35 Buddhas Confession and Purification Practice

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[posted Oct. 2005]
This advice was compiled from teachings given by Rinpoche at Istituto Lama Tsong Khapa in Italy, during the Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga Retreat in 2003.

There are four remedy powers. The one that reduces and purifies negative karma is regret. The stronger the regret, the more the negative karma is purified. All phenomena affect each other; that is what dependent arising means—fire can burn, water can make things wet. It works similarly in our mind: our positive thoughts have one effect; negative thoughts have a different effect. So, there is happiness and there is suffering—this is a dependent arising.

Reciting the mantra of Vajrasattva, who attained qualities such as compassion and power in order to benefit sentient beings, purifies negative karma through dependent arising. In the same way, by reciting the names of the 35 Buddhas many times or just once, eons of negative karma is purified.

Lama Atisha explained why reciting the names of the 35 Buddhas has so much power. In the past, when the 35 Buddhas were bodhisattvas, they made many prayers to be able to benefit sentient beings, to easily purify our defilements and negative karma. When they achieved enlightenment, they achieved the Buddha’s ten qualities or powers, one of which is the power of prayer. So, their names have the power of all those past prayers. That is why, when sentient beings recite their names, they have so much power to purify defilements and eons of negative karma. Every single quality the 35 Buddhas attained was in order to benefit sentient beings, there was no other reason or motivation for it, so we should use this advantage.

Think: “The purpose of my life is to free all the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, sura, asura, human, and intermediate state beings—every single sentient being in the six realms of suffering, all unenlightened beings who have defilements.

“I must free all the hell beings, from whom I receive all my past, present, and future happiness, realizations of the path, and enlightenment, who are the most precious, most kind ones in my life, from all sufferings and their causes, and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone.

“I must free all the preta beings, from whom I receive all my past, present, and future happiness, realizations of the path, and enlightenment, who are the most precious, most kind ones in my life, from all the sufferings and their causes, and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone.

“I must free all the animals, every one of them, from whom I receive all my past, present, and future happiness, realizations of the path, and enlightenment, who are the most precious, most kind ones in my life, from all the sufferings and their causes, and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone.

“I must free all the human beings, from whom I receive all my past, present, and future happiness, realizations of the path, and enlightenment, who are the most precious, most kind ones in my life, from all sufferings and their causes, and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone.

“I must free all the sura beings, from whom I receive all my past, present, and future happiness, realizations of the path, and enlightenment, who are the most precious, most kind ones in my life, from all sufferings and their causes, and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone.

“I must free all the asura beings, from whom I receive all my past, present, and future happiness, realizations of the path, and enlightenment, who are the most precious, most kind ones in my life, from all sufferings and their causes, and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone.

“I must free all the intermediate state beings, from whom I receive all my past, present, and future happiness, realizations of the path, and enlightenment, who are the most precious, most kind ones in my life, from all sufferings and their causes, and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone.

“Therefore, I must achieve enlightenment. In order to do this, I need to actualize the path and purify my defilements, negative karmas, and downfalls collected from beginningless rebirths.”

Just one complete negative karma that is committed through the ten non-virtuous actions—killing, sexual misconduct, telling lies, etc.—produces four suffering results. As well as the ripened aspect result of rebirth in the lower realms, there are three other sufferings: experiencing the result similar to the cause; creating the result similar to the cause; and the possessed result, which is related to the environment and the suffering that is experienced when, for example, you are born after some time as a human being due to your good karma.

Creating the result similar to the cause means committing the same negative action again as a result of the past. Then, that complete negative karma produces another four suffering results, including creating the result similar to the cause; then that complete negative karma produces another four suffering results. As long as we don’t purify that one negative karma and abstain from it we will experience the result again and again. Like this, it goes on and on, forever—the effect becomes endless.

Think: “If I put effort into not creating that one negative karma, I don’t have to experience all the endless suffering that comes from it. It makes a huge difference whether that one negative karma is committed or not.”

To make your practice really effective and powerful, contemplate the endless effect of even just one complete negative karma—having to experience so much suffering in samsara for that one negative karma—so that you can’t stand to live even one more second without purifying it immediately. There are so many negative karmas committed each day, month, and year, from beginningless past lives—it is unimaginable. If you think of all these karmas from beginningless past lives, it becomes more and more unbearable. There is no way to relax for even a second without practicing purification.

On top of this, you need to remember broken pratimoksha vows, and bodhisattva vows, which are much heavier. Then, having taken and broken the tantric vows in this and past lives, which is heavier again. Pabongkha Rinpoche’s commentary on the Six-Session Yoga says that breaking a bodhisattva root vow is 100,000 times heavier than breaking a pratimoksha root vow. Breaking a tantric vow is 100,000 times heavier than breaking a bodhisattva root vow. The vow that results in the heaviest, longest suffering, and is the heaviest obstacle to actualizing the path is the negative karma collected regarding the relationship with the virtuous friend. Remember all of that collected from beginningless rebirths. This is the situation we are in. In those hot hell realms even one tiny spark is much hotter than all human beings’ fire energy, which, comparatively, is extremely cool and pleasurable. This was explained by Buddha, the Omniscient One, with compassion for sentient beings, to save us from the unbearable suffering of samsara, particularly the lower realms.

Think: “Death can come any time, even today; it can come this hour or minute. That means I can be in the most terrifying suffering of the lower realms today, any minute, any second. The minute my breath stops, it is there, actualized. Therefore, I must purify right away, not delaying for even a second.” As is normally explained in the teachings, it is as if you have eaten poison and are going to experience great pain and die, so you want to get rid of the negativity in the quickest possible way.

This also applies when you practice Vajrasattva meditation in daily life or in retreat. You can meditate like this at the beginning of any purification practice, to make it really powerful. How much we can purify negative karma depends on the mind. Our mind creates negative karma but, with strong regret, the mind can purify so much. Regret is like medicine for us.

In Western psychology, regret may be interpreted as negative, but there is negative, harmful regret and useful, positive regret. One becomes medicine for our mind; the other becomes negative, for example, regretting our or other people’s virtue or positive actions. If somebody becomes a monk or nun and you express regret, “Oh, terrible! Oh, I’m sorry!”, or somebody is doing retreat in an isolated place and you say, “Oh, I’m so sorry you are living in a cave, poor thing”, your regret is misplaced. That person may actually be attaining realizations every year and offering the most benefit to sentient beings. That is incorrect regret. There is also correct and incorrect patience and tolerance. Similarly, perseverance in virtue is right perseverance, but perseverance in actions that are negative karma, the cause of samsara or of the lower realms—bearing great hardship to achieve power or reputation for happiness in this life, putting much effort into that, sacrificing, even endangering life, as many people in the world are doing—is incorrect tolerance. Correct tolerance has to be perseverance in virtue; that is the definition of perseverance. There has to be positive action. If an action is negative karma, it doesn’t have that definition of perseverance—it is incorrect perseverance, incorrect patience, or incorrect regret. Non-virtue only harms you and others.

Think: “Therefore, I’m going to perform prostrations by reciting the names of the 35 Buddhas and practicing the Confession of Downfalls, which purifies eons of negative karmas. I am so fortunate, having this opportunity, to create happiness and benefit for every single one of my kind mother sentient beings, every hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human being, sura, asura, and intermediate state being.”

At the end you must think of the happiness of others. If you think too much of your own negative karma and the suffering result of that, then, since we don’t have a realization of bodhicitta or of compassion, there is the danger of performing the prostrations for your own happiness. You need to come back to thinking of the happiness of others. With that attitude, every prostration you perform or prayer you recite is for other sentient beings.

You prostrate not only to the 35 Buddhas but to all the gurus, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, and all the holy objects of the ten directions. If you prostrate to many merit fields—to billions of buddhas—you create billions of causes of enlightenment. This way is much more profitable. You can recite the 35 Buddhas’ names in whichever language you normally use.

The mantra OM NAMO MANJUSHRIYE NAMAH SUSHRIYE NAMA UTTAMA SHRIYE SOHA multiplies the prostrations one thousand times. If you recite it every day, it helps to develop a direct perception of emptiness in this life, also to not encounter harm or obstacles. If you recite this mantra and the Buddha’s name seven times, then each prostration or circumambulation is increased millions of times. Recite:

OM NAMO MANJUSHRIYE NAMAH SUSHRIYE NAMA UTTAMA SHRIYE SOHA (3X)

CHOM DEN DE DEZHIN SHEKPA DRA CHOM PA YANG DAKPA DZOK PE SANG GYE RINCHEN GYALTSEN LA CHAG TSAL LO (7X)

OM NAMO BHAGAWATE RATNA KETU RAZAYA TATHAGATAYA ARHATE SAM YAK SAM BUDDHAYA TAYATHA OM RATNE RATNE MAHA RATNE RATNA BIZAYE SOHA (7X)

Then, prostrate and recite the 35 Buddhas’ names and the Confession of Downfalls.

After completing any purification practice it becomes more powerful if you seal it with emptiness by meditating on the three circles: the performer of the action, the action, and the object, what is accomplished—looking at them all as empty. Think: “In emptiness there is no creator, me; there is no action of creating; and there is no creation, negative karma.”

Remain in that state of mindfulness, allowing the awareness that all things are empty to continue, that they do not exist from their own side, and then dedicate the merits:

“Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me and by others, may I achieve the 35 Buddhas’ enlightenment and lead all sentient beings to the 35 Buddhas’ enlightenment by myself alone.”

Then, dedicate the merits:

Jang chub sem chog rinpoche
Ma kye pa nam kye gyur chig
Kye pa nyam pa me par yang
Gong ne gong du pel bar shog

May the precious bodhicitta not yet born, arise and grow
May that born have no decline but increase forever more.

The Benefits of Prostrations  
Rinpoche commented on the following benefits from performing prostrations.

When making prostrations by reciting the names of the 35 Buddhas, even only one prostration to all the Buddhas, Dharma, and Sangha becomes a cause for achieving enlightenment. Prostrations to statues, scriptures, and stupas create many causes for liberation from samsara and achieving success in this life. But prostrations to the 35 Buddhas become a cause for enlightenment, which is a big difference.

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