Ocean of Liberation

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Longchen Rabjam

Longchen Rabjam

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Ocean of Liberation

The Aspects of Samaya

by Longchen Rabjam

In reverence I bow before the great primordial observance
Of natural samaya, forever pure, beyond transgression and breach.
Herein I shall set out an ocean of liberation,
The aspects of the samaya commitments.

Although there can be no transgression or impairment of the samayas of the natural Great Perfection, which transcend the bounds of maintenance, yogis who are practising the path must still abide by the samaya commitments. They must therefore purify their own mind-streams. The major tantras mention three root samayas and twenty-five branch samayas—five sets of five to be respectively recognized,[1] not abandoned,[2] accepted,[3] practised[4] and accomplished[5]. However, since the branch samayas are taught to be mere aids to maintaining the root samayas, and since they involve the deliberate practice of acceptance and avoidance, here they are not explained separately but included within the root samayas. I shall therefore confine my analysis to the root samayas.

This has three parts: 1) the categories of samaya commitment to be maintained, 2) the methods for maintaining them, and 3) the results of applying such methods.

1. The Categories of Samaya Commitment to be Maintained

The Array of Threefold Commitment[6] says:

Among the thirty-three stages of ripening beings,
The samayas of mantra are explained as threefold,
Related to enlightened body, speech and mind,
Each of which is further divided into nine,
To give twenty-seven divisions in all.

Thus, there are twenty-seven commitments stemming from the three root commitments of enlightened body, speech and mind.

1.1. Samayas of Enlightened Body

Within the samayas of enlightened body there are three categories of outer, inner and secret.

The outer category is itself further divided into three. The outer aspect of the outer is to avoid taking what has not been given, the inner aspect of the outer is to avoid sexual misconduct, and the secret aspect of the outer is to avoid taking life.

The outer aspect of the inner commitment of enlightened body is to avoid abusing one’s parents, vajra siblings or one’s own body. The inner aspect of the inner is to avoid abusing the Dharma and individuals. The secret aspect of the inner is to avoid subjecting one’s own body to hardship through practising austerities or physical punishment.

The outer aspect of the secret commitment is to avoid any attempt to strike the body of a vajra sibling or criticise their dress. The inner aspect of the secret commitment is to avoid directly striking a vajra sibling, making sexual advances towards the guru’s consort, becoming intimate with a friend’s partner, and so on. The secret aspect of the secret is to avoid stepping on the guru’s shadow, being disrespectful in the guru’s presence, or acting carelessly by sitting with outstretched limbs, spouting nonsense, or making an exhibition of oneself.

1.2. Samayas of Enlightened Speech

The samayas of enlightened speech also have the three categories of outer, inner and secret. The outer aspect of the outer is to avoid false speech; the inner aspect of the outer is to avoid divisive talk; and secret aspect of the outer is to avoid speech that hurts others’ feelings. The outer, inner and secret aspects of the inner are to avoid slandering those who speak of the Dharma, those who contemplate its meaning, and those who practise the yoga of the natural state. The outer, inner and secret aspects of the secret are to avoid contempt for and disobedience of the words of one’s vajra siblings, the words of the guru’s consort and entourage, and the guru’s own speech.

1.3. Samayas of Enlightened Mind

The samayas of enlightened mind also consist of outer, inner and secret commitments. The outer aspect of the outer is to avoid covetousness towards others’ wealth in general and possessions offered to the guru in particular. The inner aspect of the outer is to avoid malice toward all sentient beings in general and one’s vajra siblings in particular. The secret aspect of the outer is to avoid wrong views of all things and people in general, but especially one’s own guru and the Dharma.

The outer aspect of the inner samaya of enlightened mind is to avoid the carelessness and foolishness of mistaken conduct; the inner aspect of the inner is to avoid the dullness, agitation, errors and obscurations of mistaken meditation; and the secret aspect of the inner is to avoid the eternalism, nihilism and clinging to extremes of mistaken view.

The outer aspect of the secret samaya of enlightened mind is not to fail to meditate on the view, meditation and conduct throughout the sessions of the day; the inner aspect of the secret is not to fail to meditate on the yidam deity; and the secret aspect of the secret is not to fail to meditate on the guru yoga or cultivate loving affection toward one’s vajra siblings. We must not only avoid such failures, but cultivate the meditations with enthusiasm and devotion.

We must properly maintain these twenty-seven samayas and also protect—as we would our very eyes—the commitments related to what is worthy of secrecy, secrets with which we have been entrusted and secrets that we have promised to keep. As is said in the Tantra of the Supreme Restraint of the Samaya Array:[7]

In general, aside from the root samayas,
To reveal, speak of, or misinterpret
What is worthy of or entrusted to secrecy,
Or what one has pledged to keep secret
Will become a cause of Ultimate Torment.

Things worthy of secrecy include such substances and articles of mantra as the five meats, five nectars, vajra, bell, skull-cup, and kīla, as well as painted images of the inner maṇḍala of deities. To reveal such things, which are beyond the mental capacity of followers of the lesser vehicle, might invite misconception, so they should be kept hidden. Entrusted secrets include all the guru’s injunctions—"Avoid this!" "Practise this!" and so on. Everything from the root samayas through to minor tasks should be practised in accordance with our pledges. Pledged secrecy means that we must keep secret any failings of the guru or vajra siblings that should not be made known, as well as anything that might cause others to criticize the karma-mudrā, who is a support for practice. At the same time, we ourselves should not be critical or develop wrong views but should maintain pure perception and devotion.

The guru of the Vajrayāna system is the lord of the maṇḍala and the source of all attainments. He or she is therefore worthy of every form of veneration and respect, as well as the continuous devotion that recognizes kindness that exceeds that of the buddhas. Acting in such a way will assuredly bring major attainments within this very life.

Such a situation may invoke the displeasure of evil demons, who will strive to spoil the samaya between you and the guru in various ways. At times, when the guru exercises the power of wisdom through miraculous, unimpeded conduct and assesses others’ faith, you might develop a lack of trust. At times, when others are critical, you might develop wrong views and perceive faults in the guru. At times, when there appears to be unreasonable bias, partiality or unequal treatment—antagonism towards oneself and affection for others—you might develop passion or aggression towards vajra brothers and sisters, or anger brought on by misperception. At such times, if you can remember the qualities of the guru and vajra siblings and recognize that these perceptions are inspired by the demon within your own mind, your samaya will be purified. As the Tantra of the Storeyed Crystal Mansion[8] says:

When mantradharas endeavour in yoga
Demons create faults in their samaya
By turning them away from devotion.
Therefore, understand this well.
Do not disturb the guru’s mind
Even for so much as an instant.
Likewise, avoid insulting or
Quarrelling with vajra siblings.

2. The Methods of Maintaining Them

There are four parts to the methods for maintaining samaya commitments: 1) how to maintain them, 2) the benefits of maintaining them, 2) the faults of not maintaining them, and 4) the the methods of restoration in the event of impairment.

2.1. How to Maintain the Samayas

Samayas are kept on the basis of three factors: recollection, attentiveness and conscientiousness. When something that is to avoided as part of a commitment presents itself one recalls the antidote, is attentive to the faults of impairment and the benefits of observance, and is conscientious physically, vocally and mentally, like a bride entering her groom’s household for the first time. We must constantly protect the mind from non-virtuous elements by applying the precepts. At the same text says:

Thus, even as a mantra practitioner makes efforts,
This must be accompanied by vigilant awareness.

2.2. The Benefits of Maintaining Samayas

All our wishes will be fulfilled within this life, and we will attain awakening in the future. The same text says:

If you maintain the supreme samaya
You will live long, without illness, in prosperity.
A thousand ḍākinīs will offer you assistance,
You will master the eight forms of attainment,
And reach the supreme mastery of liberation.

2.3. The Faults of Not Maintaining Samayas

The Tantra of the Layer of Precious Wheels[9] says:

To transgress the samaya of enlightened body is to depart from what is termed "buddha’s body."
This is an infinitely grave downfall,
Exceeding that of taking at a single stroke
The lives of all beings of the three realms.
Likewise, at the destruction of enlightened speech,
What is termed "buddha’s speech" does not abide.
This too is infinitely grave, more so than excising
At a single stroke the tongues
Of all sentient beings of the three realms.
When the enlightened mind degenerates
This is infinitely wrong,
Worse even than disturbing all at once
The minds of monks numerous enough to fill the three realms,
All of them at rest in the point of concentration.

And the Guhyagarbha says:

Should the root samayas deteriorate
All accomplishments will be reversed,
And against one’s wishes, one will face
All manner of unpleasant consequences.

2.4. Methods of Restoration

We must feel remorse for our past actions like someone who has consumed poison and has fallen seriously ill from its effects. We must vow never to repeat such behaviour. Now, with a mind of restraint, we can confess faults related to the guru and our vajra siblings, either in their presence, pleasing them with a feast gathering and its substances, or, in their absence, by confessing and reciting the one-hundred syllable mantra before a statue or image, as well as by practising fulfilment and confession, performing one hundred and eight feast offerings, and confessing until the signs of restoration occur. Such signs include dreaming that the guru and ḍākinīs grant their approval by saying, "All is well". Other indications of purifying negativity include dreaming of putting on white clothing, the rising of the sun or moon, or of being in a flower garden.

A fault that is not addressed on the same day is known as a transgression ('gal ba) of commitment. It can be purified through immediate confession. A fault that is not addressed within a month is known as a deterioration (nyams pa). It can be purified by seven practices of fulfilment and confession. A fault that is not addressed within a year is known as a breach ('das pa). It can be restored through a fulfilment offering of a feast gathering, one’s offspring and all one’s possessions. When up to three years have passed the samaya is said to be torn apart (ral pa). It can be healed only through a fulfilment offering of one’s own life. Once a longer time has passed, the samaya can no longer be healed. The Vajra Sun[10] says:

In general, distinctions may be made
Between the statuses of samaya based on time.
A transgression of samaya occurs
When a fault is not addressed within a day.
This may be repaired through
Confession before a visualized object.
Deterioration, when up to a month has passed,
May be healed through remorseful confession.
A breach, after up to a year has gone by,
May still be repaired through confession.
When two or three years have passed
Samaya is said to be torn apart.
With utmost intensity, it may be healed.
Once three years have elapsed
There can be no more restoration.
If this occurs, both must burn.[11]
In this realm an experience
Of constant suffering is certain.

For a transgression, confess with feast offering.
For a deterioration, restore through your own possessions.
For a breach, restore with your child, spouse,
Close companions, body, speech,
Mind and possessions.
What has been torn apart is restored with one’s own life.

Should an impairment of samaya occur even in a dream, unless you confess it immediately upon awakening, you risk rebirth in the lower realms. What need is there to mention the risks should this happen in reality? You must exert yourself, therefore, in the means of reparation. As the Great Array[12] says:

To the guru and the guru’s entourage,
And likewise to one’s vajra siblings,
Do not express even a hint of reproach,
Whether directly or by implication.
If this should occur, even in dreams,
Confess it within your mind.
If, through failure to apply mindfulness,
You do not confess what you have done,
Directly or in your own imagination,
You will proceed headlong into hell.

Moreover, impairments of the samaya of enlightened body may be confessed through physical activity related to the Dharma, such as prostration and circumambulation while reciting offerings and praises. Impairments of the samaya of enlightened speech may be addressed through recitation of mantra, the chanting of liturgies, speaking of others’ qualities, or reading texts aloud. Impairments of the samaya of enlightened mind may be confessed through practising meditation, concentrating upon the view, and cultivating devotion and pure perception, and so on.

Unimpaired samaya is the source of all attainments. Gatherings of the mamos and ḍākinīs occur based on pure samaya. Once samaya is impaired, the resulting contamination means that there are no such gatherings and nothing can be accomplished. Strive, therefore, to have only flawless samaya. This is a special feature of the secret mantra.

3. The Results of Applying Such Methods

Two types of result come from applying such methods.

3.1. Common Siddhis

As common attainments, you will spontaneously accomplish the four types of enlightened activity: pacifying illness, harmful influences, misdeeds, obscurations and such like; increasing lifespan, resources, retinue, and so on; attracting people, funds, ḍākinīs and the like; and eliminating and incapacitating enemies, obstacle-makers and so on. You will accomplish all that you wish in accordance with the Dharma, and experience and realization will increase. The same text says:

A yogi who maintains the samayas
Will accomplish great, wondrous siddhis.
Fourfold activity will be unimpeded,
And supreme realization will develop.

3.2. Supreme Siddhi

The supreme siddhi is indivisible from the vajra body, speech and mind of all the buddhas. The Tantra of the Supreme Samaya[13] says:

From the definitive division
Of the three principal categories into nine,
There are twenty-seven subcategories
Through which the inner mantra
In particular is distinguished.
As long as you do not contravene them,
You will certainly attain within this very lifetime
The level of Vajradhara, perfect buddhahood.

If we summarise, the point is to be without fault by accomplishing virtue and its components within the mind and restraining non-virtue and its components. The Tantra of Supreme Samaya says:

In general, samaya—'burning pledge'
Means to be free from deception
Within a mind that is unburnt.

The result of this is to gain accomplishment. The Tantra of the Incorruptible Source, the Vajra Essence[14] says:

The aspects of the commitments and vows here explained
All derive from one’s own mind.
Their impact is known by the guru.

Therefore, someone who keeps this in mind
Will see the buddhas and pure realms,
Master the three kāyas to the fullest extent,
And actualize the qualities of enlightenment.

Someone who always serves the guru
Will see the forms of the ḍākinīs,
Receive their blessings,
Be guided through prophecies of the three times,
And gain mastery over birth and death.

Someone who has affection for their companions
Will attract all kinds of beings,
Receive universal acclaim,
Be cared for by everyone with physical form,
Attract the ḍākinīs,
Receive attainments even without pursuing them,
Activate the power of speech,
And likewise attain all the siddhis,
Both ordinary and supreme.

Someone who always remains in solitude
Will properly assess the energy-mind,
Witness perception dawning as an ally,
And gain control over their own mind.

Someone who always venerates the guru
Will come to possess supreme enjoyments,
Enhance saṃsāra and nirvāṇa, gain merit,
And reign victorious over every being.

Someone who always perfects empowerment
Will become the foremost among beings,
Bring delight to all who see them,
Fully actualize pristine awareness,
And receive the blessings of the buddhas.

Someone who always performs torma rites
Will perfect the accumulation of merit,
Accomplish activities without obstacle,
Gain desirable riches in abundance,
And be surrounded by servile ḍākinīs.

Thus it is said.

Through this virtue may all beings
Perfectly enter the vajra vehicle,
Keep vows and commitments pure,
And attain sublime awakening.

This concludes the text entitled Ocean of Liberation: The Aspects of Samaya from the supremely secret instructions of the secret heart-essence composed by Longchen Rabjam, a yogin of the supreme vehicle. Let it be virtuous! Virtuous! Virtuous!

| Translated by Adam Pearcey with the generous support of the Tsadra Foundation, 2023.


Tibetan Source

klong chen rab 'byams pa dri med 'od zer. "dam tshig gi rim pa rnam grol rgya mtsho" In snying thig ya bzhi. 13 vols. Delhi: Sherab Gyaltsen Lama, 1975. Vol. 1: 283–296 (7.5 folios)

Secondary Sources

Gyurme Dorje. "The rNying-ma Interpretation of Commitment and Vow" in Buddhist Forum, volume II, ed. Tadeusz Skorupski. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1991, pp. 71–95

Jigme Lingpa. Treasury of Precious Qualities, Book Two: Vajrayana and the Great Perfection. Trans. Padmakara Translation Group. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, 2013

Version: 1.0-20231218

  1. One must recognize the true nature of the five aggregates, the five elements, the five sense faculties, the five sense consciousnesses, and the five sense objects.  ↩

  2. One must not abandon the five poisons of desire, anger, dull indifference, pride and jealousy, which are to be transformed into the five pure wisdoms.  ↩

  3. One must accept faeces, urine, blood, semen and bone marrow.  ↩

  4. One must practise taking life, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, lying and idle gossip.  ↩

  5. One must accomplish the five families: Vajra, Ratna, Padma, Karma and Tathāgata.  ↩

  6. Tib. dam tshig gsum bkod; Skt. Trisamayavyūha  ↩

  7. Tib. dam tshig bkod pa mchog gi sdom pa'i rgyud  ↩

  8. Tib. shel gyi khang bu brtsegs pa'i rgyud  ↩

  9. Tib. 'khor lo rin po che rnam par brtsegs pa'i rgyud  ↩

  10. Tib. rdo rje nyi ma  ↩

  11. Both teacher and student.  ↩

  12. Tib. bkod pa chen po  ↩

  13. Tib. dam tshig mchog gi rgyud  ↩

  14. Tib. rdo rje snying po sra ba 'byung gnas kyi rgyud  ↩

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