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Why We Need The Four Opponent Powers

purification tibetan buddhism

With every action of our body, speech and mind we create karma.

That karma can be positive, negative or neutral but once created, karma will not dissipate. Its effects will come to fruition at an appropriate time when the circumstances and conditions ripen.

We have had so many previous lifetimes where we were completely overwhelmed with negativities, ignorance and so forth and so there is no karma that we haven’t created, adopted or engaged in.

In this life, where we are quite intelligent and enjoy good conditions, we still find ourselves engaging in so many negativities and we create so much negative karma. Imagine what it was like when we were completely ignorant (say in the body of an animal) and in desperate situations — there would have been no self-awareness, nothing to stop us from creating extremely heavy negative karmas.

We still have the residue of those imprints in our mind now, so we need to take great measures to try to overcome those negative propensities. That is why it is so important for us to engage in practices of purification; most importantly by developing the bodhicitta attitude – one of the most powerful ways to overcome those negative karmas.

Right now, though, we can be aware of karma being created and being experienced and so we can apply the antidotes. And we can engage in purification practices to overcome those grave negative imprints that remain in our minds.

If other factors —such as anger— do not destroy the imprints of positive karma, then its fruition will definitely come about, even after a hundred aeons. Similarly once a negative karma is created, if other factors —such as purification— don’t alter the imprints, then its fruition will definitely take place even after a hundred aeons.

The Benefits of Being Mindful

We need to be very attentive to our actions to make sure that we secure the positive actions and clean the negative actions as soon as possible.

No matter what positive deed you engage in —making charity, practising, meditating— that creates positive karma, you must try to secure it by consciously dedicating it to the benefit of others. If you take a moment to do that at the end of the action, you will secure the imprints so they definitely have a positive outcome in the future.

On the other hand, if you find that you have created negative karma, you should purify it as soon as you notice it.

Training ourselves to be more aware of what we are doing is beneficial in many ways.

Such mindfulness leads us to increase our positive actions and to decrease our negative actions. Not only does that contribute to a better future but it also makes us more welcome and less prickly in our daily lives. Increasing our positive actions and decreasing our negative actions and attitudes will lead to a happier life in this body.

It is so important to tame our mind so that it is not easily upset, dismayed, depressed by the world around; so that it doesn’t flare up in anger at the smallest insult or hurt.

Controlling our mind is essential advice for ourselves. It is the cornerstone for achieving all other qualities. We gain control of our mind through meditation, and that is why meditation is always emphasised as indispensable. Engaging in meditation and slowly subduing our mind leads us to control our mind.

The controlled mind is a happy and peaceful mind, and an uncontrolled mind is a mind of unhappiness, chaos and suffering. Therefore the importance of meditation cannot be underestimated, because it is the means to develop a controlled mind.

When we begin to meditate, we can see that it is hard to control the mind. We are flooded with all the negative thoughts and emotions that arise automatically. Those disturbing thoughts mainly come from previous imprints of negativity within our own mind.

Why We Need to Purify

Therefore, so that we can remove those mental disturbances, we need to engage in purification practices.

The purpose of purification is to purify the negative karmic imprints in our mind, and as we purify the negative karma — we are also naturally engaging in accumulating merit and virtue. In that way, as we purify we gain merit, and as we gain merit we purify. So purifying and gaining merit enhance each other. That is the manner of practising.

The Tibetan term for purification has an additional connotation of “training”, which is also applied to the accumulation of virtue. So engaging in training to purify negative karma means that you engage in activities that stop you from having to experience the consequences of those negativities. When you have purified them, you are free from ever experiencing the consequences of those negativities. Whereas, training in virtue means to accumulate and further increase good deeds as causes for happiness.

It has also been explained in the teachings that, having applied the Four Opponent Powers in a purification practice, then whatever karma one has accumulated (even heavy negative karmas) will definitely not be experienced. The great trail blazers, Nagarjuna and Asanga, have said that confession —complete with the Four Opponent Powers— purifies the karma that would otherwise definitely be experienced.

The Four Opponent Powers

There are various translations that explain the Four Opponent Powers in slightly different ways. They each offer a nuance that is worthwhile considering so here are a couple:

The four practices used to purify nonvirtuous imprints on the mindstream are:

  • The power of the object, taking refuge in the Triple Gem and generating bodhicitta
  • The power of regret, feeling deep regret for the negativity committed
  • The power of resolve, determining not to repeat that negativity
  • The power of remedy, a practice such as Vajrasattva that effectively acts as an antidote to the negativity.

Two Teachings from Lama Zopa Rinpoche



  • The power of thorough repudiation or regret
  • The power of reliance on the basis
  • The power of thorough application of the antidote
  • The power of not reverting into the fault again


How to practice; Geshe Doga’s suggestions

• The first part of the confession and purification is to develop strong regret about having committed that negativity, thinking, ‘It is extremely unfortunate that I have again fallen victim to the delusions and have thus committed such negativity’.
• Having generated that remorse one will naturally want to do something about it. ‘What can I do to rectify that negativity I have committed?’ At that point one needs to rely on an object that will help one to rectify that negativity. So the next opponent power is the power of reliance on the basis, which is the Three Jewels and sentient beings. When one develops a strong reliance on the objects of refuge, the relevance of that strong refuge becomes most apparent. Even though they are essential, developing regret and relying on the objects of refuge is not sufficient, as they do not completely eradicate the negativity.
• The next opponent power is the power of thorough application of the antidote. Here one needs to engage in the activity of applying the antidote to the negativity, in particular to the delusions that are the cause of the negativity. So applying the antidote and understanding how to apply the antidote is really essential.
• To seal all of that, one resolves not to commit that negativity again.