The Seven Line Prayer of Guru Rinpoche: A Reader's Guide
The Seven-Line prayer to Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, is one of the most ubiquitous and important prayers, performed across lineages and in particular the Nyingma tradition who commence nearly every practice with it. What follows is a brief introduction and Reader’s Guide to this short but extremely profound verse.
The overall significance of the Seven-Line Prayer is perhaps best appreciated in relation to a practice called guru-yoga, or “union with the nature of the guru.” Although the importance of a spiritual teacher is spoken of at all levels of Buddhist teaching, it is in the Vajrayana especially that the finding and attendance upon a qualified master or guru is emphasized as the indispensable prerequisite for the successful implementation of the practice. The purpose of guru-yoga is to purify and deepen the disciple’s relationship with his or her teacher. It is introduced as one of the preliminary practices, and it remains crucial—in fact its importance increases—as one progresses through the more advanced levels of the tantric path. The cultivation of devotion to the guru and the blending of one’s mind with his or her enlightened mind is, in the words of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, “the most vital and necessary of all practices and is in itself the surest and fastest way to reach the goal of enlightenment.
A bit later, they continue:
Given the central role that Guru Rinpoche plays in the practice of guru-yoga, it is easy to appreciate the significance of the Seven-Line Prayer, the great and powerful invocation that unfailingly effects the presence of the Guru. It is no ordinary formula but appears, like Guru Rinpoche himself, from another dimension. Just as the Guru has arisen miraculously without the need of human parents, so too the Seven-Line Prayer is said to have manifested spontaneously without the agency of human authorship.
It is the “natural resonance of indestructible ultimate reality.” The dakinis were the first to hear and make use of it, and they transmitted it to the human world when need arose.
Guru-yoga (when based on Guru Rinpoche) and the Seven-Line Prayer are inextricably linked. And just as guru-yoga remains crucial at every stage of the Vajrayana path, so too the Seven-Line Prayer is relevant at all levels of the practice. Outwardly, it records Guru Rinpoche’s birth and place of origin; it celebrates his accomplishment and implores his blessing. Inwardly, its every word is shown to be heavy and pregnant with meanings that distill in concentrated form the whole of the Vajrayana. The Seven-Line Prayer is like a lovely, many-faceted jewel that receives and concentrates within itself the light of the entire path, reflecting it back with sparkling brilliance.”
Hung! On the northwest border of the country Oḍḍiyāna, On the pollen heart of a lotus flower, The marvelous, supreme accomplishment has been attained. You are renowned as the Lotus-Born, Surrounded by a retinue of many Ḍākinīs. Following you to be like you, I beseech you to come and bless me. Guru Padma Siddhi Hung
The Meaning of the Prayer
Perhaps the most thorough explanation of the Seven Line Prayer available in English is from the great Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche entitled Pema Karpo, or White Lotus: An Explanation of the Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Padmasambhava. In this short but extremely rich work, Mipham Rinpoche presents the many layers of meaning, from its outer, literal meaning to the hidden meanings related to the path of liberation, the path of skillfull means including the Perfection stage and Dzogcchen, and finally pith instructions related to these. He concludes with an explanation of how to use the commentary itself as a practice.
Regarding the origin of this incredible commentary, the translators also add “Mipham refers in the colophon to an event that triggered the abrupt appearance in his mind of the hidden meaning of the prayer. We shall probably never know what it was that provoked this sudden epiphany, but it is interesting to note that the language Mipham uses suggests that the commentary itself is not an ordinary composition but a treasure teaching, specifically a “mind-treasure,” or gongter. If that is so, the text is itself a teaching by Guru Rinpoche himself, concealed long ago within the mind of his disciple, from which it was destined to reemerge when the right circumstances presented themselves, without the need for the discovery of the traditional yellow scrolls or some other material support”
This book also includes a Guru Yoga based on the prayer, entitled Rain of Blessings which is performed by many practice groups throughout Asia and the West. Recently Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche taught a full weekend at Shambhala Publications on this practice.
In Enlightened Journey Tulku Thondup Rinpoche devotes a 22 page chapter on the meaning of the prayer which is based on Mipham Rinpoche’s White Lotus. It can be used almost as a crib-sheet reminder after reading the full account by Mipham Rinpoche.
He presents the history, as described above. He also adds. “when Guru Rinpoche came to Tibet in the eighth century, he gave it to the king and his subjects. Intending it for future disciples capable of training, he concealed it in many Ters. Later, The Vajra Seven-Line Prayer was revealed in the Ters of most of the one hundred great Tertons of the last ten centuries of the Nyingma lineage, again and again, as the heart of the prayers, teachings, and meditation.”
“The Seven-Line Prayer is to be found in all of the teachings of Guru Rinpoche revealed by the hundred and eight major and one thousand minor tertons, or treasure-discoverers. So it is a prayer that is most extraordinary, easy to practice, and replete with immense blessings.
To invoke the Lotus-born Guru, we recite the Seven-Line Prayer three times. At the same time, in the sky before us, we visualize the paradise of Zangdopalri with Guru Rinpoche and his retinue of vidyadharas, 4akas, and 4akinis. Then, what we visualize in the sky dissolves into the visualization we have already created. The buddhafield dissolves into the buddhafield, Vajrayogini dissolves into Vajrayogini, Guru Rinpoche dissolves into Guru Rinpoche, and the retinue of deities, 4akas, and 4akinis into the corresponding retinue. In this way, the jiiiinasattva,the wisdom deities invited from the buddhafields, and the samayasattva, which is our initial visu¬ alization, merge indivisibly into one.
Do not ever think that the buddhafields are far away, or doubt whether the buddhas may or may not come. For as Guru Rinpoche said: I am present in front of anyone who has faith in me, Just as the moon casts its reflection, effortlessly, in any vessel filled with water.
In Gypsy Gossip and Other Advice, Kyabje Thinley Norbu Rinpoche explains the prayer’s outer and inner meanings in the course of six pages. He introduces the background of the prayer here:
“The Seven-Line Prayer originated directly from the speech of a Dakini. It came to this world during a debate at Nalanda when heretics were defeating Buddhist scholars. Shiwa Chok, the Dakini called the Great Excellent Peaceful One, appeared to the scholars in their dreams, say-ing,’You will never be able to defeat the heretics by yourselves. I have a brother, Dorje Töthreng Tsal, who stays in the darkness of the grave¬yard. If you invoke him there, he will come to your aid.’ But the Bud¬dhist scholars said they did not know how to find Guru Töthreng Tsal.
So, the Dakini taught them the Seven-Line Prayer and then said, ‘It is not necessary to go to the graveyard, because Guru Rinpoche has a rainbow body and will come to your aid if you recite the Seven-Line Prayer.’
The scholars prayed, and Guru Rinpoche came to them. They were able to win the debate, glorifying the Buddha Dharma and helping it to prosper. Later, when Guru Rinpoche went to Tibet, he taught the prayer to his twenty-five disciples and it benefited them greatly. Afterward, as it was included in many termas,6 tertöns7 found it in many of the hidden texts they discovered. The first tertön to discover it was Guru Chöwang.”
In this work, rather than jumping right in to the meaning of the prayer itself, the first half of the book lays the foundation and view that are necessary for effectively reciting the prayer, namely: showing the inherent problems in the extreme views of of nihilism and externalism; why trying to understand the nature of mind is a futile exercise; clearing misunderstanding about who Guru Rinpoche was; a presentation of various Buddhist doctrines and how the Triple Gems of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are recognized; and finally a look at the Buddha as well as peaceful and wrathful deities in the Vajrayana system.
“At the beginning of each meditation session, generate bodhi¬chitta for all beings. Reflect on impermanence. Feel the presence of Guru Padmasambhava, and all the buddhas, bodhisattvas, lineage masters, and sangha. Chant the seven-line prayer, which is the sound of love, joy, and devotion. Feel the sacred sound of this prayer purifying all emotional tur¬bulence and ego-clinging. Feel it bringing you and all beings back into your original true nature. If you recite any additional prayers and mantras, con¬tinue generating these beautiful thoughts. Whether you recite for a short or long time, afterward meditate on the absolute state—open, relaxed, and free. Meditate according to your capabilities, beginning with focus for a while if you need it, then ultimately relaxing without any focus according to the Dzogchen teachings.”
While all the books above provide a very precise explanation of the prayer itself, there is an excellent book describing how this prayer is integrated in the life and teachings of a great master. The prayer is weaved throughout The Autobiography of Jamgon Kongtrulwhere Kongtrul shares receiving teachings on the prayer from Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, doing intensive accumulations of the practice, often followed by signs of accomplishment, composing a sadhana based on the prayer, and teaching and performing it widely.
“Khyentse Rinpoche had told Kongtrul it would be good to recite the Seven-Line Prayer a hundred thousand times, so at this point Kongtrul traveled to several places which were sacred to Guru Rinpoche and did retreats there. He visited famous sites such as Padma Shelphuk, Dagam Wangphuk, and Padma Shelri, and he recited the Seven-Line Prayer more than a hundred thousand times. Excellent auspicious signs appeared. In particular, when he was in Dagam Wangphuk, one night in a dream Guru Padmasambhava appeared to him in the form of Khyentse Rinpoche. Khyentse opened a book containing many yellow scrolls with dakini script written on them, and he gave Kongtrul complete instructions on reciting the Seven-Line Prayer. During the daytime, every day there were clouds of white rainbows appearing in the sky. Later, when he visited Dzongsar, Khyentse Rinpoche told Kongtrul he should definitely write down those instructions on the Seven-Line Prayer, so Kongtrul wrote them down as mind terma. Later that year, a large number of students came from all over the country to study with him, and Kongtrul satisfied all their wishes.”