Not maintaining commitment objects.
Our Tantric texts explain three ways of incurring this downfall. One way is if we refuse to accept the various commitment substances passed round during an empowerment or in a tsog offering puja, thinking that these substances are unclean. A second way is not keeping a vajra and bell thinking that these objects are meaningless. Yogis and Yoginis who have attained the realization of isolated mind also incur this downfall if they refuse to accept and action mudra without good reason.
During the empowerment or during tsog offering pujas, various substances are passed around that we partake of. All tantric practices are aimed at overcoming ordinary appearance and ordinary conceptions. We can take, for example, our inner offering. Conventionally speaking, it is a nectar pill inside some alcohol. The nectar pill itself is made of various plants and other normal substances. Mentally, however, we imagine that it is the five meats and the five nectars. The five meats and the five nectars (before being purified and transformed) are understood to be five 5 disgusting solids and liquids in a human body. We then mentally imagine we purify and transform these disgusting substances through the ritual prayer into a completely pure inner offering, which we then partake of and imagine we generate uncontaminated bliss. This action can be engaged in with three very different minds, each with different effects. We could mentally think it is just some plants in some alcohol and we would think the whole exercise is meaningless. We could think it really is the disgusting solids and liquids of the body and become grossed out and not want to do it. Or we could think we have actually purified and transformed the substances and it is medicine nectar which heals our mind and bestows upon us uncontaminated wisdom. If we fall into the second of these possibilities, we incur a downfall. An exception to this would be if we are allergic to the substances passed around. If we are allergic, it is fine to imagine you are partaking of the substance but not actually do so. There is no need to go into anaphylactic shock during an empowerment or tsog puja!
The second way we incur a downfall is by not keeping a vajra and bell thinking that such objects are meaningless. During the empowerment, we assume the commitment to maintain a vajra and bell viewing them as bliss and emptiness respectively. There are two types of vajra and bell – namely the outer and inner vajra and bell. The outer vajra and bell are the actual ritual objects, usually made of metal that we can buy in the Dharma shop at festivals or at our local center. The inner vajra and bell are the realizations of bliss and emptiness within our own mind. Our final goal is to develop within our mind the inner vajra and bell. Our outer vajra and bell are physical reminders of this final goal. A very common mistake is to think because the inner vajra and bell is the final goal that the outer vajra and bell are meaningless. If we think this, we incur this downfall. The outer vajra and bell are meaningful precisely because they do remind us of our final goal, and we need constant reminders of this. In any given day, we encounter countless different objects. How many of these objects remind us of bliss and emptiness? Not many, if any at all. Just as having a Buddha statue reminds us of Buddha in our lives, so too maintaining an outer vajra and bell helps remind us of the importance of developing within our mind the inner vajra and bell of bliss and emptiness. It is not enough to simply “own” a vajra and bell and feel like we have checked the box of this vow. We need to make a point of looking at and/or holding our vajra and bell, and when we do so we make a point of reminding ourselves of the inner vajra and bell. If we fail to do this, we encounter this downfall. It is for this reason that practitioners are encouraged to hold their vajra and playing the bell when they are engaging in their self-generation sadhanas to serve as a reminder. But if for practical reasons, such as waking up your family members, this is not possible, there is no fault for not doing so.
The third way we incur this downfall is, without a good reason, we do not accept an action mudra if we have attained isolated mind of completion stage. Isolated mind of completion stage is a very advanced realization. It occurs when we have effectively gathered, dissolved and absorbed almost all of our winds into our central channel at our heart. When we rely upon an action mudra correctly, it functions to untie the last knots within our subtle body enabling all of our winds to gather and dissolve into our central channel at our heart. Once this has happened, we can generate a fully qualified mind of clear light, first as ultimate example clear light and finally as meaning clear light of completion stage. If we attain the realization of meaning clear light, it is said we can attain full enlightenment in three years or even three months. When we consider we have been planting contaminated karma on our root mind for countless aeons, the prospect of being able to uproot all of that contaminated karma in such a short period of time is inconceivably fortunate.
The reason why it is a downfall to not accept an action mudra once we have attained isolated mind is the longer we take to attain enlightenment, the longer those beings we would otherwise help if we did attain enlightenment will remain trapped in samsara. Since our goal is to help all living beings, even delaying our enlightenment for a short period of time gets multiplied by the number of living beings and so the consequences are quite significant. What are some good reasons, then, for not accepting an action mudra. The most obvious one is we are an ordained monk or nun! Because in modern times for a monk or nun to take an action mudra would be seen as a sexual scandal which would bring the individual, the Sangha and the Tantric path itself into disrepute, it is perfectly valid to delay taking an action mudra until the practitioner gets to the pure land! This does not mean, however, that it is a fault for the ordained tantric practitioner to take an inner action mudra, imagining that they are engaging in qualified union with their Tantric consort in the context of their training in the Tantric path. Such a practice will bring the ordained tantric practitioner almost all of the way so that it will be possible to untie the last knots at the time of death, thus making taking an action mudra unnecessary, or essentially guaranteeing that they will take rebirth in a tantric pure land where they can complete their training.
3 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: The vajra and bell are not useless”
We often hear that enlightenment can be achieved in three years, three months–meaning 39 months. Has this rumour been spreading because of a misinterpretation? You have mentioned a couple of times lately that once meaning clear light of completion stage has been achieved, enlightenment can be achieved in three years OR even three months. Are we talking about the same thing here? Is it 3 years + 3 months, or 3 years OR 3 months?
Unless I am mistaken, I remember Geshe-la teaching on numerous occasions “three years OR even three months.” I think the difference must lie in the extent of the imprints created from previous lives. But to be honest, I can only rely on faith here. I don’t know. In the big scheme of things, I guess it doesn’t make much difference – it is mighty quick!
Dharmavajra and Ensapa are part of our lineage and both achieved enlightenment in three years. Yes Geshe Kelsang did say we can attain full enlightenment in a shorter period than three years: maybe even a few months! One slight clarification: a monk would postpone taking an action mudra until reaching outer dakini land, not simply a pure land – as in the example of Je Tsongkhapa who remained ordained for his whole life.