Dharma - Merit - Meditation - Nectar - Liberation - Emptiness - Process - Awakening


Studies in Buddhist Tantra

Lower Tantra Higher TantraAti-Yoga

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Lama Chöpa Merit Field

to all our teachers

The former text entitled "On Buddhist Tantra" has been replaced by these Studies in Buddhist Tantra, encompassing :

• Lower Tantras : Generation Phase Yogas
• Higher Tantras : Generation & Completion Phase Yogas
• Ati-Yoga : Supreme Yogas : Mahāmudrā, Other Emptiness, Dzogchen, Ch'an

Buddhist Tantra is preceded by the study & practice of Sūtra (or Pāramitāyāna - Sūtrayāna - Bodhisattvayāna - Great Perfection Vehicle). Sūtra is based on the Buddhist Canon.

Lower Tantras, Higher Tantras & Ati-Yoga define a graduated, integrated path to awakening. Tantra depends on the approximate realization of emptiness & vast compassion on the basis of the mind of enlightenment ("Bodhicitta"). Ati-Yoga depends on devotion to the Buddha Within.

Lower Tantra recapitulates the Sûtra-based teachings & meditations on emptiness in terms of profound Deity Yoga, but without directly addressing the subtle energy-matrix or Vajra Body. In Book II of the present studies, Higher Tantra is defined as the common ground shared by the Tantras of the class of "Highest Yoga Tantra" ("annutarayogatantra"). These aim to bring down innate self-grasping by manipulating the Vajra Body, the energy-matrix relating body & mind. Still an indirect approach.

Only Ati-Yoga directly focuses on the mind. Because the awakening recognition (of the natural mind) spontaneously leads to the self-liberation of the mind and this without actively manipulating any underlying structure (like the energy-field), Ati-Yoga is not really a "tantra". This classification suggests a graduated approach, and this despite the fact the actual recognition of the original mind is sudden.

Practicing the Buddhadharma

• Book I : Sūtra Practices

PRELIMINARY : Body, Breath & Mind
FOUNDATIONAL  : Generating Merit
ACCUMULATIVE  : Accumulating Merit
PREPARATIVE  : Realizing the Approximate Ultimate

• Book II : Tantra Practices

(1) First Division : Lower Tantra : Action, Performance & Yoga Tantra
(2) Second Division : Higher Tantra : Generation & Completion Stage Yogas

• Book III : Ati-Yoga Practices

Book III depends on Book I and Book II.

Lesser Vehicle Sûtra aims to purify, ending the
Five Hindrances (sense desire, ill will/aversion, sloth & torpor, restlessness & remorse and doubt) and their underlying tendencies, the Ten Fetters.

Great Vehicle Sûtra heals the body by means of renunciation.

Great Vehicle Tantra (
Vajrayâna) transforms impure energy into pure energy. It manipulates the winds & wheels using speech ("bīja", "mantra").

Great Vehicle Ati-Yoga is the work of the self-liberating mind.

Each set attends one of the Three Gates of body, speech (energy) and mind.

• Sûtra : body : renunciation (takes a very long time) ;
• Tantra : speech : transformation (at best finished in a single lifetime) ;
• Ati-Yoga : mind : self-liberation (in this very moment here & now).

Sûtra, making body & mind pliant & supple, contains the complete path. In the Lesser Vehicle (
Śrâvakayâna, Pratyekabuddhayâna), this leads to Arhathood. In the Great Vehicle (Pâramitâyâna) to a Bodhisattva, who, after having realized approximate emptiness (at the end of the Path of Preparation), takes three aeons to realize Buddhahood (finish the Paths of Seeing, Meditation to No More Learning). Tantra allows to realize Buddhahood in a single lifetime. It does so by integrating desire while taking the fruit (Buddhahood) into the path. In Completion Stage Yoga, Buddha-mind is directly recognized. The Ten Stages are completed with more ease & faster.

Ati-Yoga (crowning the Mahâyâna) aims at awakening in this very instance.

This is the work of no-work, the yoga of no-yoga, the station of no-station, where meditation & postmeditation merge. What is there to meditate on ?

This is the yoga of nonduality. The method of no-method. It directly aims at the mind, not attending the energy-matrix, nor the physical body. This absence of attention refers to preceding preliminaries precisely dealing with these points. Supreme Yoga is the crown of the practice. It is not for beginners.

Without devotional practices these supreme yogas are pointless.

To self-liberate the mind, the essential point is to immediately recognize the instant present state of mind. This is like being introduced to something totally, radically & absolutely new ("totaliter aliter"). This holds for every instance of this mind.

Such Bodhi-mind is the union of appearance & emptiness, of bliss & emptiness, of the heart of compassion & the wisdom realizing emptiness, of bliss & space. But these Sutric & Tantric characterizations are mere symbols, not the direct, immediate, unmediated enlightened experience itself.

Ati-Yoga attends the mind itself, not its objects (attributes), nor its vehicles (gross & subtle bodies). The "method" being the no-method of introduction.

Ati-Yoga introduces or points at the nature of mind. After this introduction, sustaining the recognition of this mind is accommodated, cutting-through all what appears, "sealing" it with the "great seal" ("mahâmudrâ") of emptiness-bliss. Indeed, every object appearing is blissful and empty of own-self. Placing this seal on what appears, is like the genuine & effective mental affirmation that the appearing object is defined by the radical absence of self-powered "own" nature ("svabhâva"), while simultaneously attending the luminous root-mind at hand in every instance of the mindstream.

After placing the Great Seal on all appearing sensate & mental objects, no other mental operation need to be done than resting in the natural mind. This "procedure" or path, compared to Sūtra & Tantra, is of the most excellent simplicity.

In the view of Other Emptiness, the original, primordial, natural "mind of Clear Light", is clear, vivid, intense, naked, transparant, pure, non-reactive and totally open & creative. Beginningless & always there, it is free from any label, while no label contradicts it. Nameless, it has been given all names. This self-luminous, self-knowing and absolutely relaxed mind never tights up, is beyond conceptuality and so beyond verbal description. Buddha-nature is fully actualized, inseparable from its enlightened properties, always existence, without increase & decrease ... This "special" dependent-arising, like all other phenomena, lacks inherent existence, but is a "holomovement" (Guenther), a harmoniously moving form.

We never stop talking about Buddha-nature because it irreversibly ends suffering.

The nondual mind of awakening cannot be approached from the outside, as an object. As the fundamental layer of the mind, there is nothing supporting it. It is the groundless ground of all our conceptual and other mental structures, and so can only be a datum of a direct & nonlocal (scalar) prehension, not a perceptual & conceptual (vectorial) apprehension.

Ati-Yoga is a set of essential points facilitating the continuous recognition of this one-fold mind of awakening.

In Dzogchen :

"A direct introduction into the nature of mind is the first imperative.
Absolute conviction in the practice is the second imperative.
Gain confidence in release is the third imperative."

Garab Dorje : The Three Incisive Precepts.

The Ati-Yogas are : Mahāmudrā ("Great Seal"), Other Emptiness Yoga, Mahāsandhi ("Great Perfection", also known as "Dzogchen") & Ch'an (Zen).

To situate Ati-Yoga in the Buddhayâna as a whole, the device called "The Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma" is helpful. Ati-Yoga belongs to the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.

In these studies, Indian, Tibetan & Chinese tantric yogas are transposed to the Western mindset, seeking attunement with its own millennarian depot of esoteric correspondences (as perfected in Qabalah). These practices are "open" and so adjustable when necessary. In this case, to the Western mindset of criticism, with its demythologisation and focus on factuality (logic & efficiency), rationality & conceptuality (discursive thought).

The millennarian practice lineages of Tibet safeguarded Indian Sūtra & Tantra. How wonderful ! Since 1959, Tibetan Buddhism spread to the West and is being practiced there, integrating the yogas of the five schools with Western science and philosophy. Thanks to the countless Tibetan yogis & wise men, a true science of mind is transmitted. This is Tibet's gift to the world.

"When the iron bird flies, and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the World, and the Dharma will come to the land of the Red Man." - attributed to Padmasambhava


© Wim van den Dungen, Antwerp - 2017
philo@sofiatopia.org l Acknowledgments l SiteMap l Bibliography

Mistakes are due to my own ignorance and not to the Buddhadharma.
May all who encounter the Dharma accumulate compassion & wisdom.
May sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace.


initiated : 29 XI 2008 - last update : 02 X 2014 - version n°1