Becoming Vajrasattva by Lama Thubten Yeshe

Lama Thubten Yeshe. Becoming Vajrasattva: The Tantric Path of Purification. Ed. By Nicholas Ribush. Foreword by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Boston, Mass.: Wisdom Publications, 2004. Paperback, 292 pages.

Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-85), one of the best loved and most highly accomplished lamas teaching Westerners, has gifted us with a number of very important books based on his talks to students. Among his superb publications, all released by Wisdom Publications, are Silent Mind, Holy Mind (1979), Introduction to Tantra (1987), The Bliss of Inner Fire (1998), and Becoming Compassion Buddha: Tantric Mahamudra for Everyday Life (2003).

Becoming Vajrasattva has the same direct quality of Lama Yeshe’s other works, allowing the reader to sense and enjoy some of the immediacy of receiving oral instructions from a highly realized teacher. In her book Reincarnation: The Boy Lama (1996), Vicki MacKenzie has given us an excellent account of Lama Yeshe’s life and death, and his voluntary rebirth in 1985 as Ösel Hita Torres, the child of   Spanish disciples. Her book and the published statements by other students have shown Lama Yeshe to have been a truly extraordinary and compassionate person. As the founder of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), with over 100 centers around the world, he has created a lasting legacy. For a whole decade, starting in 1974, he gave one teaching after another and untiringly demonstrated to his Western students the selfless work of a true bodhisattva. He was eager to give everyone of his disciples a taste of “the chocolate” (the inner bliss of realization), so that they would feel encouraged to continue their spiritual toil and cut through all the inevitable obstacles.

Turning to Becoming Vajrasattva, I must begin with a criticism directed primarily to the publisher: While I know that all sorts of last-minute mistakes can happen in the publishing business,Becoming Vajrasattva should really have been earmarked as a revised edition of the 1995 book The Tantric Path of Purification. This is not mentioned even on the copyright page or in the advertisements for the book. Neither the copyright office staff at the Library of Congress in Washington will be happy with this slipup nor readers who, after purchasing the new edition sight unseen, discover that they already own the book in an earlier incarnation. Apart from a more readable typeface and the lamentable absence of photographs, the new release seems essentially identical to the first edition.

Nevertheless, it is good to have this major work back in circulation. It is the first full-length treatment of the Vajrasattva meditation/visualization practice, which is considered very important by all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. We are very generously given a close-up view of how the meditation is to be done, including its associated rituals, and also of the minutiae of an actual Vajrasattva retreat. Lama Yeshe’s accompanying instructional talks are, as always, precious and enormously clarifying and encouraging.

Vajrasattva represents the pure state of enlightenment, and the meditation and ritual practices revolving around this Buddha are time-tested methods for mental self-purification on the spiritual path. From my own modest experience, I can testify that the Vajrasattva practice is a potent tool for cleansing the mirror of the mind. I have also seen it transform others who seriously availed themselves of this method even for a few months. Obviously, this is a book for Buddhist practitioners, who, fortunately, are growing in number in the Western world. If you happen to be one of them and have not yet ventured into the Vajrasattva practice, this book, which contains much practical wisdom, will get you started safely.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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