About Samaya

(From a teaching on the Clear Guide for the Generation Stage given by Bardor Tulku Rinpoche at Kunzang Palchen Ling in September 2010. Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso, transcribed by Linda Lee, edited by Basia Coulter. Copyright 2010 Bardor Tulku Rinpoche and Peter O’Hearn. All rights reserved.)

I would like to clarify the issue of samaya. Nowadays, some people think that samaya is something that you should be afraid of, that it is some kind of threat that is hanging over our heads. Here [in the Clear Guide for the Generation Stage], samaya is explained as all included within the person of the guru, and it is divided into the guru’s body, speech, mind, qualities, and activities. Why do we say that samaya is all included within the body, speech, and mind of the guru? As it is said, “The guru is the buddha; the guru is the dharma, the lord; the guru is glorious Vajradhara, the creator of all.” The meaning of this is that the guru’s body is the sangha; the guru’s speech is the dharma; and the guru’s mind is the buddha. And that is why in vajrayana, we refer to the guru as the overlord of all mandalas.

While it is not that difficult to understand how samaya can all be referred to the guru, people still often develop a misunderstanding about what that means. Understanding only part of what samaya means—that it is the way that one relates to one’s guru—they misconstrue the bond of samaya as being something like a marriage contract, that when you undertake samaya with a teacher, it is as though you become married to them and they become married to you.

Marriage is a mundane, social contract. The contract of samaya is something entirely different. It is not primarily an obligation. It is an opportunity. It is more of an opportunity or gift than a restriction. The point of samaya is that a connection has been established between a guru and a disciple. The establishment of this connection gives the disciple the opportunity to cultivate faith and devotion for their guru. The establishment of the connection does not mean that the disciple is obligated to cultivate faith and devotion for their guru. It means that, without that connection, they do not really have the same opportunity. It is not the case that once samaya has been undertaken, that it is, henceforth, illegal for that disciple to fail to cultivate sufficient faith and devotion.

From the side of the guru, the establishment of samaya with a disciple gives that guru the ability to effectively care for that disciple, to guide them, instruct them, advise them, and so on, starting with the administration of the vow of refuge and up to that disciple’s achievement of omniscient buddhahood. So the idea of samaya is a long-lasting, continuous connection. And here, this is explained quite clearly in the text when it says, “The root samayas are all included in the nature of the guru vajracharya’s body, speech, and mind.”  But what does this mean?

The text says, “The samaya of body is to meditate upon one’s aggregates and elements as deity’s and to view all that appears and exist as the deity’s form.” The idea of this is that you maintain this connection by meditation on a deity. And, essentially, what this consists of is the growing recognition that your own aggregates and elements, as well as things in the external world, are of the nature of that deity; therefore, you also recite the deity’s mantra.

And it says, “The samaya of speech is to perform the vajra repetition taught in many tantras.” This means that as the speech aspects of practice, you recite that deity’s mantra. So whatever deity you are meditating on, whether it is peaceful, wrathful, or semi-wrathful, you recite that deity’s mantra. But this is not the idea that you are, henceforth, restricted to reciting that deity’s mantra, that you have an obligation to exclude all other forms of practice and so on.  Again, it is an opportunity, not an obligation.

So, therefore in our text, examples of different forms of mantra practice are given, “At the three times, repeat the three syllables, the five-, ten- or the twelve-syllable [mantra], and so forth, practicing the vajra repetition, and the particular repetitions such as the Totrengtsal mantra.” So, for example, you recite whichever mantra is associated with that deity and whichever other mantra practice you wish to do as well.

And then we come to the samaya of mind. Fundamentally, the samaya of mind is to cultivate bodhichitta. And we do this especially because we are practicing Mahayana; we are of mahayana family and we take the bodhisattva vow. We, therefore, need to train our minds in aspiration and implementation bodhichitta. The text says in addition to that, “The samaya of mind is to meditate upon self-awareness and to rest evenly, without strain from the liberation in their place of all conceptual characterizations such as I and mine, subject and object.” What this means is that we try as much as we can to let go of thinking me versus you, this versus that, and so on.

Then the text says, “The samaya of qualities is the generation mantra and completion of peaceful and wrathful yidams.” If it is the qualities of the guru, why are yidams specifically mentioned? Because all yidams are the embodiment of the qualities of the guru. So all yidams are included within the guru and are the display of the guru’s qualities; therefore, yidam practice is regarded as the samaya of qualities.

Then comes the samaya of activity. Activity is to help beings and support the dharma and the teachings. And we do this by relying upon dharmapalas (or dharma protectors) who remove conditions adverse to dharma; who support and protect our practice from obstacles both outwardly and inwardly. Therefore the samaya of activity is the presentation of prayer, offerings, praises, and so forth to dakinis and dharmapalas. The text says, “These things are accomplished continuously, supreme and common siddhis and the various activities will be spontaneously achieved by themselves without having to engage in any other means and without difficulty.”

So, understand that samaya is a term for those things that will enable you to practice and achieve awakening. If this is wrong, if this description of samaya is incorrect, then it is not my mistake; it is Guru Rinpoche’s mistake. Yeshe Tsogyal asked Guru Rinpoche what samaya was, and [this is what] he told her. So, it would be really good for you to understand this clearly.

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