Six Session Guru Yoga


In the Gelug tradition, the Six Session Guru Yoga prayer is a daily commitment for Highest Yoga Tantra initiates (e.g., Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, Vajrayogini and others).  It is a beautiful, moving practice that helps us recollect our bodhisattva and tantric vows including the pledges to the Five Buddha Families and Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion.

Morality is the foundation of the Buddhist path. Reciting the vows six times per day, helps us live mindfully in accordance with them. Sermey Khensur Rinpoche Losang Tharchin in his seminal work Six Session Guru Yoga says that by simply practicing perfect morality, we can attain Enlightenment in sixteen lifetimes without even engaging in the generation and completion stages of Highest Yoga Tantra.

Guru devotion — viewing the spiritual teacher as the Buddha — is a core Buddhist practice. By chanting the Six Session Guru prayer, we make offerings of speech as well as visualized offerings to the guru. We seek his blessings so we may become Enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings. Through their boundless compassion, Buddhas intentionally take birth in the Desire Realm in a way that we can see them. As our teachers, they  teach us the holy Dharma and offer us  knowledge, inspiration and blessings. They give us opportunities to practice generosity, patience and morality in the best possible way.

Is Highest Yoga Tantra right for you?

Whether or not to take a Highest Yoga tantra initiation is a serious decision not only because of the daily time commitment, but more importantly, the negative karmic consequences of not maintaining the practice. A Highest Yoga Tantra practice is a lifelong commitment.

Ideally, you should consult your spiritual teacher before making the decision. In the Tibetan monasteries, students primarily take initiations that their teachers recommend for them, they don’t go shopping for initiations the way we tend to in the West.

In my humble opinion, you are ready for taking an initiation if:

  • you are comfortable with guru devotion — ideally, you  have a spiritual teacher, or actively pray to find one;
  • you have a deep-rooted faith and sense of refuge in the Triple Gem;
  • although this is not a requirement, it would be helpful if you have a consistent, daily meditation practice centered around a tantric practice (such as Medicine Buddha, Tara, Amitayus etc. ) which is a source of joy and stability;
  • you welcome the security and structure that living a life in accordance with the vows provides;

How Long Does the Practice Take?
In my experience, it takes at least 20 -30 minutes to chant the prayer three times and that’s without extensive meditation. Fortunately, Tibetans being very practical, there is a short version of the prayer, it’s just a few verses. I found it helpful to memorize the short one, and that way, I can chant it as I go about my day and then formally do the longer version either in the morning or at night. The short version is convenient, but it doesn’t list the individual vows. The best way to do the practice is six times per day, but twice per day (three recitations, twice per day) is also good.

For More Information about the Six Session Guru Yoga Practice

Sermey Khensur Rinpoche Losang Tharchin Six Session Guru Yoga published by the Mahayana Sutra & Tantra Press

Lama Zopa Rinpoche Commentary on Six Session Guru Yoga available from the FPMT Shop

Gelek Rinpoche Six Session Guru Yoga transcript available from Jewel Heart

Alexander Berzin Commentary on an Extensive Six Session Yoga audio and transcript

How do you remember to chant the six session guru yoga prayer though out the day? What does the practice mean to you?

(updated January 2017)

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16 thoughts on “Six Session Guru Yoga

  1. I AM KEEN TO LEARN TANTRA. WISH TO LEARN A TO Z ABOUT TANTRA.

    CAN U PLEASE SUGGEST ME SOME CONTACT NEAR DELHI(INDIA)

    REGARDS.

    • Hi Sunny, that’s a big question! In order to prepare for tantric studies, you need a strong background in the Buddhist sutras, otherwise it won’t make any sense and might even do more harm than good! Not trying to discourage you, just passing along the advice from my teachers. A good book to start with, Lama Yeshe, “Introduction to Tantra” published by Wisdom Publications.

  2. Namaste,
    I’ve just received 1st part (male aspect) of White Manjusri initiation from a Nyingmapa high lama not long ago. But I missed the understanding on how to practice daily. Could you compassionately explain it to me?
    Now, I simply recite the mantra 21 times a day.
    Sarva manggalam.

    • Ideally, you should speak with the lama who conferred the initiation for his suggestions on how to do the daily practice, or to another student who was at the initiation. Each lama has his/her own way of instruction. Also, this is a Gelukpa Center. Best wishes, ~ tendrol

  3. I took the YAMANTAKA Solitary Hero initiation about 6 month ago. I LOVE this practice and will go to California in May to take it again from HH.
    At the beginning I had the text of Six Session Guru Yoga and the brief practice) with me all the time (not the “very brief version, but the regular brief one) and had malas in every possible place ( like the glove compartment of my car,etc) . Just so that I would never stand a chance to miss my practice no matter what.
    As time went by all I have is the mala around my wrist and another in key places just in case.
    But , after a few month the practice becomes second nature.
    It’s wonderful.

    Stay with it.

    Sil

  4. Awesome blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any user discussion forums
    that cover the same topics talked about in this article?

    I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get suggestions from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Appreciate it!

    • Thanks! If you’ve taken a higher yoga tantric initiation, you might see if there’s a discussion forum for the practice. For example, there’s a Kalachakra group. You might be able to ask questions about the Six Session Guru yoga in that setting. I don’t know of a forum dedicated only to Six Session guru yoga, but I haven’t looked. If you find one, please post it here. Best wishes, tendrol

  5. Hello, Firstly thank you so much for this wonderful and inspiring blog!

    I´ve practiced Mahayana buddhism for five years and I´m now interested in to start practice Tantra/Vajrayana. I live in Sweden and my family situation makes it difficult for me at the the moment to travel to an other country to receive transmission/empowerment in tantra.

    Sometimes Lamas visit Sweden and give empowerments. What is your recommendation: where should I start? What deity should I start with ?

    Thank you so much in advance.

    Best regards,
    Fredrik

    • Dear Fredrik,

      Greetings and thanks for your comment. I’m happy to hear that you have been studying Buddhism for five years already. I hope that there is a Dharma study group or Center nearby to support your practice.

      By way of replying to your question, I wonder if you have taken refuge vows formally with a lama? Do you feel ready to take the bodhisattva vows (this is the mainstay of tantric practice)? And are you drawn to a particular school of Tibetan Buddhism – Sakya, Gelugpa, Nyingma, Kagyu? They are all equally terrific, however, as beginners, it is wiser for us to start by studying and practicing one lineage consistently. This is particularly true when it comes to tantra. When you receive a tantric empowerment, you are taking the lama who confers the empowerment as your guru, so that’s a very important consideration. It’s a good idea to learn as much as possible about the lama before making a decision. Also, there’s often a daily practice commitment which you would want to continue for the rest of your life to the best of your ability.

      Ideally, you would meet with the visiting lama and get to know him or her on a personal level and then seek his advice. In general, I think it’s safe to say that most people start with deities such as Medicine Buddha, Tara, or Chenrezig rather than one of the Highest Yoga tantra deities (Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja, etc.).You may feel a connection to a particular deity. Each of the Buddhas embody the qualities of wisdom and compassion that we seek to perfect in ourselves.

      Here’s a blog post about choosing your yidam that I wrote 6 years ago that might be a little helpful.

      I hope that any obstacles to your Dharma practice quickly disappear and that you make swift progress on the path to Enlightenment,
      Losang Tendrol

      Resources: Lama Yeshe. Introduction to Tantra. Wisdom Publications.
      Alexander Berzin. What is Tantra?

      • Hello again,
        Sorry, I made a misprint in my earlier reply. I should be:
        “I spoke to buddhist teacher who said that I shouldn’t be too concerened about into which school I recieve initiations…”

        Thank you so much again.

        Best regards,
        Fredrik

  6. Hi again,
    A sincere thank you so much for your answer!
    I’ve taken Refuge and the Five lay precepts in 2014 for Geshe Pema Dorjee (Gelug). I practice mainly within this school, but also have an interest for Nyingma and Dzogchen.
    I’ve taken the Bodhisattva Vows 2016 together in a group led by a buddhist teacher before the Three Jewels, but have not recieved them from a qualified Lama.
    Often, it can be far in-between when the same Lama is visiting Sweden. So to get to know the Lama on a personal level can be quite tricky.
    I spoke to a buddhist teacher who said that he thought I should be to conserned into which school I recieve initations from because of my interest for Vajrayana and because of the difficulty in waiting for a Lama to vidit from a particular school. The main think, he sai, should me that I’m aware of which school and of daily commitments.
    What’s your opinion on this?
    Also, how can I know the daily commitments before an initiation/empowerment?
    I will read your link about choosing yidam.

    Thank you again in advance!

    Warmest regards,
    Fredrik

    • Hi Fredrik, here in the U.S., we face the same challenge — visits from high Lamas tend to be few and far between. That being said, there are usually opportunities to help out during their visits and that’s one way to get to know the lamas and to offer service. It may take some planning, relationship building with Dharma Centers and effort to make this happen. But it’s not impossible. Maybe you can start a Dharma study group if you’re not located near one?

      Anyway, to answer your question — I don’t think there’s any hurry to take an empowerment. Learn whatever you can about the lama and his/her lineage so you feel comfortable making the commitment to taking the lama as your guru. Know enough about the lineage/school so you know what you’re upholding through taking the empowerment. The same holds true for choosing the deity, of course. Does that make sense? The more you know, the more comfortable you’ll be and the more meaningful the empowerment.

      Regarding the daily commitment, if it’s a Highest Yoga tantra empowerment, you will most likely be doing the Six Session guru yoga prayer in addition to a sadhana practice. At least that’s the case in the Gelug tradition. For the other deity empowerments, you might make a commitment to recite the deity’s mantra a certain number of times. Many lamas leave it up to the student to decide what’s feasible. Before the empowerment, you might be able to ask the lama or the lama’s attendant, or even the host/organizer if there’s a required daily practice requirement. If you don’t maintain the commitment, you break the samaya with the guru and the connection with the deity.

      In general, it’s helpful to say many aspirational prayers – prayers to find and be guided on the path to Enlightenment by a spiritual friend. Sincere prayers to practice tantra purely and so forth. This will help overcome any obstacles that might be preventing you from being able to develop a close connection with a lama.

      Well, this is just my two cents, I doubt it’s of any value.

      May all your Dharma prayers come true,

      Tendrol

  7. Hi again,
    Thank you so much Venerable Tendrol for your answers and for your patience with me.
    For me, your answers are the most precious.
    I hope it’s ok that I have these three last questions?

    1) When doing purification with the Four Opponent Powers using diety practice, Vajrasattva is said to be a very profound choice. If a person for example only has Araya Tara or Amithaba Buddha empowerment and is using the practice together with the Four Opponent Powers, does it purify as much as if the person had the Vajrasattva empowerment and uses Vajrasattva instead ?
    Is it more benificial to have empowerments in several dieties?

    2) Yes, I’ve read about the Six Session Guru Yoga practice in Highest Yoga tantra.
    But in Je Tsongkhapa’s “The Foundation of all good qualities” he states: “Having realized the significance of the two stages,
    ( i.e Generation stage and Completion stage of Highest Yoga tantra) which are the essence of the tantric path, may I steadfastly practice without laziness the four sessions of yoga..”
    – What does Je Tsongkhapa mean with four sessions of yoga ?

    3)If a person has recieved a Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment, let’s say Yamantaka or Kalachackra but does not have a lower tantra empowerment, is there a need for that person to recieve a Vajrasattva empowerment or any of the lower tantras for practice or purification ?

    Thank you in advance, and thank you again for your wishes regarding my Dharma practice.

    All the best to you Venerable Tendrol.

    Warmest regards,
    Fredrik

    • Hi Fredrik, sorry for the delay in responding to your detailed questions. I asked a good friend, Linda Merle, to respond. She’s a student of Khensur Rinpoche Losang Tsephel of Gaden Jangtse monastery and also my teacher, Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche Losang Jampa and a seasoned Vajrayana practitioner.

      1) When doing purification with the Four Opponent Powers using diety practice, Vajrasattva is said to be a very profound choice. If a person for example only has Araya Tara or Amithaba Buddha empowerment and is using the practice together with the Four Opponent Powers, does it purify as much as if the person had the Vajrasattva empowerment and uses Vajrasattva instead ?

      Answer: The various Buddhas manifest with special powers or skills based on the prayers they made before attaining enlightenment. Amitabha’s sutras talk about his prayers and his role of providing a pure land that is accessible to non-aryas. Vajrasattva’s specialty is purification, especially those associated with purifying broken samaya. Therefore he is very beneficial for practitioners of highest yoga tantra as realizations are blocked by broken samaya. So generally speaking the various Buddhas all purify but Vajrasattva specifically is important to practice for certain types of persons who want to attain certain types of realizations.

      2) Is it more benificial to have empowerments in several dieties?

      Answer: It depends on your karma. It makes no sense to take empowerments and to not not do the practice. Receiving an empowerment is not like receiving the sacrament of communion, for example, where getting it is the goal. The purpose of an empowerment is to give you permission to do the practice. While some blessing is conferred by getting the empowerment, you have to do the practice to really benefit. The various deities each have their own specialty. If you have a problem with fear you would want to practice Tara. If you want to increase your intelligence, then Manjushri or Je Tsongkhapa is your choice.

      However if you receive an empowerment and receive a commitment to do a practice or even a retreat (a commitment of doing a retreat is often given when you receive a commentary, though), if you don’t do it this is not a blessing. This is broken samaya. So you want to watch what you receive.

      Furthermore each Tibetan lineage practices a certain set of deities. If you feel close to a certain lineage you should seek out its important empowerments. Otherwise you may end up confused, overburdened with commitments, or still needing to get more empowerments. They all practice Tara and Chenresig.

      2) Yes, I’ve read about the Six Session Guru Yoga practice in Highest Yoga tantra.
      But in Je Tsongkhapa’s “The Foundation of all good qualities” he states: “Having realized the significance of the two stages,
      ( i.e Generation stage and Completion stage of Highest Yoga tantra) which are the essence of the tantric path, may I steadfastly practice without laziness the four sessions of yoga..”
      – What does Je Tsongkhapa mean with four sessions of yoga ?

      Answer: When you do a retreat you have four sessions: one in the early morning, one after breakfast, one after lunch, and one in the evening.

      3) If a person has recieved a Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment, let’s say Yamantaka or Kalachackra but does not have a lower tantra empowerment, is there a need for that person to recieve a Vajrasattva empowerment or any of the lower tantras for practice or purification ?

      Answer: Yes. You need to receive the specific empowerment to practice a specific deity. To clarify, the type of deity practice that requires an empowerment is the part where you visualize yourself as the deity. Usually you don’t need one to visualize the deity in front of you and to make prayers to him or her.

      If you feel attracted to a certain deity it probably means you have had a relationship with that deity so maybe it’s good to ask your teacher to give an empowerment. You can request a Vajrasattva empowerment and some teachings if you are considering doing highest yoga tantra. As you advance in highest yoga tantra Vajrasattva becomes MORE important, not less.

      And (from me) here are two more resources: The Main Features of Tantra, Alexander Berzin

      Intro to Tantra Teaching, Lama Yeshe

      There are certain practices such as Vajrasattva, Medicine Buddha, Tara, Chenrezig and others that you can do without the empowerment (non-Highest Yoga tantra). The practice texts (sadhanas) are readily available from sources such as FPMT.org You probably know that already. Anyway, with a sincere bodhicitta motivation, you can start doing these practices. That would give you a sense of which you feel close to so when you have an opportunity to take the empowerment, you’ll be more prepared.

      In the meantime, continue to listen to teachings, study, meditate and practice.

      May the Dharma flourish in Sweden and throughout the world,
      Tendrol

  8. Thank you so much Venerable Tendrol and Linda Merle for your answers!

    May the Dharma flourish in your lives and all over the world.

    All the best!

    Warmest regards,
    Fredrik

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