This is the great secret tradition of Ancient Translations in the Land of Snows, With its six qualities of greatness. For those vidyadharas who have set out upon this path, With its teachings of the oral transmission, terma revelations and pure visions, I will now carefully set out a few points of conduct as guidelines,
Describing what should be adopted and abandoned, daily and on special occasions,So pay attention with a mind that is clear and attentive.
The supremely learned Vasubandhu said: The teaching of the Buddha has two aspects:
The elements of scripture and realization. These are maintained only through teaching
And through practice.
As this says, it is the responsibility of the holders of the teachings or members of the sangha to ensure that the precious buddhist teachings, with their two aspects of scripture and realization, do not degenerate but remain for long within the world.
The sangha has two communities, the shaven-headed followers of the sutras and the long-haired mantrayana practitioners. These two groups were established by special decree when the light of the buddhist teachings was first shone in the dark land of Tibet by the abbot Shantarakshita, the master Padmasambhava and the king Trisong Detsen, giving us the well-known expression, “two sangha communities honoured by the king.” Down to the present day, they have continued to exist side by side.
Although there are some slight differences between them in terms of outward appearance, dress and so on, based on the specific way in which the vows are taken, there is no difference in their practice of combining sutra and tantra and upholding the three sets of vows in order to develop inner qualities of realization.
With regard to the way they practise, the great master Padmasambhava, who was like a second buddha, said this:
Outwardly, practise according to the sutras,
Be meticulous about cause and effect, and what you adopt or avoid.
Inwardly, practise according to the unsurpassable secret mantra,
It is important to combine generation and completion.
Secretly, practise according to the great secret Atiyoga,
And gain liberation in a body of light within a single lifetime.
When one first embarks upon the buddhist path, it is important that the right auspicious conditions are established with a teacher, so begin with the hair-cutting ceremony and taking the vows of refuge before an authentic spiritual master.
Then, if you take monastic ordination, you should receive the vows of a novice or fully ordained monk or nun—according to your age and capacity—before an assembly that includes the abbot, acharya and the required number of monastic sangha members in the unbroken ordination lineage that stretches back to the great abbot Shantarakshita. Even if you are a mantra practitioner (ngakpa), you must still observe all three sets of vows, so take the vows of a lay practitioner (upasaka) according to your own particular capacity.
Then, upon this basis, take the vows of a bodhisattva according to either of the two traditions, but preferably according to the Middle Way approach, and then, by entering any one of the great mandalas and receiving the four empowerments in their entirety, you will come to possess all three sets of vows.
It is not enough however simply to receive the vows; you must strive to maintain the commitments you have made, and not allow them to degenerate. The way to keep them is taught in the different texts on the three sets of vows. It is important that you apply what is taught to your own mind and take it to heart through practice. A summary of the key points is given in the following statement by our compassionate teacher, the Buddha:
Commit not a single unwholesome action,
Cultivate a wealth of virtue,
To completely tame this mind of ours—
This is the teaching of the buddhas.
The foundation is a completely pure and noble intention and a heartfelt trust in the Three Jewels. Then:
To abandon entirely all negative intentions and actions of body, speech and mind that might cause harm to others is the essence of the pratimoksha, or vows of individual liberation.
To practise wholeheartedly all types of virtue that bring benefit to others is the essence of the bodhisattva’s vows. At the root of these two is taming one’s own unruly mind by means of mindfulness, vigilance and conscientiousness, and training oneself to recognize the all-encompassing purity of appearance and existence. This is the essence of the vows of secret mantra.
This is how to practise by combining the points of the three sets of vows in a single crucial instruction.
To put it simply, from the moment you enter the sacred Dharma and become a Dharma practitioner, your inner attitude and outer conduct should far surpass those of an ordinary mundane person. As the saying goes:
The sign of true learning is a peaceful temperament,
And the sign of having meditated is fewer afflictions.
If, on the contrary, your attitude and conduct are not even slightly better than an average person caught up in worldly affairs, you might consider yourself a scholar simply because you have some intellectual understanding of a few texts. Or you might think you are a perfect monk simply because you maintain celibacy.
Or just because you know how to chant a few ritual texts, you might start thinking of yourself as a ngakpa. These are all just instances of blatant arrogance, and only go to show that even with the Dharma one can stumble in the direction of the unwholesome. As the incomparable Dakpo Lharje [Gampopa] said:
When it is not practised properly, even the Dharma can catapult one into the lower realms.
Generally speaking, for those who have set out upon the path of Dharma, the source of all learning lies in reading and writing, so training in these disciplines is emphasized from an early age.
Then one should go on to study something of the general sciences and put great effort into the study and contemplation of the uncommon principles of sutra and mantra and so on, until reaching a good understanding of the key points, regardless of how long it takes.
In particular, from the moment you join a sangha community of monastic practitioners who uphold the teachings, you should strive to have only a positive attitude and pure conduct, serving the masters and the teachings, purifying your own obscurations and accumulating merit and wisdom, so that you become an inspiring example for future generations. As the well known saying goes:
For those with faith, a source of inspiration.
For the wealthy, a field for the cultivation of merit.
Exert yourself and study thoroughly, memorizing the daily practice texts, learning how to draw the mandalas for the mantra rituals, learning how to make and decorate the tormas and other offerings, learning monastic dance and the tunes of the liturgical chants, as well as how to play the various instruments and so on, so that you become proficient.
It is especially important that those who bear responsibility for maintaining the traditions of practice—the vajra master, chant leader, ritual master (chöpön) and ritual attendant and so on—train so that they become familiar enough to practise according to the authentic tradition.
In terms of conduct, whether you are a monk, a ngakpa or a nun, it is crucially important that you live according to the statement, “To tame one’s mind is the essence of the Dharma.” The greatest kindness one can show oneself is to practise conscientiously according to the instructions in the teachings one is following.
Avoid behaving in the opposite way, being insincere about your vows and commitments, developing attachment and aggression towards fellow practitioners, or arguing with superiors and inferiors, with other groups or with those who hold different views. To put it simply, the most important thing is that just as you would avoid drinking poison, you forsake entirely anything that might corrupt the teachings, any disputes or dissension, and anything negative that might incur the stern punishment of the dakinis and dharma protectors who possess the eyes of wisdom.
Let alone the khenpos, teachers and senior lamas, you should show respect to anyone who is your senior in terms of the precepts or learning, show kindness and affection to the younger students, and behave only in a friendly and agreeable way with all dharma companions. It is unacceptable to criticize or speak harshly of one another, to sow discord or to say even the slightest thing that might create disharmony within the sangha.
Avoid spending offerings made to the Three Jewels for your own private use, as this will bring terrible karmic results. Do not go outside without wearing the proper monastic robes. Abandon entirely any kind of disreputable behaviour, such as playing games within the monastery compound, gambling, laughing loudly, smoking, taking snuff, yelling, quarrelling and fighting, wandering about the streets and getting involved in things that do not concern you.
Be careful to conduct yourself according to the Dharma whenever you are out in public or on the pathways within the monastery grounds, and do not engage in ordinary activities, such as sewing or carpentry work, unless it is for the sangha or the monastery.
It is needless to say that those who have taken monastic ordination are not permitted to drink alcohol, even an amount the size of a dewdrop on a blade of grass, but even ngakpas are forbidden to drink more than one cup a day. As it is said:
Mantra practitioners who get drunk on alcohol
Will be roasted in the Howling Hell.
Meat, which is an unwholesome food, should be avoided as much as possible. It is especially important to avoid it when that is the local custom, and it should definitely not be served during major gatherings.
Khenpos who uphold the vinaya, vajra masters who lead vajrayana practices, chant leaders, masters of discipline, those in charge of the ritual instruments, financial secretaries, attendants and so on should undertake the tasks for which they are responsible without any duplicity or hypocrisy.
If someone with responsibilities falls ill and has to be excused from duty then a replacement should be found. Whenever a fellow sangha member falls sick the necessary care and medical support should be provided, and if ever a sangha member should pass away, the funeral rites and necessary practices to accumulate virtue should be done in the proper way, according to the available resources.
Never squander anything, even down to a needle and thread, that is part of the sangha’s common property. Take special care of offering materials, musical instruments, cushions, cooking utensils and so on, so that none is damaged or broken. If anything is lost or broken, it should be replaced. You should pay to have any minor damage repaired. People working in the monastery should keep the temple, living quarters and all the grounds clean and well maintained so they remain inspiring for themselves and others.
The ritual master and assistants should take care to make and decorate the torma offerings and so on according to the proper tradition, making the offerings in the finest possible way, using only clean and pure ingredients, and cleaning and putting away all materials and utensils they have used. The cooks and those working in the kitchen should keep the place clean and hygienic, and serve food at the proper times.
Khenpos, acharyas and all those who hold positions of seniority and have good reputations of service should not try to solicit others’ gratitude by pointing out all the good things they have done and overseen. Junior members of the sangha should recognize the kindness of those in positions of authority and show them respect. Moreover, in every area, people should ignore those who set a bad example and follow only the good ones. These are the general guidelines for Dharma communities.
Guidelines for Daily Conduct of Sangha Members
Instead of lazing comfortably in bed, rise as soon as the pre-dawn alarm bell sounds, and practise the ngöndro, recite other daily prayers and perform the sadhana of your chosen yidam deity. After dawn has broken, wash, tidy your room, and then attend class or group practice.
When the class or group practice is over, quietly return to your own room, without wandering about aimlessly wherever you choose. When the bell for evening meditation rings, the main gate should be closed, and everyone should practise in his or her own room, offering prayers to the dharma protectors and so on, and studying as much as possible. Afterwards, at the end of the nighttime session, practise the yoga of sleep, and when you wake again in the morning, practise the yoga of rising from sleep and perform all the practices mentioned above.
Perform the proper practices according to the tradition for all major occasions, including the five special days of each month and the five major anniversaries of the year, the festival of miracles (Chotrul Düchen), the fifteenth day of the four month (Saga Dawa Düchen), the tenth day of the monkey month, the fourth day of the sixth month (Chökhor Düchen), the twenty-second day of the ninth month (Lhabab Düchen) and the festival of the twelfth month, as well as doing any special drupchen or drupchö practices.
Moreover, whenever a benefactor sponsors a day’s practice, the vajra master, chant leader, master of discipline and finance manager should meet together before the practice and discuss what will be needed. This should then be communicated to the chöpön one day before the practice, so that all the offerings can be prepared and arranged, either in a simple or an elaborate way, as is appropriate. They should also discuss how long to make the practice day, according to the length of the recitation and so on.
Guidelines for the Actual Practice
The conch is blown for the first time to inform everyone that a practice is taking place. At the second sounding of the conch, those who will join the practice go to the door of the assembly hall and remove their shoes. Putting their zens respectfully over their forearms, they go inside row by row and after offering prostrations, remain standing behind their seats.
With the third sounding of the conch, as soon as the vajra acharya takes his seat, the whole assembly sits down, keeping to the proper order of seating, which is based on seniority in terms of precepts and learning. Then the chant leader begins the chanting.
If monks and ngakpas practise separately in their own respective areas this is not relevant, but on those occasions when monastics and ngakpas do practise together, the monks and nuns should be seated ahead of the ngakpas, towards the front of the assembly, as a mark of respect. In their own respective rows, practitioners should sit upright with legs crossed, and without leaning, moving about, huddling together, joking, falling asleep, or getting up and leaving before the end of the session.
Anyone who arrives late, while the master of discipline is taking a register of the practitioners, but before the actual ceremony begins, should offer ten to thirty prostrations in the central aisle as a confession. Anyone arriving after the main part of the practice has begun should do between thirty and fifty prostrations.
Those who arrive even later, should do between fifty and a hundred prostrations depending on the circumstances. Ngakpas should not be permitted to bring their children into the assembly hall. Generally speaking, whatever practice is being done, whether it is a sutrayana or a mantrayana practice, it should be done properly according to the texts, without mixing up the sutra and mantra elements.
Only traditional bowls and white cloths one square foot in size may be brought into the assembly hall, not containers and food baskets of various kinds. The proper way to offer and receive the tea, thukpa and so on should be learned by watching how the senior monks do it. It should be done at the right time, neither too early nor too late.
When you chant, avoid mispronouncing the words or chanting faster or slower than everyone else. Don’t show off by chanting in a loud voice, but chant evenly and gently, neither too high nor too low in pitch. Generally, for ‘drum rituals’ only the vajra master has a vajra and bell. For peaceful practices or ‘bell rituals’ everyone doing the main practice should have a vajra and bell.
When you leave the assembly, do so quietly and in an orderly fashion, without leaping up, running about or pushing and shoving. Make your way out row by row, beginning with the last row, and then when the next session begins, enter in the proper sequence, beginning with those seated in front.
Any prayers performed for the living or deceased who have requested refuge, as announced by the master of discipline, should not be too short. For practices like ritual fasting (nyungné) and Tara, which belong to the kriya or charya tantra, you should not use the skulldrum, thighbone trumpet (kangling) or any drum that contains dharanis of the unsurpassed level of secret mantra.
Whenever you practise any mantrayana ritual you should rely on the following ‘four doors’ which are mentioned in the texts of secret mantra:
The door of recitation, for genuine visualization.
The door of secret mantra, for invoking the wisdom mind.
The door of samadhi, for focusing one-pointedly.
The door of ritual mudras, for conveying symbolic meaning.
While you are seated in the assembly, it is important that you sit up straight so that the body’s vital points are straight and the internal subtle energy winds flow properly. This creates the right conditions for genuine visualization.
To recite the words of the text at an even pace, neither too slowly nor too hurriedly, and to use the melodies passed down from the great vidyadharas of the past creates the special conditions for enhancing the clarity of visualization, and for accomplishing all the qualities of meditative concentration. Performing the mantra recitation in the proper stages, according to the text, serves to invoke the wisdom mind of the deity.
As you recite, if you hold your mala in your left hand at the level of your heart as you count this brings clarity to the visualization of the rotating mantra. Whenever you perform the mudras at the times of offering and praise and so on, that is the aspect of ritual movement with symbolic meaning.
When mantra rituals are accompanied by music that is not to make them more appealing or more impressive.
The great master Guru Rinpoche said: To use music in secret mantra swiftly invokes the blessings.
If the styles of chanting and playing music which come from the vidyadharas of the past are maintained properly, they will bring great blessings. If not, just to make a loud noise by chanting the text to all kinds of tunes and playing different musical instruments, without following any genuine tradition, is what is known as ‘secret mantra straying into occultism’, and something to be avoided.
When you are using the vajra and bell, the vajra should be held in the right hand at the level of the heart. The bell should be held in the left hand, no higher than the level of the left armpit, and in line with the left breast. When ringing the bell, do so gently with the thumb and ring finger, not with the whole hand. When performing mudras, your hands should be kept at the level of the heart, taking care to make the least possible sound with the bell.
When you put the vajra and bell down, the face of Vairochana on the handle should face towards the vajra. The damaru should be played slowly and gently at the proper times, together with the rolmo cymbals. Whenever the damaru is used at the same time as the text is being chanted, it is played without the bell. When playing the rolmo cymbals, you should keep your left arm against your body, and raise the right hand only slightly, not lifting it any more than four finger widths high.
The cymbals should not be placed exactly on top of one another; they should overlap slightly to create a crescent shape. The silnyen cymbals are played in the same way, except that they are held in an upright position. When beating the drum, the handle of the stick should be held at the heart and the drum should be beaten gently, and not at the centre or the edge. As it is said:
Do not stir the ocean at its depths.
Do not hit the snow lion on the cheeks.
It is also said that the sound of the chanting should not drown out the sound of the drum, nor should the sound of the drum drown out the chanting, meaning that the drum should be beaten evenly and gently.
The thighbone trumpet (kangling) is played on any of the occasions of ‘dispersing’, ‘thunder’ or ‘awesome fury’ together with the rolmo cymbals. The number of times it is to be blown can be learned from observation and instruction. The long trumpets (dungchen) and shawms (gyaling) are also played together with the rolmo cymbals, according to how one is instructed.
At all times aside from when they are played for auspiciousness after the practice, they should stop just a moment before the rolmo cymbals. It is the same for the conch, except that it is only sounded at the occasions of ‘dispersing’ and ‘expelling’.
Generally, the vajra acharya and the chant leader should decide the length of a practice and the details of the chanting and music before the practice itself. The main part of the practice should be performed at a moderate pace, neither too slowly nor too quickly.
The ritual master (chöpön) should perform his duties properly, without mistake, doing everything according to the instructions given in the texts and at the proper times. Tea and thukpa should be served when the signal is given by the master of discipline. The servers should serve in the order of the rows, without making any mistakes such as spilling or dropping anything on the floor, and should clean up afterwards.
It is important that everything be practised properly and carefully, in accordance with the traditions handed down by the great masters of the past, and without cutting corners or doing things carelessly and haphazardly.
In this way, the entire assembly of chant leader, ritual master, master of discipline, senior monks, cooks, tea servers, stewards, cleaners and so on, all presided over by the vajra master, must all work together, with everyone doing his or her job properly, as laid out here in these guidelines, and not leaving everything to just one or two people.
Whenever a long practice such as a drupchen is to be done over several days, as soon as the participants have taken their seats, the master of discipline should offer prostrations from the end of the row, and read these guidelines aloud clearly and without mistake, so that people are encouraged to practise properly, maintaining the traditions of the past.
All benefit and happiness comes from the buddhas’ teachings,
Which in turn depend upon the communities who uphold them,
May the sangha therefore teach and practise sutra and mantra,
So that the whole world becomes a place of perfect beauty!
This was written at the request of a group of his own students by Jikdral Yeshe Dorje, a disciple of the Buddha Padmasambhava, who has studied widely and expounds philosophy, and is a buddhist lay practitioner and vidyadhara. May it be a cause for the study and practice of the precious teachings of the Ancient Translation School to flourish and spread!
| Translated by Adam Pearcey, Rigpa Translations, 2005. Many thanks to Khenpo Dorje for his detailed clarifications.