The Pure Realms, Vajrakilaya and Good Chanting

January 30th 2009

In the descriptions of his visits of Padmasambhava’s pure realm, Chogyur Lingpa tells us of the many pujas, teachings, practices and empowerments performed there continuously. The stories leave one overwhelmed by a richness of miracle and devotion. Realized beings whose bodies are made of light emanate living forms like their own and then gather these back into themselves again. Dances from the great tantric traditions are performed, lead by the likes of Taksham Nudem Dorje and the other Nudem Dorjes. While visiting this celestial realm, Chogyur Lingpa met with not only Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal, but also many of the great masters of India and Tibet.

I came to think of these descriptions during the empowerments today in Orissa. We’ve been here nearly two months and the abhishekas have continued for eight weeks. It is like being in some kind of pure realm, though much simpler and more earth-bound. Sometimes the richness of color, form and imagery is a bit overwhelming, but at other times I find myself slipping into an soft moments of appreciation for what is being given, and quiet reflection on the good fortune of myself, those here, and this world where dharma remain available. I watch the devotion and the ups and downs of those around me and think how each of us is getting something quite special planted inside of us. That these teachings exist at all is quite a wonder, and that so many have assembled in this remote place gives me hope for the earth in all its present troubles.

This afternoon we continued with the Vajrakilaya empowerments. The very last abhisheka of the day was the Netik Phurba. During it, I had a brief, vivid memory of His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche at Karme Choling in 1987 when he first bestowed the Netik Phurba and other empowerments. He was sitting on his throne at the end of the very white tent performing one of the last rituals. Everyone sat quietly watching him as he held up an icon. I never would have thought I would see the process of lineage and transmission demonstrated again, 23 years later, here in India.

The foremost deities practiced by the Nyingma masters of the past are Vajrakilaya along with Yangdak Heruka, the third logos. This is interesting to me because Yangdak Heruka is generally equivocated with Chakrasamvara, a practice popular within the Kagyu lineage and the other lineages that arose in Tibet after the Nyingma. It is said that many of the great accomplished practitioners of India attained realization through the practice of Chakrasamvara. Like Yangdak, Chakrasamvara is related to the mind aspect of all the buddhas.

As you may recall, the first five of the eight logos are categorized as the transcendent practices. They relate to enlightened body, speech, mind, quality and action. These five correspond with the five types of buddha families, five manifestations of complete awakening. They can be arranged geographically with one in the center, and the others in the four directions. Vajra is the name of for Yangdak’s buddha family. It falls in the east and relates with clarity, what’s called mirror-like wisdom. Vajrakilaya sits in the north and is in the karma family. Karma here means action, or all-accomplishing wisdom, rather than something special about one’s past lives. While the three-edged kila is the symbol of Vajrakilaya, Yandak’s symbol is a single pointed knife, more like a long pin with spearhead. In The Lion’s Roar, Trungpa Rinpoche compares the two icons and shows how their function reflects the style of the deity:

“In the north, number four, is Vajrakilaya. Kilaya means “dagger.” The kilaya has one point but three edges. It is like a three-sided pyramid with sharpened corners. This represents the karma buddha family. It has the sense of penetration. The traditional idea of the karma family is purely functionality, the fulfillment of ends, achieving things, but in this case the karma principle has to do purely with penetration. This should not be confused with the intellectual penetration of the vajra family. The karma of family of Vajrakilaya has to do with precision. Whereas vajra is intellectual, still surveying the area, karma is penetrating and accepts no nonsense.” [pp. 198]

I want to mention the remarkable fact that Padmasambhava studied the Vajrakilaya tantra 18 times after his retreat at Parpeng in Nepal. By the end of the retreat he’d already realized the practice and was able to quell an epidemic, but he still wanted to discover more.

Several practices in the Rinchen Terdzo are already found in Shambhala’s practice world. At this point our list has grown to include:

The Netik Phurba
Konchog Chidu, Guru Trakpo and Simhamukha (from the Konchog Chidu)
Rigdzin Dupa, Palchen Dupa and Dechen Gyalmo (from the Longchen Nyingtik)
Black Jambhala
What we know as ‘Sakyong Empowerment’
And a tiny section of the Padmasambhava feast

The list could be broadened here if we were to include the practice instructions of the various dzogchen empowerments related to the Vima, Vairo, Pema and Khandro Nyingtiks. These along with major works of Lonchenpa and The Light of Wisdom discovered by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye are found at the end of the collection along with several other texts either Jamgon Kongtrul or the 15th Karmapa thought important to preserve for the times ahead.

Last night I found myself sitting beside some monks in their teens who had memorized all the chants and their page numbers. This is a big help to westerners following along with the evening liturgies. Unlike the West, the chant leader can somewhat vary the closing chants. The supplications for the longevity of the teachers are always the same, as are the final dedications, but aside from that it is hard to predict what will come next. With a practice-ready monk beside you, it’s easier to find the place in the 220-page chant book—unless the chant leader breaks into a memorized shorter chant or moves to an elusive, fat second chant book, or begins one of the supplemental liturgies we’ve received since the start of the program. A monastic trio beside me last night broke into a perfectly harmonized countermelody to the umdze that I found inspiring in many ways. Often the chanting here more of a crowd approach with a variety of tones moving in a cluster around the amplified melody. People singing in harmony perked my ears and warmed my heart.

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