Burning Offering to Dorje Khadro

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Dharamsala, India 1986 (Archive #638)

What is presented here is both the sadhana and a commentary. The sadhana was translated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche and first published by the International Mahayana Institute, Nepal, in 1975. The commentary was first given at Tushita Retreat Centre, India, in July 1986. A revised edition was published in 1996 at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. Transcribed and edited by Ailsa Cameron.

Download a Chinese version (pdf) translated by Lobsang Dhargyey.

Commentary: Preliminaries

Take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, either visualizing Guru Shakyamuni Buddha as the embodiment of all refuge objects, or the elaborate visualization.

I go for refuge until enlightenment to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Due to all the merits created by myself and others by practicing charity, morality, patience, perseverance, concentration and wisdom and here, particularly due to my listening to the teachings, may I achieve the Buddhahood stage in order to benefit all transmigratory beings. May I achieve enlightenment to be able to benefit transmigratory beings.

Dro la means transmigratory beings. Why dro la? Using ourselves as an example, now we are human beings but we cannot be human beings forever. Like the airport that we pass through, we are here for a short time, in transit. We don't live in this body forever. We live in this body for a short time and then take other aggregates. We leave those and again take other aggregates. Wherever we and the sentient beings in the six realms are born, it is only for a short time. It is not forever. Like the stations that we go through, we stop there for some time, then leave that station and go to another one.

Relate it to yourself now. You see, we migrated to this body from past lives by being under the control of karma and disturbing thoughts. Now again, by the force of karma, we will migrate to the next life, from these to other aggregates. That's why it says "migratory beings". From one realm to another realm, from these aggregates to other aggregates, we experience all the sufferings of that realm, the true sufferings. It goes on and on like this until we cease karma and disturbing thoughts which bind us to the aggregates, to samsara.

The other sentient beings who are suffering in the six realms are the same: they are transmigratory beings. So when we say dro la, "transmigratory beings", it expresses that they are suffering, which makes more compassion rise, rather than saying "sentient being" - somebody who has a mind - which may not rise that much feeling, that much compassion.

Relate the words "transmigratory being" to yourself, for renunciation of samsara, then relate it to others. Thinking of the meaning of dro la shows the entire suffering of the twelve links, the whole evolution of samsara from the ignorance hallucinated as to the nature of the I, to death. Dro la, transmigratory beings, explains the whole true cause of sufferings, the whole evolution of the sufferings of those beings. Hearing that word makes you see how sentient beings are suffering in samsara. Saying it makes compassion rise. It gives more feeling if you really think about the meaning. It's a word expressing how pitiful the sentient beings in the six realms are.

Due to these merits of listening to the teachings and so forth, accumulated by myself and other sentient beings, may I achieve enlightenment in order to benefit all transmigratory beings. At any rate, I must achieve the state of omniscient mind quicker and quicker for the sake of all those pitiful transmigratory mothers who equal infinite space, and have been kind to me for numberless rebirths. Therefore I'm going to take the oral transmission of the very profound, powerful method of purification - offering burning puja to Dorje Khadro.

This is one of the very profound practices for purification, regarded as a golden Dharma, a precious one. It is Lama Tsongkhapa's heart practice, and his followers practiced it knowing it to be extremely beneficial.

The Eater, Vajra Daka. "Eater" means eating your own negative karma. You purify negative karmas by offering them in the holy mouth of the deity, Dorje Khadro. Dorje is the vajra. The definite meaning of vajra is that transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness that is the dharmakaya, the absolute guru. In order to benefit sentient beings, especially, to purify negative karma, obscurations, downfalls and the degenerated samayas of tantra, this dharmakaya manifested in the sambhogakaya aspect. That is the definite meaning of vajra: the transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness. That dharmakaya, or absolute guru, manifested in the sambhogakaya aspect, took that form, to lead sentient beings to enlightenment by purifying them.

(Rinpoche shows the picture of a Dorje Khadro statue in the English translation of the sadhana.) When we went to America the very first time, straight from Kathmandu to New York, the student in whose house we were staying was using the statue's mouth to hold lighted incense. By Lama's kindness in having given the explanation of this practice, I was able to recognise the deity. I don't know how she got the statue. This is a picture of that same statue. Her house was in Brooklyn, in New York - a very noisy place. It was a long, long journey in a Pan Am jet, and they gave food every two or three hours. When we reached her house, the whole building was going like this (up and down) in my view. It was very near the street and there were incredibly many vehicles. That was our first time in a large city.

The definite meaning of vajra, the dharmakaya, the transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness, that holy mind is unified with that holy body. In tantra terms, this is the unification of holy mind and holy body. The definitive meaning of vajra took the form, the interpretive meaning of Dorje Khadro, Vajra Daka. This is the unification of that dharmakaya, that transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness, and the holy body. This manifestation, Dorje Khadro, is the unification of holy mind and wind.

So, the meaning of Dorje Khadro: Dorje is the transcendental wisdom of great bliss. Kha is space, dro is going. This doesn't mean ordinary space; it means the space of shunyata, the clear-light emptiness, directly perceiving this clear-light emptiness. This is the meaning of khadro.

The base is the vajra, the transcendental wisdom of great bliss, which covers, directly perceives all the clear-light emptiness. Khadro means traveling in space. Dorje, that transcendental wisdom of great bliss, is covering all. Dro means perceiving all and, in that way, being oneness with it; abiding in the clear-light emptiness and being oneness with it, by having completely cut off the subtle dual view. Abiding in the clear-light emptiness like having put water into water, is called dro, traveling.

Another meaning of Dorje Khadro is this: Vajra, the transcendental wisdom of great bliss and emptiness, is abiding in the clear-light emptiness and then out of that, manifests in different forms like Dorje Khadro, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and Tara, various innumerable forms to guide sentient beings. Out of that, from that. Kha is the space of emptiness and dro means from there, taking the form; by going there, taking the form.

These meanings are very secret tantric teachings: very important, very secret points. But if the listeners have faith and the intention to take initiations and practise, then even if they have no initiation now, it could be beneficial to know these explanations. Dorje Khadro has very extensive meanings and to understand them, you need to understand the path and the base, the two truths.

So here's just a little story, before going over the commentary. Kachen Yeshe Gyeltsen was Lama Tsongkhapa's disciple, who did incredible work for sentient beings and the teachings. He received the lineage of this practice from Lama Tsongkhapa. There are several practices that Manjushri taught Lama Tsongkhapa, and Dorje Khadro might be one of those, but I'm not sure.

So the great lama, Kachen Yeshe Gyeltsen said: "The burning offering to Dorje Khadro is very powerful in purifying general obscurations and negative karma." Regarding negative karma, it doesn't have to be killing animals or hurting somebody straight, with speech. Negative karma is not watching your mind. As mentioned in The Eight Verses by Kadampa Geshe Langri Tangpa: "In all conducts, all the time, you should examine your own mental continuum."

We are always doing something: eating, sitting, sleeping, whatever. Examine the mental continuum in all actions. When delusion rises, it immediately makes you evil. May I be able to immediately dispel it, without even a second's delay." Once you recognise the delusion, without delay, without allowing the delusion to defeat you for even a minute, even a second, you defeat it. It means immediately.

Why "immediately"? Why is it so important to immediately defeat and dispel the delusion? In the Bodhicaryavatara by Shantideva, and in many other teachings, it says: "By rising anger for one second it destroys one thousand times the merit you have accumulated by practicing charity and so forth." Destroys. Not only that, but:"All the results of the good karma you are about to experience are delayed for a thousand aeons." So there are two things.

Therefore, there's incredible danger. If you're late by even a second to control powerful delusions like anger or heresy, the experience of those results is postponed for a thousand aeons. And even that is dependent on the object with whom you get angry; it depends on the level of his or her mind. All the results of those good karmas - temporary happiness and enjoyments, and ultimate happiness - you won't get for many thousands of aeons. So without a delay of minutes or seconds, you should immediately control and destroy the disturbing thoughts.

How do you destroy them? With method and wisdom. With shunyata, as I explained in the previous talk. Then there are other methods like generating compassion, remembering impermanence and the perfect human rebirth, its meaning and preciousness. Remember how this life is highly meaningful, how you can achieve the three great meanings. Use all these methods. By remembering these things, immediately anger and those disturbing thoughts disappear. It doesn't give them an opportunity to arise.

If this practice of continuously watching the mind, the mental continuum, in every action, is not done, what happens is that delusion arises and all the actions are done out of delusion. It's as if all the food you eat is mixed with poison. Instead of benefiting, in the long run it causes danger and harm. On the other hand, if you watch the mind, you're not giving delusions a chance to overwhelm you; you're not giving them the chance to take over and conquer you. In this way, there's a possibility for the mind to become virtue; everything becomes beneficial, like eating only food which is medicine. All the actions become medicine; they become only the causes of happiness, both temporary and ultimate.

So it seems that constantly watching the mind is the most important thing. Otherwise, there's no other way to control the mind, no way to keep the mind in peace, and for all the actions to become virtue, the cause of happiness. Watching, constantly watching, is the most important. The advantage of watching the mental continuum in all actions is that you're able to recognise when delusion is about to rise, able to immediately recognise the danger that's going to come. Then you can immediately use your weapons, your meditations, to destroy the delusion. Use whatever understanding of the teachings you have to destroy the delusions. This is the advantage of always watching, of always being mindful. This is very good.

Now, where do you get the inspiration, encouragement and energy to watch the mind continuum all the time? To not be lazy? That's why these very simple meditations on perfect human rebirth, on impermanence and death (especially that death can happen at any moment) are so important. These are what should be done to be able to be thoughtful all the time. They are simple, easy to understand and easy to feel.

To think like this is very useful: "Every moment, every second, every minute, every hour, from now up to enlightenment, I am responsible. Not only for the happiness of this life up to death, however many years I live - forty years, thirty years, a few years or a month - not only for that, but for however long I'm going to be born in samsara, for all my future lives up to enlightenment, I am responsible. I am responsible for the whole thing now, for all my future lives' happiness. I am responsible in every minute. Every minute. This is a huge responsibility. I, who have this human body, am responsible. This I having this human body is responsible every minute for how it's going to be in the future, how much suffering and how much happiness up to enlightenment. Whatever I think, whatever I do with body, speech and mind is a great responsibility."

Thinking of your own happiness is a great responsibility. Now, that is nothing. That is nothing. When we just think of ourselves, we feel it's so unbelievably important to have happiness, but we are responsible for more than just that. I have been mentioning compassion from the very beginning: how we are responsible for freeing all sentient beings from suffering, and leading them to happiness, to enlightenment.

We have to help simply because they have minds, and we know they have suffering, and because they are so many in number. On top of that we have the opportunity to help. Then on top of that there are many more reasons why we are responsible: because of their being our mothers numberless times, because of their being kind, and giving the three types of extensive kindnesses. There are many reasons. The three types of extensive kindnesses are: granting all temporal happiness, all liberation and all peerless happiness. All three you receive by the kindness of sentient beings. Therefore, we're responsible to obtain happiness for and free from suffering each sentient being.

It's good also, when we see other suffering beings or creatures, like spiders and slugs, to think: "Those beings who are suffering so much are my responsibility." Look at those creatures like slugs, that come in the rainy time, and think: "We are the same, wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. We are the same. We just have different bodies. But even among humans there are different kinds of bodies." Feel that we are the same as all those creatures. If we think of their suffering, if we analyze how being born like that would be, it becomes the cause of renunciation. It gives us inspiration to as quickly as possible be free from samsara. And when we think of how unbearable that suffering is on that being, it becomes a cause of compassion.

Feel the responsibility: "If I don't quickly become the perfect guide, having finished all the mistakes and having all the qualities, these sentient beings will be suffering for a long time." Feel the responsibility. That's very good. We should feel the responsibility for all sentient beings. Every moment, every hour, this "I" which has this human body has a responsibility. The only thing, the only way, the only method, the only solution, is Dharma. To fulfill that responsibility there's no other method, only Dharma. Only Dharma.

To become a perfect guide, having finished all mistakes and having all qualities, depends on day-to-day life - every hour, every minute, not falling under the control of delusion. As Gyelwa Ensapa said: "It's important to keep the mind in the essential practice of guru devotion, renunciation, awareness in karma, moral conduct, compassion to others, emptiness and dependent arising." Otherwise, you see, if we don't practise mindfulness, every single delusion takes over our mind, and everything we do becomes a true cause of suffering. Thinking in this way gives you inspiration to be mindful, to be careful all the time.

Even if there's no anger or jealousy, the one that constantly arises is attachment. And among the attachments, the constant one is attachment to the happiness of this life. We get up and get dressed for the happiness of this life. We have breakfast for the happiness of this life. Then lunch, for the happiness of this life. And again dinner, for the happiness of this life, the happiness of the self. It's only for the self in this life.

Even washing is for the happiness of this life. Everything becomes an action of attachment for this life. Every single thing, whether you sit, stand or walk, is an action of attachment for this life. Negative karma does not necessarily mean killing someone, endangering life, hurting or causing wounds. If we don't watch the mind, if we don't protect the mind, whatever we do is constantly creating negative karma because attachment is like the ocean, a flood that takes all the city, covering the houses. Attachment constantly controls the mind like that.

The virtuous mind arises only sometimes, so it's very important to purify negative karma. Because we have so many negative karmas, Dorje Khadro is very important; it is a powerful method to purify obscurations and negative karma.

In regard to vows, it's very difficult to not break the root vows, but even if you don't, the branches are broken like rainfall, especially tantra. Lama Atisha said he rarely received the vice of breaking the secondary vows; it happened only sometimes. But he received the vice of breaking the secondary tantra vows like rainfall. If it was like that for him, then there's no question for us.

By taking maha-anuttara initiations, we take all those samayas of the five Dhyani Buddhas, and the mother tantra samayas. We have to remember them all the time. Breaking the tantra secondary vows is 100,000 times heavier than breaking the bodhisattva vows. And breaking the bodhisattva secondary vows is 100,000 times heavier than breaking the root pratimoksha vows. Dorje Khadro is particularly to purify all these degenerated samayas; to purify and revive them, and also to prevent any obstacles in the practice. This Dorje Khadro practice is highly admired to purify and to stop obstacles, and it is regarded as having great blessing.

"Lama Tsongkhapa, the great venerable omniscient one, handed this meditation practice to his very heart son, Kedup Gelek Pelsang. This is a special technique so have stable faith in it, and then practise." That's what the bhikshu Kachen Yeshe Gyeltsen, who is the holder of Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings passed from ear to ear, said. Penchen Palden Yeshe said that in the past this kind of teaching, this meditation technique, wasn't written down; it was kept very secret.

This teaching of Lama Tsongkhapa's is very much admired. It is a powerful method to purify all obscurations and negative karmas, especially degenerated samayas. It is mentioned in the root tantra teachings, and in the teachings of many other great yogis. Lama Tsongkhapa and his disciples, the Pelden Segyu" tantric college lamas and the holy lineage lamas of the Ensapa teaching which is passed ear to ear, keep this as a heart practice.

If the practice is related to some story, it's beneficial for the mind. Before Mintröl Ngawang Thinley Lhundup became a high lama and was just a simple monk, he asked Penchen Losang Chökyi to make an observation about what his future rebirth would be. Penchen Losang Chökyi Gyaltsen told him that he would be born in the blissful realm of Amitabha. After this, Mintröl Ngawang Thinley Lhundup lived in a monastery and was given the responsibility of being the teacher of Hamdong Kamsin. Maybe it was Sera Monastery. Each of the main monasteries of Sera, Gaden and Drepung has two divisions, kamsin, depending on which country the people come from. So this lama was looking after the responsibilities of Hamdong Kamsin.

Later he again he asked Penchen Losang Chökyi Gyeltsen, who is the one who put Lama Chöpa together, where he would be born next life. And this time the Penchen Lama wrote back: "You will be born in the narak." This shows that because that lama lived in the monastery, he received a lot of pollution by enjoying sangha things. If you eat sangha food and use things belonging to sangha without doing your responsibility and practicing Dharma well, you receive much pollution, and you get born in the narak.

After hearing this, MIntröl Ngawang Thinley Lhundup did much Dorje Khadro practice, offering burning puja to purify the negative karma. And after doing all this Dorje Khadro practice, he asked Penchen Losang Chökyi for the third time where he would be born, and he got the answer that he would be born in the blissful realm.

In the Charya tantra root text, I think it says: "By having done the fire puja, even those who have the negative karma to be born in the great narak (I think it's the hot narak - not the ordinary one, but the great one) will get liberated from those negative karmas. Without doubt that being will be born as a happy transmigrator." Sherab Gyatso, a very high lama who is the holder of the whole teaching and wrote many scriptures, said: "The benefit of offering burning puja to the eater, Dorje Khadro, is that it purifies so many negative karmas. It is so important to rely upon a practice that definitely purifies such as this."

This Dorje Khadro commentary is based on a commentary written by Penchen Losang Chökyi Gyeltsen. There are small differences among the various ways of doing this practice. There are elaborate and abbreviated practices of offering burning puja to Dorje Khadro. From among these teachings by many different lamas, this particular commentary is based on Penchen Losang Gyeltsen's. There are three outlines: preliminaries, the actual body and the completion.


On a flat tray or a plate, make the black sesame seeds in the shape of a scorpion. In Tibetan, scorpion is digpa rachen. Digpa means evil deeds and rachen means having horns. Generally, the more ugly and terrible-looking a sentient being is, the more negative karma he has created. How ugly and terrifying a being is, is the result of negative karma. Because of the name "evil one having horns", the sesame seeds are made in the shape of a scorpion to make it effective for the mind. When His Holiness the Dalai lama gave the commentary, he said to mix the seeds with butter. If the seeds are mixed with butter, make the shape of a scorpion and break off pieces. If the seeds are dry, pile them in a scorpion shape with horns.

The fire place is like the pacifying fire place. When you do fire pujas, there are different types of fire places according to the four types of actions. The pacifying fire place is to pacify hindrances, disease, spirit harms and obscurations. The increasing fire place is to increase wisdom, life, fortune and wealth. The controlling fire place is to destroy evil-doers who harm many sentient beings, the teachings and holy beings. "To destroy" means to separate the consciousness from the body and transfer it to a pure realm. So, according to the action you want, there are different fire places.

For the pacifying fire place, the pot you put the fire in should be white in colour. If it's black, paint it white or put white mud on the outside. The shape should be round, and not broken. Into that put coals that are not smoking. If it's possible, in order to have a clear visualization, put a Dorje Khadro statue facing you.

In front of the fire place, perform the offerings: the two waters, one for drinking, one for the feet; flowers to offer to the crown; incense for the nose; light for the eyes; scented water for the heart, and music. For music, you have damarus and bells, so you don't need to offer music on the altar; you offer by actually playing it. The flowers are offered in garlands like Indians offer at marriages, or to their kings and to welcome visitors. All these offerings are set up according to the tradition of how they were offered to Buddha when he was in India.

If all these things, like making a scorpion shape out of seeds, the pot and the statue can be done, it's very good, more perfect; but if you can't do them, nothing is missing.

Then generate the motivation.

Next, visualize in front of you, at the same level as your forehead, a throne raised up by either four or eight snow lions. On top of this is a lotus, then a sun, and above this is Guru Dorje Khadro.

These four lions signify the qualities of Buddha: the four fearless states. I don't remember the meaning if there are eight lions. The lotus and sun disc mean the actualization and completion of the whole path of method and wisdom. In particular, when related to maha-anuttara yoga tantra, the lotus signifies the illusory body, which is method; the sun signifies clear light, which is wisdom. Through these you achieve dharmakaya and rupakaya.

I explained dharmakaya, the definite meaning of vajra,before. Rupakaya is the holy body which is called Dorje Khadro, the holy body which is a manifestation of the definite meaning of vajra. Lama Dorje Khadro sitting on top of the lotus symbolizing method, the illusory body, and the sun which is wisdom, the clear light, signifies the unification of the two kayas - the achievement of the holy body and holy mind. The throne, lotus and sun together can signify the three principles of the path: renunciation, bodhicitta and shunyata. I haven't seen an explanation with the throne included, but that meaning could be possible.

When you say "Guru Dorje Khadro", think that there's this wrathful aspect but what it is, is the transformation of the absolute and relative guru. Dorje Khadro is the transformation of the relative guru, who is the transformation of the absolute guru. "Guru" means both absolute and relative. Relative means just the form which we see, the ordinary form taken by the absolute guru. It's saying here that that is the way to meditate.

Like the Lama Chöpa or refuge merit field visualization, Guru Vajra Daka is surrounded by the triple gem, all the Buddhas. There are all the lineage lamas, the four tantra deity aspects, sutra aspect Buddhas - the thousand Buddhas of the fortunate time, the seven medicine Buddhas and the thirty-five Buddhas - then the arhats, dakas and dakinis, and protectors.

In front of each Buddha, you can visualize each of their realisations, of having understood the words and meanings, in the form of texts. This is how it's visualized in the refuge merit field. Behind Lama Dorje Khadro are all the texts, piled up nicely, with only the brocaded title end visible, like they keep texts in monasteries. However you visualize, think that this is the Dharma refuge object: all the Buddhas' understandings and realisations in the form of scriptures.

With the thought of fear (you can call it useful fear, or understanding fear) and a feeling of repentance, take refuge. You're afraid because you, and all the sentient beings around you, are suffering the general sufferings of samsara and particularly those of the evil transmigratory beings like the naraks. You have fear of this result and the cause of it, of experiencing it now and of having experienced it in the beginningless past. Generate this thought of fear and, with it, faith that this object of refuge has the power to guide you and all sentient beings from these fears of true suffering and the true cause of suffering. The downfalls and negative karma are the true causes of suffering. You should be like a very seriously ill patient in danger of death, who is completely relying on the most qualified doctor, giving your life into his hands. Completely relying upon the triple object of refuge, take refuge.

sangyä chö dang tsog kyi chog nam la
jang chub bardu dag nyi kyab su chi

"To the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha I go for refuge until I'm enlightened." This is refuge. Now with the thought: "I'm going to practise the Buddhas' actions such as the six paramitas. I'm going to become enlightened for the sake of all mother sentient beings:"

dag gyi jin sog gyi pai sonam kyi
dro la penchir sangyä drub par shog

This is not just generating merit; you're thinking: "I'm going to correctly practise the Buddhas' actions, such as the six paramitas and so on." If you do the prayer with this thought, it's not just generating the wishing thought; it's the entering thought. Bodhicitta is divided into two: wishing and entering. This prayer contains both if you say it this way.

To generate the thought of enlightenment, first there's the thought of taking responsibility to free all sentient beings from obscurations and lead them to enlightenment. Then arises the question: How? The solution, the thought of enlightenment, comes. Bodhicitta combines two thoughts: the thought to take the responsibility of working for other sentient beings and leading them to enlightenment, and the thought that the only method to do that is for me, myself, to achieve enlightenment. This is entering bodhicitta.

For that purpose of achieving enlightenment, I'm going to enter into the practice of Dorje Khadro. To make it more possible to achieve enlightenment and generate the path, I need to purify all the obscurations. That's why I'm going to do the Dorje Khadro practice.

After you have finished taking refuge and generating bodhicitta, the refuge object melts into blue light and absorbs to the centre of your eyebrows.

The preliminaries are now finished. Next comes the actual body of the meditation.