There are various signs that indicate successful purification of negativities. A number of these occur while we are dreaming, such as fighting and overcoming a person dressed in black, vomiting noxious substances, drinking milk, meeting gurus, receiving visions of meditational deities and the like. If we have such dreams repeatedly, not just once or twice, this is an indication that our practices have been fruitful. But there are more definite signs of success that occur while we are awake. Our physical body may come to feel light and buoyant, we find that our need for sleep has decreased, our thinking will be clearer than before and, most importantly, we gain insight into areas of the spiritual path that had previously been obscure. In connection with this last point a contemporary Tibetan master has stated that if we had only an hour in which to study the profound teachings on the Perfection of Wisdom sutras and were to spend the first forty-five minutes engaged in such “collecting and cleansing” techniques as Vajrasattva meditation, we would not be wasting our time in the slightest. Instead, we would be ensuring that whatever study we did in the remainder of the hour would be of maximum benefit.
Although there is a great purpose in performing such preparatory practices as Vajrasattva visualization as part of a daily spiritual routine, Tibetan lamas highly recommend that the serious practitioner engage in prolonged meditational retreats during which the deep experience of these practices can be cultivated. Certain lamas will not give disciples the empowerment of highest yoga tantra deities until they have completed an extensive retreat on all the preliminary practices. In addition to Vajrasattva these include taking refuge and generating bodhichitta, making mandala offerings, cultivating guru-yoga, performing prostrations, and so forth. In one such retreat the disciple may recite the hundred-syllable mantra of Vajrasattva more than one hundred thousand times, and this may be repeated many times during his or her training.
The stipulation that the advanced teachings of highest yoga tantra will not be given unless and until the disciple completes these extensive preliminary practices serves several purposes. It not only weeds out all those whose interest in pursuing tantra is superficial and those who are easily discouraged by hardships, but most importantly it provides those who have the perseverance and dedication to complete these preliminaries with the necessary foundation for their future spiritual growth. It has even been said that for a disciple with the proper qualifications, the goal of enlightenment can be achieved through the practice of these preliminaries alone.
Those who have completed an extensive retreat of Vajrasattva purification testify from their own experience that their perception of the phenomenal world undergoes a profound change. It is not that the world itself has been transformed but that the meditator’s view of it has been purified. It is as if the doors of perception have been opened wider and subtly obscuring curtains have been drawn back from the windows of the mind. Beings and phenomena take on a pure appearance—a reflection of the practitioner’s own newly revealed purity—and the gravitational field keeping us anchored in ordinary mundane reality is relaxed. Although this exhilarating vision of a world filled with infinite possibilities may fade, it provides a great incentive for pursuing the higher practices and a conviction that full enlightenment, though still a distant goal, is actually attainable.
From Images of Enlightenment: Tibetan Art in Practice by Jonathan Landaw and Andy Weber