Amitabha and White Tara Initiations and Retreat

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Taichung, Taiwan (Archive #1604)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave these teachings during Amitabha and White Tara long-life initiations and retreat at Shakyamuni Center, Taichung, Taiwan in February 2007. The teachings include the lung (oral transmission) of the Amitayus mantra and the long-life sutra. Lightly edited by Ven. Ailsa Cameron.

The Index Page provides an outline of the topics discussed in each of the lectures. Click on the headings below to go directly to a particular lecture.

You can also listen to the audio files and read the unedited transcripts here.  

White Tara Sadhana: Purification

Rinpoche: At the beginning of the prostrations did you lead the motivation or not?

Ven Sophia: Yes, yes.

Rinpoche: Good morning. Happy New Year. I’ve forgotten the Chinese words for Happy New Year?

Huang Chen Roo: Sin niang kuai ler.

Rinpoche: Shin ney koller, shin ney koller.

For those who are not familiar with the practice, before doing prostrations, whether by reciting the Vajrasattva mantra or Confession of Downfalls, to do them in an effective way, you should have a strong motivation of regret for the various negative karmas you have collected during beginningless rebirths. Think in this way: “The purpose of my life is not just to achieve happiness for myself, not just to solve my own problems, but to free all sentient beings from all suffering and its causes and bring them to enlightenment. I must free all sentient beings, from whom I receive all my happiness of the three times: past, present and future; all my happiness, temporary and ultimate. For that, I need to achieve enlightenment; for that, I need to actualize the path; and for that, I need to purify the obstacles and defilements.”  It is not necessary to think this every time, but this is the extensive version.

When Lama Tsongkhapa asked Manjushri: “What is the quick way to achieve enlightenment?” Manjushri advised Lama Tsongkhapa to attempt all these together: purifying the obstacles to attainment (Vajrasattva practice is what is normally mentioned in texts, but it includes Confession of Downfalls with recitation of the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names and so forth); collect the necessary condition of merit (offering mandalas is what is usually mentioned); second (since the previous two are counted together), make one-pointed request to the guru to receive blessings; and third, train your mind in the actual body of the practice, the stages of the path to enlightenment. This is the answer Manjushri gave to Lama Tsongkhapa’s question.

Here, this practice of prostrations, is part of Manjushri’s answer to Lama Tsongkhapa’s question: purifying the obstacles to attainment of the path to enlightenment.

You should feel the shortcomings of negative karma in the depths of your heart and generate a strong thought to purify. For example, one negative karma of killing has four suffering results. One of them, the ripened aspect result, is rebirth in the lower realms; the other three you experience in the human realm. One specific result has to do with the environment. You are born in a very unpleasant, depressed, dusty place. You can’t digest the food you eat, and it becomes a cause of sickness. Even if a doctor gives you the correct medicine for a sickness you have, it has side-effects, even though it helps others. Instead of becoming a cause for you to be healthy and to have a long life, it becomes a cause of sicknesses and life obstacles. That is the possessed result. You can guess that similar things also happen with houses, cars and other things that are meant to be for comfort and happiness and to bring a long life; they also become a condition for death. It doesn’t only apply to food and medicine. You can expand from those examples mentioned in the text. For example, with diabetes, which I have, there are many delicious foods that you can’t eat; they become harmful.

I’ll just mention some details about the negative karma of killing from Tenth Bhumi Sutra, which Lama Tsongkhapa quoted. Experiencing the result similar to the cause means that others harm you; your life becomes in danger. It is not necessarily that a person or an animal kills you because you did some harm in this life to that person or animal. Many times there is no story of that in this life but somebody suddenly kills you. There is a reason, and the reason is that you harmed that sentient being in past lives. The cause that makes that person harm you might be created in the life before this or even many billions of eons ago. But in the world, people who don’t know Dharma, who don’t know about karma, or who intellectually know about karma but don’t think about it their daily life, don’t think of karma when a problem happens. Even though they might intellectually talk about karma, they don’t recognize it as a result of karma when a problem happens. It is like my talking about karma now. But at the actual time when a problem comes, it is difficult to remember that it’s karma.

Another suffering result is creating the result similar to the cause. You do the action of killing again, because of the negative imprint planted on your mind by the past negative karma of killing, whether it was done in the life before this or billions or zillions or numberless eons ago. Engaging again in the action of killing is creating the result similar to the cause. So, as well as experiencing the result similar to the harm you gave others in the past, you create the result similar to the cause. You do again what you did in the past.

So, I would think this last one is the worst one, worse than rebirth in the lower realms. You experience rebirth in the lower realms a number of times, then the result of that karma is exhausted. It’s not like the Christian view, where once you are born in hell you are in hell forever, and there’s nothing you can do about it. In Buddhism, in reality, it’s not like that. As Buddha explained, you experience that hell realm only a certain number of times until that karma is finished; when that karma is finished, you don’t experience that hell realm.

I think that creating the result similar to the cause is the most terrifying of the four results, because that complete negative karma again produces the four suffering results. One of them is creating the result similar to the cause, which then produces another four suffering results. So, it goes on and on in this way, and becomes endless. If you don’t purify that one negative karma of killing that you’ve done—there are so many negative karmas of killing that you have done, but I’m talking about just one from those many—from that one negative karma the four suffering results go on and on. The complete negative karma producing four suffering results goes on and on, endlessly. It won’t end if you don’t purify that negative karma and if you don’t live in the morality abstaining from killing. One solution is to purify the past negative karma, and the other solution is to stop killing by living in a vow to abstain from killing. These two are the solutions to experiencing the suffering results. If you purify the negative karma with the remedy of the four powers, you don’t experience the four suffering results. The purification has to be perfected with the remedy of the four powers; otherwise, experience of the four suffering results isn’t completely stopped. That’s one thing you have to understand. So, these two solutions stop the experience of the continual suffering result of that one negative karma going on and on forever.

By living in a vow to abstain from killing, you experience four results of happiness, which are opposite to the previous four. You have the happiness of higher rebirth; you live in a desirable, beautiful environment; you don’t receive harm from others, but only help, so you have a long life; and you also don’t do the action of killing again. Instead of engaging in creating the result similar to the cause, instead of engaging again in the negative karma of killing, you again live in the vow to abstain from killing. There are these four results of happiness.

I just expanded on this, but the point is that this is one negative karma of killing, and there are many negative karmas of killing done within one life. However, even one negative karma of killing is so harmful; if you don’t purify it, you will have to experience the suffering result endlessly. Once you get that idea, you then feel that even one negative karma is unbearable. It’s much worse than swallowing poisoned food. If you discovered that you had eaten poisoned food, something that could cause your death, you would do everything you could to get rid of the poison. You would do it immediately. You couldn’t wait even a moment. However, even eating a deadly poison only separates your consciousness from your body. It doesn’t cause you to be born in the lower realms. Eons of suffering doesn’t happen from just having swallowed poison. But if that one negative karma is not purified, you will be reborn in the lower realms and experience suffering for an unbelievable length of time, even eons. Therefore, your regret at having created that one negative karma should be even more than from swallowing poison, because the harm from the poison is nothing. The harm from that one negative karma is unbelievable. It will cause you to experience the heaviest suffering of the lower realms for an unbelievable length of time and also all those other problems even in the human realm.

Sexual misconduct also has four suffering results. In this life or in future lives when you are again born as a human being, your wife’s, husband’s or companion’s wishes will be against your wishes. You won’t get along; you won’t be harmonious, so you can’t have a happy life. Also, the people around you in your family or in the office won’t support you. Their wishes will not be harmonious with your wishes. All these problems are examples of experiencing the result similar to the cause of sexual misconduct.

The complete negative karma of gossiping also has four suffering results. Gossiping means chatting with attachment clinging to this life, anger or one of the other nonvirtuous thoughts; it means talking about that which is meaningless, that which doesn’t cause happiness beyond this life. One negative karma of gossiping also brings four suffering results, which you will have to experiences endlessly, as I explained before in relation to killing. So, the first thing point to understand is how one negative karma is so harmful.

Living as Sangha, whether as novice monks and nuns with thirty-six vows or as fully ordained monks and nuns, gelongs and gelongmas, with many more vows, it’s unbelievable. If you are able to practice vinaya, able to take and able to live in those vows, it’s the best life, the most profitable life. If you are able to take and live in the vows, especially the higher vows, you become a special holy object. It helps other sentient beings so much, because they collect so much merit when they respect or make offering to you. Not only that, but it benefits the environment. By living in the vows, you help so many sentient beings, not only the human beings but also the nagas and other sentient beings, in that country, in that area. It helps bring so much peace and happiness.

The higher the vows you live in, the more virtue there is from whatever practice you do. The virtue increases hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of times; it increases so much. Even doing the same practice, those who are living in the higher vows create far more merit than lay people living in the five or eight precepts. It makes a huge difference in daily life. No matter what practice is done, the merit for those living in higher vows is far, far more. It’s like the difference between five or eight [kwai che] and tens of thousands of [kwai che]. The higher the vow you live in, the greater the merit you collect with your practice. Always. It makes a huge difference not only when you do practice but in your life. The merit is hundreds, thousands, of times greater than for a lay person. If you are a novice monk or nun, you are living in thirty-six vows; if you are a gelong, you are living in 253; if you are a gelongma, you are living in more than 360. If you took the 253 gelong vows and are really living in them, your merits are continuously increasing, day and night. Even you live in your vows and do nothing except eat, sleep and go to the toilet, these three things, every second the 253 merits increase. You are always collecting that many good karmas.

But it’s also the best life. If you live in pure vows, whatever you do is very powerful. Even if you make prayers for benefactors or for other people who are experiencing problems, such as sickness or death, and especially if you are living purely in the higher number of vows, your prayers are very powerful for others. You become Dzambhala. By living in pure vows, especially the higher vows, you become Dzambhala for other people. You become an object in relation to which other sentient beings can collect so much merit through making offerings or offering respect or service. Your prayers are also very powerful, so they bring results. You become so beneficial for sentient beings, for the world. It’s the best life, the happiest life, because of all the benefits.

But also not everyone wants to practice, and some are careless. There are also four ways that you receive vices, including not knowing the vows, not practicing antidotes to the delusions, not practicing conscientiousness. If you are careless, thinking it doesn’t matter, the negative karma you collect is heavy. My memory is very bad so I might have got it mixed up with other things, but I think that Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo said if an ordained person becomes careless about the degenerating of one vow, thinking that it doesn’t matter, it is similar to or even heavier than a lay person engaging in all ten nonvirtuous actions every day for one year. I don’t remember exactly, so I will check.

The other one is that collecting one vice is as heavy as the negative karma of a lay person having killed one hundred horses or one hundred men. I’ll check as I think I might have mixed this up with a few other things. Anyway, this gives you the idea of how very heavy it is.

Especially for those who are living in ordination, there are all these things. When gelongs, those who have taken full ordination, degenerate their vows, there are different levels of vices they receive in dependence upon the level of vow that they break. There are things such as defeat, remainder, downfalls, actions to be confessed and vices. So, if a gelong receives a small vice, the fifth category, it is heavier than a lay person having killed one hundred human beings and one hundred horses, or something like that. It is very important, particularly for Sangha, to remember how heavy it is to degenerate the vows.

There are then also the bodhisattva vows. If one breaks a bodhisattva vow, maybe even one of the branch vows rather than a root vow, it is 100,000 times heavier than a fully ordained person breaking all four pratimoksha root vows. Breaking a root vow is very heavy, the heaviest among the breaking of pratimoksha vows, but breaking a secondary bodhisattva vow is 100,000 times heavier than breaking all the pratimoksha root vows.

Then, for those who have taken a Highest Yoga Tantra initiation, there is no doubt about the heaviness of breaking a tantric root vow, but receiving even a bonpo, or gross vice, is much heavier than having broken a bodhisattva root vow.

It is important for those who have taken the ordination with thirty-six vows or the full ordination to remember all the negative karmas, all the vices, they collect by degenerating the vows. It is the same for those, lay or ordained, who have taken bodhisattva vows or tantric vows. You should think of all the vows you have degenerated and think of the shortcomings of doing that, of how heavy the negative karma is. And done not just in this life but during beginningless rebirths. Think, “If I were now in a hell realm, it would be most unbearable. Even one tiny fire-spark from a hell realm is much hotter than all the heat energy and fires in the human world put together. All that human fire is very cooling and comfortable, like an air-conditioner, compared to one tiny fire-spark from hell. If one tiny spark is so hot, I can guess how it would be to be in a hot hell, to be on the iron ground one with fire or in an iron house one with fire. I can’t imagine it. I have collected all this karma during beginningless rebirths, and because death can happen at any time, I could be born there any time. Since death could happen at any time, I could be born there any time. Even today, even this hour, even this minute, it could happen—I could be born there.

“Therefore, without even a second’s delay, I must purify all these general negative karmas, the natural vices, and all the moral law vices. Those who are living in vows have these extra vices to purify, as I mentioned before. I must purify all those negative karmas immediately, without even a second’s delay. Therefore, I’m going to do this practice of prostrations with the Confession of Downfalls….”

Now bring your attitude back to the thought of benefiting others. Before you were concentrating very much on your negative karma, on your suffering. Now, at the conclusion, think, “Therefore, I’m going to do this practice of prostrations with the Confession of Downfalls for the happiness, both temporary and ultimate, including enlightenment, for each and every single sentient being, for each and every hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human being, asura, sura and intermediate state being.” It then becomes very powerful.

In this way the remedy of the four powers is there when we do the practice of purification with the Thirty-five Buddhas’ practice, Confession of Downfalls. The most important of the four is regret. What makes the negative karma lighter is feeling strong regret. The stronger the regret you have, feeling aversion to the negative karma by reflecting on its shortcomings, the thinner the negative karma becomes. Doing the practice of purification in this way, with this motivation at the beginning in which you strongly and precisely analyze the negative karmas and see how heavy they are, helps for that.

Here, I expanded that part, but that’s just for background knowledge. You don’t need to expand it that much every time. As long as you have the knowledge, you can just do the main part.

So, we will do the refuge-bodhicitta verse, absorb, purify in emptiness, then generate into White Tara, with Amitayus on the crown. From the syllable HRIH at Amitayus’s heart, hook-like beams go away and then hook back not only yours, but in the ordinary karmic view of us sentient beings, the gurus’ life that has been scattered or taken away by the Lord of Death, maras, tsen, the spirit king and other spirits. All the life that was taken away is brought back from the ten directions. Not only that, but the beams bring back skulls and vases filled with nectar, which then absorb into Amitayus’s long-life vase. The beams also bring back the essence of all the five elements, which go into the vase. Also, all the power and wealth of wheel-turning kings, Brahma, Indra and so forth, all the wisdom, realizations and blessings of all the great yogis and pandits, and all the qualities of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, in the forms of the eight auspicious signs, the eight substances and the seven royal emblems are absorbed into the vase.

The nectar then flows down from the vase and enters you, White Tara, at the heart. The nectar fills your whole body, purifying all the defilements. Think that all sicknesses, spirit harms and defilements are purified. You are then filled with the nectar of immortal life, and your life, fortune, wisdom, realizations and so forth are increased.

At your heart there’s a chakra, or wheel, with eight spokes. At the very center is the syllable TAM. In the ball of the TAM are His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all your other gurus. Down below are all the Sangha. The nectar totally fills all your gurus’ holy bodies, then the bodies of all the Sangha, those who preserve the Dharma and spread it to sentient beings.

Either in the ball of the TAM, after the Sangha, or down below, there are your family (usually your father and mother), friends, enemies and all the rest of the sentient beings there. The nectar also purified all their sicknesses, spirit harms, negative karma and defilements. First think that.

Second, everybody’s body is filled with the nectar of immortality. As well as your family, there are all the supporters of the Sangha and of the teaching of the Buddha. They also receive nectar; all their bodies are filled with nectar. You can think that all the supporters of our organization, the FPMT, are filled with long-life nectar. The bodies of all those who sacrifice their lives to offer service to sentient beings and to the teaching of Buddha are filled with immortal nectar.

Nectar also fills the body of everyone who recites OM MANI PADME HUM. According to Kyabje Kunu Lama Rinpoche, when you pray for long life and do long-life meditation, you include everybody who recites OM MANI PADME HUM. You include those who their life meaningful, collecting extensive merit and performing great purification, by reciting OM MANI PADME HUM, which is a cause to generate compassion for others. So, anybody who recites OM MANI PADME HUM receives the same immortal nectar.

Anyone who collects merit and makes their life meaningful by living in morality, by living in vows, receives the immortal nectar. And anyone who does good things for others receives the immortal nectar.

All their bodies are filled with nectar, and their life, fortune, realizations and wisdom are increased. Meditate like this. With this meditation then recite the mantra.

That’s the very heart, or the essence, of the practice.

Sang gyä chö dang…. [1x]

As you have visualized Buddha there, take refuge and generate bodhicitta. Then think, “I must achieve full enlightenment for the benefit of all my kind mother sentient beings; therefore, I’m going to do the long-life meditation practice, the meditation-recitation of the Wish-Granting Wheel, White Tara, which grants long life, for the long lives of all my gurus, all the Sangha, all the benefactors, organizers and those who offer service in the FPMT, sacrificing their lives, as well as for all those who chant the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM, all those who are living in morality and all those who benefiting others.”

Buddha then absorbs within you. You purify in emptiness, then instantaneously generate into White Tara. You then chant the mantra with this visualization. This is just the practice in short.

[Rinpoche recites the White Tara mantra a few times out loud and then softly for a couple of minutes.]

You can recite the Amitayus mantra at the beginning or afterwards, then do the vowels, the consonants and the dependent-arising heart mantra.

When there’s time recite a few. As I mentioned before, even reciting just one time has unbelievable benefits. When there’s time, recite it just a few times.

[Rinpoche recites the Sanskrit vowels and consonants, then the dependent-arising heart mantra.]

Then do the dedication.

You can make food offering to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. While you yourself are White Tara, you purify all the food in emptiness. Your wisdom understanding emptiness then transforms into a syllable BHRUM, which then transforms into an extensive jewel container, inside of which is an OM. The OM then becomes an extensive ocean of uncontaminated nectar.

Then make offering of this nectar to the Guru Puja merit field, thinking that all the beings in the merit field are, in essence, the guru.

Also, when you eat, you yourself are White Tara, and you do the yoga of eating by offering as in a fire puja or tsog offering. The syllable TAM is all the gurus, deities, buddhas, bodhisattvas, dakas and dakinis, and Dharma protectors. That is everything. Think like that or visualize them in the ball of the TAM.

That is everything, and you then make offering of them of each bite of food and each sip of drink. You then collect so many times limitless skies of merit. First of all it’s done with bodhicitta, then second, you are make offering to the guru, which means you collect the most extensive merit. Every time you eat and drink, with each mouthful you collect the most extensive merit.

Now, the dedication.

OM AH HUM (3x)

La ma sang gyä la ma chö….

Jang chhub sem chhog….

Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me and by others, which are empty, may I achieve White Tara’s enlightenment, which is empty, and lead all the sentient beings, who are empty, to that enlightenment, which is empty, by myself alone, who is also empty.