His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche: Vajrasattva purification meditation.
Notes and questions by Dr. Luciano Villa and Eng. Alessandro Tenzin Villa within the project “Free Dharma Teachings” for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Question: It sounds like this is all very high up there, very far away. Can l, personally, actually do this?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche. We all possess the innate nature of enlightenment, and therefore the attainment of the highest goal is not impossible for us. It is not even far away from us. However, it is necessary to engage in practice and exert effort. We can see this even in the world, for instance, for those who engage in sports, to become the very best in a sport requires a lot of effort, a lot of practice, a lot of exertion. And that’s just to be good at playing some sort of ball game! To attain perfect enlightenment we should, of course, expect to have to make some effort and concentrate on the practice over a significant period of time. No one is saying it is easy to attain the highest state of enlightenment.
However, there is no certainty about how much any one of us has accomplished in the past, in former lifetimes leading up to the present. It could be that we have spent many lifetimes working on this path and now only need to go a little bit farther to attain the highest goal. In fact, there is no way that anyone connecting with these teachings has not exerted themselves in past lifetimes along this path of the Buddha’s teachings. It would not be possible to hear these words today if one had not engaged in strenuous effort over many lifetimes.
Understanding that, one can feel reassured that the highest state of enlightenment is within one’s grasp. It will take effort, diligence, turning away from everyday affairs of the world, and concentrating on meditative practice in this lifetime. If one does that, if one becomes engaged in the practice and connected with a qualified spiritual teacher, by means of one’s wishes, aspirations, and prayers and by one’s willingness to follow the guidance of that teacher and engage in the practice, then one can attain the highest state of enlightenment in this very lifetime. If one does not attain it in this very lifetime but still practices diligently one will attain it in the intermediate state, the bardo, after death. Failing even that, one will surely attain full enlightenment in the next lifetime or the one after that if one truly engages in this practice.
Now, practitioners also make the mistake of separating their practice from the rest of their lives. This is a great error.
If we learn to integrate our practice in our lives, then we can make true progress no matter what type of activities we are engaged in. We have to bring all of our activities into the path.
Lord Jigten Sumgon taught that meditation takes place not only in an isolated meditation hut, seated cross-legged in front of an altar, but must take place in the course of all four types of activity. The four types of activity are sitting, standing, lying down, and walking. In other words, one engages in meditative practice at all times. “In meditation” means that one is working with mind itself. Mind itself is always handy it’s always there. If we go somewhere, we don’t leave it behind. So, mind is always available to work with in our practice.
For example, if we are walking along the street, we can concentrate our minds undistractedly on precisely the activity that we are engaged in and not allow mind to become distracted with the kalpanas, with conceptual thought constructions and ideas. Rather, focus on what you are doing and walk an entire block without letting mind drift off into some conceptual activity. Then, once you have arrived at the end of that block, you can renew the practice for the next block. Even when driving a car, you can focus undistractedly on that activity and cut off conceptual thoughts. This can be very helpful. Whatever you are doing, you can cultivate this meditative practice. So, if you approach meditation from the point of view that it is something to be cultivated at all times and in all activities, then you will truly make rapid process. The process will not be confined merely to an occasional meditation session.
Question: Could you give us some instructions on sleep, in reference to lying on our left side or right side?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche
The sleeping posture of the Buddha is on the right side.
This is considered an auspicious way to approach the practice while one sleeps. Then, focusing mind on some meditation or some visualization as one goes to sleep is very good.
One can develop that, and then it can extend all through the night as one sleeps. One of Lord Jigten Sumgon’s disciples, Sherab Jungne, was famous for that type of practice. He would go to sleep in that position meditating on Green Tara, visualizing her in his heart with rays of green light emanating from her. Also, we have many great practitioners in Tibet who never sleep at night.
Question: Can you explain more about how the qualities of shamatha meditation, like concentration and clarity, affect the vipashyana meditation? How are these two related?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche
In the stage of mental quiescence, one avoids allowing the mind to sink down into a state of lethargy or sleepiness, and prevents mind from following any types of thoughts whatsoever, any conceptual thoughts. Thereby one gains control over mind and has the ability to use it in the practice of vipashyana. At that point, one has to engage very actively in a relentless search for the nature of mind. This is not a relaxed state of peace or even of clarity but rather of great effort, investigation, and analysis whereby one asks the various questions that were mentioned earlier about the nature of mind: its size, its shape, its location, its very existence.
Each of these questions, as outlined before, has to be investigated thoroughly to the point of an actual determination, an actual answer.
So, whether one is practising vipashyana or some type of deity yoga, these two go together. In all of these, it is necessary to have mental quiescence which is undisturbed by thought patterns. This mental quiescence must be employed after it has been cultivated, up until the point where one actually realizes the essential nature of mind. There is no further need for mental quiescence once one has gained insight into the ultimate reality of mind.
Question: How do the stages of Mahamudra realization you described here relate to the bodhisattva bhumis that we read about in Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation and other texts?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche
These are somewhat different ways of looking at the same process. First of all, the fivefold Mahamudra does not relate directly to the ten bodhisattva bhumis. There is no need to look for that. Mahamudra is really talking about something a bit different, it’s approaching it from the point of view of practice. What relates more closely to the bodhisattva bhumis is what was just discussed—the four levels of yogic attainment. These do relate more directly to the ten bodhisattva bhumis, and, in fact, one great teacher of the Drukpa Kagyu wrote a text which includes a discussion relating those two systems.
Without going into a great amount of detail, we could say that the first level of yogic attainment, that of one-pointed concentration, wherein the direct realization of the nature of mind first begins to dawn, corresponds to the first bodhisattva bhumi where ultimate reality is first glimpsed. However, you have the three levels of that first stage of yogic realization, that of the lesser, the middle, and greater practitioner. Technically the first bodhisattva bhumi would correspond only to the level of the highest practitioner of the first level of yogic realization. Only at that level is reality actually glimpsed.
So the lesser and the middle level practitioner of the first stage of yogic realization would correspond to the path of preparation levels called “heat” and the level called “summit,” respectively. These are the second to the highest and the highest levels of the path of preparation. This precedes the path of seeing.
The path of seeing is distinguished by the first glimpse of ultimate reality the non-conceptual direct perception of emptiness, which is what is gained on the first level of yogic realization by the highest level of practitioner. So, what we have is the first of the bodhisattva bhumis corresponding to the highest level of practice of the first stage of yogic realization.
From there you can go up through the bhumis, starting with the lowest level of practice of the second stage of realization, that of freedom from projection; this would be the second bodhisattva bhumi. The middle level of practice at that state would be the third, and the highest level of practice at that stage is the fourth. Then, the three stages of yogic realization of one taste correspond to the fifth, sixth, and seventh. Then finally the three levels of practice at the highest level of realization correspond to the last three, the eighth, ninth, and tenth bodhisattva bhumis. Once one has attained the eighth bodhisattva bhumi, this is considered to be the enlightenment of the Buddha, but it has to be filled out in the ninth and finally in the tenth stage.
Question: What is Vajrasattva purification meditation?
The Vajrasattva meditation begins with the visualization of a lotus over the very top of your head. It is important in this meditation that you think of yourself in your ordinary form, not in any transformed condition, but just as your ordinary self, complete with all of your defilements accumulated from beginningless time. Thinking of yourself in this way visualize a white lotus on the top of your head. In the middle of the white lotus, on top of the petals, is a white lunar disc. This is the beginning of the visualization: this lotus at the very crown of the head.
The lotus has eight petals and does not necessarily have to be white. It can be red or another color, but it does have eight petals with a lunar disc on top in the center. The lotus is not located at that soft place on a baby’s head where the plates of the skull come together. It’s back a little bit, in the center of the top of the head. Visualize it being a little above there, so the precise spot is not critical.
The white lunar disc on top of the flower is somewhat convex so that the center is raised up. On that convex, white lunar disc is a radiant white syllable HUNG. It stands up on the disc as if it were a needle stuck in the top of a lunar cushion. The white syllable HUNG then dissolves in light and forms a vajra with five points on each end. This vajra is standing upright on the lunar cushion at this point. In the very centre part of the vajra, there is a syllable HUNG.
The syllable HUNG does not appear as something placed in the centre of the vajra, but rather it appears as if reflected, as if the centre of the vajra were a mirror and it is reflecting an image of the syllable HUNG. From this syllable HUNG, light radiates in all directions, very powerful and very concentrated. This light is of various colons, all the colours of the rainbow. Each ray of light has at its outermost end various offerings such as flowers, food, incense: all manner of auspicious, beautiful offerings. The light presents these offerings to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the ten directions. The offerings carried by the rainbow-coloured rays of light reach all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, infinite in number.
They accept the offerings and, in turn, send their blessings. These come in the form of rays of light, which enter the world of cyclic existence and reach all living beings without exception, melting away and dissolving the residue of their negative activities and defilements. It’s like sunrise on a winter morning when the grass is covered with frost. As the sun’s rays strike the blades of grass, they melt away the frost. In this same way these rays of blessings strike all living beings of the six realms and melt away their defilements. Having reached all living beings and purified their defilements, the blessing-rays then return to the vajra which is on the crown of your head and dissolve. They all collect and dissolve into the syllable HUNG in the centre of the vajra; this vajra then transforms into Vajrasattva.
Vajrasattva, white in color, is now seated on that lunar disc, which is on the lotus, which is over the crown of your head. As you visualize this, Vajrasattva’s size is not critical; he doesn’t have to be very large. This Vajrasattva is, in fact, the manifestation of all the Buddhas of the three times and ten directions in the form of a single deity. He is understood to be what results when the five Buddha families come together or arise in one form. He is also understood to be, in essence, undifferentiated from one’s own root lama. His colour is the white of a snow mountain. When the bright sun shines on the snow mountain, you get a very brilliant, radiant white: that is the color of Vajrasattva. Vajrasattva has one face and two arms. In his right hand, held in the centre of his chest at the heart level, is a crystal vajra with five points held vertically He holds a bell at his left hip, either on the inside or outside. It is not critical exactly where he is holding the bell. For instance, there is a beautiful statue of Vajrasattva in Bodhgaya with the bell held on the outside of his left hip. Whether the bell is crystal or not is not specified. The left leg is slightly extended. Vajrasattva wears beautiful ornaments formed of precious jewels from the wish-fulfilling tree of the great celestial paradise. His body ornaments are extremely beautiful jewels in all the colours of the rainbow. His lower garment is made from a special kind of divine silk which is radiant, in all different colours, extremely light and strong. There are said to be thirteen ornaments on his body these being the ornaments of the body of perfect enjoyment, or the sambhogakaya Buddha. These thirteen include the eight types of jewel ornaments and the five types of divine silk garments. The first of the silk ornaments is the head ornament, the one that comes around the ears. The second is the one that comes down over the shoulders. The third one is the one that goes outward from the waist. The fourth goes around the waist like a belt or a girdle. The last one is the lower garment of many colours. The divine jewel ornaments are eight in number. The first is the crown across the top of the forehead. Second are the two earrings, right and left. Next is a type of necklace that goes high around the neck, not very long. Fourth is a longer necklace coming down from the neck going down the chest; it has a second loop that goes way down low as far as the knees. Although these seem separate, they are one jewel. The two upper arm ornaments make five. The two bracelets make six. The seventh are ankle bracelets and the eighth are foot ornaments around both toes.
Next is the offering to Vajrasattva. The first offering is argam, which is the water offered to drink. This is a special divine elixir which is said to possess the eight superior qualities of water. Next is padyam, a special pure water specifically for washing the feet. Next is the offering of pushpe, the heavenly flowers; and these are offered to adorn Vajrasattva’s ears. Next is the offering of dhupe, incense or perfume. Next is the offering of aloke, illumination. This would be light of various kinds, like the sun, the moon, stars, special divine butter lamps, things like that. Next, the offering of the heavenly ointments, ghende. These are special ointments which have the scent of divine flowers and special medicinal properties. Specifically, certain of these ointments are given in cold weather to warm the body and others in hot weather to cool the body. Next offered is newidye, food. These are heavenly foods with hundreds of flavours, extremely delicious, and beautiful to look at. The final offering is shapta, music. This is music of various sorts by heavenly musicians, which is most pleasing to the ears of divine beings.
These offerings are of three types: outer, inner, and secret.
The outer offerings are associated with the material universe, Mt. Meru, the continents, the sun and the moon, all things which are materially manifested in the universe.
The inner offerings are the offerings of your own substance; that is, your own body flesh, blood, bones, and so forth. These can be transformed in the process of offering into divine elixir.
The secret offerings have to do with the union of emptiness and bliss. Then there is the offering of ultimate reality literally the offering of suchness, in the form of undefiled, perfect, one-pointed concentration.
After the offering is the praise of Vajrasattva.
After the praise is the main visualization. At Vajrasattva’s heart is a convex moon disc, in the centre of which stands the syllable HUNG. This syllable HUNG is a brilliant white, almost a silvery white as if it were made of mercury. Around it, beginning with the syllable OM is the 100-syllable mantra which moves about the perimeter of the white lunar disc, circling in a clockwise direction as viewed from above. The syllables of the mantra are in Vajrasattva’s heart on a white lunar disc, going around the syllable HUNG. Each syllable is standing upright just as the central syllable HUNG is. They go around in that circle, each of them giving off rays of white light.
The 100-syllable mantra goes around quickly when you say the recitation quickly and goes around slowly as you say it slowly As it goes around, it radiates light in all directions, again making offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, especially to Vajrasattva, in all directions. Rays of light come back from them and purify the defilements of living beings, transforming each and every living being into Vajrasattva, and then dissolve into the Vajrasattva over the crown of your head.
Then from the big toe of Vajrasattva’s left foot comes a stream of white ambrosia, which flows down into the top of your head. It pushes out all of the defilements and obscurations from the top of your head all the way down and out of the body through the lower orifices. So, you visualize this radiant white nectar coming into the top of the head, filling the body, and pushing dark, smoky fluid (which is all the defilements and obscurations) out of the body until, in this way, the entire body is perfectly cleansed and filled with this divine elixir.
Vajrasattva’s right foot is slightly extended and the left leg is in the half lotus position. From the big toe of the right foot, the purifying elixir flows from between the nail of the toe and the toe itself. It is as if this were a spigot on a barrel which you open and get a focused stream of water.
Now there is a certain difficulty which sometimes arises, especially for beginners, when we try to visualize the process of nectar coming down from the mantra in Vajrasattva’s heart and going out from his big toe down into our head and purifying us of defilements and obscurations. When we think about it very hard then we’re trying to imagine, “OK, he’s seated on this lunar disc and under it there is this lotus and his foot is up on that disc . . . now how exactly is that stream of nectar going to reach my head?” So, we have a problem that may obstruct our meditation. It is said to be okay to visualize purifying nectar collecting in the lotus and then coming out the stem at the bottom of the lotus. The nectar is funnelled down into our head and we are purified that way. However, there is a fault here. Although this type of modification sometimes helps in our initial meditation and visualization, it fosters a misconception about the nature of this process. It’s a sort of clinging to our own limited reality as being ultimate. The nature of ordinary beings is that we are obstructed by physical objects like walls, trees, mountains, and things like that, whereas the nature of enlightened beings is that neither they nor their enlightened activities are obstructed by any type of material or physical obstacle. They are completely unobstructed in their activities, so it’s really not necessary to be concerned about the mechanical process of receiving the flow of nectar. The power of the enlightened ones is to bestow blessings to all beings. From beginningless time, the enlightened beings have showered their blessings on living beings, but it requires a certain receptivity on the part of beings. So, because of that we can just think we are receiving directly these blessings of Vajrasattva.
In conjunction with the Vajrasattva practice, it is absolutely necessary that we practice the four antidotes which neutralize and remove the non-virtues, or negative karma. Without doing this, there is ultimately no way to stop this pernicious process of committing non-virtuous activities and building up defilements. Nor is there any way of ultimately purifying all of our former karma and misdeeds and their residue within us. So, we must engage in these four powers which act as antidotes to non-virtue.
1) The first of these is called the power of regret.
Bring to mind or acknowledge the non-virtuous activities that you have performed in the past, both those which you are directly aware of and those which, through inference, you know you have done in this and past lives. Generate a very sincere sense of regret by understanding the evil nature of these activities and their terrible consequences for us in the future if we do not repent and turn away from them. So, here the first power is to regret and turn away from these activities.
2) Second is the power of resolve.
This is where we make a firm determination, a decision or a vow, not to engage in these activities in the future.
3) The third is the power of reliance.
This is relying on the superior, or higher, power of the enlightened beings for the resolution of our predicament. This reliance includes the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. We use the first two powers in relation to this third. In other words, we openly confess what we’ve done in recognition of our misdeeds and their harmful nature, and resolve not to repeat them again. This confession is directed to these superior powers, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Here, Vajrasattva functions in that role. So, we rely on Vajrasattva and other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas while in engaging in this process.
4) The fourth power is that of the actual antidote. This would be engaging in some type of activity which will counteract, or neutralize, the non-virtues of the past. This can be one of many types of meditations or Dharma practices, including those like the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind from Samsara. Especially effective for this is the Vajrasattva practice in which we do this entire meditation and recite the 100 syllable mantra. So, by engaging in this fourfold process, there is no defilement, no bad karma or misdeed, that cannot be neutralized and removed. With this visualization, the purifying nectar from Vajrasattva enters your head, pushes out all of the defilements which appear as dark fluid and leave the body from the lower orifices. Visualize that this dark fluid is flushed out of the body and falls way down and keeps on going. In this way, your body is completely purified. The defilements of body speech, and mind are sent far away.
At this point, visualize your body as being pure and without the slightest stain or defilement, like a radiant, pure, crystal vessel. Then tum to Vajrasattva and request in prayer acknowledgement of your activity of purifying yourself. Vajrasattva acknowledges this and says that you are now purified of all of your sins and defilements. It is important that you understand this, and take that acknowledgement and hold onto it. Understand that you have been purified.
This is my personal advice for practice. The contemplations and meditations on impermanence and death are of the most essential importance in these practices. If you are able to generate a clear awareness of impermanence and death, then the entire practice will take on meaning and be successful. If you somehow do not understand or appreciate the significance of impermanence and death, then even if you engage in the rest of the practice very diligently it will be difficult for you to have much success. So, focus on that basic teaching of impermanence and death. Take it in, internalize it, understand it, and then your practice will be effective.
Practising Dharma at your present state, disposition, situation, whatever it is, until the attainment of perfect peerless enlightenment, this is what Mahamudra truly is.
By practising Mahamudra, one attains the perfect state of Buddhahood. In order to do that, the practice has to be effective. For it to be effective, we have to understand that absolutely all phenomena are interrelated, interdependent, interconnected.
And because of this, the enlightened beings who have traversed this path in the past and have succeeded in attaining Buddhahood are fulfilling their vow, or obligation. In other words, they attained Buddhahood because of their great wish to help living beings. Therefore, their blessings are available to us; they always have been. Their blessings are always ready to help us, and we need these blessings in order to succeed in our practice of Mahamudra. That’s what we rely upon and that is what will enable our efforts to succeed. It very definitely requires both sides, the blessings of the enlightened ones and our own receptivity which is our aspiration and openness to their blessings.
These can be compared to an iron ring and an iron hook.
We hold an iron ring, if we will just use it. If we don’t hold up the iron ring of our faith, devotion, and aspiration, then the iron hook, which is the compassion and blessings of the Buddhas, will have nothing to catch onto to pull us up out of samsara to the culmination of the path of Mahamudra. So, that is our responsibility, to have openness, faith, and devotion.
If we do not have it at this time, we should develop it artificially As we practice, it will become more real and sincere and this will enable the process of connecting to the blessings of the enlightened ones to take place. Now, the ring is held on our side, the hook is held on the side of the enlightened ones. So, they are always offering the hook of their blessings to us, but unless we use our own iron ring to latch on to that, there will be no connection, and we will not receive their blessings.
It is this interconnectedness of all things which we must realize and take advantage of by becoming connected to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who offer us their compassionate help and blessings. Understanding the availability of their blessings, we must concentrate on the practice of developing
that mind of faith and devotion which is our iron ring. Guru yoga practice is especially useful in the process of extending this iron ring, this faith and devotion. By practising guru yoga, you develop and strengthen them and enable them to latch on to the hook of compassion.
One of the famous verses of Milarepa sums up the way the Kagyu Lineage ensures success in this practice. Milarepa said, “I, a yogin, went off from the world, entered the desolate place of cliffs and rocks, and stayed there with a mind of desolation.”
By desolation, he meant a mind which had turned away from the world and which had realized the precious and rare nature of the human opportunity and the faults of cyclic existence. In particular, he had realized the urgent problems of impermanence and death. With all of these things weighing on his shoulders, he turned to the compassion of his lama, who embodied the blessings of all of the enlightened ones, and did not allow his faith and devotion to waver even slightly; and they have continued in an unbroken stream from then on. So, in that way; he was able to gain these blessings and succeed in the practice.
The best advice for an ongoing religious practice, a Dharma practice which will be meaningful and successful, is to cultivate these two factors.
1) First, appreciation and understanding of impermanence and death. Do not turn away from them but really take them in and keep them in the forefront of your awareness at all times.
2) Secondly, cultivate faith, respect, and aspiration focused on a lama with an unbroken lineage, who is the embodiment of the enlightened ones.
Having done that, there is no need for other sorts of thoughts about hopes, wishes, doubts, or fears. There is no need for them, no room for them. You can let go of all of these hopes and fears. Instead, keep impermanence and death in mind, and generate more and more faith in the lineage lamas. Then, if you undertake the practice after engaging in these preliminary aspects, your practice will indeed be effective, will succeed, and will be helpful in all aspects.
In order for your practice to succeed and be beneficial for you now and in the future, you have to do more than just sample the different teachings, or just hear them and then go about your other business. Rather, understand that this is a graduated path with one thing leading to another. At each stage of this path, you have to single-pointedly grasp the practice, work on it, complete it, and then go on to the next stage. In that way, you will go higher and higher. Otherwise, if you just sample this one and that one, there will be no sense of progress.