One of Phakchok Rinpoche’s teachings next week will focus on the Buddha Vajrasattva. In fact he is going to give those attending an empowerment of the Buddha so that we know how to practice the deity properly and receive the blessings of the lineage of all the masters who practiced this very practice before.
Vajrasattva is the Buddha of purification of previous karmas. This is why his empowerment is coupled with the talk on accumulation of merit, since accumulation of merit won’t be fully effective if one’s previous karmic results and karmic traces are not purified and cleansed away. Vajrasattva specializes precisely on this task.
The picture you see on the right is a status of Vajrasattva found in Cambodia. It dates back to the 11th century C. E., during the height of the Khmer empire. During that time Cambodia was a stronghold of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, together with Hinduism. It only became Theravada after the fall of the Empire in the fifteenth century. There are still quite a large number of artifacts and statues in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism that can be found in Cambodia and the northeast of Thailand. (The picture is from the website Sundial-Isan, to which I am very thankful.)
Now back to Vajrasattva himself. When we think of Vajrasattva and are constantly mindful of him through the mantra, either the short one or the very long, 100-syllable one, we are then doing a meditation on purifying our past karmic effects. One might suspect whether it is really possible to purify one’s karmic effects. After all, the law of karma seems to be iron clad. If you did something, you will get the result. But if you can purify all that, then where is the force of the law of karma?
This is a very important point. A key teaching in Buddhism is that we always have a choice. It is not that all of us are always predetermined totally by our previous action. Otherwise there would not be any sense in practicing the Dharma in order to become liberated, attaining nirvana or attaining Buddhahood. On the contrary, there is a teaching in some Mahayana Sutras, such as the Avatamsaka, that everyone of us — every being within samsara — will eventually become a Buddha. This means all of us are in fact predetermined to become a Buddha eventually, and the Vajrasattva practice will greatly expedite that process.
Any way, the picture is *not* that whenever we did something wrong we can ask Vajrasattva to purify our action so we are freed and then we commit the same act again. That is totally not the picture. When you seek to purify your own karmic effects, you always do so out of the genuine and intense feeling that you have that what you did was wrong and that you are very deeply sorry and you are committed not to do that again, ever. In meditating on Vajrasattva, all of your previous karmas are open like an open book; there is nothing that you can hide from his eyes. You fully open up yourself and expose all of your misdeeds, both the ones that you know and also the ones that you do not know, and you make a commitment, a vow not to do any misdeed or unwholesome karmas again, either through the bodily, verbal or mental action. You genuinely and sincerely ask for the blessings of Vajrasattva so that his nectar comes to cleanse and purify your body, speech and mind. Vajrasattva, representing the power of all the Buddhas to help sentient beings in samsara, has all the power to do that. All we only need to do is to open ourselves up to him.
So his practice is very useful for everyone. In Buddhism, the most important thing is the mind. “The mind is chief; among all the things in the world, they are made by the mind,” taught the Buddha Shakyamuni himself in the Dhammapada. One result of unwholesome karmic action is that our minds become cloudy and defiled. A symptom of this is that we might be easily irritated, greedy, harboring harmful thoughts such as wanting to injure others, and so on. These are all defilements. They are called “defilements” because they “defile” the mind, making the mind dirty, and in fact our minds have been dirtied repeatedly for an incalculably long time. This is why we all need Vajrasattva’s blessings, but we also need to be constantly aware that without our own willingness to purify ourselves and without the sincere determination to be able to help all sentient beings through achieving Buddhahood, his blessings won’t be effective at all.
The mind is chief amongst all, so it has to start at your own mind.
Here is another photo of Vajrasattva, found in the northeast of Thailand.