THE UNBREAKABLE DIAMOND ‘VAJRA MARRIAGE’ COMMITMENT RING: ‘UNTIL AWAKENING DO US PART’: Vajrayana samaya commitments and the fourteen root downfalls, in particular, related to ‘secret’ teachings and women

“Disclosing secret practice/teachings to the unempowered/unitiated/unripe is the seventh root downfall.”

“Denigrating/abusing women, who are the nature of wisdom is the fourteenth root downfall.”

—- Indian mahsasiddha,Aśvaghoṣa from the Vajrayānamūlāpatti

“Tantric practice [generation and completion stage] should be kept secret and should not be revealed or taught given to the uninitiated (without empowerment), unsuitable, unripe and those without stable faith in tantra and Buddha Dharma.”

–14th Dalai Lama during Red Avalokiteshvara empowerment (June 2022)

“Atisha said that if a practitioner has the full ordination vows of a Bikshu or Bikshuni they cannot take the second or third empowerments. What we interpret that to mean is the monastic cannot take a consort in actuality….However, if they are very realised and they can eat and taste urine, poo and so on and eat and enjoy like alcohol or food and so on , they can then do such practices.”

—14th Dalai Lama in response to Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo on the practice of tantric union (1993) 

INTRODUCTION – EMPOWERMENT AND BESTOWAL OF TANTRIC VOWS BY 14TH DALAI LAMA

Yesterday and today, the sacred Saga Dawa day  (June 13-14 2022), at the main Namgyal Monastery temple in Dharamsala, India HH 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso completed a two-day empowerment of Gyalwa Gyamtso. The Karma Kagyu lineage lama, 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche was also in attendance.  The Dalai Lama explained that Tai Situ Rinpoche had requested the empowerment and that Avalokiteshvara can be practised according to all four classes of tantra, but Gyalwa Gyatso belongs to Highest Yoga Tantra. It was reported to be attended online and in person by 8500 people from 56 countries.

The first day was the preparatory empowerment where bodhicitta was generated, commitments to the Vajra master, the deity and to sentient beings was taken (or re-affirmed). The 14th Dalai Lama also bestowed the Tantric precepts and vows.  On the second day, (livestream video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_tPjTaa8Wo) these mental states were generated again and the tantric commitments and vows bestowed and taken again. The Dalai Lama then bestowed the full four empowerments. I will write more about the lineage of Gyalwa Gyamtso that was bestowed by the Dalai Lama and so on in another post very soon!

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama speaking on the first day of Saka Dawa Teachings at the Main Tibetan Temple in Dharamsala, HP, India on June 13, 2022. Seated is the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche.

In this short post, for the benefit of those who may not be aware of what the tantric precepts are, I give a detailed review of the fourteen root downfalls in Vajrayana, and also focus, in particular, on the 14th root downfall of disrespecting, denigrating or discriminating against women (individually or as a group) and how tantric union practice engaged in by those with monastic vows should be done only by those with pure samaya, full control over the bodhitta and no aversion to ‘impure substances’ such as urine, excrement, blood and so on.  In addition, if there is any misogyny or viewing women as inferior, dirty or stupid etc. then such a person is not only breaching human ethics and respect, but also fundamental Vajrayana precept and should also not engage in such practices.

In addition, the student who takes the empowerment must have properly examined the vajra master and be fully confident they are a qualified master and do not possess qualities such as anger, aversion, carrying negative entities. For more on what makes a qualified Vajrayana master, see Jetsun Taranatha’s clear explanation of that from his Kalacakra masterpiece, Hundred Blazing Lights, here.

Tilopa, Indian Mahasiddha and Kagyu forefather

Taking the empowerment in the presence of HH 14th Dalai Lama and the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche was a very fortunate and blissful experience indeed and I dedicate the merits of doing so to all sentient beings and placing them in the state of great bliss. However, afterwards, in the back of my mind, much as I love and respect the Dalai Lama, I could not help but feel that the secrecy of tantric union practice and the potential denigration of women, especially when practiced by monastics with misogynist views,  did not fit well with the original history and tradition of Indian mahasiddhas and their yogini female teachers and consorts, who all had to leave the monasteries and wear lay-clothes, such as Tilopa when they wanted to do such practice (for more on Tilopa and his female teacher and consort, see here). That when monastics have consorts (subtle or actual) women tend to feel disrespected, unequal and unloved unless the lama really is very skilful and loving about it all. After all, lasting genuine bliss (and even a blissful orgasm) simply cannot arise if a woman’s mind is disturbed, sad and feels unloved, used and disrespected!

May all attain the great bliss and may all women be respected, loved, valued and cared for, without exception!  Music? Soulmates Never Die by Placebo. Endless Love by Jackie Chan and Kim Hee Seon.  I am a Queen by Jessie J. ‘Let’s get naked, start meditating, feel elevated inside. I love my body, I love my skin, I am a goddess, I am a Queen….can’t be healed with something materialistic, can’t be healed by a man who stays distant.’ SAMAYA GYA GYA GYA!

Dedicated the long life of HH 14th Dalai Lama and to the flourishing of the Buddha Dharma. Written and compiled Adele Tomlin, 14th June 2022.

THE MEANING OF THE WORD ‘SAMAYA” , THE NECESSITY FOR EMPOWERMENT AND ‘PRESERVING ITS LIFE-FORCE’

The Sanskrit word samaya (dam tshig), is a set of vows or precepts given to initiates of a Vajrayana deity as part of the abhiṣeka (empowerment or initiation) ceremony that should create an unbreakable bond between the vajra master/guru and vajra student/disciple. They are not the same as PRACTICE commitments.

According to Keown, et al., samaya may be defined as:

  • A particular system of teaching or doctrines
  • The conduct required of a tantric practitioner, often as a set of vows or commitments;
  • The realization (abhisamaya) of Buddhahood
  • In Tantric Buddhism, union with the trikaya, the body, speech and mind of the Buddha.

Alexander Berzin explains in his article about the root downfalls and the bestowal of such vows and commitments:

“The Gelug, Kagyu, and Sakya traditions confer these vows with any empowerment (dbang, initiation), subsequent permission (rjes-snang, permission), or mantra-gathering (sngags-btus) for any practice from one of the two higher classes of tantra – yoga or anuttarayoga – according to their fourfold classification scheme. The Nyingma tradition confers them with any of the above three rituals for any practice from one of the four higher tantra classes – yoga, mahayoga, anuyoga, or atiyoga (dzogchen) – according to its sixfold scheme.”

During the Dalai Lama’s empowerment, the words that are repeated are:

“I, secret  name, shall firmly observe the three kinds of ethical disciplines keep the discipline of restraint, accumulating virtues and work for the sentient beings. From now on I’ll take the vows of the unequalled three jewels of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha that are derived from the yoga of the Buddha. I shall perfectly keep the vajra, bell and mudra of the great supreme Vajra vehicle family and uphold the vajra master too.   I shall engage in the four kinds of giving six times a day for the sake for the remarkable pure lotus family that has risen from great enlightenment, I shall guard the outer secrets of the teachings and the three vehicles and the respect of dharma. I shall perfectly adhere to all the vows and make offerings as best I can. I shall call you with the excellent answer for spirit of enlightenment and completely abide by the vows for the benefit of all sentient beings. Beings who are not rescued, I’ll save. Those who are not yet freed, I will release. Those who are not released, I shall give relief to the ones who are unable to be released and lead sentient beings to nirvana.”

Jamgon Kongtrul has said in the Lamrim Yeshe Ningpo that samaya is established by taking abhiṣeka (empowerment) and samaya is the manner in which practitioners “preserve the life-force of that empowerment within your being”.

SOURCE OF THE FOURTEEN ROOT DOWNFALLS – Indian master, Aśvaghosha (Horse-Voice) and his Vajrayānamūlāpatti
Aśvaghoṣa (80-15)

There are two variations of the root tantric vows, one specific to the Kalachakra Tantra and one common to all Highest Yoga Tantras. The latter is presented here. In terms of Indian and Tibetan textual sources for these fourteen root downfalls, there are several.

One of the main Indian sources of the root downfalls is by Aśvaghoṣa (80-15) (lit. “Having a Horse-Voice”; rta dbyangs) who was a Sarvāstivāda or Mahasanghika Buddhist philosopher, dramatist, poet and orator from India. He is believed to have been the first Sanskrit dramatist, and is considered the greatest Indian poet prior to Kālidāsa called Vajrayānamūlāpatti  ( རྡོ་རྗེ་ཐེག་པ་རྩ་བའི་ལྟུང་བ། rdo rje theg pa rtsa ba’i ltung ba). 

As you can read, although never abandconing love and compassion for sentient beings, and bodhicitta are essential, (as HE 8th Garchen Rinpoche always teaches), however, the other samaya commitments are also essential too.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ELIMINATING AND WEAKENING THE VAJRAYANA VOWS – THE FOUR BINDING FACTORS AND THE CRUCIAL IMPORTANCE OF VAJRASATTVA FOR PURIFICATION

Generally, there are fourteen primary points of observance to consider in keeping one’s Vajrayana samaya vows pure (རྩ་ལྟུང་བཅུ་བཞི་, rtsa ltung bcu bzhi) in the Sarma traditions.  As Berzin explains here:

The root tantric vows are to refrain from fourteen actions which, if committed with the four binding factors (kun-dkris bzhi), constitute a root downfall (sngags-kyi rtsa-ltung) and precipitate a loss of the tantric vows. Without these vows shaping our lives, we cannot gain attainments or realizations from tantric practice. This is because our practice will lack the necessary supporting context. Except for one of the tantric root downfall actions, giving up bodhichitta – the same as with the root bodhisattva vows – a transgression of any of the other thirteen, without the four binding factors being complete, merely weakens the tantric vows. It does not eliminate them from our mental continuums.

Since these precepts are often and easily broken, and thus negative actions are continually performed, Dudjom Rinpoche and Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887)  in Words of My Perfect Teacher emphasise the importance of doing the hundred syllable Vajrasattva mantra (with the four powers of genuine regret and genuine promise not to repeat the action again) every day otherwise the negativities of broken vows simply increase more and more.  Patrul Rinpoche says:

However, purification only takes place when you confess sincerely in the right way, using the four powers as antidotes. The purification process will never work if your eyes and mouth are otherwise occupied, or if you are just mouthing the words, “I admit … I confess … ” while your mind is busy pursuing other thoughts. And to think, “In future, even if I do wrong it won’t matter because I can just confess afterwards,” will stop the purification from working at all, even if you do confess (p. 264)

།FOURTEEN ROOT DOWNFALLS

  1. TREATING THE VAJRA MASTER WITH CONTEMPT/DERISION

The vajra holders have stated that the attainment of accomplishments depends upon following a master. Therefore, to treat the master with contempt or disparagement is a downfall.

This root downfall does not mean one can never disagree or question the actions of the vajra master. It means that one should never have a mind of hatred/aversion or contempt for the vajra master. There is nothing wrong with healthy dialogue, concerns and doubts about the vajra master’s conduct.

As HH 14th Dalai Lama has often stated, if one think the Vajra master has breached samaya or is not keeping the required precepts and vows and engaging in unethical actions, there is nothing wrong at all with exposing that and not having anything more to do with that particular lama. In fact, it may be essential. Mingyur Rinpoche has also said the same thing.

However if in doubt as to whether the lama is a Bodhisattva or not, then it may be better to not openly criticize the lama and leave them alone neutrally. However, if people (and the Buddha Dharma) are being harmed and endangered by the lama’s conduct then it would be part of the Bodhizattva vows and commitment to stop the condict and protect sentient beings and the teachings[1].

2. TRANSGRESSING THE WORDS OF THE BUDDHA  བདེ་གཤེགས་བཀའ་ལས་འདས་པ་ནི།།  

Butcher in Lhasa, Tibet.

This means knowing what the Buddha taught and said yet still acting contrary to it. For example, the Buddha clearly taught in the Vinaya, the Hinayana and Mahayana Sutras and Secret Mantra that actively buying, consuming slaughtered animals was contracy to his teachings and to the Bodhisattva vows.

In fact, Chapter 8 of the Lankavatara Sutra gives hundreds of reasons why Buddha stated it was not acceptable for a Bodhisattva on the Path to eat slaughtered animals.  For more on that see, here.

Thus any monastic, or layperson, that knows this and yet still eats murder animals could be said to be transgressing the words of Buddha. Another example would be someone who says that monastics can have sexual relations with people. The Vinaya in all traditions and paths strictly forbids it[2].  Same can also be said of smoking and taking drugs, see more on that in the eighth root downfall below.

3. BEING ANGRY WITH/HAVING AVERSION WITH A VAJRA BROTHER AND SISTER (རྡོ་རྗེའི་སྤུན་ལ་ཁྲོས་ནས་ནི། །)

Here, according to Berzin, vajra siblings means:

….those who hold tantric vows and have received an empowerment into any Buddha-figure system of any class of tantra from the same tantric master. The empowerments do not need to be received at the same time, nor do they need to be into the same system or class of tantra. This downfall occurs when, knowing full well that certain persons are our vajra brothers or sisters, we taunt or verbally abuse them to their face about faults, shortcomings, failings, mistakes, transgressions, and so on that they may or may not possess or have committed, and they understand what we say. The motivation must be hostility, anger, or hatred. Pointing out the weaknesses of such persons in a kind manner, with the wish to help them overcome them, is not a fault.

Like the first root downfall, it is often misunderstood as never disagreeing with or pointing out faults of Vajra brothers and sisters. However, that cannot be the case as many masters have stated that faults can be pointed out, or concerns raised as long as it is genuinely being done with a mind of love and compassion and not with anger and aversion. If it meant never criticizing our vajra siblings that would lead to a cult-like mentality where wrongdoings and unethical conduct are never addressed.

4. ABANDONING LOVE FOR ANY SENTIENT BEING (སེམས་ཅན་རྣམས་ལ་བྱམས་པ་སྤངས། །)

As Jetsun Tāranātha, said ‘love is the water of compassion’ the moisture of Bodhicitta, see here.  This is not an ordinary love though but an unconditional love, like that of a loving mother for her child. Whatever the child does or says, no matter how mean or horrible she never stops loving her child and wanting the child to be happy and not to suffer[3]. HE 8th Garchen Rinpoche, in particular, always emphasizes the importance of maintaining love for being, whatever they do and say.

5. ABANDONING  BODHICITTA—THE ROOT OF DHARMA

Jigten Sumgon

Bodhicitta (the mind of wishing to attain awakening for the benefit of others)  is not the same as love and compassion, which are its basis.

Jigten Sumgon of the Drikung Kagyu mentions this in his Single Intention text. Although love and compassion are the basis for Bodhicitta, the mind that wishes to attain full awakening to establish all beings in that same state needs both love/compassion and also the view of emptiness in union to be genuine bodhicitta. It is wishing beings attain full awakening, which is a greater aspiration than wishing them to be happy and to be free from suffering alone. Berzin says:

“This is the same as the eighteenth bodhisattva root downfall, and amounts to giving up the aspiring state of bodhichitta by thinking we are incapable of attaining Buddhahood for the sake of all beings. Even without the four binding factors present, such a thought voids us of both bodhisattva and tantric vows.”

6. BELITTLING THE TEACHINGS OF ONE”S OWN OR OTHERS PHILOSOPHICAL TENETS རང་ངམ་གཞན་གྱི་གྲུབ་པའི་མཐའ། ། ཆོས་ལ་སྨོད་པ་དྲུག་པ་ཡིན། །

Berzin states says this means:

“This is the same as the sixth bodhisattva root downfall, forsaking the holy Dharma, and refers to proclaiming that any of the Buddhist textual teachings are not Buddha’s words. “Others’ tenets” refer to the sutras of the shravaka, pratyekabuddha, or bodhisattva (Mahayana) vehicles, while “our own” are the tantras, also within the Mahayana fold.”

7. DISCLOSING THE SECRET TEACHINGS TO THOSE BEINGS WHO ARE UNINITIATED/UNRIPE ཡོངས་སུ་མ་སྨིན་སེམས་ཅན་ལ། ། གསང་བ་སྒྲོགས་པ་བདུན་པ་ཡིན། །

As I wrote in my article Approaching Vajrayogini, Patrul Rinpoche said in Words of My Perfect Teacher that “without empowerment one cannot attain any of the accomplishments.

Within the secret mantra and Highest Yoga Tantra teachings, it is considered to be a gross mistake and downfall to disclose teachings to beings who are not fully matured. What does that mean? It means those without empowerment/initiation, without a solid foundation and belief in refuge, bodhicitta, karma, cause and effect, without having entered the mandala of a deity with a qualified vajra master, without samaya, without any understanding of emptiness at all and who regularly breach the three sets of vows and do not even try to keep them. As Berzin explains:

Confidential (secret) teachings concern actual specific generation (bskyed-rim) or complete stage (rdzogs-rim) practices for realizing voidness that are not shared in common with less advanced levels of practice. They include details of specific sadhanas and of techniques for actualizing a greatly blissful deep awareness of voidness with clear light mental activity. Those unripe for them are people who have not received the appropriate level of empowerment, whether or not they would have faith in these practices if they knew them. Explaining any of these unshared, confidential procedures in sufficient detail to someone whom we know fully well is unripe so that he or she has enough information to attempt the practice, and this person understands the instructions, constitutes the root downfall.

The only exception is when there is a great need for explicit explanation, for example to help dispel misinformation and distorted, antagonistic views about tantra. Explaining general tantra theory in a scholarly manner, not sufficient for practice, is likewise not a root downfall. Nevertheless, it weakens the effectiveness of our tantric practice. There is no fault, however, in disclosing confidential teachings to interested observers during a tantric empowerment.

8. ABUSING ONE”S AGGREGATES—the embodiment of the five buddhas ཕུང་པོ་སངས་རྒྱས་ལྔའི་བདག་ཉིད། ། དེ་ལ་སྨོད་པ་བརྒྱད་པ་ཡིན། །

The five aggregates here[4] mean ‘mistreating one’s body and mind’ such as engaging in harmful actions such as promiscuous sex without any meaning, love etc. smoking, taking drugs and drinking alcohol. Becoming intoxicated for pleasure alone would be an example of abusing one’s aggregates. Smoking in particular, is considered to be extremely negative for tantric practitioners. As Dudjom Rinpoche said in Powerful Pith Instruction to Abstain from Tobacco:

“They made this aspiration prayer, and tobacco was distributed to the assembly, And they all absorbed it through the nose. Their destructive emotions rapidly increased and desire flared up, And they progressively spread the practice throughout India and Tibet. This is an extremely serious evil. My followers should not use it. Mere contact with its smell is enough to send you to the Black Line hell. In particular any member of the Sangha who consumes it Will destroy the Secret Mantra; it will be an anchor that will keep him at the bottom of the hells. Merely blow a bit of its smoke on the outer or inner maṇḍalas And you will slip into the Black Line hell or the Howling hell, or into the Swamp of Putrefying Corpses. When destructive emotions explode and people feed on this poison, There is nothing the victorious ones of the three times can do— That is why you need to give up tobacco.”

9. DOUBTING/REJECTING THE PURE NATURE OF PHENOMENA རང་བཞིན་དག་པའི་ཆོས་རྣམས་ལ། ། སོམ་ཉི་ཟ་བ་དགུ་པ་ཡིན། །

Berzin explains that:

“Voidness (emptiness) here refers either to the general teaching of The Sutras on Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness (Skt. Prajnaparamita Sutras) that all phenomena, not only persons, are devoid of impossible modes of existence, or to the specifically Mahayana teachings of the Chittamatra or any of the Madhyamaka schools concerning phenomena being devoid of a particular impossible way of existing. To reject such teachings means to doubt, disbelieve, or spurn them. No matter which Mahayana tenet system we hold while practicing tantra, we need total confidence in its teachings on voidness. Otherwise, if we reject voidness during the course of our practice, or attempt any procedure outside of its context, we may believe, for example, that our visualizations are concretely real. Such misconceptions only perpetuate the sufferings of samsara and may even lead to a mental imbalance. It may be necessary, along the way, to upgrade our tenet systems from Chittamatra to Madhyamaka – or, within Madhyamaka, from Svatantrika to Prasangika – and, in the process, refute the voidness teachings of our former tenet systems. Discarding a less sophisticated explanation, however, does not mean leaving ourselves without a correct view of the voidness of all phenomena that is appropriate to our levels of understanding.”

10. MAINTAINING AFFECTIONATE FRIENDSHIPS WITH EVIL-DOERS (གདུག་ལ་རྟག་ཏུ་བྱམས་ལྡན་པ། །

This could be termed ’keeping bad company’. It does not mean abandoning love, compassion of bodhicitta for evil-doers, it means not maintaining very close relations with them (unless one is able to do so without losing one’s own ethics and bodhicitta and so on). Also, not having affection (or indifference to) their evil actions etc.

Buddha had close relations with people who even wanted to kill him, such as Devadatta but he never abandoned his relation with him at any point. Nonetheless, for the unenlightened (most of us) we cannot do that without becoming negatively effected or corrupted by it ourselves.

11. CONCEPTUALISING PHENOMENA THAT ARE WITHOUT NAMES OR LABELS (མིང་སོགས་བྲལ་བའི་ཆོས་རྣམས་ལ། །དེར་རྟོག་པ་ནི་བཅུ་གཅིག་པ། །

This means failing to reflect on or understand emptiness, ideally three times per day and night, but at least once per day. A fundamental requirement in practice secret mantra/vajrayana is to have some understanding of emptiness and to continually reflect on and cultivate that understanding. That does not mean one has to have realized emptiness, most would not have done so. Nonetheless engaging in secret mantra without really trying to maintain the view of emptiness would be a root downfall and lead to all sorts of difficulties, obstacles and so on[5].

12. CAUSING DISCOURAGEMENT OR UPSETTING THOSE WITH FAITH  སེམས་ཅན་དད་དང་ལྡན་པ་ལ། ། སེམས་སུན་འབྱིན་པ་བཅུ་གཉིས་པ། །

This does not mean unintentional actions that do that. Of course, others have to take responsibility for their reactions/actions. This refers to intentionally trying to discourage or upset those with faith in the three jewels of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha to lose faith in them. Berzin explains in terms of tantric practice:

“This refers to purposely discouraging people from a particular tantric practice in which they have faith and for which they are fit vessels, with proper empowerment and so forth. If we cause their wish to engage in this practice to end, this root downfall is complete. If they are not yet ready for such practice, however, there is no fault in outlining in a realistic manner what they must master first, even if it might seem daunting. Engaging others like this, taking them and their interests seriously rather than belittling them as incapable, actually boosts their self-confidence to forge ahead.”

Misapplying this root downfall to mean not criticizing with good intentions those who are committing unethical or harmful actions misses the point of this root downfall.

13. NOT RELYING ON THE APPROPRIATE SAMAYA SUBSTANCES AT THE SUITABLE TIME  དམ་ཚིག་རྫས་ནི་ཇི་བཞིན་ཉིད། ། མི་བསྟེན་པ་དེ་བཅུ་གསུམ་པ། །

18th Century Tantric ritual skullcup used for offerings of consecrated alcohol and meat

This means not keeping samaya ritual commitments. Berzin explains:

“The practice of anuttarayoga tantra includes participating in periodic offering ceremonies known as tsog pujas. They involve tasting specially consecrated alcohol and meat. These substances symbolize the aggregates, bodily elements and, in Kalachakra, the energy-winds – ordinarily disturbing factors that have a nature of being able to confer deep awareness when dissociated from confusion and used for the path. The root downfall is to consider such substances nauseating, to refuse them on the grounds of being a teetotaler or a vegetarian, or alternatively, to take them in large quantities with gusto and attachment.

If we are ex-alcoholics and if there is the danger that tasting even a drop of alcohol might bring about a return to alcoholism, we may imagine merely tasting the alcohol when at a tsog with others. When doing so, we would merely go through the gestures of tasting the alcohol, but without actually tasting it. When offering tsog at home, we may substitute tea or juice for the alcohol.”

14. DISRESPECTING/DENIGRATING WOMEN, WHO ARE THE NATURE OF WISDOM ཤེས་རབ་རང་བཞིན་བུད་མེད་ལ། ། སྨོད་པར་བྱེད་པ་བཅུ་བཞི་པ། །

I have written before about the importance of respect, love and consent in the Vajrayana union practice, here, as well the sacredness and importance of women’s biology in the practice of union. As Berzin points out:

“In Anuttarayoga tantra, men enhance the bliss of their concentrated awareness of voidness even further by relying on women. This practice involves relying on either actual women as a seal of behavior (las-kyi phyag-rgya, Skt. karmamudra) visualized as female Buddha-figures so as to avoid confusion, or, for those of more refined faculties, merely visualized ones alone as a seal of deep awareness (ye-shes phyag-rgya, Skt. jnanamudra). Women enhance their bliss through men in a similar fashion by relying on the fact of their being a woman. Therefore, it is a tantric root downfall to belittle, deride, ridicule, or consider as inferior a specific woman, women in general, or a female Buddha-figure. When we voice low opinion and contempt directly to a woman, with the intention to deride womanhood, and she understands what we say, we complete this root downfall. Although it is improper to deride men, doing so is not a tantric root downfall.”

The 14th Dalai Lama has stated that for a monastic, or even a layperson to engage in union practice they must have pure samaya, full control over the bodhcitta and no aversion to the taste of ‘impure substances’ such as urine, excrement, blood and so on.  In addition, if there is any misogyny or viewing women as inferior, dirty or stupid etc. then such a person is not only breaching human ethics and respect, but also fundamental Vajrayana precept and should also not engage in such practices.  See a video of the 14th Dalai Lama responding to a question by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo on Union Practice and Crazy Wisdom in 1993.

The Dalai Lama says: “

“Atisha said that if a practitioner has full ordination vows of a Bikshu or Bikshuni they cannot take the second or third empowerments. What we interpret that to mean is the monastic cannot take a consort in actuality….However, if they are very realised and they can eat and taste urine, poo and so on and eat and enjoy in exactly the same way like alcohol or food and so on , they can then do such practices. If they can fully control the emmission of semen then it is also allowed.

So I tell my western Dharma friends, you must spy on a teacher, until you have decided they can do that then you can do it. You must spy on them.”

In fact, the 14th Dalai Lama has even recommended that students have to expose such teachers in the media if they refuse to change or listen to sexual misconduct concerns: 

FURTHER READING

ENDNOTES

[1] Berzin also explains that: Such scornful action, then, is quite different from following the advice in The Kalachakra Tantra to keep a respectful distance and no longer study or associate with a tantric master whom we decide is inappropriate for us, not properly qualified, or who acts in an improper manner. Scorning or belittling our teachers of only topics that are not unique to tantra, such as compassion or voidness, or who confer upon us only safe direction (refuge), or either pratimoksha or bodhisattva vows, does not technically constitute this first tantric root downfall. Such actions, however, seriously hamper our spiritual progress.

[2] According to Berzin:

The objects of this action are specifically the contents of an enlightened being’s teachings concerning pratimoksha, bodhisattva, or tantric vows – whether that person be the Buddha himself or a later great master. Committing this downfall is not simply to transgress a particular vow from one of these sets, having taken it, but to do so with two additional factors present. These are fully acknowledging that the vow derives from someone who has removed all mental obscuration, and trivializing it by thinking or saying that violating it brings no negative consequences. Trivializing and transgressing either injunctions we know an enlightened being has imparted other than those in any of the three sets of vows we have taken, or advice we do not realize an enlightened being has offered, does not constitute a tantric root downfall. It creates obstacles, however, in our spiritual path.

[3] Love is the wish for others to be happy and to have the causes for happiness. The downfall is wishing the opposite for any being, even the worst serial murderer – namely, wishing someone to be divested of happiness and its causes. The causes for happiness are fully understanding reality and the karmic laws of behavioral cause and effect. We would at least wish a murderer to gain sufficient realization of these points so that he never repeats his atrocities in future lives, and so eventually experiences happiness. Although it is not a tantric root downfall to ignore someone whom we are capable of helping, it is a downfall to think how wonderful it would be if a particular being were never happy.

[4] Berzin here states that: “Five aggregates (Skt. skandha), or aggregate factors, constitute each moment of our experience. These five are: (a) forms of physical phenomena such as sights or sounds, (b) feelings of happiness or unhappiness, (c) distinguishing one thing from another (recognition), (d) other mental factors such as love or hatred, and (e) types of consciousness such as visual or mental. In brief, our aggregates include our bodies, minds, and emotions.

Normally, these aggregate factors are associated with confusion (zag-bcas) – usually translated as their being “contaminated.” With anuttarayoga tantra practice, we remove that confusion about reality and thus totally transform our aggregates. Instead of each moment of experience comprising five factors associated with confusion, each moment eventually becomes a composite of five types of deep awareness that are dissociated from confusion (zag-med ye-shes), and which are the underlying natures of the five aggregates. These are the deep awareness that is like a mirror, of the equality of things, of individuality, of how to accomplish purposes, and of the sphere of reality (Skt. dharmadhatu). Each of the five is represented by a Buddha-figure (yi-dam): Vairochana, and so on, called in the West “the five Dhyani Buddhas.”

An anuttarayoga empowerment plants the seeds to accomplish this transformation. During generation stage practice, we cultivate these seeds by imagining our aggregates already to be in their purified forms through visualizing them as their corresponding Buddha-figures. During complete stage practice, we bring these seeds to maturity by engaging our aggregates in special yoga methods to manifest clear light mental activity with which to realize the five types of deep awareness.

The eighth root downfall is either to despise our aggregates, thinking them unfit to undergo this transformation, or purposely to damage them because of hatred or contempt. Practicing tantra does not call for a denial or rejection of the sutra view that regarding the body as clean and in the nature of happiness is a form of incorrect consideration (tshul-min yid-byed). It is quite clear that our bodies naturally get dirty and bring us suffering such as sickness and physical pain. Nevertheless, we recognize in tantra that the human body also has a deeper nature, rendering it fit to be used on many levels along the spiritual path to benefit others more fully. When we are unaware of or do not acknowledge that deeper nature, we hate our bodies, think our minds are no good, and consider our emotions as evil. When we hold such attitudes of low self-esteem or, in addition, abuse our bodies or minds with masochistic behavior, unnecessarily dangerous or punishing life styles, or by polluting them with recreational or narcotic drugs, we commit this tantric root downfall.”

[5] Berzin says: “As with the ninth tantric root downfall, voidness can be understood according to either the Chittamatra or Madhyamaka systems. Once we gain an understanding of such a view, it is a root downfall to let more than a day and night pass without meditating on it. The usual custom is to meditate on voidness at least three times during the course of each day and three times each night. We need to continue such practice until we have rid ourselves of all obstacles preventing omniscience (shes-sgrib) – at which point we remain directly mindful of voidness at all times. If we place a limit and think we have meditated enough on voidness before reaching this goal, we can never attain it.”

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