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At the time of his initiation, the pupil receives a new name from his Lama, which he will use henceforth for religious purposes. As an initiate, it will be proper to refer to him as the devotee during this chapter and to reserve the title adept for the following chapters; for, until he has completed two years or so of preliminary training, he will certainly not be an adept in the true sense of the word.

The progressive conquest of the ego and opening the innermost recesses of the mind to the flow of intuitive wisdom (Prajñā) constitute an immense achievement, even if they stop far short of Liberation. Without intensive preparation, it is vain to attempt so gigantic a task. Just as artists, however talented, seldom achieve near-perfection until they have been through a hard apprenticeship, just as doctors of medicine and psychiatrists are bound by law to qualify before venturing to practice, so, too, are students of Tantric methods compelled, in their own interests and those of future generations, to undergo a long course of training. The nature of the sacred practice is such that they have to become both artists and psychologists in order to succeed — artists able to conjure in their minds living pictures more life-like than dreams or visions, psychologists with so intimate a knowledge of the functioning of their minds that they become masters of their thoughts and emotions.

It is remarkable that the few books in English with much to say about Tantric Buddhist practice generally fail to mention the initial training. A newly initiated novice preparing to embark on his first Sādhana is generally given five or six preliminary exercises, each of which he must perform no less than one hundred thousand times! If he works at them every day from dawn to long after dusk, he will be able to complete them in less than two years, which is about the minimum period for what may be called elementary training. (As we have seen, preparation for becoming a Lama is more likely to take some twenty years.) Thereafter, the novice will be able to perform most of the Sādhanas without need for further preliminaries. Even if, later on, he studies under a Lama of another sect that prescribes slightly different preliminaries, it is not likely that he will be required to start all over again, for, by that time, he will almost certainly have achieved the results for which the preliminaries are intended.

Though most of the exercises can be completed in a few minutes, the need to perform them a hundred thousand times makes them add up to a prodigious effort. At first sight, they may give the impression of being mechanical, tedious, and unproductive, which is quite misleading. They cannot be performed mechanically, for that would be tantamount to not performing them at all; they will not be found tedious because they soon lead to mystical contemplation that becomes a joy; and, so far from being unproductive, they constitute the first assault upon the barriers of faulty sense perception that hide from the devotee the sacred mystery he is longing to behold. On the other hand, a research scientist, who does not believe in the goal but wishes to master the practice so as to be able to evaluate its psychological results, will find these preliminaries not only intolerably tedious but barren too; for, without eager faith, they are bound to be mechanical and, therefore, fruitless.

People who advocate the use of drugs such as mescaline or marijuana as a shortcut to yogic experiences otherwise requiring years of effort may argue that they can come as close or closer to the sublime mystery without expending any effort at all. That is sometimes true enough, but they are unable to foresee or control the experience that unfolds when they have taken the drug and may as often as not achieve results that, if not terrifyingly unpleasant, are at best irrelevant to what is intended. They cannot hope to emulate accomplished Tantric adepts who are able to contemplate the mystery at any time they wish.

The cumulative effect of the preliminaries is to prepare the faculties of body, speech, and mind for the more advanced kinds of visualization and, if required, for performing the exceedingly difficult psycho-physical exercises that, under certain circumstances, are believed to lead to Liberation in this life. The mind becomes a stage that can be lit up at will for enacting the brilliantly colored, vivid transformation scenes that cut through the sense barriers and permit mystical union with the sacred Source; simultaneously, the ego-consciousness is so reduced that, even in dealing with everyday matters, the adept acts in more or less strict accord with the concept of egolessness, responding to needs and circumstances as simply and unthinkingly as a tree responds to the need for sunlight and moisture.

Without the prescribed training, the benefit of the Sādhanas would be lost, and the total reorientation of mind and attitude could scarcely be accomplished. As people who experiment with Zen or Hindu yogic practice often discover, it is exceedingly difficult to achieve, by a simple act of will, a state of unwavering concentration that lasts for minutes or hours. Unless they are singularly gifted — in fact, “natural mystics” —, they find the mind as hard to control as a caged bird that has escaped and is fluttering among the garden trees, having two minds about whether to come back to an unfailing source of nourishment or whether to surrender its liberty. The Vajrayāna preliminaries offer a way of gaining firm control; whereafter, the main practice becomes very much easier and more fruitful.

Some of the preliminaries do not seem obviously conducive to those effects and may be thought to resemble the devotional Paternosters and Ave Maria’s of the Catholic Church. No doubt, their content is partly devotional, which is to be expected of deeply religious men; however, they have two important characteristics that distinguish them from prayer as ordinarily understood: they are accompanied by yogic visualizations, and they are believed to derive their effectiveness from the mind of the devotee rather than from the grace of the divine being addressed. Some of the preliminaries include the repetition of Mantras, which are very different from prayer in that the words are not

pronounced for the sake of their meaning but for the power of their sound, which affects the mind at a deeper level than that of conceptual thought.

The Grand Prostrations

The various preliminaries are performed concurrently by doing a certain number of each, in turn, every day. They invariably include one hundred thousand grand prostrations, which are much more rigorous than prostrations of the ordinary sort. The latter consist of standing with the feet together, raising the joined palms first above the head, then to the forehead, throat, and heart, then bending down and placing hands, knees, elbows, and head on the ground in that order, the whole sequence being performed three times. This is the normal triple salutation to the Guru and to statues of the Buddha, which also constitutes the beginning and conclusion of every rite. It is universal throughout the Buddhist world except that, with other Mahāyāna sects, the joined hands are placed only before the breast and, among the Theravādins, the three prostrations can be performed from the kneeling position. For a grand prostration, the initial stance is the same; but, instead of falling to the knees and touching the head to the ground, the devotee swiftly slides his hands along the floor in front of him until he is lying prostrate on the ground with his limbs stretched out to their fullest extent; whereupon, he bends his arms at the elbow and joins his hands above the head in salutation.

This exercise, repeated in bouts of one or two hundred in succession, is tiring; what is more, unless the ground surface is smooth enough for the hands to slide easily forward, it is ungraceful; on an irregular surface, it is scarcely possible at all, and, if the floor is of inferior wood, splinters may wound the hands. So devotees prefer to use a special apparatus consisting of a wide board some seven feet long and raised about three inches at the further end. The board is well polished and, on either side at the points where the hands first come in contact with it, are two pads of cloth. The devotee grasps these pads and pushes them so that they slide towards the further end as his arms and body shoot forward.

Even with this useful aid, a hundred successive grand prostrations at a time are likely to tax the beginner’s strength, and he may, until he becomes accustomed to the practice, have to be content with a more modest number. If a board is used, it is not necessary to point it towards a Buddha-statue or reliquary tower, though this is done if convenient. The accompanying words and visualization make it a properly devotional exercise wherever it is done. Usually, the words are: “I, so-and-so, on behalf of all sentient beings and freely offering my body, speech, and mind, bow to the earth in adoration of the Guru and the Three Precious Ones.” So saying, the devotee visualizes a concourse of divine beings similar to those evoked during the taking of refuge. Rays from their resplendent persons penetrate in all the ten directions, giving comfort to the six orders of sentient beings and entering the adept’s own body, which is transformed to refulgent crystal. In this context, the Three Precious Ones personify the shining Void with which mystical union is sought. With progress, the visualization becomes increasingly lucid and detailed.

Grand prostrations confer a number of benefits. At the physical level, they redress the ill effects of spending long hours every day rapt in contemplation. For this reason, some adepts continue with them all their lives. It is not unusual for vigorous Tibetans to perform as many as four hundred every day. There is no doubt that those ancient Buddhists who devised the exercise had this remedial effect in mind. Then, there is the symbolic humility of the act, which contributes something towards the negation of the ego, for humility is the conqueror of pride, and pride constitutes the ego’s chief nourishment. Besides, it is thought proper for a being lost in sagsāric delusion with a long way to go before his divine potential is realized to give formal expression of his gratitude to the Guru and the Triple Gem for teaching him how Enlightenment can be won.

More important than either of these is the part played by the prostrations in combining the two Mahāyāna concepts of self-power and other power. Meditation performed without accompanying devotional practice will inevitably lead to the error of thinking: “I have made this progress. This is my achievement.” From beginning to end of the Vajrayāna practice, there is this twin approach: the concept of self-power, in that a man can be liberated by no one but himself; and that of other-power, in that his Liberation is accomplished by a power that vastly transcends the little “I,” which he must give up regarding as his real identity. On the other hand, the humility is not that of a “miserable sinner” craving divine mercy, for, at an early stage, the devotee has been made aware of his own divinity that derives from the identity of his true nature with that of the Triple Gem. Though lying flat on the ground is a gesture of total surrender, in the Buddhist view, a human being who has made that surrender is much to be envied by the gods lolling at ease in their cloud-girt palaces near the apex of Mount Sumeru; for gods, when their stock of merit is exhausted, tumble back into the lower realms; lacking a human body, they have no vehicle of Enlightenment and must await the good fortune of “rebirth as a human being in a country where the Buddha-Dharma is proclaimed.”

The Refuges

In the chapter entitled “Aspiration,” the taking of refuge was described in some detail, for it must, of course, precede all practice, including the preliminaries. It is the very first step of the path. Nevertheless, it has to be recalled here, for one of the essential preliminaries consists of performing the act of refuge one hundred thousand times. Imasmuch as it would take many years to complete that number if the entire visualization had to be repeated that many times, the rite is reduced to manageable length by the simple means of visualizing the great concourse of deities as described earlier and then repeating the formula of refuge perhaps several hundred times at a sitting. Even so, it cannot be rushed; the formula must be repeated each time with great sincerity, and the visualization continued throughout.

It is usual to preface each sitting with another rite entitled “Calling upon the Lama to Arouse His Compassion.” The devotee performs three prostrations in front of the shrine on which incense tapers and butter-lamps or candles have been lighted, then seats himself cross-legged upon a cushion and thoughtfully recollects his good fortune in possessing the two essentials for Enlightenment — a human body and some knowledge of the Dharma. Next, he reflects upon the folly of squandering this precious opportunity. Vividly, he reviews the hindrances and dangers besetting his path and the formidable sufferings of those born into the animal state or still lower realms. To assist him, he may be provided with a text in which these reflections are set forth in movingly poetic style. Some extracts from this rite as performed by the Nyingmapas are as follows:

“The Gesar flower of Faith blooms in my heart; Lama most gracious, only Refuge rise!
Bestow protection on this wretched being
Whom karmic deeds and Kleśas fiercely oppress
By taking seat upon the ornament Of Mahāsukha-cakra over my head; My recollection and awareness rouse!
This day, I have won new respite, being safe
From hell; from birth among Pretas, brutish beasts,
Long-living gods, barbarians, heretics;
From Buddha-less worlds; from idiot’s sad state
Those eight conditions most inopportune!
As human being with faculties complete,
Born in a central land, my livelihood Not ill; with faith in Dharma, I possess All five endowments of the personal kind.
A Buddha has appeared;
His Dharma has been preached;
It still remains, and I have entered it; With holy counselor for guide, I own The five endowments that from others stem.
Yet, though I have gained a state that is all-endowed,
I scorn the uncertain tenure of a life That hangs upon conditions so diverse.
Indeed, I am bound to pass to lives beyond.
O Guru, Thou who knowest well these things, My thoughts I pray Thee steer towards the Dharma; Spare me, All-knowing Prince, low devious paths.
My mind is single, Lama, as Thou knowest.
If, on this day, I do not profit from The firm support these respites render me, I shall later lack support for Liberation!
If merit is squandered in one happy life,
Then, after death, I shall stray through sad rebirths.
Unable to distinguish right from wrong, Reborn in lands where Dharma is not preached, I shall find no holy counselor, alas!
How many and how varied are mere beings!
This thought makes human birth seem rare indeed.
And when we contemplate how men themselves
Live sinfully without the Dharma’s light,
The living of a Dharma-guided life Will seem as rare as stars that shine by day.
O Guru, Thou who knowest well these things, My thoughts I pray Thee steer towards the Dharma; Spare me, All-knowing Prince, low devious paths.
My mind is single, Lama, as Thou knowest.
Suppose I have attained the jeweled-isle
Of human birthsound physical support —
The wretched mind will ill support my aim,
I am ruled by evil company and, worse,
The five poisons grow turbulent within;
Or if bad Karma brings disasters down,
If sloth distracts me, or I am made a slave;
Or if my Dharma practice is mere pretense,
Or if I take the Refuges through fear,
Or I do stupid things, these are the eight Inopportunes of adventitious source.
Now, when these Dharma-foes beset me close,
O Guru, Thou who knowest well these things, My thoughts I pray Thee steer towards the Dharma; Spare me, All-knowing Prince, low devious paths.
My mind is single, Lama, as Thou knowest.
Not to regret our life’s inherent woe;
To lack the jewel of faith; to be ensnared
By craving’s noose; steeped in vulgarity;
Shameless though sinful; nurtured by evil means; With vows all marred; and rent the Samaya-pledge — Such are the eight ingrained inopportunes.
Now, when these Dharma-foes beset me close,
O Guru, Thou who knowest well these things, My thoughts I pray Thee steer towards the Dharma; Spare me, All-knowing Prince, low devious paths.
My mind is single, Lama, as Thou knowest.
Though free just now from illness and from woe,
And not as yet enchained in servitude;
What if, despite this circumstance so fair, These gains are squandered through my idleness? How think of pleasure, henchmen, kith, and kin, When even my precious body is dragged from bed To be devoured by foxes, vultures, dogs?
What anguished fears the bardo-state must bring!
O Guru, Thou who knowest well these things, My thoughts I pray Thee steer towards the Dharma; Spare me, All-knowing Prince, low devious paths.
My mind is single, Lama, as Thou knowest.
From failing to restrain my evil-doing
While setting foot upon the sacred Path;
From lacking urge to benefit my fellows
Though now inside the Mahāyāna Gate;
From sloth in all the meditation stages, Though four initiations were bestowed — O Lama, pluck me from such erring ways!
From pride in views before I have understood;
From meditation marred by wandering thoughts;
From heedlessness of faults in action’s sphere
O Lama, save me from the state of “Dharma-bear.”
From thirst for dwellings, clothes, and property,
Though I may have to die when next day dawns;
From failing in aversion to this life,
Though my remaining years grow ever less;
From boasting of my intellectual gains
While yet so far from learned in the Dharma, O Lama, save me from such ignorance!
From being immersed in bustle’s trivial round,
Though splendid chances crowd upon my way;
From timber-like rigidity of mind,
When choosing to rely on solitude;
From talking glibly of the Vinaya,51
Though still a prey to anger and desire — O Lama, draw me from these worldly ways.
O Lama, rouse me from my sluggish sleep!
Drag me quickly from this dungeon deep!”

Having recited this text three times, the devotee then visualizes the concourse of deities and recites one of the brief formulas for taking refuge perhaps a hundred and eight or a thousand and eighty times at a sitting; thereafter, he contemplates the deities merging into one and, thence, into the formless primal condition of the undifferentiated Dharmakāya; whereupon, he himself enters Samādhi.

The Generation of Bodhicitta

Bodhi” means Enlightenment, and “citta” connotes both of what in English are called “mind” and “heart” (the seats of the intellect and emotion). The whole word, therefore, means literally “Enlightened mind-heart,” but the title of the rite is best rendered “the attainment of an attitude of mind compounded of Buddha-like wisdom and Bodhisattva-like compassion for sentient beings.” The first part consists of cultivating what are known as the Four Immeasurables or Brahma States, namely, loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and impartiality (equanimity), which, according to a Nyingma text, is done as follows: The devotee first reflects upon his friends and enemies, noting how enemies may, by right treatment, be made a source of blessing and how friends can become a hindrance to progress, as inordinate affection for them is likely to lead to further rebirths. Starting with one or two persons in mind, he gradually extends his reflections to include all beings in the universe, meanwhile cultivating an impartial attitude towards them so that the distinctions between close friends and distant acquaintances or between friends and enemies vanish. Thus, impartiality is gradually achieved. Next, he contemplates all sentient beings together

and, with a yearning like that of a parent towards erring children, ardently desires their well-being. Thus, loving-kindness that longs to confer benefits by whatever means is achieved. Next, to fortify his compassion, he meditates upon the lot of some cruelly-afflicted being such as a malefactor on the eve of execution or an animal in the hands of a butcher reeking with the blood of its pitiful kind. He thinks of this sad being as a mother thinks of her child, his heart full of love and pity such as flesh can hardly bear, saying: “Ah, would that he could be spared this horror!” Then, gradually he turns his mind to those in other woeful states and to all who are working out their Karma, under painful circumstances. This part of the meditation leads directly into Samādhi,

which is attained by visualizing the universe of suffering beings as expanding outward into nothingness. Upon emerging from Samādhi, the mind attains sympathetic joy by being directed towards all those beings, especially enemies, who are enjoying present happiness. Free from envy, he rejoices in their joy and ardently desires its increase and continuance. By extending to infinity the number of happy beings contemplated, he enters Samādhi again. Upon his withdrawal from Samādhi for the second time, the actual generation of Bodhicitta commences. Longing for the Liberation of all beings and praying that his own deliverance from Sagsāra shall take place after theirs, he visualizes the sentient universe as composed of myriads of beings, all of whom have been his own parents in former lives. They include gods, Asuras, humans, all kinds of birds and beasts, reptiles, and insects, as well as ghosts and demons. From a heart full of deep compassion, he reflects:

“Of all these beings, there is not one who has not been my parent. My present parents have reared me lovingly, lavishing upon me good food and clothing; while they and my former parents remain in the round of life and death, why should I be one to be delivered? I must set my thoughts upon the highest Enlightenment and, therefore, upon emulating the holy conduct of a Bodhisattva. I shall strive and strive until no single being remains in Sagsāra’s hold.”

Thereupon, he recites a short verse movingly expressing his aspiration, perhaps repeating it some hundreds of times as a contribution towards completing the preliminaries. One such verse runs:


Through diverse semblances like moon in water, The beings wander in Sagsāra’s thrall. In order to repose their minds in realms of light, I, from the Four Immeasurables, beget the Bodhi-Mind.”

When the recitation ceases, the devotee visualizes the deities of the MazTala as appearing before him and then becoming absorbed into his own body; whereupon, Bodhicitta is born like a flash of light in his own consciousness, and, for the third time, Samādhi supervenes. The conclusion of the rite consists of meditating upon ways in which the devotee can train himself to be of service to others and the means of acquiring intuitive wisdom (Prajñā) by reflection upon the intrinsic emptiness (Śūnyatā) of all entities (Dharmas). This is the beginner’s manner of generating Bodhicitta. With the most advanced methods, no set practices are required.

The Vajrasattva Purification

This rite is performed first as a preliminary and later as a means of purification that can be resorted to from time to time throughout the adept’s life. Whenever he infringes any provision of the Samaya-pledge, it is essential to perform it time after time until certain signs convince him that the pledge has been repaired. The longer the time that has elapsed since the infraction, the more thorough and lengthy the purification must be. If three years have gone by and no purification has taken place, the pledge is impossible to repair in this life, and the erring adept must accept the fearful karmic consequences.

To readers unable to accept the vital doctrine underlying it, the rite will seem at best a useful psychological exercise; but Vajrayāna initiates recognize it as a source of illimitable cleansing power. Just as the whole universe is manifested by Mind, so is an endless succession of mental objects created by the individual mind. If the distinction between mind in these two senses were real, there would, of course, be a great difference between, say, a bronze kettle and the mental concept of a kettle, but, to an initiate, it is clear that this distinction is illusory. Dreams help to make this point of view more easily acceptable. There can be no doubt that the objects in a dream are mental creations, yet, to the dreamer, they are as real as the walls of his bedroom when he awakes. The efficacy of purification by means of the visualization of Vajrasattva derives from the identical nature of mental creations appearing as objects in a man’s environment and those appearing as concepts in his mind.

When this rite is used as a preliminary, the part that has to be repeated many times in succession so that the repetitions amount to a hundred thousand by the end of about two years is the “Hundred Syllable Mantra” of Vajrasattva. This, though it has a recognizable meaning when rendered from its Tibeto-Sanskrit form back into the original Sanskrit, is used — like all Mantras — in an exclamatory manner, and the meaning of the words, unrecognizable from the pronunciation, is of no consequence at the level of conscious thought. Yet, it would be wrong to say that the choice of Mantra is of no consequence, for substitution of another Mantra or of arbitrary strings of sound would not do. The way it is recited is of great importance; the sound is held to produce certain vibratory effects to which the mind responds at a deeper level of consciousness.


A well-known Nyingmapa text used for the rite runs as follows:


The impediment to acquiring the fullest mental realization of the Profound Path is the obscurations caused by evil deeds, and the best way of purging these obscurations is to practice the Yoga of Vajrasattva. The essentials of the Four Powers involved in this are as follows:

A. The Power of the “Support.” This results from taking Vajrasattva as your Refuge, from possessing the Bodhicitta of Aspiration, and from Entrance upon the Path.

B. The Power of Vanquishing Evil Karma. This results from generating a fierce remorse for your impure Karma and your misdeeds.

C. The Power of Restraining Evil Behavior. This results from thinking: “Henceforth, though it may cost me my life, I shall refrain from evil deeds.”

D. The Power of the Antidote. This results from the Vajrasattva Meditation and Recitation as a remedy for your former deeds.

With full recollection of the purification conferred by these powers, you should join visualization and utterance in perfect union and begin by reciting:

Ah! Lowly myself, above my head Carpet of moon on lotus white. From Hūg, springs Lama Dorje Sem White-shining in Enjoyment Form With Nyemma54 and a vajra-bell.

Be Thou my refuge; purge my misdeeds, Which I, with sharp remorse, lay bare And, henceforth, upon cost of life, forswear. At Thy heart, a full moon glows. Around its Hūg, Thy Mantra spins. Incited by these sacred words, From Yab-Yum locked in blissful sport, Clouds of Bodhicitta dew Descend like glistening camphor dust.

Whereby, I pray, may be erased All Karma, Kleśas, seeds of woe, Distempers, and all demon-plagues, Sin’s dark shadow, evil’s murk Both mine and all the Triple World’s.”

Next, you should repeatedly recite the Hundred Syllable Mantra with attention, reverence and respect, not straying discursively from one-pointedness:

Thereupon, the Jñāna-ambrosia of Great Bliss, like molten moonlight, falls from the syllable Hūg in Vajrasattva’s heart and from the Mantra encircling it. Thence, flowing from their bodies, it enters by your own cranial orifice; whereupon, all illness in the form of pus and blood, all plagues in the form of horrid insects, and all sinful obscurations in the form of smoke and vapor emerge from your pores and two lower orifices. Passing through nine earth-levels, they enter the belly of the (black) Lord of Death — that Yama of Deeds (in dreadful form) — who waits for them (surrounded by his horrid minions) with mouth open wide (hungry for the oblations owed him for your sins). And, thus, you are redeemed from untimely death. Visualizing all this, you should continue repeating the Mantra as long as possible. Finally, your four Cakras being filled with shining white ambrosia, your body and mind will be intoxicated with inexhaustible bliss. Next, recite:

Protector! Lost in darkest folly, I have often transgressed the Samaya-pledge. Lama, Protector, be my Refuge! MazTala-Lord and Vajra-bearer, Embodiment of vast compassion, Lord of every sentient being, I go to Thee for refuge sure.”

“I now confess and disclose all my failures to honor the Samaya of Body, Speech, and Mind, both main and subsidiary. I therefore pray Thee cleanse me, purifying me of the stains caused by my falling into evil, and of all darkness and sin.”

At these words, Vajrasattva, with glad and smiling countenance, bestows forgiveness, saying:

“Son of good family, all the darkness of your sins and the evils of your shortcomings are cleansed.”

So saying, He dissolves into light and merges into yourself; whereupon, you become Vajrasattva, like a reflection in a mirror, both apparent and void. This rite, when it is used for purification by adepts who have completed the preliminaries, has a further step to it that is described in the following chapter under the heading “Regular Rites and Meditations.” When used as a preliminary, it ends with the merging of Vajrasattva with the devotee, who visualizes their unified form as being absorbed into the Void; whereupon, Samādhi supervenes.

The MazTala Offering

In this context, the word MazTala has a special meaning. It is not the MazTala of peaceful and wrathful deities, but the MazTala of the visible universe conceived of in transmuted form as a symmetrical mass of precious substances studded with jewels. In shape and composition, it resembles the ancient Hindu conception of the universe, of which our world forms an insignificant part, although, strangely, the sun and moon bear the same relation to the whole as they do to our tiny world. As an offering, though symbolized by a few grains of rice contained in the devotee’s hands, it is of infinite extent, for large and small have no meaning when the plane of relativity is transcended. Each “continent” alone contains galaxies of stars and planets.

Moon Sun

(Our world is one of millions situated in the southern “continent’.” Mount Sumeru reaches above Brahmā’s heaven.)

The rite in its most simple form is thus: The devotee, seated before his shrine with its lighted lamps and incense tapers, picks up a handful of uncooked rice grains. With about half of them lying in each palm, he interlocks his fingers in a complicated Mudrā symbolizing the MazTala of the universe. The two fourth fingers stand up back to back and pressed against each other to represent Mount Sumeru. The little fingers are crossed, and each has the top of the thumb of the opposite hand resting upon its tip. The middle fingers are also crossed, and each is embraced by the first finger of the opposite hand. This offering of rice and its container (the hands) are visualized as the universe composed of shining substances and adorned with piles of precious jewels, silken banners, silver bells, and so forth.

Holding the offering in front of him, the devotee visualizes his parents seated to either side, with his loved ones pressing close about them. Seated in the place of honor, with their backs to him and facing the Buddhas, are his enemies and all who wish him harm. To either side and behind is a great throng composed of sentient beings of every kind — in fact, all sentient beings in the universe. Facing them is the great concourse of deities with the Three Precious Ones, his Yidam, and his Guru in the center. Now he recites:

“I, on behalf of parents, loved ones, friends, enemies, and all this great throng of sentient beings, offer all I have of body, speech, and mind, all good qualities, actions, and property, all my meritpast, present, and yet to come — to the Buddhas of the ten directions. May all beings be spared rebirth into states of suffering; may they attain present tranquility and swiftly achieve Nirvāza.”

This reflection must be accompanied by a sincere intention to put himself and all he has at the service of others, as well as to endure any amount of suffering for their temporal and spiritual welfare. Offering the MazTala constitutes a sacred pledge. Next, with hands still joined in the Mudrā and the rice grains resting on his palms, he recites:

‘‘Og Vajra Bhūmi Ah Hūg! Now let the ground be spotlessly pure. Og Vajra Rekhe Ah Hūg! Now let an iron wall arise with Hūg in the center. To the east, south, west, and north lie the four continents interspaced with four pairs of lesser continents, and also the Mountain of Precious Substances, the Wishing Tree, the Wishing Cow, the Unplowed Harvest, the Precious Wheel, the Precious Jewel, the Precious Queen, the Precious Minister, the Precious Elephant, the Precious and Best of Horses, and the Precious General. Also present are the Great Treasure Vase, the Lady of Gestures, the Lady of Garlands, the Lady of Song, the Lady of Dance, the Lady of Flowers, the Lady of Incense, the Lady of Lights. and the Lady of Perfume. There are, besides, the Sun and Moon, the Umbrella of Precious Substances, and the Banner of Victory.

“These same possessions of gods and men, lacking nothing, I now offer to the Glorious Holy Lamas, my immediate Teachers and their predecessors in the Sacred Line of Succession, to the Deities of the MazTala, and to the Yidams, together with the whole Assembly of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. “I pray you, out of your compassion, to accept these offerings for the sake of all sentient beings. I pray you, having accepted them, graciously to bestow your blessings upon all.”

A simpler and, in some ways, more beautiful version often used is:

“We have strewn upon the earth sweet scents And scattered flowers, With Mount Sumeru, The Four Continents, The Sun and Moon As ornaments — All these, we offer from our hearts To the Buddhas everywhere. To the end that every being May be reborn in a happy state.” </poem>

Then, pronouncing the appropriate Mantra, the devotee tosses the rice grains high into the air and thus completes the offering. If this is done as part of the preliminaries, the Mantra (which contains less than twenty syllables) may be repeated a few hundred times at a sitting, and the throwing of the rice grains may be imagined after the first time, so that one hundred thousand recitations can be completed within about two years.

Such a rite can be viewed in several ways. At the most elementary level — that of those non-initiates who are simple folk —, it is closely analogous to making an offering to God in the hope of pleasing Him and obtaining His favor. This conception, though not fully in accord with Buddhist teaching, forms part of the vast range of skillful means for attracting as many people as possible to the Dharma. In general, the peasantry, by and large, do think of the Buddha very much as Christians, Jews, and Moslems think of the Deity. The more

subtle and mystical Buddhist beliefs are hard for them to comprehend, and, if they choose to conceive of the Buddha more or less as a god, there is probably little harm. It makes them glad to accept the Buddhist rules of restrained and compassionate conduct, and many of them will presently reach a stage at which they can be taught to understand a more orthodox concept of the Buddha. When an initiate, albeit still at a relatively low level of understanding, uses verses of this kind, he knows that the merit accruing from the offering is not bestowed

upon him by the Buddha in the form of grace to reward his piety, but arises from the alteration to his own mentality that results from reiterated verbal expressions of a genuine aspiration to expend his wealth, time, and energy on other sentient beings. The repetition of this formula of aspiration drives deeply into his heart the need to pursue his high goal without a thought of selfishness, and this tends, at least in a small measure, to the diminution of the ego. Furthermore, whoever recites the formula several times a day with true sincerity will, when confronted with opportunities to be helpful, scarcely forgo them thoughtlessly, still less deliberately neglect to make the most of them.

As to the form of the rite, it can be argued that the universe does not belong to the devotee and that he is “getting off very cheaply” by substituting a mentally-created idealized replica in place of what is not his to offer. However, at the lowest level of understanding, what the offer really amounts to is a pledge to utilize, without exception, for the benefit of others, whatever tiny fragments of the universe come into his

possession. From the Tantric point of view, on the other hand, there is absolutely nothing which is not his own, since each sentient being contains within himself the whole universe. This is so because Mind is not subject to space limitations, and the mind of each being — though apparently cut off from Mind as a whole by the karmic accretions constituting his individual personality — is, in fact, identical with Mind, the container of the universe.


The preliminaries outlined so far are common to all the sects of Tibetan Buddhism and are seldom replaced by others when prescribed for serious-minded initiates of the kind we are discussing. There are usually a few additional preliminaries, which vary among the sects or with individual teachers.

To keep count during the preliminaries and, in general, for the recitation of Mantras, Mālas (garlands, or rosaries) are used. They consist of one hundred and eight beads, with the first seven and the first twenty-one marked off by extra beads of a different size and color. To the large bead at the head of the Māla, two cords are attached, and, on each of them, there are ten tightly fitted disks of bone or metal that can be slid up and down, but grip the cord so tightly

that they will not move unless pushed. Each bead on the Māla itself is moved to record a single recitation; the disks on one pendent cord are for recording hundreds and those on the other cord for recording thousands. The number one hundred and eight is borrowed from ancient India and is said to correspond to some heavenly bodies of special importance in astrology. In practice, each set of one hundred and eight repetitions is counted as a hundred, and the remaining eight are thrown in for good measure in case some beads have inadvertently

slipped through the devotee’s hand. Mālas can be of any suitable substance, but the most favored kind are those made of so-called “Bodhi-seeds,” each of which has, on its yellow surface, one large dot (the moon) and many small ones (stars). Coral, agate, and various precious stones are used for the head-bead and for the markers that follow the seventh, twenty-first, and, sometimes, the forty-ninth or fifty-fourth bead.

Devotees not on the Short Path and without much time to spare from occupational and social responsibilities can, at best, perform a very simple kind of Sādhana, so they are sometimes given simpler preliminaries. The simplest of all consists of repeating a single Mantra of perhaps half a dozen or a dozen syllables, but with the proper visualization. That is why, in the Himalayan regions, one so often sees Tibetan lay people from whose lips comes a continuous low hum of mantric sound. No doubt, their devotions are, in some cases, mechanical, but it is taught that mere recitation without either visualization or a special state of mind is of little value, except that it will have the effect of making the Mantra come to mind at moments of crisis. The Mantra is clung to as a means of inducing the proper state of mind for passing into the bardo at moments when sudden death is likely to occur.

Most Tibetans, even those who are illiterate, are well aware of the need to use the Mantras in the proper way. Those well schooled in the practice learn to give just as much attention to their manual tasks as is necessary for performing them; the rest of their thought is given to maintaining the state of consciousness on which the efficacy of the Mantra depends. So their minds are calm and still below the surface

ripples caused by the task in hand. It is said that some of them can carry on lucid conversations without disturbing their inward contemplation. Anyone who has been deeply in love should have no difficulty in believing this, for lovers easily perform their daily tasks and talk about trifles with the image of the loved one constantly in mind.

  1. REDIRECTattha