Author Topic: What is samaya? What does it mean to break samaya and what is the effect?  (Read 18243 times)


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So what is this word "samaya" really mean and how do one break it.. what does it mean to break "samaya" and what happens to the student(s) who breaks 'em?

Well my understanding is that "samaya" is a spiritual relationship that one takes on with one's spiritual guide. It is actually more sacred then marriage vows.

Here is what I have heard from seniors and do comment or add if any...

Samaya is the spiritual bond, commitment and loyalty between a student and his Guru, or a student and his spiritual community (which could be either ordained or lay). To maintain good, clean samaya is to engage in Dharma practice exactly in accordance with our teacher’s instructions, with the belief and faith that everything the teacher advises us is for the higher benefit of ourselves and many other sentient beings. It is to keep our promises, uphold our words of honor and carry out instructions perfectly.

To break samaya is to go against our words of honour to our Guru or our spiritual community. It is when we are not honest, if we are deceptive or lie in any way, if we do not carry out the instructions of our teacher and do not practice what he has told us to. This collects a huge amount of negative karma because we directly contradict the Dharma teachings (truth) and go against what our holy teachers are telling us to do, which is only ever for the benefit of others. By not following through with the instructions, we are therefore allowing others to continue to suffer – imagine the corresponding karma that comes with that.

Also, while maintaining a pure samaya with our teachers and honoring our words towards him creates merit, it is only logical that doing the opposite creates a kind of demerit, or karma that prevents our positive merit from opening up. When we break samaya, it is like saying that we do not believe or accept the teachings and guidance from our Lama; that we know better. In this case, we create the karma to be separated from the Guru and not to be able to receive the teachings in future.

Dorje Pakmo

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Dear dsiluvu thank you for writing this article.
What I understand about Samaya is that it is a bond between a spiritual guide and his/her disciple. This bond is sealed when one decides and surrenders to his/her Guru to guide, teach and promise to carry out every instruction given by the Guru because only the Guru has the best method to lead one on the path to liberation.  And similarly the Guru decides to take on the responsibilities to teach and guide that particular disciple.

That is how the Samaya between a disciple and a Guru is created. It is more sacred than any marriage vows because if one keeps his/her Samaya clean with the Guru, then one accumulate merits and create the cause to meet and continue one’s journey towards liberation with the same Guru from one lifetime to another. Unlike a marriage which will end during the moment of death and forgotten upon one’s rebirth.

When one surrenders to the teaching of the Guru it’s because one have decided that the Guru with his/her wisdom and knowledge can lead one to spiritual betterment and to free one’s mind from the entrapment of Samsara. The Guru, with his/her skillful methods, out of kindness and compassion will always teach his/her disciples by giving teachings and tasks according to the disciple’s level of mind. The disciple must be very aware that every instruction given is designed by the Guru to improve one’s mind by breaking his/her IGNORANCE, ANGER and ATTACHMENTS.

To break samaya is to go against our words of honour to our Guru or our spiritual community. It is when we are not honest, if we are deceptive or lie in any way, if we do not carry out the instructions of our teacher and do not practice what he has told us to. This collects a huge amount of negative karma because we directly contradict the Dharma teachings (truth) and go against what our holy teachers are telling us to do, which is only ever for the benefit of others. By not following through with the instructions, we are therefore allowing others to continue to suffer – imagine the corresponding karma that comes with that.

Each time, we do exactly according to the Guru’s instructions and keep our promise to our Guru, we actually keep our Samaya clean and collect merits to allow us to stay near to our Guru to receive teachings and enforce our positive behavior. On the other hand if we refuse to follow the Guru’s instructions, to change our negative behavior and keep doubting the Guru’s good intention, then we create demerit and will drift further and further away from the Guru. Every time we break a promise, we drift away from the Guru. When one makes a promise to the Guru and do not fulfill, then each day that promise goes on unfulfilled will continue to generate demerits and negative Karma for one. When the merit runs out and negative Karma is so great, one out of delusion will automatically break away from his/her Guru and no further teachings will be receive. It is also said if one is very close to the Guru but do not appreciate the Gurus teaching and not follow instructions, it will cause one to take rebirth near the Guru again but in a form that can listen to the Dharma but not able to practice. An example will be a dog, bird or fish near the Guru. This is the most terrible thing that can happen to one who has a chance to learn but choose to waste it.

Hence, it is utmost important for one who is very fortunate to have a Guru in this lifetime to abide according the Guru’s teaching and carry out every instructions of the Guru in a joyful manner. For the Guru loves us more than even our own parents because only from the kind Guru we can learn and receive teachings that allow us to have attainments in all of our very fortunate but short and fragile human life.         


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Breaking Samaya

Engaging in a serious practice is like setting up a long-running experiment in a high-powered scientific facility. In order to run those experiments over that period of time, you're going to need a lot of power. Due to your special needs, you may need to request a 30-year power contract where you're going to be guaranteed delivery of the necessary utilities.

If the project succeeds, you will easily repay your debt, thanks to the overwhelming rewards of your experiment. If you break your contract or do not repay your debt, you will not only be in danger of being "repo'ed", but your teacher will be asked to compensate for the lost investment as well, with power allotment being taken from him or her, decreasing their ability to do their own projects and subsidize those of other students. Additionally, the power to continue your own experiments will be withdrawn and you will no longer be able to continue.

Bringing this back to dharma... when we do things like any of the following (and don't repair the broken samaya immediately):
break a promise to the lama
fail to fulfill our practice obligations
say bad things about fellow sangha members, or in general
abandon any aspect of the bodhisattva's path
we are preventing our teacher from accomplishing their goals. We are breaking contracts and, in a sense, stealing power away from them (and ourselves), inhibiting their ability to benefit more students, or to even accomplish their own goals.

Keeping Samaya

A student who has taken refuge in the inner, outer, secret, and extremely secret three jewels, who continuously takes refuge, reflects on the Four Turnings, the Four Immeasurables, and generates bodhicitta, will have unshakable devotion in their teacher. If there is anything that can cause us to doubt the lama, then we haven't properly reflected on the preciousness of human life, impermanence, the inexorable law of cause and result, or the nature of suffering.

(This also really makes it clear why it's so important for us to evaluate a potential teacher properly and over the course of several years... we're handing this person an enormous offering, our complete trust; if they are not realized, this could very easily end in disaster.)

Those who do reflect on this constantly, and with deep understanding, will fully appreciate the inestimable value of their teacher. With the proper stability of devotion, this appreciation will continue unwaveringly even in the excruciating existential pain of the lama cutting through our ego-clinging. We will follow their advice and instruction at the risk of losing our own lives. What's more, we will need that strength; experiencing their ultimate compassion will feel like us losing our lives.

A student like this will not break his or her samaya. They will not endanger their teacher's life (current or future), and will not be the cause for them to have limited accomplishments

Tenzin K

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Samayas or commitments are essential in that they aid the practitioner in refraining from mistakes which, if engaged in, would damage his or her practice and thus counteract progress on the path.
Samayas are different depending on the particular level upon which their respective teachings are given. Commitments taught in the context of Theravada, vinaya, are different from those recommended in Mahayana. The samayas of Mahayana in general are again different from those involved in tantric practice. Within Vajrayana, samayas are also distinct according to their respective levels, Kriya-, Charya-, Yoga- and Annuttarayogatantra.
In order to practice the path, which involves various samayas, it is necessary to rely on a lama who should be qualified in the following:
- Learned in Sutrayana and Tantrayana and skilful in teaching
- Experience in meditation practice.
These two qualities which are described in many tantras are essential with respect to Tantrayana. In Sutrayana as well both should be united.
The following 14 major mistakes refer to actions which damage ones practice entirely. Therefore they are also named the 14 rootdownfalls. These are presented according to the Annuttarayogatantra, in specific, the Tantra of the red Avalokiteshvara (Gyalwa Gyamtso).

The 14 major mistakes by which one breaks the vajrayana samayas :

1. To Physically or Verbally Harmones Vajra-Master or to Entertain Wrong Views of Him:
The vajra-master is that specific lama from whom the practitioner receives empowerments, explanations on the Vajrayana meditation practice and essential instructions concerning the actual meaning of that practice.

The following concerns background explanation regarding the breaking of samaya by means of harming the vajra-master: With respect to Vajrayana practice, especially in the Annuttarayogatantra, the outer world including sentient beings is transformed into a pure aspect. The lama is considered as the centre or main yidam, deity of the mandala. Causing harm to the lama will therefore damage the main yidam deity which will furthermore negatively effect the remaining mandala.

The samaya is broken when the following conditions are present:
- one is fully aware of a lama to be his or her vajra-master and consciously physically or verbally harms this person
- awareness that ones actions will displease the vajra-master
- feeling no regret after having harmed the vajra-master

In one entertains wrong views concerning the lama and furthermore has the intention to harm him without physically or verbally hurting him, the samaya is not broken completely but damaged.

The samaya is considered to be of a small, an average or of a great extent depending on the strength of the relationship of the student to the vajra-master. From among the three aspects of the Vajrayana relationship (empowerment, explanations and essential instructions) if only empowerment is received, the samaya will be of a small degree. If a combination of two of these three aspects is received, the samaya will be of an average degree and if all three aspects are involved, the samaya is of the greatest degree. Accordingly a broken samaya is graded into small, average and great.

2. To Oppose the Teachings of the Buddha:
Certain teachings of the Buddha may be disliked by a practitioner. It is acceptable to disregard those teachings which do not seem suitable to an individual. However, the Vajrayana samaya will be broken if one opposes these particular teachings. An example of an opposition against the Buddha's word means for instance to slander certain segments of his teachings such as abusing the Theravada or Mahayana.

3. To Have Strong Negative Emotions with Other Sentient Beings:
This refers to negative tendencies such as anger or jealousy which one generally extends to sentient beings. Secondly the samaya is broken if one projects anger against those who have taken the refuge and bodhisattva vow. Thirdly the samaya is broken if hatred, jealousy etc. are projected towards those on the Vajrayana path, especially when one belongs to the same spiritual community, the same mandala or has received empowerments, explanations and essential instructions together.
In order to purify clinging to the outer world, the notion of the world reflecting a pure mandala of a specific yidam-deity, is generated. In order to purify ones clinging to sentient beings one visualizes them as yidam-deities. A sincere relationship among those practitioners who share this mutual vision is therefore established. This close relationship is known as vajra-relatives. Projecting negative tendencies against vajra-relatives would damage this bond and have a destructive influence on ones practice. For this reason one should refrain from selfish anger, jealousy and in general fighting with one another.

4. To Abandon the Attitude of Loving Kindness:
After having generated the bodhicitta attitude, the samaya is broken if the attitude of loving kindness and compassion towards all sentient beings is abandoned. Furthermore the samaya is broken if a sudden negative emotion leads to rejection of an individual, therefore excluding him or her from ones wish to benefit all sentient beings. If one does not regret this attitude, this contributes as well to a broken samaya.

5. To Go Astray in Ones Clinging to Sexual Bliss and to Abandon Bodhicitta:
In the developmental phase of the Vajrayana path, the practitioner identifies with the body of the yidam-deity. This is a method to overcome the clinging to the ordinary body. The biological potential for birth is the ejaculation of the bindhu. In order to overcome the habitual tendencies relating to the bindhu, the Vajrayana meditation involves generating the seed syllable of a yidam-deity from which the yidam then manifests.
Meditation techniques of highly advanced practitioners of Vajrayana involve sexual excitement as a method. The meditative experience is increased by realisation of the inseparability of sexual bliss and emptiness. This level of practice, however, is applicable only when the attachment to sexual excitement is overcome.
Monks break their vinaya vows and the Vajrayana samaya if they were to use these techniques improperly out of attachment to sexual satisfaction. Lay people break their Vajrayana samaya if they misuse these methods, pretending to be a practitioner on this level without full knowledge of their proper application.

6. Abusing Other Traditions with the Motivation of Gaining More Respect for Oneself:
An individual who asserts himself to be a Vajrayana practitioner and criticizes other traditions such as Theravada, Mahayana, Christianity or Hinduism, often possesses the mistaken motivation of simply drawing attention towards himself.
Criticising the Sutrayana is especially negative due to the fact that Tantra is based on Sutra. Criticising in particular the teachings of the Prajnaparamita and of Madhyamaka is even more harmful in that these constitute the very essence of Tantra practice. This behaviour therefore contributes to the breaking of samayas.
It is fully accepted and has no relation to the breaking of the samayas if criticism with a positive intention is formulated in order to clarify each others viewpoints.

7. To Reveal Secrets to Those who are Not Spiritually Mature:
If one describes the meaning of great bliss as taught in Vajrayana to individuals who do not possess the required educational background, they might misunderstand and abuse these teachings. This will contribute to the breaking of the samaya.

8. To Harm the Human Body:
The human body is the support for dharma practice, the basis upon which realization of the two buddhakayas is attained. With respect to Vajrayana the human body is considered to be an important instrument on the path. Therefore exposing the body to extreme conditions such as whipping, burning or destroying it by suicide, contributes to the breaking of the samaya.
At the same time, one should not assume the opposite extreme of adorning ones body and regarding it to be more important than it is.

9. Having Doubts Regarding the Absolute Truth:
This refers to an incomplete understanding of the meaning of Madhyamaka. Clinging to mere emptiness without comprehension of the relative truth contributes to the breaking of the samaya. This point also involves doubts concerning whether sentient beings can attain buddhahood. Furthermore it includes mistrust of the potential wisdom in the mind of all sentient beings. It also refers to doubts concerning the non-conceptual state of mind and the perfect wisdom of a Buddha.

10. To Refrain from Forceful Activity when Needed:
Sometimes it is not possible to overcome destructive influences due to negative energies by applying peaceful methods only. Of course, in terms of benefiting sentient beings, a mind of loving kindness and compassion should always be present. The activities required to quell any particular situation must be specifically ascertained and the corresponding methods applied. Forceful methods should be applied when its is the only means to prevent individuals from committing negative actions which harm themselves and others. If one refrains from forceful activity when it is needed, especially if one has the capacity to perform in such a manner, this contributes to the breaking of the samaya.
In pretending to overcome negative influences and in using this point as an excuse, one carries out certain rituals which cause harm to others, is a total misunderstanding and misuse of forceful means.

11. Doubts Regarding the Meaning of Suchness:
This refers to individuals who are unable to comprehend the true nature of phenomena and merely conceptualize on the nature of phenomena. To entertain doubts as to the true nature of all phenomena involves the breaking of the samaya.

12. To Annoy Sentient Beings:
This refers to irritating other beings out of self concern, especially to annoy or distract individuals who are practicing the dharma. Due to jealousy, abusing yogis who demonstrate various unconventional practices, also contributes to the breaking of the samaya.
13. To Refrain from Certain Behaviour when Appropriate:
During specific occasions the Vajrayana master, who should be a highly qualified teacher, will require that the student carries out certain practices such as secretly eating the 5 types of meat, drinking the 5 kinds of nectar and dancing nakedly. This is requested in order to test whether or not conventional concepts are relinquished. If, due to moral tendencies, one hesitates or refrains from carrying out these rituals, this contributes to the breaking of the samaya.

14. To Abuse Women:
Within Vajrayana women are considered to be the embodiment of wisdom. Regarding women as inferior or abusing them as witnessed in certain cultures, contributes to the breaking of the samaya.
Breaking one or a number of these 14 points requires purification within a short period of time. The most optimal is to purify this difficulty within one day. From among the various practices offered, an effective and simple method concerns the meditation and recitation of Vajrasattva. This practice involves the flow of nectar throughout the body by which all defilements and broken commitments will be purified. Due to conscious and unconscious reasons one often breaks the samayas. It is therefore recommended to apply this practice at least once or twice a day.


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Samaya is a connection that has been established between a Guru and a disciple. The establishment of this connection gives the disciple the opportunity to cultivate faith and devotion for their guru.

From the side of the guru, the establishment of samaya with a disciple gives that guru the ability to effectively care for that disciple, to guide them, instruct them, advise them, and so on, starting with the administration of the vow of refuge and up to that disciple’s Enlightenment. So the idea of samaya is a long-lasting, continuous connection. A disciple needs to study the 50 stanzas of Guru Devotion and never disregard the Guru’s advice.

When we keep our samaya clean, we collect the merits to be near our Guru and receive his Teachings. If we break our samaya, we must repair that broken samaya as breaking samaya is a serious negative karma. According to Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, there are four increasing stages in which one's samaya may be damaged: "infraction, breach, violation, and complete break". Once damaged, samaya may be repaired. But if it is left without repair for more than three years, it is not repairable.

To repair samaya a practitioner may restore mindfulness and awareness of sacred view; confess the violation to one’s Guru; recite the one hundred syllable mantra (Vajrasattva mantra); or use other methods determined by one’s guru.


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Samayas or commitments are essential in that they aid the practitioner in refraining from mistakes which, if engaged in, would damage his or her practice and thus counteract progress on the path.

Samayas are different depending on the particular level upon which their respective teachings are given. Commitments taught in the context of Theravada, vinaya, are different from those recommended in Mahayana. The samayas of Mahayana in general are again different from those involved in tantric practice. Within Vajrayana, samayas are also distinct according to their respective levels, Kriya-, Charya-, Yoga- and Annuttarayogatantra.


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Anyone care to explain how to effectively bridge the samaya back and cleanse of such defilement?

Tenzin K

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Dear lightning,

Below are what I found from Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche:

There are four power of remedy to purify damaged samayas.

The first is the power of support. At best it means to bring to mind the vivid presence of all the one hundred peaceful and wrathful deities. But, since all the hundred families are embodied in the single Buddha, Vajrasattva, it is permissible to simply visualize Vajrasattva above the crown of one’s head. To visualize either of these is called the power of the support.

Next is the power of the applied antidote which is like taking soap and water and washing our hands. The applied remedy is the practice of imagining the white syllable HUNG surrounded by the one hundred syllables in the heart center of Vajrasattva. From the mantra encircling the HUNG in the heart center, light radiates into all directions, making offerings to the buddhas and bodhisattvas. It also shines out to all sentient beings, purifying their veils and misdeeds. When this light is gathered back the nectar comes out through his big toe and enters through the crown of one’s head. This elixir of the wisdom slowly purifies all of one’s negative actions, veils, sickness and evil influences. These leave the body through the lower openings. One should imagine the earth cracks open the below to a depth of nine stories, where the Lord of Death and all his henchmen are standing waiting with open mouths. The greatly appreciate all the soot, pus and poisonous insects coming down, entering their gaping mouths and satisfying them, after which they too generate bodhichitta. Following that all one’s karmic debts are cleared. To do the recitation, tp imagine the negativity pouring down and to be purified by the nectar is the second of the four powers called the power of the applied antidote.

The third, which is also really important is the power of remorse. To go through the steps of the Vajrasattva practice without sincere remorse does not really purify our past negative actions. Honestly, a training in pretense is not affective. We must truly have a deep regret for the misdeeds we can remember, as well as feel remorse for what we cannot remember. We have had plenty of past lives and the tendencies or karmic imprints of all our actions are still embedded in the all ground consciousness right now. The Buddha has said that if we were to take the whole world and grind it into small pellets the size of a juniper berry, we could count those pellets, but we could not count how many lifetimes we have had. Thisexample is used for developing bodhichitta, to illustrate how many mothers we have had in past lives. Just as we have had innumerable mothers, we have had countless lives and all the negative actions we performed in those lives are latently present as habitual tendencies. Vajrasattva practice can purify all these latent tendencies for negative actions but only if we have true remorse.

The most revere types of negative actions are known as the five actions with immediate results, meaning that the person who has committed any one of them goes straight to hell after death, without even passing through a bardo state. These five actions are to kill an arhats, one’s father or one’s mothers, to cause blood to flow from a buddha’s body with evil intent and to create a schism in the noble Sangha. But even the karma of such evil acts can be purified by calling upon the peaceful and wrathful deities or Buddha Vajrasattva in a gathering of one hundred practitioners of Vajrayana. One strips off all one’s clothes and with a loud voice proclaims the misdeed to everyone present and to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, saying, “In the whole world there is no one as evil as me. I have done such and such. Mau al the buddhas have pity on me! All you yogis and yoginis please help me by chanting the undred Syllable mantra!” Then one chants the Hundred Syllabe mantra one hundred times while doing full prostration, naked. Even the most server negative action is purified by doing this. But, it is crucial to feel remorse.

The last of the four powers is the power of the resolve, meaning to decide definitely that even at the cost of one’s life one will not engage in certain negative action again.
When one has developed these four powers, just a single session of chanting the Hundred Syllable mantra one hundred times can totally purify one’s negative karma, although it may be as hughe as Mount Sumeru.