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Home > Daily Practice > Prayers and Tantra Practices > Commentary on An Extensive Six-Session Yoga > Session Six: The Remaining Parts of the Practice and the Abbreviated Practice

Commentary on An Extensive Six-Session Yoga

Alexander Berzin
Berlin, Germany, November 2002

Session Six: The Remaining Parts of the Practice and the Abbreviated Practice

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:32 hours)

So it’s here, after getting this far, that we go back to the beginning. We’re going to do the recitation three times in a row. We go back to the beginning, and we repeat. So we leave out the recitation of the visualization of the guru, and we leave out the eight-line praises.

The Blissful Understanding of Voidness

So now, when we’ve done that, then we go on to part B:

Requested like this, my supreme guru
Alights on the crown of my head.
We merge – samaja.

Samaja is the Sanskrit word meaning “to unite.” It’s the same word “to come together” and so it also means “assemblies.” And so Guhyasamaja, it’s the same word; it’s the samaja, the coming together or the assembly of guhya – all the hidden secret factors.

So we’ve been visualizing our guru-yidam in front of us. So the visualization now: the guru-yidam now comes to the top of our head and sits on the top of our head, facing with his face in the same direction that our face is facing. So then that gets smaller and smaller, it dissolves into light, goes down our central channel and merges at our heart – at our heart – so that we become inseparable. It merges with our mind, and then we dissolve all appearances with the understanding of voidness.

We can merge with the HUM, yes. If we are visualizing ourselves as a yidam with the HUM in our hearts, yes. But whether we dissolve into a HUM or not, still at this point we remind ourselves of voidness, and in that state of voidness we dissolve all appearances. Because at the level we’re at, appearances can only be appearances of true… We dissolve all appearances of true existence, which here is equivalent to dissolving all appearances. So you stay in a state of voidness. But this is with the understanding of voidness – that true existence is impossible. It’s not that we just shut off the light and don’t see anything anymore, and then the next stage we turn the light back on. The point is to dissolve the appearances of true existence based on understanding that this does not refer to anything real. This is impossible, that things exist the way that they appear to us.

So this fulfills the root tantric vow not to neglect meditating on voidness three times each day and three times each night. And this line is not recited the second and third time.

So then we continue:

Once more you gladly become
Of a singular taste with me.

Now with that line, we just reaffirm being blissfully of a singular taste of voidness with our guru-yidam. Well, the fact that we become one with the guru, that makes it very happy. Here it says Once more you gladly become of a singular taste, but “gladly” doesn’t modify just the guru – it’s not just that the guru is glad or happy to become one with us – it makes us happy as well.

This is where we start. So in the second and third repetitions, one also has to remember and be mindful of voidness. And it’s not that you again visualize the guru on your head, and again sink into you, and again you visualize it, and again sink into you – although one could do that, that’s not absolutely necessary. The main point is this blissful understanding of voidness from the guru having united with us.

Arising in the Form of a Yidam

Now, after this meditation on voidness, then we arise in the form of a yidam ourselves. So now this whole process of dissolving appearances with the understanding of voidness and then arising in the form of a yidam, this can be done in two styles. Remember we said that you can practice this six-session in the style of a sadhana or not in the style of a sadhana.

So if we do it in the style of a sadhana, then we would do this as in an anuttarayoga sadhana, which is called “taking the three occasions as the pathway for the three Buddha-bodies.” So the three occasions are death, bardo, and rebirth. And so we meditate, dissolving the appearances to get to voidness – so Dharmakaya – in terms of how the appearances dissolve at the time of death. Since this is usually done in many practices, not all practices, with parts of the syllable HUM in your heart dissolving progressively into each other, then this fits with having visualized ourselves as the yidam all along in this practice with the HUM in our heart. And then there’s a visualization similar to bardo, which is for arising as Sambhoghakaya – so imagining ourselves in a simple form. And then visualizing ourselves in the full form, which is similar to rebirth, and that’s to ripen into arising as a Nirmanakaya.

And so, depending on which yidam we are practicing this procedure with, we would follow the specific type of death, bardo, and rebirth visualization of that practice. In each deity system the visualization is slightly different. And so in the Kalachakra six-session, we do this in the style of Kalachakra with the visualizations and understanding from that system. And in the Kalachakra system we don’t have bardo as a Sambhoghakaya; there’s just two: death as Dharmakaya and rebirth as Nirmanakaya.

This type of explanation, of doing this stage here similar to a sadhana, this we find for instance in Pabongka’s commentary to the six-session practice. But we can also practice this not in a style of a sadhana, and in this case we just meditate on voidness without dissolving appearances in eight stages (like in regular anuttarayoga) or in ten stages (as in Kalachakra) – dissolve appearances of true existence all at once, like you do in sutra. And, similarly, we arise instantaneously as the yidam, rather than in stages. So obviously if we are beginners, from all these possible choices of ways in which things are done, it would make more sense to choose the simplest one.

So now we visualize ourselves in the form of the yidam, and here it is Vajrasattva with a partner. And Vajrasattva, as you recall, is not the Vajrasattva of purification, which is white. It’s the Vajrasattva which is found in the Guhyasamaja system who is blue. Not the one for purification, the one that’s in the yidam practice. So we say:

With the pride of a Vajrasattva, holding vajra and bell,
Symbolic of the hidden factors of co-arising great bliss
And the state by nature fantasy-free,
I embrace Bhagavati.

Poetic, isn’t it? It’s a little bit better translating it as I did here, in the order in which it appears in the Tibetan, which is first we say: With a pride of a Vajrasattva, holding vajra and bell. And then what the vajra and bell stand for, because this is upholding the Akshobhya bond of keeping a vajra and a bell. And then I embrace Bhagavati after that, because then that’s the bond of Akshobhya to have the mudra, to have the two inseparable. So it just makes the order a little bit more clear.

So Bhagavati looks exactly like us, except it’s female. And we are both. Whenever you visualize yourself as a couple, you visualize yourself as both. It’s not that this is another being. This is a general principle. No matter how many figures are in the mandala – 722 in Kalachakra – we’re all of them. And we’re also the building as well, like the skin is part of us, part of our body.

So we hold the vajra and bell. Here it is clear the vajra is great bliss. And the bell is the state which is by nature fantasy-free – free of fantasies of impossible ways of existing – so that refers to voidness. And co-arising means that we have the two simultaneously; they arise simultaneously. So it’s a blissful awareness which understands voidness – which is the understanding of voidness. So these are keeping these three bonding practices of Akshobhya. And now we’ve completed the four of Akshobhya – the other one was the guru.

Making Offerings

So then we again are going to make offerings now, to everybody. What are we going to offer? So we say:

My body and likewise my wealth,

This is the Ratnasambhava bond of giving material things. And so what else do we give? We give also:

And as massive a network of constructive acts
As I have built up throughout the three times,

So that is the Ratnasambhava bond of giving Dharma. So we can understand… Just as we understood giving the freedom from fear as having the wish for everybody to reach enlightenment in which they will be free from all fears; so that’s a slightly different understanding than we usually have of what it means to give freedom from fear. Similarly, giving of Dharma here is understood a little bit differently from our usual way of understanding it. Normally when we think of giving Dharma to others, we think of giving them teachings or advice that’s in accordance with the Dharma. But here we think in a larger sense, and we give to others the positive force or merit that comes from our practice of the Dharma. And also we dedicate to others. So that, likewise, is a giving of Dharma; giving what arises from our own practice of Dharma.

So now we’ve completed the four types of giving, the four types of bonding practices of Ratnasambhava. The giving of love and of freedom from fear was in the four immeasurables.

So:

My body and likewise my wealth,
And as massive a network of constructive acts
As I have built up throughout the three times,
I give, from now on, without sense of a loss,
To help limited beings, who have all been my mothers

That’s important, to give without feeling a sense of a loss – I give you my dessert, and now I don’t have any dessert to eat – we feel sorry that we’ve lost something. Not like that. It’s very important, when we give, to rejoice in our act of giving and not regret our act of giving and what we’ve lost by it.

Reviewing the Vows and Close Bonding Practices

So it’s at this point that the review of all our vows and other close bonding practices was added by Pabongka Rinpoche. And this is of course extremely beneficial, to keep mindful of the vows; otherwise it’s very easy to forget them.

Now the first verse of these vows is reciting the different subdivisions of the monk vows. And so if we’re not a monk, a fully ordained monk, we don’t recite this verse. It’s usually not even translated in Western language versions. The important point is that if we’re not a monk, but if we have some other type of pratimoksha vow – a vow for individual liberation – which in the Gelug tradition, if we were doing it properly we would have, then we would remind ourselves of those vows. So for many people that would be the lay vows. And with the lay vows, these are the five vows of not to kill, steal, lie, inappropriate sexual behavior, and alcohol. And one should be aware that one doesn’t have to take all five; you can take any number of them. But at this point one would reaffirm those, remind ourselves of those. Often people forget that and don’t include that there because it’s not specifically in the text. But we need to substitute there whatever pratimoksha vows we have.

So we will skip that explanation. That’s a very full, long teaching on all the vows, and it’s in my web site – all of them explained.

We only recite that once. The second and third repetition, we don’t recite all of that.

Question: One a day, or once…?

Alex: Once in the morning – if you are doing three sessions – and once in the evening. This way of reciting is for doing three at a time.

If you do six at a time – which is possible, of course – then you would do the shortened version (like we normally do for the second and third recitation) you would do for second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth. You’re doing all six at once, which sometimes one may need to do. There’s no rule how you do them. You can do them six different times a day, in which case you do it full six times. But if we’re doing it two times, three times a day, or whatever – but however many that you do in one sitting, the first one you do fully, and then the other ones you do in this shortened way of leaving out some sections.

One needs flexibility. And do it according to one’s schedule. This is not something that’s… Remember the term “Sugata”: blissfully progressed. Geshe Dhargyey always used to say this, that this means that this is a path that is supposed to bring us joy, so don’t practice it in a way that it makes you feel guilty, and it’s just, “Oh I’m terrible! I have to practice now, and I don’t have time, and I’m falling asleep.” Don’t make it into a torture. The path is a blissful path, so do it in a way that brings you joy. If we’re doing it in a way that just makes us unhappy and frustrated, we need to correct the way that we’re doing it; we’re not doing it properly.

If you know that you’re going out at night tonight to an all-night party, do it six times in the morning. Don’t leave it, then “Oh my God!” you’re going to come home and it’s going to be the next morning already, and I’m going to be so tired I’ll forget, or whatever. Don’t do it like that. Be flexible. You know that it’s going to be very difficult to do it at night, so do all six in the morning. So, blissful – blissfully progressing – Sugata.

Now we go to the next verse after this, what’s called B11 here:

I shall not transgress, even in my dreams,
The most minor training concerning the proscriptions
That keep my pratimoksha, bodhisattva, and tantric vows pure.
I shall practice in accord with the Triumphant One’s words.

So this point here about the dreams is quite interesting because this is hinting at the different stages on the “path of preparation,” it’s usually translated – I call it the path of application – the second of the two paths, where you apply what you have got on the first path. And when we talk about grasping for true existence, first you want to get rid of that when you are awake. Then more advanced stages, when you don’t have that even in your dreams. So this is indicating as well these type of steps: that we want to build up such a habit and familiarity, that it’s not only that we avoid transgressing the vows while we’re awake, but even in our dreams we don’t go around shooting people or whatever – indulging in inappropriate sexual behavior in our dreams, and so on.

And when it says even the most minor training, this goes back to one of the tantric vows, the second tantric vow, which would be disregarding or trivializing any of the aspects of ethical training. In other words, saying, “Well, these small vows, that doesn’t really matter, just the big ones. I can go around shooting people.” When we take on the vows and the Buddhist practices, it’s not a matter of picking and choosing just the parts that we like and throw away the parts that we don’t like. Although, as I say, with the five lay vows one doesn’t have to take all of them. But bodhisattva and tantric vows, you take all of them. It’s the same thing with the novice and full monk and nun vows; there you have to take all of them.

Question: Part of the tantric vows and pratimoksha vows are included there, all five of them? There’s a part in which they are explicitly mentioned?

Alex: Not as the tantric vows. There are certain aspects that are included in the twenty-five types of tame behavior. I really don’t want to get into questions about the vows. That, we can do separately. Pabongka, in his list of them, sometimes it is not very clear what are the vows and what are various recommendations from the Fifty Stanzas, and so on. That’s not so clear. And so sometimes there is confusion about what actually were the vows.

I think you are referring to this line:

Forsaking the four root destructive actions, likewise liquor, and outrageous behavior,

I forget what this is listed as, what list that’s in, but that’s secondary closely bonding practices, is what it is called here – these further practices to bond me closely. That’s not specifically a tantric vow; that’s another samaya. And where that actually comes, and which practice it is, I must say I don’t know. But it’s certainly not a general thing. But obviously it is absolutely beneficial to do this, no question.

Question: If you have taken these, then you can drink a beer?

Alex: If you’ve taken the vow to avoid intoxicants, can we drink a beer? Well, it says in the text of the vows: “Not even a drop that would fit on the tip of a blade of grass.” That’s the way that it is said in the actual texts. So the point is, either you take the vow or you don’t take the vow. There is no obligation to take the vow. If you take the vow, this is the vow. No intoxicants.

Now of course you can get into the question, well, if there is a sauce that was cooked with a little bit of wine and the wine has been cooked off, is that okay or not? This is nitpicking. But the point is to try to be very conscientious about this. To get into the situation in which I have to decide what the boundary is – one beer is okay, but two beers is not okay, well how big is the glass of beer, and so on – this is not appropriate. Because when we drink, our judgment is clouded. So the way that my teachers interpret it – and some teachers do interpret it differently, and certainly the Japanese interpret it differently, completely – is not even a drop that would fit on the tip of a blade of grass.

But let’s not get into a discussion of the vows because it is now twenty-five after one and we still have a few more verses.

This verse of keeping the vows, this is the Vairochana bond of the ethical self-discipline of restraining from destructive actions, and also the Amoghasiddhi bond of keeping all our vows and commitments.

Then the next verse:

I shall fully uphold all the verbal and realized hallowed Dharma, without exception,
As gathered in the three sutra vehicles and four tantra sets,
In exact accord with the meanings that the Triumphant intended.

So that’s the same. And to uphold the verbal and realized Dharma: the verbal are the actual words of the teachings, and the “realized” means to uphold the realizations. And we try to “uphold” means that we honor it and don’t deny it, and so on – try to achieve it. We can teach not only with the words; one teaches by the example of our realization.

So this is the Amitabha three bonds of upholding the three sutra vehicles, the two outer tantra classes, and the two secret tantra classes. And this also fulfills the Vairochana bond of the ethical self-discipline to engage in constructive behavior. So we are listening to these teachings – all these vehicles – thinking about them, meditating on them, and so on. Constructive behavior is not just that; it’s also valuing these teachings.

And then the last line of this stanza:

I shall totally liberate wandering beings by means that suit each.

This is the Vairochana bond of the ethical self-discipline to benefit all beings. I’m going to work to liberate them by the methods that are appropriate to each.

That completes the nineteen close bonding practices. So when we repeat the second and third time this section B, we leave out the first line – that the guru comes to the top of our head – and we leave out all the vows. But we do the other five verses: the three verses before the vows and the two after the vows.

The Dedication

And then after we’ve finished all of that, we do the dedication, which is section C. In the original Panchen Lama version, there’s only one verse here. Pabongka added two more verses. And often Tibetan lamas will add many, many more verses of dedication at the end of the various practices that they do. So this is not something which is unusual.

So the last verse here is the one verse from the Panchen Lama:

Through the lustrous positive force [that’s merit] deriving from this,
May I never transgress, throughout all my lives,
The bounds prescribed by Vajradhara’s authority.

So inspire me not to transgress these nineteen close bonding practices or any of the vows. This is the main point of this practice.

And:

May I complete the stages of the twofold path.

That indicates the twofold path referring to the two stages of anuttarayoga practice. And this is pointing out that keeping all the vows is the prerequisite for success on following the stages of tantra practice.

When we do this practice, we only recite the dedication verse once. We don’t need to recite it three times.

The Abbreviated Six-Session Practice

Now, just very quickly, let me – I’m going to have to do it from the German, here. This shorter version also fulfills all these nineteen vows, so let’s just look very quickly at that.

So it starts:

I take safe direction wholeheartedly from the Three Supreme Gems.

So that’s the Vairochana three bonds of safe direction.

I shall free all wandering beings from suffering

That’s the Ratnasambhava bond of giving love.

and secure them in everlasting bliss.

That’s the Ratnasambhava bond of giving freedom from fear.

And then we have the bodhisattva vows again:

To reach full enlightenment for their sake,
I reaffirm my bodhichitta resolve
And shall train myself in bodhisattva behavior.

Then we visualize the guru-yidam:

In the sky before me, on a throne, a lotus, a sun, and moon,
Sits my root guru, Vajradhara, ruler of the all-pervasive,
With blue colored body, holding vajra and bell,
Embracing Dhatu-ishvari, and sporting with co-arising bliss.
Your body’s three spots are marked with three syllables.
Light from the HUM invites the beings for deep awareness:
You become of one taste.

That’s the Akshobhya bond of relying on the spiritual mentor or guru.

Then:

I prostrate at your lotus feet, Vajradhara,
And present you with an ocean of clouds of outer, inner, and hidden offerings.

So that’s making the offerings. It’s the Amoghasiddhi bond.

And then the giving of the mandalas there:

I present you also with the peerless offerings of Samantabhadra:
Including Mount Merus, their island-worlds, the precious fixtures of royalty, treasure vases, suns, and moons.

Then we have relating to the teacher, the spiritual teacher – just a shorter version – with the next verse:

All supreme and common actual attainments, without exception,
Follow upon correctly relating to you, my guide, in a healthy manner.
Seeing this, I fully devote my body and even my life:
Inspire me to practice what only will please you.

So that is equivalent to the first half. Then equivalent to the second half:

Requested like this, my guru alights on the crown of my head;
We merge and become inseparably one taste.
Now I arise as a…

That’s voidness meditation.

Now I rise as a Vajrasattva, holding vajra and bell,
Embracing a Bhagavati, and sporting with co-arising bliss.

So the beginning here is, again, when we visualize ourself as the yidam. Then we have again the vajra and bell and mudra commitment of Akshobhya.

Then:

Without sense of a loss, I give, for the sake of my mothers,
My land, my body and wealth,

That’s the Ratnasambhava bond of giving material things.

and the network of my constructive acts throughout the three times.

That’s the Ratnasambhava giving of Dharma.

I shall never transgress, though my life be at stake,
The bounds prescribed by the pratimoksha, bodhisattva, or tantric vows.

That’s the Vairochana bond of the discipline of restraining from destructive actions.

I shall fully uphold the scriptural and realized Dharma
Gathered in the three sutra vehicles and four tantra sets.

That’s the three bonds of Amitabha to keep the three classes of the teachings, and the Vairochana bond of ethical discipline to engage in constructive behavior.

And then the last line here:

I shall totally liberate wandering beings with their skillful means.

That’s the Vairochana bond of the discipline to benefit all beings.

So that’s the equivalent of section B. And then the last two verses are the dedication, equivalent of section C:

I dedicate this constructive act for the deeds and prayers
Of the Blissfully Progressed [that’s the Sugatas] and their spiritual offspring, throughout the three times,
To be fulfilled and for the hallowed Dharma to be upheld.
By inspiration from the supreme Triple Gem
And the force of infallible dependent arising,
May all my excellent prayers come true,
So that I quickly attain the state of a Buddha.

That last verse is indicating that, by following this practice, then dependent arising – in other words, our attainment of Buddhahood will arise dependent on practice.

So, like this, we can see that the short version does fulfill and do everything that you have in the long version, just shorter.

When we practice the short version, the way that it is usually done is to recite the whole thing three times. It’s not that you do section A three times, section B three times, and then C. Usually you go through the whole thing three times in a row. Or one can do it in the style that Khenzur Ugyen Tseten Rinpoche recommended – which I find actually quite helpful – is to recite each line three times at a time, and then go to the next line three times. Because then you really get much more into the feeling of each line, otherwise it’s so quick that you can do it quite mindlessly.

And, likewise, for those that are interested, when we get to the Kalachakra six-session, it’s exactly the same. One can point to all the sections in the exact same order that fulfill this basic essential point of this six-session practice, which is to be mindful of these nineteen close bonding practices. The Kalachakra version just adds more to various sections that are similar to the sadhana, but it doesn’t have every defining piece of the Kalachakra sadhana. That’s why it’s not exactly a substitute for the sadhana.

Question: That first paragraph, you do it the first three times also? Twenty-four times in general?

Alex: From the short version?

Question: Only for refuge, you do it twenty-four times?

Alex: No. No. You just. Only if you’re doing it three times. You just recite this whole thing six times. You don’t recite anything in this… I mean, this is done in a different style from the longer version.

Question: Because if you do it three times, the first time – like every verse three times?

Alex: No, that doesn’t mean that. One can go from the top to the bottom one time, and then repeat that whole thing another time, and then another time. Or only go through the order once, but each line repeat three times. And in the evening, the same thing. It’s just a variation of how to do it which I’ve only heard from Khenzur Ugyen Tseten Rinpoche. But, having tried that out, it makes the practice much more meaningful because you actually get into the lines.

So, we end with a dedication. May whatever understanding we’ve gained, may we put this into practice, actually practice this six-session yoga with much more mindfulness of the meaning, of the purpose, and so on. So that truly our practice can act as a cause for reaching enlightenment to be of best help to everyone.

Good. Thank you very much.