Six-Session Yoga: Theory

The six-session yoga is a practice which helps us to keep the commitments from receiving an initiation or empowerment in the anuttarayoga class of tantra. And so this evening what I’d like to do is give a little bit of introduction and background to what’s going on with this practice and how it’s helping us to keep our commitments.

Classes of Tantra

In general, there are four classes of tantra. The first class is called kriya tantra, which is ritual tantra. And this puts the main emphasis on external ritualistic practices. So things like being very careful about the diet, and such type of external things – and ritual washing, and so on. Of course there is meditation as well, but it has more emphasis on this these external practices than in other classes. And the second class is called charya tantra, which means behavioral tantra. And that has an equal emphasis on external and internal activities. Next is yoga tantra – “yoga” means an integrated type of practice – and that puts more emphasis on internal practices. And particularly it has a lot of practices with mudras, these hand gestures that are done in association with various aspects of the practice. Then the highest class is called anuttarayoga tantra, or peerlessly, supremely integrated practice. This puts emphasis on special internal methods, particularly working with the chakras, and the energy channels, and the winds.

Closely Bonding Practices and Vows

In all of these classes of tantra we have various vows and closely bonding practices. Closely bonding practices – that’s how I translate the Tibetan word “damtsig” (dam-tshig), the Sanskrit word “samaya.” And the six-session practice has to do with these vows and bonding practices, so it is important to have some idea of what that means – the difference between these two. A vow (sdom-pa) is a promise to restrain from some type of negative action. And a close bonding practice is to practice something – it’s not to avoid something, but it’s to do something which will make a close connection with, usually, the Buddha-families or with the Buddha-figure itself.

When we talk about a vow to avoid something negative, there’s actually two types of negative actions. The technical term is an unspeakable action (kha-na ma-tho-ba; uncommendable action); this is the term for something which is negative. And so there are naturally unspeakable actions and then what’s called proscribed or prohibited unspeakable actions. So a natural one would be something which is naturally destructive, like killing and stealing and so on; it’s destructive for anybody. Whereas a proscribed negative action is something that Buddha pointed out – proscribed – and said that this would be detrimental for certain people in certain situations. Not for everybody, but for specific people in specific situations. Like, for instance, for monks or nuns to eat after noon. That’s not negative for everybody, but if one is trying to have a clear mind for meditation at night and in the morning, then it would be harmful or detrimental to eat after noon, so it was proscribed for monks and nuns. Or we can look at… As part of the tantric vows, one of the things that we promise to do is to not to neglect meditating on voidness every day. So that’s not for everybody. It’s only if we are actually practicing tantra. Then if we forget meditating on voidness every day, that’s harmful for our practice.

Pratimoksha Vows

There are three basic types of sets of vows. We have the pratimoksha vows. “Pratimoksha” means for individual liberation. These would be the vows of a lay person, or a novice, or a fully ordained person – male and female for each. There’s also a provisional nun vow. There’s seven classes of these. So if we are working for liberation, then each of us individually would need to have one of these sets of vows.

A vow, by the way, as asserted by the Vaibhashika, Sautrantika-Svatantrika and Prasangika-Madhyamaka tenet systems, is a subtle form, specifically a nonrevealing form (rnam-par rig-byed ma-yin-pa'i gzugs) – a subtle form not made of particles and knowable only by mental cognition. Nonrevealing forms are caused by a strong constructive or destructive motivation and, consequently are themselves either constructive or destructive, but they are “nonrevealing” in that they do not reveal that motivation. As a subtle form, a vow is like a boundary within our mental continuum that says: “We are not going beyond this boundary. We are going to avoid those actions which are beyond this boundary in terms of our conduct.” A vow continues to cause us to avoid certain types of behavior whether we are awake or asleep, so long as we do not give it up.

Bodhisattva Vows

The second class of vows, asserted only in the Mahayana tradition, are the bodhisattva vows. These are things that we want to avoid if we are trying to help others and reach enlightenment. And according to the Gelug tradition, Atisha said that we need to have, as a basis, one of the sets of these vows for individual liberation in order to take the bodhisattva vows, in order to keep the bodhisattva vows. We need a foundation.

Tantric Vows

And then there are the tantric vows, also only asserted in the Mahayana tradition. We promise to avoid certain types of negative actions that would be harmful for our tantric practice. If we are trying to see everybody in a pure form – in terms of seeing their Buddha-natures in the form of Buddha-figures – then, obviously, if we get angry with others, particularly our vajra brothers and sisters (those who have received initiation from the same teacher), that would be very detrimental to trying to see them as a Buddha-figure, if you’re getting angry with them. Our vajra brothers and sisters are those who have received initiation from the same teacher. Also in the Gelug tradition, it’s emphasized that we need, as a basis for keeping the tantric vows, both the vows for individual liberation and bodhisattva vows. So there are progressive layers of vows – levels of vows.

So all four classes of tantra have vows. And so these we take at various initiation type of ceremonies. There are several types of ceremonies or rituals, but here we speak about the full empowerment. So bodhisattva vows are promising to avoid the eighteen root downfalls. These are negative actions that would cause a downfall from the vows. Then there are the forty-six faulty actions, which are sometimes called the secondary bodhisattva vows. So all four classes would take these two sets of bodhisattva vows. Then the two higher classes of tantra – yoga tantra and anuttarayoga tantra – we also take the tantric vows. And so that is promising to refrain from the fourteen root downfalls and the eight – what’s called thick actions (those are sometimes called the secondary tantric vows). “Thick” actions – that’s literally the word from the Tibetan – that’s the secondary tantric vows. Thick: it makes you fat and heavy. You can’t move through tantra practice very easily.

By the way, I am giving all this detail because all the classes of tantra and everything are always described as being very complex. But they are complex. It’s like a maze, and you need a teacher – like a navigator – to help you to get through the maze. And so these are some of the very, very basic structures of this maze – maze, labyrinth. So entering the world of tantra is entering this labyrinth, and we need a teacher to give us the basic guidelines so we don’t get lost. Very easy to get lost in tantra.

The Purpose of the Six-Session Practice

So there are the vows. And the six-session practice will help us to keep these vows – remind us. But more specifically, the six-session practice is helping us to keep the closely bonding practices, the samayas. All four classes of tantra have these closely bonding practices. And these closely bonding practices are to bond us closely with various Buddha-families. And Buddha-families are dealing with the various aspects of Buddha-nature.

So in the first two classes of tantra – kriya and charya – we only have three Buddha-families. In yoga tantra we have four Buddha-families. And in anuttarayoga tantra we have five. So there are nineteen closely bonding practices – nineteen damtsigs – to bond us closely with these five Buddha-families, each of the five Buddha-families individually. And that’s what this six-session practice is all about. Its main point is to help us keep these nineteen practices. And the reason why the six-session practice is only in connection with anuttarayoga tantra is because only anuttarayoga has these nineteen – because only the anuttarayoga has these nineteen damtsigs – because only anuttarayoga has the five Buddha-families.

Versions of the Six-Session Practice

Then of course we have Kalachakra tantra. Kalachakra tantra has even more commitments that we add. So in Kalachakra tantra we have the ordinary version of the tantric vows, and then we have a special version that we also take in addition. And then we also have in Kalachakra what’s called the twenty-five modes of tamed behavior. And that’s only in Kalachakra. So when we specifically review the vows and some of the closely bonding practices – when we review them in the six-session practice – in the Kalachakra one, there are more than you have in the ordinary one. The Kalachakra version of the six-session practice, we recite more because there are more there. Now what I explained is common for all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.

Now the Fourth Panchen Lama – who was the tutor of both the Fourth and Fifth Dalai Lamas, but he’s remembered primarily for being the tutor of the Fifth Dalai Lama – he wrote this six-session yoga. He was also the author of the Lama Chopa (the Guru Puja). Now you have to put this into a historical context. The Fifth Dalai Lama was appointed as the political and religious leader of all of Tibet by the Mongols to end a hundred and fifty years of civil war in Tibet. And so what was very important was to gain some sort of unity in Tibet, and so there were many, many things which were done by the Fifth Dalai Lama – and particularly through the influence of his teacher the Fourth Panchen Lama – to unify the whole system, to unify the country. And so one of the emphases was, of course, having emphasis on the spiritual teacher – in this case the Fifth Dalai Lama – and to have everybody, in a sense almost ritualistically, unify together underneath the great Fifth Dalai Lama.

So we have the Lama Chopa (the Guru Puja), which institutionalizes one ritual which everybody can do, particularly within the Gelug tradition, and also the six-session practice. And in this six-session practice, this is a way to help us not only with these nineteen closely bonding practices in anuttarayoga tantra, but also it helps us to keep various commitments – or injunctions or advices – of what we need to do that are given in Fifty Stanzas on the Guru, by the Indian master Ashvaghosha, which is taken as the guidebook for how to relate to a tantric spiritual master. So this has become standard within the Gelug tradition.

And then in the first half of the twentieth century, the earlier part, Pabongka Rinpoche expanded this six-session practice. And so Pabongka was particularly emphasizing, within anuttarayoga tantra, mother tantra. And for various reasons he shifted the emphasis, or tried to switch the emphasis, within Gelug, from the standard Gelug practices of Tsongkhapa – which were the three main figures Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka, and Chakrasamvara – he wanted to switch the emphasis to Vajrayogini, which he was fairly successful in doing for many people that follow. This is the Vajrayogini practice from the Sakya tradition, which came very late into Gelug, just a few generations before Pabongka.

And so for this reason, then, Pabongka added into this practice what’s called the eight-verse praise to Heruka and the eight-verse praise to Vajrayogini. These are the lines that – each of them start with OM and end with HUM HUM PHAT. And also Pabongka added in the recitation of all the various vows; that was not there in the original version. And Pabongka added in here to the general vows that we all mention, the special closely bonding practices specifically for mother tantra, because that was what he wanted to put the main emphasis on. And he added a few points from the Fifty Stanzas on the Guru, which were not so clearly differentiated from the vows, so it can often give the impression that these are part of the vows whereas in fact they are not. And then Pabongka also added in the dedication verses, the last two verses. In the original version there was only the first dedication verse, but Pabongka added the one that is talking about being reborn in Shambhala and so on.

So we have this longer version, this expanded version. But here what I’d like to teach at the weekend is just the original Fourth Panchen Lama version, because to teach about these eight-line verses of praise to Heruka and Vajrayogini – that would require a very long time; that’s quite complex. And, likewise, to explain all of the vows would take a long time; and they are all explained on my website, so you can read it there. So what we’ll emphasize on this weekend is the main structure of this practice from the original version.

Because, also, if we have an anuttarayoga initiation in a father tantra there is no need to recite these eight-line praises; that’s only for mother tantra. And, likewise, we don’t have the close bonding practices for mother tantra if we have initiation in father tantra. Guhyasamaja and Yamantaka are father tantra. The most common father tantras in Gelugpa are Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka, and Vajrapani. For mother tantra, the primary practices in Gelug would be Chakrasamvara and Hevajra. Chakrasamvara is also called Heruka sometimes. And then what came in much later into Gelug – it was not around at the time of Tsongkhapa in Gelug – were Vajrayogini (also mother tantra), and Chittamani Tara was also very, very late into Gelug.

Then there is Kalachakra tantra. Kalachakra tantra traditionally was always referred to as nondual tantra, and that’s a whole complicated issue in terms of how we classify. But in Gelug, generally, since father tantra emphasizes illusory body practices and Kalachakra doesn’t have illusory body but has what are called devoid form practices – because of that, Kalachakra is considered mother tantra in Gelug. And father tantra is defined as what emphasizes illusory body. Then you could have quite a discussion as to whether or not these verses of praise of Heruka and Vajrayogini need to be done for Kalachakra or not. That can be debated. If any of you have received this Kalachakra initiation, that’s another reason to not discuss these eight-verse praises on this occasion; it would be better to teach it at the time.

So with the six-session practice there’s this full version that we’ve just been discussing – extensive version – then there is an abbreviated form of it which is in about eight verses. And then there is an emergency version in four lines, which is never recommended as a daily practice, just if you’re really, really sick and can’t do any longer one. And in addition there is a special Kalachakra version of the six-session practice, which was written by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and put into verse by his late senior tutor, Ling Rinpoche. And in that version His Holiness included the various vows that were given in the Pabongka version and expanded them to include the further aspects of Kalachakra commitments. And also included in it are various little pieces from the actual Kalachakra sadhana, but it’s not a complete sadhana.

The Difference between a Six-Session Practice and a Sadhana

Now there is quite a difference between a six-session practice and a sadhana. Many people confuse the two and call particularly the Kalachakra six-session practice – they call it a sadhana. That’s not accurate. The six-session practice – the Kalachakra version as well – is intended to help us to keep these nineteen close bonding practices. A “sadhana” actually means a method for actualizing oneself as a Buddha-figure. It has many, many parts to it, and the full practice of the sadhana is what we do for the generation stage. The tantra has two stages of practice: generation stage and complete stage. Sadhana is what we do as the generation stage practice. So it is at the generation stage. A sadhana has many, many parts; it’s very complex. And so, and particularly in Kalachakra, it’s a very long practice, and there are of course various versions of it – smaller and larger. But for people who would like a little bit more Kalachakra practice, then, His Holiness took parts or portions of the sadhana, abbreviated them, and threw them into this six-session practice, but not to make a substitute for the sadhana.

And His Holiness also put in portions from a guru-yoga, Kalachakra guru-yoga, as well. And so this six-session practice here, in terms of Kalachakra, also serves as a guru-yoga. Elements of guru-yoga were thrown in there: reciting the guru’s name and doing a special request (with visualizations) of guru-yoga. Right? So that’s why it’s called Kalachakra Guru-Yoga in the Tibetan title, whereas the other six-sessions are not called guru-yogas.

Again, I am pointing all this out to help you navigate through the labyrinth; otherwise it is very confusing and everybody just calls everything by one name – puja, puja; everything is a puja – which is then even more meaningless. So if you are going to really do Kalachakra practice, you would do the Kalachakra six-session practice and, in addition, you would do a Kalachakra sadhana. The six-session is more a preliminary for the sadhana, for any sadhana practice. Just as if you were practicing another tantra, you would do a six-session practice and you would also do the sadhana.

So there are some people who do a retreat based on the Kalachakra six-session practice. Now here you have to be careful what you mean by retreat. In the West, it has unfortunately come to have the meaning of: any course in which you sleep overnight at the place is called a retreat. This is an absurd usage of the word “retreat.” Just getting together for a weekend, or for a week, and doing this practice together and reciting mantras – that’s not a retreat in the Tibetan sense of the word. But even if we do the practice similar to a Tibetan retreat – which would be doing a hundred thousand of the main mantra, ten thousand of the other mantras – even if we do that, I don’t think that would actually count as qualifying us to do the fire puja afterwards, and then to take self-initiation, and all the other things, the higher practices, the more advanced practices that are based on doing an actual retreat with the sadhana. That would be the fire puja, the self-initiation, and so on. So, of course, doing very intensive practice of the six-session is very beneficial, but we need to keep our place in the labyrinth clear – of what we are doing and what it qualifies us for. It’s of course very beneficial.

Reciting the Six-Session Practice

Then what’s also very important to remember with the six-session practice is that we promise to do this six times every day for the rest of our lives. Although we promise to keep bodhisattva and tantric vows all the way to enlightenment, not just in this life. So it’s a serious matter. And it may be sort of under the surface if we’re reborn as a cockroach, however it’s there – it can be renewed in another lifetime; brought back to the surface. Whereas the pratimoksha vows, the monk vows, those you lose when you die.

The point is we can do these six recitations in any combination of versions of this practice. Usually it’s done three times in the morning, three times in the evening. There’s a special way of doing that, so that the second and third repetitions you don’t repeat everything from the first repetition. But the version that we do could be the short version – by “short” I don’t mean the one with four lines – the short version, it could be the extensive version, the Kalachakra version. It could be one version in the morning, a different version in the evening. We could do the Kalachakra version only on the weekend, when we have time. There is no commitment to do the same version six times. So we need to be flexible and be realistic about our schedule, as long as we do some version six times each day.

And no matter how many anuttarayoga initiations we take, we only need to do six recitations a day. It’s not that each additional initiation you have to do six more each day. So that after two initiations, you have to do twelve. And then eighteen. It’s not like that. Only six.

The Five Buddha-Families

To understand these nineteen closely bonding practices, we need to understand the five Buddha-families. And maybe we can get through all five this evening, maybe we can’t. But, in any case, after that then we’ll go through the practice. But I think that it’s very important to understand the theory behind what we’re doing, then we understand what we are doing. It is not just some ritual that we are doing just for the sake of the ritual.

So the five Buddha-families are talking about family traits or characteristics: the characteristics of everybody who can become a Buddha. It’s the five characteristics of the family of everybody who can become a Buddha. Right? It’s a family. We all belong to the family of people who can become Buddhas. Everybody can become a Buddha. So these characteristics, these five characteristics, are Buddha-nature. These are the aspects that allow us to become a Buddha. So all the discussion of Buddha-families, and so on, is a discussion about Buddha-nature. That’s very important to realize, otherwise it just becomes a discussion of the classification of insects. We’re not talking about classification of insects or the classification of various Buddha-figures; we’re talking about Buddha-nature.

So we can speak of five aspects of Buddha-nature, and we can speak about these in various manifestations. So we can speak about five general aspects: body, speech, mind, good qualities, and enlightening influence (which is sometimes called activity). Enlightening influence: it enlightens others. But it’s not yet a Buddha’s activity because we are talking about Buddha-nature, what will bring that about. So we all have these five aspects. We have body, speech, mind, we have some good qualities, and we are able to influence others in certain ways – we can act in certain ways. Then another level of these five aspects of Buddha-nature are the five aggregates. And another level is the five types of deep awareness – sometimes called the five wisdoms, but that’s not a very good term because insects have it as well.

And when these five aspects of Buddha-nature become clouded with unawareness and grasping for solid existence, then we get the five types of disturbing emotions and attitudes. And there are certain bonding practices, certain practices that we can do that will help us to remove these obscurations from these five types of Buddha-nature. So that’s what this is all about. We’re talking about nineteen practices – a certain number for each of these five aspects of Buddha-nature – practices that will help us to remove the obscurations of the five aspects of Buddha-nature, to remove the disturbing emotions that they have come to manifest. So that’s what these nineteen practices are all about. With an empowerment, with an initiation, we activate Buddha-nature – these potentials. And now with these bonding practices, they help us to remove the obscurations from them. Well, we’ll do them in order. But they are naivety, attachment or longing desire, anger, pride, and jealousy.

So let’s look at each of these five families, these five aspects of Buddha-nature, one by one.


First we have Vairochana. (Vairochana. Two short syllables, not “Vairo-chaana.” Vairochana. That’s when it gets into a wrong habit of how to pronounce.) So Vairochana is body – these five: body, speech, mind, etc. It’s body, the form aggregate, and mirror-like deep awareness.

Mirror-like awareness especially reflects – takes in the data of forms of physical phenomena, sensory objects – especially, but not exclusively; but especially that, not exclusively that. It takes the data in of everything, but the emphasis is on the sense objects. And so that’s the format of it. And so the mirror-like awareness is obscured – it becomes clouded – and so you get naivety, being closed, don’t know what is going on. So this becomes solidity, then; gets very solid. And this becomes the body again – form aggregate.

So there are six bonding practices to help us to loosen that up so that we can realize the full potentials of this family trait, this Buddha-nature, Vairochana Buddha-nature. So the first three are the three refuges. So taking safe direction in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. Safe direction: we put a direction in our life and then, when the direction is there in our life, everything is clear – clear what we are doing, where we are going, what we’re doing in life. So then the mind becomes clear, like a mirror, to be able to take in all the data of what’s going on.

And then the other three of the six are the three types of ethical self-discipline: to restrain from destructive actions, to engage in constructive actions – that’s referring specifically to listening, thinking, and meditating on the teachings – and then the discipline to benefit sentient beings. So this gives a form to our mental continuum, a form to our lives. That’s again using the body, the form aggregate; we are transforming it to the fullest thing, and we can deal with proper forms, like the mirror. If we have a certain form, a certain structure, then we can be open (like a mirror) to situations, without a doubt of what to do. So we can be more open because it’s clear – the basic form of what we are doing.


Then we have the Ratnasambhava family. (“bhava” – that ‘a’ has a long mark over it, so that’s why that bit’s the accent.) So Ratnasambhava is good qualities, the feeling aggregate, and equalizing deep awareness. Feeling aggregate is talking about feeling some level of happiness, unhappiness, or neutral; that’s all it’s talking about. And equalizing deep awareness is putting things together, considering them together.

So when we think of our own good qualities – our wealth, our intelligence, our good looks, etc. – then we compare them to what others have, that’s equalizing. When we have more than others, we feel happy about that. Less than others, we feel unhappy about that. Now if we talk about feeling happy when we have more, and then we add self-cherishing to this – so it becomes obscured – so then we don’t view ourselves as equal to others. So it makes a problem here with the equalizing awareness, and so we get stinginess (we don’t want to share with others) and we get pride and arrogance (we think we’re better). So the disturbing emotions here are twofold: on the one hand there is stinginess, and on the other hand there’s pride and arrogance. And when we are arrogant, then that makes a block in gaining any good qualities because we think we know everything, so nobody can teach us anything, so we can’t improve.

How do we overcome this? We’ve the four bonding practices of Ratnasambhava, which are the four types of giving. So, giving material things. Giving dharma, which is teaching, it’s advice, our positive forces or positive potentials to others – this is all giving dharma. And then giving love, which is the wish for others to be happy. And giving them freedom from fear. So, giving them freedom from fear could mean saving them from difficult situations, bringing them to enlightenment so they don’t have fear of anything, and it can also refer to equanimity – giving them equanimity – which also connects here with the equalizing awareness,

Equanimity means that I’m not going to cling to you with attachment, I’m not going to reject you with anger, and I’m not going to ignore or neglect you with being closed or naive. So, because of that, you have nothing to be afraid of from me. You don’t have to be afraid that I am going to cling to you; you don’t have to be afraid that I’m going to reject you; you don’t have to be afraid that I’m going to ignore you. And also, if we give love to others by wishing them to be happy and not to be unhappy, that also connects with this awareness that we are all equal. The basis for it is that everybody wants to be happy, nobody wants to be unhappy; so we’re all equal in that. And that’s talking about our equality – we’re being equal in terms of the aggregate of feeling – isn’t it? In terms of feeling happy and not wanting to feel unhappy. And with equanimity we treat everybody equally. We’re trying to bring everybody happiness. And when we overcome pride, we can gain all good qualities.

So you see, like this, when we discuss a Buddha-family, all these various aspects fit together. Good qualities, the feeling aggregate, equalizing awareness, stinginess, pride and arrogance, the four types of giving. These aren’t just lists, like they’re a chart. The point is to put it together, different pieces of the puzzle – put them together. Often when we study tantra, we’ve got all these lists – the five this, and the five that, and so on – and it becomes rather overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Like there’s the different pieces of a puzzle that fit together. And so that’s the work that we have to do; it’s to see how they fit together. So I’m giving some indications here of how they do fit. But you have to work further on it and think about it, because underlying it is indications of how to practice – what to do.


Then the next Buddha family is Amitabha. And Amitabha is speech, the aggregate of distinguishing – it’s usually translated as “recognition” – and individualizing deep awareness.

“Distinguishing” means to distinguish something within a sense field: distinguish the shape and color of a face from the shape and colors of the wall and the curtain behind it. And then that forms the basis for categorizing things with individual words – it’s individualizing them – and that leads of course to speech, words for things. And when this becomes obscured then we not only distinguish one individual thing, but we make it more special than everything else. Then we get attachment, desire and attachment. So that’s the disturbing emotion.

Desire and attachment: This is more special than anything else. This one. “This sheep is more special and more beautiful than all the other sheep. More beautiful than all the others. I’m in love with this sheep.” This can also be with teachers, with ice cream, with anything. It’s just – All you’re doing is individualizing; you are distinguishing it in the sense field. Distinguishing it, individualizing it, maybe giving it a word – speech – grasping for true existence: “This is the special one!”

So there are three bonding practices to help us to overcome this. And these are upholding the various divisions of the teachings. The first is to uphold the teachings of the three sutra vehicles – that’s the teachings of the shravakas, pratyekabuddhas and bodhisattvas. And then the second is to uphold the teachings of the two outer classes of tantra – those are the first two classes: kriya and charya. And the third is upholding the teachings of the two secret or hidden classes of tantra – that’s yoga and anuttarayoga tantra. “Upholding” doesn’t mean necessarily to practice them all, but it means not to deny them, not to abandon then, not to say that this isn’t the teaching of the Buddha.

So you see how it works? What we’re doing is we’re distinguishing the individual aspects of Buddha’s teachings. By upholding all these individual aspects of the Buddha’s teachings, that helps us to practice in a very pure way this individualizing awareness, distinguishing, speech – teach them all – without attachment to any of them. You see how it works?

It’s the same in each of these Buddha-families. By practicing all the different types of giving, then that helps us to realize not to be stingy, not to be proud that I’m any better, because we’re giving to everybody. So we see everybody as equal. So that helps us to develop this equalizing awareness, particularly equalizing in terms of everybody wants to be happy not to be unhappy. Then we can develop all the good qualities – we’re generous, we’re giving.


So Amoghasiddhi, the fourth family, is enlightening influence – our activity – and the aggregate of affecting variables. Among all the affecting variables, the one that’s usually emphasized the most is intention. That is also accomplishing deep awareness. The deep awareness of accomplishing – to do things, to relate, do something.

So with the intention to do something, or to relate to someone, we accomplish things, accomplish something. In this way, we act, we have an influence on others. I mean, it’s how those three things fit together. Now when this is obscured, we have envy and jealousy. So instead of doing something ourselves to accomplish a goal, we’re jealous that somebody else has accomplished it.

The two bonding practices to overcome this are to make offerings and to uphold all our vows. Not only our vows, but our commitments, the bonding practices – to uphold all of that. So that means to do everything. We keep the vows, we do the practices – we do something. Doing it, not just jealous of somebody else. We do it ourselves. It helps to break through that block.

And when we make offerings, we use what we have to benefit others. That’s an action. Actually make the offerings, rather than feeling jealous at what others are doing. In other words: whatever we have, we use it, rather than being jealous that we don’t have as much as somebody else, that they have more.


And then the fifth one is the Akshobhya family. That’s the mind, it’s the aggregate of consciousness, and the deep awareness of the sphere of reality (Skt. dharmadhatu).

So with reality awareness, we’re aware of the two truths of things. That’s what it’s referring to. What something is, and how it exists. And to cognize something for what it is. Well, that’s what primary consciousness does – the aggregate of consciousness – it cognizes something as a sight, or as a sound, or as a smell. Now, to cognize something for what it is, this involves discriminating awareness: an object is this and not that. So when this is obscured, we reject something because it’s not that, right? So we have anger. “You didn’t act properly. Naughty child!” We’ll get angry. What’s underneath that is discriminating: you acted like this and not like that. You can see the connection here with anger?

So there’s four bonding practices to overcome this. This is keeping or upholding a vajra – a dorje (rdo-rje) in Tibetan – a bell, a mudra, and a healthy relation with a spiritual teacher.

So in the highest class of tantra, the vajra signifies a blissful awareness. And the bell means discriminating awareness of voidness. The mudra means keeping these two inseparable, and that is symbolized by the image of a couple in union. So visualizing ourselves in that form reminds us of blissful awareness and a blissful understanding of voidness. And “mudra” can also mean to keep this blissful awareness of voidness inseparable from our bodily appearance.

So we’re not talking just about keeping it in your pocket – these ritual instruments – we’re talking about keeping what they symbolize, what they represent. So when we maintain this blissful awareness of voidness – inseparable, like a mudra – then that’s the method for gaining this reality awareness, the reality deep awareness, the simultaneous awareness of the two truths. But also, by having our mind like this, that helps us to fulfill our own purposes. And that needs to be in conjunction with having a body to fulfill the purposes of others. That’s the other meaning of mudra – the mind and body inseparable. And the way to gain this blissful understanding of voidness is through the inspiration from the teacher. So the healthy relationship with a teacher.


So we can see that keeping these nineteen practices, these closely bonding practices, it’s not just: here are the rules and the laws that Buddha set down, and obey them and you’ll get enlightened – we’re not talking about that; not that kind of system – and if you don’t obey them, then you’re guilty.

So we can use these five types of Buddha-nature to their fullest capacity, whether we speak in terms of the five general aspects – body, speech, mind, qualities, and activity – or whether we specify this in terms of mind itself, the five types of deep awareness. Okay? So that’s the purpose of this practice. So when we try to be mindful of this practice as a way of working with Buddha-nature, that makes it far more meaningful. We know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And although we’re just doing a recitation and visualization with this practice, the point is to actually do these nineteen practices in our daily life; this is just to remind us.