Getting Closer to Vajrayogini
The most obvious benefit of being in close proximity with Rinpoche is the Dharma that we receive. The Lama teaches using all methods possible – by example, by action, by joking, by instruction and, in the way one would most expect, by literally giving a teaching.
Students of Rinpoche know just how traditional Rinpoche is when it comes to teachings on Tantra, and to initiations and empowerments. So a few weeks ago, Rinpoche gathered a small group of us for the privilege of a short teaching on Vajrayogini. Rinpoche explained that what he was about to share with us was taught to Rinpoche by His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche in Yucca Valley, California during a Vajrayogini initiation and commentary.
Rinpoche began with an explanation of the four prerequisites of Vajrayogini’s practice. They are:
- Unwavering faith in Vajrayogini as a deity and yidam, and unwavering faith in her practice, meditations and rituals. The practitioner needs to have full faith and conviction that yes, you CAN develop attainments from her practice and she CAN bring you to her paradise, Dakpo Kachö.
- To never miss tsok commitments. Rinpoche spoke about a way of overcoming situations when it becomes unavoidable for you to miss your commitments, for example due to travel or physically debilitating illnesses.
- To have clean samaya with your Guru. Never disturb your Guru’s mind by being sneaky, and refrain from destructive actions like lying and cheating.
- To recite a short prayer three times per day, which is a request for us to enter her paradise.
It was then that I realised in small ways, and unbeknownst to us, Rinpoche has been training his students for years to become Tantric practitioners who will enter the doors of higher practice with perfect ease.
Unwavering faith in Vajrayogini as a yidam? For many years, Rinpoche has cultivated in us a loyalty towards our meditational deities and practices. For example, in the Dorje Shugden issue, Rinpoche has made it clear why, despite all obstacles, we should have unwavering faith in Dorje Shugden, because it is about upholding the commitments we make to our teacher.
To have clean samaya with your guru? One of Rinpoche’s core teachings focuses on the 50 Stanzas of Guru Devotion which describes perfectly the attitude of a student towards the teacher.
To never miss tsok commitments and recite a short prayer three times a day? Rinpoche has always emphasised the importance of consistency in our practice and sadhanas.
Of course, holding our three sets of vows (Refuge, Bodhisattva and Tantric vows) is a given; Rinpoche explained that the four prerequisites are over and above these commitments which are common throughout all Tantras.
So why is Vajrayogini’s practice so powerful? Why is it so special? Why is it so coveted?
The King of Mantras
According to Lama Yeshe, her mantra is the King of Mantras. No other mantra in the ocean of Tantra has the same kind of potency and power as that of Vajrayogini’s. Even within Heruka’s Tantra, Rinpoche said, it is stated that in order to gain siddhis we still need to recite the mantra of his consort.
Rinpoche reminded us of the promise that Vajrayogini had made to His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche. Appearing to him in a vision, Vajrayogini herself told Pabongka Rinpoche that anyone who receives her practice within four generations of Pabongka Rinpoche, will be able to enter her paradise Dakpo Kachö within seven lifetimes. After these four generations, it reverts to the normal 14 lifetimes.
A Positive Rebirth
So you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? Seven lifetimes, who cares?” But keep this in mind – if we do not receive her practice, there is no guarantee we will be reborn to meet the Dharma in our next lifetime, and definitely no guarantee we will be reborn as a human. So it may be lifetimes before we can meet the Dharma again, and those lifetimes do not necessarily mean one human lifetime of 80-100 years. It could mean the lifetime of a hungry ghost or a god for hundreds of years before we exhaust that karma to have the opportunity to be reborn as a human, let alone a human practicing within our lineage. In contemplating this, the appeal and benefit of Vajrayogini’s practice becomes very apparent.
In receiving Vajrayogini’s practice and upholding the commitments, it gives us the best possible chance of being reborn near to a lineage lama, with the opportunity to be exposed to and attracted to her lineage at a young age.
Rinpoche said that in our next life, no matter how remote or distant the land is, a Vajrayogini practitioner will find their way back to her practice at a young age. Rinpoche himself is living proof of this, having met H.E. Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin at the age of nine, and receiving Vajrayogini practice just a few years later.
How does this reconnection happen? It may be that the practitioner sees her body in the form of a statue, and it triggers a sense of familiarity and desire to engage in deeper Dharma practice. It may be reconnecting with her practice in the form of speech when you hear her mantra being recited, or reconnecting with her practice through the mind when someone talks about her, and the idea of her is implanted in your mind and spontaneous faith arises.
For Dharma practitioners, the ability to guarantee such a rebirth whereby a practitioner meets the lineage again at a young age is considered highly precious because it means we waste less time being attracted to everything else in samsara.
This control over our rebirths is not the only form of control that we gain as a result of relying on Vajrayogini as our Yidam. It is said in her Tantra that those who practice Vajrayogini well will be able to gain control over the elements, animals, weather, spirits and demons.
Thus Vajrayogini’s mantra is also protection. Protection from what? From demons, spirits and black magic, yes but also from falling into the three lower realms, and from taking rebirths in places where there is no Dharma. This could be places in the human realm where there is no Buddhadharma, or rebirths in other realms.
The control of elements, animals, weather, spirits and demons all sounds pretty neat but when you consider that people who are not Buddhist can develop this ability, these become a slightly less glamorous achievement or siddhi compared to…
Guaranteed Rebirth in her Paradise
…the ability to ascend to Vajrayogini’s paradise to receive teachings from Heruka and Vajrayogini themselves.
Rinpoche explained that compared to other Tantras, Vajrayogini’s practice is the perfect combination of simplicity and potency. Not only is her form easy to visualise compared to other deities (for example, Yamantaka) but her mantra is so powerful that it can convey us to Dakpo Kachö simply by reciting it. Even when we do not know her meditation or the visualisations associated with her practice, her mantra has that type of power.
It was Kyabje Zong Rinpoche who described the iconography of Vajrayogini’s holy body to our Rinpoche. During the teaching, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche emphasised how crucial it is to meditate on her sacred form correctly, from the beings she is standing on to the meaning of her four fangs. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche described her expression, the angle and tilt of her head, the mudra with which she holds the chopper, and even the top knot in her hair.
Imagine doing the same thing for Yamantaka, and memorising all of his nine faces, 34 arms and the ritual accoutrements of every single arm!
So for people who are dull, who cannot remember details, who are not intimately familiar with the intricacies of the Tantra, Vajrayogini’s practice is perfect! They will still be able to achieve the minor siddhis and ascend to her paradise within seven lifetimes simply by reciting her mantra. This quality is unique to Vajrayogini’s practice; other Tantras require the practitioner to know the meditations and to combine recitation of the mantra with the corresponding visualisations.
Ascending to Vajrayogini’s paradise is considered extremely precious because to be in Dakpo Kachö is to learn from and practise under the King Heruka and Queen Vajrayogini. In such an environment, realisations and spiritual attainments come quickly and easily, including the realisation of Emptiness. In short, it means that simply reciting her mantra without any visualisations opens up the opportunity for us to realise Emptiness.
This of course refers to the most basic and bare minimum of practice after we receive Vajrayogini’s initiation. If we study more, apply ourselves and meditate on and understand the Tantra, we can realise Sunyata in this life alone, never mind waiting to ascend to Dakpo Kachö!
Rinpoche said that even if we do not have time to fully finish dissolving our winds at the time of death, even in the bardo, Vajrayogini will still come and bring the practitioner to her paradise. Such is the guarantee of her practice if we recite her mantra with the four prerequisites intact.
No Room for Excess Baggage
So it sounds very simple, like ascending to Dakpo Kachö is a matter of pressing a few buttons on the elevator and getting in…and it is, if we let go of our excess baggage (even elevators have weight limits!).
The excess baggage that will prevent us from entering Vajrayogini’s paradise is our drive for name, fame, reputation and wealth. Thus in our present lifetime, before we die and as we do our practices, we need to train in cutting off all attachments to our family, friends, relationships, etc.
Does this mean we become cold and uncaring towards them, and ignore them? Does it mean we shout “I can’t be with you because I want to go to Dakpo Kachö!!!” at them? The key word here is attachments; we do what we need to do and fulfill the responsibilities we made in this life, but we cut off our attachments to them.
After all, at the time of death, we will be forced to let go of friends, family and partners anyway. But while we are still alive, if we train in realising that the elevator has a weight limit, then letting go of them at the time of death will become much easier to do.
Rinpoche said that this training to cut off our attachments is why new monks are not allowed to go home for up to 10 years. To the uninformed, it may sound a little cruel but consider this – what happens when, as a lay person, you go home after an extended period away and then try to leave again? Your family may ask you not to leave, they may beg you to stay longer, or they may try to create an environment that is so attractive to tempt you to stay back.
The same applies for new monks. Being so new to their ordination, their minds are not strong enough yet to withstand the pressures of family. Not only does this pressure refer to the begging or the temptations, but the fact that an environment outside the monastery creates and fosters attachments (instead of reducing them). Thus to cut off their attachment and longing to be in a home environment, and to remove the preconditioning of their families and the secular world, new monks are not allowed back home for up to 10 years.
The Importance of the Guru
So it would be an understatement to say that this training is taken pretty seriously in the Tibetan tradition 😉 Rinpoche gave the example of Tilopa who did not address Naropa by name for 12 years to remove the ‘I’ and all traces of the ego in his mindstream. For 12 years, Tilopa trained Naropa in the Six Paramitas and the Lamrim without Naropa’s knowledge, to ensure he was ready to be initiated into Vajrayogini’s mandala. When the initiation finally took place, Naropa’s practice progressed very swiftly and by leaps and bounds.
Using Naropa’s experience under Tilopa as an example, Rinpoche said it is much easier to train under a Guru to remove the aspects of the self-cherishing mind from our mindstream, than to practise Vajrayogini AND train in the Lamrim at the same time. Hence our Guru and Guru devotion is extremely important both before and after we have received initiation, so important in fact that clean samaya with our teacher is one of the four prerequisites for Vajrayogini’s practice.
You Can Take a Horse to the Water…
If you were to ask me, of the four prerequisites, clean samaya is the most fundamental prerequisite of all. If we understand the importance of samaya, and if we have Guru devotion, everything else automatically falls into place. We will understand the importance of maintaining our tsok commitments, we will always recite the prayer request three times a day and we will value our yidams because it was a blessing to receive it from our teacher.
At the end of the day, the Lama will make every effort to ensure we are ready to receive the initiation, but it is up to us to grasp the opportunity and to work with him (or her!) to make sure we are ready, just as Naropa worked with Tilopa. What is the benefit of surrendering to the training, just as Naropa did with Tilopa? For us, the benefit is Enlightenment; for the Guru, absolutely nothing. On a personal basis, our Guru gains nothing out of our ascension to Dakpo Kachö, so he certainly is not training us to score brownie points with Vajrayogini herself.
So do we want Vajrayogini and happiness bad enough or do we want to come back as a turtle in our next life that has missed the spinning yoke? Really, truly, honestly, the choice is entirely up to us.
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