Samaya (Skt. for agreement, contract) is established by accepting initiation or empowerment. It is a close bond or reciprocal commitment between the Lama, on behalf of the lineage, and the practitioner. There are various types and degrees of samaya, but all are the very life-force, the prana, of our spiritual cultivation. In Highest Yoga Tantra, it often consists of fourteen root vows; at a minimum, it consists of two vows: to respect and honor the Vajra Teacher and siblings. Often, but not always, samaya entails a specific commitment to perform a certain spiritual practice with regularity.
Samaya is always undertaken voluntarily. One cannot undertake any promises of which one is unaware, or that one is not willing to make. However, just as with any solemn promise, its keeping is essential to our development. Keeping our word is a fundamental observance —more so in spiritual matters than in ordinary life, where it is also indispensable.
It is because of the voluntary nature of Dharma practice, and the understanding of the fragility of ordinary human will in this degenerate age, that Jonang lineage masters are careful not to confer samaya vows that may be beyond the capacity of the practitioners at a particular point in time.
In his kindness, HH Tulku Tashi Gyaltsan Rinpoche, a precious Jonang Master, only requires the basic vows of respect for the Vajra Teacher and the siblings, even when administering the highest Kalachakra empowerment. And these two basic vows are defined simply as “not engaging in thought, speech and deed that may cause harm to the teacher and Vajra brothers and sisters”, rather than as obligations to actively support them.
As we deepen our practice, we may spontaneously grow into the observance of full samaya:
- Honoring and respecting the teacher from whom one received the empowerment.
- Respecting all Dharma teachings.
- Honoring and respecting Vajra brothers and sisters (those who have received empowerment from the same teacher).
- Maintaining loving kindness and compassion for all sentient beings
- Maintaining, in thought and practice, the great purpose to liberate and enlighten all sentient beings.
- Respecting other Dharma traditions.
- Sharing higher teachings prudently, taking into account the development, character, and process of the student.
- Taking proper care of one’s body and mind.
- Remaining ever aware of the three emptinesses.
- Avoiding intimate association with those who have broken their samaya.
- Contemplating the profound teachings.
- Upholding and strengthening the certainty of others in the teachings.
- Observing specific practice commitments undertaken voluntarily.
- Respecting all sentient beings, and especially those who may be regarded by others as inferior.