Vajrayogini – The Powerful Divine Red Lady
Homage to the Divine Lady
Whom out of compassion
Emanates in myriads of forms
In this degenerate age to subdue our various minds
Using the energy of desire, She attracts us to her form
Then brings us to full liberation
– His Eminence the 25th Tsem Rinpoche
On 28th October 2007, I took my refuge vows and formally established a teacher-student relationship with His Eminence the 25th Tsem Tulku Rinpoche. It was indeed a memorable day for me. I offered him the representations of the enlightened body, speech and mind of the Buddhas in the form of a Tara statue, a Dharma book and a Stupa respectively. I humbly requested Tsem Rinpoche to grant me refuge. He agreed and he gave me my refuge vows on the spot!
After the refuge ceremony was over, Tsem Rinpoche offered me a beautiful Vajrayogini statue. I did not have much understanding about this particular Buddha at the time. However, in the course of researching for this article, I started to have a better understanding about this fascinating female Buddha.
Tsem Rinpoche has advised that Vajrayogini practice is suitable for this degenerate time and therefore, she is closer to us compared to many other Buddhas. I pray that by writing this article, many will be connected to her and have the affinity to engage in her profound practice.
I would like to thank Pastor David Lai and Pastor Khong Jean Ai for helping me in reviewing and editing this article and giving me a precious book on Vajrayogini to help me in my research.
We live in a modern world when everything is convenient, comfortable and there are many different forms of distractions available. However, although the conveniences of modern life enable us to spend less time on daily and mundane chores (e.g., washing, cleaning, etc.) and on surviving, they actually provide us with more time to indulge in distraction. Hence, greed and materialism is on the rise and people are less inclined towards virtue. Consequently, our minds are plagued by conflicting emotions and delusions (e.g., anxiety, anger, miserliness, senselessness, depression, jealousy, unhappiness, etc.). These are all the signs that we are living in a spiritually degenerate time known as the Kaliyuga. More than 2,500 years ago, Buddha Shakyamuni had predicted that the Kaliyuga age would come, and he taught and prescribed the Tantras as the suitable teaching and practice for this time and age, of which Vajrayogini Tantra is the most supreme.
All enlightened beings, including Vajrayogini, embody the qualities of the Buddhas of the 10 directions and of the three times (past, present and future). Therefore, Vajrayogini, in all her perfection, is a worthy object of worship. Many great masters such as His Holiness Pabongka Rinpoche and Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin have said that Vajrayogini practice is particularly suitable for beings in these degenerate times because her practice helps to purify and transform desire, which is the current and most pervasive energy within samsara. Vajrayogini manifested specifically to pacify our self-created inner obstacles that are provoked by the outer environment that we are living in. Therefore, Vajrayogini’s blessings are very potent and powerful for this day and age.
Of Vajrayogini, Pabongka Rinpoche is known to have said the following:
“Look, this is the synthesis of all the Buddhas. This one counters all the negative attachments arising from the desire we have during the Kaliyuga age.”
H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche teaching about Vajrayogini
The Vajrayogini Lineage Practiced in Kechara
Vajrayogini practice can be traced back to the Chakrasamvara Root Tantra that was taught by Buddha Shakyamuni who manifested as Buddha Vajradhara more than 2,500 years ago. Many lineages of Vajrayogini emerged from this text and in particular, the Naro Kacho lineage of Vajrayogini was revealed to Naropa, an 11th Century Indian Mahasiddha in a vision.
Subsequently, her practice was passed down through a long line of great Indian masters and eventually to several Nepali masters, including the Pamthingpa brothers. The brothers were the students of Naropa, and they passed down the practice of Naro Kacho Vajrayogini to Melgyo Lotsawa Lotro Drakpa, an 11th Century translator of the Sakya tradition. Through Melgyo Lotsawa Lotro Drakpa, the practice was adopted by the Sakyas as part of their most precious 13 Golden Dharmas and eventually found its way to the Gelug tradition. When they engage in the Vajrayogini practice, practitioners recite the names of the lineage masters and solicit their blessings, and the Phamthingpa brothers are included in this list.
Although Vajrayogini is said to be Lama Tsongkhapa’s (1357 – 1419 CE) innermost yidam, prior to the 18th Century, her practice was not prominent within the Gelug tradition. After the 18th Century, the Sakya transmission of Naropa’s Vajrayogini was introduced to the Gelug tradition. One of the most influential Gelug lamas of that era, Pabongka Rinpoche (1878 – 1941 CE) promoted Vajrayogini as the main meditational deity within the Gelug tradition. Two of Pabongka Rinpoche‘s main students, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, disseminated the practice to their own students (e.g, Lama Yeshe, Lama Zopa, Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin, Gelek Rinpoche and so forth) who in turn also promoted Vajrayogini practice. Since then, Vajrayogini has become a widely accepted practice within the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.
When he was about 15 years old, Tsem Rinpoche received a Vajrayogini initiation from the great Sera Mey Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin in New Jersey who was the student of Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. He was also the great Abbot of Sera Mey Monastery and a great master of Sutra and Tantra. His main practice or yidam (meditational deity) was the Buddha Vajrayogini. He was a great master of Vajrayogini and a great abbot of the monastery while he was in office. During his tenure as the monastery’s abbot, Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin worked hard to improve the educational standard, and he managed to pay off a considerable sum of the monastery’s loan.
In 1982, Tsem Rinpoche had the fortune to meet another great master, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche and received a Vajrayogini initiation again from this great master. The auspicious two-week event took place in Yucca Valley, California. During this occasion, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche gave the Vajrayogini initiation together with the full commentary.
Therefore, Vajrayogini practice at Kechara is derived from a pure unbroken lineage of great masters and practitioners. In Buddhism, a lineage is very important because the blessings to gain attainments through one’s practice descends through the lineage of practitioners who came before us. Thus without the lineage, the practice is devoid of blessings and attainments cannot be obtained from doing the practice in question. Having an authentic lineage also means that the practice we received has a valid source and was not made up.
There are several known forms of Vajrayogini that are based on different lineages. Each of these forms is the actual embodiment of the teachings and instructions for her practitioners to attain enlightenment. Although this is also the case for every Buddha, Vajrayogini is special because her depictions emphasise purifying desire and attachment. She is an enlightened being and therefore when we encounter her sacred form, it plants a seed in our mind to achieve her qualities. When we promote Vajrayogini’s image by making or sponsoring her statues and thangkas, we are creating the cause for people to be connected with Vajrayogini.
The Symbolism Behind Vajrayogini’s Body
Vajrayogini is often depicted as a 16-year-old girl at the prime of her youth and beauty. Her breasts are full and her body is voluptuous. Her face is looking in our direction because she has great concern for us. In thangkas and statues, her face is often depicted as looking up but this is mainly for aesthetic purposes.
Vajrayogini has a blissful facial expression because she does not have to experience emotional afflictions and the results of negative karma like other beings in samsara. Her facial expression is also slightly wrathful because she absorbs our anger. Her iconography represents the Three Principal Aspects of the Paths (i.e., Renunciation, Bodhicitta and Emptiness) that are very important for success in one’s Buddhist practice, especially Tantric practice.
Vajrayogini’s body is fully naked and she poses in such a way that does not indicate modesty. The reason for this is during this degenerated time, desire and lust have become very strong. People do various kinds of negative actions out of lust, and many people are hurt due to the lustful actions of others. To counter this negative energy, Vajrayogini manifested in this form in order to subdue and transform those filled with lust and desire.
The following is an explanation of her features that can be revealed to non-initiates:
|1.||Red colour body||The colour of red represents the energy of control. When we practice Vajrayogini Tantra, we gain the power of controlling our mind, lust and desire, and therefore we do not hurt other people due to our delusion.|
|2.||One face||Her singular face means that she has achieved the realisation that all phenomena are of one taste and nature.|
|3.||Blissful and slightly wrathful facial expression||The blissful facial expression means that Vajrayogini does not have to experience the sufferings of beings in samsara. The wrathful facial expression represents that Vajrayogini is absorbing our anger, and she is unhappy to witness our sufferings and the result of our negative karma.|
|4.||Three eyes that look like normal human eyes||Her left eye is looking up to her heaven, Dakpo Kachö (“Kechara”), which symbolises that for those who practice her Tantra and the Three Principal Paths free from the eight worldly Dharmas, Vajrayogini will lead them to Kechara paradise. Her practitioners will either be reborn in her actual paradise where they can receive teachings from her, Heruka, Dakinis or the Mahasiddhas who live in that paradise directly, or they will always be reborn in the place where they will meet qualified masters and receive her practice again. Therefore, by doing her practice, the amount of merits created and the amount of negative karma purified would help her practitioners to be reborn in beautiful positive places.
Her right eye is looking down at sentient beings, which symbolises that although she has lifted herself from samsara, she still abides within samsara’s borders to help. By looking down at sentient beings, she manifests her love and compassion through her sadhana, yogas, and the lineage masters who propagate her teachings.
The third eye represents the opening to her central channel that is cleared. It is an indication of Vajrayogini’s omniscient qualities.
|5.||Slightly opened mouth and four fangs||Vajrayogini’s mouth is slightly opened showing her curled up tongue. This adds to her overall blissful expression, which represents the second Principle Aspects of the Path – Bodhicitta.
She has four fangs, which represent Four Noble Truths and four different classes of spirits to overcome.
|6.||Two arms||Vajrayogini’s two arms represent her realisation of the two truths – conventional and ultimate truths.|
|7.||Long loose orange hair that is adorned with a vajra cap
Note: in painting, she is often depicted as having black hair for aesthetic reason
|The long loose hair means that she is free and unfettered by worldly, social and conventional norms. She is not controlled by rules, emotion, anger, hatred, negative karma, convention and what other people say.
Therefore, when one practices her meditation well, one will achieve the same state.
|8.||The-five-skull crown with jewels||The five-skull crown represents the five Dhyani Buddhas.|
|9.||Bone ornaments||All Vajrayogini’s ornaments are made of bones and dry skulls. Dry skull means that she has the ability to remove our delusions and illusions completely and destroy our negative emotions. It also represents the first of the Three Principle Aspects of the Path – renunciation.|
|10.||The left hand that is raised and hold a skull cup (kapala) filled with blood||Her left hand is raised and is holding a skull cup filled with blood, from which she drinks. The skull cup represents great bliss and impermanence, and the blood represents emptiness. Vajrayogini drinking the blood from the skull cup represents that she is always meditating on the third of the Three Principle Aspects of the Path – Emptiness.
Her gesture of drinking from the skull cup also means that that when her practitioners receive nourishment, they will feel full and satisfied. Likewise, those who practice Vajrayogini will receive the Dharma from a qualified teacher and rejoice because they had received the Dharma.
|11.||The right hand that is pointing downward in threatening mudra and holding a knife||Her right hand is pointing downward and holding a knife that cut through samsara. Her hand is in the Threatening Mudra gesture (all fingers folded with only the index and the last fingers sticking out), which represents overcoming samsara. That means she cuts and destroys the direct causes to our samsara – ignorance, hatred and desire.
She is holding a knife to remind her practitioners that no matter how beautiful, rich or powerful, one day they are going to die, and they should not only use their lives for selfish pursuits. Therefore, mind transformation to turn the selfish mind to be of benefit to others is important.
|12.||Her left leg is bent and her right leg is outstretched||She leans toward the left represents Mother Tantra, which means that her Tantra focuses on clear light as means towards enlightenment.|
|13.||Stepping on deity figures||Her left foot is stepping on the worldly deity Bhairava (Mahadeva). It is said that these deities offer themselves as cushions for the sublime feet of Vajrayogini. The front of her foot touches his head (ignorance) and the back of her foot steps on the heart area on the back (hatred) of Bhairava who represents anger or hatred. Therefore, if one does her meditation, one will be able to eliminate hatred and ignorance.
Her right foot is stepping on the breasts (desire) of Mahadeva’s consort, Kalarati which represents the destruction of desire and all negative karma that are associated with them. Therefore, when one does her practice, s/he will be able to eliminate the negativities that arise from harmful lustful desire.
Note: The beings stepped on by the Buddha should not have more arms than the Buddha who is stepping on them.
|14.||Khatvanga on the left shoulder||Vajrayogini’s khatvanga represents Heruka Chakrasamvara, her consort, which means she is never separated from Heruka. Her khatvanga also represents that Vajrayogini and Heruka Chakrasamvara are one, but her practice is more condensed, easier, faster and has less requirements compared to Heruka Chakrasamvara’s.
On the top of the khatvanga, there is a vajra and three heads. The top head is a dried-up skull, the next head is a half-rotten head, and the next head below that is a fresh head. The three heads represent the Buddhas of the past (i.e., Dipamkara), present (i.e., Shakyamuni) and future (i.e., Maitreya).
Under the heads, there is a double Vajra and below that is a long life vase. The vase is wrapped with a khata and a damaru.
H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche
explains Vajrayogini’s iconography:
The deity figures beneath Vajrayogini’s feet
Once upon a time, there was a powerful and good-looking god named Mahadeva who was very attached to eroticism. He had four consorts and constantly engaged in copulation with one of them. Mahadeva controlled 24 powerful places in the world, and placed a male and female guardian in each of these places. He encouraged the worship of copulation and eroticism. Therefore those who pray to him would get their wishes fulfilled, but they would be overwhelmed by a sense of sexual desire and over time that gradually ruined the lives of his devotees on earth.
Buddha Shakyamuni saw the actions of Mahadeva and saw that the time had come to subdue him. Buddha Shakyamuni emanated as Heruka Chakrasamvara who physically resembled Mahadeva but with four faces of various expressions (e.g., wrathful, angry, desirous, peaceful, etc.), 12 arms, 12 different weapons, two legs and holding on to a consort, Vajrayogini. In addition, Buddha Shakyamuni emanated into various dakas and dakinis of the Heruka mandala to pacify the guardians in the 24 power places. When Mahadeva saw Buddha Heruka, he clairvoyantly knew that Heruka was more powerful and he was thus subdued. Mahadeva offered himself and his consorts to Buddha Heruka.
Therefore, Vajrayogini is depicted as stepping on Mahadeva’s head (representing ignorance) and back (the heart area, representing anger) under her left foot, and Kalarati’s breasts (Mahadeva’s consort; representing desire) under her right foot. Kalarati is holding a ritual chopper and a skull cup. Mahadeva is holding on to a sword or khatvanga, and a damaru. Vajrayogini steps on Mahadeva because although he has been subdued, his ability to influence beings in samsara combined with sentient beings’ karma to be influenced is still very powerful. Thus for beings who have a lot of desire, they can make a connection with Vajrayogini to counter these negative qualities.
This form of Vajrayogini is from a different lineage, and she is depicted with her legs spread apart as she flies over samsara towards Dharmakaya. Her form represents the complete transcendence of the ego and its delusions. This form of Vajrayogini is associated with the mountain-dwelling Mahasiddha Shavaripa, who was given the sadhana of Vajrayogini by a pure vision of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. The Bodhisattva told him to devote himself to the sadhana for six months and he would behold the face of Vajrayogini. However, he had no signs for 12 years and just as he was about to give up, Vajrayogini emerged from amidst the mountains.
In this form, Vajrayogini is called Chinnamasta or ‘She with the severed head.’ She directly shows the complete severance of the ego with the graphic portrayal of her decapitation. In this headless form, Vajrayogini is depicted holding her severed head in the skull cup of her left hand and three streams of blood gush forth from three severed veins on her neck. One stream flows into the mouth of the severed head, another to the attendant Vajravarnani on the left and to Vajravairocani on the right. As the attendants are the emanations of Vajrayogini, the three Vajrayoginis are also known as Trikayavajrayogini or The Three Sacred Bodies of Vajrayogini. Her sadhana is attributed to the famous Mahasiddha Virupa.
This secret form of Vajrayogini in white is called Sukhasiddhi because she is associated with the Indian yogini of the same name. She is the contemporary of Niguma and they are both female teachers of the 11th Century Tibetan master Kyungpo Naljor. Kyungpo Naljor eventually became the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition and this form of Vajrayogini has since become a unique aspect of this tradition. This form of Vajrayogini reveals her ‘secret organ’ as she is said to be in the posture of giving birth. This symbolises the ability of her practice to transform ordinary practitioners into enlightened beings.
Vajravarahi is one of the main forms of Vajrayogini that is associated with the Heruka Chakrasamvara Tantra. She is in the dancing posture and her name literally means ‘Adamantine Sow’. According to Judith Simmer-Brown, the Professor of Contemplative and Religious Studies at Naropa University, “Vajravarahi’s iconography is very similar to that of Vajrayogini, but she is often [depicted as] having more prominent fangs and a more wrathful expression, and she prominently displays a sow’s head above her right ear.” In general, Vajravarahi is described as having a sow’s head protruding above her right ear, which represents the transmuting of ignorance. According to the oral tradition, Vajravarahi is associated with the Mahasiddha Indrabhuti.
Traditionally, when a mandala is painted, the yidam’s image is not drawn in the middle of the mandala (although it is not incorrect to do so). The yidam is usually represented by either a Bam syllable or even a plain moon disc, which represents emptiness and bliss. Just like her iconography, Vajrayogini’s mandala is filled with symbolism that represent various aspects of the Buddha’s teachings. The five-coloured fire of the protection circle symbolises Vajrayogini’s omniscient wisdom and ultimate Bodhicitta. The vajra fence symbolises conventional Bodhichitta, and the charnel grounds symbolise renunciation.
Power Places Associated with Vajrayogini
Pemako, also known as the “supreme hidden land”, is said to be one of the 108 valleys hidden by Guru Rinpoche in the Himalayas. They will only be revealed at the appropriate time and can only be reached with great hardship. The prediction that the journey would be an arduous undertaking is consistent with the description of Kingdon Ward, the explorer-botanist who visited Pemako in 1925:
“Not only is Pemako extraordinarily difficult to reach from any direction, it is still more difficult to penetrate and explore when reached. Surrounded on three sides by the gorges of the Tsangpo, the fourth is blocked by mighty ranges of snow-mountains, whose passes are only open for a few months in the year. Beyond these immediate barriers to east, west and south are trackless forests inhabited by wild unfriendly tribes… Add to this… a climate which varies from the subtropical to the arctic, the only thing common to the whole region being perpetual rain, snakes and wild animals, giant stinging nettles and myriads of biting and blood sucking ticks, hornets, flies and leeches, and you have some idea of what the traveler has to contend with.”
– The Riddle of the Tsangpo Gorges, Kingdon Ward, 1926
Pemako is often likened to Vajrayogini body lying down:
- Kangri Kangpo (White Snow Mountain) resembles her head,
- Mount Namche Barwa and Mount Gyala Peri resemble her breasts,
- Yang Sang River in the upper Siang region of Arunachal Pradesh, resembles her lower part of her body,
- Siang and Yang Sang Rivers resemble her sacred triangle,
- Kila Yangzom resembles her vulva,
- Rinchenpung, a Nyingmapa Monastery, resembles her navel
Although it is challenging to reach Pemako, many pilgrims and trekkers continue to attempt to visit this beautiful place.
In Nepal, there are powerful temples dedicated to Vajrayogini: Bijyashwari, Sangku, Patan and Parphing. Vajrayogini practice is prominent in Nepal due to the legacy of the 11th Century Nepali Buddhist masters, the Pamthingpa brothers. The brothers were famous for practising and spreading the Vajrayogini tradition in Nepal. These four places are very powerful, energised and they add blesses to the pilgrims.
Ditsa Tashi Choding Monastery
Ditsa Tashi Choding is an important Gelug monastery in Amdo that was founded in 1903 by the 4th Amdo Zhamar, Gendun Tenzin Gyatso. His reincarnation, the 5th Amdo Zhamar, Lobsang Shedrub Tenzin Gyatso (1914 – 1952) was known to be a playful tulku. He was rarely seen studying. The 5th Amdo Zhamar passed away when he was 39 years old. The prayers and recitations at his funeral took 14 days and upon its completion, the cremation stupa was opened. To the surprise of his attendants and monastery’s administrator, the body of the tulku had shrunk to a cubit high (18 inches) and was in Vajrayogini’s posture. There was no damage to the body. These extraordinary happenings increased the faith of those who witnessed the event, and they became more diligent in their practice and maintaining moral discipline.
The Benefits of the Vajrayogini Practice
Ascending to Kechara Paradise
While appearing in a pure vision, Vajrayogini told Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche that if anyone received her practice within four generations after Pabongka Rinpoche, they would be able to ascend to Kechara Paradise within seven lifetimes. Subsequent generations would only be able to ascend to Kechara Paradise within 14 lifetimes. In Kechara Paradise, these practitioners would be able to receive teachings directly from Vajrayogini, Heruka and the Mahasiddhas who reside in that paradise.
The promise to be connected to Vajrayogini beyond this lifetime is possible because she is classified as a karma deity. She therefore follows her practitioners from one lifetime to another. In this manner, we will be able to continue our practice of Vajrayogini where we left off in a previous lifetime. Vajrayogini does not focus only on this lifetime because our current lifespan is relatively short when compared to our future lifetimes in the larger scheme of things.
Purification of Negativities and Transformation of Destinies
Due to her emphasis in purifying our delusions (i.e., ignorance, hatred, desire), practitioners who strongly engage in Vajrayogini’s practice will see that their self-cherishing mind’s are transformed, from one plagued by various projections and attachments to a mind that is inclined towards benefiting others. Vajrayogini, by virtue of being a tantric practice, purifies tremendous amounts of negative karma from innumerable lifetimes. As a result, her practitioners obtain peace of mind. They become equipped to accept life’s many challenges, because they have overcome their delusions and will be able to react in a way that creates less negative karma when faced with challenging situations. In this way, they transform their destinies and future lives for the better, and are better able to enjoy success in this lifetime without any attachments.
Good Rebirth and Being Able to Connect with Her Practice Again
Vajrayogini’s practitioners who hold their commitments will be protected from being reborn in the lower realms. Even if the practitioner is unable to complete the practice of dissolving their winds at the time of death, Vajrayogini will still meet and help the practitioners even in the bardo (intermediate state between life and death).
In addition, her practitioners will experience conducive conditions to meet, be attracted to and practise Vajrayogini again in subsequent lifetimes. Tsem Rinpoche is a good example of this. When he was nine years old, Tsem Rinpoche met with a qualified teacher and a Vajrayogini practitioner, Kensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin and eventually received Vajrayogini initiation from him. Tsem Rinpoche must have practised Vajrayogini intensely in previous lifetimes to have the affinity to receive the practice so early in this lifetime.
Control and Protection
Those who perform their Vajrayogini practice and recite her mantra well will be protected from demons, spirits, black magic, bad weather and falling into the three lower realms. According to Lama Yeshe (1935 – 1984), Vajrayogini mantra is the ‘King of Mantras’ and will help the practitioners to gain siddhis (realisations). In fact, one can gain realisations just through the recitation of the mantra without any visualisation, when we have kept our commitments.
Tsem Rinpoche previously explained that the four prerequisites of Vajrayogini’s practice 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.
Rituals Associated with Vajrayogini Practice
The following are several known rituals associated with Vajrayogini practice:
Vajrayogini (Neljorma) Ruchok
Vajrayogini (Tibetan: Neljorma) Ruchok is a powerful ritual to consecrate the hair, nail or teeth of people or animals, deceased or alive in order to bless them and purify their negative karma. For those who are alive, the Vajrayogini Ruchok ritual will bless them to prolong their lives, purify negative karma, give protection, and bless the practitioners to have the ability to understand and engage in Dharma practice, and to make a connection to Vajrayogini and create the cause to receive her sacred practice.
For those who are deceased, Vajrayogini Ruchok will help to purify their negative karma and help them to obtain good rebirths, and to meet and practise the Dharma in future lifetimes.
After the ritual is performed, the hair, nail and teeth can be inserted into a stupa, statue or tsa tsa or mixed with the tsa tsa ingredients.
Soongdrup and Rabney Pujas
Rabney and Soongdrup pujas are rituals to consecrate Buddha images, and the mantras and holy items inside the image. Hence Soongdrup puja can be performed to consecrate the mantras, jewels and other insertions into images of Vajrayogini, which can be in the form of a statue or tsa tsa. Rabney pujas, on the other hand, can be performed to consecrate the statue and invite the wisdom being Vajrayogini to come and reside in the image, hence empowering it.
Pre-Requisites of Receiving Vajrayogini Initiation
As advised by Tsem Rinpoche, prior to receiving Vajrayogini or any initiations, it is important to:
…study Lam Rim [i.e., The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment], ground your understanding of Dharma including Bodhisattva Vows strongly before [receiving] any Tantric Commitments, and do your preliminaries.
Tsem Rinpoche’s teachers, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche and Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen also conveyed the same advice.
These preparatory practices are important to reduce the risk of practitioners not holding their commitments after receiving the initiation. Many practitioners who are not ‘prepared’ will do their practice enthusiastically for a period of time and then decided to give up the practice for whatever reasons. Tsem Rinpoche emphasised that “[It] is not because Tantra has no power, [but] it is because the practitioner was not well prepared.” Tsem Rinpoche has also previously further advised that for practitioners who are prepared, Tantra will provide great blessings and powerful results.
Having a Qualified Teacher
Vajrayogini initiation should be received from a qualified teacher, who received Vajrayogini initiation from other qualified master(s) from an authentic lineage. The qualified teacher should also have been holding their commitments related to this initiation well. The teacher will observe the student and give the initiation when the student is ready.
Vajrayogini’s mantra should not be recited without initiation because she is one of the Anuttarayoga Tantra deities. Anuttarayoga deities mantras (e.g., Vajrayogini, Yamantaka, Heruka Chakrasamvara) cannot be given without initiation. Reciting these deities’ mantras involve meditations, and a type of visualisation whereby you move the psychic winds in your body. There are two reasons as to why the mantras of Anuttarayoga deities including Vajrayogini’s mantra cannot be recited without initiation:
- If one simply recites the mantra without the correct meditation, visualisation and so forth, it will have no effect and may create misunderstanding in other people’s mind
- If the wind meditation is performed incorrectly, it can be harmful towards the practitioners’ mind and future spiritual pracitce
For reference, there are four classes of Tantra:
The outer class Tantra:
- Kriya Tantra
- Charya Tantra
- Yoga Tantra
The mantras of the outer class Tantra deities (e.g., Tara, Manjushri, Saraswati) can be given without initiation.
The inner class Tantra:
- Anuttarayoga Tantra
The mantras of the inner class Tantra (e.g., Vajrayogini, Yamantaka and Heruka Chakrasamvara) should not be recited without initiation for the reasons mentioned above.
Attitude and Knowledge
Tsem Rinpoche has advised that prior to receiving Vajrayogini initiation, Vajrayogini aspirants should act in the following manner:
- Practise integrity and fulfill your promise (words of honor)
- Execute assignments from the teacher diligently
- Contemplate on the teacher’s good qualities repeatedly
- Persevere in your practice
- Transform your mind (note: please refer to Eight Verses of Thought Transformation)
- Get along with other people and be forgiving
- Hold the current practice or sadhana given by the teacher daily consistently
- Maintain loyalty to one’s teacher and follow him / her all the way
- Maintain an attitude that is free from Eight Worldly Dharmas
- Practise non-attachment to name, fame, reputation, wealth and so forth. This does not mean that we cannot have all these things, but that we should not be attached to them
In addition, Tsem Rinpoche advised aspirants to Vajrayogini’s practice to have a good grounding on the study of:
- Lam Rim Chen Mo (The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment) by Lama Tsongkhapa
- Wheel of Sharp Weapons by Dharmaraksita
- Bodhisattvacharyavatara by Shantideva
- Lojong by Chekawa Yeshe Dorje
- 50 Verses of Guru Devotion by Ashvagosha
- Ornament of Clear Realisation by Maitreya
The Dharma practitioners should not hold the attitude that transgressing vows is allowed because the samaya can be repaired by doing purification practices such as Vajrasattva or 35 Confessional Buddhas. The prerequisites of the actions (i.e., recognising the object, the intent, the execution and the feeling of satisfaction after the action is performed) will determine whether a particular vow is broken or not. Tsem Rinpoche has previously stated that “if we break our vows without real intent or by slipping out of habit, then Vajrasattva will be helpful if we truly regret and add the four opponent powers.” Four opponent powers consist of:
- Power of Reliance: taking refuge and generating Bodhicitta
- Power of Regret
- Power of Remedy: mantra recitation
- Power of Restraint: promise not to commit negativities again
Tsem Rinpoche has previously emphasised the importance of completing preliminary practices so that Vajrayogini aspirants can purify negative karma and collect merit. These are particularly important for doing higher practices, gaining attainments and reducing the risk of giving up on the practice. The preliminary practices consist of:
- 100,000 prostrations
- 100,000 Guru Yogas
- 100,000 water offerings
- 100,000 Vajrasattva mantra recitations
Additional preliminary practices can also include offering 100,000 butter lamps, making 100,000 mandala offerings, and making / sponsoring 100,000 Buddha images.
If one is not able to engage in preliminary practices for good reasons, then one can do Dharma work at one’s Dharma centre, place of convenience or wherever recommended by one’s spiritual guide. The Dharma work should be performed as a spiritual practice and not as secular work.
One of the prerequisites of Vajrayogini initiation is holding the Bodhisattva vows well. Without holding these vows, no results or attainments can be expected from any Tantric practice especially with Vajrayogini.
What happens during and after the initiation
During the Initiation
Vajrayogini initiation consists of the preparatory initiation and the actual initiation. These two initiations are given on different days. After the preparatory initiation, the practitioner should observe any inauspicious signs that may appear such as bad dreams, which serve as a warning that one is not ready to get the actual initiation.
During the actual initiation, which serves to plant the seed in one’s mindstream, the practitioner visualises the teacher as Vajrayogini and makes certain promises and commitments. The promises made during initiation should be fulfilled regardless of whether the teacher from whom your have received the initiation is still alive or not.
After the Initiation
Following the commitments and promises taken during the initiation is essential to gain attainments. Although there were cases of practitioners who gained attainments during initiation, such cases are very rare. Therefore, the practitioners should study the Tantric commitments and recite the vows regularly until they are familiar with these vows and commitments.
After the initiation, the practitioners should not talk about what happened during the initiation to those who are not qualified (i.e., not ready or those who have broken their vows) as this may create misunderstanding.
The following are the main requirements of Vajrayogini Tantra after initiation:
- Maintaining good relationship and samaya with their teacher
- Holding the vows and commitment of Vajrayogini practice
- Performing tsog every 10th and 25th of the lunar month
- Reciting her secret mantra with faith and diligence
- Reciting the short prayer to enter Vajrayogini’s Paradise three times a day
- Reciting Vajrasattva mantra 21 times per day to purify any possible downfall
- Performing six sessions of short Guru Yoga prayer (the practitioner can also opt to do the long version if preferred). The practitioners can recite this either three times in the morning and three times at night, or six times per day in one go
- Fulfilling the other commitments you may have made to the teacher during, prior or after the initiation
There are no restrictions for the practitioners to do more than the requirements or what was promised during the initiation; in fact, it is encouraged to do so.
Kyabje Zong Rinpoche advised that before our passing from this world (death), we should create the causes to complete a full-length Vajrayogini retreat, complete with offerings, ritual and fire puja. Practitioners should always keep the intention to do retreat in mind, so even if they pass away before the retreat is completed, they will not break this commitment.
Another requirement is to keep Tantric clothes, ornaments and instruments near the practitioners. Because this may be impractical, practitioners can maintain a picture of these items.
Vajrayogini Self-Initiation (daju)
Vajrayogini self-initiation, which is also known as daju, is a ritual that serves to purify, reaffirm and mend the vows that have been taken before. During this process, the practitioners can also re-take the mantra commitment, if the commitment was previously broken. One however, cannot promise the same mantra count that was taken during the first initiation. The mantra count promised should be at least double compared to the previous time the mantra commitment was taken.
Vajrayogini self-initiation is usually performed by one’s lama prior to granting Vajrayogini initiation. It can also be taken from time-to-time to ensure success in one’s practice.
How to Develop Connection to Vajrayogini Without Initiation
Invite and Decorate Her Image
When a practitioner invites the image of Vajrayogini, whether it is in the form of a statue, thangka, photograph or tsa tsa, they should not treat it as just another ordinary object, but as a holy object and a representation of the Buddha’s body. Mantras and / or other holy objects can be inserted into the statue, and the practitioner can have the pujas / tsog performed to consecrate the Vajrayogini image and the holy items inside. The purpose of having these pujas performed is to invite her to abide within this body representation.
The purpose of having a Vajrayogini image is to aid in visualisation, awareness and realising the meaning of her holy form.
The practitioner can also offer ornaments in the form of precious stones and jewels, as an offering to Vajrayogini’s holy image. These ornaments symbolise the perfection of Six Paramitas, which are:
- Perfection of generosity
- Perfection of moral discipline
- Perfection of patience and tolerance
- Perfection of effort
- Perfection of single-pointed concentration or contemplation
- Perfection of wisdom
Considering the deep meaning behind the ornaments in Buddha’s body, practitioners who offer ornaments to Vajrayogini’s image create the causes and the merits therefore to achieve the Six Paramitas themselves. In addition, offering ornaments on the Buddha also creates the cause for practitioners to receive wealth.
Setting Up Her Altar
Those who aspire to practise and receive Vajrayogini initiation in the future should set up a nice altar for Vajrayogini in accordance with their budget. The altar should be maintained and clean at all times. A basic altar should have at least a representation of the Buddha’s body (i.e., a statue, tsa tsa, photograph or thangka) at the centre, a representation of the Buddha’s speech (i.e., a Dharma text) to the right of the image and a representation of the Buddha’s mind (i.e., stupa).
In addition to these three, practitioners can add whatever offerings that please the senses as long as they are offered sincerely and obtained through the correct means (e.g., not the result of stealing, killing, etc.).
Daily Tea Offering
For those who have not received initiation, you can start to develop a connection with Vajrayogini by making tea offerings to her.
The following prayer was composed by Ngülchu Dharmabhadra, an 18th Century Tibetan author.
How to start:
- Recite Refuge prayer to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
- Recite Four Immeasurables
- Recite Eight Verses of Thought Transformation
- Recite Tea Offering prayer below by Vajrayogini. The practitioner can either pour the tea / liquid to the brim prior to reciting the prayer, or pour the tea / liquid at the last line of “I offer” then pour the tea to fill the container to the brim.
- Recite the Guru’s mantra instead of Vajrayogini mantra (which is reserved for those who have received initiation)
- Recite dedication prayers
Sacred Vajrayogini’s Tea Offering Prayer
OM AH HUM
As I visualize myself as the deity at the center of the Dharmachakra,
extremely red within a double tetrahedral reality source,
on a stainless moon mandala seat
resides the all-encompassing refuge assembly of guru-deities.
Rang lhar säl chhö kyi khor löi ü
Dog rab mar chhö jung nyi tseg nang
Dän dri dräl da wäi kyil khor teng
Kyab kün dü la ma lha tshog zhug
Gyu lha dzä rin chhen lä drub ching
Yib rab dze yöl go tam päi chü
In a beautifully shaped container filled with the essences
of ingredients made from precious celestial substances,
this vast drink, delicious in taste,
reddish yellow in color, with the scent of camphor,
I offer to the assembly of father, root, and lineage gurus.
Please bless my three doors.
Dang mar ser ga bur dri dang chän
Ro zang dän gya jäi tung wa di
Pha tsa gyü la mäi tshog la bül
Dag go sum jin gyi lab tu söl
I offer to the assembly of powerful mother yoginis.
Please lead me to the field of Khachö pure land.
Ma näl jor wang möi tshog la bül
Nä kha chö zhing du thri du söl
I offer to the assembly of peaceful and wrathful mind-sealed deities.
Please bestow all the supreme and general attainments.
Lha yi dam zhi thröi tshog la bül
Chhog thün mong ngö drub tsäl du söl
I offer to the objects of refuge, the Three Rare Sublime Ones.
Please protect me from the fearful enemies of samsara and nirvana’s peace.
Kyab kön chog rin chhen sum la bül
Dra si zhii jig lä dräl du söl
I offer to the assembly of supporters, dakinis, and Dharma protectors.
Please actualize all activities, whatever is wished for.
Drog khan dro chhö kyong tshog la bül
Yi chi dö thrin lä drub tu söl
I offer to the assembly of siblings, the six types of transmigratory beings.
Please pacify the suffering of my mind’s hallucinated appearances.
Nyen rig drug dro wäi tshog la bül
Sem thrül nang dug ngäl zhi gyur chig
Clarifying myself as the mind-sealed deity, which appears while empty,
and enjoying the food, with the taste of nectar,
my mind enters into the sphere of great bliss and emptiness.
Rang nang tong yi dam lhar säl wä
Ze dü tsii ro la long chä pä
Lo de chhen tong päi ying su zhug
EH MA HO!
How eminently fortunate I am!
E MA HO!
Mä jung käl pa zang
This tea offering prayer to Vajrayogini was composed by Ngülchu Dharmabhadra. The spiritual aspirants can recite it either in Tibetan or English.
Prayer to Vajrayogini by H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche
Lovely Vajrayogini Buddha Lady who entices us away from the lures of samsara, please sustain us to gain Bodhicitta, renunciation and sunyata (emptiness) so we may never be obstructed in our view of what creates suffering and what ends it. This would be wisdom arising.
I pray to you lovely mistress of enlightenment to please place your lotus feet on my head and bless me to gain inner, outer and secret Kechara quickly, which is your supreme attainment that I long for. I request and implore you that within seven lifetimes as promised in your Tantra to our lineage masters or sooner I may ascend your Kechara Paradise with a rainbow body transformed from the coarse body bogged down by the unsteady imbalance of the four elements causing disorders and karma.
I humbly beseech that in this and all future lives until I reach Kechara Paradise I may meet your lineage masters holding your secrets as I did in this life, meet you and be initiated into your secrets that Mara is frightened of always. That in every life from a very young age I seek the guru with your lineage automatically, receive your practice and find a place of solitude to perfect your path of Tantra deep in meditation.
I do not wish to waste time in every life but start at a young age so bless me so. Bless me and let it be so. I fear wasting time my dear mother of coral hue. I miss you and long for you as you are the salvation to one who fears samsara. Although you embody salvation when I unite with you, I find freedom within myself.
Lady who has ascended from samsara yet descends time and time again to our realms to assist, please bless me to have visions of you, appear in my dreams and be embraced by your loving arms like that of an only child. You are the mother without fault or imperfections. May signs of your presence always be present in my life and lives and may I bring you to countless many as I cannot abandon others as they suffer like me.
Please guide me that when the thoughts of self and self-absorption arise, I may wake up from the stupor of the ego realizing the ego less state. May I realize I am the author of my samsara and sufferings finally and blame no one. No escape no matter where I hide in the mountains, under the ocean, in the cities, within the parties or within my family and friends. Bless me to stop wasting time hiding from the truth of self-absorption and ego that only brings more quicksand like situations that hasten unwanted sufferings.
Maiden who appears young, mature, hag like, ogress-like and in multitude of forms to benefit are my refuge supreme. With all my heart, soul, mind and courage I surrender to you as you are the synthesis of the wisdom of all the Buddhas. To know you is to know all the Buddhas. To supplicate you is to supplicate all the Buddhas. To practice your path will be blessed by all the Buddhas. To become one with you is to become a Buddha.
Please bless my channels, drops, winds and 24 sacred places of my body to gather all course winds into my subtle winds. Then gather the subtle winds into more subtle reality realizing clear light and never stir from this uniting with your mind. I become you and you become me shaking the three worlds as the 4th Buddha did in the last watch of the night below the Bodhi tree. I am you and you are me. There was never any difference from the beginning and yet my mind created this difference. May I reside in the clear light of my mind, which is your mind, and realize great Buddha Dakini Lady of Naropa that we are one and the same. Bless me. May I never be parted from you my dear Buddha lady Vajrayogini but be parted from all that is in samsara ruled of attachments, abiding in attachments and experiencing the results of attachment.
Supreme Lady Vajrayogini, who only appears solid yet is like a mirage, bless me and may I bring countless beings time and time again and life after life to your blessed domain which is Kechara Paradise.
Composed by Tsem Rinpoche
September 22, 2015
Another prayer to Vajrayogini by H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche
Vajrayogini: Tricosmic Lady of Coral Hue
Computers, internet, TVs, DVDs, dance-clubs, music, fame, stardom, money, alcohol, drinking, playing, games, traveling, working and yet I am still depressed and bored.
I win, you win, I am wrong, you are right, I have been found out, I have not lost face, I am hidden, I am straight-forward, misunderstood, understood, taking advantage of, cheated, loved, abused and used, forced, compliant, hateful, loving, and so many more emotions I have given, taken and experienced, yet why do I still feel like I am losing?
My mind unsettled, dwelling in depression, absorbed in fear, unable to escape from my lack of self-esteem. Fear of old age, poverty and extreme loneliness. Regret of a wasted life, I have nothing to look forward to except the cold, lonely stone-like corpse which I have called myself. Is that the purpose of my living? Is that the end, my death? I fear and tremble and avoid, yet I come back to the same fear.
Have I distracted myself away from the truth, which is all that is born must die. I have looked high and low for someone who can offer me protection from the fears, distresses, spirits, ghosts and my self-made sufferings in this life. And I am trembling, shaking and unable to sleep, insomnic with thoughts of the end which is near.
Great female Buddha, Goddess, Mother Earth, Rainbow Lady, Buddhadakini, Yogini, adamantine master, sage, conqueror and the only one in this most horrendous of times I can fully trust, relax and rely upon.
Bless me that I may practice your profound eleven yoga meditations. Protect me with the results of your generation and completion stage practices. Manifest to me during the day and in dreams at night. Be my teacher, be my guide, be my ‘lover,’ be my Goddess, be my friend. Please manifest to me.
May I in this life and all future lives be closest to you. May I please you my queen, as your closest servant. Protect me completely as stated in your eight praises. May I gain all common and uncommon attainments, wealth, protection and guarantee that I will be safe after death. I devote myself to you great Maha-Yogini, the supreme Lady Buddha of coral hue.
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- Simmer-Brown, Judith (2014). Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 978-0834828421
- The Fourth Amdo Zhamar, Gendun Tendzin Gyatso – http://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Fourth-Amdo-Zhamar-Gendun-Tendzin-Gyatso/3296
- The Fifth Amdo Zhamar, Lobzang Shedrub Tendzin Gyatso – https://www.treasuryoflives.org/en/biographies/view/biography/13176
- Journey to the Hidden Land Pemako – http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/08/journey-to-the-hidden-land-of-pemako/
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