Buddhist Philosophy

Sādhana Practice: The Importance of Ritual

Sādhana practice is the essence practice of the Vajrayāna tantras. Many great masters brought us important tantras, but in order to practice them, we use practice manual texts. In Tibetan, we use the term druptap (sgrub thabs). In Sanskrit the name is sādhana. This translates as “the means of accomplishment.”

Why should we study sādhanas? In this audio teaching, Kyabgön Phakchok Rinpoche briefly discusses the importance of learning the correct ritual behavior. He explains that he began offering Sādhana Ritual Courses because he saw that many practitioners were confused about how to practice. In the Vajrayāna, there are certain requirements before we can practice.

Three Divisions

1. Transmission — or lung (rlung) — occurs when an authorized lineage holder reads the practice text aloud. This connects the student to the lineage. It also ensures authentic continuity. The text is recited very rapidly, and we are not expected to understand the words. Instead, we can think of it as the live “breath” of the teachings flowing from the lama.

2. Empowerment — or wang (dbang) — is also know by the Sanskrit term abhiṣeka. The Sanskrit name derives from the action of “sprinkling” or “anointing” as part of a royal coronation ceremony. The student ripens or matures because of the empowerment.

3. Oral instruction — or tri (khri) — are the practice details explained by a qualified lama. These are the details that one uses to practice the sādhana in order to gain accomplishment.

In the modern world, Rinpoche observes that receiving transmission and empowerment has become easier. However, there are far fewer opportunities to obtain explanation of how to practice. Similarly, it can be difficult to learn all the ritual elements involved. Rinpoche reminds us that ritual represents the Vajrayāna tantra’s use of skillful means. Through ritual practice we enhance our realization. We also swiftly accumulate merit by performing the texts. In addition, sādhana practice helps us to purify our obstacles and obscurations.

Sādhana Ritual Courses

In the past, masters in India and Tibet learned in this way. Rinpoche believes that we may benefit by learning in this traditional method. Yes, meditation training is becoming more accessible and these days it is easier to find Dharma books and philosophical texts. Now we have many more opportunities to get that type of training and it is much more accessible than in the past. That is wonderful! But many practitioners still face problems learning how to practice Vajrayāna authentically. For example, we need to learn how to do visualization practices well. Otherwise, if we want to go on retreat and practice, we may not know what to do. For this reason, Rinpoche began offering sādhana ritual courses taught by senior lamas. And now many students have come from around the world to benefit from this training.

In the future, we will be expanding this effort by offering more instruction and practice support materials here on Samye Institute.

Related Teachings

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.