The Benefits of Vajrasattva Practice

By Lama Thubten Yeshe, By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Teachings by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche are extracts from Teachings from the Vajrasattva Retreat and advice given to students regarding life practices. Lama Thubten Yeshe's teachings are extracts from Becoming Vajrasattva, Wisdom Publications. Compiled by Kendall Magnussen, April 2006.

See also The Preliminary Practice of Vajrasattvaavailable from FPMT Foundation Store.

Lama Yeshe: The Benefits of Purification with Heruka Vajrasattva

We often find that when we meditate on the lamrim—the path to liberation and enlightened realizations—we encounter many hindrances. We cannot understand why it is so difficult to meditate, to control our minds, to gain realizations. “Why do I meet with so many obstacles whenever I try to do something positive? Leading a worldly life was much easier than this. Even an hour’s meditation is so difficult.” Many such thoughts and questions arise.

It is not just a lack of wisdom. It is that over countless lives the negative energy forces of our body, speech, and mind have accumulated such that now they fill us like a vast ocean. If they were to manifest in physical form, they would occupy all of space. By contrast, our small intellectual knowledge-wisdom is as weak as the light of a flickering little candle. A little candle isn’t much help on a dark and windy night.

Our tiny candle-like knowledge-wisdom cannot control or release us from the overwhelming force of our negative mind. Thus, it is the energy of our wrong conceptions, our negative mind, that makes it difficult for us to actualize the everlasting peaceful path of liberation and to receive realizations. Therefore, we need a powerful purification practice like the tantric yoga method of Heruka Vajrasattva to destroy both the energy forces of the ignorant mind and the negative actions of body and speech that arise from it.

The yoga method of Heruka Vajrasattva has the power to purify all negative energy, which is the main thing preventing you from actualizing the path. This impure energy creates both physical and mental hindrances, and also leaves certain imprints. Philosophically, we say that these are neither mind nor form. If you are interested in this, you can investigate at another time what kind of phenomenon they are. The reason I bring it up is that when I’m talking about negativity here my meaning might be different from your previous understanding of the term. Most Westerners think that negativity refers to just the gross level of the emotions. It goes much deeper than that.

Take, for example, the physical body. The first time people come to a meditation course they have great trouble in just sitting. Something in their nervous system pulls their energy down to the base of their spine. The reason we recommend the classical cross-legged meditation posture is that when you sit with your back straight, the psychic energy flows properly, and thus, it is much easier for you to control your mind. However, this change in your nervous system makes it feel as if all your energy is falling down from your crown chakra to your lower chakra. This makes some people terrified that they are losing their minds. Not only do new students have trouble sitting, they also have to concentrate their minds for long periods listening to totally new ideas, which can also be very unsettling. These physical and mental problems really make them wonder why on earth they are sitting there.

The pressure in the lower chakra is caused by negative physical energy, which comes from the negative mind. In Mahayana Buddhism we place less emphasis on such physical reactions and focus on the root of all problems, the ignorant, negative mind.

While insight meditation on the graduated path is the actual way to liberation, when you feel that you cannot meditate—there are too many interruptions, you cannot do anything, you cannot solve your problems—remember that there is something else you can do to remove obstacles to your progress: purification. In the experience of Tibetan lamas, sessions of insight meditation on the path should alternate with sessions of a powerful purification practice, such as the yoga method of Heruka Vajrasattva. This combined approach ensures that you will gain the realizations you seek without frustration.

But do not have unrealistic expectations: “Today I’m completely negative, tonight I meditate, tomorrow I’ll be completely pure.” You cannot purify yourself overnight. Not only are such expectations wrong, they themselves become obstacles. Especially when retreating you should not expect anything—just relax. All you need to feel is that in this life you will act as positively as possible. If you can do that, good results will come whether you expect them or not. You won’t have to keep asking your lama for a prediction: “If I control my body, speech, and mind, avoid all negativities, and do only good, will I experience positive results?” Many students do this. Why? Because they don’t understand karma. If you always act wisely and keep your actions positive, what need is there to ask?

Just think: “From now until I die, whether realizations come to me or not, I shall act as positively as I can, trying to make my life as beneficial as possible for myself and others.” What more can you expect? That sort of expectation is far more reasonable and logical than thinking, “If I meditate for a month I’ll become Heruka Vajrasattva.” Such expectations only disturb your mind.

Even though you might have created negative actions all your life, a positive mind at the time of death guarantees that you will not be reborn in the lower realms. You receive this internal guarantee when you purify your negativities. It is not like ordinary guarantees; you can trust it completely. In the world, things are constantly changing. You can never trust worldly, paper guarantees. But the internal guarantee of positive karma ensures that at the time of death you will be able to control your mind and not fall under the influence of negative minds such as desire and hatred.

In order to gain higher realizations, it is most important to practice the powerful methods of purification found in the Vajrayana path. Many lamas have found that purification overcomes the hindrances of both negative energy and its imprints.

While other Vajrasattva practices emphasize physical purification, the Heruka Vajrasattva yoga method is set up to emphasize mental purification. This makes it especially powerful.