The Blissful Understanding of Voidness
Now we go on to the second half of the six-session guru practice:
Requested like this, my supreme guru alights on the crown of my head. We merge – samaja.
Samaja is the Sanskrit word meaning “to unite.” It’s the same word “to come together” and so it also means “assemblies.” In Guhyasamaja, it’s the same word; it’s the samaja, the coming together or the assembly of guhya – all the hidden secret factors.
Up until now we’ve been visualizing our guru-yidam in front of us. Now we imagine the guru-yidam comes to the top of our head and sits there, with his face in the same direction that our face is facing. So then that gets smaller and smaller, it dissolves into light, goes down our central channel and merges at our heart so that we become inseparable. It merges with our mind, and then we dissolve all appearances with the understanding of voidness.
If we are visualizing ourselves as a yidam with the HUM in our hearts, then he dissolves and merges into the HUM. At this point, we remind ourselves of voidness, and in that state of voidness we dissolve all appearances of true existence, which here is equivalent to dissolving all appearances. So you stay in a state of voidness. But this is with the understanding of voidness – that true existence is impossible. It’s not that we just shut off the light and don’t see anything anymore, and then the next stage we turn the light back on. The point is to dissolve the appearances of true existence based on understanding that this does not correspond to anything real. This is impossible, that things exist in the way that they appear to us.
This fulfills the root tantric vow not to neglect meditating on voidness three times each day and three times each night. This line is not recited the second and third time.
Then we continue:
Once more you gladly become of a singular taste with me.
Now with that line, we just reaffirm being blissfully of a singular taste of voidness with our guru-yidam. The fact that we become one with the guru, that makes it very happy. Here it says Once more you gladly become of a singular taste, but “gladly” doesn’t modify just the guru – it’s not just that the guru is glad or happy to become one with us – it makes us happy as well.
In the second and third repetitions of the second half of the practice, you also have to remember and be mindful of voidness. But it’s not that you again visualize the guru on your head, and again sink into you, and again you visualize it, and again sink into you – although one could do that, that’s not absolutely necessary. The main point is this blissful understanding of voidness from the guru having united with us.
Arising in the Form of a Yidam
After this meditation on voidness, then we arise in the form of a yidam ourselves. This whole process of dissolving appearances with the understanding of voidness and then arising in the form of a yidam can be done in two styles. Remember we said that you can practice this six-session in the style of a sadhana or not in the style of a sadhana.
If we do it in the style of a sadhana, then we would do this as in an anuttarayoga sadhana, which is called “taking the three occasions as the pathway for the three Buddha-bodies.” So the three occasions are death, bardo, and rebirth. And so we meditate, dissolving the appearances to get to voidness – so Dharmakaya – in terms of how the appearances dissolve at the time of death. Since this is usually done in many practices, not all practices, with parts of the syllable HUM in your heart dissolving progressively into each other, then this fits with having visualized ourselves as the yidam all along in this practice with the HUM in our heart. And then there’s a visualization similar to bardo, which is for arising as Sambhoghakaya – so imagining ourselves in a simple form. And then visualizing ourselves in the full form, which is similar to rebirth, and that’s to ripen into arising as a Nirmanakaya.
And so, depending on which yidam we are practicing this procedure with, we would follow the specific type of death, bardo, and rebirth visualization of that practice. In each deity system the visualization is slightly different. And so in the Kalachakra six-session, we do this in the style of Kalachakra with the visualizations and understanding from that system. And in the Kalachakra system we don’t have bardo as a Sambhoghakaya; there’s just two: death as Dharmakaya and rebirth as Nirmanakaya.
This type of explanation, of doing this stage here similar to a sadhana, we find for instance in Pabongka’s commentary to the six-session practice. But we can also practice this not in a style of a sadhana, and in this case we just meditate on voidness without dissolving appearances in eight stages (like in regular anuttarayoga) or in ten stages (as in Kalachakra). You dissolve appearances of true existence all at once, like you do in sutra. And, similarly, we arise instantaneously as the yidam, rather than in stages. So obviously if we are beginners, from all these possible choices of ways in which things are done, it would make more sense to choose the simplest one.
Now we visualize ourselves in the form of the yidam, and here it is Vajrasattva with a partner. And Vajrasattva, as you recall, is not the Vajrasattva of purification, which is white. It’s the Vajrasattva which is found in the Guhyasamaja system who is blue. Not the one for purification, the one that’s in the yidam practice. So we say:
With the pride of a Vajrasattva, holding vajra and bell, symbolic of the hidden factors of co-arising great bliss and the state by nature fantasy-free, I embrace Bhagavati.
Poetic, isn’t it? Holding vajra and bell and keeping in mind what the vajra and bell stand for is upholding the Akshobhya bond of keeping a vajra and a bell. And then I embrace Bhagavati after that is the bond of Akshobhya to have the mudra, to have the two inseparable.
Bhagavati looks exactly like us, except it’s female. And we imagine that we are both. Whenever you visualize yourself as a couple, you visualize yourself as both. It’s not that this is another being. This is a general principle. No matter how many figures are in the mandala – 722 in Kalachakra – we’re all of them. And we’re also the building as well, like the skin is part of us, part of our body.
So we hold the vajra and bell. Here it is clear the vajra is great bliss. And the bell is the state which is by nature fantasy-free – free of fantasies of impossible ways of existing – so that refers to voidness. And co-arising means that we have the two simultaneously; they arise simultaneously. So it’s a blissful awareness which understands voidness – which is the understanding of voidness. These are keeping these three bonding practices of Akshobhya. And now we’ve completed the four of Akshobhya – the other one was the guru.
Then we again are going to make offerings, now to everybody. What are we going to offer? So we say:
My body and likewise my wealth,
This is the Ratnasambhava bond of giving material things. What else do we give? We give also:
And as massive a network of constructive acts as I have built up throughout the three times,
That is the Ratnasambhava bond of giving Dharma. Just as we understood giving the freedom from fear as having the wish for everybody to reach enlightenment in which they will be free from all fears, which is a slightly different understanding than we usually have of what it means to give freedom from fear; similarly, giving of Dharma here is understood a little bit differently from our usual way of understanding it. Normally when we think of giving Dharma to others, we think of giving them teachings or advice that’s in accordance with the Dharma. But here we think in a larger sense, and we give to others the positive force or merit that comes from our practice of the Dharma. And also we dedicate to others. So that, likewise, is a giving of Dharma; giving what arises from our own practice of Dharma.
Now we’ve completed the four types of giving, the four types of bonding practices of Ratnasambhava. The giving of love and of freedom from fear was in the four immeasurables.
My body and likewise my wealth, and as massive a network of constructive acts as I have built up throughout the three times, I give, from now on, without sense of a loss, to help limited beings, who have all been my mothers
That’s important, to give without feeling a sense of a loss – I give you my dessert, and now I don’t have any dessert to eat – we feel sorry that we’ve lost something. Not like that. It’s very important, when we give, to rejoice in our act of giving and not regret our act of giving and what we’ve lost by it.
Reviewing the Vows and Close Bonding Practices
It’s at this point that the review of all our vows and the other close bonding practices that were added by Pabongka Rinpoche. This is of course extremely beneficial, to keep mindful of the vows; otherwise it’s very easy to forget them.
Now the first verse of these vows is reciting the different subdivisions of the monk vows. If we’re not a fully ordained monk, we don’t recite this verse. It’s usually not even translated in Western language versions.The important point is that if we’re not a monk, but if we have some other type of pratimoksha vow – a vow for individual liberation – which in the Gelug tradition, if we were doing it properly we would have, then we would remind ourselves of those vows. For many people that would be the lay vows. And with the lay vows, these are the five vows of not to kill, steal, lie, inappropriate sexual behavior, and alcohol. And one should be aware that one doesn’t have to take all five; you can take any number of them. But at this point one would reaffirm those, remind ourselves of those. Often people forget that and don’t include that there because it’s not specifically in the text. But we need to substitute there whatever pratimoksha vows we have.
We will skip the long explanation of the bodhisattva and tantric vows we recite here.
We only recite that once. On the second and third repetitions, we don’t recite all of that.
This way of reciting is for doing three at a time, once in the morning and once at night. If you do six at a time – which is possible, of course – then the shortened version (like we normally do for the second and third recitation) you would do for the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth time. Sometimes one may need to do the practice that way. There’s no rule how you do them. You can do them six different times a day, in which case you do it full six times. But if we’re doing it two times, three times a day, or whatever – but however many that you do in one sitting, the first one you do fully, and then the other ones you do in this shortened way of leaving out some sections.
One needs flexibility. And do it according to one’s schedule. Remember the term “Sugata”: blissfully gone. Geshe Dhargyey always used to say this, that this means that this is a path that is supposed to bring us joy, so don’t practice it in a way that it makes you feel guilty, and it’s just, “Oh I’m terrible! I have to practice now, and I don’t have time, and I’m falling asleep.” Don’t make it into a torture. The path is a blissful path, so do it in a way that brings you joy. If we’re doing it in a way that just makes us unhappy and frustrated, we need to correct the way that we’re doing it; we’re not doing it properly.
If you know that you’re going out at night tonight to an all-night party, do it six times in the morning. Don’t leave it, then “Oh my God!” you’re going to come home and it’s going to be the next morning already, and I’m going to be so tired I’ll forget, or whatever. Don’t do it like that. Be flexible. You know that it’s going to be very difficult to do it at night, so do all six in the morning. So, blissful – blissfully gone – Sugata.
Now we go to the next verse after this:
I shall not transgress, even in my dreams, the most minor training concerning the prohibitions that keep my pratimoksha, bodhisattva, and tantric vows pure. I shall practice in accord with the Triumphant One’s words.
This point here about the dreams is quite interesting because this is hinting at the different stages on the “path of preparation,” it’s usually translated – I call it the path of application – the second of the two paths, where you apply what you have got on the first path. When we talk about grasping for true existence, first you want to get rid of that when you are awake. Then on the more advanced stages, you don’t have that even in your dreams. So this is indicating as well these type of steps: that we want to build up such a habit and familiarity, that it’s not only that we avoid transgressing the vows while we’re awake, but even in our dreams we don’t go around shooting people or whatever – indulging in inappropriate sexual behavior in our dreams, and so on.
And when it says even the most minor training, this goes back to one of the tantric vows, the second tantric vow, which would be disregarding or trivializing any of the aspects of ethical training. In other words, saying, “Well, these small vows, that doesn’t really matter, just the big ones. I can go around shooting people.” When we take on the vows and the Buddhist practices, it’s not a matter of picking and choosing just the parts that we like and throw away the parts that we don’t like. Although, as I say, with the five lay vows one doesn’t have to take all of them. But bodhisattva and tantric vows, you take all of them. It’s the same thing with the novice and full monk and nun vows; there you have to take all of them.
This verse of keeping the vows, this is the Vairochana bond of the ethical self-discipline of restraining from destructive actions, and also the Amoghasiddhi bond of keeping all our vows and commitments.
Then the next verse:
I shall fully uphold all the verbal and realized hallowed Dharma, without exception, as gathered in the three sutra vehicles and four tantra sets, in exact accord with the meanings that the Triumphant intended.
To uphold the verbal and realized Dharma: the verbal are the actual words of the teachings, and the “realized” means to uphold the realizations. And we try to “uphold” means that we honor it and don’t deny it, and so on – try to achieve it. We can teach not only with the words; one teaches by the example of our realization.
This is the Amitabha three bonds of upholding the three sutra vehicles, the two outer tantra classes, and the two secret tantra classes. And this also fulfills the Vairochana bond of the ethical self-discipline to engage in constructive behavior. So we are listening to these teachings – all these vehicles – thinking about them, meditating on them, and so on. Constructive behavior is not just that; it’s also valuing these teachings.
Then the last line of this stanza:
I shall totally liberate wandering beings by means that suit each.
This is the Vairochana bond of the ethical self-discipline to benefit all beings. I’m going to work to liberate them by the methods that are appropriate to each.
That completes the nineteen close bonding practices. So when we repeat the second and third time this second half of the practice, we leave out the first line – that the guru comes to the top of our head – and we leave out all the vows. But we do the other five verses: the three verses before the vows and the two after the vows.
After we’ve finished all of that, we do the dedication. In the original Panchen Lama version, there’s only one verse here. Pabongka added two more verses. And often Tibetan lamas will add many, many more verses of dedication at the end of the various practices that they do. So this is not something which is unusual.
The last verse here is the one verse from the Panchen Lama version:
Through the lustrous positive forcederiving from this, may I never transgress, throughout all my lives, the bounds prescribed by Vajradhara’s authority.
Positive force is what others translate as "merit." This verse is like a request to the gurus to inspire me not to transgress these nineteen close bonding practices or any of the vows. This is the main point of this practice.
May I complete the stages of the twofold path.
That indicates the twofold path referring to the two stages of anuttarayoga practice. And this is pointing out that keeping all the vows is the prerequisite for success on following the stages of tantra practice.
When we do this practice, we only recite the dedication verse once. We don’t need to recite it three times.
The Abbreviated Six-Session Yoga Practice
Now, just very quickly, let me indicate how the shorter version also fulfills all these nineteen vows.
I take safe direction wholeheartedly from the Three Supreme Gems.
That’s the three Vairochana bonds of safe direction.
I shall free all wandering beings from suffering
That’s the Ratnasambhava bond of giving love.
and secure them in everlasting bliss.
That’s the Ratnasambhava bond of giving freedom from fear. Then we have the bodhisattva vows again:
To reach full enlightenment for their sake, I reaffirm my bodhichitta aim and shall train myself in bodhisattva behavior.
Then we visualize the guru-yidam:
In the sky before me, on a throne, a lotus, a sun, and moon, sits my root guru, Vajradhara, ruler of the all-pervasive, with blue colored body, holding vajra and bell, Embracing Dhatu-ishvari, and sporting with co-arising bliss. Your body’s three spots are marked with three syllables. Light from the HUM invites the beings for deep awareness: you become of one taste.
That’s the Akshobhya bond of relying on the spiritual mentor or guru. Then:
I prostrate at your lotus feet, Vajradhara, and present you with an ocean of clouds of outer, inner, and hidden offerings.
That’s =the Amoghasiddhi bond of making offerings.
Then the mandala offering:
I present you also with the peerless offerings of Samantabhadra: Including Mount Merus, their island-worlds, the precious fixtures of royalty, treasure vases, suns, and moons.
Then we have relating to the teacher, the spiritual teacher – just a shorter version – with the next verse:
All supreme and common actual attainments, without exception, follow upon correctly relating to you, my Guardian, in a healthy manner. Seeing this, I fully devote my body and even my life: inspire me to practice what only will please you.
Up to here is equivalent to the first half of the practice. Then equivalent of the second half:
Requested like this, my guru alights on the crown of my head; we merge and become inseparably one taste.
That’s voidness meditation.
Now I rise as a Vajrasattva, holding vajra and bell, embracing a Bhagavati, and sporting with co-arising bliss.
The beginning here is, again, when we visualize ourself as the yidam. Then we have again the vajra and bell and mudra commitments of Akshobhya. Then:
Without sense of a loss, I give, for the sake of my mothers, my land, my body and wealth,
That’s the Ratnasambhava bond of giving material things.
and the network of my constructive acts throughout the three times.
That’s the Ratnasambhava bond of giving the Dharma.
I shall never transgress, though my life be at stake, the bounds prescribed by the pratimoksha, bodhisattva, or tantric vows.
That’s the Vairochana bond of the discipline of refraining from destructive actions.
I shall fully uphold the scriptural and realized Dharma gathered in the three sutra vehicles and four tantra sets.
That’s the three bonds of Amitabha to keep the three classes of the teachings, and the Vairochana bond of ethical discipline to engage in constructive behavior.
Then the last line:
I shall totally liberate wandering beings with their skillful means.
That’s the Vairochana bond of the discipline to benefit all beings. Then the last two verses are the dedication:
I dedicate this constructive act for the deeds and prayers of the Blissfully Gone Buddhas and their spiritual offspring, throughout the three times, to be fulfilled and for the hallowed Dharma to be upheld. By inspiration from the Supreme Triple Gem and the force of infallible dependent arising, may all my excellent prayers come true so that I quickly attain the state of a Buddha.
That last verse is indicating that, by following this practice, then by dependent arising – in other words, our attainment of Buddhahood will arise dependent on practice.
So, like this, we can see that the short version does fulfill and do everything that you have in the long version, just shorter.
When we practice the short version, the way that it is usually done is to recite the whole thing three times. It’s not that you do the first half three times, then the second half three times and then the dedication once. Usually you go through the whole thing three times in a row. Or one can do it in the style that Khenzur Ugyen Tseten Rinpoche recommended – which I find actually quite helpful – is to recite each line three times at a time, and then go to the next line three times. Because then you really get much more into the feeling of each line, otherwise it’s so quick that you can do it quite mindlessly.
Likewise, for those that are interested, when we get to the Kalachakra six-session, it’s exactly the same. One can point to all the sections in the exact same order that fulfill this basic essential point of this six-session practice, which is to be mindful of these nineteen close bonding practices. The Kalachakra version just adds more to various sections that are similar to the sadhana, but it doesn’t have every defining piece of the Kalachakra sadhana. That’s why it’s not exactly a substitute for the sadhana.