Mantra Recitation, from The Drupchen Digest


Lerab Ling, 21 August 1997

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Mantra Recitation

One sunny, summer morning in Lerab Ling, Rinpoche – who was, as always, intent on remaining absolutely faithful to the practice methods of the great masters of the past – read the prescribed section of the Drupchen Digest that’s traditionally recited during a drupchen. A Drupchen Digest is a compilation of quotations that have been gathered and categorized according to where they should be read during the ritual practice; and its purpose is to inspire participants at different stages of the practice.

Inspiration to Practise

According to the drupchen tradition we are following, a specific part of the text called the Drupchen Digest[1]The Digest that Rinpoche uses was composed by the 15th Karmapa Khakyap Dorje for the Tukdrup Sampa Lhundrupma and Barche Kunsel practices. In this teaching Rinpoche explains the mantra recitation section: Karmapa 15 Khakyap Dorje, ‘‘bla ma’i thugs sgrub rnam pa gnyis dang phur pa spyi khyab kyi tshogs sgrub skabs nyer mkho’i gtong thun rdo rje’i rgyud mang’’ In Chokgyur Lingpa et al. thugs sgrub bar chad kun sel gyi sgrub chen skabs kyi ’don cha. Bir: Peme Ewam Gyurme Ling, n.d., 774-779. must be shared with practitioners during a session of mantra recitation. From his throne at the head of the gathered practitioners, the vajra master, or the vajra regent, is directed to read the relevant passage.

The practice is divided into three stages. These three stages are related to enlightened body, speech and mind. When the practice reaches the stage of enlightened speech – the repetition of mantra – the vajra master reads from the Digest while everyone else quietly recites the mantra. So, out of respect for the traditional way drupchens have been done in the past, this is what we have been doing here. I will now tell you what the text says.


From time immemorial, we have all been floundering around in the great ocean of suffering that are the three realms of samsara, entirely unable to free ourselves from it. How did that happen? We are trapped in samsara because we cannot control our minds – I am in samsara because I have not taken control of my mind. Thoughts are like the ocean’s waves, and relentless waves of thoughts arise because we don’t control our minds. As long as these thoughts continue to arise – until they are exhausted – there is no path to liberation. Therefore, liberation is impossible.

In The Way of the Bodhisattva, the son of the victorious ones, Shantideva said:

What use to me are many disciplines,
If I can't guard and discipline my own mind?[2]The Way of the Bodhisattva, V, 18.

Our main practice, said Shantideva, should be the discipline of guarding our own minds. He stresses the great benefit that focussing on learning to control our minds will bring, and says that this should be our main concern.


There are many special practices we can use to gain control of our minds. The one we’re practising here is drupchen – or as it says in the text...

...the antidote that we apply is the drupchen practice of Secret Mantra.

In this practice, we recite the mantra as we experience our bodies in the form of the deity; sound is mantra, mind is samadhi, and we ourselves are indivisible from the yidam, Glorious Vajrakumara. You should practice...

...undistractedly, and do not recite the mantra with ordinary perceptions.

If you practise in a drupchen with faith, pure perception and sincere concentration, you will not need to practise for months or even years before you attain accomplishments; seven days of intensive group practice brings the same benefit as seven years of individual practice. This is mentioned in the prophecies contained in the Essentialization of All the Wisdom of the Gurus terma cycle, which were revealed by Tertön Sangyé Lingpa. It is one of the most famous and profound termas from the Land of Snows. It is so precious that it has been compared to gold.

My teacher used to say that the benefit of doing seven days of drupchen practice is the same as the benefit you accumulate during seven years of individual retreat. But, he added, practitioners need to be told why this is so. Think of an object so big that one person cannot lift it. Now think of how a group of people working together can move it instantly. Likewise, when many people with faith, pure perception and pure samayas – yogis and yoginis, masters with great realization, people with some realization, and others with a little realization – concentrate and sincerely practise samadhi together in a Secret Mantra Vajrayana practice, the benefit is that...

He who distinguishes everything in one instant,
Is perfectly enlightened in one instant.[3]Manjushri-nama-samgiti, verse 141.

To start with, the Essentialization of All the Wisdom of the Gurus says that all those who participate in the drupchen, from the teacher or ‘vajra king’ and the whole assembly, down to the ‘vajra sweeper’ (in drupchen jargon) – basically everyone involved at every level – must enter into the seven-day practice joyfully and single-mindedly. They must also avoid any thought of tiredness, disappointment, and so on.

Second, the text says that we should cultivate a sense of joy because not only have we had the great good fortune of having attained a human birth, met qualified teachers and entered into the mandala of Vajrayana practice – all which are very difficult – we also have the rare opportunity of joining this gathering to do a great drupchen practice of accumulation. We have the chance to put all our energy and enthusiasm into a practice that within seven days can bring the same benefit that an individual would take seven years to accumulate – this is what Guru Rinpoche said in his unerring vajra words. So, surely, the chance to practise in a drupchen is a cause for great joy! Recognizing just how extraordinary an opportunity this is, who would not want to be cheerful and to celebrate?

There are still many accounts from earlier in this ‘Fortunate Kalpa’, about how Guru Rinpoche and other great masters presided over similar intensive group practices in Oddiyana, Zahor in India, and elsewhere. As a result of their practice, entire regions were emptied because all the local human beings, birds and wild animals attained the vidyadhara levels of realization at the same time.

This information is offered to inspire us with joy at the beginning of the practice – it’s a bit like watering flowers.


Now, the main point: we must always focus on accumulating merit. This means that at all times and in all circumstances we must gather what is virtuous and positive, and reject what is negative. The actual producer of positivity and negativity is the mind. It is most important, therefore, that mind gathers positivity and rejects anything negative or that isn’t virtuous.

So, how do we prepare mind for practice? Before doing a specific practice like approach and accomplishment, we must first think about how our practice will help others. In other words, we need to generate and maintain a genuine sense of altruism.

Enlightened Body

The yoga of the deity: generating its form (kaya)
[...] here is what you need to do...

Clear Appearance

The text includes pith instructions, which are the direct and very practical advice that masters give their students personally. It begins with pith instructions for kyerim meditation on the enlightened body – basically, how to meditate on the form of the deity. Where do these pith instructions come from? What is the source?

The Mandala of the Eight Great Deities: The Complete Gathering of Vidyadharas teachings of the Northern Treasures tradition mention that Guru Rinpoche said:

In the beginning, meditate on the form of the deity.
When the form of the deity appears clearly in the mind,
Ordinary thoughts disappear.

This means that you should start by concentrating on establishing a clear visualization of the form of the deity and not worry too much about anything else.

In the case of the great glorious Vajrakumara, visualize that he has three faces and six arms: his upper right hand holds a nine-pronged vajra, his middle right hand holds a five-pronged vajra, his upper left hand holds a mass of flames, his middle left hand holds a khatvanga, and his lower two hands roll a phurba the size of Mount Meru. His four legs are in the stamping posture, flames of vajra fire blaze from every part of his body and each pore is marked with half vajras. He has wings and is in union with his consort, Diptachakra. She is pale blue; in her right hand she holds an utpala flower and in her left a skull-cup filled with blood, which she offers to Vajrakilaya’s lips. In other words, bring to mind a mental image of the deities as they appear on a thangka and meditate on that image.

The reason we hang thangkas needs to be clarified. The purpose of thangkas is not to provide decoration. Thangkas aren’t put up to make a room look nice, they are there to support our practice...

...[the] practice support samaya drawing of the deity.

‘Practice support’ means a support for the practice of visualizing the deity.

How do we use a thangka as a support for our visualization? Place the thangka in front of you, then “focus mind, wind-energy and gaze one-pointedly” at the image for a long time. You should look at it until you can see it clearly in your mind. When you close your eyes, check whether or not the image of the deity appears vividly in your mind’s eye. If it doesn’t, repeat the process. By doing this over and over again for a long time, you will eventually be able to visualize the deity. As Shantideva said:

There's nothing that does not grow light
Through habit and familiarity.[4]The Way of Bodhisattva, VI, 14.

By training in this way, all the details of the deity will eventually appear clearly in your mind exactly as they appear on the thangka – including the colours, implements and so on – even when you aren’t looking at the thangka.

Your visualization will become clearer and clearer as you go through nine phases – but today there is no need to explain these nine steps in detail[5]See for example Mipham Rinpoche. Luminous Essence: A Guide to the Guhyagarbha Tantra. Translated by Dharmachakra Translation Committee. Ithaca, N.Y: Snow Lion, 2009, 70-76.. All you need to know is that at the beginning, your mind may be so unsettled that no images appear in it at all, and instead becomes ensnared by one thought after another. But as you keep practising, mind will gradually settle until eventually it rests as calmly as a tranquil lake. And in the end, your mind will be able to sustain a perfect visualization of the deity.

Having said that, simply to maintain a stable picture of the deity in your mind is not enough. Once you can bring a clear image to mind, you should then train yourself to make it larger and larger until it is as vast as Mount Meru, and smaller and smaller until it shrinks to the size of a mustard seed. Then imagine the deity dancing, or eating and drinking, striking all kinds of postures and appearing in different situations. At times you should try to imagine the deity with a single face and two arms, at others with an infinite number of faces and arms – do this until you can picture the deity with a million of each. These are some of the ways in which you should train yourself to increase the strength of your practice.

You’ll probably find that as soon as you can picture one part of the deity, you’ll lose the rest – as you imagine the head you lose the feet, as you think of the right hand, you forget the left, and so on. But if you persevere, eventually that will no longer be a problem.

To give you an example: when I think of my father, I don’t have to think of each of his features one by one, his entire image instantly appears in my mind. I don’t have to say to myself, “his head was like this, his arms were like that, his legs looked like this” and so on. Although this is not exactly what happens when you visualize, the example of thinking about someone you know might be helpful.

If you train yourself in this way and become more and more familiar with kyerim practice, you will eventually be able to hold a visualization clearly in your mind.

This relates to a statement made in The Complete Gathering of Vidyadharas terma,

In the beginning meditate on the form of the deity.

The text goes on to say that when mind is occupied with thinking about the deity, any other thought or concept – destructive emotions of desire, anger and so on, and all the thoughts that habitually arise – naturally disappears because the mind is busy with the visualization. This statement is based on the simple fact that mind is incapable of holding two different thoughts simultaneously; therefore holding an image of the appearance of the deity in your mind will necessarily eliminate ordinary thoughts.

Stable Pride

Next, says The Complete Gathering of Vidyadharas, meditate on vajra pride.

In the middle, cultivate the pride of the deity.
When pride becomes stable,
You will gain control of yourself.

Here again, I must explain something. You might ask, how do I cultivate the pride of the deity? Or even, what right do I have to feel the pride of being the deity?

In the Secret Mantra Vajrayana tradition the ‘ground’ – the basis for enlightenment of each and every sentient being, from Samantabhadra down to the silkworms – is buddha nature. From this point of view, everyone is the same. According to the Buddha’s teaching, buddha nature is permanent, it pervades everything and it is spontaneously present.
It is because all sentient beings have the ground of buddha nature that they are capable of attaining enlightenment. If they did not have such a basis, they would never be able to become buddhas. A stone doesn’t contain oil; no matter how much you press or grind a stone, whatever tools or machinery you use, you will never be able to extract even a drop of oil. A sesame seed, on the other hand, has the potential to produce oil, which means that by pressing it, sesame oil will eventually be extracted.

We can’t perceive the enlightened ground of our buddha nature because it is slightly obscured by cognitive and habitual tendencies. When the two obscurations are removed, we are ‘buddha’ – of this there is no doubt. Once the two obscurations are purified and the natural ground of buddhahood manifests, all the qualities of enlightenment – such as the thirty-two major and eighty minor marks – manifest spontaneously. Like the sun emerging from behind the clouds, the sun of buddhahood appears complete with all its qualities, such as light and so on; nothing is ‘created’.

Some say that the qualities of buddhahood are always present as the natural attributes of the ground of buddha nature. Others disagree. It’s a controversial issue, but in my opinion and in the opinion of all my teachers, these qualities are intrinsic to the ground and are by nature permanent and unchanging.

When the ground is obscured, obscurations don’t affect it in any way. The ground – the buddha nature – of a buddha is exactly the same as our ground. We therefore practise kyerim and dzogrim in order to remove the defilements that obscure the ground. We clear away all our obscurations so that we become truly inseparable from the yidam deity. The deity is simply something that appears in our mind and is not in any way different from our mind, the buddha nature. Based on that understanding, we meditate on vajra pride. We don’t think of the deity as superior to ourselves (that we are inferior), and we don’t think of the gulf separating the deity from us as “the difference between heaven and earth”. To think in those terms is to fall into the view of the lower classes of tantra, like the Kriya and Charya, and by thinking like that we will never arrive at the true practice of kyerim that’s found in the Mahayoga.

The last line of the terma explains the benefit of meditating in this way.

You will gain control of yourself.

If we possess something very valuable but don’t know about it, we don’t really own it. The moment we learn of its existence, by taking possession of it we gain control of it. It is like a priceless treasure buried beneath the house of a very poor man. Unless he knows the treasure exists, he can’t use it to end his poverty – which means that it’s knowing about the treasure that eliminates the poverty. Likewise, once I know I have buddha nature, I will gain control of myself.

Meditating upon the Blessings

In conclusion the Complete Gathering of Vidyadharas terma adds,

In the end, meditate upon the deity’s blessings.

The text described three stages: “in the beginning”, “in the middle...”, and “at the end.” At the end, we must meditate upon the deity’s blessings. How do we meditate on blessings? By thinking about the deity’s blessings. The power of those blessings then changes our perception of ourselves and others. What is this transformation like? To put it briefly, transformation happens when your perception changes so that it is no longer like the perceptions of your ordinary mind. When you no longer see objects as you ordinarily would and instead see them as naturally pure, their true nature, wisdom. Once that happens, you will have received the blessings of the deity. Other than that, there is nothing tangible called ‘blessing.’

The ultimate result is attained when...

You meet the absolute truth, the wisdom of your own rigpa.

This means that the potential for realizing the ultimate truth is in your own mind. The essence of your own rigpa, primordial wisdom (the ultimate, primordial purity) is made manifest, thereby severing the root of samsara and nirvana. Literally, we ‘meet’ with rigpa – which is an honorific way of saying that we see the ultimate truth. In one of the termas of his new tradition, Zurmang Chögyam Trungpa used the expression “come to see the great eastern sun”, which amounts to the same thing.

So, training in these three – clarity of appearance, stable confidence and remembering the purity – form the basis of kyerim; and kyerim is then applied in the four stages of approach and accomplishment.

According to this text, through the power of the practice of kyerim you will actually meet the deities and hear them speak. Then, with your body, speech and mind you will “develop the worth of the three fields.” A sign of having developed worth in the field of the body is that when others look at you, they will see the yidam deity. Self-arising images of the deity will also appear in your bones, and there will be other signs in and on your body.

A sign of having developed worth in the field of speech is that however far away you are, your voice will be heard clearly, even when you are speaking quietly to yourself. Also, whatever you say will come true because you will have achieved the power of truth. You will be able to transform the hot nature of fire to make it cold, or make cold water hot, by reciting mantra then simply blowing onto the fire or the water.

Once you have developed the worth of the field of mind, your mind will be transformed from its present condition of continuous conceptual, discursive thought, to become inseparable from the great, all-pervasive wisdom mind of the yidam deity.

This is how you will “master the three fields of body, speech and mind,” which is the special accomplishment in your body, speech and mind.

This corresponds to the section of the Digest described as...

The yoga of the deity: generating its form (kaya).

Enlightened Speech

The enlightened speech aspect of the practice is the mantra recitation. The text explains that reciting a mantra makes the samadhi more powerful. Samadhi meditation can be compared to fire: mantra recitation fuels the fire, making it blaze more intensely so it has the power to burn away the wood of the two obscurations and all associated habitual tendencies.

The discipline of mantra recitation is to enunciate:
Neither too loudly, nor inaudibly;
Neither hurriedly, nor slowly;
Neither forcefully, nor feebly;
Without adding or subtracting syllables;
Without being distracted or interrupted by chatter;
Without being obstructed by yawning and so on.
Abandon moving thoughts,
Eliminate these ten defects in recitation,
While taking seriously the necessity to fully accomplish the recitation,
In number, time, or with signs.[6]The Miscellany quotes from the Tantra of Magnificent Lightning (ye shes rngam glog), one of the eighteen Mahayoga tantras.

As you recite the mantra, your voice should therefore neither be too loud, nor so soft that it’s inaudible – neither are the proper way to recite mantras. You should avoid making just the beginning of om vajra kili kilaya sarva bighanen bam hung phat audible. Similarly, don’t start so quietly that the first syllables can’t be heard. Neither recite the mantra too quickly nor too slowly. Avoid chanting too forcefully or too meekly. And don’t let your jaw get so slack that your mouth hangs open, or so tight that your jaw slams shut.

The Digest says that all these faults should be abandoned when you recite mantra, but it doesn’t say how mantra should be recited. If you ask the lamas, they will say that you should just be able to hear yourself – which means neither too loud nor too soft.

Vajra Recitation


To explain what the supreme vajra recitation is:
It is merging wind-energy, mantra and mind inseparably.[7]In Chokgyur Lingpa. "zab bdun rgyud zab sgyu 'phrul las: khro bo dam pa bsdus pa'i lam: sgrub thabs snying por bsdus pa (zab bdun sgyu 'phrul khro bo)." In rin chen gter mdzod chen mo, 4: 81-102. New Delhi: Shechen Publications, 2007-2008, 78.

This means that as you breathe in, you say om; as you hold the breath, say ah; and as you breathe out, say hung. This is the ‘vajra recitation’. When you recite using this method, mind only thinks about the meaning and sound of the mantra. Ideally, it’s best to combine vajra recitation with ‘vase breathing’: this is said to be the supreme of all forms of recitation. If you can’t do it, you can try what is called ‘intermediate breath retention.’

If you are not able to do the vajra recitation, say the syllables of the mantra while paying attention to its meaning.

The Four Stages of Approach and Accomplishment

Next, the four stages of approach, close approach, accomplishment, and great accomplishment. Since we don’t have much time, I will explain them very briefly.

  • approach is like getting to know somebody you didn’t know before. Getting to know somebody begins with knowing their name, and so most mantras include the name of the deity.
  • close approach: once you have made someone’s acquaintance, as you get to know them better you naturally become closer and more intimate.
  • accomplishment: at this stage, you and the other become inseparable.
  • great accomplishment: having passed through the stages of approach, close approach and accomplishment, you reach the stage of great accomplishment, which is when you take over the other’s activity. This stage involves samadhi, emanation and re-absorption of rays of light, separate self- and front- visualizations, and rays of light that revolve back and forth between the two.

Visualizations During the Four Stages

Approach: the Moon and the Garland of Stars

During the approach, visualize the three-nested sattvas: you are the samayasattva, at your heart-centre is the jnanasattva, and at the heart-centre of the jnanasattva is the samadhisattva. The form these three take differ from practice to practice. For example in the case of Vajrakilaya, the jnanasattva is Vajrasattva and the samadhisattva is the syllable hung, surrounded by the nine-syllable Vajrakilaya mantra om vajra ki li ki la ya hung.

At this stage, simply focus your mind on the visualization, which remains still like the moon in the night sky surrounded by garlands of stars. If you look up at the moon and the stars you will see that they remain still, they don’t move. A visualization that doesn’t move as you recite the mantra is known as ‘visualization like the moon and the garland of stars.’

Close Approach: the King’s Emissaries

Next, rays of light slowly begin to emanate from the mantra-mala – their purpose is to accomplish one’s own benefit and the benefit of all others. Imagine the rays of light as described in the particular sadhana you are practising. This visualization is said to be like ‘the king’s emissaries.’

Accomplishment: a Swarm of Bees Around a Broken Hive

The syllables of mantra-mala now proclaim their own sound very loudly and emanate a profusion of bright rays of light. The rays of light present offerings to all the victorious ones and return bearing their blessings and the accomplishments. Basically, light emanates to make offerings and is reabsorbed infused with all the blessings and accomplishments. Then the rays of light – infinite in number and dazzlingly bright – touch all sentient beings, thereby removing their obscurations and purifying their habitual tendencies.

This visualization looks like bees swarming around a broken hive. When bees swarm, each individual makes its own buzzing sound; similarly, consider that each syllable of the mantra vibrates with its own sound. So in the case of om vajra kili kilaya sarwa bighnanan bam hum phat, for example, the syllable om will repeats its own sound – om om om om om om...– and the syllable vajra will repeats its own sound – vajra vajra vajra vajra... – and so on. This is how “the mantra-mala resounds with its own sound.”

Great Accomplishment: a Whirling Firebrand

Finally, for the stage of great accomplishment, you separate the front-visualization from the self-visualization before you recite the mantra. In this drupchen these two visualizations are connected by the dharani cord. In each session of mantra recitation we separate the front-visualization from the self-visualization.

Rays of light burst from the heart-centre of the deity in the self-visualization, out through the deity’s mouth and into the mouth of the deity in the front-visualization. It then returns to the self-visualization. Basically, the mantra-mala circles between the two visualizations as light emanates from the syllables of the mantra to perform the various activities associated with this stage of great accomplishment – to overcome enemies and protect loved ones, using the four kinds of enlightened activity (pacifying, enriching, magnetizing and subjugating).

This visualization looks like a whirling firebrand. When a stick is set alight at both ends then spun very quickly it creates the illusion of an unbroken circle of fire. This visualization is like that.

These are the four ways of directing the practice.

A practitioner following the Nyingma Kama tradition will concentrate on each of the four visualizations – the moon and the garland of stars, the king’s emissaries, bees swarming around a broken hive, and the whirling firebrand – during each of the four stages of approach, close approach, accomplishment and great accomplishment. Whereas a practitioner of the Nyingma Terma tradition will combine all four methods. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo said that in Guru Rinpoche’s tradition of pith instruction, the four are mixed up. Whichever tradition you choose to follow is fine. Khyentse Wangpo said that since the terma pith instructions mix all the methods together, you can either follow the terma text you are practising, or apply the four phases from the Nyingma Kama tradition.

Styles of Chanting

The text says that, from time to time, you should chant the mantra melodiously. Broadly speaking, there are two styles of chanting: monotone chanting and singing. Chanting monotone is said to be very beneficial, but singing is considered even more powerful. Singing the mantra to a tune is very beneficial because it pleases the vidyadharas, who then come and grant blessings and accomplishments. Singing tunes also delights the yidam deities and brings joy to the dakinis. And singing encourages vajra dharma protectors to gather as they ward off harmful worldly forces before they have a chance to create obstacles. What happens when someone with a wonderful voice starts to sing? Everyone stops what they’re doing to listen. Therefore, as the teachings say, singing is an important method.

It doesn’t matter which kind of chanting you prefer, because the deities have very different tastes. What you find appealing they might find offensive, and to you their favourite kind of singing would probably sound awful. It doesn’t make much difference to the wisdom deities, but for worldly dakinis and dharma protectors how you chant is an important factor. If you sing or chant beautifully, they’ll come for sure.

This concludes enlightened speech.

Enlightened Mind

The text doesn’t say much about enlightened mind, it just advises us not to follow any thoughts that arise, and to know for certain as we meditate that all rising thoughts are but the display of the dharmakaya wisdom mind of primordial purity (ka dak).

So, for a very simple explanation: whenever a thought arises it should not be manipulated in any way; simply leave it in its own essence. What it says in the text, I think, is that you should simply leave it.

This section concludes by encouraging us to practise:

Exert yourself in reciting the mantra, constantly without interruption.

So perhaps you should apply that instruction by reciting the mantra now.

Translated by Gyurmé Avertin
Edited by Janine Schultz

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