Portrayed as a radiant buddha figure, Vajrasattva represents the primordial natural state of pure and total presence – the essence of body, speech and mind activity of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. As a meditation, the primary purpose of Vajrasattva practice is to remove the obstacles obscuring one’s perception of the true nature of mind, and hence to cleanse unwholesomeness from all levels of being.
The Vajrasattva purification and healing meditation is widely practiced in all Tibetan Buddhist traditions. In general it’s practice involves visualisation and mantra, coupled with clear intent and care filled inquiry. Vajrasattva is usually depicted as a white Buddha figure, seated in meditation, holding a bell and dorje. The bell symbolises wisdom. The dorje symbolises skilful means or compassion.
A distinctive aspect of this meditation is the hundred syllable mantra which can be understood in a variety of ways depending on the maturity of the practitioner. In this short essay I’d like to share with you an approach, or perhaps we should call it an explanation/understanding, that arose in the course of my own contemplations. It is not a fresh a translation but is more a modified rendition with poetic license. I am offering it for the benefit of those people already involved with Vajrasattva practice who may appreciate having their understanding of the meditation stretched a bit. Click here to download the entire 14 page PDF file.
One of the many meanings of the word mantra is ‘teaching’, which can be understood, both in in terms of direct instruction and also, as a form of inspirational intimation. The ‘100 syllable mantra of Vajrasattva’ could be regarded as ‘the 100 syllable teaching’ or, since 100 syllables indicates something quite long, it could indicate ‘the extensive or complete teachings of Vajrasattva’.
In general, vajra means unshakable, firm, indestructible or adamantine and sattva means living being, or becoming. In a literal sense, the word vajrasattva means unshakable being, unshakable becoming, or unshakable suchness. In essence, Vajrasattva is the immeasurable expanse of inter-being. A central aspect of the classical form of this meditation involves visualising a flow of crystal clear nectar washing though one’s body, speech and mind, loosening, dissolving and clearing away defilements. Biologically speaking, the body/brain/mind/community that we are is like a multi-dimensional braided river, a living tapestry of flowing transformation. We are composed of an inconceivable number of flows of different ‘nectars’: water, earth, gasses, energies, foods (rupa), thought and memory (these are cognitive flowings), talents and understandings, that are pouring through, revealing and demonstrating our utterly inter-dependent wholeness, this present ‘body of experience’ which involves everything. The experience of multi-levelled fluidity, rather than a frozen or static state, shows the activity of purifying. All these flowings are modes of connecting; the languaging, the coupling of all phenomena, things and processes, (dharmas). This body/mind is truly community in action. Gradually the practitioner experiences his or her body, speech and mind and all being’s body, speech and mind, and the subsequent timeless inter-being of body, speech and mind, to be the display of Vajrasattva – this dharmadhatu – this total expanse of all events and meanings.
From a deep ecology/buddhadharma perspective, the ideas of unsustainability and impermanence are inseparably linked. Sabbe sankhara annicca’ti. All compounded things are impermanent. Thoughts are impermanent. Feelings are impermanent. Creatures are impermanent. Species are impermanent. Geological features are impermanent. Planets are impermanent. Galaxies are impermanent. All compounded things are impermanent. When we look around us, everything is fleeting and ephemeral and yet we find ourselves constantly grasping for duration and stability. The only dharma to have demonstrated any kind of meaningful sustainability is ‘Life’ which, on earth, has been continuing in an unbroken or unshakable continuum for more than 3.5 billion years. In this sense the Hundred Syllable Mantra of Vajrasattva could be described as the Extensive Teaching on Sustainable Living–Being–Becoming.
For beings experiencing a fairly continuous sense of separation between subject and object, the traditional translation will have most meaning. One is petitioning a higher being or power, outside oneself, for help. Here Vajrasattva represents the unshakably clear state, the embodiment of Buddha Wisdom. The hundred syllables become a prayerful request for Vajrasattva’s blessing which comes in the form of nectar flowing through your being. A traditional rendition of this prayer, along with a partial translation can be found at the end of this article.
In a broader, more embracive sense, Vajrasattva represents the complete realisation of emptiness (śunyatā). In this profound non-dual state, Vajrasattva is understood as the essence, nature and expression of your own mind. Or, put in other words, Vajrasattva is the essence, nature and expression of the immeasurable expanse of knowing that you are. Here contemplating the mantra is not a petition for help, rather it becomes a self empowerment into Mahamudra or the Great Perfection. As an extensive teaching, the mantra serves as a reminder of the entire path from beginning to end. It becomes a song of awakening, a skilful path of wholeness unfolding, resonating with deep understanding and loving presence.
The following explanation/understanding is not a translation. You could think of it as a rendition done with poetic license. By combining this radically inclusive approach with the more traditional translations also outlined at the end of this article, you may glimpse fresh intuitions of how you might engage with this profound practice.
Vajrasattva source of vows
Vajrasattva ever present
Steadying, Gladdening, Enriching, Loving
Treasury of all perfections
Empowering this heart/mind
HA HA HA HA
Unshakable abiding suchness
Beyond all separation
Oh Diamond Jewel of Love
Oh Being of the Great Vow