Essential Characteristics of Vajrayana – vajra commitment

Question & answer session with

Ngakma Shardröl

Q How is it possible to make a permanent commitment to a Lama, in view of the fact of impermanence?

Ngakma Shardröl: It isn’t in one sense – but then you could ask: ‘How is it not possible?’ It is an example of the power of intentionality, and that goes beyond ideas of possible and impossible.

Q How, as a practical matter, can I bind my future selves, who may be quite different from me? (Personalities change during one’s life; and in my next life I might be a wombat or something.)

Ngakma Shardröl: Rather than binding anybody to anything, what we are doing by taking these lives long vows is establishing a beacon of intentionality that connects us to the Lama and lineage for all time. This is the same as saying we want to be always living in accordance with Reality. We can’t help doing this anyway—Reality is stronger than we are—but it is a question of putting the power of our human will behind it. This actually makes some great difference, because then we are no longer trying to swim against the current. Establishing this pattern of living as practitioners, getting as close to the natural state as much as we can, we say we would like this process to continue in other lifetimes, which is the best thing we could possibly do for those future wombats or whatever they are – even if they don’t think so.

Q How, as an ethical matter, can I bind my future selves, who may be quite different from me? (It does not really seem different from binding someone else at random, which doesn’t seem fair, even were it possible.)

Ngakma Shardröl: Well then say goodbye to the bodhisattva vow. In taking vows such as these, we are coming from the position of actually knowing that enlightenment is to be preferred over unenlightenment and being committed to that path. It simply could not be true that our future selves could have a better idea than becoming enlightened.

Q Or are the samaya vows taken from point of view of one’s emptiness aspect, which is permanent?

Ngakma Shardröl: Yes.

Q If so, how can formlessness take on the form of the vows?

Ngakma Shardröl: Well, form and emptiness are, like, nondual…

Q Is realising anatman (surrendering my rationale) the main point of vajra commitment? Or is that only a small part of it, and there is a bigger point?

Ngakma Shardröl: I don’t know that realising anatman is the same as surrendering one’s rationale. If one truly realised anatman then there would be nothing to surrender. Actually it is a much messier process, usually… Even if one has a moment, or several moments, or a whole bunch of moments of clarity and knows, truly knows that one’s rationale is a dead-end and a prison, there can still be a kind of reflexive knee-jerk reaction of ‘I just wanna do it my way’. The main point of surrendering one’s rationale is not as an act of submission but in order to make it possible for one to experience harmoniousness with the Lama. It’s more like (temporarily) forgetting oneself than being aware of the non-existence of oneself. If one were in total harmony with the Lama, he or she could just say, “You’re enlightened, you know…” and then you really would know it and that would be all there was to it. This is the point of the whole exercise.

Q Going beyond anatman: what is the relationship between rigpa and vajra commitment?

Ngakma Shardröl: I don’t think anatman is the basis for vajra commitment. Rigpa is the basis for perfect vajra commitment but not for the practice of vajra commitment.

Q Is rigpa possible without vajra commitment?

Ngakma Shardröl: I would think so. Vajra commitment is a method of practice and there are other methods.

Q Is vajra commitment possible without rigpa?

Ngakma Shardröl: Perfect vajra commitment is not possible without rigpa, but the practice of vajra commitment is. By the practice of vajra commitment I mean living within the context of the vows and attempting to keep them and never deviating from the intention to keep them even though one continually fails to keep them perfectly.

Q: Does taking vajra commitment produce rigpa immediately? Or, assuredly but not immediately?

Ngakma Shardröl: No, not immediately, not even necessarily in this lifetime. But sometime, assuredly, yes.