remember the absolute guru.

Guru devotion with the nine attitudes

If you have realized guru devotion—which means by looking at the guru as buddha, you see the guru as buddha—you have no problem, because no matter what action or aspect you see, you always have the understanding that it is the action or aspect of buddha and that every single action or aspect of buddha is meaningful. Buddha does nothing other than benefit others. If you have realized that the guru is buddha, no negative thoughts about the guru come at all; your mind is totally protected. The realization of guru devotion totally protects your mind; it makes your mind very pure towards the virtuous friend.

When you don’t have this realization, however, many difficult negative thoughts can arise, especially when your wishes are not fulfilled. The times when you expect something from the virtuous friend and it doesn’t happen, or the opposite of what you expected happens, are very difficult because you don’t have the realization of guru devotion. Because you don’t see the guru as buddha, your mind doesn’t have any protection. At such times, when your mind becomes troubled, this prayer, Practicing Guru Devotion with the Nine Attitudes [see Prologue], is extremely good. These nine attitudes are like an atomic bomb landing on the negative thoughts. I don’t know which country the atomic bomb belongs to, I don’t know whether it’s America or Russia....

Personally, I have found this prayer very powerful, so I thought it might also be useful to you. You can recite it in the guru devotion section of the lam-rim, and it’s especially powerful to recite when your mind is having difficulties in relation to your guru.

I haven’t had the oral transmission of this particular prayer, which is a translation from a text by Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol, but it is contained in Lama Tsongkhapa’s Lam-rim chen-mo.The essence is there in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, but it is not presented in this style. It is not described in detail in Lama Tsongkhapa’s lam-rim, but the presentation is unique. It is like an atomic bomb. It mentions very precisely to do this, this, this. There is commentary on the nine attitudes in Lama Tsongkhapa’s Lam-rim chen-mo. I think it might be in Lama Tsongkhapa’s middle-length lam-rim as well.

The stories of the lives of Tilopa, Naropa, Milarepa and the other lineage lamas in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand are commentaries to this prayer. Many people are aware of Milarepa’s life-story, and you can relate everything Milarepa experienced to this prayer. Besides not giving Milarepa teachings or initiations, Marpa gave him only a hard time, scolding and beating him and making him work hard. Milarepa’s story is a commentary to these verses.

I think it is extremely good to use this prayer in the guru devotion section of the lam-rim meditation.

Practicing guru devotion with the nine attitudes is in Lama Tsongkhapa’s lam-rim, but I thought that this prayer might be beneficial in relation to the Maitreya Project.