Six-Session Yoga: The Merit Field and Prostration

Visualizing the Closely Bonding Being

After having dissolved the objects of refuge, we now want to build up the two enlightenment-building networks – that’s the two collections – because that was one of the five trainings of pledged bodhichitta. So now we again visualize our guru-yidam. Are you familiar with the term “field of merit,” the merit field? That’s what we’re talking about. What that means is a field – not necessarily a field with cows – a field which is like a field of vision, or an object, that we’re going to use for building up positive force and deep awareness: the two networks or collections. So this is what we’re doing here. Although any yidam will do, here we use, as I explained before, blue Vajradhara as in Guhyasamaja – one face two arms. And this visualization is called the “closely bonding being” (dam-tshigs sems-pa, Skt: samayasattva) is how I translate it. Usually that’s translated as “commitment being.”

When you do visualization in tantra, we have several levels of the visualization. First you visualize what’s called this closely bonding being – that’s the first thing – to bond you closely with the yidam. And then you bring forth another visualization, which looks exactly the same – that’s called the deep awareness being (yes-shes sems-pa, Skt: jnanasattva), or it’s usually translated as “wisdom being” – and you combine the two. I will explain that when we get to that step. I mean, also these have other meanings as well, but let’s just stay with this one meaning. We’ll only stay with this one usage of these terms.

So now we have the visualization as described in the text:

In the sky before me, on a breath-taking throne of jewels, on top of a water-born lotus, and mandala-discs of a sun and full moon, sits my root guru, Vajradhara, ruler of the all-pervasive,

Here, again, a throne of jewels. The same type of throne as we had before. And the lotus. And the mandala disc – that’s just the flat disc of a sun and a moon. Here the moon is on top; in the other one, the sun was on top.

The root guru, by the way, is the one that is not necessarily our first teacher, not necessarily the main teacher, but the teacher who is the inspiration – the one who acts as a root – for us to be able to derive all our nourishment, our sustenance to go further on the path. So it’s the root. A root of a plant is where you get nourishment and it’s the foundation that keeps the plant supported for it to grow.

If we have more than one root guru, we would imagine all of them as fitting harmoniously together like the faces of Avalokiteshvara. For that, it’s very important that our teachers all have good relationships with each other. This is why it’s very difficult if there’s one of these – what shall we say – spiritual political wars that go on, unfortunately, with two different factions in which the gurus become like enemies of each other. If both of them are our teachers that’s very difficult, in terms of tantra practice, because they don’t fit together. This is why one tries to avoid those type of situations. They don’t have to be best friends, or have teacher/student relations with each other, but at least they’re harmonious with each other.

Vajradhara is called the ruler of the all-pervasive (khyab-bdag). What is all-pervasive is voidness. That pervades everywhere. So, he’s a ruler – he’s one that has mastered the understanding of voidness, the sphere of reality that pervades everything. So he has a blue-colored body. Blue signifies, as we said, the enlightened mind, the sphere of reality, so it’s blue.

The visualization continues:

With a blue-colored body, one face and two arms, holding vajra and bell, and embracing a motherly likeness of himself.

So it’s a couple. The partner looks exactly the same, except for the gender. “Mother” is used – the couple is referred to as “mother” and “father.” Practicing like this gives birth to enlightenment, like a mother and father gives birth to a child. The mother and father represent things, obviously, here, in terms of method and wisdom and many, many different levels.

So it goes on:

Emblazoned with the marks and exemplary features of a Buddha,

That’s the 32 major marks and the 80 exemplary features of a Buddha.

Adorned with lavish jeweled ornaments, draped with fine garments of enchanting, heavenly scarves – the mere remembrance of you dispels all my torment.

Wearing jewels symbolizes Sambhogakaya. Tsongkhapa, one of his big deeds was to crown one of these enormous statues in Tibet with a jeweled crown, symbolizing that it was a Sambhogakaya statue. The significance of Sambhogakaya is that it stays to the end of samsara; it doesn’t pass away. So it’s considered more auspicious. Nirmanakayas pass away, like Buddha passed away. Sambhogakayas don’t do that.

The mere remembrance of you dispels all my torment. “Remembrance” – so I’m using the word “remember.” This is a difficult word (dran-pa) because it also means mindful, to hold it in mind. So that means visualizing this as well. Keeping this in my mind makes me feel happy, dispels my torment, and I don’t feel unhappy. And that indicates that obviously this is inspiring, uplifting.

With a nature encompassing every superlative source of direction,

In other words, again it incorporates the three jewels.

You sit in the vajra position,

That’s the legs crossed. What in the Hindu system is called the “full-lotus.” In Buddhist terminology that’s called the “vajra position.”

Your body’s three spots marked with three syllables.

White OM by the forehead, red AH by the throat, blue HUM by the heart – for body, speech and mind. So that’s inside the body, standing up.

The Deep Awareness Beings

So this is the visualization. Then we call in and merge the deep awareness beings (ye-shes sems-pa, Skt. jnanasattva), often translated as "wisdom beings." Now light goes out from the HUM and brings back the deep awareness beings.

So where is the HUM? That is the question. Many commentaries explain that the HUM is the HUM in the heart of Vajradhara in the visualization in front of us. And although that explanation appears, that does not fit in with general tantra practice. In general, in all practices light goes out from our heart, as the yidam, and brings back the deep awareness beings and joins it with the visualization in front of us. That’s the way it is in all sadhanas. First you visualize some object in front of you, light goes out from the HUM in your heart and brings back the deep awareness beings, and they merge with that visualization. Every sadhana is like that. So Serkong Rinpoche explained that’s the same visualization here. It’s not that the lights go out from the HUM in the heart of Vajradhara; it goes out from our own heart. Serkong Rinpoche was my main teacher. That’s the tradition that I follow. And it certainly is more consistent with all the other tantra practices and visualization practices. Actually, Kirti Tsenshap Rinpoche explained that there are three possibilities. So either we can still have the lights go out from the HUM in Vajradhara in front of us, or they can go out from the HUM in our own heart, or they can go out from both.

Now what are we talking about when we talk about the deep awareness beings? The closely bonding being, that’s the one that we sort of practice with in order to make a close connection. When we talk about general tantra – because this is in all four classes of tantra – then usually they the deep awareness beings represent the actual enlightened beings, the actual enlightened beings off in the pure lands. Send out lights from your heart like a hook; they invite the deep awareness beings back from the Buddha-fields – the actual ones – to join with the ones that we are visualizing in front of us:

The enlightened being, Vajradhara. Mr. Vajradhara lives in a Buddha-field called Vajradhara Land. And we send out a carrier pigeon with a message, from the light from our heart, saying, “Please, Mr. Real Vajradhara, come here and join with this make-believe one that I’m visualizing.”

So that is what is in the general understanding that’s common to all four classes of tantra. Obviously there’s a deeper understanding. As Serkong Rinpoche said, you can’t really say that the deep awareness being is more real than the closely bonding being. That is false. Because some people think that; what I’m doing here is make-believe, and now we make it real. He said that’s not really a very sophisticated understanding of the process.

The reason Serkong Rinpoche said this is you work it out with logic. He said when you achieve the path of accumulation (the path of building up) – the first of the five paths has three stages. When you reach the third of those stages, then you can receive teachings from all representations of Buddhas – from statues and paintings of Buddhas. So they all can be equally sources of teachings. So, similarly, the closely bonding being or the deep awareness being – equally, one could receive teachings. Based on that logic, you can’t say that one is more real than the other. Because, at that level, you can receive teachings even from this statue behind us. Then you can’t say that this statue is a more real Buddha than a Buddha in a Buddha-land – in terms of a source of teaching.

But they are just two representations of Vajradhara here, representing them on different levels. Sakya gives a very good explanation of this – the Sakya tradition – when it speaks about the view of the inseparability of samsara and nirvana. So everything has a samsaric appearance and a nirvanic appearance. And so the close bonding being would be like the samsaric appearance that we are working with here, now, in our visualization. And now we bring in the nirvanic appearance, and bring it together. And in Sakya actually you don’t bring this deep awareness, this nirvanic aspect, from some Buddha-field out there. You realize that it was there all along – just a different level, there all along.

Another explanation, which is also valid for all classes of tantra, is that the closely bonding being represents Dharmakaya, which of course is always in connection with some Form Body – connection with Rupakaya – so there’s an appearance. And the deep awareness beings are the various emanations of this in the various Buddha-fields and lands, teaching others. And so we draw them all back in and merge them with the closely bonding being, indicating that they are all emanations from our guru-yidam’s enlightened state. So that’s another way of understanding it.

This bringing in the deep awareness beings is in absolutely every tantra practice, so it’s good to have some idea of what it represents. And there’s many levels of what it could represent.

Then there’s another level of understanding, that is specific to anuttarayoga tantra and it’s made very clear in Kalachakra. So the closely bonding being represents our subtle body. And bringing in the deep awareness beings into it is bringing in what’s called the deep awareness breaths (ye-shes-kyi rlung) into the central channel.

So we can understand bringing in these deep awareness beings on many, many different levels – so bringing in various emanations all together; bringing in the actual Buddhas from the Buddha-fields; bringing in different levels that a Buddha can manifest all together; and bringing in the winds into the central channel – understand any practice that we do. We understand it on many, many different levels. Okay?

So we say here:

By rays of light from the HUM,

That’s all that it says in the text. So it comes from us; bring it in – if we do it in this manner that Serkong Rinpoche described.

By rays of light from the HUM, Guru Vajradhara from his natural abode – JAH HUM BAM HOH – becomes nondual with you.

The Tibetans pronounce it TZAH rather than JAH, which is actually the Kashmiri pronunciation of that letter in the Sanskrit alphabet. It’s pronounced TZAH in Kashmiri. That’s where the Tibetans get this pronunciation from because they got their alphabet in Kashmir.

So this JAH HUM BAM HOH: With JAH, they hover – the deep awareness beings – hover above the closely bonding beings. Hovers above. With HUM, they merge. With BAM, they become inseparable. And with HOH, this is made firm.

If one likes to do the mudras, there are mudras which are done with this. First of all you have your two hands with the small finger and the first finger sticking out, and your thumb on top of the two middle fingers, which are bent. That’s called the threatening mudra. It’s maybe too strong. That’s how it’s usually translated. It’s the injunction mudra; it’s giving orders.

So with JAH, the left hand is up, with the back of the hand facing out… Yes, the left hand is – hold it sticking up, with the back of the hand facing away from you. And the right hand is with the back facing your face. And the first finger of the right hand touches the last finger of the left hand – ZAH.

Then you turn it around for HUM. The right hand has the back sticking out, the left has the back facing toward us, and the first finger of the left hand touches the small finger of the right hand. And then BAM – ZAH HUM BAM – you have the two hands face each other, and the two first fingers touch and the two little fingers touch.

And HOH, you cross your hands with the right hand in front of the left.

All of this is the Akshobhya close bond of relying in a healthy manner on a spiritual master. Seeing the guru as a Buddha – is a Buddha in terms of Buddha-nature – as the object that will inspire us, and the object with whom we can build up a tremendous amount of positive force and deep awareness.

Offering Prostrations to the Guru

Then next, to fulfill the Fifty Stanzas on the Guru injunction – that’s its advice, that we offer prostrations each day to our guru – then we have a verse of making prostrations to the guru. So we say here:

Your kindness heralds in an instant a dawn of great bliss. Oh jewel-like guru, Holder of the Vajras, I bow at your lotus-feet.

How do we understand this verse? Your kindness. The guru’s very kind, and thinking of it brings in an instant, a dawn of great bliss. In other words, it inspires us; it makes us feel very blissful. Jewel-like guru: the Guru incorporates the Three Jewels of Refuge, the Three Gems. Holder of the Vajras. “Vajra” means diamond-strong. So this is the holder of diamond-strong (or vajra) body, speech, and mind. The guru has an enlightening body, enlightening speech, and enlightening mind. That’s the holder of the three vajras.

I bow at your lotus-feet: What does lotus-feet mean? What is the symbol? A lotus is something which grows from the mud but is not stained by the mud. A lotus grows in a muddy lake, from the shore of the lake where it’s very muddy. If you walked in, you’d get your feet all muddy. And so on. So the lotus grows from there, but it’s not made dirty by it. So it’s not dirty. It grows out of that.

So the feet walk on the ground, but it’s not that the guru is dirty. So this symbol of lotus – I think this is the meaning of it. I’ve not heard that explained in any text. But to me, as Serkong Rinpoche always said, figure it out logically: What would the symbol be that to me makes sense as to why it’s called “lotus-feet.” You’re not going to find explanations for every tiny little point. We’re just putting together the pieces of the puzzle; that’s all it is.

What is the image of the lotus? How is it used? Well, if you’ve had a lot of teachings then you know that piece of the puzzle – what the image of the lotus is in Sanskrit poetry. You walk like an elephant – elephants walk very nicely; move their behinds very nicely. Sanskrit uses metaphors, and so earlier in this verse where it says “on top of a water-born lotus,” actually the Tibetan only says “water-born.” The Sanskrit would also say “water-born.” “Water-born” is a metaphor for lotus. So there’s a metaphor there, but it’s not just arbitrary. Actually, this is one of the fields of study. One of the traditional fields of study is metaphors, because Sanskrit uses so many. When you read the texts and it’s translated into Tibetan, you’ve no idea what it is unless you’ve studied these thousands of metaphors. Well, they translate it literally, so if you don’t know it then you’ve no idea what it is. The Tibetans translate literally “water-born.” We tend to just throw that out and just translate it as “lotus,” so you lose the beauty of the Sanskrit language, the poetic beauty of it. So I’m compromising here and putting both: “water-born lotus.” In Tibetan and Sanskrit it would just be “water-born.” I don’t think it’s fair to the tradition to make it cheap, to rob it of its poetic richness.

By the way, do you know what a lotus looks like? In the center of a lotus… I forget the botanical word – stamen seed-head, or whatever it is. It looks like a shower nozzle. So it’s sticking up from the middle of it, and the petals come from underneath and around. So that shower nozzle thing sticks up, and then it’s on that that you have the sun and the moon disc.

Also, whenever we make prostration, when we visualize making prostration, it’s always important to imagine that we multiply into countless forms and all of them are prostrating.

Pabongka’s Additions

It’s here that Pabongka adds the praises: the eight-line praise to Chakrasamvara or Heruka, and then the eight-line praise to Vajrayogini. So this is offering praise to the guru-yidam, and this would be only for mother tantra. So we will not give an explanation of that since that’s very complex; every word of it is full of meaning, and every syllable of every word of it is full of meaning.

These eight-line verses are often in Kalachakra because Kalachakra is considered mother tantra. But it doesn’t have to be in there because then. Sometimes Kalachakra is considered nondual tantra, and these praises are specifically in terms of Chakrasamvara, Vajrayogini, and Hevajra, which are the systems with which one practices the six yogas of Naropa – you practice with one of those. So you don’t do that with Kalachakra. So there is some difference.

These verses of praise, then, are optional. There’s no harm in adding them, and there’s no harm in leaving them out.