There are 14 precepts that must not be transgressed in the practice of Vajrayana Buddhism – “The 14 Root Downfalls”. Every single one of them is important.
1st Downfall: Non-reverence of the Root Guru
Actually, we must revere our Root Guru at all times. This precept cannot be transgressed. After taking refuge, we must not disrespect our Root Guru by criticizing him, being unhappy about him or slandering him etc.
2nd Downfall: Non-abiding by the Precepts of the Sutrayana and Vajrayana
We must abide by all the precepts outlined by both the Sutrayana and Vajrayana Schools including the Five Precepts, Ten Virtuos Acts etc.
3rd Downfall: Quarrelling with Fellow Vajrayanists
This precept is easily transgressed as frictions easily occur among people within a community due to jealousy, hatred, dissatisfaction etc. This precept seems easy to abide by initially when everyone is still new to one another but over time, you will realize that it is harder than you think, especially when the group stays together after a decade or two – frictions are just difficult to avoid.
4th Downfall: Jealousy and Loss of Compassion
We should never be jealous about others and loss our sense of compassion towards others.
5th Downfall: Loss of Bodhicitta In the Face of Adversity
We must help even the difficult ones, including the baddies who have gone astray who bring harm to others. It is easy to help whom you love. However, you must also help whom you don’t love. This is indeed difficult. Buddha said, “There is a Buddha Nature in every sentient being.” So, you should also help the baddies instead of giving up your aspiration of Bodhicitta. When one aspires to Bodhicitta, it means one aspires to help all sentient beings, which is indeed difficult.
During the time of Sakyamuni Buddha, there were many Arahats who were unwilling to aspire to Bodhicitta because they knew that it would be very difficult to guide the sentient beings onto the path to enlightenment. They only took care of their own problems and attained liberation for their own sake. However, a Vajrayanist must aspire to Bodhicitta in order to accomplish the practice.
6th Downfall: Slandering the Sutras and Tantras as Teachings Not Transmitted by the Buddha
Today there are many people who criticised that some of the sutras were not expounded by the Buddha. We had better not get ourselves involved in such debates before we know the true answer – we have no wisdom to tell which sutra is real and which one is not. So, do not slander any of the sutras.
7th Downfall: Transmitting the Tantra To a Non-qualified Recipient
This precept is not quite relevant to the rest except those who are responsible for transmitting the Tantra to others. A Tantric teacher must be a qualified Vajra Master who was recognized and appointed by his own Root Guru and Principal Deity. Without the due recognition from the two parties mentioned, one cannot self-proclaim to be a Vajra Master, let alone transmit the Tantra to others. If you have not received a Vajra Master Empowerment in the past, you have not received the recognition of a Vajra Master and lack the true attainment of a Vajra Master, then you cannot transmit the Tantra to others. This precept is targeting at those who transmit the Tantra teachings to others.
8th Downfall: Belittle One’s Buddha Nature
A Vajra Master is being regarded as a Buddha. The students of Vajrayana Buddhism are being regarded as the sons of the Buddha – the Prince of Buddha or the Prince of Dharma. One who hurts others hurts himself. One who succumbs to his own jealousy has also failed to abide by the precepts laid out by the Buddha. Since everyone is the Prince of Buddha or the Prince of Dharma, you will not hurt others, you will not deny your own Buddha Nature, you will not throw your tantrum or talk bad about others. If you do, you have transgressed this precept.
9th Downfall: Loss of Balance Between The Teachings of “Emptiness” and “Existence”
One must treat the teachings of “emptiness” and “existence” with equal importance. You must study both the teachings on “emptiness” and “existence” expounded by the Buddha. You should strike a balance between the teachings of “emptiness” and “existence”. This one is difficult to comprehend actually.
10th Downfall: Befriend Those Who Slander the Dharma and Hurt Others
You must not befriend those who slander the Dharma and hurt others. If you befriend those who slander the Buddha and his teachings, you will be easily influenced by them and go astray. Actually, the 1st and 5th precepts are non-contradictory. The 5th precept is advising a practitioner to aspire to Bodhicitta – if you befriend these people for the sole purpose of steering them onto the path to enlightenment, you can do so. However, if you do not have the ability to influence them, you had better stay away from them or you will end up being influenced by them instead. A Vajrayanist cannot be stay too close to the non-Vajrayanists.
11th Downfall: Arrogant of One’s Spiritual Prowess and Forgetting the True Purpose of Tantra
It is wrong to focus only on one’s development of his spiritual prowess and forget about the true objective of one’s practising the Tantra - Bodhicitta. Some people practise the Tantra for supernatural power and are fond of fighting others using such power – this is wrong. The true purpose of practising the Tantra is to practise the Bodhicitta.
12th Downfall: Hide the True Tantra from a Good Dharma Vessel
Again, this one is only relevant to those responsible for transmitting the Tantra. A true Vajra Master must transmit the true Tantra. If he does not transmit the true Tantra and refuse to teach the qualified students, he has transgressed this precept. If you a Vajra Master and you transmit the true Tantra to a qualified student when you come across one, then you are abiding by this precept.
13th Downfall: Incomplete Religious Implements and Materials
You must have a complete set of religious implements when practising a Sadhana. You must have all the relevant religious materials ready when transmitting a Tantra teaching.
14th Downfall: Despise the Wisdom of Women
We cannot be discriminative about women and despise their wisdom. Some people, after practicing the Tantra, start despising the women and discriminate their spiritual potential, saying that women will not be able to attain the state of Buddhahood. Actually, all men and women are equal.
These are the 14 root precepts of the Vajrayana. All Vajrayana students must receive the spiritual empowerment and learn these 14 root precepts. If a Vajrayanist has not received the spiritual empowerment and does not abide by these 14 root precepts, he is learning the wrong teachings. These 14 root precepts are very important and you must pay special attention to them – read them when you are free or when you are doing a Sadhana.
A discourse given by Acho Rinpoche on 9 Sep 2011