Lerab Ling, 20 August 1997

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Lerab Ling, 20 August 1997

One hot summer’s evening during a Vajrakilaya drupchen at Lerab Ling, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche spoke about both Vajrakilaya and how to apply the basic principles of kyerim to Vajrakilaya practice. Sogyal Rinpoche was present and Chokyi Nyima (Richard Baron) provided an excellent on-the-spot live translation. This was the teaching that went on to become an integral part of how kyerim is now taught to all Rigpa's Vajrayana students.

As usual, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche was careful to include all the key aspects of Vajrakilaya practice and everything that students need to understand in order to practise kyerim, as well as an essential guide to kyerim’s deeper meaning. And he managed to do all this even though he had been allocated a rather limited amount of teaching time that very busy summer, which included Khenpo Petse’s presentation of the Secret Essence Tantra.

So, as the Secret Essence Tantra includes the supreme presentation of kyerim and dzogrim practice, and as it was being taught by Khenpo Petse, who was one of the greatest teachers alive at that time, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche said that he would concentrate on providing a starter kit for beginners – a kit that includes a ‘to do’ check-list and a treasure-trove of practical instructions based on the experiences of great practitioners.


Make sure that, before I begin, you generate the motivation of supreme bodhichitta, the precious mind of enlightenment. Think to yourself, I will now listen to the profound holy Dharma and put it into practice as instructed, for the sake of the enlightenment of all sentient beings, who are as numerous as space is vast. This is what all the teachers always say before they teach the Dharma, so it’s probably worth thinking about.

We’ve come together this evening because I’m supposed to say something to you all and it seems to me that it’s time I said something a bit more substantial than I have so far.

Right now, you are enjoying an incredible opportunity: you are receiving teachings from Khenpo Petsé, who is widely considered by the Nyingmapas to be the greatest of all living khenpos. Khenpo Petsé is teaching the most profound of profound Dharma texts, the The Secret Essence Tantra, which is the root of the eighteen Mahayoga Tantras. And this great tantra is being taught with reference to the Essence of Clear Light, which is Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche’s synthesis of three commentaries on this tantra written by omniscient Longchenpa. Yet, even though this teaching is taking place right now, several people, led by Philip, have repeatedly insisted that I say something about kyerim (the development or generation stage, Skt. utpattikrama). He says that I should explain it simply and in a way that is easy to understand.

I. Introduction

The Mahayoga Teachings


After our teacher, Lord Buddha Shakyamuni, demonstrated passing into nirvana, the five sublimely noble ones assembled at the summit of Blazing Meteoritic Mount Malaya – today it’s known as Mount Shripada in present day Sri Lanka. All five were aware that Buddha had passed into nirvana and expressed their anguish and grief in the twenty-five verses of lamentation that begin:

Alas! When the light from lamp that is the teacher
Is gone from the whole universe,
Who will dispel the darkness of the world...

Their lamentations invoked Vajrasattva, then who came from the pure realm of Akanishtha and appeared to them in the form of Vajrapani to teach all Buddha Shakyamuni’s Mahayoga teachings once again. These Mahayoga teachings are divided into two sections: tantra and sadhana.

Tantra Section

The five students then mastered the meaning of all these teachings, and the rakshasa Matyaupayika wrote them down in gold ink on lapis lazuli paper and collected them in several books. He then sealed these books in space with seven powerful intentions for benefiting the future generations of beings these teachings will tame.

Later, a king called ‘Indrabhuti’ reigned over the land of Oddiyana, which was said to be in the west of India on the present-day border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Actually there are two kings named Indrabhuti in the Buddhist tradition but the one that I’m telling you about is known by many names, including Indrabhuti the Elder and King Ja.

When the Lord of Secrets turned the wheel of the Dharma of secret mantra for the five sublimely noble ones on Mount Malaya, King Ja of Zahor, who practised the outer tantras of the way of secret mantra, had, at the very same time, seven wonderful indications in dreams...[1]Dudjom Rinpoche. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History. Boston, Mass: Wisdom Publications, 2002, 458.

After receiving the teachings, King Indrabhuti had several dreams, then actually experienced what he’d dreamed in real life, when the books that make up the tantra section of the Mahayoga rained down on the roof of his palace.

... while the king was sitting absorbed in the meditative cultivation of the yoga of the lower tantras, a volume containing the great pitaka of secret mantra, including the Buddhasamayoga, and a one-cubit-tall image of the Lord of Secrets actually fell upon the royal palace, just as it had in his dream. Then, having performed prayers, he realized the meaning of the chapter entitled the “Vision of Vajrasattva”. Relying on that understanding and on the image of Vajrapani, he practised for seven months. As a result he had a vision of Vajrasattva who empowered him with wisdom, and this was how he could instantly memorize the words and understand the meaning of the entire volume.[2]Dudjom Rinpoche, History, 2002, 459.

Having received and realized the teachings fully, Indrabhuti passed them on through a lineage that included master Kukkuraja and Princess Gomadevi. This is how the lineage of the tantra section originated.

Then King Indrabhuti taught this text [...] to master Kukkuraja, who then realized the meaning of the chapter on the “Vision of Vajrasattva” from the Tantra of the Magical Net of Vajrasattva (the Secret Essence Tantra), and practised it, whereupon Vajrasattva revealed himself and predicted that the Lord of Secrets would reveal the meanings of this tantra thereafter.[3]Dudjom Rinpoche, History, 2002, 460

Sadhana Section

The other part of the Mahayoga teachings are known as the ‘sadhana section.’ These sadhanas are the quintessence of the teachings that make up the tantra section and provide specific, practical methods for putting the tantra teachings into practice. The dakinis responsible for guarding these teachings wrote them down in their magical script, then concealed them in the Shankarakuta Stupa at the Cool Grove Charnel Ground in central India. Collectively known as the Kagyé, the ‘eight categories of sadhanas’ were sealed into eight caskets made of precious metals and stones – gold, silver, copper, lapis and so on – which the dakinis then hid in the eight directions of the stupa. In the centre of the eight Kagyé caskets, another casket made of different precious substances was also concealed. Later, as predicted by the dakinis, the eight great vidyadhara masters of India – Nagarjuna, Hungkara, Vimalamitra, Shantigarbha and the others – gathered in the Cool Grove Charnel Ground. After seven days of practice, each master was offered one of the caskets. By practising the teachings they found in the caskets, each one then attained the accomplishments.

The ninth casket, the one in the very centre of the stupa, was not given to the eight vidyadharas, but was kept hidden by the dakinis until the master Padmakara, Dorje Tötreng Tsal, appeared in this world. It contained the cycle of practice that combines all the eight Kagyé sadhanas into one, known as the Ocean of Dharma that Combines all the Kagyé (Kadü Chökyi Gyatso). In addition to receiving this transmission from the dakinis, Guru Rinpoche, Padmakara, received from each of the eight great vidyadharas the specific transmission he held, plus all the associated empowerments, pith instructions and so on. These teachings were poured into him like filling one vase from another, until it was full to overflowing.

Pith Instructions Section

In addition to the tantra and sadhana sections, the Vajrayana also includes the extremely profound direct instruction transmissions known as the ‘pith instructions section’, which contain the quintessence of the most profound practice of the tantra and sadhana teachings. This lineage is known as ‘Dzogchen’ or ‘Great Perfection.’

The Dzogchen teachings originated in the pure realm of Akanishtha where they were hidden in the wisdom mind of Vajrasattva. During the direct encounter Vidyadhara Garab Dorje had with Vajrasattva, Garab Dorje received the Dzogchen teachings. He then passed them on to Manjushrimitra, who transmitted them to Shri Singha, who taught them to Jñanasutra, who gave them to Vimalamitra and Guru Rinpoche. The Dzogchen teachings were then brought to Tibet through three lineages: the lineages of Guru Rinpoche, Vimalamitra and the Tibetan master Vairotsana. This is the lineage of Dzogpachenpo.

To recite the alphabet, you have to start at the beginning and say A and B before C, D and E, right? To be able to discuss the teachings of the tantra and sadhana sections, what I’ve just said is the very minimum that must first be presented. If this is not done, those receiving the teachings will not trust them, not knowing where they come from.
If I were to teach using very few words that nevertheless carry immense meaning, the chances are that you would understand very little, right? On the other hand, if I were to give an extensive exposition of these teachings, it would probably mean spending an entire day on a single point – which we can’t do because we don’t have much time. So if you want to know more about the origins of the Nyingma teachings, look at His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche’s History of the Nyingma School[4]Published as the second part of: Dudjom Rinpoche. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History. Edited by Matthew Kapstein. Translated by Gyurme Dorje. 2nd edition. Boston, Mass: Wisdom Publications, 2002, 381–973.; or read more general books like Guru Tashi’s History of the Dharma[5]This 1000 page seminal text hasn’t been translated in English yet.. A more concise, yet complete, presentation of how the Nyingma teachings unfolded can be found in Shechen Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s commentary[6]This text hasn’t been translated. based on Mipham Rinpoche’s prayer for the spread of the Nyingma teachings, The Oral Transmission that Gladdens the Hearts of Dharma Kings – which we have been reciting here in Lerab Ling. This commentary will give you an idea of how the Nyingma teachings unfolded.

The Activity Cycle of Vajrakilaya

However, right now we must sweep aside the tantra section, seven of the eight Kagyé of the sadhana section, the Ocean of Dharma that Combines all of the Kagyé, and the Dzogchen teachings, because what we are going to look at this evening is the Display of the Twelve Kilas Tantra.

The first master to receive the Vajrakilaya Tantra – which had been concealed in a turquoise casket – was Prabhahasti. The next was Guru Rinpoche who, having received the tantra, put it into practice and thereby became inseparable from Vajrakilaya[7]See Dudjom Rinpoche, History, 481. On Guru Rinpoche and Vajrakilaya, see also Boord J., A bolt of Lightning From the Blue, Edition Khordong, Berlin, 2002, 113-142. – his biographies go into great detail about how he progressed through the four vidyadhara levels. This evening we are concerned with the attainment of the Mahamudra level of a vidyadhara – or to put it in another way, ‘buddhahood’.

In order to attain buddhahood, Guru Rinpoche travelled to a place in present-day Nepal that we now call Pharping. As he meditated many obstacles arose and, although Guru Rinpoche himself remained unaffected, the people of India, Nepal and even Tibet were threatened by devastating drought, famine, disease and other calamities. To avert these obstacles, Guru Rinpoche sent envoys to India with instructions to find the very powerful teachings that are extremely effective at dispelling obstacles. They returned with many volumes of texts from the Vajrakilaya cycle, principally the Vidyottama Tantra that contains one hundred thousand tantric teachings on Vajrakilaya[8]Buddha Shakyamuni as Vajrakilaya gave one hundred thousand different Kilaya teachings, which are condensed in the Vidyottama Tantra. This tantra is also known as the Supreme Awareness Tantra, rig pa mchog gi spyi rgyud. This Vajrakilaya tantra is divided into different groups, such as the root tantra, the trunk tantra, the branch tantra, the leaf tantra, the flower tantra, and the fruit tantra.. The moment the texts arrived in Pharping, before they had even been opened let alone read, all the obstacles vanished. Then, after six months of Vajrakilaya and six months of Yangdak practice, “Guru Rinpoche manifested the supreme accomplishment of a vidyadhara of Mahamudra” – meaning he attained enlightenment.

Although Guru Rinpoche practised Yangdak Heruka (Vishuddha Heruka) to manifest the supreme accomplishment of buddhahood – the vidyadhara of Mahamudra – he first had to accomplish the requisite practice of Vajrakilaya to dispel all obstacles. He then wrote various practices that unite these two deities – for example, the Combined Practice of Vishuddha and Vajrakilaya (one of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s termas). In fact, it’s said that Guru Rinpoche wrote as many as 108 sadhanas that unite Yangdak Heruka with Vajrakilaya.

As everyone knows, Guru Rinpoche then travelled to Tibet, the Land of Snows, where he revealed the mandala of Vajrakilaya to his main disciples and many others, granting them the empowerment, explaining the tantra and bestowing the reading transmissions. Basically, while Guru Rinpoche was in Tibet he transmitted the Vajrakilaya teachings to many of his students, including his main disciples – known as the ‘nine heart children, lord and subjects’ – who had a special karmic connection with him. This cycle comes from the Supreme Awareness Tantra (Vidyottama), but it can also be found in many other tantric texts, such as Black One: Hundred Thousand Word Commentary on the Kila, the Boiling Lake of Blood Tantra and so on – there is an almost inconceivable number of Vajrakilaya tantras and tantric teachings.

Vajrakilaya in the Kama Tradition

The practice of Vajrakilaya is found in both the Kama and Terma traditions. One of the main Kama lineages of Vajrakilaya is held by the Sakyapas. Guru Rinpoche transmitted the teachings to Khön Lü’i Wangpo, and others, who then passed them on until they eventually reached Khön Könchok Gyalpo. Since that time, the teachings have been transmitted through generation after generation of Sakya lineage holders. The Sakyas call these Vajrakilaya and Vishuddha teachings the ‘two buddhadharmas of the fathers’ because they have always been received from a Sakya lineage throne holder – the ‘father.’ All the tantras and sadhanas associated with these teachings still exist today as part of the Kama teachings. Many other Vajrakilaya teachings can also be found in the Nyingma Kama.

Frankly speaking, the first thirteen generations of the Sakya throne holders, from Khön Lü’i Wangpo to Khön Könchok Gyalpo, were effectively Nyingmapas. It was Khön Könchok Gyalpo who started practising the Sarma teachings, particularly the cycle of Hevajra. Some say that, at that point, the fathers’ dharmas almost died out after the texts were buried in stupas. But fortunately the Vishuddha and Vajrakilaya texts were preserved.

Vajrakilaya in the Terma Tradition

I think it’s fair to say that in the Nyingma terma tradition, there were hardly any tertöns who did not reveal a practice of Vajrakilaya. Some tertöns revealed four, five or six different Vajrakilaya cycles, while others revealed just one essential practice. But almost all of them revealed some form of Vajrakilaya practice.

Amidst this great wealth of sadhanas, the exegetical tradition speaks of the three profound ‘razor cycles’ that were revealed by Guru Chöwang, Rigdzin Gödem (in the Northern Treasure cycle), and Sangyé Lingpa. The Vajrakilaya cycle revealed by the great tertön Ratna Lingpa is enormously popular in both the Kagyu and the Nyingma schools. The widespread practice of Ratna Lingpa’s Vajrakilaya has brought a great deal of benefit to many practitioners and is an important yidam practice for the Kagyupas; every year, many Kagyu and Nyingma monasteries practise drupchens or drupchös based on Ratna Lingpa’s Vajrakilaya. Another cycle that has spread widely and been adopted by many different Dharma centres, is the Vajrakilaya revealed by Pema Lingpa.

Terton Sogyal’s Vajrakilaya

Just a few generations ago, great 19th century masters like Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Taye, Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa, Tertön Sogyal Lerab Lingpa and others, revealed many very profound and vast Vajrakilaya terma cycles. These termas continue to be practised to this very day.

Tertön Sogyal’s Vajrakilaya was revealed as a yellow scroll and received from the dakinis by Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Taye, who gave it to Tertön Sogyal to decipher. This is the very extensive Vajrakilaya cycle that we know today. I have just been given the text of the short daily practice, but it’s so big that it looks more like an elaborate sadhana!

Example of Terma Revelation

To give you an idea of how Tertön Sogyal used to reveal hidden treasures, I will tell you a well-known story. Tertön Sogyal was living in Lhasa. His Holiness the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso looked on him as one of his root gurus and received many empowerments from him. At the same time as giving His Holiness empowerments, Tertön Sogyal was also doing a number of practices for him. One day, the great tertön experienced a prophetic insight: it was the perfect time to reveal a Vajrakilaya terma and the life-stone of Hayagriva and Vajravarahi Wish-fulfilling Jewel that were hidden in the Jokhang. He quickly informed His Holiness the Dalai Lama of this prophecy.

“That’s wonderful!” exclaimed His Holiness, “let’s make all the necessary preparations. And I want to be with you when you reveal this terma”.

As you might imagine, there followed a tremendous flurry of excitement. An enormous amount of organization and planning was required before the terma was revealed, because His Holiness was determined to be at the Jokhang in person to witness it, and that meant everyone else in Lhasa would want to be there too.

Ceremonies in the Jokhang usually take place at the ‘mandala midpoint’ (kyilkhor ding), and Tertön Sogyal said that this was also exactly where the terma would be discovered. Everyone gathered and began to practise. As the tsok was offered, Tertön Sogyal indicated that the moment the terma should be revealed was fast approaching.

“Do all the necessary preparations,” said His Holiness, “but let me be the one to actually take the terma out. I want to reveal this terma!”

“That’s as it should be!” said Tertön Sogyal.

They continued to practise. As the tsok offerings were distributed, the participants recited the Prayer to Guru Rinpoche That Spontaneously Fulfils All Wishes and Tertön Sogyal approached His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

“Your Holiness should come now. It’s time to reveal the terma.”

His Holiness rose, accompanied by his head secretary, various high Tibetan government officials and his tutor, Purchok Rinpoche – an important Gelugpa master. They all circumambulated the temple in procession, then re-entered it through the western door near ‘the Image of Avalokiteshvara of the Five naturally arisen miracles.’[9]See Shabkar Natshok Rangdrol. The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin, Translated by Matthieu Ricard. SUNY Press, 1994, 238-239n18. There is an empty wall and no buildings by that door, and all the aristocrats and great lamas present had to sit staring at it.

The moment Tertön Sogyal threw some blessed barley grains at the blank wall it instantly cracked opened. Everyone peered into the crack and saw a pillar around which wound two snakes, each going up the opposite way and their heads facing each other with their mouths open and tongues flickering. Between the two venom-toothed, hissing mouths stood a casket.

“There it is!” cried Tertön Sogyal. “Please, put your hand in to retrieve it.”

“Not likely!” exclaimed His Holiness. “I’m not doing that! The tertön himself should take it out.”

Without a moment’s hesitation Tertön Sogyal reached in, retrieved the casket – which was extremely hot – and offered it to His Holiness. The very same casket is still in the possession of the present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.

This is an example of how termas are revealed.

The Benefits of Practising Vajrakilaya

What specific benefit can we gain by practising Vajrakilaya? The primary function of Vajrakilaya is to remove obstacles. Once all your obstacles have been removed, that’s buddhahood. Guru Rinpoche attained all the siddhis, including the supreme accomplishment of buddhahood, the moment he removed all his obstacles.

Followers of the Secret Mantra Vajrayana tradition should understand that we don’t ‘get’ siddhis or accomplishments from outside ourselves; spiritual accomplishments must come from within.

The prayer to Guru Rinpoche known as the Prayer that Removes All Obstacles from the Path says there are outer, inner and secret obstacles. Basically there are many forms and kinds of what we collectively call ‘obstacles’, but if I were to attempt anything like a thorough explanation of these outer, inner and secret obstacles, we would have to forget the teaching on Vajrakilaya and instead devote our time exclusively to the Prayer that Removes All Obstacles from the Path! So for now, let’s simply say that it’s necessary for you to know that there are many kinds of obstacles: some are outer obstacles, some are inner obstacles and some are secret obstacles.

Who is Vajrakilaya?

The yidam we know as Glorious Vajrakumara, or Vajrakilaya, is the extremely wrathful form of Vajrasattva. This means that Vajrasattva is Vajrakilaya’s peaceful manifestation. Other manifestations of Vajrasattva are the semi-wrathful form known as Dorje Namjom (Vajra Vidharana) and the wrathful form known as Vajrapani.

Vajrakilaya is the physical manifestation of the power of the enlightened activity of all the sugatas of the three times. All enlightened activity gathered into one form is the deity Vajrakilaya. Therefore enlightened activity is the essence of Vajrakilaya.

Vajrakilaya Drupchen Practice at Lerab Ling

Before my monks and I left India to come to Europe we didn’t know that we would be doing a drupchen here. Had we known, as Lerab Ling is Sogyal Rinpoche’s seat, we would have prepared ourselves to do a Sogyal Phurba drupchen – obviously! But as we didn’t, we are only able, on this occasion, to do the briefest practice from this cycle – which we will do for the sake of auspicious connection.

The History of Vajrakilaya of Nyak Lotsawa

We will also do the primary ritual Vajrakilaya of Nyak Lotsawa. ‘Nyak’ is part of the name of one of the greatest lotsawas in Tibet, Nyak Jñanakumara, who was a student of both Guru Rinpoche and Vimalamitra.

Once Guru Rinpoche left Tibet for the realm of the rakshasa demons ­on the subcontinent of Chamara, and after the Dharma King Trison Deutsen had passed away, Mune Tsenpo, the king’s eldest son, assumed the throne of Tibet. But he only ruled for three years and six months because he was murdered – poisoned – by Lady Margyen of Tsepang, one of Trison Deutsen’s queens who was Mune Tsenpo’s own mother! Vimalamitra then miraculously returned to Samye from the Five-peaked Mountain in China for the funeral ceremonies and Nyak Jñanakumara seized the opportunity to visit him. In the folds of his robes, Nyak Jñanakumara carried three measures of gold, all of which he offered to Vimalamitra.

“Well, translator,” said Vimalamitra, “Are you happy?”

“There are too many obstacles to Dharma practice,” replied Nyak Jñanakumara, “Too many people are creating too many problems. So no, I’m not happy.”

This was very bad news.

“Anyone who harms a lotsawa is also injuring the teachings in general,” said Vimalamitra. He then transmitted to Nyak Jñanakumara the Nyak Luk Phurba, gave him the empowerment and explained the tantras and pith instructions. The teachings were then concealed as a terma and later revealed by wisdom dakinis, who presented themselves to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and gave him the yellow scroll containing these teachings. With the help of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche deciphered the scroll and wrote down the treasure teachings. They are now known as the Vajrakilaya of Nyak Jñanakumara. We will do one of the sadhanas contained in that cycle during this drupchen.

The Heart Essence of Vajrakilaya, from the Oral Transmission Lineage

One of the other practices we’ll be doing is a ritual from the teaching cycle known as The Oral Transmission Lineage: Heart Essence of Vajrakilaya. It was received by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo as part of the seven authoritative transmissions. One of these seven methods is known in Tibetan as ‘nyen gyü’, literally the ‘earing’ lineage, or oral lineage – sometimes translated as ‘whispered lineage’. Khyentse Wangpo received the transmission of this particular teaching from the master Shakya Senge, Guru Rinpoche.

For those of us who follow the Khyentse tradition, The Oral Transmission Lineage: Vajrakilaya is considered to be one of the most powerful of all practices. The sadhana we will do during the drupchen follows the order stipulated by Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö and is based on the original terma. Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö wrote it at the request of Tsewang Paljor, Sogyal Rinpoche’s stepfather, for his personal practice.

To my mind, when it comes to attending a drupchen, it’s really not good enough to just to enter a shrine room, sit down and shout the mantra om benza kili kilaya without having a clue about the practice. So...

The Four Phurbas

When Vajrakilaya is taught, the first things to explain are the four phurbas (kilayas), which are Vajrakilaya’s four special qualities.

  1. The phurba of existence: the teaching on kyerim.
  2. The material object is the ritual phurba, which annihilates the ten fields of liberation: in this teaching, the master explains the many key points of wrathful practice, for example the three crucial points of ‘fortress, ravine and life-force’.
  3. The tiglé phurba of supreme bliss: this phurba is planted in the secret space of the feminine consort and is, by and large, connected with the path of skilful means and the practice that requires a little effort, dzogrim.
  4. The primordial wisdom awareness phurba is planted amidst the five poisons of destructive emotion: this is Dzogchen.

In an extensive presentation of the complete teaching on Vajrakilaya, each aspect of this term ‘kilaya’ (phurba) is explained within the context of the four empowerments.

  1. The kyerim phurba of existence is explained during the vase empowerment.
  2. The tiglé phurba of great bliss, the ‘bodhichitta phurba’, is explained during the secret empowerment.
  3. The material or ritual phurba that annihilates the ten fields of liberation is explained during the third empowerment, the wisdom empowerment.
  4. The primordial wisdom awareness phurba is explained during the fourth empowerment.

The master will conclude his presentation with specific instructions about Vajrakilaya. Vajrakilaya is a very sharp, powerful wrathful mantra practice and in order to practise this yidam, a practitioner must undergo an extensive training that requires 100% commitment.

The Nyingma tradition contains special instructions, the ‘sharp pith instructions’, which relate to the three deities Mamo, Yamantaka and Kilaya, and include all the teaching and guidance on wrathful mantra practice. These instructions explain, for example, Vajrakilaya’s six hidden mantras, six hidden deities, six hidden substances, six hidden states of samadhi, six hidden mudras, and six hidden ways of chanting. There are many stages to Vajrakilaya practice. If you are truly determined to become a genuine yogi or yogini of Vajrakilaya, you must endeavour to receive the many oral lineage pith instructions that have been passed down and preserved solely by word of mouth.

The extent of the blessings and power of Vajrakilaya practice are truly inconceivable. The lineage of the vidyadharas of Vajrakilaya began with dharmakaya Samantabhadra and was passed down through Guru Rinpoche and the other lineage masters to our own gurus. Stories abound about the kinds of mastery these lineage holders manifested through Vajrakilaya – you can read about how they practised and became fully accomplished in their biographies. Karmé Khenpo Rinchen Dargyé wrote about fifty or more vidyadharas who were also masters in the Vajrakilaya lineage, from the Primordial Buddha to his own master who lived in the 19th century, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. He also describes how each vidyadhara practised to attain obvious and miraculous signs of accomplishment and great realization.

If you can read Tibetan and wish to study detailed instructions about how to practise Vajrakilaya, look at Shechen Gyaltsap’s commentary to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s terma, the Combined Practice of Vishuddha and Vajrakilaya. In it, Shechen Gyaltsap describes the special practice instructions he received from both Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Taye and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. This text contains incredibly profound instructions – at least, I think it does. You could also look at Mipham Rinpoche’s General Explanation of All the Kagyé; the section on Vajrakilaya includes some very clear and profound pith instructions. The Dudjom Rinpoches – Dudjom Lingpa and his immediate incarnation Dudjom Jikdral Yeshe Dorje – revealed and transmitted two major cycles of Vajrakilaya: the Razor of Meteoric Iron (Namchak Pudri) and the Razor that Destroys at a Touch (Pudri Regpung). Dudjom Rinpoche’s collected works contain very clear, detailed instruction manuals about both these cycles.

II. Kyerim Practice Instructions


The principles of the ‘generation phase’ (Tib. kyerim, Skt. utpattikrama) apply to all Vajrayana generation stage practices. There is no specific kyerim for Vajrakilaya, another for Yamantaka, and another for some peaceful deity; generation stage practice remains the same for all sadhanas – with a couple of possible exceptions.

To generate a visualization, or to put it another way, to meditate – visualizing and meditating are the same thing – you must first read the words of the sadhana you are practising so you can bring to mind the right images. That makes sense, no? Of course the words of different sadhanas will describe a particular deity and retinue – Vajrakilaya, for example – but the meaning underlying the words remains the same.

If you think about the meaning of each word individually, then pretend to actualize the profound insight this meticulous scrutiny brought you while failing to bring to mind the general underlying meaning, you are like ‘a strutting crow who does not cover much ground’ – the crow’s ostentatious strut effectively hobbles it, so it doesn’t get very far.

What I often see lamas doing these days is, rather than clarifying the deeper meaning of the central points of a teaching, they explain each individual word then summarize the meaning. Students are left with the impression that the emphasis should always be on the words and are unable to delve into the deeper meaning that lies behind those words.
Basically, having received a thorough explanation of the Secret Essence Tantra, if you listened attentively and have a good understanding of what this tantra means, you will already have grasped the deeper meaning of the key points of kyerim and dzogrim practice. If that’s the case, it is no longer necessary for you to seek instruction on individual sadhanas.

Having said all that, it seems that even though Khenpo Petse is currently teaching the Secret Essence Tantra here in Lerab Ling, I am still expected to say something about kyerim.

When kyerim practice is explained, lamas always begin with the three samadhis.

Enlightened Body

The Three Samadhis

Most sadhanas begin with seven preliminary practices, which include refuge, bodhichitta, the seven-branch offering, gektor, the visualization of the protective sphere, the descent of blessings, and blessing the offering substances. On this occasion I will put these practices aside because even if you are familiar with them, if you are unable to ‘pitch the tent of kyerim on the poles of the three samadhis’[10]The three samadhis offer the framework or structure of kyerim practice; they are compared to the three poles of a tepee which hold the tent together by leaning against each other. you are little better than a headless man – meaning, you have nothing.

Were I to go into great detail about the three samadhis, I would have to use a lot of words and invoke many quotations, most of which you would not understand. So instead, let me see if I can explain very simply how to put the three samadhis into practice.

What I have just said is an introduction to kyerim and should be classified as a ‘teaching’. Teachings are different to conversations – yesterday was more like a conversation.[11]The previous evening Rinpoche answered questions on a wide range of subjects such as the word “Dharma”, religion, scriptural authority and the logic of the teachings, the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism coming to the West, upholding the teachings authentically, the teachers’ motivation, suffering, suicide... A teaching is different to a conversation because once you have heard a teaching you must think about it and try to apply it to whatever practice you do – from reciting your daily practice, to the tenth and twenty-fifth days tsok practices, etc. A teaching requires that you reflect on what you have heard and try to apply it.

The Samadhi of Suchness

The first of the three samadhis is called the ‘samadhi of suchness.’ The conclusion we reach having reflected on the samadhi of suchness is that “all phenomena that appear and exist throughout samsara and nirvana are emptiness.” This means that your reflections have led you to the unequivocal understanding that all phenomena are empty. Only your mind can reach this conclusion, no one else can do it for you. All the Buddhist schools from the Land of Snows clearly establish the view of emptiness in their teachings.

Although the first samadhi leads us to conclude that everything is emptiness, the words that accompany this stage of kyerim practice tend to be very few – may be one or two lines, or a four-line stanza at the most – for example: when vajra wrath is aroused, aggression is cut right through[12]Most Vajrakilaya sadhanas use the words of the tantra, with three lines guiding the practitioner through the three samadhis. This is the line corresponding to the first samadhi.. However few the words, as you recite them, you must also meditate on the samadhi of suchness. This means that you must first reach the conclusion that all phenomena are empty, then meditate on that emptiness.

At this point in the practice, you will not have time to bring to mind the Madhyamika view of freedom from the four or eight extremes; and I’m fairly sure that neither will you be able to instantly conclude that samsara and nirvana are inseparable or negate existence.

So how do you genuinely come to the conclusion that all phenomena are emptiness?

  • If you have been introduced to the wisdom of rigpa by your lama through the pith instructions, and if you are able to maintain that recognition, resting in that state is the ideal method of practising kyerim. In this case, you should try to rest in the unaltered state as you recite the lines of the text.
  • What can somebody who has not recognized the nature of mind do? If you have not been introduced the nature of mind and recognized it, you have nothing to maintain in meditation practice and so you cannot practise at this level. So what should you do during kyerim practice? Not a lot! As you cannot rest in the samadhi of suchness, all you can do is recite the words of the practice.
    You must try, at this point, to maintain an awareness of your true nature, free of thoughts, meaning beyond all concept of past, present and future. Therefore, as this state does not arise instantly, you should gaze into space and imagine your body merging with that space, while your mind remains in the present moment without manipulating any arising thought. By doing so, you might, for a split second, experience a rough approximation of the samadhi of suchness.
  • If you haven’t trained yourself to rest in the nature of mind, at the very least think about the words of the practice – actually it’s the only thing you can do – and is known as ‘remembering the meaning after the words’. That means, when you do Vajrayana practices, you should bring to mind the meaning of the words you recite as you recite them, and not let mind think about all sorts of other things.

With the samadhi of suchness – the first of the three samadhis – the practitioner establishes a framework and lays the foundations of kyerim practice. Usually this stage of the teaching requires the teacher to give very detailed explanations and to have a vast understanding. For example, it is because space is empty that it can pervade billions of universes without interfering with any of them. The essence of mind is likewise empty; it is ‘suchness’, the unaltered ground. Having reached this conclusion, the space that such a realization creates can accommodate whatever needs to be generated during kyerim practice, no matter how vast and complex those creations might be.

That is my attempt at making the first samadhi intelligible.

The Samadhi of Universal Manifestation

The second samadhi is the ‘samadhi of universal manifestation.’ Having rested in the recognition of the nature of mind, or at least having rested in meditation, sooner or later a thought is bound to arise. It’s inevitable, no? So what do you do with that thought? You immediately transform it. So the ‘samadhi of universal manifestation’ is not an ordinary thought. What we do is, we transform the ordinary thought that arises into an expression of compassion.

You actualize the samadhi of universal manifestation by thinking:

  • All phenomena are ‘emptiness’: this is the view you reach in the first samadhi.
  • But as none of the six classes of beings have recognized that view, they circle endlessly in the three realms, deluded by dualistic clinging. We therefore feel a compassion for them so great that it pervades the whole of space and transforms what would otherwise have been a very ordinary discursive thought into a genuine feeling of compassion. This compassion is not directed at just one or two beings, but to all beings who pervade the whole of space. Just as the tremendous rays of light emanated by the sun pervade all of space, dispelling darkness completely, we need to generate intense compassion for all beings. The only way a beginner will experience this feeling of intense compassion is by making a deliberate effort to cultivate it. Eventually, as compassion is the natural energy of emptiness, by training your mind again and again, the samadhi of universal manifestation will eventually arise naturally, like light naturally shines from the sun. So the character of the samadhi of universal manifestation is compassion.

In a way, it’s extremely difficult to engineer a truly uncontrived, stable experience of the samadhi of universal manifestation. However, this second samadhi involves doing something. What do we do? We transform a thought, and that transformation gives rise to all-embracing compassion. Basically, the second samadhi gives us something to meditate on. For me, at least, having something to do makes trying to approximate the second samadhi a little easier than the first samadhi.

The Causal Samadhi

The third samadhi is called the ‘causal samadhi’ and is the display of the unity of emptiness and compassion. Although it’s sometimes said that the mandala doesn’t arise as a result of causes and conditions, we’re discussing a different point here. In this case, the third samadhi arises from the circumstance of the ‘mantra’; so the causes and conditions provided by the display of emptiness and compassion, the ‘causal samadhi’, are mantra – specifically a syllable, such as hung or hrih and so on. The syllable is visualized in the space before you and looks something like a rainbow in the sky: bright, clear, and constant.

This samadhi is even easier than the previous samadhi because you now have something else to think about. Whether you are able to think about it properly or not is another thing altogether! But at least you have something to think about. You could try closing your eyes and imagining the syllable.

When meditating on the three samadhis, most people still retain a sense of their own existence – this is an important point. They feel they are somehow separated from the practice; the practice doesn’t seem to happen inside themselves, but ‘out there’ in front of them. Don’t do that!

As a follower of the tantric path of Mahayoga, the most important aspect of your practice is that you meditate on yourself as the deity. In the first samadhi, you need to realize that your flesh, blood, bones – basically all your aggregates, physical and mental elements – are empty, so that you can rest in emptiness. Similarly, in the samadhi of universal manifestation you need to use your mind to meditate. When you meditate on the third samadhi, you must believe that the causal samadhi is inseparable from your own consciousness, and that’s what you must actualize.


I’ve run out of time so I can’t explain everything, but I should at least mention the other crucial points you need to know in order to practise kyerim.

Clear Visualization, Stable Pride, and Remembering the Purity

When these teachings are given, if there is time – which there isn’t tonight – three elements of kyerim practice should be explained: clear visualization, stable vajra pride and remembering the purity.

The Four Nails

The ‘four nails that bind the life-force of the practice’ should be explained next – they too are extremely important.

  1. The nail of appearance as deity;
  2. The nail of sound as mantra;
  3. The nail of activity through emanation and absorption;
  4. The nail of the unchanging wisdom mind.

The most important elements for establishing the framework of kyerim practice are the three samadhis, clear visualization, stable pride, remembering the purity and the four nails – in fact, they are all indispensable. Once you understand these general principles, the secondary aspects of each sadhana will be easier to apply.

Enlightened Speech

The Four Visualizations of Mantra Repetition

There are ‘four visualizations of mantra repetition’. Each visualization is based on a different image: the Moon and the Garland of Stars, Bees Swarming around a Broken Hive, a Whirling Firebrand, and the King’s Emissaries. These four visualizations are related to the aspect of speech that when we practise, is mantra recitation. It would be good to have the opportunity and the time to explain them to you, albeit briefly.

How to Learn About and Understand These Teachings

Amongst the tantras of the Sarma and Nyingma traditions the main principles of kyerim practice are presented in various ways. Even within the Nyingma tradition, these teachings are presented differently – for example, in the Kriyayoga and Upayoga teachings, and particularly in termas.

In the context of Vajrakilaya practice[13]Most Vajrakilaya sadhanas use the words of the tantra, and the three lines guiding the practitioner through the three samadhis are the ones that Rinpoche explains here. The translation inserted here has been taken from the Rigpa translation of Tertön Sögyal’s Wisdom Mind of Phurba, which is practised in Rigpa. These lines are found in the Fragment of the Vajrakilaya Root Tantra (See Boord, Martin. “Fragment of the Vajrakīla Root Tantra.” In A Bolt of Lightning from the Blue—The Vast Commentary on Vajrakila That Clearly Defines the Essential Points, 77–90. Berlin: Edition Khordong, 2002. On page 79, this first line is translated “Anger is destroyed by the king of vajra wrath.”).:

  • The first line is, “When ‘vajra wrath’ is aroused, aggression is cut right through.” We recite this line as we actualize the samadhi of suchness.
  • The second line is, “The great weapon of compassion, the blazing blue (syllable hūṃ)”, which is when we actualize the samadhi of universal manifestation.
  • The third line is, “Arises and hangs, like a drop, in space”, and this is where we bring to mind the causal samadhi.

Now, a lot could be said about these three lines. For example, what is being purified? What is effecting the purification? And so on. But the answers to these questions will only confuse most of the people I can see sitting in front of me.

Enlightened Mind

Union of Kyerim and Dzogrim

The most important of the more practical practice instructions is: bring kyerim and dzogrim together. This is known as the union of the development (kyerim) and completion stages (dzogrim). If you learn how to practise the development stage well – meaning, once you have trained yourself, at least to some extent, in the path of kyerim – when you approach dzogrim, the completion stage, your practical experience of kyerim will be enormously beneficial. This is what all the lamas of this tradition say.

It makes sense if you think about it, doesn’t it? When you train your mind in development stage meditation, you make it more pliable, adaptable, workable and receptive. Once your mind is flexible and receptive, it stands to reason that it will at least be a little easier to approach dzogrim and emptiness.

Importance of a Yidam

If you were to examine how all the realized masters of India and Tibet attained their realization, you would find that it was through the practice of a yidam deity and steeped in the meditation that’s known as the union of kyerim and dzogrim. These great realized masters cherished their individual yidams as tenderly as they cherished their own lives, and therefore they practised the path of the union of development and completion. This was how they finally attained realization.

But nowadays, people say, “Oh, what a lot of bother. Deity meditation, mantra recitation, bah! I hate all that stuff.” They toss it all out before they’ve even tried, then just sit on their round meditation cushions, close their eyes and make sure their backs are straight. You can forget about trying to elicit signs of attainment with such people. As far as I can see, they don’t develop even the tiniest smidgen of realization. That’s what happened at the retreat centre in Chanteloube – years ago now. People would remonstrate with Dilgo Khyentse Khyentse: “I don’t want to meditate on kyerim, visualize deities, or recite mantras, I just want to focus on effortless samadhi!”

Yeshe Tsogyal once asked Guru Rinpoche about the key points of the special practical instructions – I think it’s recorded in one of Ratna Lingpa’s termas.[14]In a terma revealed by Jatson Nyingpo called the “Questions of Nyang Tingzin Zangpo”, Guru Rinpoche replies to Nyang and Yeshe Tsogyal who asked him several questions about yidam: “Which is most important: the lama or the yidam?”, “So is it important to meditate on a yidam?”, or “Can those with a high view dispense with the yidam?”. Tertön Jatsön Nyingpo, “myang ban ting ‘dzin zang po’i zhus lan”, in bka' rdzogs pa chen po yang zab dkon mchog spyi 'dus kyi skor, Tezu, Arunachal: Ngawang Sonam, 1979, 360ff.!rid=W23647. See also: Les réponses aux questions de Nyang Wen, Darjeeling: Orgyen Choekhorling, nd., 8.

“Does a person really need a yidam?” she asked.

“If you have no yidam, you won’t receive any siddhis because without a yidam there’s no one to grant you the accomplishments. And without accomplishment, you can’t attain realization,” replied Guru Rinpoche.

Every one of the realized masters from India and Tibet had a yidam deity.

The yidam of most of the vidyadharas and accomplished lineage masters of the Nyingmapa school was, and is, the peaceful form of Vajrasattva and its wrathful manifestation, Vajrakilaya. For some it might also have been Hayagriva or Yangdak or Chemchok, as was the case for the Zurpa ‘father and son’[15]Zurchen Shakya Jungne (the Great Zur), and Zurchung Sherab Trakpa (the Little Zur)., but both Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, and Vimalamitra said that Vajrakilaya was their yidam.

Nowadays, the Nyingmapas are rather worse than they used to be, both in terms of relying on their yidam and how often they do their daily yidam practice and meditate on it. When Khyentse Rinpoche Chökyi Lodrö gave the Treasury of Precious Termas empowerments he scolded Nyingma practitioners: “You Nyingmapas, you don’t do any kind of regular daily practice. You don’t even do the Prayer that Spontaneously Fulfils all Wishes, or the Prayer that Removes All Obstacles from the Path. You just lie around doing nothing. All Sakyapas do the Lamdü (the path empowerment practice of Hevajra) every single day without fail, which takes a minimum of two or three hours yidam meditation and kyerim practice. I don’t think there’s even one Sakyapa who does not do the long Eka mantra at least twenty-one times every day.” I think that’s true.

“If you want yidams,” he added, “the Nyingmas have more than any other tradition. The Treasury of Precious Termas is full of three root sadhanas – guru, yidam and dakini – yet none of you practise any of them!” I think that’s true too – the jaws of awestruck Nyingma practitioners tend drop in the face of the effortless practice of Dzogchen.

Many vidyadharas and masters have actualized the wisdom of Dzogchen and have realized its view. This is a fact. And knowing this fact, many of today’s practitioners feel they only need to do the effortless practice. They think that any kind of practice that involves effort isn’t really necessary. What they don’t seem to realize is that even though the great Dzogchenpas are masters of effortless practice, they also spend an enormous amount of time doing recitation practice. Look at Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche! He recited an entire volume of practices every day of his life, from morning to evening. I think he had very high realisation and he was inseparable from Vimalamitra. But there are many others who don’t do any recitation practice at all. So the point here is that these days, Nyingmapas don’t tend to do much recitation practice.

I once asked Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, “Is it necessary for someone with high realisation to recite prayers?”

“Someone who has that kind of realisation is a ‘space-like yogi’, right? So, what harm could recitation possibly do to space?” he replied. “Guru Rinpoche stated that while ‘my view is as high as the sky, my observance of cause and effect is as fine as grains of flour’, didn’t he? So, to recite just one om mani padme hung mantra or a few Vajra Guru Mantras can only help – it’s certainly not going to hurt!”

Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö kept up his daily practices until two days before he passed into nirvana, at which point he handed his prayer book to his attendant and said, “Put this volume up on the shelf.”

Everything I’ve mentioned tonight has been said in the hope that it will inspire you to do a little recitation practice. Having said that, here in Lerab Ling, you’re not doing too badly, comparatively speaking. As far as I can tell, you do a bit more recitation practice than many other Dharma centres; you also recite many different kinds of prayers and practices. I think that’s very good. You should not overlook these practices. Even a short, four-line practice shouldn’t be disregarded or despised, because its merit is inexhaustible and can never be lost. As far as recitation practice is concerned, no effort you make is ever wasted, neither is any kind of recitation ever so insignificant that it can be shrugged off or too short to bother with.

Any and all the effort you put into recitation practices – a single verse of something, or one repetition of the Seven Line Prayer, etc. – will ultimately contribute to the attainment of buddhahood. Buddhahood is attained once realisation unfolds from within, and so recitation practice is very beneficial in that process.

If you need quotations from the scriptures and so on, to authenticate each of the points I’ve presented, you will find them in the Secret Essence Tantra which you are currently receiving from Khenpo Petsé – there is no greater teaching. As far as I can tell, though, most of us ordinary people really can’t understand that teaching. I, myself, had the opportunity to study the Secret Essence Tantra with Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche for six months. Khen Rinpoche had received more than forty different commentaries on it and explained everything in great detail, but I wasn’t able to understand much at all.

Another point I’d like to make, based on my own experience, is that once you have received some very long explanations, you might well imagine you know a great deal of information. But I think you’ll find that when it comes to putting that information into practice, more often than not, your intellectual knowledge and how your mind practices rarely come together. A person might be able to talk about emptiness all day long and might even be able to talk very effectively about emptiness as freedom from the four conceptual extremes, the eight conceptual elaborations, and so on. But does that mean they have meditated on emptiness? Not necessarily, and quite often they haven’t – not even for a second.

This is why for me and for the lamas and yogis of my lineage, genuine Dharma practice is always said to be born from the lama’s special practical instructions and from practice. To receive those instructions and put them into practice is said to be the most beneficial approach as it ‘strikes the vital point’. And you know, that’s absolutely true!
If you want to practise the Secret Mantra Vajrayana path, the practice of Dzogchen without effort is crucial. However, it only happens – at least to a certain degree – for practitioners with the right karma, who have made the right aspiration prayers, perfected the accumulations and purified obscurations. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t happen easily!

If you make a big effort to practise kyerim, if you really try to make it happen, you will have something to work at because you have something you can do. Whereas when you meditate on emptiness, or practise Dzogchen meditation, you have nothing whatsoever to do; it either happens or it doesn’t, and there’s not much you can do about it. Kyerim is different because you have something to do, like generate the development stage practice. By doing so, slowly, day by day, month by month, year by year, your practice will improve. You will begin to see your own progress for yourself, and thoughts like, “yesterday didn’t work out so well, but today it is better” will come to you. Of that I’m quite sure.

Actually, I don’t like to teach. You know why? Because so many of you have already received many teachings from His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, the great Khenpo Petsé, and Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche. I don’t have one percent of their qualities – this is the truth. So what’s the point of me talking to people who have already received the Dharma from such incredible masters? We have a saying in Tibet “If you’ve been wounded at least you can apply some dog fat”, so just in case there might be the tiniest benefit, I have said a few words. Even though there may not be a lot of Dharma in what I’ve been talking about, at least I haven’t recommended that you engage in negative activities, so it probably won’t do you any harm.

That’s it for tonight.

Translated by Gyurmé Avertin
Edited by Janine Schultz

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