Advice on the Way to Practice the Three Vows

from The Essential Amrita of Profound Meaning: Oral Instructions and Practical Advice Bestowed Upon Fortunate Followers, Eye-opener to What is to be Adopted and Abandoned

by Chokgyur Lingpa

Here follows some advice on the way to practice the three vows
within the mindstream of a single person,
and also the way that given individuals can practice
whichever of the three they aspire to.

There are eight different personal liberation vows in the lesser vehicle.
One should keep whichever of these one can to the best of one’s ability;
this is easy to understand.

For the trainings in the precepts of the bodhisattva,
it was taught by Noble Ācārya Nāgārjuna and others
that the bodhicitta vow can be taken before taking the personal liberation vow.
This is because our Teacher gave this vow to gods, nāgas, and asuras;
in other words he gave it to all beings, regardless of their physical form (the support).

Some say that, if one does not first take the personal liberation vow,
this will obstruct the aspect of the bodhisattva vow that binds faulty conduct.
In my own tradition, however, these two viewpoints are not contradictory:
if the personal liberation vow is taken first, that is indeed excellent,
but if not, it does not contradict the bodhisattva vow.

When we become followers of the victorious one,
we become holders of the threefold refuge and
by forsaking selfish aims we pursue the benefit of others.
Thereby, all harm toward others is naturally avoided.

To practice like that is the perfect discipline.
In general, the lower teachings are contained within the upper.
This is known by all, and there are valid scriptures and reasonings showing just this.

In mantra, as well, to attain the four empowerments one must keep the mantric precepts.
With the samaya of the guru, the embodiment of the Three Supreme Ones,
one becomes the supreme upholder of the threefold refuge.

It may be said that engaging in union is impure conduct (non-celibacy)
and therefore in contradiction with the vows.

However, by not grasping at one’s partner as “mine,”
but seeing him or her as divine,
by realizing one’s partner to be like an illusion,
and by understanding the true nature of the afflictions to be bliss-emptiness,
the act is liberated through skillful means.
This then becomes perfect pure conduct (celibacy), free of attachment and grasping.

Actions that are of direct benefit, like killing Short-Speared One,1
are praised as great deeds, his death an excellent death;
it’s not only compassionate, but an action that elevates one to an exalted state.

Therefore, within the samayas of secret mantra,
the personal liberation and bodhisattva vows are obtained, and through skillful means exalted.
The Vinaya is included within both mantra and bodhisattva teachings.

However, if one were to assume the guise of an actual renunciate
without having obtained in proper ritual the vow of personal liberation,
it is well known that such behavior would be in contravention
of the general discipline of the teachings.

As for alcohol, if consumed beyond measure it makes one heedless
with regards to all three vows.

Therefore it is restricted at all levels. This is an important point.

Written by Chokgyur Lingpa. May it bring auspiciousness!

| Lhasey Lotsawa Translations, 2021.


Source text
  • mChog gyur gling pa, “rJes ’jug skal bzang rnams la bstal pa’i zhal gdams bslab bya nyams len gyi skor spang blang mig ’byed zab don snying gi bdud rtsi.” In mChog gling bka’ ’bum skor. Vol. 36 of mChog gling bde chen zhig po gling pa yi zab gter yid bzhin nor bu’i mdzod chen po, 129-131. Kathmandu, Nepal: Ka-nying Shedrub Ling monastery, 2004.

  1. This is a reference to the story of a ferry captain whose boat was carrying five captain bodhisattvas in the guise of merchants. A robber on board planned to kill everyone and pirate the ship’s cargo. The captain, a bodhisattva himself, saw the man’s murderous intention and realized this crime would result in eons of torment for the murderer. In his compassion, the captain was willing to take hellish torment upon himself by killing the man to prevent karmic suffering that would be infinitely greater than the suffering of the murdered victims. The captain’s compassion was impartial; his motivation was utterly selfless. As told by Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche on ↩︎


Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa

Courtesy of Himalayan Art Resources



sdom pa gsum gyi bslab bya/

Advice on the Way to Practice the Three Vows


Chokgyur Dechen Zhikpo Lingpa


Chokgyur Lingpa gave the following piece of heart advice on the way to practice the three vows within the mindstream of a single person.