Tāranātha on Vajrasattva: the nature of karma, the four ‘opponent powers’ and the necessity of purification in ‘A Hundred Blazing Lights’

As part of the launch of the first publication of ‘Meaningful to See: Guidance on the Profound Path of the Vajra-Yogasby Jetsun Tāranātha,  and the launch of a new ‘Vajrasttava’ section on this website, I am sharing some of Tāranātha’s instructions on Vajrasattva: Hundred Syllable Mantra practice of the Kālacakra preliminaries from his longer commentary, A Hundred Blazing Lights: A Supplementary Commentary on ‘Meaningful to See’.

Some explanations on the meaning and translation of the hundred syllable Heruka Vajrasattva mantra (as practised in the Dro Kālacakra tradition) have already been published before here and in the Chariot that Transports to the Four Kāyas by Bamda Gelek Gyatso (Chapter 3, LTWA, 2019).   These explanations (including those below) are now published in an article, which can be downloaded for free as a .pdf file.

1)   Categories of ‘the Hundred Syllable mantra’

First, Tāranātha gives an explanation of the ‘hundred syllable’ mantra and why it is called that, as well as the two main categories of the Vajrasattva one hundred syllable practice: peaceful and wrathful. The wrathful Heruka Vajrasattva mantra is practised in the Dro Kālacakra tradition, and the mantra is slightly different with the name ‘Heruka’ replacing the ’sattva’ in the peaceful form of the mantra. Here are both mantras below:

Peaceful

Vajrasattva (5) samayam (8)anupālaya (13) Vajrasattva (17) tvenopatiṣṭha (22) |
Dṛḍho me bhava (27) | Sutoṣyo me bhava (33) | Supoṣyo me bhava (39) | Anurakto me bhava (46) | Sarva siddhiṃ (50) me prayaccha (54) | Sarvakarmasu (59) ca me (61)cittam śreyaḥ kuru hūṃ (68) |Ha ha ha ha hoḥ (73) Bhagavan (76) sarva (78) Tathāgata (82) Vajra (84)mā me muñca (88) | Vajrī bhava (92) mahāsamaya (97) sattva āḥ (100) ||

Wrathful

Oṃ śrī vajraheruka samayamanupālaya vajraherukatvenopatiṣṭha, dṛḍho me bhava sutoṣyo me bhava anurakto me bhava supoṣyo me bhava sarvasiddhiṃ me prayaccha sarvakarmasu ca me cittaṃ śreyaḥ kuru hūṃ ha ha ha ha hoḥ bhagavan vajra heruka mā me muñca herukabhava mahā samaya sattva āḥ hūṃ phet

Tāranātha explains that:

Generally, in terms of the hundred syllable mantra for purifying obscurations, there are two completely different types: 1) the hundred syllables of the Tathagatas and 2) the hundred syllables of Vajrasattva.

The first, comes from the Tantra of the Arrangement of the Three Samayas. In terms of the second, there are innumerable types of supramundane deities in the classes of tantra whose individual names can be used in the one hundred syllable mantra. So even though some [of the mantras] do not have an exact fixed number of one hundred syllables, they are called ‘one hundred syllables’ since they are of the same class of mantra. They are different [in terms of syllables] due to the names of the deities being longer or shorter[i].  In terms of those [hundred syllable mantras] that have not [had the name] changed or added, there are two main categories: the hundred syllables of peaceful Vajrasattva and the hundred syllables of wrathful Heruka Vajrasattva.

In terms of the first [peaceful Vajrasattva], these days, this is the most well-known hundred syllable mantra of Vajrasattva. Also, in the Yoga Tantras and that which is accordant with it, [Vajrasattva] is meditated on as a Sovereign of the Bodhisattvas, as one single hero. In the tradition of Secret Mantra [the highest tantra], one meditates on the innately arisen Tathagata, face-to-face in union with consort as two. The mantra is the same.

In terms of the hundred syllables of Heruka, the mantra is mostly the same as before. It has not been added to [in terms of the name].  It was clearly taught in Glorious Tantra of Unexcelled Utterance. At this time, in other traditions of Vajrasattva, there has originated[a form of the deity], which is boasted as being in the tradition of Kālacakra , that is blue with three faces and six hands. This is nothing but a self-fabrication alone. Why is that? Even though that deity is taught in the Kālacakra  Tantra, it did not state it has a purpose in terms of purifying negativities and obscurations.  Also, the mantra [of that deity] is not one hundred syllables.  The hundred syllables here purifies negativities, repairs degenerated and broken [vows and commitments] and for supplicating the deity.  But not all mantras of Vajrasattva are like that. Meditating on the deity like that, one recites the one hundred syllable mantra.  By meditating on that deity [form of Vajrasattva] and reciting the hundred syllable mantra, they are merely thinking that all Vajrasattvas are the same type. For example, it is not suitable to meditate on the three-faced, six-armed deity  Vairochana of the Net of Illusion (Guhyagarbha Tantra) (sngags ngan song sbyong rgyud) while reciting the mantra of Durga that originates in the Tantra that Purifies From the Lower Realms.  Some previous lamas of the Dro tradition had the male consort as peaceful, white Vajrasttva embracing a red, female consort and reciting the peaceful hundred syllable mantra. Generally, it is not that this is not good, however, in the guidance instructions of the omniscient Buddha of the three times, Dolpopa on upwards, the Heruka Vajrasattva is generally done as it is considered to be very good and from an excellent source.

Some previous lamas of the Dro tradition had the male consort as peaceful, white Vajrasattva embracing a red, female consort and reciting the peaceful hundred syllable mantra. Generally, it is not that this is not good, however, in the guidance instructions of the omniscient Buddha of the three times, Dolpopa on upwards, the Heruka Vajrasattva is generally done as it is considered to be very good and from an excellent source. The reason for this is generally, since it is the intention of all the six yoga lineages, the Kalacakra is the generation stage alone and does not have other things added in. So even though the generation stage is solely Kalacakra, one does not need the lesser stages to be special or different, so that they are not in common with other traditions.  For example, like refuge and bodhicitta.’’

So, in this tradition, Vajrasattva is the wrathful, Heruka form and mantra, and both himself and consort are white and naked, apart from bone ornaments. Tāranātha goes on to give more specific instructions on the visualisations and contemplations to be done during the practice itself.

2)   The nature of karma

Tāranātha also explains karma as originating from ‘mental intention’ and describes what is virtuous and non-virtuous:

In particular, one needs to identify the nature of non-virtuous karma which is harmful and negative actions. Actions committed out of the three [poisonous mental states], ignorance, aversion and attachment are non-virtuous it is said like that.  Craving for pleasures and desires and becoming angry and averse, the karma and result of such actions motivated by blind ignorance, are all negative and non-virtuous karma.

The actual nature of karma is the mental intention (sems pa) combined with the mental formations and others.  If it is not connected to the actions of body and speech then it is mental karma or the karma of mental intention.  When it is joined together with the body and speech it gives them the power to come out. This conditioned intention is directly connected to what incites and encourages the attitude and appearance of body and mind is Mentally motivated actions or actions of speech and mind. Since all actions of body and speech, are beforehand directed and preceded by mind, one must understand that the karma of body and speech are solely mental karma.

For most people, generally, negative karma is included in the ten non-virtuous actions.  In terms of others others, they are related to property and wrong livelihood and so on.  Generally,  speaking the number of non-virtuous actions of negative karma is infinite. When these [karmas] ripen they propel one into the three lower realms.

From Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland of Advice:

From attachment, one becomes a hungry ghost.

From anger, one is propelled into the hell realms.

As a result of dull ignorance, one mostly becomes an animal.

It is said like that. If one commits heavy negative actions, one will go to hell. If one commits medium negative actions, one becomes a hungry ghost. For small negative actions, one is propelled into the animal realms.  Giving rise to those there is infinite, heavy suffering for a very long time.

3)   The four ‘opponent powers’

Tāranātha also gives instructions on the four ‘opponent powers’, stressing that the ‘power of vowing not to repeat ‘is the most important:

What are the four [powers]?  Here we will see.

    • The power of support,
    • The power of application,
    • The power of remorse,
    • The power of vowing not to repeat,

So, at the time of confessing one’s previous negative actions, one has a mind of strong regret, like the intense mental regret at having drunk poison, that is the power of remorse. The mind that strongly vows not to do those actions again, even at the cost of my life, is the power of not wanting to repeat it. Here in this context, it is unsuitable for there not to be present both the mind of regret and the mind that vows, they are equal. If there is no mind of turning away [from the negativity] then even if one has a mind of regret, it is not a pure confession and so it will be merely reciting words. For that reason, the mind that vows [not to repeat] is the most important one.

As for number 2) the ‘power of application’, Tāranātha explains in detail the ‘six renowned methods’ of the power of application:

Generally even though doing virtuous actions are the antidote to transforming negative actions. However, in this context, specifically applying an antidote to one’s negativities and to accomplishing virtue, is called the ‘power of application’. So, when we are specifically intending to purify negativities and do any kind of virtuous action that can be considered applying the remedy. In terms of the renowned six methods of the power of the application, they are easy to practice and have great benefit and are a summary of all the important necessary points.

These are:

    • reciting the names [of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas];
    • constructing images and material representations [of the Buddha, stupas and dharma texts];
    • making offerings;
    • relying on the profound teachings;
    • reciting mantras and texts; and
    • belief/interest in emptiness.

Tāranātha gives examples of the types of  ‘negativities’ that the hundred syllable mantra purifies:

At this time, here [the third preliminary] the negative actions referred to in the instructions on the hundred syllables that purify the obscurations and negativities, are those coarse negative actions and obscurations, meaning the gross ones that can suddenly arise as obstacles and interfere with our experience of the main practices of the vajra-yogas. In addition, in terms of  those negative actions, obscurations, faults and downfalls, they are the negativities we have accumulated in this life since they are closer in time, and are the strongest in terms of of experiences arising [during practise of the vajra-yogas]. Also, other negative actions, such as the downfalls which transgress the three types of vows are also extremely serious obstacles [to practice]. In particular, mistakes and transgressions of samaya commitments and the negativity of having used the religious offerings, business and food are particularly big obstacles to experiences arising [in practice]. In order to purify these [negativities] meditating on and reciting  the hundred syallables of Vajrasattva is highly recommended.

4)   The necessity of purification

Tāranātha also gives a detailed description why it is important and necessary to practice Vajrasattva, using Atisha’s famous example of the continual accumulation of downfalls in the Secret Mantra, which collect like dust on a mandala plate:

Lord Atisha taught that: The subtle faults and downfalls of the secret mantra are continually arising. For example, if one is a in a place that is full of dust and one places a mandala plate outside, it will immediately become full of dust, like that. So then, surely the path in one’s mental continuum will not arise? [Atisha’s reply]: Since the Secret Mantra has many skilful means and there is huge amount of subtle downfalls and faults, one method can purify them in an instant: meditation on Vajrasattva and the recitation of the hundred syllables, he explained is a profound and extensive purification. If one is diligent [in the practice] then all of the subtle and medium faults and downfalls can be completely purified at their root. As for the huge downfalls, they won’t increase and will be suppressed, and gradually they will be purified.

Previously in Tibet, there were many oral instructions on the hundred syllables of Secret Mantra practitioners. However, their students were few in number, so it did not become generally widespread. However, due to this teaching by Jowo [Atisha], among all the new[ii] and old Tantric practitioners a lot of clamour and interest arose in doing this practice, it is said.’’

 

[i] “Name-mantras” or “adaptable name-mantras,” including all the mantras mentioned here, consist of a basic mantra into which the name of any Buddha, yidam or other enlightened being may be inserted. There is one basic version of the mantra for peaceful, and another for wrathful deities.

[ii] This refers to Kagyu, Jonang, Sakya and Gelug.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FURTHER READING

Tibetan Language

Bamda Gelek Gyatso (Ba’ mda’ thub bstan dge legs rgya mtsho):

dPal dus kyi ’khor lo’i rdzogs rim sbyor ba yan lag drug gi sgom rim grub pa’i lam bzang sku bzhi’i rgyal sar bgrod pa’i shing rta. In: Zab lam rdo rje’i rnal ‘byor gyi chos skor,  1-103, Jonang Well-Being Association India (‘phags yul jo nang ‘gro phan lhan tshogs kyis ‘grem spel byas), 2010.

Tāranātha:

rDo rje rnal ’byor gyi ’khrid yig mthong ba don ldan gyi lhan thabs od brgya ’bar ba Jonang Well-Being Association India (phags yul jo nang gro phan lhan tshogs kyis grem spel byas), 323-452, 2010.

English Language

  • ‘Celestial Stairway: Preliminary Practice Recitations of the Profound Path of the Vajra-Yogas’ by Tāranātha.  (Kālacakra Six Yogas Monastery, 2017). Translated and edited by Edward Henning and Adele Tomlin.
  • ‘Chariot that Transports to the Four Kāyas: Excellent Path of Meditation on the Vajra-Yogas’ (CTK) by Bamda Gelek Gyamtso. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (LTWA, 2019). For details on the book see here.
  • ‘Hundred Blazing Lights: A Supplementary Commentary on ‘Meaningful to See’’ (HBL) by Jetsun Tāranātha. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (forthcoming publication, 2020).
  • ‘Meaningful to See: Guidance on the Profound Path of the Vajra-Yogas’ by Jetsun Tāranātha. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (Dakini Publications, 2020). Available for download on request here.
  • ‘Innate Kālacakra: A Collection of Essential Texts’. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (Dakini Publications, 2019). Available for free download here. 
  • Vajrasattva: Guiding Instructions on the One Hundred Syllable Mantra of Dro Kālacakra by Jetsun Tāranātha and Bamda Gelek Gyamtso. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (Dakini Publications, 2020). Available for free download here.

 

 

 

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