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Home > Daily Practice > Prayers and Tantra Practices > Explanation of The Yoga of the Spiritual Master Inseparable from Avalokiteshvara > Session Four: Mandala Offering and Recitation of the Guru Mantra

Explanation of The Yoga of the Spiritual Master Inseparable from Avalokiteshvara

Alexander Berzin
Moscow, Russia, October 2012

Session Four: Mandala Offering and Recitation of the Guru Mantra

Unedited Transcript
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We have been discussing this practice which has been composed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama called The Yoga of the Spiritual Master Inseparable from Avalokiteshvara. And we have covered the taking of safe direction and reaffirming our bodhichitta motivation, and then the four immeasurable attitudes, then the purification of the environment and the offerings, then the visualization of the spiritual master, His Holiness, with Avalokiteshvara in his heart and the HRIH seed syllable in the heart of Avalokiteshvara, and the seven-limb prayer.

Mandala Offering

Next in the practice is the mandala offering. Mandala offering is something that is always done as a request when we request teachings and here when we are requesting inspiration from our spiritual master, the section that comes next in the text. It will be, in this case, inspiration to purify ourselves and to develop inspiration to gain the realizations of the graded stages of the path, of lam-rim.

The verse is:

By directing and offering to the Buddha-fields
This base, anointed with fragrant waters,
   strewn with flowers,
And decked with Mount Meru, four islands,
   a sun, and a moon,
May all those who wander be led to pure lands.

What is intended here with a mandala offering is that everybody be led to pure lands. If we think in terms of pure lands – and we’re offering a pure land here in the shape of a purified Mount Meru, etc. – what we are offering, then, is that “May everybody be able to be in the most conducive circumstance for receiving and practicing the Dharma.”

When we think of the Sambhogakaya of a Buddha, Sambhogakaya is a corpus of forms, so a collection of many forms, that can make full use of the Mahayana teachings. Some people translate sambhoga of sambhogakaya as enjoyment body, but it doesn’t really mean that, as far as I have understood. If you look in the Sanskrit dictionary for the meaning of sambhoga, then we find several meanings. “To enjoy” is one of them. “To eat” is another one. It’s certainly not the eating body of the Buddha, but rather a more significant meaning is “to experience something.” I think in that sense, people sometimes take that to mean to enjoy something, but it actually means to experience, to make use of something, and this is the expression that the Tibetans have used to translate it (longs-spyod).

Sambhogakaya can make full use of the Mahayana teachings because it can teach the entire scope of Mahayana to the most qualified students – mainly arya bodhisattvas, those who have already had not only unlabored bodhichitta but nonconceptual cognition of voidness. The Sambhogakaya forms of a Buddha then teach these arya bodhisattvas in pure lands. They appear in the full form, with all the signs of a Buddha. And they continue to teach them until everybody has been liberated. So in this sense they can make full use of the Mahayana in terms of teaching it fully in the most effective way.

We offer here a pure land in this form of Mount Meru. But it doesn’t have to be Mount Meru and like that, as His Holiness explains. It can be in any form – like the present universe or the globe or the galaxy, or whatever you want to imagine – but that’s just representative. What actually we are offering is this pure land circumstance: “May everybody be able to experience and learn the Dharma like arya bodhisattvas do in pure lands from Sambhogakaya.” That’s the idea behind this mandala offering.

And actually this anointed with fragrant waters is referring to a Vedic tradition in which what is used for purification is actually cow dung, sacred cows. But I think Western people would not appreciate the purifying qualities of cow dung. The equivalent would be sprinkling it with disinfectant or something like that – this is the idea behind it – to represent purification.

The body, speech and mind of myself and others,
Whatever we enjoy, as well as our bountiful store
Of constructive potential from throughout
   the three times,
A splendid jeweled mandala and expansive
Samantabhadra offerings –
I envision these all and present them to you,
O my spiritual master, my yidam,
   my Three Precious Gems.
Accepting them out of the force of compassion,
Grant me inspiring strength.

The idea behind making this offering and it being represented by the universe is that we are willing to give absolutely everything to be able to reach enlightenment for the benefit of others. And as we develop in Mahayana, the whole practice of generosity is that we are giving this not just to the Buddhas – Buddhas don’t need this – but we are offering everything to everyone. In a sense, by offering them to the Buddhas, through offering to the Buddhas it’s then offered to all beings.

“Out of your compassion toward me and toward all beings to help us to overcome suffering, please accept this.” It builds up great positive force that we are making this offering. And then “Inspire me.” So it’s a request. Uplift (byin-gyis rlabs), that’s the word that’s usually translated as blessing, but that doesn’t have quite the proper connotation.

Then the mantra that offers this:

IDAM GURU RATNA MANDALA-KAM NIRYATA-YAMI

Which means:

I send forth this mandala to you,
   my precious spiritual master.

Receiving Inspiration from Our Spiritual Master

Then the next section is receiving inspiration from our spiritual master.

From the HRIH in the heart (of Avalokiteshvara,
   seated in your heart), my ennobling, impeccable
   spiritual master,
Flow streams of nectar and rays of light
   of five colors.

If we had not received any empowerments, we usually visualize just the rays of light, but if we have received empowerments, we visualize light and nectars. Serkong Rinpoche described the lights and nectars flowing to be like these illuminated fountains – you have the water coming up but also there’s light mixed in the water, so the water seems to have different colors, and so on, and light around it. He used that example to indicate what it would actually look like. Do you have any of those here in Moscow? Yes? So you have some idea of what it might look like.

They enter me through the crown of my head
And cleanse me of my negative karmic potentials
   and obscurations;
They bring me to attain the supreme and common
   actual attainments, without an exception.

The Name Mantra

Now we have a large variety of visualizations that we can do as we recite the mantra. The mantra is the name mantra of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, so it is the Sanskrit translation of His Holiness’s name. His Holiness has had various names added to his name as his life has gone on, so as the years pass, his name seems to become longer and longer.

The version that I had of this text had the name:

OM AH GURU VAJRADHARA

That’s standard in front of any name mantra of a guru.

MANJUSHRI

That’s Jamyang (’jam-dbyangs).

VAGINDRA

That’s Ngawang (ngag-dbang).

SUMATI

Sumati is Losang (blo-bzang).

SHASANA DHARA

That’s Tenzin (bstan-’dzin).

SAMUDRA

Samudra is Gyatso (rgya-mtsho).

SHRI BHADRA

Shribhadra is “O Glorious One.” Bhadra is “excellent.”

SARVA SIDDHI

All attainments, actual attainments.

HUM HUM

Then in some versions of the name, between SUMATI and SHASANA is added JNANA, which is Yeshey (ye-shes) in Tibetan.

And in even longer versions between GURU and VAJRADHARA is added BHADARAKA in Tibetan, which is actually the Sanskrit word BHADRAKA, which just means “venerable.” It’s a title that’s often used with monks. It’s between GURU and VAJRADHARA, isn’t it? In the version I do for His Holinesses name, I don’t add that. But anyway it doesn’t matter.

Visualizations for Reciting the Name Mantra

Now for the visualizations. Serkong Rinpoche described them quite in full in other practices where you have His Holiness’s name mantra, specifically the practice with Kalachakra guru-yoga. So I will import that into this practice where you also have the recitation of His Holiness’s name mantra. There it’s the inseparability of His Holiness and Kalachakra; here it’s the inseparability of His Holiness and Avalokiteshvara. Same same, only different, as they say in India.

I think that it’s very important to keep this general principle that the young Serkong Rinpoche always repeats (like a mantra), which is “Nothing special.” There are so many different practices and each of the practices has so many different variants that there’s nothing special really about one particular variant. So when we talk about the visualizations for purification, they can be applied in any practice where you have a purification process or to gain inspiration (first you have to flush out the hindrances and then uplift with inspiration). Any of them could be adopted into any practice. And they can be very, very extensive, or they can be less extensive.

Let me give this type of description of the visualizations that Serkong Rinpoche usually gives. It’s quite extensive. We have this for body, we have it for speech, we have it for mind, and then we have it for all together. And they are done in a certain order. The order of it is what’s mentioned later on with the OM MANI PEME HUM, if I remember correctly, where it says: “Cleansing me of all sickness, harmful spirits, negative karmic potentials and obscurations.” So sickness and harmful spirits is done in one round, negative karmic potentials in a second round, and obscurations in a third round. And each of them for body, for speech, and for mind, and for all three together. We can do that in terms of these hindrances that we ourselves experience and also do it in terms of the hindrances of everybody. And we can also do for all of those variants:

  • The hindrances of the past, the effect they’ve had on us.

  • The hindrances that we experience at present.

  • And the hindrances that have not yet happened but we’ve built up the potential for them to happen.

So we have such a variety of various hindrances that we purify ourselves of, you’re not going to get bored if, let’s say, you’re going to be doing a 100,000 repetitions of these mantras, because it’s not that you are doing exactly the same thing over and over and over again. That would be very difficult to do. Because there are many different types of hindrances (for ourselves and others, and so on), when you’re reciting – I guess this will come in our discussion of preliminaries – when you are reciting a whole bunch of these mantras at one time, you do some for each type of purification.

Purifying Body

The way in which we imagine the purification happening is similar to what we do with Vajrasattva practice as well, with a slight variant.

First we imagine our aim is to purify ourselves of physical – I mean in terms of the body – physical harm, like sickness and interference from ghosts. So pain, sickness, and obstacles that can come from ghosts and spirits (which is usually thought of in terms of insanity, but here it would be in terms of some affliction of the body that could be caused by spirits). I don’t know if you have that in this society, but you had it in ancient India – I know you have it in places like Brazil and Africa – in which harmful spirits or somebody casting a harmful spell on you, or something like that, can cause some serious physical problem. It’s talking about that when it talks about harm from ghosts and spirits. So we imagine that leaves us in the form of spiders and snakes, these various poisonous insects. When it talks about spiders, it’s not talking about these nice little spiders. We’re talking about poisonous spiders and poisonous snakes, that these leave us.

So then the nectars come in. And here, for purification, we imagine the nectars as white. When we do these visualizations, depending on what we are requesting, the nectars and light and the seed syllable in Avalokiteshvara’s heart within His Holiness will change colors:

  • For purification – to pacify, to quiet down interferences, this type of thing – it’s all white.

  • For increase, for things to be stimulated to grow, it’s all yellow.

  • The third one is often translated as power, but actually it means “control.” To have everything in order so that it’s all functioning under control, that would be red.

  • And then for forceful actions – for things that are really difficult to get rid of, and so you need a tremendous amount of force – that is blue.

In this way, there is variation in terms of the color of the seed syllables, the lights, and the nectars. So now we are dealing just with the white color – the first level – of purification.

So you imagine these various harms in terms of sickness and pain and physical afflictions that come from spirits etc. – that these would leave you in the form of these poisonous insects and snakes out of your bottom.

I said past, present, and future. It’s not really the past ones. Let me correct that. It’s not the past. The past is finished. You can’t purify what has happened in the past. That was a slip of the tongue. So:

  • The ones that we have now.

  • The ones that we are just about to have.

  • And the ones that we will have in the more distant future.

It’s like when we do the meditations on thinking of the horrors of being reborn in a worst rebirth state and we want to take safe direction to avoid that. How you imagine that is also with these three steps:

  • You imagine that you are right on the edge of the cliff and you have fallen off. Then you take safe direction to somehow avoid landing in this worst state.

  • Then you imagine that you are right on the edge of the cliff, sort of balancing yourself, and you’re about to fall off. And then you take the safe direction.

  • Then you imagine that you are at some sort of distance from the cliff but moving toward it – like on a conveyor belt, something like that – you’re moving toward that and you’re going to fall. And then you take safe direction.

These are very powerful types of visualizations that one does in terms of lam-rim and in terms of, here, the purification.

And also I should say that this word visualization (dmigs-pa) is – it’s not just visual. We’re not talking about visual. The word is “to focus on it,” “to have it as your object of focus.” It’s not visual. So it’s with all your senses, with all your feeling. Imagine is the closest word, I think, in our languages.

Okay. So we’ve had physical harm. Then the second round is negative potentials and force from the destructive behavior that we have committed with our body, so taking life, stealing, inappropriate sexual behavior. These come out of us from our bottom in the form of ink, filthy water, soot, these types of very filthy liquids. And again from ourselves, from others, what we have now, what we’re about to have, what we will build up in the future.

Then the third round is problems of the body being polluted and impediments. Here you have a lot of air pollution. I mean, I noticed that I get much more sleepy and tired here than elsewhere. Or you could have asthma, terrible asthma, or breathing problems, getting cancer from pollution in the air, these types of physical impediments to the body. All of that can also be purified. And this comes out of us in the form of urine, feces, blood, and snot. That comes out of your bottom.

In other types of purification practices, we also have these three types of things coming out of us but applied differently. But here they are applied in this type of way – for sickness and harmful spirits – and in this particular order. In other practices, they may be in a different order. So here the poisonous insects and snakes, the dirty water, and the feces and urine. These are basically things that you would want to get out of you. You wouldn’t want these inside you or on you.

There are signs of success that we can look for (if we do 100,000 or more of these recitations with this visualization and so on). Although of course we don’t get rid of all these obscurations and difficulties completely – I mean, for that you need much more the understanding of voidness, and so on – here if there’s a temporary level of success, there are certain signs that come in dreams (when we talk about signs in dreams, these are things that need to come repeatedly, not just once in one dream):

  • It can be dreams of success. We succeed in something, whatever it might be, in the dream. Not succeeding in killing somebody or anything like that, obviously. Success in something positive – climbing up, or whatever.

  • Dream of washing yourself. This is for purification, so that makes sense.

  • Dream of putting on new clothes or the sun or the moon rising.

Well, these are auspicious signs in dreams.

And with this purification that we are imagining, it’s important to follow it by rejoicing at the purification and making the firm promise that we’re going to try our best not to repeat the various negative actions that brought this on. Okay?

So that’s for body.

Purifying Speech

Then we do this for speech. And here these various impediments and hindrances – in the same forms of the poisonous insects and snakes, etc. – leave us from our upper orifices. From the body, it left us from the bottom orifices.

Now we have harm to our speech from sickness, interference from ghosts, and so on. What would that be like? You could have a sickness in the sense that you lose your voice. You get hoarse when you have a cold. Interference from spirits in the sense that… I think that they would probably include in this the type of a sickness (I forget what it was called) in which you involuntarily say whatever comes to your mind – you have no control over that. So this type of sickness of speech comes out in the form of these poisonous insects and snakes.

Then negative potentials of the destructive behavior of speech, so lying, divisive language and harsh language, and idle chatter. So that would come out of our upper orifices – the mouth, nose, ears, eye sockets – as ink, soot, sooty water, filthy washwater, etc. Filthy washwater – you’ve been washing a really, really dirty floor, and you wring out the rag, and the water is really absolutely filthy. That type of water is what we’re talking about. Serkong Rinpoche used that image.

Then problems of the speech being polluted or impediments – how our speech can be polluted from others, the environment, the media, etc. There are so many people – maybe you have this in Russian as well (you certainly have it in other languages) – constantly using swear words, really terrible words, and your speech is polluted in that way. Do you have that in Russian? Yes. You have good ones in Russian, probably. Or speech impediments – stuttering, this type of speech impediment. One tries to use one’s imagination to imagine the various impediments.

As you get older and your memory starts to fail, you keep on repeating yourself. That also is a problem of speech, isn’t it? Or what is very frustrating as you get older is that you intend to say something but you say something else. You intend to say somebody’s name, like your child’s name, and you say the name of the dog instead. Yes, your child doesn’t appreciate being called by the name of your dog. I’m thinking of the example of an aunt of mine who called my cousin the name of the dog.

This leaves us in the form of vomit, urine, feces, etc., from our upper orifices – snot from your nose, etc. Delightful.

And again we have the same thing with rejoicing and promising to try to not repeat it, etc., and these various dreams of success.

Purifying Mind

Then we think in terms of the mental sphere, the mental realm, so mental and emotional sickness and harm from spirits. All sorts of mental sickness can be included here – depression, bipolar (manic depressive), any type of insanity (from the Indo-Tibetan point of view, many kinds of insanity are considered as possession by spirits, caused by spirits), psychosis. And these would leave us… Well, for the mental ones, as we have in Vajrasattva as well, you imagine sort of the nectars and light come in, and it just sort of zaps something at your heart.

Then the negative potentials of destructive behavior of the mind, so that is covetous thinking, thinking thoughts of harm for others and how we’re going to harm them, and then distorted, antagonistic thinking. And this again with the zapping of light and nectars at the heart. Sometimes it’s described sort of as striking them with lightning, some sort of black clump at the heart.

Then problems of the mind being polluted or having mental impediments. The mind can be polluted by all sorts of things, like for instance music: You can’t get a tune out of your head. You can’t get it to stop going. This is suffering, isn’t it? You can’t get it to stop. Or you just hold on to some thought, like being hurt, emotionally hurt, and you can’t let go of it, so you become obsessed with something. And mental impediments, like forgetting – you can’t remember – which as you get older becomes more and more pronounced. This is really quite awful. You walk into a room and you forget what you went into the room for. Or you’re about to say something, and you can’t remember what you were about to say. These various types of mental impediments. You can’t remember somebody’s name – that’s very, very common, isn’t it? So we have all of these things and again zapping with the lightning.

Purifying Body, Speech, and Mind Together

Then for the final round, we imagine all three of these together – body, speech, and mind – leaving us with the combination of all these visualizations. That’s actually quite difficult. But basically to try to flush out anything that might be left.

When we have finished all of this, then again really there’s rejoicing at doing some purification and feeling a little bit more cleansed, in a sense, refreshed – like you’ve just come out a really refreshing shower, this type of thing – and we’re going to try our best not to build up more causes for these things.

Further Visualizations

Usually when we do purification practices, we follow it not just by cleaning out the difficult aspects but by filling us with positive aspects. So these increase type of visualizations with yellow lights and nectars – yellow like the sun, to stimulate things to grow. We can do a wide variety of visualizations – with yellow light from a yellow HRIH in Avalokiteshvara’s heart inside His Holiness – of increase. So now that we have cleaned out sort of hindrances and impediments, then there’s the increase of… There’s a whole list of them – I’m not going to go through that – in terms of various types of what’s sometimes called wisdom, so the clarity of mind and intelligence to be able to compose, to debate, to understand, etc. Or good health. Or increase of the resources to be able to afford to study. Long life. And so on. There are many, many visualizations that one can do.

Questions and Answers

Are there any questions about this type of practice?

Participant: When you were describing the purifying visualization for the body, you mentioned white light and a white syllable HRIH. Would it change its color for the speech and the mind?

Alex: When we do these purification things, no. When you do purification with Vajrasattva, for example, there’s a variant in which for body it’s white, for speech it’s red, for mind it’s blue. But I haven’t heard that in association with these guru-yoga type of practices. I don’t think there would be anything wrong with it. Any variant can be applied in any situation. If you go to enough different teachers, you will find almost all variants being explained by somebody.

Participant: You gave a very detailed description of the visualizations associated with purifying practices. Is it merely an abstract description that can be used in purification practices in general? Or is it specifically tied to this particular guru-yoga? And if so, in what part of it?

Alex: As I said in the beginning of introducing these visualizations, these are found in many, many different practices. So it’s not that there is one specific type of purification visualization for this specific practice. You’ll find that different teachers will bring in these generic type of visualizations, with more or less detail, into any purification practice. So you can find in some practices the same type of visualizations, but instead of being applied to sicknesses and impediment from spirits, negative potentials, and these pollutions and impediments, they can be applied to destructive behavior and the potentials and tendencies from them and then the habits from them. It can be applied like that as well. In other words, there’s tremendous amount of variation, so nothing special in the sense that it just has to be one way. It gets a little bit confusing, obviously.

These three types of visualizations can be applied as in here, with sickness and interference from spirits, the negative potentials, and then the pollutions and impediments. That’s one way of applying them, in this particular order. Or there’s another way of applying it, which you find in Vajrasattva, for example. Well, it can also be applied in tonglen as well. In Vajrasattva, in purification, it’s the negative behavior, the negative potentials and tendencies, and the deep habits of that. In tonglen as well, there are different levels of our reticence to help others and to take on difficulties. So there the order is slightly changed. There we deal with what are we most afraid of that we don’t want to take on and get dirty, so the dirty substances, and then the feces and urine, and then not just these poisonous insects and snakes but whatever it is that you’re most afraid of.

So there are many applications of these visualizations, and there are different orders, different things that they represent, etc.

Okay, let’s end here for our morning session, and then we’ll continue in the afternoon.

Whatever positive force, whatever understanding has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for everyone to gain purification and to gain inspiration to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all.

Thank you.