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Explanation of The Yoga of the Spiritual Master Inseparable from Avalokiteshvara

Alexander Berzin
Moscow, Russia, October 2012

Session Three: The Seven-Limb Practice

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:47 hours)

Purification of the Environment and the Offerings

Now in our discussion of this practice, The Yoga of the Spiritual Master Inseparable from Avalokiteshvara, we’ve done the safe direction and reaffirming our bodhichitta motivation and the four immeasurable attitudes. Then we have the purification of the environment and the offerings.

May the surface of the land in every direction
Be pure, without even a pebble,
As smooth as the palm of a child’s hand,
Naturally polished, as is a beryl gem.

This is imagining that the land is like this floor of… I mean, there’s a story behind all of this. I don’t remember the full story, but it has to do with a very, very wealthy person’s home that had this polished floor of this blue gem. And so it’s imagining that we are like this super-rich person that is able to make these wonderful offerings. Often in visualizations we imagine the ground to be like this as well, a very translucent, transparent dark blue with gold flecks in it. Anyway it’s a very wealthy environment for making these Samantabhadra offerings.

Then it says:

May divine and human objects of offering,
Actually arrayed and those envisioned
As peerless clouds of Samantabhadra offerings,
Completely fill the sphere of space.

There are many types of objects of offering that we can make, many different classifications of it. No need to go into all that detail.

So both the objects that we as humans can enjoy and then even more fantastic objects that the various gods enjoy and both the actual ones that we have and we arrange on the altar and those that we visualize as well, even more.

The way that we envision them are like these, as it says, clouds of Samantabhadra offerings. Samantabhadra offerings are one, then it multiplies into two, and then two to four, four to eight, and like that, so it completely fills space. Samantabhadra has many different meanings. His name means “completely excellent,” and he’s in the karma family of deities (so with action and offerings). In the Nyingma system he is representative of, or a representation of, rigpa, pure awareness, but that’s not necessarily intended here, though it might be.

Then we have this mantra for purification, which is a Sanskrit sentence:

OM NAMO BHAGA-VATE
VAJRA-SARA PRA-MARDA-NE,
TATHA-GATA-YA ARHA-TE,
SAMYAK-SAM-BUDDHA-YA,
TADYA-THA, OM VAJRE VAJRE
MAHA-VAJRE, MAHA-TEJA-VAJRE,
MAHA-VIDYA-VAJRE,
MAHA-BODHICHITTA VAJRE,
MAHA-BODHI-MANDA
UPA-SAMKRAMA-NA VAJRE,
SARVA-KARMA AVA-RANA
VISHO-DHANA VAJRE SVA-HA.

You don’t need to repeat it. I must confess that I forgot to look up the few words in this that I don’t remember the meanings of. But basically there is an obeisance to the Buddhas, who are an ocean of… vajra always means the indestructible qualities of a Buddha. Basically obeisance to the Buddhas, and then everything talking about the vajre vajre – the indestructible state of a Buddha, of bodhichitta, of the great wisdom, of all these various things – and “May everything be pure of all obstacles of karma (sarva-karma ava-rana).”

Then:

By the truth of the Three Rare Supreme Gems
   (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha),
The inspiration of every Buddha and bodhisattva,
The great might of the complete enlightening networks
   of positive force and deep awareness,
And the force of the pure and inconceivable
   void sphere of reality,
May all be transformed in their accordant true nature.

That’s a very interesting verse.

We usually want to purify the offerings in terms of the understanding of voidness. And the generation in front of us that is coming, we also want to generate that within the understanding of voidness. And here it’s saying, “May all be transformed in their accordant true nature.” That’s talking about voidness. Accord means that it accords with reality and how things actually exist, sometimes translated as thusness and these sorts of words.

So how is it that we can be reminded of the voidness of all things, the offerings and this generation that we’re having and the whole causal process, ourselves, etc.? By the truth of the Three Rare Supreme Gems. We discussed that quite fully when we discussed the four Kayas. If you understand the four Bodies of a Buddha, then you are convinced that this is true, that it actually does exist and it’s possible to attain (because of the general purity of the mind). So by the truth of that, that’s correct.

And then how will we actually attain that? Remember we spoke about Buddha-nature. There’s three aspects of Buddha-nature:

  • Inspiration that our mental continuum is able to be inspired and uplifted by the inspiring example of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and gurus.

  • The evolving Buddha-nature factors – these two networks, positive force and deep awareness, the so-called collection of merit and wisdom – that will evolve into the bodies of a Buddha.

  • And by the force of the pure and inconceivable void sphere of reality – because of the voidness of the mental continuum – it is possible to actually make this transformation. This is what is responsible for the Svabhavakaya of a Buddha.

When we think in terms of all of that, the possibility of achieving it, the Three Gems, and all the Buddha-nature factors that will be responsible for that transformation, for bringing that about, then we can think in terms of voidness. So we clear away all our projections of truly established existence, these type of things, to see that this whole transformation can take place.

Visualization

Then we have the visualization. Not in this particular text, but in most texts for a sadhana it says… The way that it’s usually translated is “From voidness (or out of voidness), I arise as…” This is quite a misleading translation. The Tibetan is tongpay nganglay (stong-pa’i ngang-las):

  • Tongpa (stong-pa) is “voidness.”

  • Ngang, that’s sometimes just translated as nature (this is the word that I was saying before is translating the word rasa in Sanskrit). So “the flavor of voidness.”

  • And then lay (las) is an ending which is translating the ablative case in Sanskrit. The ablative case can translate from – so that’s why people translate it as from or out of voidness – but it can also mean “because of.” So “because of the flavor of voidness.”

So because of the flavor of voidness – that it always has an appearance aspect – as that flavor, there is the arising of the appearance. It’s not that now you’ve left voidness over here and now you have this truly existent visualization.

This is what we have to understand when we do this visualizations. You try to do it within the context of voidness because the appearance aspect is the flavor of voidness itself, the taste of voidness. It has the taste of voidness. It’s not separate from it.

Here it says:

In the sphere of the space of Dharmakaya,

Dharmakaya, you remember, is the omniscient awareness of a Buddha, the voidness of that omniscient mind, and the true stoppings of the obscurations that are imputed on that mind and attained with that mind. And like space, it’s all-pervasive – of everything. And like space, because there’s no true existence, it doesn’t impede (or stop or prevent) the arising of something. If it were truly existent, you could never have anything within it or evolve within it. It would just be static – there it is.

established together with great blissful awareness,

It’s because of that line that one would say that this incorporates certain features of anuttarayoga tantra, because only in anuttarayoga tantra do you have a blissful awareness as the mind that has nonconceptual cognition of voidness. To argue whether this a kriya tantra practice or anuttarayoga tantra practice is not very relevant, because it’s a guru-yoga, and guru-yoga can be practiced as an adjunct to your kriya practice or to your anuttarayoga practice. It’s not that it has to be one or the other.

So we’re talking about here, in this sphere of Dharmakaya (so the omniscient mind), we’re talking about the Buddhas, we’re talking about our future attainment of this, and so on, the blissful awareness of this – all within that (and hopefully my own mind trying to understand this and imagine this), then we have the visualization.

Then:

Amidst billowing clouds of the varied offerings
   of Samantabhadra,

I explained what those were.

On a throne ablaze with gems, supported by lions,
On cushions of water-born lotus, sun, and full moon,
Sits the supreme noble arya, Lokeshvara,
   great treasure of compassion,
In the role of a monk wearing saffron robes.

As I said, I don’t want to explain all the little details of the visualization. But you should be aware that every feature in the visualization represents something else and represents not just one thing but many levels of things. So it is just a representation of renunciation, bodhichitta, voidness, etc.

So we have:

O Vajradhara root spiritual master, kind in three ways,
Glorious, ennobling, impeccable
Lozang Tenzin-gyatso,

So we now have the actual form of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is in essence Avalokiteshvara.

Kind in three ways – there can be several ways of explaining that, but most usual in tantra is that he gives initiations and discourse and oral transmission.

Glorious, ennobling, impeccable – these are all qualities. Ennobling (he has all the good qualities), impeccable (free of all impediments), etc.

Then we have the description of what it looks like:

Your face, with a shining pink complexion,
   smiles in delight;
Your right hand at your heart, in the gesture
   of expounding the Dharma,
Holds (the stem of) a white lotus
   with a book (on top)
   and marked with an (upright) sword;

This is one of the insignias that, for instance, we have a White Manjushri holding. It’s sort of the insignia of having the wisdom, the clarity of mind – with compassion – to teach, through the texts, to cut through ignorance.

Your left in meditation pose cradles
   a thousand-spoked wheel;

It’s a wheel of Dharma for turning the wheel and giving transmissions of the teachings.

You are draped with the three Dharma robes
of lustrous saffron,

So a monk with the standard three robes.

And your head is graced by a pandit’s hat,
   the color of refined gold.

This is the hat that was worn by the great pandits in India. So he’s very learned.

Your aggregates, elements,
   the stimulators of your senses,
   their objects and your limbs
Complete a mandala circle
   with the functional nature of
   the five Buddha-families
Of fatherly and motherly (Buddhas),
Male and female bodhisattvas,
   and furious protectors.

This is the body mandala of Guhyasamaja, which we discussed a little bit last night (not in detail, but I just mentioned it).

We have many different types of body mandalas:

  • This body mandala in Guhyasamaja is the body mandala which is the transformation of, as it says here, the aggregates, the elements, the sensors, and so on. And unlike the Chakrasamvara system – I didn’t mention this – in which the initiation can be given from the body mandala, in Guhyasamaja it’s not.

  • Mother tantra: In Chakrasamvara, the body mandala is generating deities at the outer end of the various channels. In Vajrayogini, on the inner end of the various channels.

  • Hevajra has a combination of both, so you have a transformation of the aggregates and elements, and so on, and then you also have various deities on all the branch channels of the main chakras. So that’s even more complicated.

But what we’re talking about here is that there’s a structure in which appearances arise as the flavor of the clear-light mind. If that clear-light mind is still tainted by the obscurations, then it gives rise to our ordinary so-called tainted aggregates, elements, and so on. But if we can get rid of these so-called taints, these obscurations – the tendencies and habits of the disturbing emotions, and all of that sort of stuff – then with that same structure, the clear-light mind will give rise to this mandala of all these various deities. So instead of the five aggregates, you have the five heads of the Buddha families. This is represented within the body of the guru Avalokiteshvara.

And it has the functional nature (rang-bzhin). There are so many different words for nature, and when they’re all translated the same, you miss the flavor of the word. So this is the word for nature that has to do with – functional – how it functions. Instead of functioning with the tainted aggregates and elements – that get sick and get old, and stuff like that – it functions with these pure aspects in the form of these deities.

(Seated) in the center of a dome
Of shimmering bands of five-colored lights,

That represents the five types of deep awareness, which is one aspect of the omniscient mind of a Buddha (we have a basis level of that as well). So:

  • Mirror-like deep awareness – to know everything, basically, all the information of everything.
  • Equalizing deep awareness – to see the equality of everything in terms of their void nature, the equality of everybody in terms of having equal love and compassion for everybody, and so on.
  • Individualizing deep awareness – so a Buddha can personalize a method for being able to teach each one individually.
  • Accomplishing deep awareness – to actually accomplish. In terms of teaching, what will be the best thing in terms of cause and effect to teach the others. So it’s actually to exert some sort of enlightening influence on them.
  • Most of the visualizations will have these five-colored lights. The five-colored lights represent these five types of deep awareness inseparably together, which is actually a very helpful process in our meditation – to try to work with these five individually and then put them all together. I treat that a little bit in this system called developing balanced sensitivity.

Your two legs (crossed) in the (full lotus) posture
   of an indestructible vajra,

Full lotus – that’s the Hindu name for it. It’s called the vajra posture in Buddhism.

You stream forth masses of clouds,
   a network of illusory
   (emanations of yourself),
   which tame (all others).

You remember that one of the main aspects of Guhyasamaja is it gives the most detail for developing illusory body and emanating it in all different forms to be able to benefit others.

In your heart sits Avalokiteshvara,
   a deep-awareness being,
With one face and four arms,
The (upper) pair of which have palms
   pressed together,
While the lower (two) hold a crystal rosary
and a white lotus.

What we’re going to have here are the so-called three stacked beings. We could have that in the figure in front of us, but most often we have that with the visualization of ourselves as a Buddha-figure, specifically in the highest class of tantra, anuttarayoga:

  • The external form is what’s called the samayasattva (dam-tshig sems-dpa’). It is the form for samaya (dam-tshig), to make a close bond or connection with the deity. So the general form of the deity – form a close bond with the deity so that we will actually manifest enlightenment in that form.
  • Then in our hearts – but smaller, within the central channel – a deep-awareness being (yes-shes sems-dpa’, Skt. jnanasattva). This is called the deep-awareness being because of the so-called deep awareness breaths or winds in the Kalachakra system. In that system, in the course of each day we have 675 breaths or winds that go through the central channel. And actually on a samsaric level they are destructive because they eat away the channels (they describe the aging process). However, if we can transform all the other energy-winds in the body into deep-awareness breaths, deep-awareness winds – in other words, bring them into the central channel and dissolve them there – then we can make manifest the clear-light subtlest level of mind. So to represent that bringing in of all the winds and making them deep-awareness winds within the central channel, we visualize a little figure at the heart (and pretty small).
  • And then within the heart of that one, there’s a so-called concentration being (ting-’dzin sems-dpa’, Skt. samadhisattva). Because to dissolve all the winds in the central channel, it has to be on a very microscopic level. This is how we’re going to develop that super-refined subtle concentration. So that’s usually a seed syllable.

That’s in terms of when we’re visualizing ourselves as having these three stacked beings. But here we have these three stacked beings in the figure in front of us, and then eventually we will bring it inside and have all three within us. So in His Holiness’s heart, as the external manifestation of Avalokiteshvara we have the actual figure of Avalokiteshvara – here the one-faced, four-armed aspect. There are many, many different forms of Avalokiteshvara. This is just one of them.

And as it says in the text:

Beautifully adorned with jewel ornaments
   and clothes of silk,

Jewel ornaments – that indicates Sambhogakaya actually.

His left breast draped with an antelope skin,
(Like) a youthful new moon,
   he sits cross-legged
   on a lotus and moon.

Antelope skin – it’s not that he’s a hunter and has gone out and killed an antelope (“Naughty antelope. I’ll have to kill you”). But rather the antelope is a very gentle creature, and so it represents this gentleness of compassion that Avalokiteshvara represents.

And youthful new moon – the moon always represents bodhichitta, which, like a new moon, will grow fuller and fuller.

In his heart is a being for absorbed concentration,

This is what I was mentioning.

A shining white syllable HRIH
Emanating rays of light in the ten directions.

So laterally the cardinal and intermediate directions and up and down make ten directions, like the channels that go out from the heart chakra – eight laterally and up and down. So not just emanating these lights and so on within the body, within these channels, but externally as well.

Your three places, my spiritual master,
   are marked with the three vajra
   (seed-syllables).

That’s OM AH HUM, right, three vajras. That’s vajra body, vajra speech, vajra mind, represented by OM AH HUM. Vajra means indestructible, so the enlightened and enlightening state of these three.

There are of course many different ways in which you can visualize these OM AH HUM:

  • on the surface of the skin,

  • in the central channel,

  • the HUM can be in the dot that’s above the HRIH, so really, really super-tiny in your heart.

There are many different variants.

Light-rays emanated from the syllable HUM
   at your heart
Invite back before me all the infinite
   Three Supreme (Gems).

So it brings back the Three Supreme Gems – Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.

By dissolving into you, you become,
   in essential nature,
An amalgam of every single source of safe direction.

In other practices it will say explicitly that this is bringing in and merging the deep-awareness beings with what you’re visualizing for making the bond. But by bringing them all in, that represents bringing in these deep-awareness breaths into the central channel.

And you become, in essential nature – another one of these words for nature, but this has the connotation of an essential nature (ngo-bo), what you actually are.

What you actually are is an amalgam (that means putting together and merging) of all the sources of safe direction – Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. Your Form Body is this body mandala (so that’s like Sangha), you have the speech of the Buddhas (Dharma), and you have the mind of the Buddhas (Buddha). There are many different ways of explaining actually how you are the amalgam of all Three Gems.

Seven-Limb Prayer

Prostration

Then we have the seven-limb prayer. If you’re going to do a daily practice, that’s what you would start with, the seven-limb prayer. Seven limbs – we start with prostration, the first of them, and we are going to make prostration to the enlightening body, speech, and mind of the guru as the amalgam, the combination, of all sources of safe direction, all refuges:

Your enlightening body, liberating to behold,
   is beautifully adorned
With a clear, complete set of excellent signs
   and exemplary features;

Excellent signs and exemplary features – that’s the 32 signs and the 80 secondary signs.

So liberating to behold – even just seeing such a body, it’s not that instantly you’re now free of samsara, but it can inspire you to become liberated.

Your enlightening speech is unhindered,

So it can spread everywhere. Everybody can understand it.

possessing the sixty melodious qualities, harmonious to the ears;

It’s very interesting, actually, when you think of the qualities of Buddha’s speech. They’re speaking, and everybody can understand the Buddha in his or her own language, so what language is Buddha speaking in?

Participant: In Russian.

Alex: In Russian. Well, it’s a very interesting question, isn’t it? The language of Dharma – the thing is that the language arises dependently on the other person. It’s not established just from the side of the Buddha. It’s established in terms of dependency on others. So you can’t say from its own side what language is it in. So it really makes you think in terms of voidness of speech. As I say, it’s very important to try to put all the pieces of the Dharma together, not just “Oh, the Buddha speaks in all languages. Very nice.” Try to understand the implication of that. It’s incredible, the implication in terms of the voidness of speech.

Your enlightening mind,
   profound in its omniscience
   and extensive in its loving affection,
   is difficult to fathom;

So it’s knowing of all things and has equal love and concern, compassion, for everyone.

With appreciation and respect,
I prostrate to the circle
   of your adornments,
   your three hidden factors.

That’s body, speech, and mind. Hidden in the sense that others who are not open or receptive enough cannot possibly even meet with, let alone understand.

So I have great appreciation of it, which means that I’m confident that there is such a thing, and great respect – I look up to it. These are attitudes that we also have with the spiritual teacher. We appreciate the good qualities and are convinced of the good qualities of the teacher, and then we have great respect for that.

And we prostrate with body, speech, and mind:

  • the actual physical prostration – you could imagine it here, but it’s good to do prostration;

  • by reciting the verses, that’s with speech;

  • and the mind is focusing on the Three Gems, as we discussed in the beginning.

Making Offerings

The second limb is offerings:

I present you with material offerings,
   both those I possess
   and those owned by no one,

We can offer things that are ours. We can also offer the beauty of the sunset, we can offer a clean environment – that doesn’t belong to anybody.

Both actually arrayed

The ones that we have, as we said before, on the altar.

and mentally created,

So visualized.

As well as my body,

We can offer, for instance, our organs when we die. That’s a nice way of offering the body. You can also offer it while you’re alive if you’re really advanced – donate your kidney or your retina, or something like that. It’s not necessarily talking about feeding your body to a hungry tigress.

my wealth,

Whatever possessions that we have.

and the entire network
   of my lustrous constructive actions,
   built up over the three times,

That’s the positive force, or merit. We offer that to everybody else. “May it ripen on everybody else.” So if we have a very good education, then you offer that to others. You share your knowledge, your experience, and so on. Just as we would naturally feel inclined to share our knowledge and experience with our children in raising our children, likewise we want to do that with everyone.

And we build up more and more of this experience, and so on, so that we have more to share and offer to others. And the positive force – if we’ve had wonderful opportunities, give those opportunities to others as well. And as I mentioned before in terms of giving – imagine that we are giving everything to everybody, and then whatever specific acts of generosity we have are just a token, a representation, of that larger scope.

So all of this that I have built up in the past, this positive force, what I’m building up now, and what I hope to build up in the future.

I imagine them, it says here:

Imagining them as an ocean of clouds of
Samantabhadra offerings.

So just multiplying like what we described before – one to two, two to four, four to eight.

That’s the second limb, offering.

Openly Admitting Our Mistakes and Shortcomings

Then the third limb is opening up and admitting the negative things that we’ve done in the past. Prostration and making offerings – we want to build up positive force with these, and now we want to get rid of the negative potentials that we have with this admission.

That’s sometimes called confession, but that’s a Christian term. If you use the word confession, then it implies that you have to be forgiven. Nobody’s going to forgive you here. It’s not as though you have broken the law and you have to be forgiven. That’s why it says here:

Whatever mistakes I’ve committed

It was mistaken. We acted in a negative way because we were confused, we didn’t understand cause and effect – we didn’t understand reality. It’s not that we were bad; we were just confused and mistaken.

Whatever mistakes I’ve committed
   of wandering astray –

Astray from what is reality in terms of cause and effect and so on – not breaking the law; it’s not that connotation.

My negative acts

This is destructive behavior under the influence of disturbing emotions.

and downfalls

A downfall is from the vows that we’ve taken – the pratimoksha and bodhisattva vows and, if we’re practicing the two higher classes of tantra, the tantric vows. We’ve fallen down from keeping that structure in our behavior.

So we’ve had these negative acts and we’ve had these downfalls:

due to my naturally and prohibited
   uncommendable acts

Uncommendable – that means that Buddha would not recommend doing this. Uncommendable. Commend means recommend. So Buddha would not recommend doing this: it’s not a good idea.

There are some that are naturally uncommendable, like killing others, and so on, and there are others that Buddha has prohibited. Prohibited is a little bit of a strong word, but I can’t think of a better one. Buddha has said that, for instance, if you are monk or a nun it’s better not to eat after noon, because then your mind will be very heavy and at night you won’t be able to meditate very well.

Why have we acted that way? It’s:

(Done) with my mind weighed down
   by unawareness’s 
thick gloom –

That’s a very beautiful way of saying it.

Unawareness – that’s the usual word ignorance. We just didn’t know, or we knew incorrectly. What didn’t we know or we knew incorrectly was cause and effect, the effect of our behavior on ourselves, how self-destructive it would be. And we were unaware of voidness.

All of this is like a thick gloom, a heaviness weighing down our minds. We’re not clear. We’re confused. And because of that, we’ve acted in a mistaken way. We were wrong. So it is appropriate to feel compassion rather than wanting to punish when you think in terms of others acting in this way. Or ourselves. We don’t want to punish ourselves: “Oh, I’m really bad.”

I openly admit,

I openly admit these – so I’m not fooling myself, I’m honest with myself – with the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, in a sense, as witnesses.

And then we apply the four opponents:

with strong regret

We regret, which is not the same as feeling guilty about it: “I just wish I hadn’t done that.”

and a promise of refraint,

I will try my best not to repeat it.

Then it doesn’t say here, but the other two are (3) reaffirming the safe direction and the direction of bodhichitta that I’m putting in my life and (4) applying the opponent forces.

in a state of mind unaimed
   (at truly established existence).

So we’re not thinking in terms of me who’s so bad – “What I did was so horrible” – and then thinking in terms of that as having truly established existence. That’s a state of guilt – “I’m so bad, and what I did was so horrible” – and then you don’t let go. But we need to understand the dependently arising nature of all of this:

  • I have acted in these destructive ways because of all sorts of causes and conditions.

  • If I change the various factors that influence the way that I act, then I will not commit this anymore.

  • And with a correct understanding of voidness, I won’t activate the karmic aftermath, the tendencies and potentials from what I’ve done.

Potentials and tendencies are causes that can give rise to a result in terms of what we experience – suffering, to put it simply. If we achieve a true stopping of what would activate these tendencies and potentials – the disturbing emotions and our grasping for true existence, etc. – then it is impossible for the result to arise. Something cannot exist as a cause independently of there being a possible result. Cause and result are designated in relation to each other. If there is no possible result, there’s no longer a cause. That’s how you get rid of the karmic potentials and tendencies – by getting rid of the disturbing emotions, the grasping for true existence, etc., that would activate the causes to be able to bring about a result. So that’s the deepest opponents.

It says in a state of mind unaimed. Unaimed in this context means unaimed at truly established existence.

Rejoicing

The fourth branch is rejoicing. This builds up even more positive force. (All of this, these seven limbs, is involved with building up positive force and getting rid of or cleansing some negative potential.)

It’s very important to rejoice rather than feel jealous of the positive things that others have done and the positive things that we ourselves have done, not regret the positive things we’ve done. You give some money to a beggar, and then afterwards you think “Oh, I shouldn’t have given so much.” You don’t want to do that. You rejoice: “I’m very happy. May they enjoy this. May they buy some bread or buy more vodka, whatever.” I’m joking about the vodka.

From the depths of my heart, I sincerely rejoice

I mean, it says you’re really sincere.

In the liberating deeds of the glorious masters

They’ve done things to help bring others to liberation and enlightenment.

And in the mass of lustrous constructive acts,
(Committed) throughout the three times,

The three times – past, present, and future.

of myself and others,

So the positive things I’ve done, the positive things that others have done.

And of ordinary beings

Those that are not yet aryas, who have not yet had nonconceptual cognition of, in general, the four noble truths and, specifically, voidness. Those are the ordinary beings.

and highly realized aryas
   possessing the three vehicles of mind.

Shravaka, pratyekabuddha, and bodhisattva.

In doing the seven-limb practice, we try to actually generate these states of mind – don’t just recite the verses – and think of the positive things we’ve done and the negative things that we’ve done. We admit and regret these things that we did that were mistaken and rejoice in the positive things we’ve done. We set that intention in the morning, and we review in the evening.

This rejoicing is really actually quite delicate because it’s very easy for it to spill over into pride: “I’m so wonderful. I did such wonderful things today. I’m so great!” So you have to combine it also – like with the open admission – you have to combine it with the understanding of voidness. So actually it’s very delicate. It’s not so easy to rejoice in a non-arrogant way. That’s something you have to watch out for when you do that practice. On the one hand, we don’t want to go to the extreme of guilt when we’ve acted negatively. And the other extreme – we don’t want to go into pride and arrogance when we’ve acted positively.

Requesting the Teachings

Then the next limb is requesting the teachers to teach. A teacher is only a teacher relative to students who ask the teacher to teach. If there’s nobody to ask you to teach, you’re not a teacher. So we want to ask the Buddhas, we want to ask here His Holiness, Chenrezig, to teach.

By resounding in the sphere
   of the profound and the pacified,
The divine music of the hallowed
   Dharma that accords
With the dispositions of the varied persons
   needing to be tamed,

A beautiful poetic verse.

The profound and the pacified. Profound – that’s voidness. Pacified – the true stoppings of the obscurations. So we’re talking about Svabhavakaya, as we discussed before.

When there’s the sphere of that – of voidness and these true stoppings in terms of a mind – then the flavor of that will be the divine music (so this wonderful music of the Dharma, of the teachings) that accords with the dispositions. So it’s personalized with the dispositions of each person that hears it. The Buddha just has to teach one thing, and everybody will hear it and understand it in their own way, in their own language.

By resounding that, by speaking in this way and teaching this way:

I request you to rouse from their sleep
All those with a mind emotionally
   and cognitively obscured.

When we talk about buddha – or the root bodhi, as in bodhisattva – it has the connotation in Sanskrit of “awake.” You want to awaken everybody from the sleep of their unawareness, their ignorance.

There are two types of obscurations in general that obscure and make the mind limited, the mental activity limited:

  • The emotional obscurations: these disturbing emotions and their tendencies that limit your mind, and so you have all sorts of suffering and uncontrollably occurring rebirth.

  • And then the cognitive obscurations: That’s the constant habits of grasping for true existence, which then cause the mind to project this false appearance that things exist isolated from everything else, and because of that you can’t understand the interconnectedness, the interdependent arising, of everything. So you’re cognitively obscured. That prevents omniscience.

That’s the request to teach.

Beseeching the Teachers Not To Go Away

Then the sixth one is the request for the Buddhas not to go away, to always teach. It’s like saying, “I’m really serious, I really want to go all the way to enlightenment, so please don’t go away.”

Till all wandering beings

It’s not just me.

have gained the breath of relief
   of blissful awareness

Right? It’s blissful. It’s like when you take off your tight shoes at the end of the day. It’s relief from suffering. You get this relief from being free from all suffering.

How do all beings gain that?

With a realization that is parted from the extremes
   of compulsive existence and tranquil nirvana,

Compulsive existence – that’s samsara, uncontrollably recurring rebirth. Compulsively we’re always grasping for another body because we’re so insecure. It’s based on thinking that there’s something that we have to make secure, as if there’s some little me sitting inside our head, talking, the author of that voice, and who of course feels insecure, and you have to make that little me sitting in your head secure. But it’s a myth. There’s no little me sitting in your head.

Tranquil nirvana is talking about “Now I’m free, and now I will just sit around in some pure land as an arhat and meditate a lot of the time and the rest of the time just sort of hang out.” So it’s very tranquil – all the disturbing emotions have been pacified – but in a sense it’s quite boring. We haven’t fulfilled all the potential that the mental activity – the mind – has, and we certainly haven’t helped others. So you have to get roused from that and really wake up to obtain the state of an enlightened Buddha.

Please remain firmly seated on the thrones
   of my indestructible vajras,
With your two legs crossed
   in the undissipating posture 
of EVAM.

We’re talking here about this merging, this joining.

With my indestructible vajras – we can think in terms of plural (so body, speech, and mind) or just in terms of the heart, the mind. We can understand this in both ways.

And your two legs crossed in the undissipating posture of EVAM. Evam is the Sanksrit word which means “thus” – as in “thus have I heard” – and the two syllables refer to method and wisdom, blissful awareness and voidness, appearance and mind. There are many different levels of what the two refer to.

So we want the teacher to stay forever – and to stay in my heart, basically, forever – inseparable from my body, speech, and mind.

Dedication

Then the final limb is the dedication.

I dedicate all the lustrous good I’ve been doing,
   have done and shall be continuing to do,

So that’s the three times.

So that I may be cared for by ennobling, impeccable
   spiritual masters, without ever being parted,
And, having fulfilled the prayers of the supreme deeds
   of Samantabhadra,

The prayers that everybody become enlightened.

That I may attain full enlightenment for the sake
   of all wandering beings.

It’s not so clear from the language whether we are dedicating this to just “May I attain this” or “May everybody attain it,” but the full Mahayana way is for everybody to attain this.

Summary of the Seven Limbs

The seven-limb prayer is a very essential basic practice. And obviously there are many, many different versions of it in terms of different verses that can be recited. The important thing is not the words that we recite but the states of mind that we develop. The words are just an adjunct to help us to develop the state of mind.

So:

  1. Prostration. Appreciation and respect for those who’ve achieved enlightenment, our own future enlightenments, and our own Buddha-nature that will bring that about.

  2. And we’re offering everything to everybody in order to be able to attain that, in order to help them as well.

  3. But to attain that, I need to purify myself of my negative forces. So I openly admit them, feel regret, etc.

  4. And I have to build up more and more positive force. So whatever I’ve done I rejoice in. What others have done I rejoice in.

  5. And to attain enlightenment, I need the teachings. I need to rely on a spiritual teacher. “Please teach.”

  6. And “Don’t go away. I want to go all the way to enlightenment.”

  7. And whatever positive force and whatever understanding I gain through all of this, may it act as a cause for everyone to achieve enlightenment.

So we have a nice sequence here of states of mind. When you become really familiar with it, you can generate those states of mind just like that – in sequence, one after another, after another. It is not dependent on the words that you recite. And if you understand that structure of that whole integrated sequence of the seven limbs, then you see how essential that is as your basis, as your foundation, for the spiritual path – the state of mind with which you’re going practice and then develop renunciation, bodhichitta, voidness, etc.

Let’s take a few moments to review that in our mind. I mean, certainly you have to remember what the seven are, to start with – so let’s see if we can at least remember them – and gain an appreciation that it forms a sequence.

Okay, so we end with the dedication. Whatever positive force, whatever deep understanding has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for all of us to reach enlightenment for the benefit of everyone.

Thank you.