Digest of Methods & Wisdoms
by Wim van den Dungen
BOOK I : SÛTRA Practices
PRELIMINARY : Body, Breath & Mind
FOUNDATIONAL : Generating Merit
ACCUMULATIVE : Accumulating Merit
PREPARATIVE : Realizing the Approximate Ultimate
BOOK II : TANTRA Practices
BOOK III : ATI-YOGA Practices
FINATIVE : Realizing the Actual Ultimate
"As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it (on a piece of touchstone), so are You to accept my words after examining them and not merely out of regard for me."- Buddha Shâkyamuni : Jñânasara-samuccaya, 31.
www.bodhi.sofiatopia.org tries to offer a novel & systematic overview of the
Buddhadharma, taking into account Indian, Tibetan & Chinese sources.
The strong influence of the four traditional schools of Tibetan Buddhism can be
felt. Padmasambhâva (Guru Rinpoche) and (Lama) Je Tsongkhapa inspired.
The last degree (Finative Practices) involves "Tantra Practices" (Book II) and "Ati-Yoga Practices (Book III), yogas derived from the resultant perspective on salvation. This is a simultaneous, suddenist, instantaneous, direct, non-conceptual & nondual approach, offering an uncontrived, actual realization of the fruit. From the start (initiation or introduction), the fruit (Buddhahood) is integrated into the path (Deity Yoga). This either as an outer living presence of the Deity or as a self-realized state of consciousness & body of the Diety. Desire too is integrated, indeed all afflictive & non-afflictive affective & mental states ... These Finative Practices are for advanced practitioners and depend on devotion to become real.
From the side of the Buddhadharma, these practices are assisted by my studies on emptiness & ultimate logic. From the side of Western Philosophy, the philosophy of emptiness is harmonized with Criticism in Criticosynthesis (2008), Critique of a Metaphysics of Process (2012) and the Book of Lemmas (2014).
Generally speaking, spiritual practices are paths to enter total attention ; a free, unconditioned being-present with all possible phenomena as they are, without divisions, borders or central focus, without "me" or "mine", "You" or "yours", conceptual overlay or any stress on absence of concepts, totally at rest in what is present in the moment at hand. This is a non-conceptual, nondual state of mind.
To "enter total reality", suchness or "dharmadhâtu", is to experience all phenomena without conceptual overlay. Practices are skillful means providing "Dharma doors" to this naked awareness, this innate, primordial, original or natural mind.
Either there is the practice of no-practice, the way of no-way, the instantaneous, presentist, immediate, nongradual prehension of the totality of what is at hand here and now. This is the fruit itself. Or there are the stages of the path to enlightenment. This is the way to the fruit. The former is for practitioners of higher capacity, the latter for those of middle & lower capacity.
Because of the neurotic, reactive tendencies of the samsaric mind, always reifying by way of conceptual elaborations, numerous paths to end the predominance of this coarse, suffering mind exist. They vary from highly complex & sophisticated to simple & straightforward. They may be organized in terms of the three levels of spiritual perception, suggestive of beginning, intermediary & final levels of realization, depending on sentient beings of small, middling or great capacity (seeking happiness in this & future lives, liberation & Buddhahood respectively), defining three levels of spiritual perception.
Technically, in the Great Vehicle in particular, spiritual practices or spiritual exercises are skillful methods introduced by enlightened wisdom-mind to aid sentient beings to attain liberation from "samsâra", realizing awakening or entry into "nirvâna" for the sake of all sentient beings. Of all practices, meditation being the most important. As spiritual practices can be formal or informal, only attachment to them is to be avoided.
When correct, practices are based on right views giving birth to paths leading to fruits. Different views generate different paths and bring about different results. But the ultimate fruit of all Buddhist methods, irrespective of views & paths, is personal liberation (in the Lesser Vehicle) and awakening (in the Great Vehicle).
The non-sectarian approach of this text was inspired by Tibetan "Ri-mé". "Ri" or "chik-ri" means "one-sided" or "sectarian" and "mé" is "no", the negation. So Ri-mé means "not taking sides" or nonpartisan. One of the unique features of the Buddhadharma is accepting different paths are appropriate for different people. The many schools of Buddhism are not "sects", but different instructions leading different people to liberation and awakening. All schools practice the teachings of Lord Buddha and so aim at the same ! Never to forget this, is fundamental to understand the variety of methods.
Buddhadharma, tradition speaks of 84.000
Dharma doors, or entries into the awakened mind. Indeed, over the
millennia, an enormous variety of methods have been introduced by numerous
Buddhas, Dhyâni Buddhas, Mahâsattvic Bodhisattvas, Arhats, Superior
Bodhisattvas, and discovered
by ordinary Bodhisattvas, spiritual masters and accomplished yogis,
teachers & mentors. In India, China,
Tibet, Japan etc. these have been practiced for millennia, refined and
adapted to new circumstances, conditions & various types of
The choice of practices and the order proposed here is entirely my own, reflecting personal experience. The practices themselves are millennarian and belong to the Indian, Tibetan & Chinese traditions. The organization in Five Degrees grew out of the effort to bring about coherency in the graduated path. They mainly serve a pedagogic purpose.
These practices are intended for Western students. This means they have been simplified without hurting their operational core, stripping unnecessary cultural overlays. Specific India, Chinese or Tibetan components have therefore been eliminated. In doing so, functionality & spatio-temporal efficacy ensues. As some of the Western data on depth-psychology, ritualism, neurophilosophy, neurofeedback, suggestion, hypnosis, the placebo-effect, NLP etc. have also been integrated, success can be partly measured biologically, operationalizing the "change of heart" (or metanoia) intended (cessation of suffering = awakening).
These Five Degrees are :
Generally, each practice produces a fruit savoured by the student and
witnessed by the teacher, mentor (sûtra) or guru (tantra). As the eye cannot see itself
and, due to interferences, inner guidance (by the inner guru) is not always accessible, mostly
an accomplished mentor, teacher or outer guru is necessary to correct activities and
reflect results. Of course, in human communication subjective factors
always enter the equation. Given some of these may be detrimental to the
spiritual development of the student, the student/mentor or disciple/guru relationship is
not without its pitfalls.
To complement the practices, the following biofeedback techniques call for a separate study. In the Preliminary Practices, a few of these responses have been correlated :
DETAILS OF THE PRACTICES
On Preliminary Practices
ON PRELIMINARY PRACTICES
0. Preliminaries to
2. Fourfold Breath Practice : concentration on the out-breath, on the in-breath, on the heart, on the nose-breath ;
3. Simple Mindfulness Practice : cultivating awareness of contents of volitions, affects, thoughts & consciousness (mind) without adding or eliminating ;
4. Simple Mantra Practice : coordinate breath & sacred sound ;
II. 5. Basic Energy Work : elementary Ch'i Kung exercises ;
III. Dharma Object Practice :
6. Analytical Meditations : discursive meditations on a variety of core themes of the Buddhadharma ("lamrim") ;
7. The Four Thoughts Practice : analytical meditation on one's precious human birth, on suffering, impermanence and cause & effect ;
IV. Sitting Object Practice :
8. Calm Abiding on a Coarse & Subtle Object : place meditation on an external object and place meditation on an internal object ;
9. Jhâna Yoga : Calm Abiding on special objects.
doubt, heedlessness, sloth, dissipation, false vision, non-attaining the
stages of Yoga and instability are the distractions of consciousness ;
these are the obstacles. Pain, depression, tremor of the limbs, wrong
inhalation & exhalation jointly become with the distractions. In order to
counteract these practice Yoga on a single principle. To show
friendliness, compassion, gladness and equanimity -be they joyful,
sorrowful, meritorious or demeritorious- pacifies consciousness." - Patañjali :
Yoga-Sûtra, 1.30 - 33.
normal range GSK = 1 (in an average, relaxed person 1 ≈ 2MOhms)
"Posture is steady and comfortable."
Each of these postures have specific qualities. The Lotus Posture promotes meditation. The Bodhisattva Posture assists practices involving the circulation of vital energy. The Maitreya Posture directs harmony & balance (integration).
The aim of posture practice is to be
able to maintain
the body comfortably in the same position for a long period of time, unwavering,
like the flame of a candle in a windless place. The Lotus Pose directs
"prânâ" (or "ch'i') upwards in the perineum, from the Root Wheel to the
Crown Wheel. The Accomplished Pose stimulates the perineal body (the
central tendon of the perineum), a pyramidal fibromuscular mass in the
middle line of the perineum at the junction between the urogenital
triangle and the anal triangle. The perineum is essential in all
energy-circulating practices. The Maitreya Posture connect Earth (feet)
with Heaven (head), facilitating the restoration of both in the
"mysterious pass" or heartmind (Heart Wheel), triggering universal,
unconditional, omnipresent love.
GSK starts to drop from 1 to 1.5 (maximal decrease of 50%)
the cutting off of the flow of inhalation & exhalation, is external,
internal & fixed in its flux, it is regulated by place, time & number, it
can be protracted or contracted." - Patañjali :
Indeed, "prâna" flows between the gross physical body and the mind. It
is not mind, for insentient, but neither is it gross physical energy. This
vital force is the energetic (etheric) double, or subtle part of the
physical body, namely that part (a) catching the vibrations of the mind
and transmitting them to the nerves & plexuses of the gross physical body
and (b) communicating physical vibrations to the mind. It is an interfase.
If we divide the physical body in seven dimensions (four coarse and three
subtle ones), then "prâna" is related to the higher three.
The aim of breath regulation is vast,
for breath is the supreme strategy to lead vital energy. As the
mind is mounted on this wind, one may direct the flow of the latter to
alter the mind. Indeed, in Tibet they say the breath is like a blind
horse, and the mind is like a legless rider. Breath needs to mind to be
led. To move from A to B, mind needs breath.
GSK drops to relaxed range (1.5 or 50%), HRV is green (level 1) with flux, reduced Beta-waves
The Samyutta Nikaya mentions
seven wholesome & mundane factors leading to enlightenment : mindfulness
("smriti"), investigation ("dharma vicaya"), energy ("vîrya"), ("prîti"),
calmness (P."passaddhi"), concentration ("samâdhi") & equanimity
("upekkhâ"). Of these, mindfulness ("smriti") is deemed "always useful",
while a sluggish mind should develop investigation, energy & joy and an
excited mind tranquility, concentration & equanimity. These Seven Factors
of Enlightenment are contrasted with the Five Hinderances : sensual
pleasure, ill-will, sloth, restlessness & doubt.
This exercise resembles "Zazen", or
"just sitting". Just sit in order to witness the moment of arising, follow
how it abides (for some time) and then ceases, fueling the next moment.
All inner states, consisting of sensate objects constituted by perception
& sensation, and mental objects of volitional, affective, cognitive &
sentient capacity, are impermanent. To witness this without adding or
taking out anything, makes consciousness enter the spaceousness of the
mind itself, allowing it to become aware it is like a mirror-surface
merely reflecting what appears. This is a highly beneficial state of mind.
GSK drops from 1.5 to 2, or 100%, HRV is green (level 2), with flux, Alpha appears
tongue of this Pharaoh is the pilot in charge of the Bark of Righteousness
& Truth." -
Pyramid Texts, utterance
539 (§ 1306) - ca. 2300 BCE.
In the Vedas, the highest, best support is the "pranava mantra" or
"OM" ("AUM"), the primordial sound or foundation of all mantras.
In the Yajur Veda, "OM" is known as "pranava" meaning "humming
sound", or "udgîta", "celebrating chant". A link to "prâna", breath &
speech, can certainly be made. In the
Upanishad, the syllable "OM" is said to be
Most mantras of the Vajrayâna begin with
the "pranava mantra". In the Tantric texts, the "pranava" can easily be
linked with the Three Jewels, the Three Gates (of practice : body, speech
& mind), the Three Paths and the Three Bodies (of a Buddha). In the Practice of
Prosternation, "OM" is recited to activate the Crown Wheel, associated
with the body, "AH" activates the Throat Wheel and speech, and "HUM" the
Heart Wheel and mind.
Recitation (reverent repetition - "jâpa") of the Pranava Mantra is pan-Indian. In the Vajrayâna, introducing a new, highly powerful method (not a new wisdom), the supreme mantra encompassing all the mantras of the Buddhas & the Bodhisattvas is the "Vajra Mantra", representing the enlightened activity of all the Buddhas on the basis of the enlightened mind, the enlightened speech & the enlightened body of all the Buddhas. In a way, the Vajra Mantra is the mantra of the Original, Beginningless Buddha, the Adi-Buddha also called Aksobhya, Samantabhadra, Vajrasattva, Vajradhâra ... The Three-Syllable Vajra Recitation purifies the Three Gates (of karma) of the practitioner, bestowing the "purity" of the enlightened activity, namely physical, energetic (vocal) & mental processes devoid of inherent existence, i.e. objects merely instantiated by logical & functional properties only.
Vajra Recitation is an important part of many practices, including Prosternation, Offering, Blessing, Vajrasattva Practice, Guru Yoga, and many Tantric Practices (like Deity Yoga and Highest Yoga Tantra Yogas). To introduce it at an early stage of the practice is therefore useful. In the Simple Mantra Practice, the letters are not visualized.
GSK drops from 2 to 3 (200%), HRV is green (level 2) & steady, Alpha becomes stronger and symmetrical
The Chinese records inform us about
Bodhidharma (5th / 6th century), regarded as the First Chinese Patriarch
of Ch'an Buddhism ("dhyâna", Japanese "zen"), called "Da Mo" in Chinese.
In the Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall, we read that in 527 he
met with Emperor Liang Wu and the following interchange happened :
To learn how to practice the Eight Pieces of Brocade, consult : Wilson, S.D. : Qi Gong for Beginners : Eight Easy Movements For Vibrant Health, Sterling - New York, 1997 (the Korean form, recommended) and/or Yang, J.M : Eight Simple Qigong Exercises for Health : The Eight Pieces of Brocade, with DVD, YMAA - Roslindale, 1997 (the Chinese form). For the "Five Animal Exercises", consult : Wu Qin Xi, with DVD, Singing Dragon - London, 2007.
vibrant health, HRV is green (level 1) throughout the exercise
As an encouragement to agriculture,
Shuddhodana, the father
Siddhârtha Gautama, arranged for a "ploughing
festival". Intended as a festive occasion, both nobles and commoners wore
fine garments to participate in the ceremony. On the appointed day,
accompanied by his courtiers, he went to the field taking the young
Gautama with him. Placing the child on a screened and canopied couch under
the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, he took part in the festival. At its
climax, Gautama's nurses left his presence to catch a glimpse of the
spectacle. The thoughtful child, mature in intellect though young in age,
seeing none by himself, sat peacefully cross-legged to concentrate on
inhalation and exhalation. He spontaneously gained one-pointedness of
mind and entered
the first concentration, characterized by discursive thought
("vichâra"), conceptualization ("vitarka"), joyful rapture ("priti") &
happiness ("sukha"). Much later, while practicing his futile extreme
austerities, he would remember this remarkable event, pointing out to him
how only a calm, supple mind is able to enter the higher states of
consciousness. Without tranquility, nothing can be gained by
probing into the nature of reality ! A calm mental state serves as bridge
to enlightenment. To realize a calm mind is therefore the first step.
A simple example of an analytical meditation is the Four
Thoughts Practice (cf. infra). An intermediary example involves
remembering and (re)considering the meaning of a series of crucial Dharma
teachings heard or read, and this in an ordered, gradual fashion ("lamrim"),
often by way of guided meditation (cf. supra). An advanced example of
analytical meditation is emptiness meditation or Insight Meditation
("vipashyanâ"), the meditative analysis of emptiness
("shûnyatâ"), requiring the fruit of Calm
Abiding, i.e. meditative equipoise on the object of placement, in casu
the absence of inherent existence, the absolute property of every possible
sensate & mental object (cf. Preparative Practices).
The Four Thoughts Practice is a skillful means to "turn" the (coarse) mind.
This practice selects four central (foundational) Dharma themes and combines
them to impart the mind with a sense of zeal regarding the spiritual path.
These are very powerful virtuous objects. They should be carefully studied,
reflected upon and individually taken as objects of analytical meditation.
Eventually, in the postmeditation stage, merely considering (by
generating the mudra) the analytical steps of the meditation, triggers
spiritual zeal, empowering to continue putting in effort (and thus causing our
condition to change). Although this is supposed to be without loosing our
sense of openness, joy and enthusiasm, even in the turbulence of afflictions,
the power of these objects of analytical meditation continue to impart a sense
of capacity to be "a light to oneself".
The bird of enlightenment is said to have two wings :
To distinguish Mindfulness Meditation proper,
"mindfulness", as a mental operation, will, when part of the practice of Calm Abiding, be called
The Nine Stages to Calm Abiding
The primary obstacles
to attain the apex of Calm Abiding, called "setting in meditative equipoise"
are laxity and excitement. The former diminishes mental clarity and is a kind
of inner dullness & heaviness, while excitement is a scattering of the mind by
desirously engaging in another object deemed pleasant. Both diminish the
ability to concentrate on the object of placement and so prevent Calm Abiding.
When they appear, the antidotes counteract them.
In the beginning, use a virtuous object of placement, like a
statue of the Buddha, a Stupa or a Thangka. When meditative equipose has been
realized on these, practice with any kind of object.
Calm Abiding on a Subtle Object
When full concentration on sensate objects is at hand, mental objects can be used. This is an advanced practice, demanding hightened introspection.
In emptiness meditations, the object of
placement is the absolute nature of all possible objects. This is like
isolating the ultimate property of every object at hand and directly
understanding (and then experiencing) the object's lack of inherent
existence or essential, substantial core existing from its own side.
Jhâna Yoga is a special type of Calm Abiding tackling the
hindrances directly. These Jhânas are accompanied by so-called "Jhâna Factors".
These five factors are present in the First Jhâna, overcoming the hindrances.
Each of these five factors enables the practitioner to overcome a hindrance :
In the Buddhadharma,
practicing meditation with an object of concentration or "object of placement"
in order to arrive at a deep, undisturbed calmness able to scrutinize what
happens is the first wing of Buddhist meditation, called "Calm Abiding"
("shamatha"). The second wing is Insight Meditation
("vipashyanâ"). Stillness must be
sufficiently founded to allow active wisdom-insight to penetrate and
break all (physical, emotional & mental) fetters. This is the key to the
integration of calmness & wisdom realizing emptiness, of compassion & the
wisdom realizing emptiness. The Mahâyâna teaches "superior seeing" (cf. Tsongkhapa),
a higher meditative state wherein analysis
triggers deeper calmness and calmness sustains sharper analysis.
"stream-enterer" ("shrotâpanna") : has eradicated the first three fetters. He
has only seven rebirths in the human or god realms before liberation ;
Together, these four stages define the "Ârya-Sangha", the Sangha Jewel of Early Buddhism.
Abiding is at hand, followed by a special kind of Calm Abiding, the
concentrations & absorptions of Jhâna
Yoga. Calm Abiding is one-pointedness meditation and so calls for
concentration, but one without the use of specific
"totalizing" Jhanic objects of placement ("kasinas") and without
the intent to enter Jhâna, the ultimate states of concentration advocated
The stages of liberation are supramundane, transcending "samsâra" and
hence cause of liberation. It could be said the first four mundane Jhânas
prepare the practitioner for the four supramundane paths & fruits or
stages of liberation. But tradition has it the last four are optional.
Regarding the historical origins of these "jhânas", recent scholars (Wynne,
2007) put into evidence the link between, on the one hand, early Buddhism
element meditation & the Jhânas, both material & formless, and, on the
other hand the Upanisadic, Brahminical origin of this element meditation.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness practices (body,
feeling, consciousness, mental objects) and the generation of stillness
culminate in the First Jhâna.
Each of the Eight Jhâna states of
concentration & absorption, preluded by the practice of ordinary concentration (Calm
characterized by the presence or absence of five mental factors
or "Jhâna factors" along with various other secondary qualities. These are the by-products of this special
aimed at replacing the
Five Hindrances : sense desire, ill will/aversion, sloth & torpor, restlessness
& remorse and doubt.
The first two Jhâna factors are also found in the Yoga-Sûtra.
But for our teacher, "vitarka" is conceptualization based on a coarse
object. "Vicâra" is a reflective (confusingly called
"non-conceptual") elaborating activity based on a subtle object. Hence,
"nirvitarka" could been understood as the restriction of coarse concepts,
and "nirvicâra" as the restriction of subtle conceptual elaborations.
Calm Abiding is practiced before Jhâna Yoga. This tranquillity meditation leads to concentration or "dhâranâ". Although meditative equipoise has been nearly realized, concentration has not been perfected to the point of contemplation. When the latter is the case, entry in the First Jhâna has happened. This is the interesting point this confrontation of Jhâna Yoga with the teachings of the Yoga-Sûtra advances. The Buddhahdarma does not distinguish between "dhâranâ", "dhyâna" & "samâdhi". Our teacher explicitly does. When "dhyâna" is perfected, conceptual union results. First in terms of samadhic thoughts and then as samadhic conceptual elaborations. Both are truth-bearing. When these samadhic thoughts & elaborations are restricted (in "nirvitarka samâdhi" and "nirvicâra samâdhi" respectively), the Second Jhâna is the case.
This reading of the Jhânas was based on the Pâli Sûtras and to a lesser degree on the Abhidharma & the Commentaries, in particular the Vishuddhimarga. Of course, given Patañjali was active when the Mahâyâna in general and the Madhyamaka in particular were already broadly known, a comparison with the Ten Bhûmis must ensue. But this falls outside the scope of the present commentary. It will be addressed in the context of a study on the Avatamsaka Sûtra. This large text introduces the Ten Stages for Superior Bodhisattvas. These extraordinary human beings realize the end of intellectual self-grasping (on the basis of the cessation of self-cherishing), but still need, before entering Buddhahood, to tackle innate self-grasping and the mental factor hindering omniscience.
On Foundational Practices
ON FOUNDATIONAL PRACTICES
0. Preliminary to
the Foundational Practices :
The Pratimoksha Vows
are the vows of "individual liberation", the moral basis needed lay people
beginning their spiritual training. These can be understood as the
foundation of the Buddhadharma and the basis of progress. Their discipline
aims to achieve
goal of the
Vehicle, in particular the Hearers (Shrâvakayâna).
"Prati" is "towards" or "every" and "moksha" means "liberation" (from
cyclic existence). Hence, the Pratimoksha Vows comprehend the vows for
monks, nuns (monastics), as well as lay followers.
Suppose one of these vows are broken. Then one first needs to purify this downfall with the Hundred-Syllable Practice (cf.. infra) and then return to the Pratimoksha Vows Practice to reaffirm them.
"For that which I have proclaimed and made known as
the Dharma and the Discipline, that shall be your Master when I am gone."
- Mahâparinirvâna Sûtra.
The division into "outer, inner & secret" is an efficient hermeneutical
key amply used in Tibetan Buddhism. It also codes the three bodies of a
Buddha ; "outer" covering the "Nirmânakâya" (body), "inner" the
"Sambhogakâya" (speech) and "secret" the "Dharmakâya" (mind).
Refuge Practice is divided into Lesser and Complete. Lesser Refuge Practice brings to bare the mere wish to go for Complete Refuge, nothing more. It calls for the Small Prostration. Complete Refuge Practice is a ritual action whereby Refuge & Complete Prostration are firmly coupled, the wish turned into a decisive action. As the actual practice of Refuge is intimately connected with Prostration, the latter will be explained first.
All practices based on the Buddhadharma
begin with Refuge and end with Dedication. Usually, the latter is preluded
by the Request for Blessings.
("namas-kara") is an act of reverence or veneration to the Three
Jewels and other objects of veneration. It is a preparation to actual
meditation and a way to accumulate merit. But before anything else,
prostration is a way to purify defilements, in particular vanity,
pretence & pride. Making the ego horizontal, it eliminates the
"verticality" imposed by deluded body, speech & mind. One throws
everything away, raising the Buddha's feet above one's head.
• The Small Prostration is as
When we experience the blessing of
protection given by the Three Jewels, we may decide the Buddhadharma to be
our spiritual path. We then truly renounce all worldly paths, as well as
the paths offered by spiritual views introducing inherently existing Gods,
Goddesses or God. This is an important step, especially for those educated
to adhere to the Western faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). For the
latter, God exists from His own side, with inhering properties and an
abiding place or "essence" only for Him to know, enjoy & experience.
On Ceremonial Meditation
One could say a
ceremony is a complex & formal ritual action or
mediation-in-action. A ritual is an acting out of a
symbol or a myth. By expressing and thereby externalizing what we
have understood by way study, reflection & meditation in
terms of body, speech & mind, we
incorporate the Dharma into our conscious attitude. It is then
integrated in our whole being, enriching it. This
reduces the tension between the conscious & unconscious,
making us more whole.
The objects on the altar represent the Three Jewels
; the "stûpa" the enlightened mind (of Lord Buddha and of all other Buddhas),
the scripture Dharma speech (recitation, teaching) and the
image of the Buddha, in the middle, the Sangha. This is the community of
practice, the Jewel of the path (the view being Dharma and the fruit
Buddha). Reduce this
arrangement to a single object, to the statue (or picture) of Lord Buddha
Shâkyamuni, by himself representing the Three Jewels. In the picture above,
Samantabhadra is embraced by Samanthabhadri, pointing to Ati-Yoga,
"dzogchen" ("mahâsandhi") and "mahâmudrâ" (the method preferred by the
Homage or praise is the
fruit of recognizing the undefiled, sapient properties of the mind. These
are not samsaric or dis-eased, but nirvanic, whole. When a devotee, with a
loving heart for the spiritual quest (a "bhakti"), unveils (restores) the
primordial, original condition of this "bodhi" mind, prehending this Clear
Light of the very subtle (deepest) layer of mind, more than reverence is
the natural, spontaneous, uncontrived effect of this, nay, this jubilating heart
sings to "its Lord", and therefore praises, chanting hymns of glory and
paying homage to the purity it faces.
The Five Buddha Families represent the wisdoms generated by emptiness meditations on the aggregates. These Five Wisdoms represent the enlightened functions or activities of the enlightened body, enlightened speech & enlightened mind of Lord Buddha or any other Buddha.
Paying homage to these Five Buddhas is an act of devotion addressed to the enlightened activities of all the Buddhas. As their outpouring of blessing is unending, only the proper opening is necessary (from the side of the yogi). This homage is an active meditation, making use of the body in a ceremonial fashion.
The practice of Homage calls for the Mudra of the Turning of the Wheel
of Dharma or
Dharmachakra Mudra. This "mudrâ" denotes the setting into motion of the
Wheel of the teaching of the Dharma by Lord Buddha during his first sermon
after his enlightenment in the Deer Park at Sarnath.
The Dharmachakra Mudra
of the left hand represent the three vehicles, the treasurehouse of
methods acquired by the
middle finger signifies the Shrâvakayâna (hearers) & Pratyekabuddhayâna (realizers), together
Vehicle. The ring finger represents the
The little finger is the
Tantric path for the few.
Altar with Table for Light, Incense & Water Offerings
The special room or place in your home
reserved for sitting & action meditation, has as main items an altar
(in the East), your
meditation seat (anywhere in the sacral training zone) and, on occasions, an extra special table for texts and
other ritual objects. A complete shrine room is the expanded version of
this basic set.
While the ultimate nature of all the Buddhas of the Ten Directions (four cardinal, four intercardinal, zenith & nadir) is the same (water), in this water each Buddha family reflects the original mind in its own way, with its own style or signature (kinetography) as given by the five elements : Vajra, Karma, Padma, Ratna & Tathâgata. The presence of these Buddhas is invoked and their blessings on the corresponding sullied aggregate beseeched.
Kalasha for Oil Offerings to Ganesha
The ritual also requires a Pitcher or Jar (Sanskrit "kumbha", Tibetan "bumpa"). In Indian ceremony, The Kumbha or Kalasha, represents the feminine, the womb, fertility, life, generative power, sustenance, belongingness, in short : the Lunar semantic field. As a water jar, it is filled with water and so has been prepared beforehand, ready to be consecrated. This is the Water Pitcher seen in the picture. It is topped by peacock feathers, representing the unbounded display (Sanskrit "lila", Tibetan "tsal") of dependent-arising, also called the ornaments of emptiness. A small bowl are also there. It is filled with rice and holds the incense stick. Two butter lamps flank the statue.
Long Life Vase
The long life vase, is another Pitcher used in Long Life Rituals, and contains the nectar of immortality ("amrita"). In Hindu ritual, the Kalasha is also used as an oil vase, as an offering to Ganesha.
Note the arrangement includes a vessel
filled with water to be poured into the Water Pitcher. This must be "pure"
water, i.e. running water. The procedure calls for attention & manual
dexterity. No water should be spilled and the Kumbha should not be filled
to the brim, or during ritual it will spill water on first touch.
In the ritual below, a special "spirit offering" is added. This is an offering dedicated to the so-called "obstructing spirits". These represent the forces hindering the flow of the momentum of the ceremonial act. These spirits (hungry ghosts attracted to the offering ?), are given the same nectar-water as the Buddhas, with the wish to awaken them to Buddhahood.
Water is poured without making noise &
neatly. The bowls are placed on a straight line, close together, but not
touching. The bowls are filled just about the size of a wheat grain from
the top, they are full, but not too full. The ceremonial act must be fluent,
ongoing, beautiful, balanced and smooth, and transitions need to be taken
seamlessly. This can only be achieved by devoted discipline & repetition.
In the beginning mistakes are made. This is unavoidable. Those who can
perform perfect ceremonies from the start have no use of them.
Our cognitive apparatus
impacts our actions by way of our affective, emotional
states. To influence the way we actually live our lives with others, understanding
must pass through our emotions. Belongingness is emotional, self-esteem
cognitive. If our emotions are afflictive, then even the most
comprehensive, elaborate system of concepts cannot trigger action and
will remain unable to transform our lives for the better. Is this why
intellectual effort has little bearing on reality ? We have to feel the
suffering of a tree to really end the destruction of our rain forests. As
we even misrepresent the feelings of animals, killing them to eat them,
how to establish a genuine relationship with a plant or a mineral ?
The scale of pure emotions evoked starts
with total humility, humbling suffering body, suffering speech & suffering
mind as a precondition to opening up and starting to transform the
samsaric scene into a nirvanic one. Then there is offering, implying
another polarity. If humility is more passive, offering is active. The
best is offered to the Buddhas. Offering to enlightened beings, who are
not in need of such an offering, is a method or Dharma door to realize all
offerings are ultimately a way to generate generosity and this by
realizing Buddha-nature is not acquired but given from beginningless time.
Again switching from polarity, this is followed by confession, the third
limb. As far as the Buddhadharma goes, the worse action is upholding
the root-cause of ignorance : grasping to objects as existing from their
own side. Confess this and the root of all negative "karma" is out.
Rejoicing in the merits of all others is a powerful and active way to be
in touch with the ongoing creativity & positive action in the world. This
is jubilating in the Buddha-nature of others. Beseeching & supplicating
are a refined form of begging. The yogi implores those who are Thus Gone.
Without them, all is lost. A subtle passivity is present. By proudly
teaching the Dharma, the lineages are never exhausted, as signified by the
action of turning. And all of this is done for all sentient beings,
including friends & enemies. Nothing is excluded. This is unconditional,
It is good practice to prelude the actual Seven Limbs Practice by meditations on the meaning of each verse above. Then praying the Seven Stanzas becomes charged with the fruit of analytical concentrations on these extraordinary virtuous spiritual emotions.
Calm Abiding on the Four Immeasurables ("apramâna"), or the "four Divine states
of dwelling" ("brahma-vihâra"), namely joy ("muditâ"), love or kindness
("maitrî"), compassion ("karunâ") & equanimity ("upekshâ") remedies the various
forms of self-cherishing, considering oneself more important than others. Hatred, indifference and self-centeredness have
loving kindness as antidote. Grief & cruelty have compassion, frivolity has
joy and resentment & hostility have equanimity as their far enemies.
(1) recognizing sentient
beings as mothers : if we realize the cycle of death &
rebirth has caused every
sentient being to be one's mother, father, husband, wife, closest friend,
etc. many times before, then we bring everyone within the context of one's
mind, and establish equanimity towards friends, neutral persons & enemies
Once generated, Bodhicitta has to become spontaneous. In order to prevent it from degenerating in this lifetime, four precepts are kept :
As long as we are sentient beings, our
mind-stream remains sullied by mind grasping and countless identifications
with and disidentifying from sensate and mental objects as existing
from their own side. This is the root-cause of our suffering, only
definitively (irreversibly) taken away when we are no longer sentient
beings, but Buddhas, no longer samaric but nirvanic. This ignorance
-confusing reality as it appears with reality as it is- drives us into
ongoing affirmation and negation, countless taking and pushing away,
accepting and rejecting whatever appears. This mental obscuration then
brings forth afflictive emotionality, whereby we generate minds like
hatred, cruelty, avarice, stupidity, exaggerated attachment, jealousy,
arrogance and pride. These in turn fuel the war of all against all, making
us and those around us more and more unhappy, lacking true peace.
To invoke Vajrasattva, use his mantra, both the short and the long version.
The Short Vajrasattva Mantra :
OM VAJRASATTVA HÛM
The Long 100-syllable Mantra of Vajrasattva :
The visualization starts with the white letter "PAM", the seed-syllable of Pandâravâsinî, the "white-robed one", the consort of Amitâbha. Belonging to the Padma Buddha family, she represents the purity of our sensuous contact with objects, the physical origin of our attachment. It is this the Vajrasattva meditations wants to take out, for when the senses are in line, the mental frame follows. So the meditation starts with the visualization of this letter right after meditating on emptiness.
In any case, the Practice of Vajrasattva plants the seeds of wisdom-mind. The opponent powers can be trained separately, making the actual antidote stronger. The practice belongs to the standard Tibetan set of 100.000 repetitions. Special Vajrasattva Retreats are organized, with millions of mantra repetitions and many months of daily meditations. This to purify all negative karma of all previous rebirths, exhausting the fuel of the fire of "samsâra".
This practice is a repetition of the Practice of Generating Relative Bodhicitta, but infused with one's conceptual understanding of emptiness (the fruit of prior studies, reflections & meditations) empowered by the blessings of the Practice of Vajrasattva.
The core work done in this practice is
internal. The conventional & the absolute "nature", "aspect" or "side" are
the two properties of every single phenomenon. It is not the
case there is an absolute nature ("nirvâna") independent of the conventional
appearance of an object ("samsâra"). The appearance when witnessed devoid of
self-power, but wholly other-powered, is the absolute. The ultimate exists
conventionally. The difference only
exists in the mind as a false ideation attributing something to objects
which is not there at all.
In folk etymology, "gu" is darkness and "ru"
is light, whereas in Sankrit, "guru" has √gri, "to invoke, to
praise" as root, and is connected with "gur", or "to lift up, to raise, to put in
effort". The Guru/disciple relationship is part
of the devotional aspect of spiritual life, and intimately connected
with the aggregate of affection, encompassing emotions & feelings
a rational analysis of this special phenomenon and related yogic practices
never views this dangerous friendship as outside an immediate & mediate
emotional context. Cognitive & spiritual processes happen within this creative
womb, this oceanic milieu in which things happen between the mind and
its natural origin, with the Guru acting as a bridge ...
OM MUNI MUNI MÂHAMUNI SHÂKYAMUNI YE SVÂHÂ
Lord Buddha is the root-Guru of the Sangha. Although
in a single atom a hundred
billion Buddhas exist, the perfections of these Buddhas
put together do not excell the radiance of the wisdom-mind of
Buddha Shâkyamuni, who
is the root-Guru of all those adhering to his teachings ! These are the
metaphysical complements payed to the founder of our dispensation. Lord
Buddha is the first Buddha on the lineage tree of the field of merit.
Thanks to Western science, the traditional Eastern Guru/disciple relationship can be assisted by the objectivation of spiritual growth. This by (a) measuring the impact of spiritual practices on the peripheral and central nervous system of the disciple and (b) using feedback techniques to change the brain. Thanks to various biofeedback protocols, the change of mind called for by our training is facilitated by what is measured & altered in the electro-magnetic fields of our physical vehicle. In this way, the intuitions of a genuine Guru may be made more objective and shared in a quantitative way. Moreover, this works both ways. Indeed, calmness & focus should reflect in the Guru's electro-magnetic output !
In the Buddhadharma, offerings are not made
to bribe the Buddhas to whom they are presented, but are a symbol of total
dedication to awakening. They are also offered to accumulate the merit
bringing us to this state as represented by the Three Jewels, so we are
able to benefit all. They are acts of generosity.
Kalachakra Mandala - Potala Palace
These types of mandalas can be simple or very elaborate. But in each, the goal is to optimalize the Two Accumulations of Merit and Wisdom. The "basket" of merit is quickly filled by offering the whole visible & invisible universe to the source of all realization, the Triple Gem, the Guru. The "basket" of wisdom by maintaining the realization the offering itself, the recipients and the one offering do not exist from their own side, have no abiding place, but only exist as other-powered entities lacking inherent existence from their own side.
Mandala Offering Set :
Here we use the standard mandala offering set, consisting of a baseplate,
four rings and a crown. This serves the purpose of representing the whole
universe, defined by four cosmic elements : the baseplate with the first
ring is Earth (the baseplate is the original mind and the ring is the
protection of the offering), the second ring is Water, the third Fire, the fourth Air
and the crown signifies Space (both as consciousness and enlightened
Mandala Offering Protocol
1. Hold the baseplate in your left (Lunar) hand and wipe it clean by rubbing the
inner part of the wrist of the right (Solar) hand around its rim three times
anti-clockwise (starting in the East) and three times clockwise, reciting
OM ÂH HÛM. Put a drop of scented water on it, representing Bodhicitta
motivation and the moisture of one's compassion ;
If this Mandala Offering has been performed many times, the Short version may be practiced. The latter version combines with an alternative Guru Yoga practice. It calls for the Mandala Offering Mudra.
Mandala (Offering) Mudra
In the Mandala Mudra, the ring fingers of both hands are erected back-to-back, both middle fingers are crossed horizontally across the palms with the index fingers curved backwards to press upon their tips and both little fingers are also crossed horizontally across the palms with the thumbs extended to press upon their tips.
Guru Yoga & Mandala Offering are devotional practices serving Tantra. Suppose one has no interest in Tantra. In that case, these exercises are unnecessary. If they are not integrated in the path now, then Accumulative & Preparative Practices may be finished, but the Finative Practices are excluded (for wholly tantric). It is possible to argue some Ati-Yoga practices (like "dzogchen" & "mahâmudrâ") are not tantras. But in both, the Guru introduces the original mind.
In Hinduism, the so-called "Agnihotra"
("agni" or "fire", "hotra" or "healing"), is a Vedic "yajña" (ritual or
sacrifice) mentioned in the Atharvavêda. It consists in making two
offerings (of milk) at sunset and sunrise (the sattvic periods), along with Vedic mantras relating
the ceremonial fire and the Sun. Like "homa" rituals, it is used for
various reasons, like warding off or canceling evil influences, good
health, overcoming obstacles, for wealth, success etc.
Lineage Lamp in Holder
Inspired by this tradition, the Lineage Light Practice
(not part of the Grand Preliminary) is the
constant presence of a ritual light. This ritual is preferably done as soon as
possible after the previous lamp went out, but on the same day and before
the Sun sets. Typically (because of the role of the novene in Christian
practice), candles lasting nine days are easy to find. The ritual is
therefore performed 40 or 41 times a year. The white novene is kept in a
glass holder, protecting it and both are placed in a safe environment. As
all household fires, this Lamp needs to be daily checked ...
This practice also trains mindfulness of one's basic intention, expressed
as relative & absolute Bodhicitta, joyfully, lovingly, compassionately &
with equal spirit radiated out to all sentient beings. White, clear light
reminds us all Dharmic practices serve the purpose of recognizing
wisdom-mind, the very subtle layer of the mind, the internal system of
consciously integrated action, affection & cognition, set apart from
sensation rooted in perception & the senses. Wisdom-mind arrests
monkey-mind. Like the Sun, it radiates and awakens all minds
touching these infinite rays. We need the Sun to see the Sun. At their point-at-infinity,
these rays offer all kinds of blessings to all kinds of mind-streams.
Light refers to the view of
infinite energy, endless information & Divine consciousness.
The Chinese medical system, their
martial arts, Ch'i Kung, inner alchemy, Taoist philosophy & way of life,
are based on the view Tao generates the Five Elements of Nature (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water,
Wood) and their nourishing & controlling cycles.
These Five Elements of Nature should not be confused with the cosmic
elements (organizing the universe) and the mundane elements (organizing
the physical plane in a sixfold).
Cycle of Five Process Elements
These processes are impermanent but always interconnected in a two ways :
process-elements nourish each other and process-elements control
each others. The nourishing or "generating" cycle is the natural process, of which
Earth is the center, the middle point or receptacle. Earth is a
process-element (between Fire & Metal) in its own right, but also the
last phase of each process, namely the moments just before a
process-element (following the natural cycle)
transforms into the next process-element.
To learn how to practice Five Organs
Guru Yoga with Short Mandala Offering is the last practice of the Foundational Practices. The itinerary of the "Grand Preliminary" is now established. This set of spiritual practices is "grand" because it is a collection of individual practices. It is "preliminary" because steps 1 to 15 determine the beginning of subsequent practices, the latter always ending with steps 16 & 17.
By cultivating pure emotions
during meditation & post-meditation, the Grand Preliminary generates a
whole array of new minds facilitating deep calmness. They eliminate afflictive emotionality and feelings
chained to a mind grasping & holding on to its object, be it sensate or mental.
The "new" foundation is an emotional one (cf. Yesod in Qabalah being the
Moon). Preliminary Practices regulate the body and its etheric double.
Foundational Practices act on the emotions, directly addressing the coarse ego.
Giving the latter its proper place energizes the body & calms
the mind, in particular the emotions, conditioning them to become blissful.
On Accumulative Practices
ON ACCUMULATIVE PRACTICES
Bodhisattva Vow : taking the actual vow to generate the
mind of enlightenment for the sake of all sentient
beings and to accomplish all the stages of the Bodhisattva
Given its full potential, the mind of enlightenment
("bodhicitta") awakens all sentient beings by the aspiring & engaging
activity of ceasing the suffering of them all, none excluded. This
mind of great compassion is fundamental to the path proposed by
the Great Vehicle, calling for renunciation, compassion and the
realization of wisdom-mind through understanding and by seeing emptiness. To dedicate
one's entire life to this way, is the intent
& training of the Bodhisattva, a sentient being who took the Bodhisattva
Vow. This vow seals the previous practices, extending them to all actions
of body, speech (energy) and mind. This is a major step.
The Eighteen Root Downfalls
1. praising oneself and belittling others ;
The Forty-Six Secondary Downfalls
The Bodhisattva's moral discipline allows for an extensive
accumulation of merit, filling the basket of compassion faster than in the
Lesser Vehicle. The latter also trains compassion, but never realizes
great compassion. Wisdom is trained, but only the emptiness of persons is
attained. The fruit of this path is Arhathood, worthy ones destroying
their foes. These extraordinary liberated beings are not fully
enlightened, but merely liberated from their personal "samsâra" (Arhats
are equal in realization to Sixth Stage Bodhisattvas).
The Sutric Bodhisattva, training to generate the Six Perfections (the Ten Grounds being the perfection of wisdom), causes the "two baskets" to be filled, namely merit & wisdom. This causal path makes good use of the laws of "karma", in particular the idea white deeds produce white fruits. It tries to find skillful means (method) to speed up this accumulation.
Calm Abiding on the Four Immeasurables
("apramâna") or Divine states of dwelling ("brahma-vihâra"), is a Lesser
Vehicle practice related to Brahmâ Sahampati requesting the Buddha to
teach, i.e. turn the Wheel of Dharma. In the Lesser Vehicle, this practice
happens in a context stressing renunciation, not "great compassion"
("mahâkâruna"), as in the Great Vehicle. In the latter, the Four
Immeasurables are integrated in the yogas generating Bodhicitta.
The "purity" of the Lotus is connected with the method
of the path, accumulating the effects of the good deeds of great
compassion. The Buddhas rest on & teach this perfect method. The Pure Lands are entered as a result of such accumulation.
One is Lotus-Born by the immeasurable merit accrued by great compassion.
These Pure Lands are not yet "nirvâna", but irreversibly near this perfect
peace profound. They offer the best conditions to realize emptiness and
awaken to Buddhahood.
The actual Mani Practice presupposes a series of
Analytical Meditations on the six worlds of "samsâra".
The specifics of these worlds have been discussed
"mâlâ" or rosary, consisting of 108 prayer beads, is held in one's right hand, between
forefinger and thumb, counting each bead with the latter. The "mâlâ" is
divided in four sets of prayer beads.
The four sets of the rosary give rise to four series of
meditations on :
The Mani Mantra brings to the fore the indivisible union of
compassion-wisdom (bliss-emptiness), i.e. the two wings of the Eagle
of Awakening. This points to the Heart Wheel, as the
inseparable union of illusionary body (wind, bliss, compassion, Bodhicitta) and clear light mind
(wisdom, emptiness) in the
"indestructible drop". So although not tantric, in the sense of
introducing Deity Yoga, much like the Hundred-Syllable Mantra Practice and
Guru Yoga, Mani Practice may be called a preliminary tantric practice,
at least inspired by tantric principles. In
each, the presence of a Buddha is invoked, although not by way of
the Lesser & Higher Yogas of Deity Yoga. Nor is there any "divine pride".
The Prayer Wheel or Praying Wheel (Simpson, 1896), a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara's enlightened (pure) speech, is commonly associated with Tibetan Buddhism. When referring to this practice, Tibetans do not refer to terms coined by Christian missionaries, but generally use words as "Mani Wheel", "Dharma Wheel" or "Lotus Wheel".
Solar powered Mani Wheel
"Mani" ("jewel") refers to the fact these "wheels" contain rolled Mani Mantras and are adorned with this mantra (its letters written in the Ancient Indian Rañjanā script). This is an embodiment of the living speech of great compassion. When the Prayer Wheel is filled, the Mani Mantra is rolled around a central shaft or "life-tree", encased by a Sky Wheel and an Earth Wheel.
OM MANI PADME HÛM in Rañjanā
OM MANI PADME HÛM in Tibetan
"Dharma" refers to the
all-comprehensiveness of the Mani Mantra, containing all possible Dharma
teachings, "samâdhis" (realizations) & perfections.
Digital Lotus Wheel
As "Dharma Chakra",
the "Wheel of the Law", the Prayer Wheel connects with the "Turning of the
Wheel of Dharma" by the Buddha, the beginning of the Buddhist teachings.
All Mani Wheels are turned in the direction of diurnal & nocturnal movement
of the Sun : East (rise), South (culmination), West (dusk) and North
(anti-culmination). This clockwise movement is a continuation of the Vedic
tradition of circumambulatory processions (keeping the object of worship
at one's right side), but also of ceremonial processions in a chariot.
Indeed, Sûrya, the Sun-god or "Supreme Light", had a chariot with four
horses, an image also found in Ancient Greece (cf. Helios). The wheel and
circularity are Solar prerogatives.
The Mani Wheel Practice is clearly an Buddhist adaptation of a tradition predating it. Buddhism also adopted the rotary motions in their ceremonies (cf. the thrice circumambulation or "pradaksinâ" of the "stûpa"). The notion of a "Wheel Treasure" can be found in the Mahâsudassana Sûtra (Dîgha-nikâya), introducing a wheel-turning monarch. The wheel of five spokes was introduced by the Buddha to represent cyclic existence itself, and the practice of visualizing the Mani Mantra purifying the delusions of the worlds of "samsâra" can be associated with this. Turning the Prayer Wheel is therefore symbolic for a wide range of activities, in casu the power to awaken all sentient beings and therefore "empty" cyclic existence, in other words, cease suffering. Constantly revolving book cases are mentioned in Nâlandâ. Revolving bookcases have been found in China since the 6th century, while the first references to the Lotus Wheel in Tibet appear in the 7th century. Large scale introduction came with Padmasambhava a century later.
In the Tibetan lineage tradition, the prayer wheel is said to have been brought to the human world by Nâgârjuna, who received it from the serpentlike "nâgâs". He passed it on to a "dâkinî". She gave it to the Mahâsiddha Tilopa, who gave it to the scholar Naropa. The latter gave it to Marpa, who gave it to Milarepa. The latter gave it to Gampopa. It is linked to the Kagyupas, and does not occur in the practice of Atisha (Kadampas) and Tsongkhapa (the Gelugpas). Although exceptional yogis adopted it, the practice was never popular at the great monastic universities.
Practicing The Eight Pieces of Brocade
and Five Organs Ch'i Kung may be classified as "Wei Dan", the outer
cultivation of the three main "fields" of energy of the body ("Tan
T'ien"). These exercises direct vital energy, mainly charging the Lower
Elixir Field. They do not cultivate the dynamics between the three levels of
vital energy. The latter is "Nei Dan", inner cultivation.
For more information, consult :
On Preparative Practices
"I am a fool even among fools.
Insight Meditation (ultimate analysis) is necessary for philosophical (in
particular in epistemology & ontologyl) & soteriological
ON PREPARATIVE PRACTICES
Preparing Emptiness Meditation
1. Insight Meditation on the Selflessness of Persons: Analytical Meditations on the absence of inherent existence of persons ;
2. Insight Meditation on the Selflessness of Others : Analytical Meditations on the absence of inherent existence of outer phenomena ;
3. Garland Sûtra Practice : practice of the Net of Indra or Meditations on Dependent Origination.
Conclusion : Special Insight
PRAYER TO MAŇJUSHRÎ
Homage to Protector
§ 1 Four Travelers
Imagine four thirsty travelers along a hot desert path
heading due East : the first is a common human being, the second a
physicist, the third a polarized sunglass wearer and the fourth a Buddha.
§ 2 The Salvic Intent of Wisdom
Wisdom is the Buddha's Supreme Jewel because it cuts suffering at its
root. In the Lesser Vehicle, emptiness of persons is attained
(affective obscurations ended). Because of the mind of enlightenment, the
Great Vehicle applies the antidotes to reification thoroughly and with the
intent to awaken all other sentient beings. These Bodhisattvas therefore
attain emptiness of (outer) objects (and end mental obscurations).
§ 3 The Five Paths
Emptiness Meditation prepares the mind to directly see emptiness.
The Bodhisattva "goes" to accumulate
both baskets and "goes" to study, reflect and meditate on emptiness in a
contrived, conceptual, rational way (using a special Analytical Meditation
called Insight Meditation or Emptiness Meditation). The end of the Path of
Accumulation (Go !) comes with the generation of "superior seeing", making
one enter the Path of Preparation (Go !). First the devotee works to be
calm enough to enter Emptiness Meditation. Then he or she actually starts
with Insight Meditation, walking the Path of Preparation. Emptiness
Meditation is the tool used on this Path of Preparation ...
When the mind rests in
the here & now, in the experience of what is at hand, conceptualization stops. The Arrow of Time is
broken and the mind settles in the eternal present. The noble being dawns.
Space-like, this being has eradicated all physical
tensions, afflictive emotions & mental obscurations
hindering the (conceptual) understanding of emptiness, realizing
wisdom as a conceptual (generic) idea of the ultimate
nature of all what is. Only the end of innate
self-grasping and omniscience are not yet at hand.
The latter is the direct prehension of all the previous
determinations & conditions of the prehended, and
therefore a vision of all possible future moments of
every dependent-arising illusion-like appearance. The
Path of Seeing is a stage of its own. It is isolated
from the next stages of the Bodhisattva training. The
joy felt here is so strong, the Bodhisattva is wholly
given to giving.
§ 4 The Itinerary of Emptiness Meditation
Emptiness Meditation proper is Insight Meditation. This is done on the basis of "superior seeing". But before this special mind is generated, Emptiness Meditation begins by establishing the correct view. This is done without "superior seeing", merely by many Analytical Meditations followed by Calm Abidings on the fruit of this analysis.
I. Analyzing the Right View & Calm Abiding on the Fruits :
So on the basis of Analytical Meditations on the correct
view and Calm Abiding on the fruit of this analysis :
II. Insight Meditation on the Right View :
On the basis of Insight Meditation on the correct view,
authentification is possible. Insight Meditation depends on "superior
seeing" and ends with "special insight". Hence,
I. Analyzing the Right View & Calm Abiding on the Fruits
"Kaśyapa, it is like this. For example,
two trees are dragged against each other by wind and from that a fire starts,
burning the two trees. In the same way, Kaśyapa, if You have correct
analytical discrimination, the power of a noble being's wisdom will emerge.
With its emergence, correct analytical discrimination will itself be burned
up." - Buddha
Kaśyapa Chapter Sûtra.
Conventional truth is defined in terms of an effect on the consciousness
of the apprehender, the subject or object-possessor. All sensate objects
destroyed so the original object cannot be identified by the senses are
conventional. Likewise, at some point, the parts into which some mental
objects can be divided, pull these so apart they can no longer be identified.
Conventional truth is an "interdependent truth", meaning the existence of
an object or the veracity of the proposition claiming it exists, depend on
truth is conventionally existent and imputedly existent.
How particles without any resistance (substance particles) combine to form a resistant conglomerate particle remains unsolved. How two directionally quasi-partless particles without left and right sides can touch (and create extension) without being in the same place is unclear. Saying they are held together by space begs the question how this can be understood ?
Existing things are either conventional or ultimate truth, nothing is
both. In this context, "impermanent" means something changes &
disintegrates instant by instant. Both truths are coextensive with each of
As emptiness is deemed an uncompounded, permanent phenomenon and so a conventional truth (!), a generally characterized phenomenon, lacking specific features appearing to a direct perceiver, it cannot therefore be known directly ! Ultimate wisdom consciousness is therefore a direct perceiver cognizing the physical & mental aggregates in such a manner, that it thereby implicitly realizes the absence of a self-powered person in relation to the aggregates ...
Wisdom-mind is a mind realizing, in every moment of consciousness, there is no separate perceiver (grasper) & perceived entity (grasped). The self-knowing, self-illuminating & permanent mirror-awareness or river-flow "samâdhi" of this mind is an aspect of every moment of consciousness. There is no longer the appearance of separate entities. This "purifies" the base consciousness, the "mind-basis-of-all" ("âlaya-vijñâna"), the deepest level of the mind. This is the "overturning of the basis" ("âshraya-parâvrtti"). At this point, only the perfect aspect of each moment of consciousness arises, and the false, negative "action-traces" left in this deep mind, which -before purification- caused the ignorance of the next moment, etc., completely cease. Perfect moments join up and continue as a pure stream of radiant, clear moments of consciousness. This self-illuminating, self-aware mind, is the mind of a Buddha working signlessly beyond distinctions, just existing as an ultimate, pure & perfect reality ("nirvâna").
Emptiness Meditation according to this approach will be
at hand in the next paragraphs.
CONVENTIONAL TRUTH : self-emptiness, all compounded phenomena, all
adventitious uncompounded phenomena ;
Clearly identifying what for each tenet school is inherently established (exists as a substance from its own side) and what exist otherwise, we arrive at the following table.
The Great Exposition
School exploits the fact all
sensate and mental objects have parts. This proves objects are
designated on the basis of their parts. Without the parts, there is no
object. This school also works with the connection
between the apprehended object & consciousness, the subject
apprehending or possessing its object. The cognitive act cannot be
divorced from the distinctness between the knower & the known.
The Prâsangika negates all reification. Both conventional &
ultimate truths are self-empty. This does not mean they are empty of
"any kind of existence", as nihilism would have it, but merely confirms their lack of inherent,
existence and this while being "full" of relationality and interdependence
(determinations and conditions arising between them). All things are
other-powered. They all lack inherent existence. These are the two faces
of the same coin of "that what is", mere existential instantiation.
Substantial existence was defined by Asanga in his Compendium of
Ascertainments as follows :
In the Prâsangika, the object of negation is not the absence of difference in entity between apprehended object & apprehending subject (Mind-Only), not dualistic appearance (Svâtantrika), not conventional reality (Mahâ Madhyamaka), but the inherent existence ("svabhâva") of all possible objects. Under analysis, a truly reified, substantial object cannot be found. The object of negation is therefore nothing else than the false ideation Cf superimposing substance on process.
Under epistemological analysis (which differs from phenomenological or ontological analysis), cognition (even in its nondual, prehending, enlightened mode) always calls for the distinctness between the thing put before the object-possessor (the object) and the subject itself, of course with vanishing dualistic appearances. In the Prâsangika, this duality (contrary to the Svâtantrikas) is not problematic. Emptiness Meditation merely seeks to negate the superimposition of inherent existence on object and/or subject, nothing more.
The Four Essential Points summarize the
way Gelugpas, following Tsongkhapa, conceptually analyze & gain
understanding of emptiness, i.e. constitute a generic image of it by
establishing the correct view.
The word "realization"
refers to something
made concrete, or
clearly & distinctly
understood. In a more specific way though, four mental processes have to be
present to denote this important word clearly :
The Sevenfold Analysis is based on the teachings
of Chandrakîrti (ca. 600 – 650), as given in his Mâdhyamakâvatâra (Entering
the Middle Way). The example of the chariot is common, but here we will
introduce the bicycle. Introducing variations, this line of reasoning is
somewhat complexer than the Four Essential Points.
As an inherently existing substance is not findable in any of the
standard logical ways, the inherent existence of the object (its
self-power) is not
rationally (argumentatively, disputatiously) established. Going over and over these arguments in meditation
anchors the fruit to be realized : genuine certainty about the total
absence of "svabhâva", substance : ¬A. This establishes a radical
nominalist view, eliminating all possible essentialist claims.
The Four Profundities belong to the Heart Sûtra (Mahâprajñâpâramita-hridaya-sûtra),
or "heartpiece of the perfection of wisdom sûtra", one of the shortest & most
important sûtras of the Mahâyâna, belonging to the collection of forty sûtras
constituting the Prajñâpâramita-sûtra. It formulates, in a very clear
and concise way, the teachings on emptiness and was written in the first
century CE. It is of major importance in Zen, but is highly regarded by all
"For whom there is emptiness, there
are all things. For whom there is no emptiness, there is nothing
The correct view is a rational view not precluding
absolute, ultimate knowledge. Reason is not a reason to eliminate ultimate
truth. The rational view is a valid conventional way to approach emptiness
conceptually, as called for on the Path of Preparation. But it has no
salvic merits on the Paths of Seeing & Meditation. Although, when
realized, the mind and emptiness thoroughly mix, there still is a generic idea of
emptiness at work to establish this mind of contrived realization of
emptiness. On the Path of Preparation, staying conceptual,
an approximate ultimate may be realized. On the paths beyond, the actual
According to the highest tenet system, the correct view is universal emptiness
& universal functionality (dependent origination). This view is established by non-affirmatively
negating all sense of substantiality, both sensate & mental, both
conventional & ultimate. This is
radical nominalism in all conceptual & non-conceptual activities of mind.
In the West, its logic was defined by Willem of Ockham (1290 - 1350).
When the substanceless nature of all phenomena is established, process can be fully apprehended, understanding the relational nature of the true state of things, i.e. their dependent origination. Pure, free & clear, nowhere does a sensate or mental fixed entity hinder the flux of interdependent relationships. All things are possible. Because all things are possible, the final end or cessation of suffering is possible. Because suffering may cease, the work of great compassion ("mahâkarunâ"), namely hope, faith & love, are possible.
Arrived at this point, to be able to end acquired (intellectual) self-grasping (the reification of the coarse, conceptual mind), another special mind needs to arise and be cultivated. The mind of "superior seeing" is generated by taking emptiness as the object of place-meditation. During Calm Abiding, in the process of realizing meditative equipoise on emptiness itself (on the idea of this lack of inherent existence), during in a single session, calmness & analysis (tranquility & excitation) are first sequential, excluding one another. This means calmness is disturbed by analysis (due to excitation) and deeper levels of calmness hinder investigation (due to laxity). Then, moments of mixing happen, when analysis no longer causes excitation, and calmness no longer slows down the activity of analysis. Finally, the mix is complete, and both merge, generating "superior seeing". Both calmness & analysis now actually enhance one another, a synergy has happened ...
Tranquility (Calm Abiding) is the result of concentration. "Superior seeing" is the
result of analytical meditations on emptiness, so it is linked with
wisdom (Insight Meditation). By repeated investigations into the ultimate nature of inner &
outer objects, superior knowledge or insight into this nature is gained.
This induces a special suppleness, and the wisdom qualified by this is
"superior seeing". It is called so because once attained the meditator
sees the nature of the observed object more clearly. The image : to join Calm
Abiding with "superior seeing", is like a small fish skillfully swimming in
clear water without disturbing the tranquility of the surface ... Our
analysis has to be pertinent but refined, elegant and easy. These
qualities mix with calmness and eventually (with a mind focused on
II. Insight Meditation on Persons & Others
As salvation starts with ourselves, in particular our afflicted
emotionality & coarse mental obscurations, we need to investigate the status
of the self, operating the subjective pole of the epistemological equation,
appearing as the subject of knowledge, the knower or object-possessor. The
empirical ego is not a substantial ego, but appears so. It seems cut off,
isolated, existentially given, with inherent, enduring properties essential to
THE SEVEN POINTS
In the Lesser Vehicle, content with the "lesser nirvâna"
of Arhathood & post mortem Buddhahood, selflessness of self is the
only goal. In the Great Vehicle, generating the mind of Bodhicitta as part
of the ideal of Bodhisattvahood, seeks to awaken all sentient beings and
so attain Buddhahood as soon as possible. Its view on emptiness must be
enlarged to embrace both self & others. This brings to life the
At some point, after years of Emptiness
Meditations, the mind completes its generic image of emptiness. This
implies the emptiness of all possible subjects & objects is realized, as well
as the emptiness of emptiness itself. Then reification can be ceased, and
intellectual (conceptual) reification end, purifying the mind and transforming
it into an entirely critical mind. To fully realize this "approximate
ultimate", the Bodhisattva has to train in two fundamental ways :
"Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra,
there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some
cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out
infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the
extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a
single glittering jewel in each 'eye' of the net, and
since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the
jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels,
glittering like stars in the first magnitude, a
wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select
one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at
it, we will discover that in its polished surface there
are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite
in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels
reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the
other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting
ignorance ("avidyâ") : an old and sightless person with a stick :
as the origin of the cycle, ignorance is the root-cause of all suffering,
both mental & emotional.
Innate ignorance is a state of distraction & confusion caused by being
unaware of the true nature of phenomena. As a result of this ignorance,
one "imputes", "imagines" or "hallucinates" a dual world (divided in a
substantial subject & a substantial object), causing imaginary ignorance.
The man is unable to see, yet believes he can use his stick.
The small area covered by the stick is what the blind actually know, which
is very limited. Likewise, the ignorant invent a dual world, locking
themselves up within its narrow confines ;
The causal logic of the
contaminated dependent-arising of suffering can be reversed. This results in the above twelve links
leading to undeluded, true ("vidyâ"), enlightened consciousness
or uncontaminated dependent origination.
All the teachings of Lord Buddha
Shâkyamuni, the Buddha of our Age, aim at wisdom. A wisdom-mind or
Bodhi-mind attends all that exists as it exists and nothing more. It does
not introduce substances. It prehends dependent origination, empty of
itself, but full of infinite relations or actual accasions belonging to or
characteristic of all things (as in Indra's Net of totality or unbounded
wholeness). These parts together, actual occasions entering each other in
togetherness, is all that exists. Nothing else.
On Finative Practices
"The knowledge of Shrî Heruka is the purified means of achieving all qualities. By drinking the water of bliss, one's merit is purified and one's sins are destroyed. Freed from all sins, the superior man, who practices through contact or even intercourse, has a purified body that is free of illness, is purified of all sins, and obtains the glory of being a Tathâgata. In life after life one is born in the Tathâgata clan, and one becomes a righteous king."- Cakrasamvara Tantra, chapter XXVII.
BOOK II : TANTRA Practices : FINATIVE PRACTICES
DIVISION 1 : LOWER TANTRA PRACTICES
1. General Preliminaries
to Lower Tantra.
DIVISION 2 : A DESCRIPTION OF HIGHER TANTRA
BOOK III : Ati-Yoga Practices
"I take refuge in the triple refuge,
The present text on Tantra tries to transpose Indian, Tibetan &
Chinese tantric yogas to the Western mindset, seeking attunement with its
millennarian depot of esoteric correspondences as reflected in Ancient
Egyptian, Hermetic, Qabalistic & Sufi sources, indeed in Mediterranean
spirituality at large (Paganism, Western Tradition, Monotheism). This realigns the practice with the Vedic original
and brings Buddhist Tantra in tune with Western initiatic & mystical
"Tantric religion from early on was a pan-Indian movement that cut across religious boundaries. In the resulting environment of ritual and literary exchange, the lines that long had distinguished religious traditions were blurred and sectarian competition for royal patronage intensified." -Dalton, 2011, p.11.
Referring to the idea of a single underlying principle ("eka"), the Sanskrit word "tantra" means "weft, loom, warp, context, continuum". It may also refer to "text". In Tibetan, "tantra" is known as "ju" ("rgyud"), meaning "thread, string", or "that which joins things together". Etymologically, the Sanskrit word "tantra" breaks down into the verbal roots √tan, or "propagate, elaborate on, expand on" and √tra, or "save, protect". Tantra spreads a teaching that saves. It also strings together these teachings in words, and then refers to a specific text about esoteric spiritual practices, as in "Hevajra Tantra". Here, the word exclusively refers to esoteric practices as found in the texts of the Guhyasamâya, Hevajra, Cakrasamvara, Vajrayoginî & Kâlacakra Tantras.
The history of Indian Tantra is shrouded. Naming these special esoteric teachings & practices "Tantra" happened relatively late, although the earliest documented use of the word itself is in the Rig Veda (X.71.9). Even in Buddhist Tantra, giving rise to a specific "path", the Vajrayâna or "Diamond Vehicle", also called Tantrayâna, Mantrayâna or Guhyamantrayâna, secrecy always remained essential, and so all key teachings were given, as in Western Qabalah, "from mouth to ear", and "received in order to bestow". This is still largely the case today, although a lot has become available in books.
As in Yoga, Tantra aims at a spiritual transformation opening the door to the direct experience of the Divine here & now, entering the immediate awareness of the presence of the absolute (no longer overlayed with false ideation or even conceptualization). In Yoga, this is the restriction of mental fluctuations hindering the "seer" to stand in his own-form, bringing about union ("samâdhi"). In this view, the outstanding feature of Tantra is its esoteric, "special" spiritual technology or set of salvic methods. In a Hindu context, this was "Kundalinî Tantra", in Buddhist practice, Deity Yoga, Higher Yoga Tantra & Ati-Yoga.
Indeed, India produced two main systems of Tantra : Hindu & Buddhist. The former was largely based on Shiva & Shakti (Shaiva Tantra, promoting the union of both), the latter on Heruka (union of wisdom & bliss). Recent scholarship evidences Buddhist Tantra to be historically rooted in Hindu Tantra, in particular Shaiva Tantra.
In Indian Tantra, the underlying transcendent principle is the quality of oneness ("eka"). The underlying principle or ground of being is not remote or uninterested in mundane, nominal, conventional existence. On the contrary, all possible activity is its actual display or play ("lila"). There is no "mundane" existence devoid (separated from) the Divine. Nor is there a separate "transcendent" existence. There is one pan-sacral reality (the One Thing). To call it "Shiva/Shakti" or "Heruka" does not eclipse the underlying nameless principle itself (the "Tao" of the Chinese, the "Ain" of the Qabalists). Of course, for Vedic religion, this principal is the permanent "substance of substances" of Nature. For Buddhism, it is an impermanent Bodhi-mind in process.
Historically, Buddhist Tantras are part of the Mahâyâna. In the context of the Lesser Vehicle (Theravada), Tantra is pointless (and the Fourth Turning rejected). These Buddhists insist Tantra is not part of the actual teachings of Lord Buddha. Some assert they originate from Shaivism. Others claim Shaiva Tantra was derived from Buddhist Tantra (cf. Govinda, 1991) ! Traditionally, the origin of Buddhist Tantra is supposed to be rooted in the Fourth Turning of the Wheel by Buddha Shâkyamuni and meant for superior practioners only. To them, he appeared as Vajradhâra, the Bearer of the Vajra. These yogis had integrated the First, Second & Third Turnings and were about to realize the nondual "seeing" of emptiness on the First Stage ("bhûmi"). They were to become Superior Bodhisattvas ("ârya").
From the 8th century onwards, i.e. with the rise of the Pâla dynasty of Bihar & Bengal (760 - 1142 CE), Buddhist Tantra became a systematic body of teachings and entered Buddhist universities. At that point, it was "purged" from explicit sexual acts (internalized) and formalized. Radically different from Hindu (Shaiva Tantra), it did not equate wisdom ("prajñâ") with Shiva ! Antinomian (and a-social, transgressive) elements were deemed part of a "logic of reversal" -steeped in doublespeak and a "twilight language"- necessary for speeding up spiritual evolution, and this by confronting & liberating negative states of consciousness directly (making "desire" part of the path). Evoking, in a monastic context, afflictive & non-afflictive emotions (like anger, hatred, cruelty, arrogance, pride etc), was deemed possible (albeit highly ritualized & mostly visualized). But explicit sexuals acts were replaced by an erotic symbolism expounding the unity of compassion (the ultimate method to accumulate vast merit) and emptiness, realized by a wisdom-mind mounted on a luminous very subtle body (wind), i.e. the living unity of the Two Truths realized simultaneously (and not sequentially, or incompletely).
In Tibetan Tantra, initiated by Padmasambhava in the 8th century, this tantric union ("eka") may also be represented by an explicit sexual embrace (cf. "yab-yum", "father-mother") ; mostly a male Buddha with his female wisdom-consort. Monks vowing to be celibate, mostly replaced this wisdom-consort (the woman with whom the male tantric is supposed to have intercourse) with internal processes (sensualisations). However, in the Highest Yoga Tantra, actual erotic contact is deemed necessary !
Buddhist Tantra, the Highest Yoga Tantra in particular, is the special method to generate the mind of spontaneous great bliss and use this mind to meditate on emptiness, reinforcing this great bliss. The fact desire is integrated into the path is shared with Hindu Tantra. Indeed, instead of renoucing the fire of the desire realm, wherein "all dharmas are on fire", the Buddhist tantric welcomes desire, but always together (simultaneous) with emptiness (i.e. with the absence of self-sufficiency in the desire at hand), feeding spontaneous bliss. Desire is the object of this highest "method" denying it self-subsisting, self-powered substance by an ever-present wisdom realizing the ultimate nature of all possible phenomena : lack of substance, but presence of process. This said, without compassion (revealing this process) and at least a strong realization of emptiness (on the Path of Preparation), Tantra is dangerous, said to lead to a bad migration, to poor health, mental disease and a reduced life-span.
This is why Tsongkhapa stressed prelonged Emptiness Meditation before entering the tantric path.
In Tibet, Buddhist Tantra became strongly interlinked with specific yogic techniques, in particular Inner Fire yoga, making the "winds" enter, abide and cease (dissolve) in the central channel of the subtle body (the so-called "Vajra Body"), and the preparation of this crucial event through Deity Yoga. The importance of fire and the "flame of Agni" goes back to the Vedic seers (cf. the Keshin Hymn from the Rig Veda), while the Yogas for "moving the winds" may go back to Chinese (Taoist) sources.
Indeed, the importance & influence of the latter must be taken into account. Using Chinese information (from Inner Alchemy -Complete Reality School- and Ch'i Kung, especially the harmony between Wei Dan & Nei Dan manifest in the enlightened ones as the energetic balance between Li -Fire- and Kan -Water-), enables one to develop novel tantric techniques and better understand the traditional accounts (in particular those related to the "white" and "red" drops). This may revolutionize Buddhist Tantra, making it more operational & less symbolic (restoring the original intent, ripping away cultural overlay & monastic adaptations).
Vajrayâna did not introduce a new view on reality and so is based on the same wisdom realizing emptiness as the Great Perfection Vehicle. The crucial difference being one of method only.
By filling the two "baskets" of merit (compassion) & wisdom (insight into reality) simultaneously (not sequentially), a crucial treshold, after which final enlightenment is attained speedily, can be reached with greater ease. This technique it at the heart ("om") of all tantras ("tantra"), and is represented by the union ("eka") of wisdom ("e") and method ("-vam"), leading to the highest powers ("siddhi") & Buddhahood ("bodhi"), never leaving the mind prehending emptiness ("hum") in the "here and now" ("phat"). The yogi is transformed into "Heruka" ("he" or emptiness, "ru" or compassion and "ka" the union of both).
Calling, in the Great Perfection Vehicle, for three countless aeons of hardship, the goal of Tantra, Buddhahood, can -according to Indian & Tibetan sources- be attained in a single lifetime or less (three months ?) of relatively comfortable practice. In Chinese Inner Alchemy & Ch'an Ch'i Kung (Da Mo), the foundational practices take hundred days and the method could be completed in at least three years, if not longer (depending on money, partner, techniques & place).
Let it be clear, the Fourth Turning is exceptional. To bestow his own tantras, Lord Buddha, after his "parinirvâna" (?), appeared in the minds of Superior Bodhisattvas as Vajradhâra. These initiated a variety of Buddhist Tantras (divided in Father, Mother & Nondual Tantras). In the tantric method, the conditions are set for swift, irreversible & radical transformation of impure body, speech & mind into pure (enlightened) body, speech & mind (this is called "producing Heruka" and is considered the supreme yoga). The more this production-process, method or exceptional skillful means is perfected, the more powerful the "tântrika" becomes, i.e. is able to liberate others by the Four Vajra Actions of pacification, increase (decrease), control & wrath (destruction). Turned into one with magical feats ("siddhis"), this Superior Bodhisattva soon to become a Buddha, only seeks to benefit all sentient beings.
Buddhist Tantra survived in Tibet and in the Shingon school of Japan. It never grew well on Chinese soil. Tibetan Buddhism integrated the complete Buddhayâna or Buddha's path to enlightenment (including Secret Mantra Vehicle). With the 1959 exodus of the XIVth Dalai Lama to India and the arrival in the West of lots of senior Tantric Lamas (ofter formely part of the ruling 5% of Old Tibet), Buddhist Tantra came to be practiced by Western practitioners. This allows one to study, reflect & meditate on the effectiveness of these Tibetan-styled tantras for the Western mind. A process of comparison and readaptation can start.
It is hoped this work results in the emergence & growth of a Western-style Buddhist Tantra, integrating Western science (physics, cosmology, neurology, anthropology, philosophy), Chinese Ch'i Kung (both Inner as Outer), Taoist Inner Alchemy (southern Complete Reality School) and of course typical Buddhist & Hindu Tantras. Although the Tibetan Kangyur contains translations of almost 500 tantras, four are outstanding : Guhyasamâya, Hevajra, Cakrasamvara (Vajrayoginî) & Kâlacakra Tantras.
§ 1 Hindu Tantra : an Appraisal.
"The basic categories of Tantric ontology were
worked out long ago by the Sâmkya school of thought, the rudiments of
which can be found already in the Rig-Veda. In its classical form,
as delineated in the Sâmkhya-Kârikâ of Îshvara Krishna, Sâmkhya
recognized twenty-four ontological principles, the twenty-fifth being the
principle or category of the supremely conscious Self (purusha).
The twenty-four principles belong to the province of nature (prakriti)
Feuerstein, 1998, pp.67-68.
"I was born in Nun before the sky existed, before
the Earth existed, before that which was to be made form existed, before
turmoil existed, before that fear which arose on account of the Eye of
"There was neither non-existence nor existence then ;
there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.
What stirred ?
In whose protection ?
Was there water, bottomlessly deep ?
There was neither death nor immortality then.
There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day.
That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse.
Other than that there was nothing beyond."
Rig Veda, Creation Hymn (Nâsadîya), 1 - 2.
Both texts suggest a highly sophisticated intellectual milieu.
Is Hindu Tantra the "fifth Veda", i.e. a continuation of the four Vedas and the subsequent Brahmanical religious texts based on them, the Brâhmanas, the Âranyakas, the Upanishads, the Purânas and the Bhagavad-Gitâ ?
Dating the Rig Veda ca. 2000 BCE, makes the Vedic civilization contemporaneous with the late Indus Valley civilization (ca. 3000 - 1700 BCE). The early Indo-Aryan migratory movements to the South (caused by climate change ?) were not an "invasion" of an advanced "Aryan" culture at the expense of a "primitive" aboriginal population (as conjectured earlier), but rather a gradual acculturation of more primitive nomadics on an advanced urban civilization in decline. This is suggestive of infiltration & mutual adaptation, slowly forging a new cultural continuum consisting of an interaction between different currents.
Little is known about the culture of the original, pre-Aryan, native Indians. One would expect their spiritual practices to be less intellectual & refined than the Vedic. No doubt it took a few centuries to finalize the integration between these simple native Indians and the cultured Indo-Aryans migrants (earlier, in Ancient Egypt, something likewise had happened with the assimilation of the popular Osiris in the elitist Royal Cult).
proto-Shiva in Mûlâbandhâsana or Padmâsana ? - ca. 2500 BCE
Conjecture Tantra to become one of the corner-stones of the "eternal religion" ("sanâtana-dharma") of India at the end of the Vedic period (ca. 500 BCE). The Vedic revelation and the means (Yoga & Tantra) begin to be slowly differentiated. Both means have a distinct tradition (Yoga can easily be integrated into the Vedic-Brahmanical fold, Tantra not). Moreover, there is an undeniable (Shamanistic ?) similarity between the Vedic revelation and Tantra, facilitating integration. Important tantric practices have their Vedic simile. Yoga (general spiritual practices) & Tantra (special spiritual practices) also serve an identical salvic intent : union of "âtman" with "Brahman" (of "Shakti" with "Shiva").
proto-Shiva Prashupati, Lord of All Animals - ca. 2500 BCE
However, it cannot be affirmed the
Vedas, the Brâhmanas & the Âranyakas develop a
systematic view on Tantra, in fact, it is never defined as such. Is it
possible the earliest spiritual practices, in casu Yoga &
Tantra defined as methods or skillful means ("upayâ") for operating the
transformation of body, energy & mind (cf. "technologies of the self" -
Foucault), were developed in the early Shramana Movement, ca. 6th & 5th
century BCE, i.e. before the traditional date of the historical
Buddha (ca. 563 - 483 BCE) and before Mahâvîra (599 - 527 BCE)
Although the underlying "subtle anatomy" can be found in the earliest Upanishads (like the Taittiriya Upanishad, dated to the fourth or fifth century BCE), the art of circulating life-force was probably derived from Chinese Taoism ("ch'i'"). The interaction between China, India & Tibet is however unmistaken. A set of multi-cultural & millenarian correspondences can be found :
"Shiva represents pure consciousness which is inactive - the static aspect of the ultimate reality ; while Shakti represents the world force - the kinetic energy of the ultimate truth. Shiva is Nivritti and Shakti is Pravritti and in the ultimate state they remain in a union of oneness. From the cosmological standpoint Shiva is said to be the Bindu (of white colour to suggest the comparison with seed or semen) and Shakti i Rakta (of red colour to suggest the comparison with ovum) and this Bindu and Rakta unite together to produce the principle of I-ness or egoism." -Dasgupta, 1974, pp.99-100.
The transgressive, antinomian spirit implied rituals involving cremation grounds, polluting substances associated with sex & death (like faeces & urine), fierce gods & goddesses and initiations involving the consumption of the "essences" of the male Guru and his female consort. The central theme was the union of "Shiva" with "Shakti", of the masculine (Solar) transcendence (empty space) with feminine, immanent (Lunar) energy. Shaiva Tantra allowed the Lunar Kundalinî-Shakti or "serpent power" (at the base of the spine) to rise and unite with Solar Shiva at the crown of the head (cf. Kundalinî Tantra). She is Earth and He is Heaven. They unity and then form a unity "in the heart", making all things of "one taste". When this happens, the enlightened yogi loves the world.
"This self verily, is in the heart. Its etymological explanation is this : this ('ayam') is in the heart ('hrdi') ; hence it is called 'Hrdayam' ('Hrdi-ayam'). One who knows this goes to the heavenly region every day." - Chândogya Upanishad, 8th discourse.
In Shaiva Tantra, the negative effects of the overall spiritual degeneration taking place in the dark age ("kali-yuga") must be countered with powerful, radical methods to break through the attachment to conventional relationships and worldly concerns. For the "tântrikas", the Vedas were seen as an earlier revelation which had lost efficacy ! In the eyes of Brahmins, this notion bordered on "heresy", for the Vedic heritage was deemed a revelation of the Divine. But Shaiva Tantra avoided any direct conflict by claiming its tradition originated from the same source. The methods were adapted to the present age in which desire, craving, grasping and hatred run amok. Confronting afflictive emotions instead of renouncing them, the tantrics integrated practices unacceptable to the Brahmins.
Antinomianism is one of the features of Shaiva Tantra, i.e. going against the law, vow or accepted norm. These texts refer to going against the grain, inversion or reversal. This may lead to excentric, extravagant or extremist behaviors. Mad, wild wisdom at work. The contrast with the sober & clean way of life of the Brahmin could not be more pronounced. Hence, Shaiva Tantra developed two schools : (1) the perilous "left-hand path" of Vâmâchâra, a "kâpâlika-style" practitioner associated with the skull he wore, devoted to transgressive practices involving fear, danger, pain & sexuality, and (2) the "right-hand path" ("dakshinâchâra"), featuring purification rituals and a total surrender to the Divine Mother ("Shakti" in all her forms).
Although antinomianism runs agains the consolidation of power in outer architectures (rulers, kings, states), Tantra got associated with the art & science of dominating the forces of Nature. Identifying the "residence" of the king as the "mandala" of the resident deity, and amply using morbid & military symbols in their rituals, both point to the importance of these magicians in the affairs of power, sexuality (marriage, children, etc.), wealth & longevity. Even in Buddhism (in view of the invading Muslims), Tantra was used to control and if necessary destroy "the enemies of the Dharma" (cf. the Kâlachakra Tantra, covering the whole spectrum of esoteric Buddhism, and also aimed at destroying the Muslim barbarians).
Shaiva Tantra targets a vast & profound understanding arising from the direct experience of higher states of consciousness during meditation & ecstasy. But the distinction between "vaidika" (Vedic) & "tântrika" (Tantra) always remained pertinent. Both poles of Hindu spirituality continued to interact, giving Brahmin worship ("pûjâ") Tantric features, or explaining Tantric processes in terms of Vedic theology (cf. the pair "Shiva/Shakti", "purusa/prakriti").
Finally, the idea of an innate ground of being, formless & beyond description, is part of both Shaiva Tantra and Buddhist Tantra. Especially the nondual Vajñâna-Bhairava Tantra, or "Scripture of the wisdom-Bhairava" (6th century CE), considered by some as the supreme Shaiva Tantra, comes close to Buddhist Tantra, for Shiva is equated with unbounded spaciousness -emptiness- (lack of inherent existence) & Shakti with energy -fullness- (or dependent-arising, universal interconnectedness).
§ 2 The Rise of Buddhist Tantra.
"It is quite clear that the ritual technology of Vajrayâna has direct historical links with Vedic ritual practices. The most prominent of these are initiation (abhiseka) and the fire ritual (homa). Similarly, much of the ideological underpinnings of the practices draw on Vedic speculative philosophy." - Payne, 2006, p.24.
Within the context of the Greater Vehicle, Buddhist Tantra gave rise to again a completely new body of texts. Shiva & Shakti are no longer substantialized (reified) as the independent ("svatantra") heart of being. The absolute is no longer viewed as self-sufficient and substance-based, but as an uncontaminated dependent-arising and therefore process-based. The personalized, anthropomorphic, connotations (the contexts of the Vedas, Brâhmanas, Âranyakas & Upanishads) are removed from the view on the essential nature of the Divine. The Divine is approached without the Vedic context !
The Divine identified by Lord Buddha is called "tathâgatagarbha", or Buddha-nature. Nothing more. It lacks ("shûnya") inherent existence ("svabhâva") and exists by way of (universal) interconnectedness & interdependence ("pratîtya-samutpâda"). Existence is a relatively real (logical & efficient) interdependent totality, and so "operational", but is not based on fundamental, essential (simple or complex) substances permanently & inherently existing from their own side, but merely resulting (emerging) from the process of what is ("dharmadhâtu"). The Divine is not self-powered, but totally other-powered. It is full-emptiness, empty of essentialist reification, but full of dependent-arising (inter)relations. Two kinds of interdependent entities exist. On the one hand, contaminated, impure objects, overlayed by a false ideation (superimposing substance on process) and uncontaminated, pure objects, i.e. suchness prehended by Bodhi-mind.
In the Vajñâna-Bhairava Tantra, Shiva is still luminous spaceousness & Shakti ever-moving energy. The Sun of wisdom is the masculine but still & wise (empty) Shiva and the Moon of Method the feminine, ever-moving (full) Shakti, together Parama Shiva. In the Hevajra Tantra, the same scheme is found, but the Sun is feminine & the Moon masculine (!).
Why did Buddhist Tantra switch the sexual polarities of
the subtle Vajra body (Sun & Moon refer to the two lateral channels of
duality) ? Grammatically, "prajñâ" (wisdom) is feminine & method ("upâya")
masculine, while symbolically quite the opposite seems true. Indeed, in
the Vedic teachings, in Shaiva Tantra, Chinese Taoism, Ancient Egyptian
religion & Western Qabalah, the Sun is masculine (shining), the Moon
(1) First Phase (ca. first to 8th century CE) :
The emergence of the first phase of "Vajrayâna" or "Adamantine Vehicle", the third phase of Indian Buddhism, probably dates from the early 2nd century CE. Its earliest texts are from the "kriyâ" tantra class (Action Tantra) and were translated into Chinese from the 3rd century. It was a minority movement of certain individuals (Nâgârjuna, Asanga) and probably began together with the Greater Vehicle. No doubt these practitioners were in close contact with what was happening in Hindu Tantra. After time, an "esoteric" form of Buddhism rose. It remained Indian, secretive, unsystematic & a private minority interest well after Hindu Tantra had already been canonized. Its main object was wisdom ("prajñâ"), the exceptional teaching of the Buddha regarding the ultimate nature of all phenomena. Why did they equate wisdom with a feminine Sun ?
This "expansion" of the Mahâyâna consists in the adoption of additional techniques ("upâya", or "skillful means") rather than in wisdom. In particular, extensive rituals, specific yogic techniques & the use of Deity Yoga are outstanding. Transgressive elements are incorporated, and so afflictive desire & the senses are not rejected. The practitioner brings the fruit (Buddhahood) into the path, and this by identifying with Bodhi-mind and its infinite manifestations, all of "one taste". But the detail about these early tantric practices is unknown.
These early Buddhists tantrics also introduced an inclusive Buddha, a symbol of the universality, timelessness and completeness of the enlightened mind, a Buddha of the enlightened mind of all the Buddhas, enthroned in the Kâlacakra Tantra as the "Âdi-Buddha" as late as the 11th century, but already preluded much earlier in the Tantras in figures like Aksobhya, Samantabhadra, Vajrasattva, Vajradhâra and others. They also developed a wide range of visualizations of the Buddhas, intended to bring about their actual presence. This "buddhânusmriti" or "recollection of the Buddha", seen in one of the first few Mahâyâna sûtras to be translated into Chinese in the first century CE, probably a century after its redaction, evidences the practice of meditation in front of images or paintings. This procedure is seen in one of the first few Mahâyâna sûtras to be translated into Chinese in the first century CE (cf. The Samâdhi of Direct Encounter with the Buddhas of the Present).
This visionary yogic technique may have provided the mental mechanism & operator by with Mahâyâna texts were held to be the authentic words of the Buddha (the Fourth Turning is said to have happened when Lord Buddha appeared as Vajradhâra in the minds of superior practitioners). But Tantric practice was completely absent in the Lesser Vehicle, and grew out of the Mahâyâna. If so, then the attribution of the Guhyasamâya & Kâlacakra Tantras to a king (Indrabhuti) requesting teachings from Lord Buddha may be nothing more than a literary device.
"There is no reason to suppose the employment of sexual practices, let alone the 'transgressive' aspects of kâpâlika-style practice. Nor are there indications of actual identification with the Buddha or another deity." - Samuel, 2008, p.220.
Although in this early phase of the Vajrayâna, there seems to be an incorporation of "special techniques" into regular practice (based on Sutric Mahâyâna), this is only proto-tantra ; there are no erotico-sexual practices, nor transgressive symbols, only a more imaginative way to interact with Buddha & Buddhahood. Neither does the meditator identify with the visualized Buddha as in Deity Yoga.
The first formal sets of Buddhist Tantras (Action & Performance Tantras) may be understood as later monastic formalizations of these early imaginal practices, involving extensive worship of the chosen Deity (as manifestation of Bodhi-mind). With the rise of "mahâyoga" (Guhyasamâya Tantra - early 7th century), identification with the Deity is actively sought and new techniques aiming such arise.
Guhyasamâya - early 7th century
In the Gelug sect, founded by Tsongkhapa, this "Tantra of the Secret Community" acquired canonical status and became the literary "constitution" of Buddhist Tantra, introducing Deity Yoga and the trappings of the methodology. As with most tantras, there are different traditions and transmissions. Most likely the oldest surviving lineage is the Jñānapada Tradition (Buddhashrijñāna - late 8th century). The Ārya tradition is historically central and based on commentaries based to Nâgârjuna, Âryadeva, and Candrakîrti.
The Buddhist Tantrics of the wanted to integrate the methods of the Kashmiris, but not their substantializing mythology of Shiva & Shakti. Did in their mind "Shakti" finally became ""prâñja" to make sure Shiva was no longer the focus here, but merely the profound embrace with (female) emptiness during the highest orgastic acts ?
(2) Second Phase (ca. 8th to 11th century CE) :
"From the seventh century, tantric rites grew increasingly elaborate, until the mid-eighth century, when the new Mahâyoga tantras introduced the so-called liberation rite and a whole new ethos of extreme behaviour and transgressive violence." - Dalton, 2011, p.10.
As late as the 8th century, with the arising of the Pâla dynasty of Bihar & Bengal (760 - 1142 CE), the Vajrayâna entered the great universities ("vidyâlaya"), and Tantra was further "purged" (internalized) and strictly formalized. At the same time, given the magical work done by tantrics for the central authority, the Vajra deeds, in particular destruction (ritual violence & killing, magic of war) were introduced and elaborated.
This heralds the second phase of the Vajrayâna.
Hevajra - ca. late 8th or early 9th century
Cakrasamvara Tantra - ca. late 8th or early 9th century
Kâlacakra Tantra - 11th century
"By the end of the first millennium, tantra increasingly had become to dominate Indian Buddhist life and practice and, for that matter, to affect life and practice in nearly all Indian religious communities." - Jackson, 2004, p.11.
In this second phase, this historical "purging" of the tantric methods called for limitations imposed on the erotico-sexual spiritual practices, arrived at by symbolizing & internalizing the union between compassion & wisdom-mind. Because the Sun (of wisdom) was deemed female and the Moon (of method) male, the male Vajra Master was systematically identified with Lunar method (Vajra) and the female consort with Solar wisdom (Ghanta) ! This notwithstanding that "Vajra" implies "emptiness" and so refers to wisdom.
If the more universal attribution (also found in the Vajñâna-Bhairava Tantra) had been used, the male Vajra Master would have been Solar wisdom (Vajra - Shiva) and his female consort Lunar method (Bell - Shakti). No contra-intuitive correspondences would have been the case and the sexual polarities left in place (the Sun being masculine and the Moon feminine).
Male-dominated sexual practices and transgressive symbolism were never
completely eliminated, in fact, sexuality reemerged as an important factor
in the Kâlachakra Tantra, the culmination of the Buddhist tantric
tradition in the 11th century.
There are many unorthodox analogical schemes. In his Ngagrim Chenmo (Great Discourse on Secret Mantra), Tsongkhapa argues against the idea Action and Performance Tantras curtail Deity Yoga by eliminating Self-Generation. For him, all Tantras involve Deity Yoga, and Deity Yoga implies Self-Generation. He also criticizes prevalent systems or correspondences. He also criticizes a large number of other classifications.
"Buddha set forth two principle Mahâyâna vehicles : the Pâramitâyâna, the vehicle (which provides meditation) on the causes (of enlightenment, or the Vehicle of signs ; and the Guyamantrayâna, the Vajrayâna, the Vehicle (which provides meditations) on the Results (of enlightenment). Yet practice of solely the former of these produces enlightenment only after three countless aeons of difficult austerities such as sacrificing limbs of one's body and so forth. In short, it is a long and arduous journey. But if in our practice we couple the Vajrayâna with the Pâramitâyâna then after a short comfortable practice we can go to the end of cultivating goodness and overcoming negativity and can quickly and easily gain the state of all-pervading Vajradhâra within one lifetime. Vajrayâna is a very quick path ; but in order to embark upon it we must first train our mindstream through the disciplines of the common path, the Pâramitâyâna, until a degree of stability has been gained. Only then should one enter into the path of the Secret Mantra." - Seventh Dalai Lama : The Preliminaries of Initiation, in : Mullin, 1977, p.15.
§ 5 A Critique of Traditional Tibetan Buddhist Tantra.
Although traditional Tibetan Tantra involves the primordial wholeness and completeness of being, represented by the union of the male method-Deities with their female wisdom-consorts, the deeply entrenched domination of woman by the male elite (using sexual intercourse with woman exclusively to charge one's spiritual batteries), gave rise to tantric teachings in which the mother goddess emanated from the masculine god, and the androgyny (male-female forces possessed by a man) remained uncompensated by gynandry (female-male forces possessed by a woman), building in disparity. Then, bi-sexual eroticism is reduced to heterosexual machoism. As a result, and not solely because of this feminist critique, some practitioners try to develop a Navayânic Buddhist Tantra for the West, i.e. in harmony with Western science, secular thought & basic human rights. This goes against the paternalism, the dogmatism and the authoritarian approach of some Tibetan Lamas and calls for rethinking many teachings, rituals and regulations, in particular in the context of Tibetan Buddhism training Western minds !
The dynamic structure of the Vajra Body was no discovery of Vajrayâna, rather it was adopted from pre-Buddhist times (cf. the Upanishads) and possibly also from Chinese medical thinking. Although the Kâlachakra Tantra displays many parallels with Hindu Kundalinî Yoga, with regard to the subtle bodily technology needed to arouse the female "kundalinî", important differences between these cultural traditions pertain.
Traditional Buddhist Tantra, as it was preserved and developed in Tibet, unleashes, on the basis of the Sacral Wheel, the Inner Fire at the Navel Wheel and does not focus on the point between the anus and the root of the penis like the Hindus & the Chinese (the perineum or "huiyin", acupuncture point C0-1). The "candâlî" ("fire woman") flares up in the belly of the Vajra Master and her heat, kindled by vase breathing, rises to "melt" the "cool" white drops abiding in the head ("Bindu Visarga"). This melting takes places in four stages (the Four Joys), corresponding with four energy-wheels. On account of their "watery" character, the white drops extinguish the "fire woman". Then consciousness is purified to the point of the shining mind, the mind of Clear Light or very subtle (secret) layer of mind. In the Chinese alchemical account, a similar process is at hand, identifying three "treasures" (or Elixir Fields), and a single firing process transforming the essence (of water or "jing") into vapour ("ch'i"), refining spirit ("shen").
Why is the feminine, linked with the passive element in India, China & the West, equated with the activity of this destructive fire ? Is the hostile attitude of Sutric Buddhism towards the world of appearances, form & womanhood at hand ? As the feminine and the act of birth were deemed responsible for the "terrible burden of life", are "world" & "womanhood" made synonymous ? In Early Buddhism, women could not reach "nirvâna". They had to work hard to "earn" a male incarnation ! At first, even the Buddha doubted whether an order of nuns was appropriate ... By kindling the red drops within himself, the male symbolically casts the "world-woman" upon the pyre ! All form becomes victim of the flames. Is traditional Buddhist Tantra, as preserved in Tibet, based on a patriarchic male ideology ? The role of the female is made subservient to the salvic goal of the male. As a "wisdom-consort", she merely serves the male to establish the supreme goal : the union of bliss and emptiness. How come the core of the Buddhayana, namely emptiness, is given a subservient role ? A contradiction is felt here.
Again, why associate Solar wisdom with the feminine and Lunar method with the masculine ? Why is wisdom the Bell ("ghanta") and not the Vajra ? Wisdom-mind, being the realization of the Clear Light, can indeed be consistently identified with the self-kindling, hot fire of the Sun (making the day), whereas the method to realize it refers to the derivative "cool" light of the Moon (visible at night). Indeed, the "Sun of wisdom" stands for awakening (beyond the Kether of Qabalah) while the Moon refers to the method leading up to it (cf. Yesod and the Qabalistic Grade of Theoreticus). This awakening is not feminine, reflective (of Water, Earth). It is masculine & shining (of Fire, Heaven). The method to achieve this wisdom adapts to all circumstances, ever-changing & mutable. This is the feminine (the full energy of dependent origination) leading to the masculine (the uninterrupted space of the wisdom realizing emptiness).
In traditional Buddhist Tantras, wisdom is merely a "consort", the primordial energy and subservient "matrix" (mother) of all form. This is the world upside down, for what is at the heart of the Buddhadharma (namely "prajñâ") is made subservient (while it should be at the forefront), whereas the energetic containers (or methods merely propagating this energy) rule.
Contemporary systems of Tantra should
therefore work out a system leading to a blissfull union of the polarities
and not to one "males only". On the one hand, the Solar (Vajra) male
"takes" the feminine, Lunar form-energy of the woman to reach androgyny,
on the other hand, the Lunar (Lotus) woman "assimilates" the masculine,
Solar force-energy of the man to reach gynandry. He bestows her wisdom and
she reflects, manifestating wisdom-energies. The ideal being sacred
omni-eroticism through the union of Lunar Bliss & Solar wisdom. In
the spirit of the Highest Yoga Tantra, androgynous guru-god and gynandric
mistress-goddess are one. This Tantric scheme is far more balanced. It can
already be traced in Taoist Inner Alchemy, in particular in the Complete
Reality School, were both male and female bodies are able to achieve
enlightenment by means of their respective omni-erotic energies.
"operators" are Heruka-Vajrayoginî, and so omni-erotical, implying the
partners assume the role they prefer. In case of opposite sexes, it may be
common for the female to assume Vajrayoginî and the male Heruka. In the
case of two woman or two males, the complementary polarity is sought. The goal being to allow all possible operators to
experience all types of bliss and empty it. The male realizing androgyny
and the female gyandry.
The Aspiration of Samantabhadra
All that appears and exists, all of sâmsara and nirvâna,
Has one ground, two paths and two results.
It is the display of awareness and ignorance.
Through the aspiration of Samantabhadra
May all be fully awakened
In the Citadel of Dharmadhâtu.
The ground of all is uncomposed,
An inexpressible, self-arisen expanse
Without the names "samsâra" and "nirvâna".
If it is known, Buddhahood is attained.
Not knowing it, beings wander in sâmsara.
May all beings of the three realms
Know the inexpressible ground.
Know naturally that ground
Without cause and condition.
I am without the defects of superimposition
and denial of outer and inner.
I am unobscured by the darkness of mindlessness.
The Aspiration of Samantabhadra
from : the Tantra of the Great Perfection Which Shows
the Penetrating Wisdom of Samantabhadra
in : Ponlop Rinpoche, 2006, p.1
Homage to Guru Rinpoche !
In the northwest of the country of Oddiyana
Born on the pistil of a Lotus
Endowed with the most marvelous attainment ;
Renowed as the Lotus-Born
Surrounded by a retinue of dâkas and dâkinîs
Following You in practice :
Please come forth to bestow blessings !
The Vajra Seven-Line Prayer to Padmasambhâva
Homage to Guru Je !
It may seem
There are many teachings they call "profound" !
But the mind
Settled down in the Dharma sees
That when you go
To take the essence of leisure and fortune,
Your savior will be
The cream of the thought of Victors of all three times :
The supreme tradition
Of the Lord, the Victor, Lobsang ;
Where every crucial point
Is absolutely complete, and without any error―
And divisions, and order, and all other details
Of the path
Where open and secret, teaching and practice
For the main stage
Follow review meditation on these,
Every day that goes by
It will plant many seeds in your mind.
Follow as well
For the stages of starting and ending
Our Lord Lama has taught us to do.
Gungtang Tenpay Dronme's Praise of Tsongkhapa
in : Preparing for Tantra, 1995, pp.103-104
"Grant that once I've practice well
"The lower Tantras are a preparation for Highest Yoga Tantra. Only by understanding the three lower Tantras can we fully appreciate the profundity of Highest Yoga Tantra." -Gyatso, 2003, p.22.
The crucial difference between "Lower" and "Higher" Tantra depends on the degree of interiorization involved. This is co-relative with a level (or intensity) of desire, as well as with the yogas at hand. In Lower Tantra, the yogi still makes use of outer (ritual) activity and the meditational Deity is therefore not complete introjected (as in Higher Tantra). Moreover, Lower Tantra does not direct the winds into the central channel. Hence, the fruit of Lower Tantra is not Buddhahood in this life. Although on the basis of Lower Tantra alone the lofty goal of the Buddhadharma may indeed be realized, this happens (if not in a Pure Land after death) only after many lifetimes on Earth (some excentric interpretations do suggest the yogi -able to prolong his or her lifespan- may indeed succeed, by living long enough, in transforming into a Buddha in a single life).
Traditionally, Lower Tantra implies three sets (Action, Performance & Yoga) and so a plural is indicated. In this approach, these Tantras are practiced as independent units or sets. Here, the three sets are brought together, calling for three steps or degrees. In the first, the Deity is superior. In the second, the Deity is a senior. In the third, the Deity is an equal, a peer. Each degree corresponds with a level of desire. The Action degree is like the two smiling at one another. Outer activity (ritual) predominates inner activity (yoga). The Performance degree is like both lovingly gazing. Inner & outer are of equal importance. In the Yoga degree the partners touch by holding hands. Inner yoga is more important than outer ritual. The various yogas will be organized taking these steps as itinerary. Starting with outer activity, yogic activity is slowly interiorized. Only in Higher Tantra is all activity yogic and are the winds consciously manipulated.
The fruit of Lower Tantra, besides being a necessary prelude to Higher Tantra, does lead to "seeing" emptiness, i.e. the this-life entry of the yogi on the Very Joyous, the First Bodhisattva Stage (and so the transformation of the ordinary Bodhisattva into a Superior Bodhisattva). Operating consciousness on this level implies one, after death, may be reborn in the Pure Land of the Deity. Hence, by itself, Lower Tantra is an extremely rewarding practice. Its only danger resides in the overuse of Deity Yoga (and the resulting magical powers), self-generating the Deity as an end and not as a means. This is said to cause rebirth in the realm of the Hungry Ghosts. Practicing Deity Yoga without truly realizing the fruit of the Stage of Preparation (i.e. a conceptual, contrived, fabricated, "example" realization of emptiness by way of the generic idea of emptiness generated on the basis of "superior seeing") leads to rebirth in the realm of the Devas. Hence, even Lower Tantra is not without dangers.
In Higher Tantra, ending all outer ritual activity, the partners intimately embrace, indicating the highest level of interiority is achieved. This is done by way of two stages, called "Generation" and "Completion". The latter involves a complete dissolution of the winds in the central channel, a loosening of all Heart Wheel obstructions (knots) and so a complete concentration on the secret drop (the indestructible "bindu" residing in the Heart Wheel), making the ten winds enter it and abide there. Lower Tantra, and the Generation Stage of Higher Tantra, does not call for such a completion, but only for a "generation", which is a fabrication (a simulation) of what happens in the completion phase. Lower Tantra does not manipulate the winds intentionally. It prepares the mind and this by (a) fully generating the Deity (first in front and then within) and (b), familiarizing with it to the point of realizing clear appearance & strong "Divine pride". The concentrations facilitate meditative equipoise on the secret Vajra drop and the complete end of all conceptual reification. Hence, before this is at hand, as well as meditative equipoise achieved, no Higher Tantra should (and can) be practiced. Lower Tantra prepares one for Higher Tantra, and the Generation Stage of Higher Tantra prepared one for the Completion Stage of Higher Tantra.
The rituals as given here are simplified versions of the very elaborate activities involved in the traditional practices. They represent, insofar as the author is capable, an operational core, but may (and for some student need) further elaborations in terms of preparation, offerings, hand-signs ("mudrâ"), prayers etc. Indeed, the overwhelmingly diverse forms found in traditional manuals make entry into the Vajrayâna even less likely, while some simplification (and the elimination over cultural overlay) promote an understanding of the basic intent of the yogas at hand. This is certainly the case in Higher Tantra, but also here.
1.1 Tantric Requisites.
"The Bodhisattva's every activity is conjoined with Three Excellences : (1) prior to the activity, the generation of the altruistic intention to become enlightenend, (2) during the activity, an understanding of the action, its object, and agent as empty of inherent existence, and (3) upon completing the activity, a dedication of its virtue to the welfare of all sentient beings." - Hopkins, 1999, pp.31.
Tantric commitments & vows are taken at the start of the Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment (or initiation). Hence, they will be discussed in the section on Higher Tantra. Lower Tantra does not call for these vows & commitments. However, a series of requisites indispensable to practice Tantra may be listed. These need to be all present before a Lower Tantra initiation can be conferred :
1. the yogi (after having taken Refuge) must spontaneously generate Bodhicitta ;
2. on the basis of this, the yogi must have taken the Bodhisattva Vow ;
3. the Bodhisattva must have accumulated vast stores of merit (by training the Four Immensurables, the Six Perfections and other practices mentioned in the section on Accumulation) and so have sufficient compassion for all sentient beings, i.e. the intention & actual work to benefit them ;
4. the Bodhisattva must have realized Sutric Calm Abiding on emptiness and, on the basis of this, have generated the mind of "superior seeing" ;
5. the Bodhisattva must have realized Sutric approximate emptiness and so have fully conceptually realized the correct view ;
6. the Bodhisattva must have the intense desire to achieve Buddhahood quickly so he or she may benefit all sentient beings as soon as possible ;
7. the Bodhisattva must have all the necessary worldly conditions to practice Tantra for at least three years uninterruptedly (place, people, money).
Practicing the Sûtras (Sûtra Practices, 2012) will eventually bring about the two central requisites : Bodhicitta and the wisdom realizing emptiness (conceptually). Clearly the latter implies the Bodhisattva has travelled far on the Path of Preparation. This Path (the third stage of the Five Stages leading up to Buddhahood) has four substages : heat, peak, patience & supreme Dharma.
"Self-existence―not produced and not reliant ;
Dependent arising―reliant and produced ;
How could these coexist
Without contradiction ?"
Tsongkhapa : A Praise to the Buddha, 26 (2002, p.106).
1. heat : the beginning of a very powerful enthusiasm to perfect wisdom. The "fire" of non-conceptual understanding will soon be produced, precursor of unconditioned "gnosis". In meditative equipoise, a clear conceptual awareness of suchness is a fact ;
2. peak : the culmination of this strong love of wisdom is a very intense mind coming conceptually very close to emptiness, as if the mind mixes with it, which is however not yet the case. The virtuous roots cultivated will no longer be lost or cease. Conceptual understanding of suchness increases ;
3. patience : a special attitude is generated towards Dharma in general and emptiness in particular. Gross conceptuality is gone, but subtle conceptual appearance of substance remains, hindering a complete mixing of mind & emptiness. Nevertheless, a refined conceptualization of emptiness is the case ;
4. supreme Dharma : here mind and emptiness are nearly mixed. It is the highest experience of the "ordinary" Bodhisattva. All their experiences are supreme Dharma paths of preparation, and the highest worldly attributes are attained (good health, material means, support by good companions, strong mind, etc.). Object & subject are no longer consciously perceived as separate. When this very subtle conceptualization of emptiness happens, the antidote against substantial conceptualization has been found and objects are no longer designated as independent and local absolute existences possessing their properties from their own side, or ¬A (cf. Ultimate Logic, 2009) Instead, they are dependent originations possessing impermanent logical & functional properties. They are not substantial, but nevertheless not nothing, but something. Indeed, they are merely contaminated (impure) or uncontaminated (pure) relations.
Tantra cannot be practiced if the substage of "patience" is not realized. Although the sutric Bodhisattva eventually ends acquired self-grasping resulting from intellectual conditioning, he or she may have to practice for a very long time before stabilizing consciousness completely and so ending the possibility of any relapse. Lower Tantra is a set of yogas (besides preparing for Higher Tantra) eliminating such regressions quickly and irreversibly. So they quickly bring about "supreme Dharma" and guarantee entering the First Bodhisattva Stage (the Very Joyous) in this life. The core activity causing this is Deity Yoga, the assumption of Buddhahood, coupled with yoga without sign. In other words, Lower Tantra recapitulates the work done on the sutric Path of Preparation, deepening & stabilizing the realizations beyond the point of no return.
"Thus, since you taught that no phenomena exist
Except those that arise dependently,
There are no phenomena other than these
That lack self-existent essence."
Tsongkhapa : A Praise to the Buddha, 15 (2002, p.80).
1.2 The Grand Preliminary.
At the end of my Sûtra Practices (2012), the various techniques discussed were brought together in a so-called "Grand Preliminary", a series of yogas & rituals performed at the beginning of every exercise, yoga or ritual. It sets the mind in the needed frame and allows for a smooth recapitulation of all important points of the Sûtras. For the details of this , the reader is referred to this text.
In the ritual outline below, mantra anchors are added to the Grand Preliminary. The rubrics have been adapted to the forthcoming tantric rituals.
The complexity of this Grand Preliminary shows Tantra cannot be practiced
without years of Sutric yogic & ritual work. Indeed, this introductory procedure
must be executed smoothly and without any hesitations. All points must be
perfectly understood and the sense of the ritual activity thoroughly
grasped. A talented practitioner able to work many hours a day at this
will at least need five years of practice to be able to do this, if not
longer ... Add to this Emptiness Meditation, and understand why Tantra is
for the few. Indeed, besides the outer conditions (material means), inner
& secret hinderances must be cleared. Especially the latter can only very
exceptionally be purified without the help of a "special dangerous
friend", a so-called "Vajra Guru".
Before they affect the realm of manifestation (cf.
hylic pluralism), all activities of the higher planes (7 - 2) reflect
in this etheric double. Hence, changing the way this
double functions, allows one to better access these higher planes. This
explains why Tantra always involves the acquisition of parapsychological
powers (telepathy, telekinesis, etc.), the so-called miracle "powers"
("siddhi"). These are incorporated in the so-called Four Vajra Actions of pacification,
increase (decrease), control & wrath (destruction). The presence of these
tantric powers proves one has effectively transformed. But their actual
use has its own dangers, both outer & inner. Outer dangers may be the
accusation of black magic and subsequent social isolation. Inner dangers
involve the development of personal pride. Serious tantrics avoid their
display, but vow to make use of them when compassion demands.