Six Yogas of Naropa: Preliminary Practices of Vajrasattva and Guru-Yoga

To purify ourselves of the various negative potentials that we have built up, it is necessary to do Vajrasattva meditation. To build up a great store of positive potential, there are the practices of guru-yoga, the methods to integrate with our spiritual master. These are the two most essential uncommon preliminaries.

Vajrasattva Purification Practice

The Visualization in Vajrasattva Practice

To practice Vajrasattva purification, visualize on the crown of your head a 1000-petalled white lotus. In its center lies a flat, white full moon disc. On this moon disc stands a white syllable HUM, which transforms into a vertical white five-pronged vajra marked in the center with the white syllable HUM. 

The HUM transforms into Vajrasattva, who is white, with one face, two arms, holding vajra and bell, sitting in full vajra position – sometimes referred to as full lotus position – and embracing his consort Vajradhatu Ishvari, who is also white. She has one face, two arms, and is holding a skull cup and cleaver. Vajrasattva is adorned with various types of jewelry. He is seated, embraced in union with his consort. 

Lights radiate out from his heart and bring back a great number of Vajrasattvas, which then dissolve into him. Again, lights radiate out and bring back all the empowering deities and they give empowerment to Vajrasattva. His body becomes filled with nectars and lights. The nectar comes to the top of his head and forms a crown ornament of Akshobhya. 

Make requests to Vajrasattva to purify both yourself and all beings of all negative potentials. Then, imagine that he sends forth light from a vertical white syllable HUM on a moon disc in his heart and this light reaches all beings with limited minds, sentient beings. This purifies all beings of their negative potentials and obstacles. Again, he sends forth lights and this makes offerings to all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. All the qualities of the enlightening body, speech, and mind of all the Buddhas come back in the form of light and this dissolves into his heart. Imagine that, by the power of this, Vajrasattva increases even greater in glory, strength, and ability to be able to purify everybody of their negative potentials and obstacles. 

Imagine arranged around the edge of the moon disc in Vajrasattva’s heart are the syllables of his 100-syllable mantra, white and standing upright. Imagine that again light radiates out from all the syllables of this mantra and again it purifies all beings of their negative potentials and obstacles. Again, it makes offerings to all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas in the ten directions. 

All the inspiration of the Buddhas dissolve back in the form of light into the 100-syllable mantra. The syllables overflow with nectars and the nectars come down through Vajrasattva’s body and enter you through the crown of your head. Your body becomes completely filled with the nectars, which purify away all the obstacles and negative potentials of body, speech, and mind. Imagine and feel and feel very strongly that, in fact, your negative potentials and obstacles have been purified away.

Imagine that Vajrasattva says to you “You are purified of all your negative potentials and obstacles. Now, don’t build up any more negative potentials. Don’t do anything destructive again in the future, do you hear?”  Imagine that Vajrasattva feels very happy, and you feel very happy, and that Vajrasattva then comes down and dissolves into your heart. Your mind and that of Vajrasattva become of one taste.

If it is difficult to have all the syllables of the mantra, the moon, and the body of Vajrasattva as the same shade of white, it is possible to visualize the various objects, syllables, and so forth, as being slightly different shades of white. As there are different shades of white, that is permitted. 

The Importance of Purification

It is extremely important to purify ourselves of all negative potentials because, by doing so, we will be able to gain realizations more quickly. If we do not purify ourselves of our various negative potentials, they increase geometrically. For instance, if we have killed one insect today and we do not purify ourselves of that negative potential, then tomorrow the potential is the same as if we had killed two. The next day it doubles again, as if we had killed four, and so on. So, by the end of a month, if we have not purified or cleansed ourselves of those negative potentials, they will have increased greatly.

For instance, on an external level, if we plant one fruit seed, that will produce many pieces of fruit. Similarly, on an internal level, from one small action, enormous karmic results will grow. When it is said that we get a great deal of suffering and problems as a result of various destructive actions, it is saying that our suffering is the result of the negative potentials built up by acting destructively and negatively. We can see how a very large amount of suffering and problems come about from a small action in terms of the destructive action of crushing an insect. The result is being reborn in a hellish situation in which we are crushed between two huge mountains.

The Four Forces: Reliance, Regret, Pledge not to Repeat and Remedy

There are four forces involved in purifying ourselves of negative potentials. What does the term “four forces” refer to?  For example, if we are fighting a war, we have various types of armed forces, like the air force with airplanes, the ground force of soldiers and tanks, and so on. 

  • The first force is the force of reliance, something that we rely upon. The force of reliance would be, for instance, relying on Vajrasattva meditation or meditation on bodhichitta or voidness. By doing any of these, we invoke the force of reliance.
  • The second force is that of regret. We should feel strong regret and remorse about all the negative and destructive things we have done in the past and feel, “That was really terrible.” In this way, we purify ourselves of the negative potentials. 
  • The third force is promising to turn away from committing such actions again, meaning to pledge and promise that we will not act in this same negative and destructive way again in the future.
  • The fourth force is that of applying various remedial practices or actions. This would be, for instance, actually doing the Vajrasattva meditation, reciting the 100-syllable mantra, imagining purifying nectars flowing down through us, and so forth. We can also recite om mani padme hum, construct representations of the objects of refuge, offer a mandala, make other offerings, do circumambulations, or even come here to receive teachings. All of these can also be the power of the application of remedial actions.

If we openly and honestly admit to the wrongs we have done in the past and then apply these four forces sincerely and properly in order to purify ourselves of the negative potentials we have built up, it is impossible that they will not be purified away

Continuation of the Vajrasattva Visualizations

Continuing the Vajrasattva meditation, imagine, while reciting the 100-syllable mantra, that nectars flow down and purify away all your negative potentials and leave from your lower orifices in the form of soot and dark coal-like substances. Then, imagine that all the different types of obstacles, pollutants, impurities and so on leave you in the form of pus, blood, snot, saliva, and these types of things. All sicknesses and diseases leave in the form of snakes, scorpions, spiders, and all different types of repulsive insects. This set of recitations and visualizations purify you of all negativities of the body.

Repeat the same purification visualizations and this time all the different substances leave from your upper orifices to purify away the negativities, obstacles, sicknesses, and so on, of your speech. Then, do another round in which you imagine all the negativities, obstacles, and so forth as being a lump of black darkness at the center of your heart and the nectars and the lights come down and sweep away this dark lump. It is like turning on a light in a dark room. It immediately eliminates the darkness and makes everything bright, purifying away negativities of the mind. 

If you do this every evening, reciting the mantra 21 times, it will prevent the negative potentials built up that day from increasing in strength. If you apply the four forces sincerely and properly and recite the 100-syllable mantra 100,000 times, it will actually defuse and purify away all your negative potentials. This is an extremely important practice. 

It is essential to do the practice of the 100-syllable mantra and purify ourselves of negative potentials as a preliminary practice. If we do this practice properly and actually purify ourselves of negative potentials, we will receive signs in our dreams. We will have auspicious dreams, such as dreaming of bathing or washing ourselves, putting on new and excellent clothes, flying through the air, and so forth. However, it is nothing impressive to have these types of dreams just a few times. That is no big deal. Rather, we need to have these types of dreams over and again for them to signify something. 

Becoming aware of this method to purify ourselves of all negative potentials, if we then continue to act negatively and destructively just because we know we can purify ourselves – that will not do at all. It would be like if we knew there was medicine to cure different wounds, but we just continue to slash and cut ourselves. It would be rather silly. 

The Sanskrit 100-Syllable Mantra

The 100-syllable mantra of Vajrasattva is a long line in Sanskrit. It is a type of request; the actual meaning of the words is a request to Vajrasattva. For instance, the part that goes “anurakto me bhava” means “please take care of me affectionately.” You should learn the meaning of all the words in this 100-syllable mantra because I do not have time to explain all of that to everyone here now.

Recitation

If we are going to say the mantra, for instance, 28 times in one session, then for the first seven times do it with the visualizations for purifying away the negative potentials of body. In the second round of seven, imagine purifying away the negative potentials of speech, and the third round of seven, purifying away the negativities and obstacles built up with the mind. In the last round of seven, imagine purifying away all negative potentials and obstacles built up with body, speech, and mind together. Likewise, if we were to do 400 recitations of the 100-syllable mantra in a session, divide it into four rounds the same way. Each round would be 100 recitations. 

Even if we are only reciting the mantra 28 times, be very careful not to have any distractions. It only takes a very short time to recite it 28 times, so during that time we should not have any mental wandering. Doing it like this would be a very beneficial practice.

Guru-Yoga

The second of the most essential uncommon preliminary practices is guru-yoga, the practice to integrate with our spiritual master. This is a method for being able to gain inspiration very quickly and to be able to build up a vast store of positive potential.

To do this practice of guru-yoga, visualize before you a throne supported by lions and, on it, a lotus. On the lotus lies a sun disc and on that sits your spiritual master in the form of Vajradhara. He is blue, with one face and two arms, holding a vajra and bell and embracing a consort. 

To entrust ourselves to our spiritual master, with a wholehearted commitment, and to do that in the proper manner is extremely important and essential when practicing any of the vehicles of mind of the Buddha, whether Hinayana or Mahayana. Furthermore, it is extremely essential and important when following the diamond-strong vehicle of Vajrayana. When practicing Hinayana, we should see our spiritual master as being the same or similar to Buddha. Our master is not different from the Buddha. When we are practicing the Paramitayana of Mahayana, we should see our spiritual master as being emanation of Buddha. When we are practicing Vajrayana, we need to see our spiritual master as actually being Vajradhara himself. That is the significance here of seeing or visualizing our guru in this form: our spiritual master actually is Vajradhara.

As an account of this, once when Marpa was studying with Naropa, whole-heartedly and with a total commitment, Naropa emanated the mandala of the Buddha-figure Hevajra and called Marpa to come and make prostrations. Marpa saw Hevajra and said, “Meeting with a personal deity like this is so rare and I meet with my spiritual master all the time.” Since he felt it was so rare to meet with the personal deity, Marpa made prostration to the Buddha-figure. Naropa laughed and said, “There are no personal deities or yidams separate from the spiritual master.” Then, he dissolved the whole mandala back into himself. Naropa said to him, “Having made prostration to the yidam, then the spiritual lineage that will follow from you will have a very long lifespan; it will last a long time.”

Seven-Limb Practice

As said, you should visualize our spiritual master as actually being Vajradhara. This is the field with which to build up positive potential. The way to do this is to offer the spiritual master the seven-part basic practice: 

  • Making prostrations
  • Making offerings
  • Openly admitting to all the wrongs that you have done in the past
  • Rejoicing in the positive acts you and others have done
  • Requesting the transmission of rounds of Dharma
  • Beseeching the masters not to pass away
  • Dedicating all the positive potential built up. 

Making Prostrations

Prostrations should be done correctly and properly, placing your hands to the various spots on your body to build up the potential to realize the enlightened body, speech, and mind of the Buddhas. When going down on the floor, the hands should be flat, in the proper position, not held incorrectly. If you do all of this properly, you build up the positive potential needed to become a universal monarch the same number of times as the number of atoms of earth beneath your body. This is something that builds up a tremendous amount of positive potential and is very beneficial. Normally, a lot of people like to do physical exercises, but this is a far more beneficial way of doing something physical with your body.

There are a few styles or methods: one in which the body is outstretched on the ground, another in which the body is in a crouched manner. Also, if you merely hold the hands together and bow the body slightly, that as well is a manner of making prostrations.

Making Offerings

The next step is to make offerings. Offer things of excellent quality, which are clean and pure, and do so without any miserliness. There is a method of making offerings similar to how the bodhisattva Samantabhadra made them. To do this, emanate from your heart a bodhisattva Samantabhadra. He holds a jewel in his hands, from which emanates a myriad of offerings of water, flowers, incense, and so on. From this Samantabhadra, emanate two more Samantabhadras. They emanate four, then eight, and continue to multiply like this until the entire space is filled with Samantabhadras, all making offerings from the jewels in their hands. 

After making this type of offering and emanation of figures, when dissolving them, you must do so properly and correctly. For instance, if you have emanated four figures of Samantabhadra, they dissolve back into the two figures of Samantabhadra that they came out of, then back into the one and finally back into you. It will not do at all to just emanate a large number of Samantabhadras and dissolve them in a sloppy fashion. It has to be done properly. If you have not practiced and gained skill in this, it will be difficult, if you emanate a large number of them, to dissolve them back properly. Therefore, when practicing and training in the beginning, just emanate a small number so that you can dissolve them back again correctly and in the proper order. Then, you can gradually increase the visualization in complexity.

The way to emanate all these figures is extremely important, especially within the context of practicing the complete stage of the highest class of tantra, anuttarayoga. You should emanate all these figures from a seed syllable, such as HUM, in your heart and dissolve them back into the heart. This is because what we are trying to do with this stage of tantra is to collect all the energy-winds in our heart chakra. Therefore, to help in this process, when emanating these figures, we do so from our heart and then dissolve them back into the heart. That is very important. 

When emanating offering goddesses holding the various offerings, you can perform a particular hand gesture, the lotus mudra, where you rotate the hands and then snap the fingers. For instance, when emanating the goddess who offers flowers, rotate the hands in that gesture, snap the fingers, and imagine the offering goddess emanating from your heart with that gesture. You can offer all the flowers from all the heavenly lands, and all the flowers that are so famous that grow in Holland, and so forth. Imagine that the goddesses offer all of these. 

If doing a mother tantra practice, the way to make the lotus mudra of emanating the offering goddesses is for the top hand to rotate first toward you in a counterclockwise fashion. For father tantra, it rotates clockwise. After making the lotus mudra, make the mudra representing the specific object of offering, for instance flowers. Then, cross the hands as the final mudra and snap the fingers to dissolve the offering goddesses back into your heart. 

When making these gestures, the fingers should not fly all over the place in a disorderly manner. They should move very smoothly and gracefully, held together in a connected fashion to represent one of the signs of a Buddha, which is that his fingers are connected with a web of light.

When making an offering of music, ring the bell. Hold it vertically erect in the left hand, as I just demonstrated, and move it side to side with the fourth finger to make it ring. There are some Westerners who do not know how to hold the bell properly and hold it in just any old manner and it looks ridiculous. Also, for when holding up the vajra in the proper manner with the right hand, it is good to put a little mark on its upper spoke so as not to confuse its top from its bottom. 

When making prostrations while chanting various praises and request with four-line verses, for instance those found in the Guru Puja, Lama Chopa, make the following mudras:

  • At the end of the first line, hold the vajra upright at your heart and be mindful of the qualities of the omniscient mind of the Buddhas. 
  • At the end of the second line, ring the bell at your heart and be mindful that the Buddhas’ enlightening speech follows from their omniscient minds, turning the wheel of the Dharma by sending forth rounds of transmission of Dharma. In this way, be mindful of the good qualities of the Buddhas’ enlightening speech.
  • With the third line, make the lotus mudra and be mindful that by relying on their omniscient minds and enlightening speech, the Buddhas, without wavering from or departing from the state of Dharmakaya, manifest themselves in emanations such as spiritual masters. In this way, be mindful of the qualities of the enlightening bodies of the Buddhas. 
  • At the end of the fourth line, fold the hands together at your heart and be mindful of all the good qualities of the body, speech, and mind all together of all the Buddhas. The Buddhas achieved all these qualities by dissolving the five major and five branch energy-winds into the heart chakra. The ten fingers of the hands folded at the heart represent that. 

In the practice of tantra, it is necessary to have the inseparability of method and wisdom. Therefore, when placing the vajra and bell down, place the vajra to the left and the bell to the right. Then, when picking them up for tantra practice, take them with the opposite hands to represent this inseparability of method and wisdom.

Openly Admitting Wrongdoings and Rejoicing in Positive Actions

The third limb of the seven-limb practice is openly admitting the wrongs you have done and purifying yourselves. This is done in the manner that has already been explained with the four forces.

Rejoicing in All Positive Actions

The fourth limb is rejoicing in all positive actions. Think about all the positive things you and everyone else have done in the past and feel happy about that and rejoice.

Requesting the Buddhas to Turn the Wheel of Dharma

The fifth is to request the Buddhas to set forth the flow of rounds of transmission of the Dharma – in other words, to turn the wheel of Dharma.

Requesting the Buddhas Not to Pass Away

The next is to request the Buddhas not to pass away into final release or parinirvana. Buddhas themselves, of course, never pass away, but the manifestation of them in supreme emanation bodies, Nirmanakayas, might leave. If people do not have the proper causes and the proper potential to be able to continue studying and receiving teachings from them, then they pass away, they leave. Therefore, make requests that they do not do this.

Dedicating the Positive Potential

The seventh and final limb is the dedication. This entails focusing on whatever positive potential has been built up from your constructive acts that can function as a root to ripen into some positive attainment. Taking that potential as a basis – for instance, from having offered even just one flower to the Triple Gem – pray that that potential will ripen into the attainment of enlightenment for everyone. 

When a prayer has a basis of an actual offering that was made and an actual positive potential that was built up from that offering and then is dedicated to a positive goal, it is known as a dedication prayer (bsngo-bo). It must have a positive basis that is dedicated. When, for instance, we dedicate it for the attainment of enlightenment, the positive potential will not run out or exhaust itself as a root for being able to achieve that enlightenment until that enlightenment is actually attained. If we do not dedicate the positive potential in this manner, it will merely ripen into one fruit and then will be finished. If we dedicate our positive potentials for being able to achieve enlightenment, then that potential will not exhaust itself until that enlightenment is achieved.

When we get angry, it can damage and eliminate the ability of positive potential to act as a root for happiness. It destroys those positive potentials in the same way as when we go through an X-ray machine in customs; it destroys any photographic film we have taken. If we dedicate to enlightenment any positive potential that we build up, anger cannot destroy it.

If we do not have any basis, but merely pray for something to happen, then that is an aspiration prayer (smon-lam), not a dedication prayer. A dedication must rely on something as its basis. If it is a dedication prayer, then it is pervasive that it is also an aspiration. Therefore, it is extremely important at night to review the positive and constructive things we have done during the day and to dedicate all the potential we have built up. 

When we wake up in the morning, it is very important to set a very strong intention and motivation for the day, that whatever type of actions we do, we will do them in order to benefit others. In this way, each morning we re-dedicate our heart totally to others and to achieving enlightenment to be able to help them. If we start the day with this reaffirmation of our bodhichitta aim, then whatever we do during the day will be done within the context of having such a Mahayana motivation. It will be done with this dedicated heart of bodhichitta and will become very powerful. Then, at the end of the day, by dedicating all the positive potential built up, we have, in this way, a very excellent beginning and end of the day, which is an extremely important point for the practice.

The type of prayers and dedications you should make should be very vast in scope. For instance:

  • “May I and everyone achieve the full state of enlightenment,” 
  • “May there be peace throughout the world and universe, no floods, no droughts, no epidemics, and so on.”
  • “May everyone in all their lifetimes be cared for by fully qualified, proper spiritual masters.”  

In this way, the dedications should be very vast-minded in their scope. 

If we do not do the dedication and aspiration prayers in the complete, proper way, there are various faults that follow. For example, in Ganden Monastery, there is a throne slightly lower than this one I’m sitting on. It is the throne from which Je Rinpoche himself gave many teachings. It is a very famous throne. One day, the caretaker of the temple left the door open, and a calf came in and lay down on the throne. Since this is the main throne of Ganden, the seat of the Ganden Tripa, everyone thought that it was very strange that a calf came in and sat on this throne. If this were in Europe, it would have made all the newspapers, but in Tibet, there are no newspapers like that, but still, everyone there considered it very strange. 

However, the holder of the throne, the Ganden Tripa himself, said that there was nothing strange about this. In a previous lifetime, one old lady had gone to one of the two extremely famous statues of Buddha in Lhasa and made a prayer, “In my future life, may I be able to sit on the Ganden Throne.” Because she did not know how to make proper prayers, she just prayed for this. Since the object in front of which she had prayed was so precious, her prayer came true and she was able to sit on the Ganden throne, but as a calf. If we do not have everything presented carefully and specifically in our prayers, we can make mistakes in what we pray for. It is very important to make prayers correctly and completely.

The dedication is the last part of this seven-part basic practice, sometimes called the “seven-limb puja.” After completing this, make a mandala offering, a round symbol of a universe. This is something you should ask for teachings on and get instructions on how to do this properly. 

Finding and Entrust Ourselves to a Spiritual Master

As explained, it is extremely important to visualize and see our spiritual master as actually being Vajradhara. Even if our spiritual masters are not enlightened, if we see them as Vajradhara, then we receive inspiration from the actual Vajradhara and the Buddhas. If we do not have very strong confidence and belief that our spiritual masters are Vajradharas, then even if they are a Vajradhara, we will not receive any inspiration from them. It is extremely important to think in terms of our own spiritual master. It does not matter about any other person’s spiritual master. It only concerns us. We need to be totally, completely decided and absolutely certain of our spiritual master being Vajradhara. 

It is said that these hidden measures protect the mind, and that these tantric practices are an extremely speedy method for achieving enlightenment. The definitive crucial point that it all hinges upon is this practice of guru-yoga, integrating with our spiritual master. This is what makes it fast.

These two practices, then, that of the Vajrasattva purification meditation and that of guru-yoga, are the two most essential things and we should put the most emphasis on these two.

In this practice of guru-yoga to integrate with our spiritual master, we imagine that our teacher dissolves into us and that our mind and theirs become of one taste. Therefore, it is necessary to make a very careful analysis and examination of the master before we commit and entrust ourselves wholeheartedly to that teacher. 

A lot of students in the West have not known about that and have just jumped into things. It is not your fault, but you should realize that it is necessary to make a very careful examination beforehand; otherwise, you can get into a lot of trouble. In the case of His Holiness the Dalai Lama as our tantric master, then there is no need to make examination beforehand. However, for anyone else, we have to make a very special examination. It is extremely essential to examine beforehand. There are also lamas, of course, that we have a special connection with from our past lifetimes.

However, once we have actually committed ourselves to a spiritual master, that is not the time to start checking up on them. After the commitment, we should see that master in a perfectly pure manner as is described here. The reason we don’t have to check up on His Holiness the Dalai Lama is because he is the Buddha. There is no need to check the Buddha to see if he is the Buddha.

For example, to buy something important, we go around and check all the different possibilities; we shop around and check it out very carefully before buying. If we do not do the same thing when we go to study with a spiritual master and just take the first one that comes along, then afterwards, without having examined, we might find that we get some trouble. 

There is a set of qualifications for the spiritual master according to the Vinaya, the rules for becoming tamed. There are also the qualifications for a Mahayana spiritual master, and a list of 20 qualifications for a tantric spiritual master. We should examine any possible teacher to see whether they have all these qualities, from the Vinaya, Mahayana and tantra perspectives.

When the Buddha was gracing the Earth with his presence, there was a man named Angulimala, which means “the one with a rosary of thumbs.” His non-Buddhist teacher told him, “If you collect 1,000 human thumbs and give them to me, then things will go very well for you; you will get everything you want.” Angulimala then murdered 999 people and collected all their thumbs. He had one more to go and so decided to kill his own mother to get her thumb. 

Buddha always appears at the exact, right moment when the disciple is ready, and so the Buddha appeared and came to Angulimala, who then thought to forego getting his mother’s thumb and would kill this monk, Buddha, who appeared to him instead. Buddha started to walk very slowly, and Angulimala, try as he did, could never catch up with him. He called to the Buddha, “Stop a minute! Wait!” The Buddha just continued to walk very, very slowly. It did not matter how fast Angulimala ran after him, he still could not catch up with Buddha. In this manner, he became receptive to find out about the Buddha and he started to listen to authentic Dharma teachings from him. He eventually became a monk and things went very well for him.

If the spiritual master does not have all the complete qualifications, it is necessary that the person at least has a very kind and warm heart, a very excellent mind, with thoughts of benefit toward others. That person should know the Dharma and the teachings very well, and of course, practice what they teach. This is very necessary. Again, after entrusting ourselves to a spiritual master, we must have a wholehearted commitment and follow this master in all the proper ways.

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