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)