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LDC Basic Dharma Program

Subject 3 : Mahayana Mind Training
Text : Dharmaraksita's

The Wheel Of Sharp Weapons

Commentary by the Venerable Sam-lo Geshe Kelsang Session 9/2001
Translated by Ven. Thubten Yeshe Gurung 29th July, 2001

Verse 42:

When, after we do any virtuous action,
We feel deep regret or we doubt its effect,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have been fickle and, stirred by base motives,
Have courted only those who had power or wealth;
Hereafter let's act with complete self-awareness
Exerting great care in the way we make friends.

The first line ‘When after we do any virtuous action, we feel deep regret or we doubt its effect’ – the virtuous actions refer to doing daily practice, retreat or any other Dharma practices. When we do them we are not able to gain any good result/ effect and not able to subdue our mind. This happens because we are not able to set up a proper/ good motivation at the beginning. On top of that, say, as we start to recite the mantra, we do not recite it carefully like we would mispronounce the mantra. Then at the end we do not do the dedication well.

After practicing virtues like this for a long time – for months or years – we do not see any good result from doing the retreats etc. Then we began to doubt the effectiveness -- whether these practices are good or not, whether they are wrong/ mistaken practices which will not lead to any spiritual attainment etc. So then we began to regret about the Dharma practices we have done all these years.

Why can’t we get a result after all these years of practices? Why do we regret about our Dharma practices? This is because in the past we have been reckless and fickle in our practices. We have not given our attention to the teachings, for example, we go for a Dharma talk by a Lama but we do not pay attention to who the Lama is and what his teaching is all about. Later we change our mind and go to another place to listen to the teachings and practice Dharma. Afterward we start to criticize the Lama from whom we have received the teachings in the past; we began to say unpleasant things about him and say that his teachings were incorrect. This just shows how these people are very unstable and whose minds are very capricious. All these are the causes for having to experience unsuccessful Dharma practices in this life.

Another cause comes from trying to do some of the practices which are beyond our capacity, or that although we do not have the required skills to do a certain kind of practices we still go ahead and try to practice them. And we try to practice without following the proper procedure in a gradual manner; we attend to those practices simply because we have heard that those practices are very holy. For example, it’s like without first engaging in the practices of the Small and the Medium Scopes and already we are directly practicing the Great Scope! Why – simply because we have heard that the Great Scope is all about the Mahayana practices and we think it is incredible. So merely by hearing the names of some of these practices we dive into them regardless whether we have the capability to carry out these practices or not. In this way we cannot achieve any goal nor gain any benefit for ourselves. This is like a person who does not have the strength yet is trying to carry a heavy load – we shouldn’t act like this. We should first try out with a smaller load, and then when we do have the strength to carry a heavier load we shall then try. The point is: we should go step by step. Similarly, before doing the Mahayana practices/ practices of the Great Scope, we should try to practice properly the Small and the Medium Scopes. Then slowly we will progress in our spiritual practice. Otherwise, if we pick a Dharma practice simply because we adore its sanctity without ever considering our own skills/ capacity in doing such practices, we will not receive any benefit even after vigorously practicing it for a long time.

What we are trying to say here is that we must be very careful when we practice Dharma -- we must try to practice Dharma gradually according to our own capacity. If we do not have the skills yet we practice them anyway simply because we have heard of or are attracted by these famed practices, then there is the danger that instead of making progress in our practices our spiritual growth will degenerate and then after a while we will regret in engaging in Dharma practices altogether. This verse mainly wants us to be very careful when we practice Dharma, i.e. we should practice according to our capacity. Otherwise, although we may leave some imprints in our mindstream after listening to some profound talks such as the Mahayana teachings, in terms of subduing our minds or gaining some sorts of realizations, we will achieve none of these. So in order to achieve some realizations or to be able to subdue our minds, we must practice gradually, step by step according to our own capacity. By doing so, we will stand a greater chance in gaining some realizations as well as subduing our minds.

It is explained in many texts the way to angage in Dharma practices. All of them say the fact that merely what we are practicing is the Mahayana/ Great Vehicle teachings is not enough; the practitioner himself/ herself must also be a Mahayana practitioner. If one is not a Mahayana practitioner but is practicing the Mahayana path, one will be unable to gain any attainment or desirable result. For that reason, whoever practices the Mahayana teachings must also be a Mahayana practitioner by generating a Mahayana motivation. With this Mahayana motivation, whatever practice we do will immediately become a Mahayana practice and we will also be named the Mahayana practitioners. In this way we will have a better chance to gain Enlightenment quicker than those who do the Mahayana practices without a Mahayana motivation.

Likewise, a lot of people practice tantra because they have heard that these are quicker ways to attain Enlightenment or some spiritual realizations. But to follow these practices merely by the reasons mentioned above is inappropriate. We must first think carefully whether we are able to practice properly according to the instructions of our Tantric master. If we are able to follow the instructions exactly and practice the tantra properly, then we will really be able to gain realizations very quickly.

It is said that if one practices the Highest Yoga tantra one can achieve Enlightenment in one lifetime. This is true, provided that one can do the practice properly and very accurately, exactly as that is being explained in the tantric texts. It’s like taking an initiation: being present right in front of the lama who gives the initiation does not necessary mean that we have received the initiation. We have to follow the procedure as instructed by the lama. For examply, at a certain time the lama may give us the Bodhisattva vows, then afterward the lama may ask us to contemplate on the seven points of the Generation Stage etc. After we have contemplated the points carefully, at some point the lama will then ask us to actually feel that we have received the initiation. At that time we have to feel satisfied that we have received the initiation. So like this: there are times when we will need to contemplate very carefully in order to be able to receive the initiation.

Merely by receiving the initiation alone we will not achieve our goals. We have to practice properly and on top of that, we need to observe the morality such as the Bodhisattva and Tantric vows accurately. If we cannot observe the tantric vows properly then merely by receiving the initiation we will not be able to practice accordingly. And if we break the Bodhisattva or Tantric vows, we have to confess the faults and try to revive the broken vows. In this way, we will be able to achieve realizations faster. Otherwise it is impossible for us to achieve Enlightenment in one lifetime.

Sometimes things like this also happen: many people, whether they are monks/ nuns or the lay practitioners, may already have all the instructions and they also know exactly how to practice, but they fail to observe the deity properly. For that reason, practicing tantra properly and observing the Bodhisattva and tantric vows as well as the initiation commitments are very important.

Also, whether we receive an initiation or not depends on our motivation. In order to receive an initiation, we need to at least cultivate such motivation: “For the sake of all mother sentient beings, we strive to attain Enlightenment. For this reason, we will now take the initiation”. This motivation is a must for receiving initiation. If we are not able to generate such motivation, we will definitely not able to receive any initiation, though it doesn’t mean that there is no benefit at all -- we may receive some blessings from the lama or accumulate some merit but it is quite certain that we will not receive the initiation.

So up until the present day there are still lots of arguments going on as to whether one needs pure Bodhicitta to be able to receive an initiation. Many scholars, however, do agree that in order to be able to receive an initiation, one must have generated pure Bodhicitta; without which one will not receive any initiation.

If we ever think to receive an initiation or the tantric vows in the future, it is very important to study the relevant texts carefully and to learn about the different classes of tantra, i.e. the Action Tantra, the Performance Tantra, the Yoga Tantra and the Highest Yoga Tantra. To receive an initiation of the Action or Performance Tantra we don’t need to take the tantric vows as taking the Bodhisattva vows is sufficient. But to receive the Yoga or the Highest Yoga Tantra initiation it is compulsory to take & uphold the tantric vows, without which there is no way to receive the initiations of these two classes of Tantra.

But we need to note that if one breaks the vows of the Highest Yoga Tantra, it is 100,000 time worse than breaking the Bodhisatva vows. Since the Highest Yoga Tantric practice is very intensive, one will gain the result much quicker than practicing the Sutric path. But when many think about the outcome of breaking the tantric vows – that it will incur such a severe negative downfall, they dare not take any initiations. But fear alone does not help; we must try to read and study the vows carefully and learn about them so that we know how to uphold these vows. If we look at it from another angle, we must consider ourselves extremely fortunate to be able to receive the tantric initiations. This is solely because the tantric teachings are extremely rare and hard to meet up with. It is said that among the 1,000 Buddhas appearing in this aeon, only three Buddhas will expound the teachings of Tantra. They are Buddha Shakyamuni – the fourth Buddha of this aeon, the eleventh Buddha and the last Buddha – the 1,000th – of this aeon. It is during the lifetimes of these three Buddhas that the teachings and practices of Tantra will exist and flourish. For this reason alone, we should think: to be born during the time when all these precious tantric teachings and practices are still existing and then to be able to receive the initiation and the tantric vows – how lucky we are! Therefore we should not waste these opportunities of receiving the tantric vows.

I feel that it is very important to take these vows some time in the future because at least we will leave the imprints in our mental continuum, thus planting the cause to be reborn during the lifetime of the eleventh Buddha when the tantric teachings will flourish.

Many lamas have come to K. L. and along with their public functions they gave empowerments like the White Zhambala, Manjushri etc. These empowerments given to the public, which are not the great initiations or the wang, generally do not have commitments and no taking of the Bodhisattva vows. So I presume they are given as a blessing? And if this is the case, does that lama become your Guru? Whether there is a guru-disciple relationship between you and the Guru?

It depends on the motive of the person receiving the empowerment. If that person takes the lama as his/ her guru, then a guru-disciple relationship has formed.

Since observing the tantric vows is so important when one takes an initiation, yet one is not allowed to know what these vows are before taking the initiation. What is the reason?

Before receiving the initiation, the reason one cannot listen to the instructions on the tantric vows is because there is the danger of losing faith either in Tantra or the lama. If one loses faith in the Tantric practice one will accumulate very heavy negative karma.

From the lama's side, whenever an initiation is to be given, he will check whether the students have strong faith and whether they are capable of receiving such initiation. This is very important. Then from the students’ side, they need to have very strong faith in the tantric teachings and practices. Without this and yet still trying to take the initiation and to receive instructions on the tantric teachings, there is the danger of losing one’s faith in the tantric aspect of the teachings.

Because of that, since we don’t really understand what these tantric vows are and so have broken them after taking the initiation, do we confess and then revive those vows? How do we go about doing that?

If one has broken a tantric vow and committed a downfall, in a certain initiations one is allowed to take the self-initiation which is sufficient to revive the broken vows.

But for other initiations which don’t have the self-initiation, one has to retake the initiation from the lama again.

So now there is this ‘Self-initiation’. Is it clearly written in the text on how to do or is it instructed by one’s lama since not all initiations contain this practice?

Almost every idam or deity has self-initiation. Normally we receive an initiation from the lama who uses the ritual texts of that particular initiation, so we can use that same ritual texts and perform an initiation by ourselves. This way of taking initiation is known as the ‘self-initiation’. So we can take the self-initiation for almost every idam or deity.

Sometimes we are not sure whether we have broken the vows because there are certain conditions to fulfil before we really break them. If we do the 6-session Guru Yoga and repeat the Bodhisattva root vows and the tantric vows, can that be considered as renewing our vows?

The main purpose to recite those vows during the 6-session Guru Yoga is to enable us to recollect the vows and then reflect on whether we have broken them or not. If we have broken the vows, we will have created negative karma, then we will need to confess and purify those downfalls. That is the main purpose of going through and recollecting the vows we have received in the Six-session Guru Yoga. Otherwise we will be breaking the vows and accumulating negative karma all the time for a long period and yet we are unaware of it. In this way even a small negativity will turn into a grave negative karma.

In order not for this to happen, reviewing those vows in the 6-session Guru Yoga has become very important. Simply reciting the vows is not a confession; we need to reflect on whether we have broken them and the moment we realize we do, we must confess and then purify the negativity.

Regarding the breaking of a vow, there are conditions to be fulfilled right. Generally speaking, unless we are really not being mindful, when we break a vow we kind of know that we have done something negative or non-virtuous, so we will feel regret. Having regret and not feeling rejoice in breaking a vow and then confess about it later – we have not broken the vow at its root right? With this condition, it is very hard to break a vow at its root isn’t it, unless we do not care about it totally?

If you have committed a major downfall (by breaking a tantric root vow), then the vows you have received in the past cease to exist, and due to having committed such a heavy negative downfall, you will continually accumulate negative karma day after day. For that reason it is extremely important to confess in order to stop the negative karma from growing rapidly day by day. To revive the vows, either you can retake the vows by doing a self-initiation or you can receive the initiation again from a lama.

When you break one tantric vow, do you break the whole set of vows? Do you have to retake the whole set of vows or do you only take that one vow which you have broken? And can you do a self-initiation without first doing, say, a three-month retreat on that deity?

If you break any one of the root vows, you have damaged the whole set of vows. For example, a ge-long (fully-ordained monk) has four root vows. Breaking any one of these is called a ‘defeat’ which literally means that one is defeated and is no longer a ge-long; one has lost one’s monkhood. Similar to that, breaking a tantric root vow among all the fourteen of them is enough to totally damage the entire set of vows. These vows will have been spoilt and will function no more. For that reason, we will need to take all the vows again.

Can you retake and renew the vows from other Vajra Masters, not the same one from whom you have received the vows before?

Yes, you can take the vows from any Tantric Master.

Regarding verse 42, it is quite understandable that to have real progress in one’s Dharma practice many factors are required: one’s capacity to practice, one understands the instructions properly etc. But when doubts about the practice arise in one’s mind and one feels regret about doing that practice, that leaves an imprint on one’s mindstream. Will this imprint cause problems and result in hindrances to our practice in this and future lives? How should we deal with it?

The kind of doubt you have, according to the way you explained here, is not a negativity in itself, in other words, it does not affect you negatively.

This phrase ‘feeling deep regret’ in the verse refers to feeling regret and unease due to one’s inability in achieving one’s goal after having practiced Dharma – you regret that you have not achieved anything in your practice. This itself is not a negative reaction, therefore no negative karma is incurred. The word ‘regret’ here is more like feeling sorry: you have been working very hard by investing a lot of your time and energy in your work yet you do not reap any profit nor a single desirous result. Surely you’ll feel upset and regret (you feel sorry for yourself). This is a normal reaction, and it’s not a bad thought.

But when you have been engaging in a certain Dharma practices for a long time, for example the practice of a deity, then one day you were told that it’s not beneficial to do that practice and you stop doing it altogether – in this way, you have created a negative karma.

Between the time after you have broken a tantric vow until you are able to retake the vows, do you suspend your tantric practice?

No, we have to continue to do the sadhana since we have already accepted the tantric commitments. Even though the vows have been broken we still have to carry on with our commitments.

What is more important is that we have to refrain from repeatedly breaking the vows (that is to say, having broken a vow we think we are not obliged to observe that particular vow any more). For example, after breaking the vow of not criticizing one’s lama, it does not mean that you can, from now on, criticize your lama as you like it. We will accumulate very heavy negative karma every single time when we criticize our lama. Therefore besides trying our best to refrain from breaking the vows again and again, we must also try to confess and purify the negativity until we can revive the vows.

If we repeat after a lama when he gives a lung, or ‘oral transmission’, does that lama become our guru?

During an oral transmission, even if you happen to be there it doesn’t necessary mean you will receive the transmission. Generally speaking, the lama who gives the oral transmission has to be the lineage holder, which means he must also have received that transmission from a lama in the past. Otherwise it will become merely a chanting and not a real transmission.

Then by receiving the oral transmission you are actually receiving the lineage of that lama, therefore logically that lama has to become your Guru and you must treat him as your Guru. So if you do not take that lama as your Guru, you will only receive a blessing or the imprints of hearing the lung, but you will not get the oral transmission.

I have received the Red Tara initiation (a je-nang) before receiving the Mitrukpa Initiation (a wang) which is a great initiation, so am I empowered to visualize myself as the Red Tara deity when I do the sadhana?

No, you cannot visualize yourself as Red Tara but you can visualize the deity in front of you.


Note on authentication

Ms. Goh Pik Pin prepared and typed the original transcript simultaneously with the translation. Ven.Thubten Dechen checked and edited it according to the tape-recording.

@ Losang Dragpa Centre, September 2001

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