Vows, commitments and modern life:  Don’t engage in practices without being qualified

Engaging in mandala actions without completing a close retreat.

If we perform a self-initiation, grant initiation to others, or perform a fire puja, and so forth, without having completed the appropriate retreats, we incur a gross downfall.

My understanding is the rationale for this is the same as why we don’t teach Tantra to those who have not received an empowerment and to those who have no faith.  If we have not completed the appropriate retreats or preliminaries, it simply won’t work, and then we can lose faith.  Likewise, when we think we don’t need to complete the necessary retreats to do self-initiation, for example, then we might think we don’t need to go receive highest yoga tantra empowerments from a qualified spiritual guide.  We can just do self-initiation at home.  But then it won’t work and we will gradually lose our faith and interest in Tantric practice.

We can also say to do self-initiation, grant empowerments and so forth without having done the necessary retreats is a form of misuse of the practice.  These precious jewels have been created for the beings of this world, and the only thing that is asked of us is before we do them we become sufficiently qualified to do so.  To do so without having completed the requested preparations is to use something we were not intended to use.  We can even argue it is a form of spiritual theft.  This is especially true when it comes to granting empowerments because here it is not just our own karma at stake, but that of all those we are pretending to grant the empowerment to.  It is pretty safe bet that if you don’t have permission to grant an empowerment to others from a qualified spiritual guide and you do so anyways that it will not only not work, but all involved – especially the teacher – will create all sorts of negative karma for themselves.

To do self-initiation we need to do the close retreat of our Yidam.  If we are a Heruka practitioner, this means we need to do the Heruka close retreat to do the Heruka self-initiation; and if we are a Vajrayogini practitioner, this means we need to do the Vajrayogini close retreat to do the Vajrayogini self-initiation.  So the question arises, “if I have done a Heruka close retreat, can I do the Vajrayogini self-initiation?”  Since Heruka and Vajrayogini are both the same being, just two different aspects, I think we could say “it is not a gross downfall to do the self-initiation of the other deity, but it is not the full empowerment either.”  Doing self-initiation when we have done the close retreat is the same as receiving the empowerment at a festival in terms of our receiving the empowerment and restoring our vows.  It is not the same, however, in terms of the karmic bonds we create with the others who are receiving the empowerment with us.  Venerable Tharchin says everytime we do a puja with others we create the karmic causes to do the same thing with the same people in the future (usually future lives).  So receiving the empowerment with the group gives you the empowerment, restores your vows, and creates the karmic causes to reunite with your Vajra Brothers and Sisters again in the future doing the same thing.  Doing self-initiation alone simply gives you the empowerment and restores your vows.  It is good, but not as good.

However, doing the self-initiation of a deity you have not done the close retreat for (but you have done for that same beings other aspect, namely Heruka or Vajrayogini), I think you can fully restore your vows (because that is the same in both practices), but you can’t receive the full empowerment.  But you can receive very powerful and beneficial blessings.  So it is still a good thing.  I am not 100% if this is correct, but when I was in Paris, I had done my Heruka close retreat but not the Vajrayogini close retreat, and I was nonetheless able to do Vajrayogini self-initiation with others in the center, and I was told I would just receive powerful blessings.  So I don’t think this would be considered a downfall, but it is not the full empowerment either.

4 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Don’t engage in practices without being qualified

  1. what if you’re working full-time and don’t ever see yourself completing a month long close retreat. I only get 2 weeks off a year. If I did manage to get the time I don’t think I could do it anyway and it seems a bit overdone and maybe made sense in the monastic days for monks. So because I’ll never complete a close retreat I’ll never be able to do self-initiation and will never be a fully qualified Vajrayogini practitioner ? Seems like a tradition that will not move with the times and divides practitioners into groups that can and groups that can not. You have more vacation time over there in the UK than we do in the U.S.

    • Hi Donald. I understand your frustration, and sorry if I contributed to it. Perhaps some clarification might help. First, you don’t need to do a close retreat to be a qualified Vajrayogini practitioner. The only thing the close retreat enables you to do is “self-initiation,” which basically means you are able to go to the pure land yourself in the context of your meditation and receive the empowerments that way without having to necessarily go back to a festival to re-receive them. But once you have received the empowerments once in your lifetime, you are able to practice HYT for the rest of your life, so there is no problem. Second, it is not an issue of monastic vs. modern tradition, rather it is a question of creating sufficient karma to be able to do something. You can think of it like taking a trip somewhere. If you only go halfway there, you haven’t arrived at your final destination. In the same way, if you haven’t created all of the karma to go to an internal place, namely that place that enables you to do self-initiation, you haven’t made it to that place. Third, there is no rule that you have to do the retreat full time while you are on vacation. I know many people who took two weeks off, got as far as they could on their retreat, and then continued one session a day for more than a month to finish. As long as you do at least one session every day, there is no problem, even if it takes you 6 months to do (which it wouldn’t). So anyone can do it regardless of their circumstances. Fourth, we should never underestimate the power of Dorje Shugden and of blessings. If you have a pure wish to do your retreat but currently can’t conceive of how you could ever arrange the conditions to be able to do so, my suggestion to you is to offer the issue up 100% to Dorje Shugden. His job is to arrange the conditions necessary for our practice. Never abandon the wish, keep offering it to Dorje Shugden, and be patient with your karma. To help create the karma to be able to do the retreat, you can do “mini-retreats” that are similitudes of the close retreat, even just a weekend. These mini-retreats, dedicated to one day having the conditions to be able to do the full close retreat, will create the karmic basis that Dorje Shugden can then work with to arrange the conditions you desire.

      I am married with five kids and have a very demanding professional job, yet somehow, almost miraculously, Dorje Shugden manages to give me better and better conditions for my practice every year. He can do the same for all of us, our job is to maintain the wish and keep the faith! 🙂

  2. Kadampa Ryan,
    Thanks for all your encouragement. I don’t live close to a Center so I’m not very involved. My friend that is very involved told me the absolutly last time Geshe-la would ever give HYT empowerment would be the year he retired 2009 so I saved my money and managed to get myself to England for a week to get it. He convinced me I would never regret it. At the time I had never heard of the close retreat. I’m happy I got to England saw and heard Geshe-la and got the empowerment. Nevertheless even with your helpful ideas about counting 100,000 mantras I still can’t see it happening. Honestly it is the kind of thing that I heard another Buddhist Community did I would think they were crazy and be happy that my teacher doesn’t do that sort of excessive ritual kind of thing. I would never tell my family or non-dharma friends about it because they would say that’s a red flag warning you about this teacher and I kinda agree with that. I gave it a go but this alone has pretty much convinced me it’s not the pratice for me. I guess like getting married you usually have to date many girls to find the right one and it only takes one red flag to kill the deal. Maybe that is why Buddhism isn’t working out in the sate I live in. Though the teachings seem so wise the practices are a bit much for most people in the United States. Reciting 100,000 mantras to be qualified to full participant in a practice honestly is ridiculous and normal people can’t or wouldn’t even if they could. As they say many roads to the top of the mountain. I don’t believe Zen is so hung up on saying so many mantras but unfortunately no Zen in my conservative state
    Thank you again

    • Hi Don,

      I think I have not been clear, and I apologize for any confusion I have created. You don’t, in any way, have to do this retreat. It is something you can do if you want to do. It’s good to do, but it it is not bad to not do.


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