‘A Hundred Blazing Lights’: Tāranātha on the meaning of ‘profound’ and ‘exceptional devotion’ in the ‘profound path of vajra-yogas’

Jetsun Tāranātha

As part of the new publication of Tāranātha’s root text ‘Meaningful to See: Guiding Instructions on the Profound Path of the Vajra-yogas‘ (and the annotations within it from his longer supplementary commentary, ‘A Hundred Blazing Lights‘ (HBL)), this  post shares his explanation of the term ‘profound’ (zab mo) and why it is used to describe the path of the six vajra-yogas, and the ‘profound’ path of ‘exceptional devotion’ (mos gus khyad par can) in the guru-yoga practice.

First, in the introductory chapter of HBL, Tāranātha clarifies why the path of the vajra-yogas is more profound than other paths, as it is quicker, non-conceptual and has the power to bring the ultimate, full awakening:

‘The other paths of Mantrayana related to a focal object also draw out the different primordial awarenesses and generally it is not suitable to say they are not profound. Compared to the lower vehicles, they are extremely profound methods of accomplishment. However, compared to the path of direct realization of the six vajra-yogas they are not profound. First of all, [on these other paths] giving rise to experience is extremely slow, they rely on inner and outer concepts, and even though one meditates for a long time, they do not have the power to join one to the final ultimate result [of Buddhahood].  In addition to those, it is necessary to engage in this [practice] of vajra-yogas. Since this method is vastly more profound compared to other paths, which are not as profound, it is called the profound path.”

In terms of guru-yoga, Tāranātha describes how the term ‘profound’ is related to the ‘exceptional devotion’  that is essential on the path:

”The sixth point is the meaning of the phrase, the ‘profound path’. If there is no devotion or respect for the lama, how can anyone speak about accomplishments?! Even though one has entered into a devotion that is without any degeneration of samaya and has not lost hope in all the excellent qualities, if it is without the exceptional devotion for the lama that guides on the path then, having sought other methods to provide the supreme siddhi [enlightenment], it will be necessary to have many other ways of eliminating obstacles and enhancing one’s practice. For other wishes, even though there is a very nearby method, it will be necessary to search for many different ones. The accomplishments of long-life, wealth, magnetising and so on, will never be accomplished by some. Here, with exceptional devotion for the lama that guides on the path, one will accomplish the supreme accomplishment [enlightenment] by devotion alone. Long-life, resources, powers and so on, all other wishes will be accomplished without much effort, by this exceptional devotion alone. Since that alone is sufficient, it is called ‘the profound path’.”

The seed syllables of ‘guru-yoga’ in the Kalacakra preliminaries

The path of ‘guru-yoga’

In HBL, in the section on guru-yoga, Tāranātha ‘identifies’ (dngos gzung) guru-yoga and asserts that even though serving and respecting the lama is found in other lower paths and in the Sutras and Vinaya, there is a difference in the practice of the secret mantra Vajrayana guru-yoga, and that is why it is the most important path for the secret mantra path and for attaining full awakening in one life:

”However, there is this difference. That which is called the guru-yoga, is the name for the meditation on the lama. One places in one’s mind the aspects of the body, speech and mind of the lama. From visualising that, one performs the yoga of continual devotion and respect, without interruption, this path that is the sole root of this main practice is labelled [guru-yoga]. Generally, it is in the secret mantra and in particular, manifestly revealed in the Unsurpassed Yoga Tantras. Since it is not widely renowned in the other lower classes of tantra, it is extremely suitable to call it, in a general context, the most important path for the blessings of the lama of the secret mantra Vajrayana.

The third point is identifying guru-yoga. In the tradition of the secret mantra Vajrayana, one should practice the profound path of guru-yoga.  For those endowed with good fortune, this is the most important method for attaining Buddhahood in one life. This is renowned by all and has one definite meaning. Through this conduct in relation to the sacred lama, the manner of showing respect, of remembering their kindness; the process of serving them. In terms of serving the lama with this conduct immediately, there is no difference between the sutras and tantras, nor the Hinayana and Mahayana.  It is clearly seen in the Sutra Pitikas of the Vinaya dharma and the Mahayana and is the same as that for the one who is the spiritual friend, the source of all the excellent qualities.  Even up to and including learned non-Buddhists, it is on the same side. They also state that from the activities of respectfully serving the lama the blessings enter oneself and the realisations arise.”

Essential qualities of a guru

What kind of ‘exceptional devotion’ is Tāranātha speaking about here? First, he explains the essential qualities required of a master and why a student should abandon any teacher who does not have the essential ones:

”A disciple with intelligence should not accept as a Guru someone who lacks compassion[1] or who is angry [2], malicious [3],  arrogant [4], has desirous attachment [5], is undisciplined [6] or boastful of his knowledge [7].  (A Guru should be) stable (in his actions), cultivated (in his speech), wise, patient and honest. He should neither conceal his shortcomings, nor pretend to possess qualities he lacks. He should be an expert in the meanings (of tantra) and in its ritual procedures (of medicine and turning back obstacles).  Also, he should have loving compassion and a complete knowledge of the scriptures. Thoroughly proficient in the ten principles, skilled in the drawing of mandalas, skilled in explaining the secret mantra, with supreme faith and his senses fully under control.

Even though this was is said in The Fifty Verses to the Guru, since it is cited in the scriptures on Stainless Light, it is clearly the same as the words of the tantra. From the Glorious Kalacakra Tantra:

First, the one to be followed, the pure lama. Endowed with samaya [1] and especially abiding in the vajrayana [2]. Meditates on ultimate reality [3]; completely pure without attachment [4] and free from stains[5]; a disposition that is patient and tolerant[6]. Entered the path and Enabling students by giving the path and robbing them of the fears and dangers of the hell realms [7].Observes chaste, pure conduct [8]. Regarding demons, one who holds the support of the vajra staff [9]and has accomplished Vajrasattva[10]. These are the excellent qualities of the master.

Endowed with pride [1], suppressing others with anger [2], shredded samayas [3], craving [4] and without having listened purely[5]. One who strives to seduce and deceive students [6], who does [not have] experience of abiding in the supreme bliss [7] nor the empowerments [8]. Craving all wealth and resources[9], immodest and careless and using harsh words[10], and with lust for sensual objects [11].  Such experts in leading students to hell should be abandoned in order to attain the perfect bodhicitta. This is the presentation of the faults [of the teacher].

..In terms of the master, there are two types: 1) the supreme type, who possesses all the characteristics of a master; and 2) one who, even though they have not completely perfected the excellent qualities and abandoned all the faults, does not possess any inappropriate qualities. Both these types are suitable

The meaning of ‘exceptional devotion’

In terms of what it means to have reverence and devotion for the guru in this context,  Tāranātha teaches that there is no requirement to meditate on a teacher in such a way (seeing them as the Buddha) unless they are a qualified teacher (see above) and a genuine mantrayana connection and an authentic empowerment has been given and received.  He says:

”The fourth point is how to meditate with devotion and reverence. In terms of the attributes of the object, it is possible they are emanations of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, if they are not [those] it is also permissible for them to manifest as ordinary beings. Since that vajra master accomplishes the benefit of beings with a body, speech and mind that is fully imbued with the yidam deities, it is like there is no difference between them and the actual Buddha. If one pleases them, one pleases the Buddhas. If one gather negativities [towards them], one accumulates negativities to the Buddha. If one makes offerings to them, one makes offerings to all the Buddhas and all the obscurations of the student will be exhausted.”

However, even though the teacher does not have to be a big name lineage master or monk and so on, and could be an ordinary, layperson (in terms of ‘external’ appearances), the meditiation on them as the actual Buddha is the same:

”Nonetheless, the meditation with devotion and reverence on the root lama himself, whoever is the suitable object, one does not view them as an ordinary person, like an Arya master or an ordinary spiritual friend and so on. The meaning of needing to meditate on them as the actual Buddha is that there is no difference between one and many Buddhas. The distinctive way one engages the cultivation of meditation and reverence, is not like there are one or two Buddhas. [One meditates] on them being the same nature as the embodiment of all the Buddhas of the three times and ten directions. As well as being the embodiment of all the Dharma and Sangha. Thus, my lama here is actually the embodiment of all the three supreme jewels. The lama himself is the three supreme jewels; the three supreme jewels themselves are the lama.”


Jetsun Tāranātha, rDo rje rnal ’byor gyi ’khrid yig mthong ba don ldan gyi lhan thabs od brgya ’bar ba Jonang Well-Being Association India (phags yul jo nang gro phan lhan tshogs kyis grem spel byas), 323-452, 2010.

‘Hundred Blazing Lights: A Supplementary Commentary on the ‘Guiding Instructions on the Vajra-yogas: ‘Meaningful to See’’ (HBL) by Jetsun Tāranātha. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (Dakini Publications, 2020) , see here.

‘Meaningful to See: Guidance on the Profound Path of the Vajra-Yogas’ by Jetsun Tāranātha. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin (Dakini Publications, 2020), see here.

N.B. All contents on this website are freely available to read and use, however they are copyrighted, so if you wish to copy or reproduce them elsewhere, please cite this source accurately and fully.

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