Reciting Mantras from Books



[Clarification – the following comes from the Vimalaprabha, which is a commentary on Kalachakra-tantra written by Pundarika, the second Kalki. The context of this quote is in reference to practices within the Anuttarayoga Tantra class (see this post, which includes a listing of the different classes of tantra within the Indo-Tibetan tradition). Elsewhere, in a discussion about this quote, a friend brought up the fact that there are mantras which are commonly known and used that do not require empowerment or teachings. For example, the mantra of Chenrezig. I agree, and realized my post could be taken the wrong way. Hence, this note. That said, I stand behind the idea that tantric practice requires empowerment from a qualified Dorje Lopon (Vajra Acharya), and without such, can lead to further entanglement in samsara, confusion, and other afflictive states. This is due in part to the many misconceptions that are held regarding tantric practice and teachings. I am also reminded of the analogy given of tantra, that it is like a snake in a bamboo tube. There are only two ways to go–up or down. I am ever grateful for my kind teachers who guide me on the path.]


“People who practice the sadhana with mantras read from a book and who are excluded from traditional teachings become mentally afflicted.

“What if the traditional teaching is received from a book? Then it is disclosed by the text of the composition, which has a provisional meaning.

“Those who practice the sadhana of gods and goddesses, with mantras that are read from a book, miss the true meaning of mantra and aim to eat space.

“For the adepts with the vigor of a steadfast mind or who pray with recitation of mantras, a desired mundane siddhi may arise.

“Those devoid of practice do not succeed by means of the recitation of mantras, fire offerings, and the means of worshiping shrines. These words are in accordance with the fact.

“Therefore, for the sake of the sadhana of the teachers, bodhisattvas, and gods, the wise receive this very essence of mantra with every caution.”

[From the Vimalaprabha (Stainless Light) commentary. Translated by Vesna Wallace]

A Buddhist MOOC


A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. Since around 2012 they have begun to flourish on the Internet. There are several platforms (e.g. Coursera, edX, Udacity, and others). The general concept is to offer distance learning, typically free of charge,  to a massive international student body. MOOCs often include video lectures, written assignments, quizzes, a discussion forum where students can interact and engage further with the material, and a final exam. On most platforms, and for most courses, if you complete the assignments and pass the exam you can earn a statement of completion indicating that you have successfully fulfilled the requirements for the course. Subjects have tended to focus on STEM fields (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics), however, more and more other fields of study have been included (e.g. the Humanities).

I have completed several technology based MOOCs, and really enjoyed the experience. I began to wonder if there were any Buddhist specific MOOCs out there, so I did a search. Lo and behold, I found this:

Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World

Though my practice is much more traditional (i.e. I am not all that interested in “secular Buddhism”) this looks promising in terms of an online course. It will be interesting to see how it turns out, and to participate with other students. Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World begins January 19th 2015, and runs for 13 weeks. Enrollment is open now. This is a free class on the Coursera platform, offered by the University of Virginia.

Maybe I’ll see some of you there?

Brick by Brick


Sometimes you have to build a house, brick-by-brick, and then take it down, brick-by-brick, and then build another, brick-by-brick, and then take that down, brick-by-brick. Sometimes this work might seem pointless and redundant, and you might think to yourself, “Why am I spending all this time in labor when I could be having fun, or sitting in meditation all day”? Yet if you persist, this house building, this labor and effort, can itself become your meditation practice, and a gateway to the Bodhi-Mind.

What did Marpa do when Milarepa requested he teach him the Dharma?

To my reckoning, part of the tantric method (e.g. in Vajrayana) is to transform our everyday experiences into modes that lead toward liberation and enlightenment. At the tantric level this includes things like our passions and emotions (anger, lust, greed, etc.), yet it also includes other aspects of our lives, like work. Rather than setting up a dichotomy of “spiritual” and “mundane”, and imagining these to be in conflict (e.g. meditation vs. work), the tantrika embraces all in a non-dualistic way. Everything is potentially a vehicle that can lead towards liberation and enlightenment.

MilarepaIn the case of Milarepa, before he went in search of the Dharma he used “black magic” in revenge against wrongs that were committed against his family. When compassion began to grow in his heart/mind, and he realized what he had done (the story goes, he killed an entire village with his magic), he decided to find a Dharma teacher. This turned out to be Marpa. It was Marpa who told Milarepa to build a tower, and then take it down, and then another, and another, and another (4 times in all, each time frustrating further, and giving contradictory instructions and promises). But it was this labor that was exactly the kind of preparation Milarepa needed. He later become one of the most beloved Buddhist saints, an extraordinary contemplative. A glimpse of his Bodhi-Mind was captured in his Songs of Milarepa. Worth a gander, if you haven’t read them.

Master Dolpopa’s Mountain Doctrine

Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen

Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen

This has been on my wish list for a while now. Published in 2006, this is the first English translation of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen’s masterpiece titled Mountain Doctrine wherein he gives precise teachings on the rangtong (self-emptiness) and zhentong (other-emptiness) views. I am currently re-reading The Buddha from Dolpo by Cyrus Stearns, which is excellent–both in offering a basic biography of Dolpopa as well as providing many of his arguments regarding Buddhanature and other teachings. Dolpopa was also a master of Kalachakra tantra, and is recognized as such even to this day by many of the Vajrayana lineages (not just the Jonang).

For those who are interested in Buddhadharma but have never heard about Dolpopa, I recommend checking him out (probably starting with The Buddha from Dolpo). Hopefully we will see more from Dolpopa in English, as his collected works are gaining attention in academia.

Other related books of interest:

The Buddha from Dolpo (by Cyrus Stearns)

The Essence of Other-Emptiness (by Jetsun Taranatha. Translated by Jeffrey Hopkins)

The Kalachakra Tantra: The Chapter on Sadhana Together with the Vimalaprabha Commentary (translated by Vesna A. Wallace)

Introduction to the Kalachakra Initiation (by Alexander Berzin)

Ornament of Stainless Light (translated by Gavin Kilty)

Resuming Posting…

After about a year of not posting to this blog I am now back and intend on posting semi-regularly again. My blogging (here, at least) was diminished, yet my Dharma practice has continued (which is the important part, I think).

After the teachings on Taranatha’s Lamrim, I also received teachings on Kalachakra. I won’t repeat the details of the latter since they are tantra level teachings, but I will say that they have really opened up the preliminary practices for me. I have also attended teachings (one session of a 4 part session) on Guru Yoga. My gratitude to Khenpo Choejor Gyamtso for his wisdom and kindness in sharing the Dharma to his students.

I have also recently been invited to attend a practice group that has formed at another center. There was one session already, which I missed, yet one friend shared her notes, and another friend called me to fill me in as best he could. I will be attending my first session in two days.

I plan on continuing the Lamrim series of posts on Vajra Vehicle. The next article in that series will be on “Contemplation 2 – The Difficulty of Obtaining a Precious Human Life with its Freedoms and Endowments”. I will also be making additional posts now and again, not specifically related to any series. These are all assigned the “Miscellaneous” Category (for those who use the Category links to order posts when reading content on Vajra Vehicle).

Cleaning – Externally and Internally

Spring Cleaning

It’s time to thoroughly clean my living space! There is a lot of inertia preventing me from doing this right now, so I have decided to transform the experience into an active form of meditation. As I wipe away the dust and grime I imagine I am cleaning the obscurations that cover the radiant clear light mind. As I rearrange the furniture I imagine I am ordering all the parts of my life that are in disarray. As I sweep, vacuum, and mop the floor I imagine I am preparing a sure foundation to stabilize my practice. As I wash the dishes I imagine I am ridding myself of the three poisons (ignorance, attachment, and aversion). At the end of the day I will have a clean and ordered space, and others who come to visit might feel more at peace here. I dedicate any merit accumulated through this practice to the benefit of all beings. #DharmaInEverydayLife

Three Poisons

Three Poisons

Three Poisons

What are the three poisons? Attachment, aversion, and ignorance (represented by the bird, the snake and the pig respectively). All forms of suffering can be traced back to one or more of these three. In very simplistic terms, attachment means clinging, desiring, wanting. If we are attached to something we want to hold on to it and not let go. We want to keep it for ourselves. We are sad or angry if it goes away. Aversion means we do not want something, we want it to go away, we want it removed from our presence. We are sad or angry if it remains. Ignorance means not knowing, a lack of clarity, not seeing things as they really are.

Dharma is full of antidotes for these poisons. Find a dharma-gate that works for you, and enter in. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas stand before us all, encouraging us to become a fully awakened being, a Buddha.

H. H. Penam Rinpoche

HH Penam Rinpoche

HH Penam Rinpoche

Today, 10 March 2013, is the 5th anniversary of the parinirvana of His Holiness Penam Rinpoche (full name Ngagwang Pedma Namgyal Palzangpo). As I write this note I reflect on the kindness this great lama has shown to me. In a very literal sense it was Penam Rinpoche that led me to the Buddhadharma. I have wrote a bit about this in a previous entry so I will not repeat all the details here except to say that without his influence I may never have come to embrace the Dharma in this life.

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Time and Daily Practices


I was recently reading materials about meditation and came across a reference to a concept that in some of the Vedic traditions is called ‘Brahmamuhurta’ (Time of Brahma) and in Sikhism is called ‘Amrit Vela’ (Ambrosial Hours). And while this specific idea comes from outside of my own tradition per se (though I know there are rough equivalents, minus some of the details), I found it rather intriguing, saw no conflict with my path and thought there might even be some potential benefits involved. I decided to give it a try.

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