Interview with Phakchok Rinpoche: Sādhana Ritual and the Vajrayana Path
In this interview, given in September 2015 in America, Phakchok Rinpoche shares the importance of Sādhana Ritual as the key method to bring about wisdom on the path of Vajrayana.
Sādhana Ritual Course: A Real Need
Rinpoche la, We are now in the 6th year of the Sādhana Ritual Courses and many people from around the world have attended them. Why did you feel it was necessary to begin this type of program?
First of all, dharma practice in general and the path of meditation has become very accessible and particularly books and the study of buddhist philosophy has become very accessible for the general public. The other aspect of dharma practice such as the vajrayana path with it’s development stage practices is widespread and yet they do not have the same accessibility of how and where to learn and how to practice that path. Even though many people are practicing they do not actually know how to visualize and how to go along this path and particularly when they want to go into retreat with these practices they do not know what to do.
So seeing this and hearing from many practitioners about this kind of situation I thought that this type of course such as the Sādhana Ritual Courses will be very helpful for those who have an interest in the vajrayana practices and especially the development stage. My wish is that people will be able to learn everything in detail and I think this is possible and this is my wish, this is what I would like to see.
What is a “sādhana”?
A sādhana is the essential practice of the vajrayana tantras, it is how to practice the essence of those tantras. Great masters brought us the tantras of the vajrayana but in order to really practice them you need to have the practice manual, the sādhana text. In Tibetan the practice manual or sādhana is called ‘drub thap’. To be able to practice a sādhanayou need to have the reading transmission, empowerment and explanation. Now a days reading transmissions and empowerments have become accessible, though teachings on the ritual aspect and the specific explanations for these practice texts are not very widespread.
What is the meaning of ritual within the vajrayana path?
Ritual is the skillful means from the approach or style of the vajrayana tantras to enhance our realization, to accumulate merit and purify our obstacles and obscurations very swiftly. So this aspect of the vajrayana path of how to apply and carry out the sādhanā practice is called ritual or ‘chos ga’ in Tibetan. It is very important because the great masters of the past have learned in this way. It was this way in India, Tibet and other places and I think it is also very important now as well.
So, sādhanā is important because it is the essential practice of the vajrayana tantras and the ritual aspect is important because it is the way to carry out the practice of the sādhanā or practice manuals.
Modern People and Rituals
These days many modern practitioners like silent, formless meditation but feel that development stage and it’s rituals are unnecessary and irrelevant. Can you please explain what the relation is of meditative traditions such as mahāmudrā and dzogchen to development stage practices and teachings?
All of the teachings of the Buddha are always given in two paths. The first one is the ‘path of skillful means’ and the second is the ‘path of wisdom’. For example, in the sutrayāna or mahāyāna you have the six pāramitās of which the first five are generosity, discipline, patience, diligence and samadhi. These are the skillful means which allow us to gain the wisdom of the sixth pāramitā, the prajñā-pāramitā. Similarly you need to learn śamatha (calm abiding) meditation in the mahāyāna to be able to gain the realization of vipaśyanā (great insight or superior seeing).
Likewise, in the vajrayana there are two paths, the path of skillful means called the development stage and the path of wisdom called the completion stage with its practices of mahāmudrā or great perfection. So the path of skillful means is called the development stage or in Tibetan is called ‘kye rim’. This is very important because without it we will not be able to attain so easily the path of wisdom or also known as the path of liberation within the vajrayana path.
This is all very important and all of the past great masters in any of their life stories you will read how they entered the practice of vajrayana. They all have their own yidam deity practice, male or female and with that tantra, sādhanā and development stage practices are connected. For these reasons, new practitioners who want to enter into and practice the vajrayana path of mahāmudrā and great perfection, I recommend that you do the ngöndro preliminary practices and development stage practices. This is very important, you must do that.
Nāgārjuna said, “Through the development stage you enter the completion stage.”
How do vajrayana practices such as deity visualization, mantra, samadhi, mudrā and substances help us to tame our own mind? And how can we integrate these practice skillfully into our lives with work and family responsibilities?
Any practice of the dharma, of the Buddha’s teachings, is our responsibility to practice and bring that path into our daily life. How to bring this into daily life we will discuss and teach when you come to learn these teachings. We can talk about it at that time. I don’t think it is so necessary to explain here. Though to bring our practice of the vajrayana path into our daily life is very important and that is a must for any of the Buddha’s teachings.
In each of the tantras they explain different pillars or key points, sometimes seven, nine, ten or eleven of these pillars that the tantra will explain. This is in order for people to be able to practice and follow the vajrayana path. This is very important for your path of vajrayana practice and you must learn these key points. Some of these aspects are based on the ground, some on the path, some are enhancing and some the fruition. Most commonly it is ten pillars or key points such as view, empowerment, maṇḍala, samaya, accomplishment, activity, mantra, samadhi, mudrā and pūjā or offering. Sometimes substances and more are explained as well. These are very important to learn. And until now millions of practitioners have gained realization through this path and I think it is worthwhile for modern dharma students and practitioners to practice this path as well.
When you learn meditation you need to learn correctly, completely and fully. Likewise, if you want to learn vajrayana; learn correctly,completely and fully. Then you will see the results of practice.
Why are the principals of ripening empowerment, liberating instructions and supportive reading transmissions important? Are these really necessary?
Empowerment is important because it is the opening of the door to the path. And it opens the door to ripen our basic buddha nature and enables us to practice as such. In the same way, in the Mahayana it is very important to take the vow of bodhicitta. Not only to practice bodhicitta but to take the vow as well because that is the first step of actual application. Likewise in the Vajrayana path, to be able to practice Vajrayana you need to receive empowerment in order to be able to understand and to ripen the buddha nature of our own ground. This is necessary to be able to practice well.
A very important way to maintain and keep the enlightened lineages of the sādhanas is the reading transmission. And the profound way to remove misunderstanding and liberate our doubt is the teaching or instructions. Keeping and maintaining the lineages is through the transmission but to really profoundly understand and liberate our doubts, wrong views and wrong understanding we need the liberating instructions. This helps to correct our mistaken conduct and views.
That is why the three aspects of empowerment, transmission and explanation are very important. But there is no need for all of these questions. It is better to just come and learn and practice well.
Thank you very much. Sarva Mangalam!
For more information on this years Sādhanā Ritual Courses please follow this link: