Coming out of the hospital, my life takes on what many folks call “the new normal”. I’ve never been on medications for any length of time and now I face at least one medication that doctors tell me will require a lifetime commitment. The New Normal. They tell me, in no uncertain terms, “there is nothing you can do to change the trajectory of your life unless you consume this medication twice a day for the next X number of years,” X being the amount of time I have left to live.
We all know, in some way, that our lives are limited in scope; that the time we have on this earth is marked by birth and death and some number of years in between. If you are anything like me, I KNEW it but I didn’t know it. Now I know the truth; the reality of an end is very clear to me.
So, what’s left to do in my life? How can I make a difference in a way that is meaningful? My first step toward meaning comes from practicing Vajrasattva. In the hospital I heard the suffering of fellow patients and I sincerely wanted to ease their pain. What could I do, really? During my deep, dark night of the soul, I came to one realization: I can practice healing for all sentient beings and I can take on the suffering of others through tonglen and lojong practices.
DONE. I have a plan. Here’s where it starts: Patrul Rinpoche and the Vajrasattva practices. In the book The Words of My Perfect Teacher, Patrul Rinpoche lays out the Ngondro practices including Bodhicitta and Vajrasattva (pages 263 – 280). Vajrasattva was a bodhisattva. His personal history and story is shrouded in mystery in that very little detailed information exists about his life and practice. At the same time, his impact on Buddhism, and particularly Tibetan Buddhism, was profound. Some sutras talk about how he transmitted his teachings to Nagarjuna and from there to the rest of the Buddhist world.
What the Vajrasattva practice is at its core is purification. The goal of the practice is to purify any and all defilements: disease, negative thoughts and karma, as well as retiring the relationship between the student and the teacher as well as restoring the very practice of enlightenment by, basically, renewing vows of practice for those who have strayed from the path.
Patrul Rinpohce said that this practice starts with confession. From his text, he commented that the main obstacles to realization are negative thoughts, actions, obscurations (not seeing the truth) and habitual tendencies. The practice is about clearing your mind as if you were cleaning a mirror so that your true reflection appears within the surface without blemish, tarnish, or other distortions of the truth. You are connecting to your true nature, buddha nature, as a means of purifying your body, speech, mind and the BSM of all beings. Confessing your previous transgressions and really owning those negative actions, thoughts, and emotions is the key to realizing the practice AND purification.
The core of the practice involves a wide variety of meditations and mantras much too elaborate to talk about here. One core principle is to recite the 100 Syllable Mantra, a poetic verse recorded in the Mahavaironcana Tantra from the 7th century C.E., as a means of working with your mind.
While much of tantric buddhism has as a practice visualizations, this one in particular has visualizations of you being purified of disease or negative thoughts, actions, etc. Truthfully, that is where I started: purification of my own body as an extension of purification of all bodies. Through this meditation, I will help heal my physical and mental obscurations and hinderances. Through the practice, my goal is to extend the healing out to all sentient beings.
As I step gingerly through this process of healing, I will offer my thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. Clearly, I know very little compared to most folks who have come before me, and, more importantly, have little to add to the conversation. At the same time, if I can just offer one person support in their time of need, I have accomplished something worthwhile. For those reasons, I practice.