What is purification practice?

See p. 87-88 of Oral Instructions for a Vajrasattva purification practice — short & sweet, but powerful.

For the inner demons who do not come out into the open, or at least only in such shadowy ways that we cannot properly identify them, purification is immensely helpful. It is also very helpful when we are overwhelmed by appearances and need extra help in overcoming them.

Lay down that burden

A lot of people are laboring under a heavy burden of unresolved sadness, which may be why they don’t like being left alone with their own thoughts for even 12 minutes.

Stubborn recurrent sadness is still no match for purification practice – and we can feel that we are purifying not just that karmic appearance or karmic tendency but ALL similar versions since beginningless time. For example, if you have been suffering from attachment, you can use that as an example, and purify all your attachment since karma 4beginningless time. If you have been getting irritated with the sweet people around you despite your best intentions, you can purify your needless irritation since beginningless time. If you are feeling depressed because “things just aren’t what they used to be!”, you can even purify all that despondency since beginningless time.

Magnet for misfortune

Bad karma is a magnet for misfortune. And it ripens in different ways, for example irritation or anger we have had in the past can ripen as an experience (eg, someone does something we find really annoying) or in the tendencies we have to react in a certain way (eg, we get really annoyed.) Karma also ripens in the way our environment in general appears to us (eg, not quite right, uncomfortable), and even in the type of rebirth we have taken. You can read all about these four fascinating effects of karma in that chapter in Joyful Path of Good Fortune. They explain a lot.

karma 3So if we don’t like something that is happening to us or how we feel about it or indeed how we are reacting, this is a perfect reminder to us to purify this karma. Taking responsibility for our karma can turn our lives around, as Gen-la Khyenrab said the other day.

The power of promise

The power of promise is one of the four opponent powers of good purification practice, and it purifies our heavy tendencies to negativity that we lug around with us from familiarity with these in the past. So after a good purification practice, we promise not to do that thing, whatever it is, again. But, as a friend of mine was saying yesterday, sometimes it’s hard to know what exactly to promise. For example, declaring “I will never get angry again!” and a host of other big promises is unrealistic – we are likely to forget them sooner or later and blow it. So we then get discouraged that we are not keeping our promises, wondering if we’ll ever remember them for longer than ten minutes, and whether there is even any point in making any more promises when we are so useless at keeping them.

What I like to do to make effective promises, I told her, is tie in my purification practice to whatever is coming up in my life – as part of my mind-training, transforming difficulties. For example, in her case, she has been feeling despondent because something she really wanted to happen didn’t happen, and she also blames herself because that is her tendency. Soooo, what I would do in that situation, having recognized karmathat tendency in me, is purify that situation, and while I am at it to purify all my tendencies to feeling despondent and lacking self-worth since beginningless time. Then, once my mind felt all cleaned up from this tendency due to a good purification practice, I’d promise to not feel despondent again in similar circumstances. I am likely to remember that promise as it ties into what I am up against and I therefore have a vested interest in remembering it, in incorporating it into my mind-training. And it is powerful because I want it; it is not a vague open-ended promise, but one stemming from my everyday wishes to stay happy despite this thing or that thing not working out.

Phew! I can get rid of all of it!

35-Confession-BuddhasEven when we are a bit vaguer about all the negative actions we need to purify and the kinds of effects these are specifically wreaking on our day-to-day lives, it still works very well to do a general spring-clean of our mind. I really enjoy doing prostrations to the 35 Confession Buddhas first thing in the morning (and before you get impressed, it takes less than 10 minutes), purifying basically everything I could possibly ever have done. There are some great words in that Mahayana Sutra (written by Buddha Shakyamuni himself), such as “I confess without concealing or hiding anything.” The Buddhas know exactly what we need to purify even if we don’t; that’s an advantage of omniscience. So we praise them: “Who have become witnesses, who have become valid, who see with their wisdom.”

Dry rot creeps up on us without us noticing, until the fabric of our house is destroyed. We’ve forgotten the vast majority of our negative minds and actions, which is why we contemplate these when we purify – not to feel bad but because we want all the mold, visible or not, to be gone as it is affecting our minds and our lives. We purify our greatest delusion first, whatever keeps coming up; but at the same time we want to purify the whole lot, and we can. Our negativity is mere imputation and literally no match for omniscient wisdom.

Turn on the lights for goodness sake!

You know how horror movies always take place at night in the pitch black and you just wish someone would turn on all the lights? And you know the darkness of our ignorance? The Confession Buddhas and Buddha Vajrasattva throw open the shutters to broad cosmic daylight and the sunshine streams in everywhere.karma 1

The ultimate purification is mixing with the mind of bliss and emptiness so that we destroy our ordinary appearances and conceptions – that is what will tear the whole samsaric moldy structure down so we can build ourselves and others a celestial mansion of delight. So we request Vajrasattva:

Please permanently purify my non-virtues, downfalls, and ordinary appearances and conceptions.

And then let him enter through our crown, dissolving into our “inner darkness”, vanquishing it instantly and permanently.

Whether we are doing Vajrasattva purification or the 35 Confession Buddhas practice, we feel their purity flooding into us, we don’t hold back. Our negativity doesn’t exist from its own side – like everything else, it is mere aspect of mind. Purify the mind by mixing it with the extraordinary bliss and wisdom of enlightened beings and where’s that negativity going to go? Nowhere, is where — it disappears, because it is only appearance to mind.

karma 2Build some purification practice into our daily lives, therefore, and we can relax — as Gen-la Khyenrab also said the other day. And it doesn’t have to take long, especially if you are convinced it is working. How long does it take to switch the lights on?

I believe there is nothing that a well-aimed Vajrasattva mantra cannot purify.

We don’t talk about the subconscious in Buddhism but we do talk about subtle and very subtle levels of mind and, even if we can’t yet reach these directly ourselves, the Buddhas certainly can as, in fact, this is their abode, their being. It’s where they hang out. Kind of fun to hang out with them, don’t you think?!

Good purification is like having a massive spring clean of the mind, it feels amazing, uplifting. We feel that we can do anything now, for the slate is clear, today is a brand new day.

Over to you! Comments and queries on purification practice are welcome.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

34 thoughts on “What is purification practice?”

  1. Hi Luna,

    Excellent article! What do you mean by : ‘for the inner demons who do not come out into the open, or at least only in such shadowy ways that we cannot properly identify them’ … do you mean our delusions that are not manifest at a particular time? or do you mean our negative karma that has not rippened yet?
    I have a hard time understanding the relationship between negative karma, delusions, bad mental habits and so forth (and their distinction)… I remember Geshe-la explained about the 4 types of karma in Joyful Path of Good Fortune, one of them is: a type of karma that makes us inclined to repeat the same action in the future… could that be what we mean when we say: ‘our normal response to things, or our mental habits’? For example, if I often get irritated over insignificant events, should I conclude that I have a lot of anger to purify? I guess so. That’s very helpful to understand, on a practical level, what we need to purify. It has to be concrete, not too abstract, because otherwise it won’t work, just as lodjong.

    I like how you explain about purification practice helping to purify stuff that we are’nt even aware off… because I have always asked myself how is it possible to purify things I did in previous life (since I obviously don’t remember). I really want to purify all my negative karma but most of it is hidden so it’s so hard for me to develop sincere regret for things that I’m not aware of! Should I use my day to day responses to things as a mirror ? And my day to day experiences as well? Like, for example, if someone is rude to me, that means I have been rude to others, and so forth? Like an indicator that tells me what I need to purify ? How can I ground purification practices in my day to day life when things are actually going well? (because since I’ve been relying upon Je Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden, things are going pretty good for me)… Sorry for all these questions and thank you for your work to help practitioners. We deeply appreciate it.

  2. Have had marvelous experiences with purification especially thankful to Gen Tharchin taking time to help me with the Four Opponent Powers. But purification can bring up things to the surface, had to stop several times ten years ago as all of a sudden surrounded by a lot of death, many around me started dying or suffering, I would stop and it would lessen , glad purified some of that, we have so much negative karma, but purification is not always a picnic. It is important for trauma survivors to have emotional support, especially when returning to the practice, try to stay to the positive parts but the shadowy parts of the mind are tricky,. But wonderful once in the swing of staying on top of and lessening negativity not only for ourselves but breathing in the Pam of our communities to bring light and joy.

  3. Thank you Luna, I found it helpful & inspiring to be reminded about purification. I feel encouraged to incorporate it in my daily life by relating it to the things that are affecting me right now. What a practical, helpful idea. 😊

    1. Usually it is from life to life, but Geshe Kelsang says there are times when karma ripens later in the same lifetime.

      Also, our actions in this life will help determine which karma ripens.

  4. Just what I needed to read today,thank you,Luna.Time for good clean up !xxxx

  5. 😊 Would you recommend to do the Vajrasattva purification practice in the newest book as a stand alone practice without preliminaries? Thanks for all effort and kindness to give Dharma. /Peter

  6. Thanks for this article! It’s especially nice for those of us who can’t make Gen-la Khyenrab’s teachings.

  7. Hello. Thanks for this article!

    In 35 Confession Buddhas practice after the power of regret, you visualize all of your non-virtuous potentialities being purified like a light switch being turned on ( you described it like spring cleaning). Is that moment similar to say a taking meditation, where you believe that you’ve taken away everyone’s suffering and through imagination you gradually bring it into reality? Meaning the spring cleaning is a gradual process?

    Also, if for example you lied to someone, then immediately (or shortly thereafter) developed regret, refuge and bodhichitta, applied an opponent force, and made a promise, could you purify on the fly very quickly?


    1. Yes, it is similar — and how long each one takes to fully work depend largely on the power of our conviction (or faith and imputation). With taking you are creating the cause for this to happen through growing your compassion so that it becomes the compassion of a Buddha able to free others; and with purification you are destroying aeons of negativity through your conviction in the power of blessings/Buddha’s completely purified mind to purify your own mind.

      You can certainly purify on the fly! The sooner the better, really.

  8. Beautiful! Thank you thank you

    It seems to me that there is more of a ‘risk’ when I go with the idea of purification being effective, because this ‘risk’ is so fundamentally challenging to my self cherishing ‘unworthy self’

    I’ve struggled with my ‘unworthy self’ until (to ref. Franco;)) ‘exhausted by my elaborations’, I decided that rather than keep trying to let go of someone’s negative words (which unsurprisingly led to more focus on said words!) I would instead ‘have to’ repeat an equal number of someone’s positive words!. At first it was very weird and awkward, but the more playful I was, the more free I became from identifying with either!

    I decided to apply this to my purification practice, so that when my niggly mind would started chewing at me, (questioning the effectiveness of my purification), I was to simply ask myself: “but what if it is (effective)?!!”
    – No pushing, no forcing, just an allowing of the possibility of effective purification to ‘seep in’ and take over 😉

    Thanks lovely Luna!

    1. Yes, I like that, just allowing the possibility allows the blessings to flow, at which point we can see for ourselves that it works.

  9. Thank you Luna. SUBLIME!

    This comes to mind vis a vis purification:

    “Then the youth of my mind, exhausted by it elaborations,
    Came to rest in the forest hut which is beyond expression.”

    from – “Feast of Great Bliss”

    When I was in college I rarely saw the sun (perhaps only when I went to class) because I preferred nightlife, the dark and all that comes with it. It seemed like a cool and interesting way to live.

    I am glad I survived the “youth of my mind” long enough to see the depth and breadth of its ignorance.

    The darkness of the horror genre is for the youth of mind that is NOT YET exhausted by its elaborations. Wanting to switch the light on is a VERY grown up thing to do.

    Just ask any parent! I guess that’s why we call holy beings Father and Mother.

    1. Beautiful application of that quote!

      (Haha, you’ve reminded me how boring i used to think adults were for turning on all the lights to signal the end of the party … But living in the dark turns out to be a cool, interesting, but ultimately discouraging way to live, unsustainable, as it is, and going nowhere, as it does … 😉 )

  10. Excellent article thanks. Very helpful. I have a question about the promise aspect. I can really relate to your comments about this area and don’t want to make promises I can’t keep. E.g the delusions I am trying to purify seems to arise unbidden. As a result I find myself being move vague with my promises. Such as “I promise to do my very best to stop XYZ delusion.” Is the intention to do our best in such circumstances enough to act as the power of promise? Many thanks for your thoughts and the article.

      1. I agree with Luna but I do think its good to make promises less vague, if you can, or at least that’s what I find works well for myself. I find it works for me to say: I will not do this or that for one day, one hour or something I feel I can do. This sets the boundaries clearly (my mind can be very good at finding ways around a more vague promise) and at the same time it gives confidence if you can then prove to yourself that you can do it. Does that make sense?

        1. Thanks. Very helpful. Some things I think I can be more specific with and others it’s ok to promise as I best as I can. I think as I contemplate it further, the strength of my determination directly relates to my faith in my ability to actually achieve the promise made. Thanks for your kindness.

      2. I think strong bad habits are like addictions and no number of good intentions will help you put down that cigarette or bottle no matter how many promises. That is why refuge practice is essential. In AA they call it (Higher Power, The 12 steps and Meetings) We call it Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Purification follows genuine full hearted refuge. We do and say bad things because it soothes us temporarily. Refuge soothes us permanently, the purification can then happen naturally.

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