“Samaya is a basic term in the language of tantra. The Tibetan translation, tamtsik (dam tshig), literally means “sacred word.” The fact of life, the actual experience of life, is samaya. Whatever we decide to do, all the trips we go through, all the ways we try to become an individual are personal experience. Fighting for personal rights of all kinds, falling in love or leaving our lover, relating with our parents, making political commitments, relating with our job or our church—all these things are the expression of samaya.

At a certain point in our life, we begin to live on our own. We may try to reject any interdependence as fast and as hard as we can. Although it is impossible to be completely independent, we still try to be so. We try to get any factors out of our system that seem to bind us. We feel that we have been imprisoned by our parents, by society, by the economy, or by our religion. So we try to get out of those prisons and we try to get into expressing our personal freedom. On the other hand, rather than rebelling, we might choose to get into a certain church or a particular social environment based on a sense of our own personal choice. That could also express our freedom, because we were never told to do that—we just decided personally to do it. When we commit ourselves to the world, whether as a reaction to constraints or as a decision to get into something new, that is called samaya, sacred word, or sacred vow.

Whether we are pushed, and we begin to give in and then slowly we get into the system, or whether we are pushed and we reject the system completely, that is an expression of independence in our personal mental functioning. Any move we make to join a society, organization, or church is based on our own personal experience rather than just tradition or history. On the other hand, breaking away from anything that we feel entraps us is also based on personal experience. Therefore, the commitments and choices that we make are called sacred word, or sacred bondage—which are saying the same thing. Samaya can be interpreted as sacred bondage, although literally it means sacred word, because we are bound by certain norms, certain processes that organize our experience. When we accept those boundaries as our own, that is the sacred bondage of samaya.

In the tantric practice of visualization, we visualize what is known as the samayasattva. Sattva literally means “being,” “individual,” or “person.” Samaya, as we discussed, means acknowledging connections and being willing to bow down to the experience of life. Sattva is the being who experiences the situation of samaya. So in visualizing the samayasattva we are acknowledging our experience of life and our willingness to commit ourselves to it. We acknowledge that we are willing to enter fully into life.”

“When we have that attitude of trust, we can go further with the discipline of tantra and enter the samaya, or sacred bondage, of receiving abhisheka. When trust has been established as the working basis between student and teacher, mutual understanding and mutual openness take place constantly. There is openness to the tradition that exists, to the lineage, to ourselves, to our fellow students, and to our root guru—the actual performer of the abhisheka. The root guru is our vajra master, and he is the person who actually initiates us and gives us the abhisheka. So once we have that basic background of trust and openness, and once we have prepared ourselves properly, then we can receive abhisheka.”

“Student: I’m wondering about the transition to tantra from the earlier discipline. It seems one might get hung up on the hinayana and mahayana. The hopelessness begins to have a kind of dignity, and you might get attached to it. It seems to be a very abrupt kind of transition, and it could be very hard to switch over.

Trungpa Rinpoche: You are able to switch over because of your sense of sanity. You are no longer interested in whether the different yanas are going to be kind to you or unkind. You don’t care anymore. You are willing to face the different phases of the various yanas. And you end up with vajrayana.

S: That takes a lot of bravery.

TR: That is the whole point. Relating with the samaya vow and the vajra guru takes a lot of discipline and a lot of bravery.4 Even the high-level bodhisattvas supposedly fainted when they heard the message of vajrayana.

Student: When you reach the point of transition between mahayana and vajrayana, do you have to give up your cynicism about the teachings and the teacher and about yourself that you have during hinayana and mahayana?

Trungpa Rinpoche: I think so. A that point you become very clear, and cynicism becomes self-torture rather than instructive and enriching. At that point, it is safe to say, there is room for love and light. But it is sophisticated love and light rather than simple-minded lovey-lighty.”

“From the tantric point of view, the spiritual friend is no longer a spiritual friend. From the tantric point of view, the guru is a dictator—in the benevolent sense—who minds every step of your life experience and who also demands faith and trust in the context of the bondage of the samaya vow.

The Tibetan word for samaya is tamtsik, which literally means “sacred word.” Tom means “sacred,” and tsik means “word.” A samaya vow is a sacred word. It has the significance of the student and the guru having a mutual experience. The guru’s action is within the realm of sacredness, and the student’s involvement in the tradition of the teaching is also sacred. Therefore there is mutual sacredness.

The guru is regarded as a buddha in the flesh, a buddha in a human body. The guru is the herukas; the guru is the definite manifestation of divine principles of all kinds. That is why when you are accepted into the tantric tradition you take certain abhishekas or empowerments from the guru. This is an important commitment that you make to the tantric tradition. It is in some sense comparable to confirmation in the Christian tradition, or anointment [in the biblical tradition]. Or maybe it is similar to the Jewish tradition of bar mitzvah. From that day onward, you are accepted into the circle of the grown-ups on the tantric level.