Commentary on An Extensive Six-Session Yoga
Session Four: The Closely Bonding Being, the Deep Awareness Beings, and Offering Prostrations
It wasn’t completely accurate what I said in terms of the Tibetans forgetting about the Sanskrit scripts. They sometimes keep the Sanskrit alphabet of the time when they received tantra, the alphabet that Sanskrit was written at that time. Tibetans call it Lantsa script, which is actually the Sanskrit word Lanja [i.e. Ranja or Ranjana script]. And Lanja script was used in Nepal, Kathmandu Valley, at the time when the Tibetans came in contact with tantra, which I think would undoubtedly be with the new transmission – not the Nyingma transmission, but the new transmission – when they actually would come in contact. I’m not absolutely positive about that.
Question: Eight hundred or something?
Alex: No. This would be more in the eleventh century because where you see this prominently is Kalachakra. That’s when Kalachakra came in. That’s why I’m saying it was primarily from that time.
Does anybody have the Kalachakra – one of those things that were printed? Those books that were printed. Yes. Here… Here we can see it. It’s used in the Kalachakra mandala. In the Kalachakra mandala there are seven hundred and twenty-two figures, and some of them are represented by their syllables. So if you come around, you can see, here, the ones that are most visible are the ones that are in the outer circle here. There’s eighty-eight. But there’s thirty-six around here, and another thirty-six around here as well. And what that is, is the first syllable of somebody’s name. Like if you take the example of Tara, her seed syllable is TAM. That’s TA of Tara, the first syllable of Tara, with a dot on top, like we make an abbreviation with a dot at the end, a period. That’s all that it is; it’s an abbreviation of the name.
You can see that this is not Devanagari. This is not the modern Hindi or Sanskrit script. This is the script of that time, a thousand years ago.
Question: They wrote Sanskrit with that?
Alex: They wrote Sanskrit with that.
Question: A local dialect of it?
Alex: Well, who knows? But certainly Sanskrit because this is coming from the Sanskrit tradition.
And in Tibetan monasteries, when they decorate the monastery, then up by the ceiling – just below the ceiling – they write mantras. Those mantras are also written in this same Lantsa script. So the Tibetans do use the original script that they got these mantras in, but only for these purposes. They don’t ever actually visualize it. The most common mantra that they write up there is Om muni muni maha munaye soha, the Buddha mantra.
We are visualizing now, again, the guru yidam, and here we are using the form of Vajradhara. And this visualization is called the “closely bonding being” (dam-tshigs sems-pa, Skt: samayasattva) is how I translate it. Usually that’s translated as “commitment being.”
When you do visualization in tantra, we have several levels of the visualization. First you visualize what’s called this closely bonding being – that’s the first thing – to bond you closely with the yidam. And then you bring forth another visualization, which looks exactly the same – that’s called the deep awareness being (yes-shes sems-pa, Skt: jnanasattva), or it’s usually translated as “wisdom being” – and you combine the two. I will explain that when we get to that step. I mean, also these have other meanings as well, but let’s just stay with this one meaning. We’ll only stay with this one usage of these terms.
So now we have the visualization as described in the text, and we recite it:
So that’s fairly close. Here, again, a throne of jewels. The same type of throne as we had before. And the lotus. And the mandala disc – that’s just the flat disc of a sun and a moon. Here the moon is on top; in the other one, the sun was on top.
The root guru, by the way, is the one that is not necessarily our first teacher, not necessarily the main teacher, but the teacher who is inspiration – acts as a root – for us to be able to derive all our nourishment, our sustenance to go further on the path. So it’s the root. A root of a plant is where you get nourishment and it’s the foundation that keeps the plant supported for it to grow. So the inspiration.
And Vajradhara is called the “ruler of the all-pervasive” (khyab-bdag). All-pervasive is voidness. That pervades everywhere. So, he’s a ruler – he’s one that has mastered the understanding of voidness, the sphere of reality that pervades everything. So he has a blue colored body. Blue signifies, as we said, the enlightened mind, the sphere of reality, so it’s blue.
Question: If we have two main teachers that inspire us, can we put them together?
Alex: Well, what His Holiness answers is that you put all your teachers together like an Avalokiteshvara with eleven faces; they’re all different faces of one figure. But it would probably make most sense, as Pabongka says, that from those, there is one that is the main one.
Question: And if this is not the one – or it changes – it’s not the one you got an empowerment from, and it isn’t the main teacher, is this also okay?
Alex: Well, the point is that we receive many, many empowerments. Most people. And usually the root guru will be one from which we receive at least some tantric empowerment. But I don’t think that necessarily has to be totally pervasive, that that’s always the case, because you have a root guru in sutra as well. But in terms of a tantra practice, I would imagine it makes logical sense that it has to be somebody that you receive at least some tantra teachings from, if not the empowerment.
Question: Inspiration is from your heart, not the mind?
Alex: Yes, from your heart. Not the mind. The heart. Inspiration – it moves you.
Question: Excuse me. Vajradhara is the same as Kuntu-zangpo (Kun-tu bzang-po)?
Alex: No. Vajradhara is not the same – I mean, on one level, of course, you can say they’re all the same. Vajradhara is the most general form of the Buddha in tantra. Samantabhadra as Kuntu-zangpo is a symbol or representation of rigpa – rigpa is pure awareness – discussed in dzogchen.
What I wanted to add – I forgot for a moment – was that because we would visualize all our gurus, our spiritual teachers, as fitting harmoniously together like the faces of Avalokiteshvara, then it’s very important that our teachers all have good relationships with each other. This is why it’s very difficult if there’s one of these – what shall we say – spiritual political wars that go on, unfortunately, with two different factions in which the gurus become like enemies of each other. And if both of them are our teachers that’s very difficult, in terms of tantra practice, because they don’t fit together. This is why one tries to avoid those type of situations. They don’t have to be best friends, or have teacher/student relations with each other, but at least they’re harmonious with each other.
Question: If we’re practicing Kalachakra, do we use the teacher that we received Kalachakra from? If we’re practicing something else, we’d use the teacher that we received that from?
Alex: That would be in the sadhana itself. Here we are talking about the six-session practice, which is general – one for all practices – for all our different yidams, for all our sadhanas.
Question: So for each sadhana you have your own guru?
Alex: For each sadhana you may choose that specific teacher that you had for that…
Participant: In connection with the empowerment?
Alex: That gave the empowerment. Or that one received the teachings from. This is why it is very important that when you receive an empowerment, your teachings are from someone you find inspiring. Not just somebody that has a big name who you find completely boring.
But, as I say, you could imagine all of them in one, without specifically differentiating. This also is possible. The point is that it can be inspiring. That’s the whole point. It’s live, made of clear light.
So the visualization continues:
So it’s a couple. And the partner looks exactly the same, except for the gender. “Mother” is used – the couple is referred to as “mother” and “father.” Practicing like this gives birth to enlightenment, like a mother and father gives birth to a child. The mother and father represent things, obviously, here, in terms of method and wisdom and many, many different levels.
So it goes on:
That’s the thirty-two major signs and the eighty exemplary features of a Buddha. Actually the Tibetan has two different words there, one for the major signs, one for the minor signs.
Wearing jewels. That symbolizes Sambhoghakaya. Tsongkhapa, one of his big deeds was to crown one of these enormous statues in Tibet with a jeweled crown, symbolizing that it was a Sambhoghakaya statue. The significance of Sambhoghakaya is that it stays to the end of samsara; it doesn’t pass away. So it’s considered more auspicious. Nirmanakayas pass away, like Buddha passed away. Sambhoghakayas don’t do that.
The mere remembrance of you dispels all my torment. “Remembrance” – so I’m using the word “remember.” This is a difficult word because it also means mindful, to hold it in mind. So that means visualizing this as well. Keeping this in my mind makes me feel happy, dispels my torment, and I don’t feel unhappy. And that indicates that obviously this is inspiring, uplifting.
The word for “to remember” and the word “to be mindful,” that’s the same word. It can be translated either way. So meditating on this – keeping it in mind – makes me happy.
In other words, again it incorporates the three jewels.
That’s the legs crossed. What in the Hindu system is called the “full-lotus.” In Buddhist terminology that’s called the “vajra position.”
So this is the visualization. Then we call in and merge the deep awareness beings. These three spots, by the way, are the three syllables OM AH HUM. With OM by the forehead, the AH by the throat, the HUM by the heart – for body, speech and mind. So that’s inside the body, standing up. And OM is white, AH is red, and HUM is blue. Now light goes out from the HUM, it says. In many commentaries it says that the light goes out from the HUM in the heart of the visualization – Vajradhara. So it says that light goes out from the HUM and brings back the deep awareness beings.
So where is the HUM? That is the question. Many people explain that the HUM is the HUM in the heart of Vajradhara in the visualization in front of us. And although that explanation appears, that does not fit in with general tantra practice. In general, in all practices light goes out from our heart, as the yidam, and brings back the deep awareness beings and joins it with the visualization in front of us. That’s the way it is in all sadhanas. First you visualize some object in front of you, light goes out from the HUM in your heart and brings back the deep awareness beings, and they merge with that visualization. Every sadhana is like that. So Serkong Rinpoche explained that’s the same visualization here. It’s not that the lights go out from the HUM in the heart of Vajradhara; it goes out from our own heart. That’s my main teacher. That’s the tradition that I follow. And it certainly is more consistent with all the other tantra practices and visualization practices.
Whether it’s correct or incorrect is another question. There are two explanations. I follow my teacher’s explanation, which is consistent with all other tantra practice. In the text it doesn’t say. In the German translation it’s put in parentheses. That’s the usual way most people explain it. Serkong Rinpoche often would explain things in a deeper way. He was the teacher of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, so I consider him a valid source of information. Obviously if you feel more comfortable with it coming out of Vajradhara, many teachers will explain it that way. With any practice there’s going to be several ways of doing it. So this was Serkong Rinpoche’s way of explaining it, and the explanations here come from Serkong Rinpoche explaining it – the way he explains it.
Now what are we talking about when we talk about the deep awareness beings? The closely bonding being, that’s the one that we sort of practice with in order to make a close connection. When we talk about general tantra – because this is in all four classes of tantra – then usually they [the deep awareness beings] represent the actual enlightened beings, the actual enlightened beings off in the pure lands. Send out lights from your heart like a hook; they invite the deep awareness beings back from the Buddha-fields – the actual ones – to join with the ones that we are visualizing in front of us:
The enlightened being, Vajradhara. Mr. Vajradhara lives in a Buddha-field called Vajradhara Land. And we send out a carrier pigeon with a message, from the light from our heart, saying, “Please, Mr. Real Vajradhara, come here and join with this make-believe one that I’m visualizing.”
So that is what is in the general understanding that’s common to all four classes of tantra. Obviously there’s a deeper understanding. As Serkong Rinpoche said, you can’t really say that the deep awareness being is more real than the closely bonding being. That is false. Because some people think that; what I’m doing here is make-believe, and now we make it real. He said that’s not really a very sophisticated understanding of the process.
The reason Serkong Rinpoche said this is you work it out with logic. He said when you achieve the path of accumulation (the path of building up) – the first of the five paths has three stages. When you reach the third of those stages, then you can receive teachings from all representations of Buddhas – from statues and paintings of Buddhas. So they all can be equally sources of teachings. So, similarly, the closely bonding being or the deep awareness being – equally, one could receive teachings. Based on that logic, you can’t say that one is more real than the other.
Question: But then you can say one is more real than the other?
Alex: You cannot say.
Participant: You cannot say.
Alex: Because, at that level, you can receive teachings even from this statue behind us. Then you can’t say that this statue is a more real Buddha than a Buddha in a Buddha-land – in terms of a source of teaching.
But they are just two representations of Vajradhara here, representing them on different levels. Sakya gives a very good explanation of this – the Sakya tradition – when it speaks about the view of the inseparability of samsara and nirvana. So everything has a samsaric appearance and a nirvanic appearance. And so the close bonding being would be like the samsaric appearance that we are working with here, now, in our visualization. And now we bring in the nirvanic appearance, and bring it together. And in Sakya actually you don’t bring this deep awareness, this nirvanic aspect, from some Buddha-field out there. You realize that it was there all along – just a different level, there all along.
Another explanation, which is also valid for all classes of tantra, is that the closely bonding being represents Dharmakaya, which of course is always in connection with some Form Body – connection with Rupakaya – so there’s an appearance. And the deep awareness beings are the various emanations of this in the various Buddha-fields and lands, teaching others. And so we draw them all back in and merge them with the closely bonding being, indicating that they are all emanations from our guru-yidam’s enlightened state. So that’s another way of understanding it.
This bringing in the deep awareness beings is in absolutely every tantra practice, so it’s good to have some idea of what it represents. And there’s many levels of what it could represent.
Then there’s another level of understanding, that is specific to anuttarayoga tantra and it’s made very clear in Kalachakra. So the closely bonding being represents our subtle body. And bringing in the deep awareness beings into it is bringing in what’s called the deep awareness breaths (ye-shes-kyi rlung) into the central channel.
So we can understand bringing in these deep awareness beings on many, many different levels – so bringing in various emanations all together; bringing in the actual Buddhas from the Buddha-fields; bringing in different levels that a Buddha can manifest all together; and bringing in the winds into the central channel – understand any practice that we do. We understand it on many, many different levels. Okay?
So we say here:
That’s all that it says in the text. So it comes from us; bring it in – if we do it in this manner that Serkong Rinpoche described.
The Tibetans pronounce it ZAH rather than JAH, which is actually the Kashmiri pronunciation of that letter in the Sanskrit alphabet. It’s pronounced ZAH in Kashmiri. That’s where the Tibetans get this pronunciation from because they got their alphabet in Kashmir.
So this JAH HUM BAM HOH: With JAH, they hover – the deep awareness beings – hover above the closely bonding beings. Hovers above. With HUM, they merge. With BAM, they become inseparable. And with HOH, this is made firm.
If one likes to do the mudras, there are mudras which are done with this. First of all you have your two hands with the small finger and the first finger sticking out, and your thumb on top of the two middle fingers, which are bent. That’s called the threatening mudra. It’s maybe too strong. That’s how it’s usually translated. It’s the injunction mudra; it’s giving orders.
So with JAH, the left hand is up, with the back of the hand facing out… Yes, the left hand is – hold it sticking up, with the back of the hand facing away from you. And the right hand is with the back facing your face. And the first finger of the right hand touches the last finger of the left hand – ZAH.
Then you turn it around for HUM. The right hand has the back sticking out, the left has the back facing toward us, and the first finger of the left hand touches the small finger of the right hand. And then BAM – ZAH HUM BAM – you have the two hands face each other, and the two first fingers touch and the two little fingers touch.
Anyway, you follow it. I’m just describing it in words for the tape; they cannot see what we’re doing.
And HOH, you cross your hands with the right hand in front of the left.
ZAH, HUM, BAM, HOH. [demonstrating mudras] Those are the mudras. For those who like to do mudras.
All of this is the Akshobhya close bond of relying in a healthy manner on a spiritual master. Seeing the guru as a Buddha – is a Buddha in terms of Buddha-nature – as the object that will inspire us, and the object with whom we can build up a tremendous amount of positive force and deep awareness.
Then next, to fulfill the Fifty Stanzas on the Guru injunction – that’s its advice, that we offer prostrations each day to our guru – then we have a verse of making prostrations to the guru. So we say here (this is verse eight):
How do we understand this verse?
Your kindness. The guru’s very kind, and thinking of it brings in an instant, a dawn of great bliss. In other words, it inspires us; it makes us feel very blissful.
Jewel-like guru. Incorporates the Three Jewels of Refuge, the Three Gems.
Holder of the Vajras. “Vajra” means diamond-strong. So this is the holder of diamond-strong (or vajra) body, speech, and mind. The guru has an enlightening body, enlightening speech, and enlightening mind. That’s the holder of the three vajras.
I bow at your lotus-feet. Lotus-feet. What does lotus-feet mean? What is the symbol? A lotus is something which grows from the mud but is not stained by the mud. A lotus grows in a muddy lake, from the shore of the lake where it’s very muddy. If you walked in, you’d get your feet all muddy. And so on. So the lotus grows from there, but it’s not made dirty by it. So it’s not dirty. It grows out of that.
So the feet walk on the ground, but it’s not that the guru is dirty. So this symbol of lotus – I think this is the meaning of it. I’ve not heard that explained in any text. But to me, as Serkong Rinpoche always said, figure it out logically: What would the symbol be that to me makes sense as to why it’s called “lotus-feet.” You’re not going to find explanations for every tiny little point. We’re just putting together the pieces of the puzzle; that’s all it is.
What is the image of the lotus? How is it used? Well, if you’ve had a lot of teachings then you know that piece of the puzzle – what the image of the lotus is in Sanskrit poetry. You walk like an elephant – elephants walk very nicely; move their behinds very nicely. Sanskrit uses metaphors, and so earlier in this verse where it says “on top of a water-born lotus,” actually the Tibetan only says “water-born.” The Sanskrit would also say “water-born.” “Water-born” is a metaphor for lotus. So there’s a metaphor there, but it’s not just arbitrary. Actually, this is one of the fields of study. One of the traditional fields of study is metaphors, because Sanskrit uses so many. When you read the texts and it’s translated into Tibetan, you’ve no idea what it is unless you’ve studied these thousands of metaphors. Well, they translate it literally, so if you don’t know it then you’ve no idea what it is.
Question: So maybe they use Buddha from these words?
Alex: The Tibetans translate literally “water-born.” We tend to just throw that out and just translate it as “lotus,” so you lose the beauty of the Sanskrit language, the poetic beauty of it. So I’m compromising here and putting both: “water-born lotus.” In Tibetan and Sanskrit it would just be “water-born.” I don’t think it’s fair to the tradition to make it cheap, to rob it of its poetic richness.
By the way, do you know what a lotus looks like? In the center of a lotus… I forget the botanical word – stamen [seed-head], or whatever it is. It looks like a shower nozzle. So it’s sticking up from the middle of it, and the petals come from underneath and around. So that shower nozzle thing sticks up, and then it’s on that that you have the sun and the moon disc.
This verse in which we make prostration – as we imagine we make prostration to the guru – we repeat this three times only for the first round of recitation [correction from session five: it should be recited only once each time]. The second and third time, we recite it only once. Whenever we make prostration, when we visualize making prostration, it’s always important to imagine that we multiply into countless forms and all of them are prostrating.
And it’s here that Pabongka adds the praises: the eight-line praise to Chakrasamvara or Heruka, and then the eight-line praise to Vajrayogini. So this is offering praise to the guru-yidam, and this would be only for mother tantra. So we will not give an explanation of that since that’s very complex; every word of it is full of meaning, and every syllable of every word of it is full of meaning.
These eight-line verses are often in Kalachakra because Kalachakra is considered mother tantra. But it doesn’t have to be in there because then, as I explained last night, sometimes Kalachakra is considered nondual tantra, and these praises are specifically in terms of Chakrasamvara, Vajrayogini, and Hevajra, which are the systems with which one practices the six yogas of Naropa – you practice with one of those. So you don’t do that with Kalachakra. So there is some difference.
In some versions of it (in the Kalachakra version) those praises are there; in some, they’re not. So it is optional. There’s no harm in adding it, and there’s no harm in leaving it out.
Question: You also visualize these yidams?
Alex: You would keep it with this yidam, yes. Those praises are specifically for Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini. Pabongka wanted to put the main emphasis in Gelug – as I explained last night – to shift it from the traditional figures and put it to Vajrayogini. And so he adds it there. It was not there in the original.
So next we will make offerings, but we’re at six o’clock so maybe this is a good place to break. So do you have any questions?
Question: Which version is this?
Alex: Which version is the Panchen Lama’s original version? The one called the Panchen Lama original version.
Question: Are there different types that you’ve translated?
Alex: Yes, but those are the Pabongka versions. I just wanted to indicate what was the original Panchen Lama version, because that’s actually very interesting from a historical point of view. Everybody practices the Pabongka version. There’s nothing wrong with the Pabongka version. The Pabongka version is excellent because it lists all the vows. That’s wonderful. However, people do get confused because it has these mother tantra close bonding practices and it has these praises for mother tantra. So it’s confusing because people think that I’m supposed to do this if I’ve just taken father tantra, which is not the case. So just to point out, from a historical point of view, what the original version was, I put that in there.
Question: So if you have taken mother tantra you must do these?
Alex: If you have taken mother tantra, then you have the close bonds (the samaya) of mother tantra. So it’s listed there, and it lists the vows. And it’s not necessarily a commitment to make these praises for mother tantra, but it’s included in any of the Chakrasamvara or Vajrayogini sadhanas. It’s there.
These praises have a tremendous amount of meaning; every syllable of it has an explanation. When you have the term “Bhagavan,” the Tibetans translate it with three syllables and each of those syllables has a very long explanation of what that syllable means. To give an explanation requires translating those three syllables with separate words, otherwise it would be very difficult to see how in the world the Tibetans are explaining it. If you just translate it the “Lord” – “Lord Buddha” – then it becomes even more strange. So this is always a problem. Serkong Rinpoche always said: every syllable in Tibetan, the Tibetans milk out of it a meaning. And so, when you translate every single syllable of every word with an English word or a German word, it becomes very awkward and very long for recitation. Nevertheless, for making the commentary you need that kind of translation.
This is why I give at least two translations of most things. One which is the literal syllable-by-syllable translation, so that you can make the commentary to it and it makes sense. But that’s not very nice for practice, for recitation. So then one that’s a little bit more poetic and a little bit shortened, so that we can actually recite it. So on my web site, the really old versions – the 1974/76 versions of these practices – were the ones that were made very, very poetic, that people could easily memorize them. And very, very nice, but they’re not so accurate. I take a lot of poetic license there. Then in the 1985 version, that’s the literal syllable by syllable, so that the commentary will fit it. And then the 2001 version is making it poetic again, but more literal rather than loosely poetic. It’s more literally poetic. A lot of people found especially the short one very easy to memorize and a lot of people use it. That’s the 1985 one. It translates every single syllable, so you can give the commentary.
This is the real challenge with translations because, with the Tibetans, all the translations are poetic – in meter. So to translate some complicated text into a poetic form, like Shantideva, is very challenging.
Question: It has meter?
Alex: Yes, it’s perfectly metered, the whole text. Both in Sanskrit and in Tibetan, which is a completely different language – the rules of poetry are completely different – and yet they did that. To do that into our languages is very challenging. And what happens often is that it comes out like… If you do put it into poetic meter, you don’t want to put in into “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow” – you don’t want to make it sound completely stupid. So it has to be elegant meter as well. So it takes a long time before we get these types – really master translations. Slowly, slowly people work on it.
So let’s end with a dedication. May whatever understanding we’ve gained, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for gaining the full benefit from this practice, so that we can reach enlightenment as quickly as possible to be of best benefit to everyone.
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