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Vajrasattva Mantra

by Sangharakshita


First of all, a few words about Vajrasattva.
Vajrasattva is an essentially Tantric, essentially Vajrayanic figure. To the best of my knowledge he doesn't
appear anywhere in the other two Yanas - either in the Hinayana or in the Mahayana.
Usually, what is said is that Vajrasattva is a Buddha appearing in Bodhisattva form - in fact, is, in a sense,
the Adi-Buddha appearing in Bodhisattva form. So this raises the question of what is the Adi-
Buddha, or what is Adi-Buddha. You are familiar with the conception of the Five Buddha Mandala. In the
Five Buddha Mandala one has the Central Buddha, who is usually either Vairocana or Akshobya - and the
other four Buddhas are arranged around the Central Buddha - they occupy the four points of the compass,
the four cardinal points.
So, the Central Buddha is the Fifth Buddha, and the other four Buddhas are aspects of that Central Buddha,
even though they also are Buddhas in their own right. But the Central Buddha embodies the Wisdom of the
Dharmakaya, or awareness of the Dharmakaya, of the Dharmadhatu rather, the Dharmadhatu-jnana. So in a
sense one can say therefore that the Fifth Buddha is the Ultimate Buddha, the Absolute Buddha, and that the
other four are specific aspects.
But one can also say that even beyond that there is a still more Esoteric aspect. After all, when you visualise
the Mandala of the Five Buddhas it's, as it were, two-dimensional, isn't it? There's a central point, then up,
then down, to the right and to the left. Then you could, as it were, imagine a Buddha figure behind the
Central Buddha, in the third dimension. So this would be a Sixth Buddha, and that is Vajrasattva.
Vajrasattva is in fact sometimes called the Sixth Buddha, meaning thereby that He belongs to an even more
Esoteric dimension - that you speak of a Sixth Buddha in a way in which you speak of a fourth dimension,
yes? I mean, I've made the parallel between a third dimension and Vajrasattva, but really it should be
between a fourth dimension; maybe one could put it still more accurately and think of the Mandala three
dimensionally. You've got a Buddha in the centre, you've got Buddhas up and down and also Buddhas back
and front. Yes? So therefore you've got Buddhas occupying a central point and three dimensions. So where
are you going to put your Sixth Buddha? You can put Him only in the fourth dimension - He's more Esoteric
still, more hidden still, more recondite, and that is Vajrasattva. So in this particular context Akshobya
occupies the centre of the Mandala, and Vajrasattva is therefore sometimes described as the Esoteric aspect
of Akshobya; the Esoteric aspect of the Central Buddha. So, when you go outside three dimensions, when
you go, as it were, into a fourth dimension, for all practical purposes so far as we are concerned you go
outside space. If you go outside space, you also go outside time, because there isn't time and space, as we
are told nowadays, but "space-time." So to go outside space into a fourth dimension is also to go outside
time into what one can only describe as Eternity. Yes? So, Vajrasattva represents also that, the Sixth Buddha.
He is the Adi-Buddha. "Adi" literally means "from the beginning" or "Primeval." But not from the
beginning in the sense of literally from a first point and then continuing within time, but first or primeval in
the sense of transcending time altogether.
So you could say that Vajrasattva represents that Esoteric aspect of Buddhahood which transcends both
space and time. Yes? And as transcending space He is the Sixth Buddha, as transcending time. He is the
Adi-Buddha, the primeval Buddha or First Buddha, "Original Buddha" as it's usually translated. Not only
that; not only is Vajrasattva "from the beginning" as it were, but it is specifically said that He is pure from
the beginning. Vajrasattva represents the beginningless purity of one's own mind; that is to say one's own
Ultimate Mind or Ultimate Essence.
So Vajrasattva is especially connected with purification, especially purification from sins; and the
purification consists in the fact that oneself, as Vajrasattva, has never even been defiled; there's no question
of purifying yourself, but realising that from the beginning, outside space and outside time, there was never
a moment - because there is no moment - when you were not pure. So Vajrasattva's practices are essentially
practices of the realisation of the intrinsically pure nature of one's own mind. Yes? One's own Absolute
Mind, or Ultimate Mind. Yes? Do you get the point? So, Vajrasattva is essentially this.
Vajrasattva is also regarded, in the Tantra especially, as the One who saves from Hell. The Vajrasattva
Mantra is also repeated in connection with death, in connection with after-death ceremonies.
I remember, in this connection, once I went to see Jamyang Khyentse Rimpoche - he was then in Gangtok -
so I had to wait a few minutes before going in, and when I went in he said "I'm sorry I kept you waiting, but
a lama friend of mine died, and I have been performing some ceremonies on his behalf." Then I asked,
"well, what were you actually performing and reciting" and he said that he was reciting or performing the
Vajrasattva mantra, because traditionally it's associated with deliverance from any form of suffering, the
extreme form of which, or example of which, is suffering in Hell. It's as though Vajrasattva, from a certain
point of view, represents the diametrical opposite. If you take Hell as being the worst experience, the lowest
experience, then Vajrasattva represents the best, the highest, the ultimate - not in a relative sense of the
higher being relative to the lower, but, as it were, outside relativity altogether; and also the only ultimate
deliverance from Hell, or from sin, because it's sin that causes you to fall into Hell - is to realise that you
never, in fact, have sinned, that you are primevally pure, pure from the beginning; so in this way Vajrasattva
comes in.
Sometimes the name is explained in this way; that "Vajra" is a synonym for "Sunyata." "Pure from the
beginning" is often explained as void from the beginning, ultimately real from the beginning. So "Vajra"
means the element of ultimate Reality. "Sattva" means the totally purified consciousness which realises that
ultimately void nature. So it's as though, in the case of Vajrasattva, one has the fusion of what we can only
regard an the Ultimate Object and the Ultimate Subject. It's the ultimately refined subject completely united
with, completely knowing, the ultimate object. At that point, the object in not an object, the subject is not a
subject. It's the purely clear and transparent knowledge of Sunyata on the part of the completely purified
At that Point, of course, they can't really be distinguished as subject and object; Vajrasattva embodies that -
outside space and outside time.
So this is what Vajrasattva represents. So, basically in more popular terms, Vajrasattva stands for
purification. So one does the Vajrasattva Visualisation and Mantra Recitation for purification from sins - but
with the proviso that in the ultimate sense you purify yourself by realising that you have never become
impure, because you are pure from the beginning. Any impurity is only apparent, only on the surface.
Obviously one must understand this deeply and sincerely; it doesn't mean that on their own level faults,
weaknesses, imperfections, sins, don't matter; but that ultimately they do not matter. Or, I won't say don't
matter, but that ultimately you are not affected by them - your own true nature remains underneath all that,
So Vajrasattva is associated, especially as I've said, with purification from sins. For one's actual present
feeling is that one is not pure; or at least, not perfect; you may not think of it, you know, so much as
impurity, but as something not perfect - that one is conditioned, that one is not free. So, even though, in
your ultimate essence you are pure, you are alienated from that purity, you don't feel pure.
So the aim and object of the Vajrasattva Practice is to overcome that sense of alienation, and to restore you
to a complete realisation of your ultimately pure nature - your ultimately pure essential nature. Do you get
the point?
So you could say 'So the successive clauses of the Vajrasattva Mantra represent a successive, or progressive,
overcoming of the alienation between one's ultimately pure, Absolute Being, which is Vajrasattva, or Mind,
which is Vajrasattva, and one's mundane, relative, alienated consciousness, which feels impure'.
In other words, as you go through the clauses of the Mantra, you experience, or you feel yourself gradually
restored to, a state of reintegration with the original purity of your own nature, as represented by
Vajrasattva. In that clear?
So, as you recite the Mantra, you should feel yourself becoming more and more integrated with that
ultimately pure nature, more and more in touch with your own intrinsic purity - leaving beside, leaving
behind all surface sins and imperfections and impurities and so on. So the important thing in repeating the
Mantra, or studying the Mantra, is just to see this progression. Yes?
Question: Is there any association between Vajrasattva and Padmasambhava?
Sangharakshita: Not especially or directly. ...

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