The Berzin Archives

The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

Switch to the Text Version of this page. Jump to main navigation.

Explanatory Talks at the Rikon Kalachakra Initiation 1985

Alexander Berzin
Rikon, Switzerland, July 29-31, 1985
Originally published as
Guidelines for Receiving the Kalacakra Empowerment.
Seattle: Dharma Friendship Foundation, 1989.

Day Two

I have a stack of questions here in front of me. Let me try to answer some of them during the course of explaining what will happen today during the first day of the actual empowerment.

Following the Visualizations

One thing to keep in mind about what is going on here is that it is going to be difficult to understand everything. We need to try not to worry about the fact that we cannot follow everything. I imagine that hardly anybody can. Empowerments are things that in general are taken many, many times. The more familiar we become with the empowerment, the more fully we can participate in all the procedures of its visualizations, and so forth. We try our best to follow on our own levels and don't worry about it.

Concerning the visualizations of each of the steps of the empowerment, let me give a very good piece of advice that my own teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, gave. Empowerments, sadhanas, and all the various procedures in tantra are like a motion picture. Each frame and each scene of a motion picture is on only as long as its own time period. Then it passes and the next scene appears. We don't try to superimpose every frame of the movie and show them all at the same time. Whatever visualizations we have of different syllables, different deities, and different parts of our bodies, that only holds true for that very short period of time, for that step of the empowerment. Then the scene changes and the movie goes on. We shift to the next scene. If we miss one of the scenes, forget about it. Just continue. Otherwise, the movie never goes on.

General Outline of the First Day of the Actual Empowerment

The empowerment today will have several parts and we can have a general idea of what is going on, as follows.

We have been prepared to enter the mandala. One of the questions here concerns whether people who were not present at the ceremony yesterday and have not generated themselves as Buddha-figures can proceed today. There is no problem, since we will again be generated in the form of a Buddha-figure, and we will again be taking the vows. However, the movie of getting the two pieces of kusha grass and placing them under our mattresses and pillows for examining our dreams last night is past. You missed it. However, there is no problem; it does not matter.

Now, we are ready to enter the mandala and receive the empowerments. For entering the mandala, we will first be wearing blindfolds – red ribbons on our foreheads – because we are not yet allowed to see what is inside. Then, we will remove the blindfolds and will be able to see everything.

The period we have the blindfolds on has two parts. The first will take place outside the curtain, which means outside the walls of the mandala palace. The second part will take place inside the walls, which is referred to as inside the curtains of the mandala. Each of these parts has several steps.

Then, we will remove our blindfolds and further things will happen, and finally we will actually receive the empowerments. This is basically what will be going on, and we begin with standing outside the palace, near the eastern gateway, as if in Austria, with our blindfolds on.

Interpretation of Dreams and Other Preliminary Steps

First, there will be a discussion of our dreams. There were a few questions about specific interpretations of dreams. There really is no time for this and I am not qualified to analyze everybody's dreams. His Holiness will speak about it in general, i.e., what are auspicious and what are inauspicious signs in dreams. And then, of course, the general advice: we should not be proud of good signs, or be depressed by inauspicious signs.

Next, His Holiness will perform a certain ceremony to get rid of any interference or difficulties anybody might have had from inauspicious signs. His Holiness will take care of it, don't worry. We have to keep in mind, in any case, that all dreams, just like anything else, lack solid, concrete existence.

Then various ritual clothes and garments will be passed out to some of the people on the stage. You might be wondering about all of that. As we were saying yesterday, we are all being generated in the form of these Buddha-figures, so we are not viewing or thinking of ourselves in our usual ordinary ways. Wearing the ritual clothes is a way to help us keep mindful that we are not in our ordinary forms. That is the reason we wear them. It does not matter that not all of us have them.

Generation as the Buddha-Figure

Then we are going to be generated once more in the form of the simple deity, Kalachakra, but this time we will be with a partner. One of the questions that I saw here was about the significance of the simple deity. It is just a simple basic form; there is no special significance.

Someone else asked if there was any special significance to the partner, to the mother, aside from helping in the birth process. The answer is yes; there are other purposes. First, we need to keep in mind that, as practitioners of any of these tantric systems, we are not just the main deity. In fact, we are everybody in the whole world system! We are the main couple and we are also all of the 722 figures in the mandala. All of the figures in the mandala represent various things on external and internal levels and on a practice level (the alternative level).

For example, some of the deities represent the different elements in our bodies; and some signify various energy-channels in different parts of our bodies. In fact, if we look at our ordinary bodies, we see that it has far more than 722 parts. We are not only our heads; we are also our arms and legs. And we are the different veins and bones in our bodies too.

Very often, we are unaware of the myriad things that constitute us. I am not only speaking on a physical level, but also on mental and emotional levels. We are made up of so many things: for instance, the various aspects of our personalities, the various things that we have learned both inside and outside school, and the different types of lives that we lead. We all have business lives or professional lives; we have nuclear family lives with our partners and children; and we have extended family lives with our parents and other relatives. Even if they have already passed away, they are still parts of us. Then we have our personal spiritual lives, sport lives, recreational lives, school lives, vacation lives, and so on. And, in fact, we are all of these. In Buddhist technical terms, all of them serve as the basis for labeling our conventional "me"s.

It is very helpful to try to integrate all of these aspects of ourselves into a whole being, a whole person. In terms of practicing with these deity systems, when we try to be aware of the different Buddha-figures around us, we are trying to be aware of all of them constituting the basis for labeling "me." This is very helpful for becoming a more integrated person.

It is very important for us to learn to feel that all the various aspects of our bodies, our minds, our emotions, and all the different aspects of our lives fit together harmoniously. From any point of view, if we can feel that we are whole persons, it is very healing, very helpful. So, we are all of these Buddha-figures, and we are the palace as well, because the building too has many levels of symbolism. It stands for different aspects of ourselves on the spiritual path.

Visualization of the Female Partner

The female partner, then, is part of us. The main symbolism of the mother and father, the couple, is in terms of method and wisdom. Because wisdom, the understanding of reality, gives birth to all our different attainments and realizations, it is symbolized by a mother. Here, the main mother is yellow, and she is called Vishvamata, which means "Mother of Diversity."

There is also a group of ten powerful ladies, called "shaktis" in Sanskrit. They constitute another aspect of the main partner. On one level, they stand for the ten far-reaching attitudes (Skt. paramita, perfections). What might be slightly confusing is when we are generated as the simple couple at the very beginning of the empowerment today, the partner is going to be blue, not yellow. That is if His Holiness follows the text – he may also follow an oral tradition in which she is yellow. We do not know what is coming.

If our partner happens to be blue, do not let this upset you. Everybody changes colors at different times. Moreover, any of the ten powerful ladies can substitute for the main consort, and particularly the blue one, who happens to be Prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom or discriminating awareness.

This scene only goes on for a certain part in the beginning of the empowerment today. After that, we are going to be transformed into lots of other aspects, so don't just hold on to the first scene. The female partners here have a great deal of meaning throughout the entire practice, because throughout the entire practice we need to have wisdom, we need to have an understanding of reality.

Another piece of amusing advice comes to mind, again from Serkong Rinpoche. Someone asked, "Isn't it difficult to imagine that we have this partner, that we are this couple if we are walking around and sitting and doing various things?" Rinpoche replied that, in a way it is like wearing clothes. We are wearing clothes as we walk around, sit, and do various things. Throughout the day, we know we are dressed and we have the feeling that we are dressed. This is part of us, but we do not really worry about it. We do not focus so strongly on it, unless we are vain.

In general, we need to try not to have mental blocks about any of these different aspects. As I said yesterday, the main thing is to have a feeling that we have all these things and that we are all these aspects. We have both the various methods for reaching enlightenment, in terms of the bodies of a Buddha, and we also have wisdom.

Taking Vows Once More

After the generation of ourselves as Buddha-figures, there will be the taking of the vows again: these will be the taking of refuge, the bodhisattva vows, and the tantric vows. The bodhisattva vows are also sometimes called the bodhichitta vows. It is the same thing, so don't be thrown by their having two names. Then there are the tantric vows, and they are also called the secret mantra vows, the same thing. And then there are some special vows that are particularly associated with the Kalachakra practice. His Holiness will probably explain a little bit about them.

One question that was asked a number of times here was about the vows that were given on Saturday morning, the one-day Mahayana vows. That was the scene in the movie that played Saturday morning. That scene is not continuing to play today, unless, of course, we put it on this morning and took the vows again. In any case, those were not the set of vows that we are taking here. We are not taking vows that we will never eat after noon again for the rest of our lives. That was something different and please do not confuse them with the vows we are taking here at the empowerment.

There are many questions concerning specific vows. I will speak more about them after I go through some more general points concerning the empowerment.

The Yoga Encompassing Everything

After the vows, we have a procedure called "the yoga encompassing everything." With it, we try to develop an awareness or feeling of conventional (relative) and deepest (ultimate) bodhichittas.

The term that I like to use for bodhichitta is an "expanding heart." Conventional bodhichitta is a heart set on enlightenment and expanding out to all others and to achieving enlightenment to be able to help them the best. Deepest bodhichitta is a mind set on voidness and is expanding out to understand and encompass it completely. A very important part of the empowerment is generating these two aspects of our hearts and minds expanding out, because this will be the context within which everything is practiced and held.

Keeping Tantra Private

Then, there will be quite a bit of emphasis on keeping the vows of secrecy. At various times during the empowerment, we will be reminded always to keep the secrecy. The whole idea of secrecy is keeping things private. It is not that we are doing something that we have to hide, such as something dirty or bad. Rather, the point is that if we publicize the different visualizations and so on that we are doing, they lose their value and worth.

One of the worst things – and it can be really devastating for our practice – is if we tell someone, "I am visualizing myself as a deity with four heads and twenty-four arms," and then they make fun of us. Aside from the fact that they may consider us crazy, still, if people start to laugh at us, and we have to become defensive about our spiritual practice, it really loses its whole power.

Thus, we really need to keep to ourselves the methods and practices we are following. If people ask us a question of what we are doing, we can answer in a very vague way, like "I am working on my attitude, trying to get a more positive feeling about myself." Something simple. Nobody has to know what we are visualizing, and the specific methods we are following.

That is also why the Lamas often advise that it is not so good to put up strange pictures of these deities in place in our homes where anybody who comes in can see them and ask all sorts of uncomfortable questions. Nor is it wise to walk around with a rosary, or something like that, making a big show, so that people again start asking us a lot of questions. It becomes quite awkward. The more private we keep our practice, the better. It becomes much more precious to us. Also, if we explain to other people who are not ready to understand, they might develop some very strange ideas about it. It really is not so good to give other people opportunities for developing incorrect ideas.

Changing Forms

After that, we will go inside the mandala, still blindfolded, and circumambulate. This is on the ground floor of this very large building. We will also make prostrations in the four doorways. There is a doorway in the middle of each side and we'll start to change our forms at this point. In each doorway, we are going to be in the form of a different Buddha-figure. We will be a different color, and so on, and it will start to come quite fast. If you can follow, great. If you can't, don't worry! The main thing is that we are showing respect; we are prostrating.

The same thing is going to be true throughout the empowerment. Don't worry if you can not keep up with all the changes of the colors and the things we are holding. Try to keep in mind the essence of what is going on in that particular stage.

Not Belittling Our Spiritual Masters

After prostrating and showing respect, we will again be told to keep the secrecy, and not to belittle or put down our spiritual masters. This is very important, because if we think that our spiritual masters do not know what they are talking about, how can we possible have any confidence in what they teach us? This is the reason why it is so important to examine beforehand whether we can accept the master as our personal spiritual teacher. The time to examine is beforehand, not after.

Again, as in an example Serkong Rinpoche used, we should not be like the crazy person who runs out on the ice of a lake and then turns around and taps with a stick behind him to see if the ice will hold him. With His Holiness, we can be completely confident that he is certainly the most fully qualified master we could find.

The Descent of Deep Awareness Beings and the Tossing of a Flower into the Mandala

Next, we will have the beings of deep awareness, the wisdom beings, descend upon us. We will imagine various deities descending into us and merging with us in a very complicated visualization. In this way, we become even more authentically transformed into these Buddha-figures.

After that, we toss a flower into the mandala. Based on the direction in which it falls, we will know our affiliation, or which Buddha-family we are connected with. We will also receive a secret name in terms of this.

Some of the questions here are also concerned with the fact that yesterday the Western disciples had a connection with the attainment of increase. Remember I spoke yesterday about the different types of activities that a Buddha has, the different ways in which he or she is able to exert an enlightening influence on others. I was discussing how one of these ways is that a Buddha is able to stimulate everything around him or her to grow. This refers to the attainment of increase. This shows that we will have a connection particularly with gaining this ability to exert this tremendous stimulating influence on everyone around us.

We will get another affiliation from tossing the flower today. The flower will be placed on our heads. We are going to be told that from the circumstance of being touched with the flower, namely from the sensation of the flower on the top of our heads, we experience inseparable voidness and bliss. This instruction to imagine that we now experience inseparable voidness and bliss will recur repeatedly throughout the empowerment. Let me explain a bit about that.

Experiencing Inseparable Voidness and Bliss

Yesterday, we discussed that each empowerment has as its functions purifying a certain type of stain and planting a specific seed. We purify in order to be able to overcome our limitations, and we plant seeds in order to be able to grow and develop good qualities. The seeds that we plant are actually of two kinds. One is a conscious experience during the empowerment, and that is an experience of inseparable voidness and bliss. The second is an actual seed – a legacy from experiencing the ritual – that is planted on our mental continuums for some future ripening.

What are voidness and bliss, or emptiness and bliss? One of the "simple" questions asked was "What is emptiness of inherent existence?" We can talk a lot about it. His Holiness has addressed the subject already. Basically, however, to grasp for inherent (solid, true) existence is to believe that things exist with identities established from their own sides. It is to believe that we can actually find existing – let's say in this can of club soda on the table in front of me - something that we can point our fingers to as establishing or as being the identity of the can.

The way we usually think is in terms of this being a concrete object right here, with a solid identity as "this" or "that." "This is my can of club soda and you had better not take it." Or, "This can is extremely cold and I don't like to drink anything cold. I'm really upset that they brought me something that is so ice cold. Why weren't they more considerate? And look, it has a flip-top opener on top, which I usually manage to cut my finger on. What a horrible can of soda!"

Thus, I imagine this can of club soda is sitting here, defiantly existing with an identity as something annoying and disappointing from its own side. And if I grasp at this can of club soda to have all these projected qualities, from its own side, inherently – if I grasp at it to exist in the way my paranoid and ungrateful mind makes it appear – I get into a whole disturbing mental state about it.

Grasping for inherent existence, then, would be believing that this can of soda has an existence and concrete identity established from its own side, that I can find here on the table, completely separate from all the different causes that went into it, such as the intention of the kind person who brought it for me and so forth.

What is the actual reality of this can of soda? What I can say about it is that, in fact, there is a total absence of it existing as this nasty, disappointing can. The paranoid vision of the can of soda, that it has been put here on purpose to make me angry, is just a complete fantasy, a fantasized way of existing. That way of existing, that fantasized way of existing, is totally absent; it is not the case; it is not referring to anything true. A can of soda has no intention, because it is cold, to upset my stomach. There are no such things as "disappointing cans of soda." If a can of soda were disappointing from its own side, it would have to be disappointing to everyone. And I am sure there are many of you listening to me who would love to drink it and would not consider it disappointing or annoying at all.

So, when we talk about emptiness or voidness, it is a complete absence of some strange fantasized way that we think things exist and that we project. The strange, fantasized ways in which we imagine that things exist has many levels of subtlety. As we study more and gain deeper insight, we will be able to see, on progressively more subtle levels, these fantasized, impossible ways. However, in general, this is what voidness is talking about.

Further, there are many types of mind or consciousness with which we could be aware of this absence. Some of these states of mind have more advantages than others do. When we talk about bliss, bliss is actually a blissful type of awareness. "Blissful" is an adjective. We are speaking of a way of being aware of something that is characterized by being very blissful.

A blissful awareness has many advantages. One is that it is an extremely intense state of mind. Furthermore, the more intense it is, the subtler and more nonconceptual it becomes. If we have many different types of mind that we could choose with which to be aware of reality, it would be good to choose one that has many advantages. It is like if we want to shoot an arrow into a target and we have many different arrows that we could use, we would want to choose one of the best arrows. The arrow that we choose is this blissful awareness. The blissful awareness arrow is the arrow that we are going to use as the one to shoot into the target, voidness. We are going to use it as the type of mind with which we understand reality, or voidness, this absence of fantasized ways of existing. So, when we talk about "inseparable voidness and bliss," this is what we are talking about. It is a blissful type of awareness with which we are aware of reality or voidness.

In his commentary to the Kalachakra empowerment, the Seventh Dalai Lama wrote that it will be difficult for most disciples actually to have an experience of voidness and bliss during the empowerment. Therefore, what disciples need to do, in general, is try to generate a happy state of mind. With a happy state of mind, on whatever level they are able to generate one, they need to try to be aware of reality to whatever level they are capable of understanding it. If reality speaks of a total absence of fantasized ways of existing, then on whatever level we are capable of understanding that, we need to think of it in a happy state of mind. This is the type of mind we need to try to generate each time in the empowerment we are instructed, "Imagine that you have an experience of inseparable voidness and bliss."

The reality of the situation of the empowerment, for instance, is not that there is some strange thing occurring on the stage, and we are completely separated from it down here in the audience. That situation with a thick solid line around His Holiness on the stage and a thick solid line around us in the audience is not true, it is absent. In fact, the whole situation is very open and a whole process of cause and effect is occurring. We are experiencing various things, such as seeds being planted to form a basis for our future success in the practice. Therefore, even if we just think in terms of the absence of these thick solid lines, and think of this in a happy state of mind, this will do.

In fact, we are at an empowerment, which means we are gaining the power to grow. On the basis of our experience of thinking of this absence with a happy state of mind during the empowerment, our understanding and insight will grow. So it does not have to be the most ultimate, sophisticated experience of voidness and bliss at the empowerment. However, if we try in this way, we will gain the basic experience from which we can grow.

Levels of the Empowerment

After this, we will remove the blindfolds so that we are able to see the mandala, and we will listen to a description of it. Then, the specific empowerments will be given. When the Kalachakra initiation is given in full, there are first the seven empowerments of entering like a child, then the four higher and the four highest empowerments, and finally the great vajra-overlord empowerment.

One of the questions asked was "I understand that this is not the fullest level of the Kalachakra empowerment that is being given. What is going on here?" The three levels that can be given are as follows: The first is to give only the seven empowerments of entering as a child. From receiving this, we are empowered to do the generation stage practices, which are the practices done with the imagination. This is what His Holiness gave in Madison Wisconsin a few years ago.

What His Holiness will give here in Switzerland will be the intermediate level. We will receive the seven empowerments of entering as a child, and certain ones out of the four higher and the four highest. Let me explain. There are higher vase, secret, wisdom and fourth, or word, empowerments, and also a highest level of each of the four. We will receive the higher vase, secret, wisdom, and fourth, and then also the highest word, or fourth empowerment. On the basis of this, we are empowered to do all the practices of Kalachakra, both the generation and the complete stage. It enables us to receive all the teachings of Kalachakra, and, if we have the qualifications, to explain them to others.

The third level that can be given, the fullest level, has the seven of entering like a child, the four higher and the complete four highest, and the great vajra-overlord empowerments. Having received that – and this is what His Holiness will give in Bodh Gaya this winter – the only additional thing we are empowered to do is, if we have done all the preparations and are utterly qualified, to confer the empowerment to others. This is the only thing that we are not empowered to do here now. Since this is not so relevant for most of us, it is not being given. However, we should not feel badly, that this is an incomplete initiation, and that we are missing something. What we are missing is something that for most of us is irrelevant.

Now, let us turn to some of the questions.

Vows, Pledges, and the Six-Session Yoga Practice

The largest number of questions that have been asked concern the vows and commitments, or pledges. A vow is a promised restraint from doing a naturally destructive action or one that is prohibited for certain individuals, such as wearing robes for monastics. A pledge is a close-bonding practice, something that we practice in order to make us close to the Buddha-figures.

The six-session yoga practice is something that makes us close to the five Buddha-families. We promise to repeat the six-session practice six times each day for the rest of our lives, as a way of keeping mindful of the practices that will make us close to these families. We can do it on six separate occasions during the day and evening, but that is not necessary. What most people do is to recite it three times in the morning and three times in the evening. If we are doing the longer versions, then the three repetitions are not complete repetitions of the entire thing. There are only certain verses that we repeat the second and third times, and that is indicated quite clearly in the books.

We can also recite these verses six times altogether, if we are not able to do them three times in the morning and three times in the evening. We can also do different lengths of the practice at different times, to suit our individual circumstances. However, the shortest one, just saying one verse, if we say it six times, cannot take us more than a few minutes. So, it is not something outrageous that we are promising to do.

Bodhisattva and Tantric Vows Are until Enlightenment

A few persons ask, "Are the vows only for when we are doing this practice? How long are these vows for?" The bodhisattva and tantric vows are guidelines that we try to follow for the rest of our lives. In fact, if we want to be technically correct, we are promising to try to keep them as guidelines for our behavior throughout all our lives, all the way to enlightenment.

Breaking Vows and Feeling Guilt

This raises the whole subject of guilt, and since we are mostly all Westerners here, and most Westerners have problems with guilt, we might as well address it. It is very helpful to examine what is the feeling of guilt that we experience when we break a vow. I suppose various people have different ideas, but from my own thinking it seems as follows.

We do something that is destructive. Let's not use the terms bad or evil, or non-virtuous, which all imply a moral judgment. Let's simply call it destructive. I think the whole issue of guilt arises when we identify very strongly with what we have done and then feel, "I am a bad person. I have done something wrong." Then we hang onto it very, very tightly as now being our permanent identities. The psychological implication is that "This is who I am and now there is very little that can be done about it."

If, on the other hand, we tell people, "Well, you should not feel guilty," they may misunderstand. Some people may think that this means they can go out and do anything they want to do and not feel guilty about it. That also is incorrect.

The facts of reality are that certain actions are destructive and others are constructive. If we do something destructive and we don't do anything about it, then a lot of problems come about. And, to do nothing about it and, in addition, to feel that there is nothing that can be done about it, is to feel guilty. However, in fact, something can be done about it. Even if we have done something destructive, we can apply opponent forces and build up a more positive potential.

It is always said that if we understand voidness, we can purify ourselves of all the seeds of our destructive actions of our past. This does not mean that now all our destructive potentials are void; they have all disappeared. We get rid of them just by thinking that they do not exist. Rather, the understanding of voidness is in terms of understanding cause and effect, or dependent arising. So, when we understand voidness, or the absence of fantasized ways of existing, we understand that the potentials and everything that we will experience in the future are things that follow a process of cause and effect. They are not predetermined fates carved in stone.

What we have done in the past, what we have now as potentials, and what we will experience in the future – all of them occur according to the laws of cause and effect. If our negative potentials existed inherently from their own sides as sort of marks on a score board, then there is nothing that can be done about them. We are condemned. And, if we are condemned like that, then we are guilty.

However, it is not like that. Our negative potentials do not exist in this fantasized way. They are devoid of existing like that. They can be affected by cause and effect. That means that in fact we have to do something about them and not just sit and feel guilty and badly about them and indulge in self-pity. There are various practices we can do that will overcome these negative potentials and build up positive ones. Otherwise, there would be no way to become enlightened, if we think about it.

Factors Required for Losing the Vows

Although we try never to break our vows, it is difficult not to transgress them some times. Therefore, the main emphasis is on not losing our vows. In transgressing our vows, then, there is a big difference between merely weakening them and losing them completely. For most of the vows, losing them requires certain attitudes to be present. Without all of these attitudes complete, our transgression merely weakens our vows. We still have them on our mental continuums.

Consider the bodhisattva vows. Suppose, we claim, for example, "I am the best doctor in the world. I am so wonderful and all other doctors are incompetent and stupid. They can't do anything." If we say this with the motivation of having more patients and making more money, this is going to prevent us from benefiting others the best. If we do this and feel happy about what we have done; and if we feel there is nothing wrong with it, because, after all, we want to make a lot of money; and if we have absolutely no intention of stopping this in the future; and we don't care in the slightest how our behavior reflects on us or on our loved ones, because we are here to make as much money as possible; we lose our bodhisattva vows. With these attitudes, we have, in fact, discarded them. If, however, not all of these attitudes are present, we have just weakened our vows. We have not lost them.

So, if we find that we have praised ourselves and put down other people, because after all, we are human and we may inadvertently do that, then we try to feel regret about that: regret, but not guilt. Guilt would mean, "I have blown it; there is nothing I can do; and I am just a terrible person." This is guilt. Regret means, "I have eaten too much whipped cream, and I know I am going to get an upset stomach; but I can take a pill and I can get rid of it." This, however, does not mean that we can always go and eat an excessive amount of whipped cream, because we can always take a pill afterwards.

In any case, if we regret what we have done and will try our best not to repeat it; and if we feel that it was not the best thing to have done; and if we have a sense of ethical self-pride and care how our behavior reflects on us and on our loved ones and teachers, because we want to try to help everybody; then praising ourselves and belittling others just weakens the force of our vows. We therefore need to apply the various opponent forces to restrengthen our commitments. Namely, we reaffirm our refuge, the safe direction we are taking in life. We reaffirm or rededicate our hearts to others and to enlightenment, with bodhichitta. We can also do various other purification practices, such as Vajrasattva.

If we feel guilty, we do not really believe that these opponent forces are going to be effective. For many Western people, guilt causes so many problems. We need to have confidence in the laws of behavioral cause and effect. The more we understand voidness, or the absence of fantasized ways of existing, the more we understand reality, and thus the more we will have confidence in cause and effect. How many times have we heard His Holiness say that? This is a very important point, especially in light of the purification that occurs during the empowerment.

In summary, the various vows are guidelines that we follow in terms of what are the most constructive things to do in order to be able to benefit others, and in order to achieve enlightenment through the tantric practices.

There are a lot of questions here about specific vows. There are various ways to approach this pile of questions. I suppose I should follow the advice from the teachings on training the mind, or cleansing attitudes, and take the most difficult or the most persistent questions first.

The Vow Not to Release Semen

The most frequently asked question concerns the vow about not releasing semen. First, as His Holiness said when I asked him for clarification about this vow, it is not the case that men have fourteen tantric vows, and women have only thirteen. We have equality of the sexes here. Everybody has this vow. However, what does it mean?

Semen can also be translated as "seminal force" or "seminal energy," which leaves it a little bit more open. Seminal, the adjective form of semen, gives the idea of something that can give birth to many other things. We are talking about many different levels of subtlety here of the energy involved. Primarily, what we want to do is to achieve a blissful awareness and use it to be able to understand voidness, or reality. This very intense state of mind will bring us many advantages for being able to see reality more clearly. What we do not want to do, then, is to lose that blissful state of mind. We want to be able to maintain it.

The ability to develop an intensely blissful state of mind and not to lose it becomes extremely important when we reach the advanced stages of the practice – the complete stage. On less advanced stages, this ability is not as crucial, because we are not yet dealing with the subtle energy systems. On a more beginners' level of practice, this vow is referring to avoiding the thought that having ordinary sex is a way of gaining liberation or enlightenment. When we have ordinary sex and we come to the point where we have a peak experience of orgasm, the energy dissipates afterwards, either immediately or gradually. If we think that this is what will bring us enlightenment, we might develop all sorts of strange ideas about sex. This is breaking the vow.

Let's not let these vows make us feel guilty about sex. That would be very sad. We have to understand them in terms of the more advanced levels of dealing with the energies in the body and wanting to maintain and not lose a blissful state of mind. And, on a beginners' level of practice, we do not want to indulge in ordinary sex and think that this is the way to achieve enlightenment.

A Qualified Partner

A similar answer can be given to the next most frequently asked question, "What about the vow of only being with a qualified partner and having the three recognitions?"

A qualified partner, if we take this in a very general sense, is someone who has a similar understanding of the spiritual path and practice as we do and does not have strange ideas about sex. The recognitions are in terms of having a correct understanding of reality, a correct understanding of ourselves and our partners as Buddha-figures, and so forth.

We can appreciate the meaning of the word recognition by thinking of it in terms of feelings. We try not to have the feeling that, by engaging in a sexual act, we can gain liberation. Instead, we try to be mindful of the long-range goals we are aiming for. We are aiming to be able to help everybody and becoming enlightened. We want to use all the experiences we have in order to be able to develop ourselves more in this direction.

This does not mean that we are not going to have any more children. It means to have the recognition, throughout the day and night, of being in the pure forms of Buddha-figures, as we were discussing yesterday. To feel this helps us to remain mindful that we are aiming to achieve the bodies of a Buddha and that when we experience happiness and joy, we want, while in this state of mind, to try to stay focused on reality and not be intoxicated or overwhelmed by our bliss. It is similar to what His Holiness was explaining yesterday about using desire as part of the path.