The Vajra Song of Chenga Lingpa
Generally texts written by scholars are vast and extensive. But today people don’t have the time to consider such vast treatises. And treatises often are lengthy because they quote the words of previous teachers. But vajra songs contain the essential meanings and do not repeat what others have said. Instead they are composed from the standpoint of the realization of the view. But if you only study such songs it is difficult to have an idea of the overall structure of the Buddha’s teaching. So if you can study the treatises as well it will cause the dharma to flourish.
Studying vajra songs will benefit you by developing your own realization. So if you can study both, that is good. When treatises are composed they have a definite form and structure, but songs don’t have such a structure. Instead they focus on one essential point of the teachings. For instance, Milarepa’s Song of the Profound View explained the ultimate truth and then the relative truth and then their union. If it were a treatise it would have had a more orderly structure. So if you have a knowledge of treatises, it will help your understanding of the vajra songs.
When we approach Buddhist teachings it’s important to have the proper motivation. The quality of your practice depends on your state of mind. In a sutra it says the intention of mind, whether virtuous or unvirtuous, determines the quality of an action and not the outward appearance of body and speech. Even if someone looks like they are doing virtue, if they are doing it from a bad intention, they will not receive good results of that action. Wrong view destroys action, like pouring pure water into mud.
Each vehicle has a different motivation. The motivation of the Hinayana is renunciation. They wish to be free of samsara, so they cultivate this mind of renunciation. Their main activity is moral discipline. In the Mahayana the main motivation is bodhicitta. Renunciation is seen as not as important as bodhicitta. Whatever is done with the attitude of bodhicitta becomes a Mahayana virtue. But if an action is not done with bodhicitta, it is not a virtue to the Mahayana, though it may be one from the standpoint of the lower vehicles. The pratimoksha vow, if embraced by the attitude of bodhicitta becomes a bodhisattva vow. So it depends upon the motivation. In secret mantra the attitude has to be embraced by the five perfections: the perfect teacher, teaching, retinue, place, and time. When receiving teachings you should see the teacher as Vajradhara and the teaching as Vajrayana, the location as a pure land, the time as the perfect time, and those who you attend the practice with as bodhisattvas.
This is not the contrivance, but seeing things as they actually are. When doing yidam practice, it is more important to have divine pride than to see the visualization clearly. When you have this attitude of the five perfections, it’s not like we’re making things up. Samsara is the contrivance. The view of innate purity is how things are. Everything we normally think of is a contrivance and fabrication. So it’s important to have the motivation that corresponds with one of these vehicles. Otherwise we will go astray. Worldly intelligence without the proper attitude can lead us down the wrong path. Worldly intelligence creates bombs and other weapons.
The vajra song is in the booklet on page seven. Texts often begin with an expression of worship, which summarizes the topic of the text. The first line of this song goes,
Expecting results without causes, E Ma Ho!
This line expresses how we all want to be happy, but don’t develop its causes. This line says without the cause, no result will happen. It says we might consider ourselves disciples of the Kagyu tradition, but when we don’t act in accord with the way they acted, we will not experience their realization. In Tibet there was a saying half the world is a follower of the Drukpa, half of them are homeless mendicants and half of them are accomplished siddhas. This reflected the fact that they had renounced worldly aims and through this attained accomplishment. Gampopa says to abandon your birth place and don’t settle down in other places in his Garland of the Supreme Path. This is mainly intended for monks and nuns so they don’t become attached to a single place, but does not exclude lay persons, though it may be difficult for them if they have spouse and family. But it’s important to act in at least partial accord with what Gampopa said. It mainly means to abandon your place of desire and attachments. We should try to eliminate our attachments.
The next line says:
Our sole father is the Dharma Lord Ratna,
Do not forsake the father and follow after the uncles and relatives.
This is from the Indian tradition that the son follows into the father’s trade. The uncle refers to the occupations on the mother’s side of the family. My teacher said to us all the time, you have to study all the lineages, but you should practice only one. Some people start one practice and then get tired of it. So they switch to another lineage. That is a waste of time. If you want to go to the top of the mountain, you have to travel a single road. A mountain has four directions and the roads on them all lead up to the top. All Buddhism is relative. We are not saying the other traditions are not good. One khenpo told me that some people say they are non-sectarian and practice in different traditions. But when they practice in different traditions they are showing bias, because they are picking and choosing practices. A real non-sectarian practices a single tradition without thinking it is superior to the others. It’s the same with yidam practice. Some people practice Amitayus for long life, then have obstacles and switch to Tara. But its better to stick with one deity. Each deity possesses the power of all deities. So it you accomplish one deity, you accomplish them all. If you practice all of them you will accomplish none. A lot of people ask me what deity is good to practice in this situation. I don’t know very well which deity is most suitable for a situation, but when I hear this it’s a sign people do not have the proper motivation, because it shows a concern with just this life, when the proper motivation is to be concerned for future lives. If your motivation is to be free of samsara, the concerns of samsara will naturally take care of themselves.
Father’s Language communicates emptiness and cause and effect
The lion does not utter the inferior language of the fox
The nature of all phenomena is emptiness, and emptiness is understood as cause and effect. Without emptiness there would be no causality, and cause and effect establishes emptiness. So they depend on one another. This verse explains emptiness and dependent arising and how they are not two. Nagarjuna has a verse that praises Buddha for teaching emptiness and cause and effect as not separate. There are two types of causality. The first says in dependence upon a cause an effect arises. This is not the cause and effect that is inseparable from emptiness. The other type says that things exist in dependence upon one another. This is the dependent arising inseparable from emptiness. This mutual interdependence is what’s referred to when dependent arising is used to ascertain emptiness. The reason why mutual interdependence is the explanation of emptiness rather than the first kind is that Nagarjuna refuted the four possibilities of arising. The other kind of cause and effect is mutual interdependence and it is this that is used to ascertain the truth of emptiness.
Nagarjuna refuted production from a cause, an effect, both and neither. This is the ascertainment of emptiness in the Middle Way. There are five Middle Way proofs: the vajra bolt, which analyzes the cause, the reasoning that negates the effect, the reasoning that asserts there is no singular or plural cause, the reasoning that negates the four alternatives, and the reasoning that analyzes everything which is a dependent arising. So the fifth reasoning is the great reasoning of dependent arising.
The mutual interdependence of things refutes the arising of an effect from a cause. What cause and effect means here is a cause and effect that is not inherently real and merely conventional. Conventionally we can speak of our body, but if we search for it we won’t find it. Also in the Root Verses on the Middle Way an opponent says the child arises from its mother. Nagarjuna responded by asking is there a parent before the child or a child before the parent? Conventionally a child comes from its parents. But when the arising of a child from the parent is analyzed, it is not found. If the father is a lion, the child is a lion cub and not a fox. If the father teaches emptiness, the child should not say entities are truly established. Even if we say everything is empty and impermanent, if we grasp, we are not really acting in accord with emptiness.
Our fatherland is the secluded mountain retreat
Do not roam in the land and wander in the cities
This mainly refers to the mind and not the body. We should have isolation in the mind and go where it’s quiet to practice. You don’t need a fancy shrine, just a quiet place to practice. Milarepa didn’t have a shrine, just a kettle and some kindling for the fire. We go into seclusion to create mental isolation. But we don’t need to go to the mountains, we can practice where we are. If you are wealthy it’s good to have a nice altar with representations of the Buddha. But if you’re not, a simple picture will do. The important thing is that it reminds you of the Buddha. it’s not important that it be fancy. When the representation is expensive, we take good care of it and when it’s cheap we do not.. That’s the wrong attitude. A lama went into a retreat in a small hut and drew a simple line drawing of the Buddha on a piece of cloth and that was his support for meditation. We shouldn’t have less respect for an inexpensive image than an expensive one. It’s good to have a nice representation if you have the money, because that accumulates merit. But it is not inherently more valuable than a cheaper image.
Father’s castle is the three vows which share the same crucial point
Do not leave it vacant
This refers to the vows of individual liberation, the bodhisattva vows, and the tantric vows. Everyone who practices Buddhism in Tibet has these three vows. They are needed because even if they are not a monk or nun they have theses vows by taking refuge. A lay person has vows, which are their individual liberation vows. When you receive empowerment, you must first take refuge and bodhisattva vows. Then you also take the tantric commitments. The metaphor here for the three vows is a castle and the person staying in the castle is taking these three vows. If you don’t take these vows, you leave this castle vacant. All the vows share the same central point. But it’s a mistaken view to see them as separate and conflicting. In secret mantra it’s said it’s permissible to drink alcohol, but not to become drunk. But in sutra it says not to drink because then you will become drunk. The fault of alcohol is that is causes drunkenness. But it’s not the case that what is a virtue to one vow is a vice in another. Similarly, the same essential point the ten unvirtuous actions are abandoned in all three sets of vows.
Our father’s field is the fourfold mudra
Meritorious children do not let your diligence go idle
This is a poetic metaphor. The four mudras are the karma (action) mudra, samaya (commitment) mudra, the dharma mudra, and maha mudra. The first is the exhaustion of the delusions of the five senses which becomes the all accomplishing wisdom. The samaya mudra refers to the hand gestures used in different rituals for the deities. The dharma mudra refers to the exhaustion of mental delusions, which becomes the discerning wisdom. On the maha mudra a lot could be said but I will simply quote the text on page eighteen to twenty of the booklet. Yesterday there was a question and I think this text answers it. The unborn is the nature of mahamudra, as it is the nature of Nagarjuna’s treatise. Some people praise mahamudra and say Nagarjuna is only a treatise. But they both teach the unborn and Nagarjuna should not be denigrated. The teacher who named mahamudra the white panacea was Lama Shang Tsalpa, one of Phagmodrupa’s eight disciples.
Q: What you explain the purpose of the mudras?
A: I don’t have it clear myself, so I can’t explain.
Q: So why is the word mudra used?
A: For mahamudra, the first syllable, cha, means the nature of emptiness, the gya means nothing goes beyond this and chenpo signifies the greatness of it. There’s a lot to be said on these four mudras. In some explanations the karma mudra is relying on a consort.
Father’s clothes are the precious three training
Children do not sleep in the nude
The three trainings are discipline, samadhi, and wisdom. The training of discipline is rejecting what is unvirtuous and doing what is virtuous. There are a lot of divisions in the discipline of training. There are seven or eight type of vows of individual liberation. There is the bodhicitta of aspiration and accomplishment and there are the different types of tantric commitments. The training in samadhi or meditative stabilization, which is one pointed mind focussed on virtue without distraction to other phenomena. And for all the three trainings one should have mindfulness and awareness. The most important is the training on wisdom, which is discerning clearly what is to be adopted and what is to be rejected.
The three trainings should be embraced by the six perfections. Generosity and discipline fall into the first training. The perfection of concentration is the second training. The perfection of wisdom is the third training. To perfect generosity is to perfect the giving mind. There is no end to those who can receive gifts. To perfect generosity, you perfect the giving mind. We all cherish our bodies, so if we can give the gift of our bodies, that is the perfection of generosity. The perfection of discipline is the guarded mind. This is because when the mind is guarded, then discipline follows. The perfection of concentration is concentration free from the eight faults: apathy, lethargy, excitement, dullness, and so forth. For the perfection of wisdom, there are two type: worldly and transcendent. Transcendent wisdom is the realization of selflessness. There are two types of selflessness, of persons and phenomena. Based on these two selflessness you are liberated. The remaining two perfections, patience and diligence, accompany all three trainings. Patience refers to mental fortitude, the fortitude to not be shaken by anything and the fearlessness to bear anything that may come one’s way. The last of the six perfections is diligence and diligence means to delight in virtue. Often we call someone diligent if they are a hard worker. Working hard at unvirtuous activities is not diligence, but laziness. If you practice the six perfections you abide in the three trainings. So this verse uses the metaphor of clothes for trainings. Not having the training is like going around naked. Someone who goes around nude is wild or disrespectful. Likewise with someone who neglects the three trainings.
Father’s treasures are the two prized accumulations
Do not stop polishing them
The metaphor here is the treasure of a jewel. There was a time when beings had a lot of merit and got whatever they wanted through wish fulfilling jewels. These jewels arose from their collective karma and are a thing of the past. These jewels should be washed by three washings and polished by three polishings. The first is to wash it in ocean water and wipe it with a woolen cloth. In the second phase you wash the jewel in a fruit juice and wipe it with a cotton cloth. The third phase is you wash the jewel in an herbal infusion and wipe it with a silk cloth. During the time these jewels existed they would wash and polish these jewels in these ways and then put them in an exalted place and pray to them. The meaning of this example is that we polish a jewel by means of the accumulations of merit and wisdom.
There are different ways of placing the six perfections in the two accumulations. Some say the first three are the accumulation of merit, the last two are the accumulation of wisdom. Another says the first two are the accumulation of merit the . Even when saying a single mantra, both accumulations should be present. The recitation of the sound is an accumulation of merit. Not conceptualizing the three spheres of actor recipient and action is the accumulation of wisdom. In general, in all activities the two accumulations should be present. A gift generates the accumulation of merit and not conceptualizing the giver, recipient and gift is the accumulation of wisdom.
Father’s relatives are all beings of the six realms
Do not disregard the six classes of beings
The father’s relatives is a metaphor for the six realms. This is easy to understand.
Father’s enemies are the awful group of mental afflictions
Do not let them intensify
Father’s weapons are the Ten Dharmas and Three Dharma rituals
Do not leave the unsheathed weapons lying around
There are different ways to explain this verse. Some explain this by saying you should not teach to more than ten or three disciples at a time. Whatever the case, it refers to the teachings, especially those of Jigten Sumgon. We should not leave them behind, because they should not be disregarded, but studied. A weapon needs to be taken care of. Similarly, the great teachers came to bring the teachings. If we don’t study and practice them, even if we saw these teachers who wrote them, it would not help. Buddha gave the instructions on how to reach enlightenment, but practicing them is up to us. Gampopa said some future people may feel unhappy because they have not seen me. But whoever practices my teachings is not different from someone who met me.
Father’s religion is the holy dharma of the fivefold path of mahamudra
Children if you do not conduct yourself like Father
The fivefold practice is bodhicitta, deity yoga, guru yoga, mahamudra, and dedication. Mahamudra is said to be like a lion. But without the fivefold practice it is like a blind lion. First you generate bodhicitta, by embracing the attitude of love and compassion. You begin by recollecting the kindness of other persons. Start with one particular person and extend it from there to all sentient beings, who all have shown us great kindness in past lives. It is difficult to think of all beings in the abstract, so it is important to start with one person. When you recall the kindness of a person, your natural response is to wish for them to be happy. And that is called love. When this love comes to mind, we find they are not happy, because they are in samsara. So the natural response is compassion. So there is a natural progression from the one to the other. And then we see this person who has been kind to us and we wish to free them from their suffering and develop the strong wish to have the ability to free them from suffering by becoming a Buddha. That strong wish is bodhicitta.
Next is meditating on the yidam deity. As explained before, this is not saying what is not the case to be the case, but seeing things as they are. All beings are naturally Buddhas but do not see this because of their confusion. We practice deity yoga to see things as they are. The generation stage has three characteristics: clear appearance, divine pride, and recollection of purity. The most important is divine pride. This divine pride that you are the deity is not the pride that is a disturbing emotion. Rather it is the antidote to this pride. In the Bodhicharyavatara Shantideva says this. If you have a firm stable pride, along this the other two characteristics will come. There are a lot of different ways of generating the deity. But all the practices start with acknowledging emptiness. So it is important to be familiar with emptiness. Without this you cannot generate a clear appearance of the deity, because you will fixate on your ordinary body. Because of this, you will not be able to have divine pride or recollection of purity.
The next part of the fivefold practice is guru yoga. For this faith is important. Guru yoga is essential for secret mantra and is said to be the essential practice. It is said that there is no generation practice higher than guru yoga and no completion stage greater than complete surrender.
The fourth is mahamudra. What is mahamudra? It is not engaging the mind. Someone who has become familiar with the practice through the preliminaries will come to some understanding by hearing this. But without the preliminaries there is the danger that one will fall into nihilism. Similarly in Milarepa’s song it was said that there’s no meditator and nothing to meditate upon, no path and no Buddha, and similar language of negation. Some hearing this will fall to the view that there is nothing whatsoever. But this will not happen to someone who has some training in the practice. A verse by Naropa asks “What is the support of space? It has no support. Likewise the mind of mahamudra has no support. If you relax the mind there is no doubt that what is bound will be released. Rest with ease in the uncontrived state of innate wisdom.” Normally our perceptions are encased within conceptual mind. When this dissolves we can see the face of awareness nakedly. We should place the mind naturally without any contrivance.
In the Kagyu tradition mahamudra is taught in accord with experience. This means the different stages of the practice are taught in sequence, stage by stage. But these days the teachings are given all at once to a large group. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation does not explicitly explain the mahamudra in the wisdom chapter, It says to go listen to the oral instructions of a teacher. One monk did a retreat on the Six Yogas of Naropa. He asked his lama for mahamudra instruction and he said not until you do the preliminaries again. It’s not that the lama was being stingy, but he wanted to make the teachings valued. If it takes effort and commitment and sacrifice, the teachings you get will be valued. Otherwise, if the teachings are given freely, they won’t be valued. In the past empowerments weren’t given openly and a student would make great sacrifices and make great offerings before receiving an empowerment. It’s not that the teachers wanted to get rich, they wanted the teachings to be valued. If you buy clothes cheap, you will wear them anywhere but if they are expensive, you will be more careful. The Tibetans who went to India to receive teachings made large offerings. Marpa converted all his wealth to gold before going to India.
The fifth practice is dedication. It is very important to dedicate the merit of what you’ve done. It’s good to dedicate the merit immediately after the practice without an intervening thought. If you’ve done a two hour session of meditation and clearly visualized the deity and don’t dedicate the merit and have thoughts of passion and aggression, the merit is destroyed. It’s said a single thought of anger can destroy the merit of ten eons. Jigten Sumgon said that if you don’t polish the jewel of the two accumulations with dedication, you won’t realize the fruition. Without dedicating the merit it can be exhausted without bringing forth the fruition of Buddhahood.
There is the risk you will lose your spiritual family
like a bride who is sent to her in-laws
The meaning of the last two verses is that if you do not practice the teachings of the lineage, there is the danger you will leave that lineage, that you will stray from it. This epistle from beginning to end uses the example of family life and the metaphors are according to how family life is practiced. but it refers to the practice of the dharma.
Now we will discuss Khenchen’s text. It begins with the expression of worship to the past masters of the lineage. The expanse in which all phenomena are undifferentiated is the primordial dharmakaya of Samantabhadra. The unceasing dynamism is the manifestation of the lamas that took birth out of compassion in order to teach sentient beings the unbiased teachings. In describing the ways of the past masters it says that they wore the mists of the mountains as their clothes. This is not literal, it merely means that they practiced in the mountains. They threw aside the eight worldly concerns, which means that they were not concerned with the praise and criticism of others. When meditators of the past drew a following, they would leave for a place where they were not known. On the next page it describes their compassion and the stages of developing it. The end result is cherishing others more than yourself. For beginners it is difficult to do this, so one trains to equalize concern for self and others. One aspires to this, but does not fully put this into practice, because the attempt may create an obstacle.
For an ordinary person appearances are good or bad, sounds are pleasant or not, and thoughts are good and bad, but in tantra all appearances are the deity, all sounds are a resounding mantra and every thought is the dharmakaya. This is tantric practice which regards the mind as the great seal of mahamudra. And so this practice is the essential practice of sutra and tantra. One should not get side tracked in other concerns such as dharma politics. When you fall under the sway of afflicting emotions, you receive the results of these afflictions. The reference to sky flowers is poetic and means something which is nonexistent. The text says our love and compassion is nonexistent. Often people think the vows of tantra override the vows of sutra. They shouldn’t be seen as contradictory, as we explained before. Some people think vows become easier and easier in the higher practices, but they become more and more refined and harder to keep. All the essential points of what is to be accepted and rejected are contained in the tantric vows. Mahamudra and ethics have a common principle. This is like emptiness and cause and effect. Some people think they don’t need to heed karma because everything is empty. Some have this mistaken view of mahamudra who think ethics is just for beginners. But they have the same essential point.
In the West people are enthusiastic for studying the dharma. But in Tibet even though the people have great faith, they don’t understand the teachings intellectually. But because their faith is unwavering, they won’t give it up for anything. This was evident with the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution. It’s important to have this kind of faith, but it’s important to understand the teaching as well. This day many lamas do not have deep intellectual understanding. This is beneficial to read over and over again because it is helpful for our practice. Though the words are harsh and critical, it is good to read these verses again and again. I asked Jan to translate the teachings in this book and he worked hard to put them into English quickly. We published five thousand copies of these texts. The words in this book are not very flowery, but they are good to read. If you are always reading good things you will become proud. The best teacher points out your problems. So for me these texts are the best teacher. Often we think whatever we do is good and other people have the problem. All beings think this way. But when we read this, we realize we have this and that problem.
Khenpo Tsultrim Tenzin
December 27, 2005
Tibetan Meditation Center