We now come to the second part of the Specific Preliminaries: the generation of Bodhicitta, which we can almost translate as “the enlightened mind”, or “the enlightened heart” (chang chub sem1in Tibetan). If we use a more common language, we can say that “Bodhicitta” means more or less compassion, to generate compassion. What do we mean by compassion, how do we generate it?
We should first realise that, as human beings, we do not want any unhappiness, anything painful or bad happening to us. In the same way, there is no being, not only human beings but any being, who does not share the same wish. Just as we do not want negative things to happen to us, they like us, have the same feelings, they do not want to suffer and experience pain. And just as we wish to be happy, all other beings also wish the same. Therefore, we should try to find a way to get ourselves out of our problems, sufferings and pain, but we should not be satisfied with that, we should also try to help all other beings to get out of their own problems and sufferings. If a person has a genuine, strong and uncontrived motivation to end his own problems and sufferings in order to attain everlasting happiness and peace, together with the intention to help all other beings to reach the same state, that person is what the Buddhists call a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is somebody who is on his way to become an enlightened being, a Buddha. An enlightened being is somebody who has put an end to all his own problems and who has the capacity to help all other beings do the same.
Through developing Bodhicitta, we try to become Bodhisattvas. By taking refuge as explained previously, we have chosen enlightenment as our goal. We have defined our main objective: to get rid of all our problems and to help others. In order to achieve that goal, we have to become Bodhisattvas, because that is the way, the path. The whole practice can be described as trying to become Bodhisattvas, trying to generate that aspiration or mind stream in ourselves. It is the most important step we can take towards our aim. In order to become Bodhisattvas, we need nothing else but compassion: a good heart.
If that intention is what motivates you, from the Buddhist point of view, you are a Bodhisattva, and it does not matter what religion, what class, what kind of people you belong to. It does not even matter whether you are a human being or not, if you have that intention, you are a Bodhisattva.
The aspiration to help not only ourselves but all the others as well is a very magnificent idea. What we usually do is to try to help ourselves only, even if it means harming others. Here we turn the polarity upside down: we want to help ourselves in order to help all others. This is the most beautiful inspiration that can grow, that can develop in our mind stream.
As we explained in our discussion of karma and interdependence, what we become depends on how we think. Therefore, if such an aspiration or motivation develops in our mind stream, nothing can be negative for us, nothing can become bad, because what we feel and see as negative is, in a way, not exactly “projections”, but a least a reflection of our own negativity, of how we feel and what we are. As we all know, if we are angry, in a very bad mood, we will see everything as dark and unpleasant, we will perceive the people around us as aggressive, and if somebody looks at us, we will credit him with bad intentions. On the contrary, when we are in a very good mood, we see everything around us as joyful and pleasant, as if flowers were blooming. Why? Because the way we see things is a reflection of how we feel, as illustrated by the story of the wise shepherd I told before.
I have met a psychiatrist in Ireland, who told me that scientists have recently made an interesting discovery concerning people who suffer from a mental disorder called paranoia. When paranoiacs see people talking together, they think that they must be talking against him, or that the KGB or the CIA are after them. We cannot reason them and tell them that it is not true, that it is only their imagination, because they are not only thinking, making assumptions, but they actually see things or hear voices very clearly. What the scientists discovered is that paranoid people project their anger and hatred on the outside world and the reflection bounces back, making them fearful of everything they see around them.
In a way, this is how things happen for us all. If we are nice, kind, with a good heart, not only do we feel good ourselves, but everybody around us also seems to be kinder to us. And if we are unpleasant, everybody seems to be a little nasty. Some people can go anywhere and make friends with everybody. They are able to mix without problems with the people around them, and wherever they go they are all right. Other people have problems wherever they go. If this is the case with you, it means there is something wrong in your own attitude.
Here, the main point is to generate Bodhicitta, which means mainly to generate as much compassion as possible. Of course it does not mean that we become great Bodhisattvas as soon as we take the Bodhisattva’s vows,. Of course we do not! But we should strive towards that goal, it is the path of gradual working on ourselves that we should tread. After all, this is the whole thing, there is nothing else in Buddhism, and maybe actually in all religions or spiritual paths. Sometimes people tend to separate religion and spirituality, but in my mind they are the same in their essence. When I say “religion”, you may think of the institution, but that is not the image I get in my mind. That is not religion at all - that may be politics, or economics, I do not know - but when I say “religion”, I just get the image of the practice, of the teachings. The essence of all religions, of all the spiritual practices is in a way unselfishness, isn’t it? If we read the biographies of all the great spiritual, holy beings, the main characteristic of them all is that they are unselfish. We do not call them “holy” because they were learned - not all holy beings were educated, some of them were not even literate. We do not call them “holy” because they were famous and powerful, because they had many followers - most of them were actually persecuted or killed. The only common criterium, the common characteristic of all holy beings is that they were unselfish. Unselfishness and compassion are the two sides of a coin. Compassion is the essence, the one and only characteristic of a highly spiritual being. Therefore I think this is not only the essence of Buddhism, but of all religions as well. We already discussed in detail what a Bodhisattva is in previous teachings, and I do not want to spend much more time on this. What we try to do here is to go through the actual experiential practice: how do we take the Bodhisattva’s vows, the Bodhisattva’s commitments, how do we generate that motivation in a concrete way?
We try to generate a strong wish for ourselves and all other beings to become completely enlightened and reach a state of everlasting happiness, and with that motivation, we take the Bodhisattva’s vows in front of the refuge tree which is like - we could say an energy field of all the enlightened, holy beings. We visualise all the realised, spiritual beings, the masters, all the lineage of great beings, all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, all the realised Sangha and the Dharma protectors. We imagine that we and all the sentient beings around us are sitting in front of them, and we all take the Bodhisattva’s vows. How do we take these vows? First we take refuge once again with the following prayer:
“Until we reach the very heart of enlightenment, we take refuge in the Buddhas, likewise we take refuge in the Dharma and in the Bodhisattva Sangha.”
Having called upon them to witness our aspiration and decision in this way, we then take the actual Bodhisattva’s vows:
“Just as the Buddhas of the past first resolved to reach enlightenment and then progressed stage by stage through the different levels of Bodhisattva training,
In the same way, we also develop a mind intent upon enlightenment for the sake of all beings and we will progressively practise in that training.
These are the actual words we say, and we try to feel their meaning.
With this motivation, this aspiration of kind-heartedness, of compassion, the Bodhisattvas of the past were able to attain the great enlightenment and become fully awakened beings who developed compassion and wisdom to their utmost. How did they proceed ? Having generated the intention to become Bodhisattvas, they did not become highly attained the next day, it did not happen like that. They habituated themselves progressively, they tried slowly to become Bodhisattvas. As we have discussed before, according to the Buddhist point of view, everything is a question of habits. If we feel angry, negative, unhappy, depressed, nervous and stressed, it is because we are habituated to it. If we nurture such a mind stream, we will feel more and more like that, it is nothing but a bad habit. It is also true for the positive attitude, if we foster joy, happiness, compassion and loving kindness more and more, it will also become part of our way of life. Therefore, whether we want to tread the path of joy, kind-heartedness and compassion or to follow the one of anger, depression and stress, it is just a matter of choosing one’s way and developing those feelings again and again.
In Tibetan, we say: “Ther i’s absolutely nothing which does not become easier by becoming used to it, by doing it over and over again.” It is not just a Tibetan saying, I am sure we can find such a saying everywhere. Therefore, the practice consists in doing more and more whatever we want to, in slowly developing whatever we want to develop: compassion, joy and the more positive side of ourselves.
Of course we will not get immediate results, we will encounter problems, it will not go upwards all the time, we may not be able to make it in one jump. We will have to progress gradually, step by step, with ups and downs. If we want to go downwards, we may be able to do it in direct free-fall way, because it is easier, we do not need much effort. This is why the text says that we will try to train gradually, that is the most important thing. Sometimes, people think that to become a Bodhisattva means they should at once become completely unselfish, feel complete love for all the sentient beings, be completely filled with great compassion towards everybody, and become most perfect persons. As it is too difficult, they are then convinced that they cannot become Bodhisattvas and they drop the idea altogether. That is not it! It is just a question of effort. If we think that this is the good way, we try to take that direction and to progress step by step. Step by step means that maybe in the beginning, you just want not to feel too much hatred, because hatred does not make you feel good: that iss one step ahead. Then maybe you do not want to help anybody, but you just refrain from harming anybody: that is another step! And then maybe you feel ready to help just a little bit if it does not harm you at all, if there is nothing to lose.
Even if this is what you are doing, it does not mean that you are not a Bodhisattva, that you are not abiding by your Bodhisattva’s vows. The main thing is our intention, our direction. When we take these vows, what we do is to make a choice, to take a decision as to the direction in which we want to go. As to the pace, it is up to every one of us to decide it. Therefore, while we recite the actual text of the vows, we try to generate a sense of real commitment.
After we have taken the Bodhisattva’s vows, we rejoice at the good thing we have done:
Now my life is fruitful - I have truly achieved a human existence. Today I have been born into the family of Buddhas. Today I have become a son of the Buddhas. Now, no matter what is required of me, I will act in conformity with my kindred family and will never do anything which might sully this faultless noble line.
This time we have made our human life fruitful because we have taken this decision to develop Bodhicitta and to become Bodhisattvas in order to become enlightened beings and to be able to help all sentient beings including ourselves. This is something very good, something we had never done before. In the past, we had just tried to help ourselves, but as we did not know how to do it, we actually did not even succeed in helping ourselves - let alone helping others! Now we have decided to walk the path which will benefit not only ourselves but others too, therefore we can congratulate ourselves for having done such a very good thing.
By taking this decision to walk in the footprints of the Bodhisattvas, we have become members of the Sangha, of what we can call the family of the Buddhas: we are certain to become one day enlightened beings, Buddhas. Therefore we are like “baby Buddhas”, or princes who will soon succeed their father and become kings. Having taken that great decision, we should henceforth behave in a way befitting that kind of "profession", we could say. We should not “stain" our Bodhisattva family. As we now consider ourselves as Bodhisattvas, let us become “good” Bodhisattvas, who will not make people feel or think that Bodhisattvas are no good, we will not be like a “blot” in this pure family.
The next step is to rejoice for others:
Today, in the presence of all the protectors of beings I invite all beings to be my guests at the great celebration of buddhahood and of happiness until then. Therefore gods, semi-gods and others, all truly rejoice!
Today we have taken a decision in front of all the great beings, and that decision is to invite all the sentient beings to the ultimate happiness. This commitment,this project is the greatest, biggest project we could ever make therefore, all others, all who know about it, other beings, spirits, Bodhisattvas of the past, all rejoice!
At the end, we dedicate all the virtues, the positive karma, the results of our taking this great commitment for the following purpose:
May the precious bodhicitta arise in those in whom it has not yet arisen. Wherever it has arisen, may it never deteriorate but grow more and more.
Never cut off from bodhicitta, engaged in deeds conducive to enlightenment and perfectly cared for by all the Buddhas, may we give up harmful actions.
May whatever Bodhisattvas have in mind to benefit beings come true.
May whatever the protectors wish to happen to beings happen.
May all beings be happy and may all states of suffering be emptied.
May every prayer of the Bodhisattvas, wherever they are, come true.
Having thus dedicated, we conclude with what we call the prayer of the “Four Immeasurable” or “Four Limitless”2:
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
May they all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering
May they never be deprived of true happiness devoid of any suffering
May they abide in great impartiality, free from attachment to loved ones and aversion to others.
This ends the Bodhisattva’s vows. We say this prayer with a genuine aspiration three or many times - sometimes people recite this last prayer 100,000 times also. We can do the same if we wish to.
The Four (general) Foundations are not “counted”, we think of them at the beginning of each session of Ngöndro. We sit and we read the lines of the text, trying to remind ourselves, to be conscious, to rekindle the awareness of those truth and to feel inspired by them. When we come to the Specific Preliminaries, from Refuge onwards, we usually count the number of times we do the practice, and we usually do each preliminary a 100,000 times. Of course, it is not something that we can actually count like this, but it is the Tibetan tradition. According to that tradition, prior to receiving the Mahamudra teachings, we usually do each preliminary 100,000 times (100,000 taking refuge plus 100,000 prostrations, 100,000 developments of Bodhicitta, 100,000 Vajrasattva purifications, 100,000 Mandala offerings). Of course, it does not mean that after having done all this we become different. Maybe it does not change us, maybe we became even worse. When we try to generalise something that cannot be generalised, to give a norm or a regulation to something that cannot be quantified, it is arbitrary. The tradition has been that if we do 100,000 of each of these preliminaries, we are considered ripe to receive the Mahamudra teachings. We may not be ready after having done all this, and it is not always true that people cannot receive the Mahamudra teachings without having done all this.
I have also found that people have difficulties doing this because it needs a lot of patience, a lot of determination, and if they do not understand what they are doing, they feel it is completely useless and they are losing their time. Usually, we start with taking refuge 100,000 times, doing 100,000 prostrations at the same time. I cannot say exactly whether it the most suitable preliminary for Westerners, but this has been the tradition so far. A tradition is not necessarily important, however, it also has a certain value. This is the way it has been done for many generations, and through it, many great people have appeared, they have gained great benefits and realisations. We can assert that this tradition has been validated by experience: through practising this way, it has been found among Tibetans that there can be great benefits, and I think that we all can actually get those benefits too.
If some of you want to practise the Ngöndro, it might also be good to practise together: you may help and support one another. It is also said that if a group of people does one good deed, each of member of the group gets the whole benefit of doing that good action, the benefit is not divided among them. If all of you together save one person, each of you gets all the positive karma, the positive results of saving somebody. If all of you together do something wrong, each of you gets the whole negative result, it does not have less result. If people work and practise together in a harmonious way, if for instance you do together 100,000 Vajrasattva mantras, it is as if each one of you had done 100,000 Vajrasattva mantras. Therefore it is very good to practise together (unless there are material obstacles to it of course). This is just a suggestion, an idea.
Sometimes, we have a good intention, we want to benefit others, but either it is not perceived in a positive way, or the result is negative. Sometimes also we want to benefit one person, but as that person is in relation with other persons, benefiting him might harm somebody else. What can we do in such circumstances?
Of course, we cannot control everything! We do our best, hope for the best and then ... do not care too much for the rest ... We cannot see everything, so at least, we act with a good intention, at least our heart is clean. Sometimes it benefits, sometimes it does not - but even if it does not benefit, we did it with a good intention, what more can we do?
If we do something for one, two, three or four people, one may be benefited more than the others, one may not be benefited at all, or even be harmed - but what can we do about it? Sometimes we give food to people, and they get ... sick! But that is not the fault of the person who gave the food!
3. Vajrasattva Purification
The Dorje Sempa (Tibetan) or Vajrasattva (Sanskrit) practice is a very important practice, used as the most effective purification or healing method in Vajrayana Buddhism. All Tibetan Buddhist schools do the same Vajrasattva practice, and it is supposed to be the most effective of all purification techniques. The technique behind it is more or less the same as that of all healing practices that we do through meditation.
Now why Dorje Sempa? Why this deity? The Buddha told that Vajrasattva, or Dorje Sempa, is the Buddha who, right from the time he first generated Bodhicitta until he became an enlightened being, dedicated all his activities, all his positive deeds as a Bodhisattva to the healing and purification of all beings. His main wish, his sole aspiration was to be able to heal and purify all sentient beings. Therefore, of all the Buddhas, Vajrasattva's spontaneous power to heal and purify is the greatest.
If from the time we become Bodhisattvas and throughout our “Bodhisattvahood”, we have a strong wish and pray in that sense (our main aspiration might be to grant long life, or success, or to be able to protect people, to cure them from illnesses, or eradicate poverty) and we dedicate all our practices towards that aim, it is believed that we will then become a Buddha endowed with that particular power. This is why, even now, when we do prayers, it is so important to make very vast, grand, big prayers, in the most spacious and generous way. Dorje Sempa made the specific prayer to be able to purify all the negative deeds, and thereby eliminate all their negative results, like illnesses and sufferings that come from those negative deeds (because, as you know, all the negative things that happen to us come out of our negative deeds). It is believed that to practice Dorje Sempa has a very special, an unequalled power to eliminate all our negative karma and the negative results of that karma.
What we actually do is very simple. First, we visualise Dorje Sempa:
On a lotus and moon seat above my head is my guru, Dorjé Sempa, white in colour and exquisitely adorned. Seated in the Vajra posture, he has one face, two arms, the right hand holding a vajra, and the left one a bell.
This is the form we think of. A little above our head, about one feet, we visualise a big lotus flower, and on top of that lotus flower, a moon disc on top of which sits Vajrasattva. He is not just the Vajrasattva deity: he is inseparable from our own root guru (if we have one) and he is also one with all the enlightened beings. The Vajrasattva we visualise is not like a sculpture or painting, but he is fully alive, with all the qualities of a Buddha: he has a completely enlightened mind, unlimited compassion and wisdom, and he radiates love, compassion, joy, power and energy in the form of different coloured rays of light. Vajrasattva is white, and he is decorated with all the ornaments of a Sambhogakaya Buddha. When we talk of a Buddha in the Dharmakaya form, it means that he is represented as totally naked, without ornaments, without any clothes. When we talk of a Sambhogakaya Buddha, he is represented as an Indian prince or princess, in the form of enjoyment, very beautiful, young, with 30 different ornaments, very rich, with gold, silver and diamonds. There are also wrathful forms of Sambhogakaya. And when we talk of a Nirmanakaya form, it is the form of Sakyamouni Buddha, with the monk’s dress and a begging bowl.
Here Vajrasattva is in the Sambhogakaya form, sitting cross-legged, with a vajra in his right hand, and a drilbu (or bell) in his left hand.
If you cannot visualise him perfectly clearly and as much as you wish, it does not matter. What matters is to feel the energy. We can also visualise certain parts, sometimes the face, sometimes the energy, the lights, or the form, or the mantra with a blue Hung3 in Dorje Sempa’s heart. But most important is the feeling that Dorje Sempa is the embodiment of compassionate wisdom, of all the positive energy, because what we are actually trying to do through this practice is to identify with these qualities. We try to get out of our constant tendency to feel bad, negative, frustrated and tense. If we think of all these positive qualities, of these positive energies, even if we cannot identify with them, our mind concentrates on them, and through this, we develop more positive feelings. The figure is just symbolic, what is important is our concentration on these positive energies, our getting absorbed in these positive qualities.
When our visualisation is established, we think that from the heart of the Dorje Sempa we have visualised above our head, rays of light emanate in the ten directions, going all over the universe, inviting the assembly of “jnanasattvas” or “yeshe sempa”4 - which means that the blessings, the energy, the power and mind of all the enlightened beings is invited to dissolve into Dorje Sempa. In this way, we become more confident that all the positive energies are actually present above our head, inseparable from our visualisation.It is most important to maintain the concentration throughout the practice. This serves two purposes:
we practice the calming-down meditation through keeping our mind fully concentrated in one place,
we develop compassion and the positive side of ourselves by wholeheartedly absorbing our mind in positive aspects.
As I said before, the only way to become more positive, to develop the positive, is to think less and less of the negative while thinking more and more of the positive.
We now pray to Dorje Sempa, saying:
My guru, Dorjé Sempa, I pray you, cleanse and purify the multitude of harmful deeds, obscurations, faults and transgressions leading to downfall, in myself and in all other beings, everywhere, to the end of space.
We pray with genuine feeling that with Dorje Sempa’s help and our own strong aspiration, all our negative deeds and those of all the sentient beings may be purified.
Following that supplication, we visualise the letter "Hung" on top of a moon disc in the heart centre of Dorje Sempa. We should see Dorje Sempa in a transparent, rainbow like form, not as a solid, opaque figure. Therefore we can see the "Hung" inside his body, surrounded by the Hundred Syllable Mantra, from which flows a stream of amrita. The mantra5 around the "Hung" appears in very small, very thin letters, as if they were written with a single hair. When we recite the mantra, we visualise drops of amrita streaming from the mantra. Amrita is nectar, a divine liquid that contains the blessings, the power, or the energy of Vajrasattva and his mantra, actually of our own purified nature.
This stream of energy flows from the mantra, flows through Dorjé Sempa’s body and enters our own body through the fontanel or “Brahma aperture”. As it flows down through our body, we feel that all our negative deeds, all our negative karma and its results, obscurations, illnesses, pain, blockages, everything is completely cleansed. From the head to the toes, all the negativities leave our body, and all its parts are cleansed from within. Even the causes of the negativities, the mind poisons, the negative emotions are completely purified. As we think of this process, of the nectar running like water in our body and purifying everything, we should become increasingly joyful and blissful. What enters into us is nectar, and nectar is supposed to be a substance that gives a sensation of warmth, pleasure and bliss when we touch it. When we are completely purified, our body is like an empty bottle filled with nectar, completely free from negativities. We experience an unearthly bliss, and try to concentrate on that feeling.
Sometimes, it seems that people who practise the Dorje Sempa purification tend to concentrate more on the negative than on the positive: they focus on all the negative deeds they did, they feel and think: more on the negative side, and that is not good, that is unnecessary. Try to concentrate on the positive side: all your negativities are now purified, eliminated, and not only yours, but those of all sentient beings as well. Of course, we first need to concentrate on our own purification, but at the same time, we try to think and feel that this is not only happening to ourselves but to all sentient beings.
While thinking of this, we recite the mantra:
Om Bendza Sato Samaya Manupalaya Bendza Sato Tenopa
Titra Drito Mébawa Suto Kayo Mébawa Supo Kayo Mébawa
Anurakto Mébawa Sarwa Siddhi Mentra Yatsa Sarwa Karma Sutsamé Tsitam Shiri ya Guru Hung Ha Ha Ha Ha Ho Bhagawan Sarwa Tatagata Bendza Mamé Muntsa Bendza Bhawa Maha Samaya Sato Ah
This is not really the way the Sanskrit is read, but it is the way the Tibetan read Sanskrit: it is wrong, but it does not matter!
After this Hundred Syllable Mantra, that you can recite as often as we wish, we recite the Six Syllable Mantra, which is a shorter form of the 100 Syllable Mantra:
Om Bendza Sato Hung
At the end, when we have recited the mantra and done the Dorjé Sempa practice as often as we wanted to, we conclude by joining our hands at the level of our heart and saying the following prayer:
Protector, unknowingly and out of stupidity, I have violated and broken my commitments. My guru and protector, give me refuge. Highest one, Vajra-holder, whose nature is the greatest compassion, I take refuge in you, leader of beings. I confess and repent all breaches of the principal and secondary commitments related to body, speech and mind. Please grant your blessing that the multitude of harmful deeds, obscurations, faults and transgressions leading to downfall may be cleansed and purified.
Dorjé Sempa is one and the same with all the Buddhas, all the protectors. “Protector” here does not mean the “Dharma protectors”, it is one of the epithets of the Buddhas. The Tibetan word “gönpo” could be translated as “Lord”, it applies to somebody who has the power and willingness to protect.
Due to our confusion and ignorance, we have done many bad things. We now realise how badly we behaved and that these negative actions will have negative results. This is not what we want: we want positive results. Therefore we regret what we did under the power of delusion, we take the firm resolution not to do it again and we ask to be purified of all those negativities. Even the good things we tried to do - by taking vows, samayas6, commitments - we were unable to keep them due to our ignorance, our inability, and different other reasons like aversion and attachment, we broke our engagements. We now express our strong wish to get rid completely of these mind poisons, of the negative things we did and the positive we did not. Therefore we take refuge in Vajrasattva and we supplicate him to help us.
The text then says:
Dorjé Sempa gives me release, melts into light and dissolves into me, making us “not two”.
When we say this, we feel that we are completely purified, that whatever negativities we did is purified and what was not completely fulfilled is now fulfilled.
Now we think that we become exactly like Vajrasattva. The Vajrasattva we have visualised melts into light, dissolves into us and we think we become Vajrasattva. Our Vajrasattva nature, our pure Buddha nature has been awakened because, as we said already, the temporary defilements are the only obstructions keeping us from becoming fully enlightened. So now, since we have completely purified our negativities, we fully become Vajrasattva himself. We try to look at ourselves as being Vajrasattva, to feel ourselves in that state (of complete purity), and this is the end of the Vajrasattva practice.
It is a very good healing method and it has some effects, I think, if we do it long enough. It is not difficult to do, but whether we have an actual effect or not depends on whether we actually do it or not. If we want to see whether it has any effect on us, we should try and do it in the first place.
Rinpoché, I always wonder: do I see the visualisation in front of me or do I feel myself like that? When you say for instance that we should visualise ourselves as Vajrasattva, do I see myself as Vajrasattva in front of me, or do I feel myself as Vajrasattva?
You are visualising yourself as Vajrasattva, so if you want to look at yourself from any angle, it is up to you! Your actual body now becomes Vajrasattva. You are not seeing it with your eyes, because you cannot see yourself completely.
Can I dedicate the merits of this practice for one person in
Usually, the Buddhist way of dedication is that, even if we want to dedicate it to one person, we do not just do that, we dedicate it to all the beings, because when we do so, the merit becomes even greater, it multiplies, and then we dedicate it to the person for whom we actually want to do it. That is the usual way.
4. The Mandala Offering
This particular Ngöndro practice was composed by the IXth Karmapa and this is almost the only Ngöndro practice of the Karma Kagyü tradition. I have tried to get a shorter version, but I could not find one.
We now come to the fourth and last practice of the Special Preliminaries, which is the Mandala Offering.
In the actual Buddhist practice, there are in fact only two things to do:
1. to purify, get rid and eliminate all our negativities, and
2. to develop and increase all our positive sides.
If we want to summarise the whole of Buddhism into one sentence, it is just this: trying to get rid of all the negative and develop the positive.
This is what we do with those practices: with the Vajrasattva practice, we get rid of all the negativities, and with the Mandala offering, we try to accomplish, to accumulate all the positive things. It is as simple as that.
Mahayana Buddhism teaches the “Six Paramitas” as the method to develop our more positive side. If you really develop the six Paramitas, or six transcendental wisdoms, they include all the positive things we need to develop. As you all know, these six paramitas are :
2. good behaviour or good moral conduct,
4. joy in doing things or diligence,
5. meditation, or control and clarity of mind,
6. wisdom, or seeing the truth.
Out of these six Paramitas, we start with the generosity, which is maybe the easiest of all six. It is the most important, the first thing to do, and it serves as a basis for all the other paramitas. We first try to develop generosity, which does not mean that we neglect the others, since all paramitas are actually interrelated: if we develop one, we also develop all the others. If we look at it more closely, we find all six paramitas in any of them. However, when we say that we start with generosity, it means that the emphasis is on generosity. Generosity is the opposite of attachment. As we discussed before, the main problem, the essence, the root cause of all our samsaric sufferings, of our samsaric state of mind is aversion and attachment. Therefore, our main, our real practice is to try to deal with aversion and attachment. In the Ngöndro, we deal with aversion through the Vajrasattva practice, and with attachment through the Mandala Offering. With these two, we are actually covering the essence of all practice, because there is in fact nothing more to do. If we get rid of aversion and attachment, or if we know how to deal with both, we actually clear our confusion, our ignorance. When that is cleared, we can almost say that ... we have “done it”!
Although we call them “preliminaries”, they are not just something we have to do in the beginning and then leave behind: actually it is all we need to do! All the other practices, even the actual Mahamudra, are nothing else but ways to deal with aversion and attachment.
These practices are very simple - maybe so simple that they may sometimes seem a little strange - but if we really look at them, if we can really integrate them into our experience, not just as rituals but as a real experience, we will understand how very deep and meaningful they are.
Through offering what we are most attached to, what we think is ours, what we cling to and cannot get rid of, we train our mind in letting go, in giving up. What we offer is not something we do not want and therefore give away, but something we treasure very much, and it is with great respect and great openness that we offer it. This is why we call it a “Mandala offering”, or the offering of the universe. We are not giving away or throwing away what we do not need any more, we offer what we value most, and although we value it so much, we are still willing to give it away. This is not something we cannot do. I think I already told many times the story of Anatapindika ... Is there anybody who has not heard this story yet? (some people in the assistance had not heard the story yet) “Anata” means “without protection”, and “Pindika” means “giving food, giving shelter”. That name was given to him afterwards, but before he became famous for his generosity, he was very stingy, very miserly, although he was very rich. He used to attend the Buddha’s teachings every day. The Buddha used to talk about generosity, about giving and the positive karma of giving. One day, Anatapindika came to see the Buddha and told him that he found the teachings very nice, but that giving was something he just could not do.
- “Even if I only give very little, I feel a great pain! I cannot manage it, it is
- “ If you really try, you can do it.” the Buddha answered.
- “No, it cannot be done!”
- “ Well, can you give something to yourself? “
- “Oh yes! That is no problem.”
- “Then go back home, take something rather valuable in one hand, give it
to the other hand and say ‘take it!’, and do the same again and again.”
Anatapindika went back home, maybe a little amused with the idea. He took a golden coin in the right hand and gave it to his left hand, saying “Take it!” Then he gave it back to the right hand saying “Take it!” He did this exercise again and again, and slowly, he opened up and did not mind to give little things any more. He became more and more generous, and after some time, he was giving food to the hungry, building hospitals, hospitals for animals and places where travellers could stay and eat. He become known as Anatapindika, the most generous person one could think of.
This is how we can train ourselves: with start with small things, and gradually become more generous.
The Mandala offering is a mind training. If, in our everyday life, we make great gifts before being mentally prepared for it, we may regret it afterwards, and even end up with the opposite attitude. Therefore, it is very important, even essential, to first train our mind, in order to be mentally prepared to be very generous. This is what we do through this "Mandala Offering in 37 points".
The text may seem funny, because it is linked to the Indian tradition and cosmogony, but what we actually try to do is to imagine all the most precious, the most wonderful, the most miraculous things and then offer them to the enlightened beings. On top of what is described, we may add whatever we think of as very nice, what we are very much attached to, what we want for ourselves. We include all that, and then we offer it. This is not restricted to the formal practice of the Mandala Offering, we can also practise this kind of exercise in our everyday life: when we feel very much attracted to something, when we want it very much for ourselves and cannot get it, we can offer it mentally. In this way, we get less frustrated, we can let it go.
We will now just go through the text. There is nothing much to explain, nothing difficult to understand, it is very simple.
First of all, when we offer a Mandala, we visualise the refuge tree (as discussed before) in front of us, as described:
My guru is in front of me, in the centre of the sky. Before him are the yidams, to his right the buddhas, behind him the dharma and to his left the realised Sangha. All of them are accompanied by many others like them. In between their seats are oceans of dharma protectors. I am in the presence of all the Precious Ones - the perfect and excellent “field of accumulation”.
Then we imagine that we are offering all the most precious things to all the sacred, great beings. When we actually perform the practice, we take a “Mandala plate” in the left hand, take rice (or anything) in our right hand and wipe the plate, three times clockwise and one time counter-clockwise, while reciting the Vajrasattva 100 syllable mantra. While doing this, we think that this action cleanses our mind of all negative thoughts, negative emotions and negative karma. Then we say:
Om Bendza Bhumi Ah Hung
We sprinkle grain on the plate, thinking it is the golden earth (‘bhumi’ means the earth). After this, we say:
Om bendza rekhe Ah Hung
We drop rice around the edge of the plate, and afterwards make small piles of grain around it, (while reading the text and imagining the different offerings). In the short Mandala offering, there are just 5 piles of grain, whilst in the long version, there are 37 of them. We will not go through this in detail. In brief, the elements enumerated in the text come from the Indian tradition, they are what were supposed to be the most wonderful, the most miraculous things in the universe, and on top of them, we can visualise and offer all what we personally consider as most wonderful.
In the centre of a ring of iron mountains is the king of mountains, Mount Meru7. In the east is Lupakpo, to the south Dzambuling, to the west Balangchö and to the north Draminyen (the 4 continents).
Lu and Lupak, Ngayap and Ngayap Chen, Yoden and Lamchodro, Draminyen and Draminyen Jida (the eight subcontinent on each side of each continent)
A jewel mountain, a wish-granting tree, a cow givingmilk as much as one wants, crops that need no cultivation.
The precious wheel, the precious jewel, the precious queen, the precious minister, the precious elephant, the precious horse, the precious general, a vase containing inexhaustible treasures.
Goddesses of beauty, goddesses offering garlands, songs, dances, flowers, incense, lights and perfumes.
The sun, the moon, a canopy of jewels, banners of victory flying over all directions.
Amidst all these things are displayed the finest and most enjoyable possessions of gods and men, nothing being omitted, in far greater number than the dust particles of innumerable (1021) universes.
These I offer to all the gurus, yidams, buddhas, bodhisattvas andthe multitude of dakas, dakinis, male and female dharma protectors.
Out of your great compassion, please accept these offerings of the sake of all beings, and having accepted them, pray grant your blessing.
Then we say the short Mandala offering:
The ground is sprinkled with scented water, strewn with flowers and adorned with Mount Meru, the four continents, the sun and the moon. I imagine this to be a Buddhafield. Through making such an offering, may all beings abide in the Pure Lands.
This is the main Mandala offering that we repeat 100,000 times.
The text further says:
I imagine that I offer a million, a hundred thousand million, a hundred billion Mandalas all gathered into this one Mandala, to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the ten directions and the three times, to all the Gurus and Vajra Teachers, to all the Yidams and their entourages and to the Sugatas8 of the three times.
I pray that out of your great compassion, you may consider me with kindness and accept this offering of mine. Having accepted it, please grant your blessing (that I may be able to lead all the sentient beings to a completely pure land).
After having thus prayed, we say the mantra:
Om Mendala Pudza Meghasa Mudra Saparana Samayé Ah Hung
This mantra multiplies a million times the offering that we have already made, and we now think that the offering has been accomplished.
This is the main practice we do again and again, until our mind becomes pure, more open, until all our stinginess, all our attachments become non-existent. When the offering is completed, we pray and dedicate the merits of our practice:
Now that I have offered this good and pleasing Mandala, may there be no obstacles on the path to enlightenment, may I achieve the realisation of the Sugatas of the three times, neither falling into the illusion of existence, nor that of non-existence, and may I liberate all beings in numbers as vast as infinite space.
To all the Gurus who have perfectly achieved the three kayas, I present the outer, inner and secret offerings and the offering of suchness. As you accept my body, possessions and all animate and inanimate manifestations, I pray you to grant me the unsurpassable supreme spiritual accomplishment. Please bestow upon me the supreme accomplishment of Mahamudra.
I prostrate, offer and purify, I rejoice, request and pray. Whatever small virtues I thus gather, I dedicate to perfect great enlightenment. Through this offering of all my possessions, as well as those of all beings innumerable as space is infinite, may all beings perfectly complete the two accumulations.
The field of accumulation melts into light, fuses into me, and we are of one taste.
This means that at the end, we feel the refuge tree in front of us melts into light and dissolves into us, becomes one with us, and that is the end of the practice.
1 (byang chub sems)
2 The 4 Immeasurable are: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity
3 see illustration next page
4 yeshe sempa: beings who embody perfect non-dual wisdom
5 mantra: syllables charged with energy, manifestation of different aspects of Buddhahood
mantras protect the mind from distraction and dispersion and serve as support for
6 samaya: sacred pledge, commitments linked to a Vajrayana practice.
7 Mount Meru: mythological giant mountain, centre and axis of the whole universe
according to the Hindu cosmogony.
8 Sugatas : “blissfully gone”, an epithet of the Buddhas
© Ringu Tulku