Day 1 Session 1: Teachings on The Torch of True Meaning - Vows in a New Light
26 December, 2014
In his Foreword to the new translation of The Torch of True Meaning, the Karmapa writes:
Many people, when they hear of the highest stages of Dharma study and practice, such as "emptiness" or "mahamudra" want to study and practice them immediately. However, without a stable foundation, which is the essential prerequisite to such advanced practices, even if they were to study or practice them, they would not be able to experience their profundity.
This is the reason why The Torch of True Meaning is such an important text. Composed by the first Jamgön Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, it gives comprehensive instructions on how to practice the ngöndro, the essential preparation for all practitioners before beginning mahamudra. Anyone who wishes to practice the ngöndro of the Kagyu lineage, and in particular the Karma Kagyu lineage, should first read this text carefully and internalize its meaning. They will then have a stable ground for the practice of mahamudra. This is not just the correct way to practice but also the most beneficial.
Picking up the thread from past Kagyu Monlams, the Karmapa resumed his teachings today on The Torch of True Meaning, this time focusing on Vajrasattva. During the empowerment yesterday, Gyaltsap Rinpoche gave a general explanation of the benefits of Vajrasattva practice and its history, so there was no need to repeat these. However, the Karmapa explained, "It is necessary to continue to read the instructions from The Torch of True Meaning. We need to read all of these withnothing left out, so I will read the instructions now." And he gave the reading transmission for the following section of the text:
2. The Instructions on the Hundred-syllable mantra that Purifies Misdeeds and Obscurations.
There are two types of hundred-syllable mantras, the hundred-syllables of the Tathagata taught inThe Tantra of the Manifestation of the Three Samayas and the hundred-syllable mantra of Vajrasattva taught in many tantras. There are two kinds of hundred-syllable mantras of Vajrasattva, the peaceful hundred syllables of all families that can be changed into the name mantras of infinite supramundane deities, and the hundred-syllable mantra of the wrathful heruka, taught in The Highest Tantra of Speech. Although they may not all have exactly one hundred syllables, they are known as hundred-syllable mantras because they are all of the same mantra family.
Here I will describe the stages of visualization of the hundred-syllables of the peaceful Vajrasattva. There are two traditions: that of a single figure in the form of a universal emperor according to yoga tantra, and a coemergent one in union with a consort according to the tradition of the unexcelled yoga tantra. (The Torch of True Meaning by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, translated by David Karma Choephel, KTD Publications and Kagyu Monlam, 2014, p. 47)
No matter how much good we do in this and future lives, it’s necessary to make great efforts to purify our misdeeds and obscurations in various ways. Indian masters wrote that keeping samaya is the essence of achieving common or supreme siddhis. Milarepa also taught that if we do not confess the unwholesome and erroneous things we have done, not just in this lifetime but from beginningless time, it would be difficult to become a true vessel of the teachings, or to meditate on the path, or to understand the dharma.Among all the numerous methods to purify wrongdoings and downfalls,the greatest is the practice of Vajrasattva.If we are careless and do not acknowledge or confess our wrongs, even when they are slight, that small misdeed can grow huge.
The great Indian mahasiddhas also composed treatises that explained these downfalls and their remedies from the mantrayana's point of view.The vinaya tradition holds that even if we confess and vow not to commit them again, if we incur one of the defeats (killing, stealing, etc.),it cannot be purified. But The Sutra of the Manifestation of Three Samayas explains that due to great compassion in the secret mantra tradition, if we do fasting practice with the three stages of preparation, the actual practice, and conclusion, there’s no defeat or downfall of the pratimoksha vows that cannot be purified. The charya tantra also teaches ways of purification and so does the yoga tantra, stating that if we recite one hundred thousand mantras of Sarvavid Vairocana, we can purify all of our misdeeds.
There are two main traditions of Vajrasattva in terms of preliminary practices. For mahamudra in the yoga tradition, Vajrasattva is usually a single deity. For the Six Yogas of Naropa in the unexcelled yoga tantra, the coemergent Vajrasattva has a consort.
In sum, root downfalls in the tantric tradition are weighty and grave; they are also easy to commit and hard to avoid. If we do commit them, we will fall into the incessant or Avici hell for an incredibly long time.(It is said that during an equivalent period, someone could practice the mahayana path and come to buddhahood.)
However, if we recite the hundred-syllable mantra one hundred thousand times―not just with our mouths but from the depths of our heart―we can purify all the root downfalls of samaya.
Lord Atisha said that the downfalls of the vajrayana happen easily: if we even look at an object and think of it as an ordinary thing,that can become a downfall. If you carefully polish a mandala plate and just leave it out in a dusty place, it will naturally gather dust and grime. It is the same with the downfalls of the Vajrayana.
So one student asked Atisha, "If this is true, it must be difficult to achieve buddhahood through the vajrayana path." Atisha replied, "There's no need to worry about this. In the vajrayana, even though it’s easy to commit downfalls, we have a supreme method, the inconceivable meditation on Vajrasattva."
Some scholars say that if an individual has pratimoksha vows and later takes bodhisattva and vajrayana vows, the pratimoksha vows become an aspect or part of these later two vows. So if that person restores their vows through the methods of the bodhisattva or mantrayana, any violations of the pratimoksha vow are also restored at that time. It is also said that the bodhisattva vows are harder to keep than the pratimoksha vows, and secret mantra vajrayana vows are even more difficult to keep. Just as higher vows are more difficult to maintain, there are also more wondrous methods for restoring any downfalls. So we do not have to fear that these vows are too difficult and we will be unable to keep them.
If someone who has bodhisattva vows and aspirational bodhicitta in their being, incurs a defeat of the pratimoksha vows, this person can once again restore their vows, without being weakened in any way, in the presence of a support. This doesn’t appear in the vinaya, but a bodhisattva needs to accomplish a vast benefit for sentient beings and needs to gather the accumulation of merit for innumerable eons. This is a very long time, so it’s difficult for an individual in that situation to be so tight about the pratimoksha vows. Therefore, this is a particular allowance for an individual bodhisattva, but for Buddhism in general it’s better to hold the vows―holding the vows properly is more in accord with the vinaya and teaching in general.So we can say that in terms of the higher vows, they are more difficult to keep but this is balanced by being easier to restore. For his reason, there is no need to have any fear or apprehension about practicing them.
The Karmapa then spoke about the Vajrasattva practice that would follow after a short break. He wanted to borrow five minutes of our time as he had something to say.
Yesterday we received the Vajrasattva empowerment. After the break, I will give you the reading transmission for the practice and then we will do the practice and recite his mantra.
Kyabje Tai Situ Rinpoche’s tutor said to me that during the Kagyu Monlam, it would be good for us to recite ten million Vajrasattva mantras. Since this would be difficult, I thought about what to do. This year we’re having the Vajrasattva instructions, and it occurred to me that if we all recite the mantra together, we may not reach ten million but together we should accumulate a few million.
In general, we’re all practitioners of the secret mantra vajrayana and accumulate many root downfalls. If they fell upon Atisha like rain, for us they’re like a flood or an ocean. Particularly within the Karma Kamtsang for the last few decades, different situations have happened that relate tothe samaya between master and disciples,and between Dharma friends. We have many downfalls. We may think that we're very pure within ourselves, but that would actually be very difficult. For that reason, we need to recognize that our downfalls are downfalls and make efforts to purify them. If can do this,we will be able to have harmonious samaya connections, and the samaya within Karma Kamtsang lineage will not be tarnished in any way.
With this important statement, the Karmapa concluded the morning session of teachings.