Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Samaya Mean?

Samaya is a set of Buddhist vows and commitments that are given when one receives empowerment in the Vajrayana Buddhist order. They are given during the empowerment ceremony, called abhiseka, in order to initiate a relationship between the guru and disciple.

The Nyingma lineage outlines three root samayas:

  1. Samaya of the body — to act respectfully toward the deities, buddhas and any living beings and also toward one's own body. To always offer one's self to the guru.
  2. Samaya of the speech — to avoid angry or negative speech, not to differ from what the guru says and tell the truth. Always stay committed to the practice of mantra.
  3. Samaya of the mind — to avoid bad thoughts, practice meditation and to stay on the cycle of completion.

Different sources mention a different number of samayas — three, five, 14 or 28 samayas — but, generally, it is believed that if someone keeps the three root samayas, he/she cannot break any other samaya.


Yogapedia Explains Samaya

In the Vajrayana Buddhist order, the samaya vows are given by the guru, who must keep them as well. Breaking the samaya vows is worse than breaking any other laws. Breaking a samaya results in a heavy bad karma, especially if one disregards or dislikes his/her guru, the one who gave the teachings. Although there are three root samayas, some say that there is only one — the guru. One only has to keep the guru and that is it: that is how important the guru is.

There are 14 root samaya downfalls outlined by Sakya Pandita, an important Buddhist scholar. These points describe the behaviors that can break the samaya. First is disregarding the master, others include important behaviors linked to the three root samayas, such as disrespecting one's own body, having bad company, denigrating women, revealing secrets or abandoning love.

Samaya vows can be seen in yoga as well. The principle of respecting the teacher, keeping respect toward one's own body and bodies of the fellow yogis, and practicing meditation are rules that should be followed by every yogi. The rest of the samaya vows are very similar to the yamas and niyamas outlined in the Yoga Sutras by the great Sage Patanjali.

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