Tantric vows are reserved for practitioners who have developed the disciplines of the two lower vows of Pratimoksha and Bodhisattva and been of particular keen and sharp faculties are entering the tantric path of the last three yanas, Maha, Anu and Ati tantra.
The objectives of the word of honour or the Tantric vows are to protect the mind from grasping at the concept of inherent existence. This includes all the subtle habitual tendencies arising through the three doors.
The way of enacting the word of honour is to skilfully apply the union of the method of great bliss and the wisdom of emptiness, accomplishing simultaneously the purpose of oneself and others.
The words of honour are only obtained when we receive empowerments from a highly qualified tantric master which marks the start of the practice. The master’s enlightened power causes the disciple’s innate primordial wisdom nature to awaken; this is the actual meaning of the empowerment. This wisdom also present in every being remains hidden like a sun behind the clouds. Using the power of the awakened wisdom, one achieves Buddhahood for the benefit of oneself and others by training in the two stages of the tantra namely; the development stage and the perfection stage. The Samaya or the esoteric precepts are the core of the tantric discipline enabling such awakened wisdom to develop.
Breaking Samaya vows is the heaviest of downfalls. Dudjom Rinpoche compares it with falling from an airplane rather than falling from a horse. There is no way to give up tantric vows except by breaking them and falling. Lord Buddha is quoted as saying;
For those who have impaired Samaya,
The Buddha never said that they could accomplish tantra.
There are numerous precepts to be observed in the tantric vows, the main ones concerning
· The precepts of the twenty-five esoteric activities
· The five Buddha families
· The fourteen root downfalls
· The eight auxiliary downfalls of tantra
In Atiyoga, there are further twenty-seven rootfalls and twenty-five auxiliary precepts.
Praimoksha, bodhisattvas and tantric vows are three paths that converge to the same goal of enlightenment, the lower vows merging into the higher vows. Thus Ngari Penchen in his Perfect Conduct, Ascertaining the Three Vows declares;
By receiving empowerment
All three vows are born simultaneously
As Tibetan Buddhists and tantra practitioners, we must observe the three vows. Longchen Rabjam writes.
With the three unconflicted vows of Sravaka Bodhisattva and Vidyadhara
Tame your mindstream and benefit others.
Many of us who call ourselves dharma practitioners have little true discipline and no realization but like to boast about our wisdom. We do not take proper care to follow the precepts but enjoy indulging in sensual phenomena under the pretext of transmuting everything into the means of training. Some of us do so deliberately for the sake of worldly pleasure others because they are confused by ignorance. Rather than looking at the straw in our friend’s eyes, we should rather behold the beam in our own.