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Vajrasattva Purification: The Basics

Alexander Berzin
Berlin, Germany, April 20-22, 2001
revised, June 2009

Introduction

Vajrasattva (rDo-rje sems-dpa’) practice is a tantric meditation done for the purification of karma. As a Mahayana practice, it is undertaken with a bodhichitta aim to purify all our karma in order to reach enlightenment as quickly as possible in order to be best able to help all limited beings (sentient beings). On an ultimate level, Vajrasattva practice is nonconceptual meditation on voidness (emptiness). On a provisional level, it entails repeated recitation of a hundred-syllable mantra (yig-rgya), accompanied by opponent states of mind and complex visualizations.

Vajrasattva mantra recitation and visualization may be undertaken merely within the context of sutra practice, before beginning any practice of tantra. In such cases, it may be done either with or without being part of a set of formal “preliminary practices” (sngon-‘gro; “ngondro”) for tantra, during which we would repeat the mantra 100,000 times. The recitation and visualization may also constitute part of a formal tantric “sadhana” (sgrub-thabs) practice for actualizing ourselves as a Buddha-figure (yi-dam). Such sadhana practice may be within the context of any class of tantra.

Regardless of which level on which we practice Vajrasattva meditation, it is aimed at purifying ourselves of karma. Karma (las) refers either to the uncontrollably recurring mental urges that bring us to act, speak, or think in a specific manner, or to the impulses with which those so-called “karmic actions” are carried out. There are several slightly different explanations of it given by various Indian Buddhist masters. There is no need to go into the details of the differences here.

When we commit karmic actions, this leaves “karmic aftermath,” such as karmic tendencies (seeds), on our mental continuum. Later, usually in a future rebirth, these karmic aftermaths ripen into or bring about our experience of “karmic results” that accord in some way with those karmic actions. “Ripen,” then, does not refer to the arising of immediate man-made results (skyes-bu byed-pa'i 'bras-bu, Skt. purushakaraphalam), like the pain from stubbing our toe, or to the immediate effects of our actions on others.

“Purification of karma” is actually an abbreviated way of saying “purification of karmic aftermath.” In this context, “purification” means eliminating the possibility of our experiencing the karmic results that would come about from the ripening of these aftermaths.

Only Mahayana asserts the possibility of purification of karma before it finishes ripening. According to the Hinayana schools, all our karmic aftermaths must ripen, even if only into the experience of a very minor result, before we pass away in the lifetime in which we become liberated as an arhat or enlightened as a Buddha.

1 The Process of Purification in General

Context: The Four Noble Truths

To understand how karma can be purified, we need to understand the four noble truths. Purification of karma can only occur within the framework of the four noble truths: true sufferings, true causes (true origins), true stoppings (true cessations), and true pathways of mind (true paths).

True Sufferings

True sufferings refer to experiencing the results that ripen from karma. These may be tainted feelings of some level of happiness or unhappiness or they may be tainted aggregate factors of experience (phung-po, Skt. skandha). In general, “tainted” (zag-bcas, contaminated) refers to something that derives from unawareness (ma-rig-pa, Skt. avidya; ignorance) of reality, namely either not knowing how all phenomena exist or having an inverted understanding of how they exist.

[See: Tainted and Untainted Phenomena.]

There are three varieties of true sufferings:

  • The experience of unhappiness. This ripens from destructive behavior committed because of unawareness of behavioral cause and effect and with unawareness of reality. In general, a destructive action is one that is motivated by a disturbing emotion of attachment, hostility, or naivety, as well as no sense of values and having no scruples.

  • The experience of a tainted fleeting happiness that cannot satisfy, since it cannot prevent unhappiness from returning, and when it ends, there is no certainty of what follows. This ripens from constructive behavior committed with unawareness of reality. In general, a constructive action is one that is motivated by detachment, lack of hostility, or lack of naivety, as well as having a sense of values and having scruples.

[See: Constructive, Destructive, and Unspecified Phenomena.]

  • The experience of the aggregate factors of experience arising with uncontrollably recurring rebirth (‘ khor-ba, Skt. samsara). These aggregate factors of experience constitute the basis for and context within which we experience the first two types of true sufferings. These aggregate factors also ripen from the former two types of behavior, destructive and constructive, and from unspecified behavior also committed with unawareness of reality. More specifically, this third type of true suffering refers to:

    • The experience of the aggregate factors of a rebirth itself – the life form, physical and mental features, and instincts with which we are born. These factors constitute the ripened results (rnam-smin-gyi ‘b ras-bu, Skt. vipakaphalam) of karma and are ethically neutral – neither constructive nor destructive.

    • The experience of the place and situation into which we are born. This arises as the dominating result (bdag-po'i ' bras-bu, Skt. adhipatiphalam, overriding result, comprehensive result) of karma.

    • During that rebirth, experiencing moments of feeling like doing, saying, or thinking in ways resembling our past karmic actions or, more precisely, liking (dga’-ba) or wishing (‘ dod-pa) to act, speak, or think in those ways. Such experiences are results that correspond to their cause in our behavior (byed-pa rgyu-mthun-gyi 'bras-bu),

    • The experience of things happening to us, similar to our past karmic actions. These are results that correspond to their cause in our experience (myong-ba rgyu-mthun-gyi 'bras-bu).

[See: Basic Scheme of the Five Aggregate Factors of Experience. See also: Causes, Conditions, and Results.]

True Causes

The true causes of these three types of suffering are karma and disturbing emotions and attitudes (nyon-mongs, Skt. klesha; afflictive emotions). “Disturbing emotions and attitudes” are mental factors that, when they accompany any moment of our experience, cause us to lose peace of mind and self-control. They motivate karmic actions as well as serve as the conditions for bringing about the ripening of the karmic aftermaths from those actions. Ultimately, however, both karma and disturbing emotions and attitudes derive from unawareness of reality or, more specifically, from grasping for truly established existence (bden-‘dzin).

According to the law of certainty of karma, when we experience unhappiness, it is certain that this unhappiness has ripened from the karmic aftermaths of destructive actions. When we experience tainted happiness, it is certain that this tainted happiness has ripened from the karmic aftermaths of constructive actions. Both constructive and destructive karmic actions, however, are motivated and carried out with unawareness of reality.

[See: Brief Presentation of the Main Points about Karma.]

Three conditions bring about the ripening of karmic aftermaths into the third type of true suffering – the experience of tainted aggregates – which forms the basis for experiencing the first two types of true sufferings – the experiences of unhappiness and of tainted happiness. The first two conditions are types of disturbing emotions or attitudes, while the third is a karmic urge. All three conditions arise within the context of experiencing some level of tainted happiness, unhappiness, or a neutral feeling. Those three types of tainted feelings, in turn, are what have already ripened from other karmic aftermaths.

  • craving (sred-pa),

  • an obtainer (len-pa),

  • a karmic urge for further existence (srid-pa).

“Craving” is the disturbing emotion of longing to be rid of unhappiness, not to be parted from tainted happiness, or to maintain a neutral feeling. As a disturbing emotion, craving exaggerates the positive or negative qualities of the feeling on which it focuses, while the grasping for truly established existence that accompanies the craving projects truly established existence onto that feeling and its qualities.

An “obtainer” may be the disturbing emotion of desire for some desirable sensory object – either attachment to one that we are currently experiencing or longing desire for one that we do not have. Similar to craving, this obtainer longing desire or attachment exaggerates the good qualities of the desirable sensory object on which it focuses, while the grasping for truly established existence that accompanies the obtainer emotion projects truly established existence onto that sensory object.

Alternatively, an obtainer may be one of several disturbing attitudes. The main one is a deluded outlook toward a transitory network (‘ jig-lta), which in this case refers to grasping for the tainted aggregates, which are the basis for these tainted feelings, to constitute a truly existent “me.” Note that these tainted aggregates to which this disturbing attitude grasps have also ripened previously from karmic aftermaths. These obtainer attitudes are accompanied by the grasping for truly established existence that focuses on the tainted aggregates and projects truly established existence onto them and onto the conventional “me” imputed on them.

Thus, both craving and an obtainer disturbing emotion or attitude arise because of unawareness of reality – more specifically, because of grasping for truly established existence – and are accompanied by that unawareness and grasping. The craving and obtainer then cause a karmic urge for further existence to arise. This karmic urge activates the karmic aftermaths of the types of karmic actions that have the power to bring about a further rebirth. The activated karmic aftermaths consist of both the karmic urge that will hurl our mental continuum into the experience of its next rebirth and the karmic urges that will bring about its experience of the conditions of that rebirth. These karmic urges are known, respectively, as “throwing karma” (‘ phen-byed-kyi las) and “completing karma” (rdzogs-byed-kyi las).

In short:

  • Out of unawareness of reality, we commit karmic actions. This leaves karmic aftermaths on our mental continuum.Some karmic aftermaths ripen into our experience of the feeling of some level of tainted happiness, unhappiness, or a neutral feeling. We experience those tainted feelings within the context of the tainted aggregates that have ripened from other karmic aftermaths.

  • Unawareness of reality brings about craving directed toward some tainted feeling that we are experiencing and brings about as well an obtainer emotion or attitude directed at either the object toward which we are experiencing that tainted feeling or the aggregate factors within which the experience of that object is occurring.

  • This craving and obtainer serve as the conditions for the arising of a karmic urge for further existence. That karmic urge activates yet other karmic aftermath; and then this activated karmic aftermaths, now in the form of a throwing karma, brings about our experience of future tainted aggregates.

  • Yet other karmic aftermaths then ripen into the tainted feelings that we experience within the context of those future tainted aggregates, and we experience those feelings with yet further unawareness of reality.

Ultimately, then, the true cause of sufferings is unawareness of reality, or more specifically, grasping for truly established existence.

This complex mechanism describes uncontrollably recurring rebirth, namely “samsara,” fraught from top to bottom by suffering. The twelve links of dependent arising outline the mechanism in full.

[See: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising.]

True Stoppings

A true stopping of sufferings can only be brought about by a true stopping of their causes. Thus, true stoppings refer to an absolute absence of karma and disturbing emotions and attitudes as true causes, and an absolute absence of what ripens from them: tainted feelings and tainted aggregates as true sufferings. An “absolute absence” means a stopping of something such that it never arises again.

True Pathways of Mind

A true pathway of mind that brings about a true stopping is a nonconceptual cognition of voidness (emptiness), based on safe direction (refuge), with either simply renunciation or also a bodhichitta aim.

  • “Renunciation” is the strong determination to be free from all true sufferings and to rid ourselves of all their true causes.

  • “Bodhicitta” is a mind focused on our own individual enlightenment that has not yet happened, but which can be validly imputed on our mental continuum and which can happen, on the basis of our Buddha-nature factors. This focus is accompanied by the intentions to attain that enlightenment and to benefit all limited beings by means of that attainment.

  • In the context of anuttarayoga tantra, this nonconceptual cognition is with clear light awareness (‘ od-gsal) having a blissful realization of voidness. “Clear light awareness” is the subtlest level of consciousness that all beings have. In the context of dzogchen practice, this blissful nonconceptual cognition of voidness is with pure awareness (rig-pa, “rigpa). For the sake of simplicity of discussion, let us limit our presentation to clear light awareness, since most relevant points about it pertain to pure awareness as well.

[See: Introduction to Dzogchen.]

Vajrasattva represents fully realized clear light awareness in its two aspects:

  • Its third noble truth aspect of double purity (dag-pa gnyis-ldan) – it has (1) the natural purity of its nature having never been stained by karma or by the disturbing emotions and attitudes and (2) the purity achieved through having removed those fleeting stains such that they never recur.

  • Its fourth noble truth aspect as that which rids us of true sufferings and their true causes.

Vajrasattva meditation is practiced with the focus on purifying karma. When, with clear light awareness Vajrasattva, we achieve final purification of all karma, we attain enlightenment.

What Is Purified: Karmic Aftermaths

Since purifying karma means purifying the karmic aftermaths of our karmic actions, let us look at the three types of karmic aftermath that need to be purified. Here, I have coined the term karmic aftermath to refer to all three:

  • networks (tshogs, collections) of karmic force,

  • karmic tendencies (sa-bon, seeds, traces),

  • karmic constant habits (bag-chags).

Karmic forces include both negative karmic force (sdig-pa, “sins”) and positive karmic force (bsod-nams, “merit”). Only the Mahayana tenet systems assert karmic constant habits; the Hinayana tenet systems do not assert them.

Karmic forces, but not karmic tendencies, ripen into experiencing tainted aggregates. Both karmic forces and karmic tendencies, however, ripen into:

  • experiencing tainted feelings of happiness or unhappiness,

  • experiencing feelings to repeat karmic actions similar to those we have committed previously,

  • experiencing things happening to us similar to the karmic actions we have committed,

  • experiencing types of environment in which all of these occur.

Karmic forces and karmic tendencies are also similar in the sense that both ripen intermittently, not continuously. Once they have finished giving rise to their results, they are exhausted and are no longer present on our mental continuum. Karmic forces, however, are either constructive or destructive phenomena, whereas karmic tendencies are unspecified phenomena, ethically neutral.

Karmic constant habits, on the other hand, give rise to their effects continuously. They give rise to limited awareness in each moment of our experience and the inability to cognize the two truths simultaneously – what exists and how each thing exists. Like karmic tendencies, they are unspecified phenomena. The manner in which karmic constant habits give rise to limited awareness and this inability is not called “ripening.” A ripening (smin-pa) is a natural ending of something when it exhausts and is no longer able to give further results. Karmic constant habits never exhaust; they never end naturally.

[See: The Mechanism of Karma, Session 3.]

Karmic Aftermaths Are Nonstatic Abstractions

“Purifying karma,” then, means to rid our mental continuum of the three types of karmic aftermaths by causing them to be unable to give rise to results in the future. We cannot purify or eliminate the results that have already arisen from them, such as having been born blind.

To understand how purification is possible, we need to understand the type of phenomena that karmic aftermaths are. Although there are more complex presentations of the types of phenomena that some of them are, let us look at the least complicated explanation.

[See: Logical Pervasions of the Technical Terms for the Different Types of Karmic Aftermath.]

According to this explanation, the three types of karmic aftermath are all nonstatic abstractions imputed on a mental continuum. In technical terminology, they are noncongruent affecting variables (ldan-min ‘du-byed), which means they are nonstatic phenomena that are neither forms of physical phenomena, nor ways of being aware of something. They do not share five congruent features in common with the primary consciousness of the moment of cognition in which they occur.

[See: Congruent and Noncongruent Affecting Variables.]

“Nonstatic” (impermanent) means that the karmic aftermaths arise dependently on and are thus affected by causes and conditions. Moreover, because they are further affected by conditions, they change from moment to moment. As the karmic aftermaths produce effects, they affect our experience.

“Imputed” means that the three types of karmic aftermath are imputed on individual mental continuums that are constituted by sequential moments of experiencing karmic actions and their karmic results. More specifically, we may validly impute or label the presence of karmic aftermaths on a mental continuum that contains the experience of their causal karmic actions and that have the possibility of containing future moments of experiencing the karmic results that can arise from them.

The three karmic aftermaths exist imputably on a mental continuum only so long as they are still able to produce an effect. In the case of karmic forces and karmic tendencies, although we may no longer validly impute the existence of specific examples of them on a mental continuum once they have finished ripening and have exhausted themselves, we do not call this manner of elimination of them “purification.”

The production of an effect can only happen dependently on causes and conditions. When we eliminate the causes and conditions that are capable of causing the karmic aftermaths to produce their effects, their production of an effect is no longer possible. When their production of an effect is no longer possible, we may no longer validly impute the existence of the karmic aftermaths that could have produced an effect. After all, the three types of karmic aftermaths are not truly existent as findable “things” on a mental continuum.

This is the way we purify karmic aftermaths. Through nonconceptual cognition of voidness, we eliminate grasping for truly established existence, and thus the craving and obtainer disturbing emotions or attitudes that could act as the conditions for the karmic aftermaths to activate and give rise to their effects.

The Sequence of Purification

First, we rid (spang-ba) our mental continuums of their networks of karmic force and their karmic tendencies. To “rid” ourselves of something – usually translated as to “abandon” something – means to purify our mental continuum of some tainted phenomenon in the sense of attaining a true stopping of it. We rid ourselves of our networks of both positive and negative karmic force and all our karmic tendencies with the attainment of arhatship, in other words the attainment of liberation.

During the rest of the lifetime in which we have attained liberation, we still experience the tainted aggregates with which we were born. In addition, we still experience things happening to us similar to our past karmic actions. However, we no longer experience tainted feelings of happiness or unhappiness, and we no longer experience feeling like repeating our past karmic behavior.

Upon rebirth in a pure land after that lifetime, we no longer experience tainted aggregates either, or things happening to us similar to our past karmic actions. However, we still have limited awareness.

[See: Fine Points Concerning the Physical Bodies of Buddhas and Arhats.]

We rid ourselves of karmic constant habits only with the attainment of enlightenment. With such an attainment, we become omniscient Buddhas.

2 Provisional Vajrasattva Practice

Although ultimate Vajrasattva purification practice is nonconceptual meditation on voidness done within the context of anuttarayoga tantra practice, especially with clear light awareness, provisional Vajrasattva practice is done with mantra recitation and visualization. Let us outline the various levels and contexts within which this provisional purification practice is commonly undertaken. All such levels need to be carried out within the context of their being aimed at reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.

The Pre-tantra Level

Although Vajrasattva mantra meditation is actually a tantric practice, most people start doing it before actually becoming engaged in tantra. This initial practice would be at the stage when they are training purely on the Mahayana sutra level. This level has three stages, according to the three graded scopes of motivation and aim presented in the lam-rim teachings of graded pathway minds: initial, intermediate, and advanced. Although only the advanced lam-rim scope is strictly a Mahayana level of motivation, the initial and intermediate scopes need to be undertaken as steppingstones on the way to developing the advanced motivation. Moreover, all three lam-rim scopes of motivation developed in the context of Mahayana sutra practice need to be undertaken as a steppingstone to tantra practice.

[See: Overview of the Lam-rim Graded Pathways of Mind.]

Initial Scope Motivation

At first, we may engage in Vajrasattva mantra and visualization practice with the aim of avoiding gross suffering. We would undertake such practice because we are filled with dread at the prospect of experiencing any unhappiness or pain at all. Such practice is on a level shared in common with the initial scope motivation outlined in the lam-rim teachings.

The aim of this initial level of Vajrasattva practice is to purify our mental continuums merely of negative karmic forces and negative karmic tendencies, which together would ripen into the first of the three kinds of true sufferings – worse rebirths and gross unhappiness in even a human rebirth. We work to purify our mental continuums of these negative forces and tendencies that we have built up not only during this lifetime, but also throughout all our previous lives, without beginning. We strive for one of the better rebirth states as a human or as a divine being, a "god."

On this level, we work to purify ourselves of having to experience the negative karmic effects from:

  • Having committed each of the ten destructive actions (ten nonvirtues).

[See: Refraining from Destructive Behavior.]

  • Having transgressed and thus weakened our safe direction (refuge) in each of the three Precious Gems.

[See: Actions for Training from Taking Safe Direction.]

  • Having behaved inappropriately with each of our spiritual mentors and thus weakened our close bond (dam-tshig, Skt. samaya) with each of them.

  • Having transgressed or weakened each of our pratimoksha vows for individual liberation, each of our bodhisattva vows, and each of the eighteen close-bonding practices and twenty-two points to train in for cleansing our attitudes (lojong; attitude-training; mind-training).

[See: General Explanation of Seven-Point Attitude-Training, Part 2 and Part 3. See also: Root Bodhisattva Vows.]

If Vajrasattva meditation were practiced like this as an end in itself, however, it could be equivalent to a non-Buddhist practice for being cleansed of our sins by the grace of Jesus Christ so that we can go to heaven. Buddhist purification must be based on safe direction – aiming for the third and fourth noble truths: true stoppings and true pathways of mind – and seeing the elimination of negative karmic forces and negative karmic tendencies as just a steppingstone on the way to liberation and enlightenment.

[See: Identifying the Objects for Safe Direction (Refuge).]

For Vajrasattva meditation on this level to constitute a Mahayana practice, it must also be based on a bodhichitta aim and seeing the elimination of the future ripening of negative karmic forces and tendencies into gross suffering as essential for being better able to help others. Attaining better rebirth states, specifically with precious human rebirths fully endowed with all the respites and enrichments enabling optimal Dharma practice, is with the aim of taking advantage of such rebirths to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all.

Intermediate Scope Motivation

With renunciation as our motivation, we would practice Vajrasattva meditation with the aim of achieving liberation from all sufferings. Such practice is on a level shared in common with the intermediate lam-rim scope of motivation. The aim in this case is to purify our mental continuums of their networks of both positive and negative karmic forces and both positive negative karmic tendencies. By accomplishing that, we will avoid experiencing all three kinds of true sufferings: unhappiness, tainted happiness, and uncontrollably recurring rebirth with tainted aggregates. We will attain liberation from samsara.

Vajrasattva meditation with this intermediate scope of motivation, however, needs also to be based on having a bodhichitta aim. We need to see that in order to be best able to help others, we need to rid ourselves forever of uncontrollably recurring rebirth with its ups and downs of happiness and unhappiness and its sufferings of birth, sickness, old age and death. Otherwise, we will be severely hampered in our work to benefit others.

We do not need to wait until we have accomplished purifying our mental continuums of all negative karmic force and negative karmic tendencies before we focus our Vajrasattva practice on purifying our mental continuums of the positive ones as well. As our motivation evolves from the initial to the intermediate level, we naturally expand the scope of what we are striving to purify.

Advanced Scope Motivation

With a bodhichitta aim as our single motivation, our Vajrasattva practice expands to purify our mental continuums of not only all karmic forces and karmic tendencies, but also all karmic constant habits. To benefit all others as much as is possible, we need to attain the omniscient state of a Buddha. That means we need to rid ourselves of limited awareness, which is what results in each moment from our constant karmic habits. Without knowing full skillful means, without being all-loving, and so on, how will we be able to help everyone?

In short, initial and intermediate lam-rim scopes of motivation are for purifying our mental continuums of the problems associated with the extreme of compulsive samsara (srid-mtha’). The advanced scope is for purifying them of the problems associated with the extreme of the tranquil peace of nirvana (zhi-mtha’).

Ngondro Level of Practice

When we engage in Vajrasattva mantra and visualization practice within the context of strictly Mahayana sutra practice, the lam-rim scope of motivation with which we do it makes no difference. With all three scopes, we need to regard our level of practice as a steppingstone for eventual engagement in tantra. When we are actually ready to advance to tantra, we practice Vajrasattva meditation as part of our “ngondro,” our set of formal preliminary practices. This entails repeating the hundred-syllable mantra 100,000 times, in four, three, two, or one session each day, without missing a day, until we complete the number. We undertake this in order to purify ourselves of at least the grossest obstacles that could hinder our success in tantra practice to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all.

Vajrasattva Meditation within the Context of Engaging in Tantra Practice

In all four classes of tantra, we practice Vajrasattva mantra and visualization meditation as part of the preliminaries section of the full sadhanas of all Buddha-figures. Later in the sadhanas, we repeat the Vajrasattva practice in an extremely abbreviated form after recitation of the mantras of the Buddha-figures, in order to purify any karmic aftermath from faults in the mantra recitation.

Practice of yoga tantra and anuttarayoga tantra in the Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelug traditions – and, likewise, practice of yoga tantra, mahayoga, anuyoga, and atiyoga in the Nyingma tradition – entail taking the tantric vows with any empowerment (initiation). In such cases, we may also practice Vajrasattva mantra and visualization meditation for purification of weakened tantric vows or weakened close bonding practices (dam-tshig, Skt. samaya). If we lose the tantric vows by fully transgressing them, we may purify the negative force of the action through 100,000 hundred-syllable repetitions and then retaking the vows.

[See: Factors Involved in Transgressing Tantric Vows.]

In all of these tantra contexts for Vajrasattva practice as well, our motivation needs to be bodhichitta. We wish to avoid experiencing the negative consequences of our actions that would hinder or delay our ability to help others and our attainment of enlightenment. The motivation is not simply an initial scope non-Mahayana one, simply to avoid worse rebirth situations and the suffering of pain and unhappiness.

In short, on all levels, Vajrasattva mantra and visualization meditation needs to be a Mahayana practice. After all, only Mahayana asserts that karma can be purified. Therefore, meditations to purify karma only make sense within their being practiced with a Mahayana motivation.

The Four Opponents

Regardless of the level at which we engage in Vajrasattva purification practice, we need to begin each session with open admission (bshags-pa, “confession”) of our previously committed karmic actions, with acknowledgement that they were mistaken and that unless purified they will bring us suffering and problems. Then we apply the four opponent forces (stobs-bzhi):

  • sincere regret,

  • the firm decision to try not to repeat the action,

  • reaffirmation of our foundation, namely safe direction and the bodhichitta aim,

  • application of counteracting constructive actions, such as Vajrasattva mantra and visualization meditation.

According to Mahayana, even after we have committed karmic actions, we can weaken the strength of their karmic aftermath by prayer and other means. Even if others offer the prayers after we have died and while we are still experiencing the bardo period in between rebirths, the strength of their aftermath can be weakened. This is because their prayers affect the arising of the conditions that can ripen the aftermath. Similarly, open admission and the four opponent forces diminish the heaviness of karmic ripening, since they counter the factors that make the ripening heavy.

  • Open admission of the mistake opposes not regarding the transgression as detrimental.

  • Regret opposes feeling no regret, delighting in the negative karmic action, and having undertaken it with joy.

  • Trying not to repeat the action opposes having no wish or intention to stop repeating the transgression.

  • Reaffirming our safe direction and bodhichitta aim opposes having no moral self-dignity and no care for how our actions reflect on others.

  • Applying counteracting constructive actions opposes not thinking to repair the damage.

Any counteracting constructive actions we do need to be with a bodhichitta aim and accompanied by the six far-reaching attitudes (pha-rol-tu phyin-pa, Skt. paramita; perfections) – generosity, ethical self-discipline, patience, joyful perseverance, mental stability, and discriminating awareness – in order to the actions to qualify as bodhisattva conduct. Especially, this means practicing Vajrasattva meditation with some level of correct concentration and some level of correct cognition of voidness – specifically, some level of the subsequent attainment (rjes-thob, post-meditation state) of viewing everything as an illusion. Initially, the level of correct cognition of voidness will be conceptual, and may not be with the most sophisticated Madhyamaka understanding.

[See: The Ten Far-Reaching Attitudes in Theravada, Mahayana, and Bon.]

Note that application of the four opponent forces brings about a shift from incorrect consideration (tshul-min yid-la byed-pa) of our previously committed karmic actions to correct consideration.

  • Seeing the karmic action as detrimental indicates changing our consideration of it from being happiness to being suffering, and from being pure to impure.

  • Regretting the action, rather than delighting in it, follows from this shift of how we consider it.

  • Promising to try not to repeat the action indicates changing our consideration of the mode of behavior from being permanent to being impermanent.

  • Impermanent or nonstatic means that it can be affected by other phenomena, and thus reaffirming our safe direction and bodhichitta and applying counteracting constructive actions indicates understanding this.

  • Accompanying the counteracting constructive action with some understanding of voidness also indicates changing our consideration of the karmic action from having a truly established identity to lacking one.

For viewing all as an illusion, we need to have analyzed and then focused first on the “three gateways to liberation” (rnam-par thar-pa’i sgo gsum) with regard to the karmic action and to the purification of its karmic aftermath. The three gateways are:

  • voidness (stong-pa-nyid) – referring to the voidness of the phenomena involved,

  • lack of a sign (mtshan-ma med-pa) – referring to the lack of a sign of a truly existent cause of those phenomena,

  • lack of a hope (smon-pa med-pa) – referring to the lack of a hope for a truly existent result of those phenomena.

Thus, we need to focus on the voidness of:

  • the phenomena themselves – namely, the karmic actions and their aftermaths.

  • the causes of the karmic actions and the causes that will bring about the purification of their karmic aftermaths,

  • the results that will arise from the karmic aftermaths and the results that will arise from the purification of the karmic aftermaths.

We may also analyze in terms of the “four gateways to liberation,” in which case the fourth gateway is:

  • lack of an action’s affecting variables (mngon-par ‘du-byed med-pa) – referring to the lack of a truly existent “three circles” (‘ khor-gsum) of the action, namely an act to be done, an agent, and an action (bya-byed-las-gsum).

Thus, we need also to focus on the voidness of:

  • the purification that needs to be done,

  • ourselves as the agent performing that purification,

  • the act of meditating on voidness that brings about the purification and the act itself of purifying.

Grasping for Truly Established Existence and Purification

As we have seen, grasping for truly established existence underlies craving and an obtainer emotion or attitude, which are the mental factors that activate karmic aftermaths, especially at the time of our deaths, so that they bring about their karmic results. We have also seen that even provisional purification methods such as Vajrasattva mantra meditation requires at least a basic understanding of the voidness of truly establishing existence. We need to realize that the appearances of truly established existence that our minds project onto everything do not refer to any actual way in which anything exists. There is no such thing as truly established existence.

There are many emotionally painful consequences that we experience from projecting and believing in truly established existence. For example, we might grasp at

  • the existence of a destructive karmic action that we have committed as being truly established as “bad,” independently of the mental label “bad,”

  • the existence of ourselves as being truly established as “bad” for having committed it,

  • the existence of the karmic results of that action as being truly established as “unavoidable eternal punishment.”

Such grasping for truly established existence underlies the disturbing attitude of guilt.

Similarly, we might grasp at

  • the existence of a constructive karmic action that we have committed as being truly established as “good,”

  • the existence of ourselves as being truly established as “good” for having committed it,

  • the existence of the karmic results of that action as being truly established as “unavoidable reward.”

Such grasping underlies a disturbing emotion of pride.

The understanding of voidness that accompanies our Vajrasattva mantra practice may be not so precise or sophisticated and thus would be unable to purify our karmic aftermaths completely. Nevertheless, some meditation on the voidness of our karmic actions, ourselves, and so on, is not only appropriate, but essential. By so doing, we may rid ourselves, at least on a provisional level, of guilt or pride, and the problems that come from both.

Even if we practice Vajrasattva meditation without a correct understanding of voidness, but with a pure motivation and good concentration, the four opponent forces have the strength to purify karmic aftermath provisionally at least to some extent. This resembles the ability of meditation on ugliness to overcome desire and attachment provisionally. Meditation on the ugliness of someone’s body with the skin removed can eliminate the desire and attachment for that body that we experience now. It does not prevent desire and attachment from recurring, however, because it has not attacked, let alone eliminated, the root cause or condition for desire and attachment to recur, namely grasping for truly established existence.

3 Forms of Vajrasattva Utilized in Purification Practices

Vajrasattva mantra and visualization meditation may be practiced for purification whether or not we have already received a tantric empowerment (dbang, Skt. abhishekha; initiation, “ wang”) for some other Buddha-figure. In either case, we may practice Vajrasattva either with or without the subsequent permission (rje-snang; “jeynang”) of Vajrasattva, though we at least need oral transmission (lung) of the mantra.

[See: Basic Features of Tantra.]

If we practice Vajrasattva without any tantric empowerment, or if in conjunction with practice of any Buddha-figure from the first three classes of tantra, Vajrasattva is a single figure. The single form is white, with one face and two arms.

If we practice Vajrasattva in conjunction with practice of any anuttarayoga tantra figure, Vajrasattva is a couple. Both members of the couple may be white, with one face and two arms, and with the male having either a peaceful expression of the mouth, as in Guhyasamaja and Yamantaka, or with a semi-forceful semi-peaceful mouth expression with fangs, as in Heruka Vajrasattva practiced in Chakrasamvara, Vajrayogini, and Hevajra. In Kalachakra, Vajrasattva is blue, the female partner green, and both have three faces and six arms.

If we are practicing Vajrasattva without an empowerment for a Buddha-figure, we visualize ourselves in our ordinary form during the practice. We visualize all beings around us, each with a Vajrasattva on his or her head, and each also being purified. If we are practicing with having an empowerment for a Buddha-figure, we visualize ourselves as the Buddha-figure during the practice, but maintain very weak “pride of the deity” (lha’i nga-rgyal). We visualize on a moon disc at our hearts ourselves in ordinary form, surrounded by all beings, with everyone being purified. “ Pride of the deity” is a feeling of actually being the Buddha-figure.

Nyingma and Sakya practice Vajrasattva as a Buddha-figure (yidam) as well, in which case there is also the possibility of receiving a Vajrasattva empowerment. If we have received such empowerment, we may visualize ourselves as Vajrasattva during the practice, with ourselves in ordinary form, surrounded by all beings, with all sitting on a moon disc at our heart. We may also visualize all beings around us, and after we achieve purification, that we ourselves, as Vajrasattvas, emit rays of light and purify all of them. Gelug and Kagyu do not practice Vajrasattva as a yidam. Thus, there is no Vajrasattva empowerment, no visualization of ourselves as Vajrasattva, and no visualization of lights coming from ourselves and purifying all beings around us.

Vajrasattva Meditation Session

Preliminaries

For Vajrasattva mantra and visualization meditation, the preliminaries begin with quieting down by focusing on the breath, while breathing normally through the nose. If we have much mental wandering, we count the breaths. If our minds are already fairly quiet, we merely focus on the sensation of the breath coming in and out the nostrils. We can then visualize Vajrasattva before us as incorporating all objects that indicate a safe direction. We then reaffirm our motivation of safe direction and the bodhichitta aim.

Optionally, we can do then the seven-limb practice:

  • prostration, made in the context of safe direction and bodhichitta,

  • offerings,

  • openly admitting shortcomings and applying the four opponent forces,

  • rejoicing in our own and others’ good qualities and in the good qualities of Vajrasattva as full enlightened clear light awareness,

  • requesting teachings – in this case, requesting purification, namely that Vajrasattva as clear light awareness will enable purification,

  • beseeching the teachers not to pass away – in this case, access to Vajrasattva, as clear light awareness, not to leave, but to continue, enabling purification and help until enlightenment

  • dedicating whatever purification is achieved to reaching enlightenment and helping others as much as is possible.

[See: Preliminaries for Meditation or Study: The Seven-Limb Practice.]

We then make the conscious decision to meditate with concentration and then focus on the point between the eyebrows to correct dullness and on the navel to correct flightiness.

If we do not do the seven-limb practice, we simply recall and openly admit as mistaken whatever we have done that we wish to purify and apply the four opponent forces. For the fourth opponent, we do the main part of the Vajrasattva practice, with the conscious decision to concentrate.

Visualization of Vajrasattva

In conjunction with the context within which we are practicing, we visualize the appropriate form of Vajrasattva seated on top of our heads. If we have difficulty in visualizing the detail, we can visualize merely a ball of white light. The aspect of holding the pride of the deity – in this case, the feeling of a Vajrasattva actually seated on our heads – is more important than the clarity aspect of making something appear in our imaginations. One method for learning how to visualize something on our heads is to put our hand on our head and then take it off. We can still feel the spot on our head where our hand was and it still feels as if something is there.

[See: Visualization.]

Hundred-Syllable Mantra

The Tibetan pronunciation of the mantra differs from the original Sanskrit one. Some Tibetan masters instruct their non-Tibetan students to pronounce the mantra in the way that the Tibetans do; some recommend pronouncing it in the Sanskrit style. His Holiness the Dalai Lama recommends that non-Tibetans follow the original Sanskrit manner:

OM VAJRA-SATTVA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA,
VAJRA-SATTVA TVENO-PATISHTA,
DRIDHO ME BHAVA,
SUTOSHYO ME BHAVA,
SUPOSHYO ME BHAVA,
ANURAKTO ME BHAVA,
SARVA SIDDHIM ME PRAYACCHA,
SARVA KARMA SUCHA ME,
CHITTAM SHRIYAM KURU HUM,
HA HA HA HA HOH BHAGAVAN,
SARVA TATHAGATA VAJRA,
MA ME MUNCHA,
VAJRI BHAVA,
MAHA-SAMAYA-SATTVA,
AH HUM PHAT.

The literal translation of the mantra is:

Om Vajrasattva,
Uphold your close bond.
Bring it about that I remain closely with this Vajrasattva-hood.
Bring it about that I am stable.
Bring it about that I am happy.
Bring it about that I am joyous.
Bring it about that I am safeguarded.
Bestow on me all actual attainments.
Make all my actions excellent.
Make the mind supreme – HUM.
HA HA HA HA HO, Vanquishing Master Surpassing All,
Vajra state of all Thusly Gone Ones.
Do not let me loose,
O Vajra Being, being with the great bond.
AH, HUM, PHAT.

Although there are several ways of explaining each phrase of the mantra, one way is:

OM = seed syllable for body; VAJRASATTVA = diamond-strong-minded one.

  • O, Diamond-strong-minded One – meaning you with the indestructible state of mind, namely Vajrasattva, representing clear light blissful awareness of voidness. The OM at the beginning of the mantra goes together with the AH and HUM at the end, for speech and mind, indicating the body, speech, and mind that need to be purified and the purified states of body, speech, and mind achieved as a result of the purification.

SAMAYAM = close bond; ANUPALAYA = uphold.

  • Uphold the close bond – namely, the close bond or promise that through clear light blissful awareness of voidness, I will be able to purify away all karmic aftermaths.

VAJRASATTVATVA = Vajrasattva-hood; ENA = this; UPATISHTA = remain closely.

  • Bring it about that I remain closely with this state of Vajrasattva – in other words, the state of clear light awareness.

DRIDHO = stable; ME = me; BHAVA= make it be.

  • Bring it about that I am stable – through my eliminating the networks of negative karmic forces and the negative karmic tendencies from my mental continuum.

SUTOSHYO = happy; ME = me; BHAVA = make it be.

  • Bring it about that I am happy – through my eliminating the networks of all karmic forces and all the karmic tendencies from my mental continuum, so that I attain liberation, with its untainted happiness.

SUPOSHYO = joyous; ME = me; BHAVA = make it be.

  • Bring it about that I am joyous – through my eliminating all karmic constant habits, so that I attain enlightenment, with its everlasting bliss.

ANURAKTO = safeguarded; ME = me; BHAVA = make it be.

  • Bring it about that I am safeguarded – so that my mind never leaves clear light blissful awareness of voidness.

SARVA = all; SIDDHIM = actual attainment; ME = me; PRAYACCHA = bestow.

  • Bestow on me the actual attainment – specifically, the supreme actual attainment of enlightenment.

SARVA =all; KARMA = actions; SUCHA = excellent; ME = me.

  • May all my actions be excellent – in terms of enlightenment, may I attain a Rupakaya (a Corpus of Forms) of a Buddha, so that all my actions are excellent for best benefiting others.

CHITTAM = mind; SHRIYAM = supreme; KURU= make;

  • Make (my) mind supreme – in terms of enlightenment, may I attain a Dharmakaya (a Corpus Encompassing Everything), to have omniscient awareness and an all-embracing heart.

HUM = seed syllable for mind; HA = represents a building-up pathway mind (path of accumulation); HA = represents an applying pathway mind (path of preparation); HA = represents a seeing pathway mind (path of seeing); HA = represents an accustoming pathway mind (path of meditation); HOH = represents a pathway mind needing no further training (path of no more learning).

  • May my mind progressively develop into the five pathway minds.

[See: The Five Pathway Minds (Five Paths): Basic Presentation.]

  • Alternatively, HA HA HA HA HOH can represent the five types of deep awareness which, in their totally purified states constitute the omniscient mind of a Buddha. In this case, the line means: May my mind develop into the five types of purified deep awareness.

[See: Applying the Five Types of Deep Awareness.]

BHAGAVAN = Vanquishing Master Surpassing All; SARVA = all; TATHAGATA = Thusly Gone Ones; VAJRA = diamond-strong.

  • And thus may I become one who has vanquished and purified away all karmic aftermaths and mastered and thus gained all good qualities, surpassing all other beings. In other words, may I attain the diamond-strong state of all those who have gone to enlightenment thusly.

MA = do not; ME = me; MUNCHA = let lose,

  • Do not let me lose – in other words, do not let me lose or leave clear light blissful awareness of voidness.

VAJRI = diamond-strong; BHAVA = being,

  • O Vajra Being – namely, Vajrasattva.

MAHA = great; SAMAYA = close bond; SATTVA = minded-one,

  • O you, whose mind has the great bond – in other words, O clear light blissful awareness of voidness which has the great bond to bring about complete purification.

AH – seed syllable for speech; HUM = seed syllable for mind; PHAT = stabilizing syllable.

  • The AH and HUM for speech and mind complete the OM at the start of the mantra for body. May all interferences to body, speech, and mind be turned away and may the purification remain stable.

Variant Forms of the Mantra

The above mantra is the most common form of the hundred-syllable mantra and appears in most kriya, charya, and yoga tantra practices, as well as in the anuttarayoga tantra practices of Guhyasamaja, Mahachakra Vajrapani, and Kalachakra. However, there are several variant forms of the hundred-syllable mantra. It makes no difference which one we use.

In parts of Vajrabhairava (rDo-rje ‘jigs-byed) practices, also known as Yamantaka (gShin-rje gshed) practices:

  • OM YAMANTAKA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA substitutes for OM VAJRA-SATTVA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA,

  • YAMANTAKA TVENO-PATISHTA substitutes for VAJRA-SATTVA TVENO-PATISHTA,

  • YAMANTAKA MA ME MUNCHA substitutes for SARVA TATHAGATA VAJRA MA ME MUNCHA,

  • YAMANTAKA BHAVA substitutes for VAJRI BHAVA.

In many Chakrasamvara (‘ Khor-lo sdom-pa, ‘ Khor-lo bde-mchog) practices, also known as Heruka (He-ru-ka) practices, as well as in practices of Vajrayogini (rDo-rje rnal-‘ byor-ma), also known as Vajravarahi (rDo-rje Pag-mo):

  • OM VAJRA HERUKA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA substitutes for OM VAJRA-SATTVA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA,

  • HERUKA TVENO-PATISHTA substitutes for VAJRA-SATTVA TVENO-PATISHTA,

  • VAJRA HERUKA MA ME MUNCHA substitutes for SARVA TATHAGATA VAJRA MA ME MUNCHA,

  • HERUKA BHAVA substitutes for VAJRI BHAVA.

In many Hevajra (Kyai rdo-rje) practices:

  • OM SHRI VAJRA HERUKA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA substitutes for OM VAJRA-SATTVA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA,

  • HERUKA TVENO-PATISHTA substitutes for VAJRA-SATTVA TVENO-PATISHTA,

  • SUTOSHYO ME BHAVA, ANURAKTO ME BHAVA, SUPOSHYO ME BHAVA substitutes for SUTOSHYO ME BHAVA, SUPOSHYO ME BHAVA, ANURAKTO ME BHAVA,

  • VAJRA HERUKA MA ME MUNCHA substitutes for SARVA TATHAGATA VAJRA MA ME MUNCHA,

  • HERUKA BHAVA substitutes for VAJRI BHAVA.

In many Guhyasadhana Hayagriva (rTa-mgrin gsang-sgrub) practices:

  • OM PADMA-SATTVA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA substitutes for OM VAJRA-SATTVA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA,

  • PADMA-SATTVA TVENO-PATISHTA substitutes for VAJRA-SATTVA TVENO-PATISHTA,

  • PADMA-SATTVA MA ME MUNCHA substitutes for SARVA TATHAGATA VAJRA MA ME MUNCHA,

  • PADMA-SATTVA BHAVA substitutes for VAJRI BHAVA.

In many practices of the Tamdrin Yangsang (rTa-mgrin yang-gsang) form of Hayagriva:

  • OM PADMA SHRI HERUKA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA substitutes for OM VAJRA-SATTVA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA,

  • PADMA SHRI HERUKA TVENO-PATISHTA substitutes for VAJRA-SATTVA TVENO-PATISHTA,

  • PADMA SHRI HERUKA MA ME MUNCHA substitutes for SARVA TATHAGATA VAJRA MA ME MUNCHA,

  • PADMA SHRI HERUKA BHAVA substitutes for VAJRI BHAVA.

In many Padmasambhava (Pad-ma ‘byung-gnas) Guru Rinpoche (Gu-ru rin-po-che) practices, such as Sasum-rigdzin (Sa-gsum rigs-‘dzin) and Yangsang Dorje-trolo (Yang-gsang rDo-rje Gro-lod):

  • OM GURU PADMA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA substitutes for OM VAJRA-SATTVA SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA,

  • GURU PADMA TVENO-PATISHTA substitutes for VAJRA-SATTVA TVENO-PATISHTA,

  • GURU PADMA MA ME MUNCHA substitutes for SARVA TATHAGATA VAJRA MA ME MUNCHA,

  • GURU PADMA BHAVA substitutes for VAJRI BHAVA.

There is also a shorter version of the Vajrasattva mantra that may also be repeated for purification, but it is not as commonly used as is the hundred-syllable one:

  • OM VAJRASATTVA HUM, as in some Nyingma practices.

Visualizations of Purification

Various texts and teachers present different sets of visualizations to apply in conjunction with Vajrasattva mantra meditation. Let us outline one such multistep scheme.

For Purification in Accord with the Lam-rim Initial Scope of Motivation

As a first step in the purification process needed for attaining enlightenment, we work on purifying ourselves of negative karmic force and negative karmic tendencies. Since these types of negative karmic aftermath ripen into gross suffering and the worst rebirth states, the scope of practice is in accord with the initial scope motivation of lam-rim. They focus on the purification of the first of the three types of true suffering.

For purifying the negative karmic aftermaths that would ripen into terrible experiences affecting our body or speech, we apply the following set of three visualizations – one complete set for body, followed by one complete set for speech. We do this while reciting over and again any of the Vajrasattva mantras. As we recite the mantra in conjunction with practice of sutra or any of the first three classes of tantra, we imagine lights leaving the right big toe of Vajrasattva, entering through the crown of our head and filling our body. When practiced in conjunction with anuttarayoga tantra, we imagine both light and nectars flowing from the place of union of the Vajrasattva couple and similarly entering us and filling our body.

In relation to our body, we imagine the light or the light and nectars filling our body from the top downwards and the relevant defilements leaving us through our lower orifices for excreting solid and liquid waste. In relation to our speech, we imagine the light or the light and nectars filling our body from the bottom upwards and a similar set of defilements leaving us through our upper orifices, namely the mouth, nose, eye sockets, and ear passages.

  • The negative karmic aftermaths for experiencing (1) the gross sufferings of unhappiness and pain and (2) things happening to us, similar to our past karmic actions, leave through these orifices in the form of soot, tar, and black ink.

  • Those for experiencing (1) karmic obstacles, blocks, and stains in the aggregates and environment of future worse rebirths or (2) physical or verbal impediments in a future human rebirth, as well as (3) moments of feeling like doing, saying, or thinking in ways resembling our past karmic actions, leave us in the form of snot, mucous, pus, feces, and urine.

  • Those for experiencing sicknesses and any other interference, such as from harmful forces, in the future, leave us in the form of whatever creatures we are most afraid of, for instance as scorpions, spiders, rats, or snakes.

For purification of our mind, we employ just one visualization and we apply it three times, one for each of the three above types of defilement. Thus, we imagine at our hearts each of these three types of defilement, one at a time, in the form of a black lump. While reciting the Vajrasattva mantra, we imagine that a flash of lightning bolts from Vajrasattva’s heart to ours and disintegrates each lump.

For purifying any defilement left that would affect our body, speech, and mind all together, we apply the visualizations for body, speech, and mind together, simultaneously, for each of the three sets of defilement.

For Purification in Accord with the Lam-rim Intermediate and Advanced Scopes of Motivation

In order to attain liberation, which is the aim of the lam-rim intermediate scope of motivation, we need to rid ourselves of not only the emotional obscurations (nyon-sgrib), but also all karmic forces and karmic tendencies – both the negative and the positive ones. The focus, then, is purification of all three types of true suffering. In order to attain enlightenment, which is the aim of the advanced scope, we need to rid ourselves of not only the cognitive obscurations (shes-sgrib), but also the karmic constant habits that limit our body, speech, and mind from functioning like those of a Buddha.

In this second step of Vajrasattva mantra meditation, then, we repeat the same visualizations as we did in the first step. However, regarding purification of body and speech, we imagine:

  • the soot, tar, and black ink that leave us represent the karmic forces;

  • the snot, mucous, pus, feces, and urine represent the karmic tendencies;

  • the creatures we are most afraid of represent the karmic constant tendencies.

Regarding purification of our mind, we imagine the black lump at our hearts as representing each of the three types of karmic aftermath, one at a time.

Note that in both steps of this purification scheme, the three visualizations of soot, snot, and frightful creatures are the same as the three visualizations employed in the practice of giving and taking (gtong-len, “tonglen”). In that practice, we imagine taking on from others what these three things represent, visualized in these three forms. The point is that most people wish progressively more strongly to get these three types of things off their skin and to clean themselves if they were soiled by them.

4 Results of Vajrasattva Practice

Provisional Purification: Sutra

The results of sutra level Vajrasattva purification are limited. If we repeat the mantra twenty-one times each day, we prevent the negative karmic forces and negative karmic tendencies from becoming stronger each day. This is because the strength of our application of the opponent forces counters and diminishes the heaviness of our destructive actions. In this way, the daily practice neutralizes the strength of the ripening of the karmic aftermaths. One of the laws of karma is that from small actions large results may ripen.

If we repeat the mantra 100,000 times purely – with a bodhichitta aim, proper concentration, and, optimally, also with a conceptual understanding of voidness – we achieve a “provisional purification” of the built-up negative karmic forces and negative karmic tendencies. With provisional purification brought about by Mahayana methods lacking nonconceptual cognition of voidness, we weaken the heaviness of the karmic actions, such that the uncertainty of their time of ripening becomes so strong that the probability of the ripening occurring approaches zero. Thus, although we may still experience the causes and conditions, such as craving and an obtainer, that might ripen previously built-up negative karmic forces and negative karmic tendencies, they will not activate these forces and tendencies to ripen. The mechanism is similar to that which explains how anger can devastate our positive karmic force and positive karmic tendencies, such that their ripening will be postponed for eons and will produce only minor results.

For this reason, the purification accomplished by mantra recitation is provisional: it is only a temporary respite from the ripening of our previously built-up negative karmic forces and negative karmic tendencies. It gives us breathing space to work on the path in a less hindered way, like achieving a fortunate fully endowed human rebirth does. Nevertheless, we still have karmic constant habits, as well as positive karmic forces and positive karmic tendencies.

The karmic constant habits give rise to limited awareness in each moment of our experience and the inability to cognize the two truths simultaneously. This means that our minds still give rise to appearances of truly established existence and cognition of them when we are not totally absorbed nonconceptually on voidness. Moreover, when we are without nonconceptual cognition of voidness, grasping for true existence also arises, as do disturbing emotions and attitudes, namely craving and grasping. The craving and grasping act as the conditions and causes not only for ripening our positive karmic aftermaths, but also for further karmic urges to arise. These may be either positive or negative impulses, leading to further karmic actions and thus further karmic aftermaths. Thus, we may build up a new network of negative karmic forces and negative karmic legacies.

[See: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising, Day 3.]

If the negative karmic actions become sufficiently strong in their heaviness, the previously weakened negative karmic forces and negative tendencies may be revitalized such that the probability of their ripening increases. The mechanism is similar to that which Asanga and other Mahayana masters explained for reconnecting so-called “severed roots of positive forces (roots of virtue).”

[See: The Five Pathway Minds: Advanced Presentation.]

5 Full Purification: Anuttarayoga Tantra

Full purification is equivalent to a true stopping. With a true stopping of all karmic aftermath, we eliminate forever the possibility of the causes and conditions for a build up and ripening of karmic aftermath ever to happen again.

To purify both positive and negative karmic forces and both positive and negative karmic tendencies, in the sense of achieving a true stopping of them such that they never return, we need the nonconceptual cognition of voidness. To achieve a true stopping of karmic constant habits, we need this nonconceptual cognition of voidness with the force of a bodhichitta aim. In both cases, we may achieve this nonconceptual cognition with either bare yogic cognition (rnal-sbyor mngon-sum) or with clear light awareness.

  • Bare yogic cognition is used on the sutra path and with the first three classes of tantra. It employs subtle mental consciousness, which is the level of consciousness on which appearance-making of truly established existence can recur and which is incapable of simultaneous cognition of the two truths.

  • Clear light awareness is used exclusively on the anuttarayoga tantra path. It employs the subtlest level of consciousness – the level of consciousness that does not make appearances of truly established existence and which is capable of simultaneous cognition of the two truths.

[See: The Validity and Accuracy of Cognition of the Two Truths in Gelug Prasangika. See also: Ridding Oneself of the Two Sets of Obscuration in Sutra and Highest Tantra According to Nyingma and Sakya.]

With bare yogic cognition of voidness and a bodhichitta aim, we may progress as far as the attainment of a tenth-level bhumi-mind. However, to attain the full true stopping of karmic constant habits and thus enlightenment, we need to attain nonconceptual cognition of voidness with blissful clear light awareness. Vajrasattva represents that nonconceptual cognition.