Becoming Vajrasattva - Introduction
Purification, the Four Opponent Powers, and the Practice of Vajrasattva
The practice of heruka vajrasattva is a tantric Buddhist practice associated with the mother tantra deity Heruka Chakrasamvara. Yet it is also a preliminary to tantric practice generally, for like all Vajrasattva practices, it is primarily concerned with purification, preparing the mind to realize the deepest truths about reality. Without purifying your mind to prepare it for spiritual realizations, you will make little progress toward enlightenment. As Mañjushri advised Lama Je Tsongkhapa: to attain spiritual realizations one must combine meditation on the path to enlightenment with purification, accumulation of merit, and praying to one’s guru as a buddha. The yoga method of Heruka Vajrasattva involves all of these, and the methods for purification revealed in this book are among the most powerful ever taught.
Before Lama Yeshe first began giving tantric initiations and teachings to his Western students, he made sure they were well versed in the three principal aspects of the sutra path—renunciation of cyclic existence, the altruistic attitude of bodhichitta, and the right view of emptiness (shunyata). Only after a period of dedicated study and meditation of the sutra teachings did Lama Yeshe agree to initiate them into the purification practice of Heruka Vajrasattva. Lama recognized that a solid grounding in the fundamentals of the Buddha’s teachings on the nature of suffering and liberation is essential to gaining any benefit from the practice of tantra.
In Buddhism, purification is a science based on understanding the psychomechanics of karma, or action—the law of cause and effect—and entails the application of what are called the four opponent powers. Sometimes referred to as “confession,” Buddhist purification is very different from the Christian conception of the term, although parallels certainly exist.
Every action, whether physical, verbal, or mental, leaves an imprint on the consciousness, like a seed planted in a field. When the conditions are right, this imprint ripens into an experience. Positive imprints, or “good” karma, result in happiness; negative imprints, or “bad” karma, bring suffering.
Every action has four aspects that determine whether the action is complete or incomplete: motivation, object, performance, and completion. To be complete, the action of killing, for instance, would require the motivation, or intention, to kill; a sentient being as the object to be killed; performance of the action, either directly or indirectly, that is, doing it oneself or ordering someone else to do it; and completion of the action, with the other sentient being dying before the killer.
If an action is complete in all four aspects, it becomes what is called a throwing karma, an action that can determine your state of rebirth by throwing you into one of the six samsaric realms. If one or more of the four branches is missing, the action becomes a completing karma, determining the quality of the experiences you will have in this and future lives. A completing karma brings three types of result: the result similar to the cause in experience, the result similar to the cause in habit, and the environmental result. Thus, a complete negative karma has four suffering results. For killing, these four could be rebirth in a hell, a short life plagued with illness, a tendency to kill other beings, and rebirth in a very dangerous place.
Although all this applies equally to positive as well as negative actions, in the context of purification we focus on the latter. The four opponent powers work—and are all necessary— because each one counters one of the four negative karmic results. The first power—taking refuge and generating bodhichitta—is called the power of the object, or the power of dependence, and purifies the environmental result. It is called the power of dependence because our recovery depends upon the object that hurt us. For example, to get up after you have fallen over and hurt yourself, you depend upon the same ground that hurt you. Similarly, almost all the negative karma we create has as its object either holy objects or sentient beings. In order to purify it we take refuge in holy objects and generate bodhichitta for the sake of all sentient beings.
The second power is the power of release, which counteracts the result similar to the cause in experience. The third power is the power of the remedy, which is the antidote to the throwing karma that causes us to be reborn in the three lower realms. Finally, the fourth power is that of indestructible determination, by which we overcome our lifetime-to-lifetime tendency to habitually create negativities again and again. Thus, in neutralizing the four different results of negative karma, the four opponent powers purify them completely, preventing us from ever having to experience their suffering results. This kind of explicit logic lies behind all Buddhist practice and explains, in part, why Buddhism is so appealing to the intelligent, well-educated spiritual seeker of today.
The third power embraces many different kinds of remedy, from making prostrations to building stupas to reciting the hundred-syllable Vajrasattva mantra to meditating on emptiness. Ideally, several of these are practiced simultaneously. In the commentary, Lama Yeshe emphasizes realization of emptiness as the ultimate purification and shows how correct practice of the sadhana, which contains the four opponent powers, organically leads up to the explicit remedy in this practice, recitation of the mantra. His detailed explanation of the Mahayana technique of inner refuge as part of the power of the object is both exceptional and unique.
As Lama Yeshe makes abundantly clear, the most effective—although not the only—way to practice the Vajrasattva purification method is in retreat. Therefore, he has given detailed instructions on every aspect of group and individual retreat, instructions that will, in fact, be useful for those making any kind of retreat.
The six discourses in part 3 will be especially useful for retreaters to read during session breaks. However, no one reading these excellent talks will fail to be moved by Lama’s uniquely inspiring energy.
Finally, all practitioners of mother tantra are required to offer tsok on the tenth and twenty-fifth days of the Tibetan month, and most do so by practicing the Guru Puja. However, the Heruka Vajrasattva tsok that Lama composed is also a perfect means of fulfilling that commitment, especially when in Vajrasattva retreat, and it was Lama’s hope that his students and others would include this tsok puja as part of their regular practice.
It is often said that the lamrim teachings are like a meal ready to eat—that the logical way in which they are arranged makes it easy to see the entire Dharma path and to know in which order the vast array of Buddhist meditations should be undertaken in order for the practitioner to reach enlightenment. Similarly, in Becoming Vajrasattva, Lama Yeshe has prepared a tantric banquet for all to enjoy.
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© Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, Becoming the Compassion Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2004)
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