Digest of Methods & Wisdoms


by Wim van den Dungen





Book I : Sûtra Practices
Book II : Tantra Practices
Book III : Ati-Yoga Practices






General Introduction

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.


The subdomain 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 present text is a digest and gives short summaries & instructional outlines of outstanding practices. The available yogic technology is subdivided in five levels, called Preliminary, Foundational, Accumulate, Preparative & Finative. The first four of these are covered in Book I, whereas the Finative Practices are dealt with in Book II & III.

The first four degrees (Book I) are called "Sûtra Practices" because they derive from the causal perspective on salvation. This is a sequential, gradual, step-by-step approach, defining the stages of the path to enlightenment (cf. "lam-rim"). The distinction between view, path and fruit is pertinent. The fruit is not taken into the path, but remains an object of aspiration throughout. Renunciation & compassion are used to generate a calm state of mind.

The last stage of the Sûtra Practices is rational & conceptual. The fruit is contrived, merely an approximation of awakening. This is the best kind of understanding, the best "discerning process", but not living wisdom yet. This superb conceptual understanding (or "prajñâ") is not the direct gnostic living knowledge (or "jñâna"). It is the end of the Path of Preparation and not the beginning of the Path of Seeing.

"Fire emerged by rubbing two sticks together,
Yet the rising flame consumes the sticks.
Similarly, a discerning process is activated by analytical wisdom,
Yet the wisdom consumes the dualistic thoughts."
- Kâshyapapariprcchâ-sûtra.

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.

In all sentient beings rests an original mind. This natural mind is empty of permanent things and full of relations. This clear mind is without concepts. It does not apprehend, but prehends. It is pure spacious awareness displaying radiant energy in every moment. To fully recognize this is the ultimate fruit. Making clouds vanish, veils are rendered and all spiritual practice per se ends. This is always already here & now, immediate & instantaneous. But if this very subtle mind is not recognized, gradual practice is all what is left.

In the 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 practitioners.

Buddha Shâkyamuni is said to have turned the Wheel of Dharma four times, gradually introducing new methods adapted to ever more sophisticated practitioners.

First Turn : the basics : the Four Noble Truths & the Eightfold Path, mindfulness & Calm Abiding ;
• Second Turn : elaborating on compassion (Bodhicitta) & emptiness (Insight Meditation) ;
Third Turn : on Buddha-nature, introducing the nature of mind ;
• Fourth Turn : actually (energetically) transforming the deluded mind into the enlightened mind (Tantra, the most esoteric approach).

According to other classifications, the Third & Fourth Turn have to be considered as a single round of teachings, with Mahâmûdra & Dzogchen crowning Tantra. This is a very sensible approach. Some reject the Fourth Turn altogether.

In the section on meditation, the Eightfold Path points to :

Right Effort : control the mind and gain positive states of mind ;
Right Mindfulness : cultivate constant awareness ;
• Right Meditation : Calm Abiding & Insight Meditation.

This implies wrong effort, wrong mindfulness & wrong meditation must be avoided. These exist as samsaric states of mind, suffering and generating suffering for others. In terms of the Buddhadharma, conceptually understanding & directly seeing emptiness are crucial, never fixating the mind, allowing it to grasp at the inherent existence of subjective and/or objective states. The aim is not to remain trapped in & by cyclic existence, avoiding both its upside and downside, even not as demi-gods or gods, but to escape suffering all-together !

The practices collected here are born out of three decades of personal study, reflection & experience. They stem from Western, Indian, Chinese & Tibetan traditions. Clearly, the latter tradition brought together a complete overview of the Buddhist path, and this without neglecting the Tantric path.

The main sources being : (1) Indian Buddhism, (2) Tibetan Tantra (in particular the Guhyasamâya, Hevajra & Cakrasamvara tantras) & (3) Chinese Inner Alchemy (Taoism), in particular the Southern Complete Reality School (Chang Po-tuan), and Ch'i Kung (Wei Dan & Nei Dan). Of course, students refer to their own mentors & gurus to modify them.

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 :

  1. Preliminary : elementary practices, covering body, breath & mind ;

  2. Foundational : building the foundation to be able to quickly generate merit ;

  3. Accumulative : practices to ongoingly increase the accumulation of merit ;

  4. Preparative : realizing the mind approximating ultimate reality ;

  5. Finative : actually realizing liberation & awakening.

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.

Thanks to recent advances in technology, psychosomatic science enables one to measure crucial results in a more objective way. Indeed, biofeedback offers additional measuring devices to back progress, adjust & speed up practices. In the interactions between mentor & student, the more traditional take may integrate these data, dramatically reducing transference & other negative factors, assisting both !

Questions like : Can tensions be reduced at will (parasympathic response, rest & digest) ? Is the GSK flexible (fast responses) ? Can sensitive mental issues be addressed without triggering the sympathetic branch of the peripheral nervous system (fight or flight response) ? Is a calm mind a fact (HRV coherency) ? Is visualization strong (strong Alpha) ? Can trance be attained (Theta) ? Has compassion effectively & thoroughly been generated (strong prefrontal Omega) ? Is the Awakened Mind Pattern visible ? etc. can be answered in a more objective, measurable way. Thanks to direct feedback, these parameters can be trained. This complements the indispensable role of the mentor or guru.

Do practices not hinder spontaneity ? To those of high capacity they clearly do. But to others, they are strong antidotes, very effective measures to counter their neurotic mind. Because of this, they may also be recuperated by the latter to exert control on the transformation or "metanoia" induced by the original spiritual intent, leading to obsessive repetitions and exacerbating conservatism. Attachment to spiritual practices is to be avoided. Once they have served their purpose, their use clearly stops. Hence the importance of their nonpartisan, clear & powerful codification.


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 :

  • GSK (Galvanic Skin Response) : measures & trains the depth of the relaxation or arousal responses ;

  • HRV (Hearth Rate Variability) : measures & trains the coherency of the heart function, defining the overall stress-factor and the depth of mental calm ;

  • NM (Neuromonitoring) : enables one to monitor the activity of the brain and correlate it with states of consciousness ;

  • NF (Neurofeedback) :  actually trains the brain to become more attuned and integrate altered states of consciousness ;

  • AVS (Audio Visual Stimuli) : allows, using  light and sound stimulation, to target specific brain states, accommodate altered states of consciousness and adapt the overall functionality of the nervous system in terms of preset tasks (concentration, creativity, tranquility, insight, peak-performance) ;

  • NS (Neurological Scripting) : implants hypnotic suggestions using GSK, HRV, NM, NF & AVS combined to induce trance-states ; helpful to clear blocks, invite a smooth learning-curve and bring about constructive changes in mentality, habit-formation, well-being, etc.


The above mentioned technologies, in particular AVS & NS, are intended for spirito-educational purposes (like monitoring & stimulating spiritual growth) and are not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment or cure of any physical or mental dysfunction ! Moreover, they should not be used by persons with neurological and psychiatric disorders (like for example epilepsy, severe neurosis or psychosis), especially when these may be triggered or aggravated by rapid light fluctuations, binaural beats or NS (trance) techniques. People with high blood pressure, heart disease or a generally weak condition should proceed with caution and in consultation with a qualified medical practitioner.

Meditation is not meant to cure physical or mental illness.
Spiritual Practice calls for a sane mind in a healthy body


Spiritual practice aims to balance, to cease suffering. When in doubt, always consult qualified mentors, teachers, masters or Gurus. Only the reader is responsible for the consequences of the misuse of information or flawed practice.

  • First Degree : PRELIMINARY
    1. Postures : assuming a stable & comfortable body posture sustainable for a long period of time. In the East, the Lotus (or Vajra) Posture is the most common, while for Westeners, the Maitreya Posture is often more suited ;

    2. Fourfold Breath Practice : concentration on the out-breath, on the in-breath, on the heart, concentration 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 and sacred sound ;

    5. Basic Energy Work : elementary Ch'i Kung exercises ;

    6. Analytical Meditations : discursive meditations on a variety of core themes of the Buddhadharma ("lamrim") ;

    7. Four Thoughts Practice : analytical meditation on one's precious human birth, on suffering, impermanence and cause & effect ;

    8. Calm Abiding on a Coarse & Subtle Object : place meditation on an external (sensate) object and place meditation on an internal (mental) object ;

    9. Jhâna Yoga : special place meditation ;

  • Second Degree : FOUNDATIONAL
    1. Pratimoksha Vows : cultivating the mind in which killing, stealing, lying, taking drugs & sexual abuse are absent ;

    2. Refuge Practice : preliminary to Refuge and the practices of Outer, Inner & Secret Refuge in the Triple Gem in its coarse, subtle & very subtle manifestations ;

    3. Request for blessing & Dedication Practice : requesting blessing & practice of transferring one's acquired merits to the merit-field benefiting all sentient beings ;

    4. Small & Complete Prostration : outer, inner & secret practice of humbling body, speech & mind ;

    5. Homage to the Five Buddha Families : praise of the Five Dhyâna Buddhas ;

    6. Light, Incense & Water Offerings to the Five Buddhas : practice of offering light, incense & water to the Five Buddha Families ;

    7. The Seven Limbs Practice : practice of reciting the Seven Limbs : humbling, offering, confessing, rejoicing, supplicating, turning the wheel & dedicating ;

    8. Generating Relative Bodhicitta : generating the mind of enlightenment for all sentient beings by meditations on the Four Immeasurables : Joy, Love, Compassion & Equanimity ;

    9. The Hundred-Syllable Mantra Practice : purifying defilements of body, speech & mind by the Vajrasattva visualization & mantra recitation ;

    10. Generating Absolute Bodhicitta : generating the mind of enlightenment for all sentient beings by meditating on the emptiness of subject & object of the Immeasurables ;

    11. Guru Yoga with Mandala Offering : practice of attuning to & receiving blessings from one's Guru and of offering everything to him or her ;

    12. Lineage Light Offering : practice of the lineage light ;

    13. Energy Work II : Five Organs Ch'i Kung ;

  • Third Degree : ACCUMULATIVE
    1. The Bodhisattva Vow : taking the vow to generate the mind of enlightenement for the sake of all sentient beings and accomplishing the stages of the Bodhisattva training ;

    2. Mani Practice : practice of the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra of Avalokiteshvara ;

    3. Prayer Wheel Practice : practice of the extensive accumulation of compassion using the Prayer Wheel ;

    4. Energy Work III : practice of various breathing techniques aiming at leading the vital force (winds) or "ch'i" ;

  • Fourth Degree : PREPARATIVE
    1. Insight Meditation on Selflessnes of Persons : analytical meditations on the absence of inherent existence of persons ;

    2. Insight Meditation on Selflessness of Others : analytical meditations on the absence of inherent existence of outer phenomena ;

    3. Garland Sûtra Practice : practice of the Net of Indra ;
  • Fifth Degree : FINATIVE
    1. Lower Tantra Practices
    2. Higher Tantra Practices
    3. Ati-Yoga



Practices SÛTRA

On Preliminary Practices



Preliminary practices initiate meditation. They interlock and provide a basic training for body ("âsana", posture "Ch'i Kung", energy work), speech ("prânâyâma", breath control) & mind ("dhârana", concentration, "dhyâna", contemplation). In both Sûtra & Tantra, these "three doors" are crucial. The spirit of this part of the discipline is renunciate. Increase of mindfulness and realization of Calm Abiding ("shamatha") are the targets. They introduce crucial Dharma themes into the practice.

mûlâdhâra Root perineum cervix
svadhistâna Sacral pubic bone coccyx
manipûra Navel navel behind navel
anâhata Heart midway nipples behind centre of chest
vishudha Throat midway sternum behind throat pit
âjñâ Brow between eyebrows middle of brain (pineal)
bindu visarga Bindu top back of head (occipetal)
sahasrâra Crown crown of head (pituitary)

More than once, reference is made to the energy wheels ("chakras") of the subtle body. For our purpose, and in accordance with Kundalinî Yoga, the energy wheels above are important.


0. Preliminaries to Practice.

I. Just Sitting Practice :

1. Postures : assuming a stable & comfortable body posture sustainable for a long period of time. In the East, the Lotus (or Vajra) Posture is the most common, while for Westeners, the Maitreya Posture is often more suitable ;
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 ;

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.

0. Preliminaries to Practice

"Sickness, languor, 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.

Before starting any spiritual exercise, guarantee the following conditions :

1. make sure, for the duration of the practice, not to be disturbed in any way ;
2. clean & prepare the place of practice & clean the body, prepare it ;
3. wear loose clothing, be as naked as comfortable ;
4. stop eating one hour and a half before, but drink some water before starting ;
5. make sure to empty the bowels & the bladder ;

6. avoid to be too warm or too cold ;
7. if possible, make sure fresh air can enter the place of practice ; add negative ions without inceasing ozone ;
8. if possible, practice at dawn, at dusk or at midnight.

normal range GSK = 1 (in an average, relaxed person 1 ≈ 2MOhms)

1. Postures

"Posture is steady and comfortable."
Patañjali : Yoga-Sûtra, 2.46

The two Buddhist postures par excellence are the Lotus Posture (Full Vajra Posture or "padâsana"), with both legs crossed and the soles facing upwards, and the Bodhisattva Posture (Accomplished Posture, Half Vajra Posture or "siddâsana"), with left sole fitting under right thigh, with back of right foot lying flat on top of left thigh (for women this is reversed). These postures are not easy to accomplish, especially for Westeners. They may be approximated.

People with physical problems in their legs and/or ankles, or unwilling to go through the long physical training to acquire them, may use the Maitreya Posture, sitting on a chair with feet parallel, ankles slightly outward.

Buddha Maitreya

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 Seven Point Posture of Vairocana

Seven points need to be brought together :

1. the back is as straight as possible (like an arrow or pile of coins) ;
2. the legs are crossed (Lotus & Bodhisattva Posture) or not (Maitreya Posture) ;
3. the hands should be folded, four fingers' width below the navel (not resting on the feet), a little to the front, with elbows slightly out and shoulders held up & back (like a vulture) ;
4. the chin is tucked in slightly, like an iron hook ;
5. the eyes relaxedly looking into space, sixteen fingers width in front of the nose ;
6. the tongue is held against the beginning of the upper palate ;
7. the lips are slightly apart, the teeth not clenched, breathing is nasal.

Try to practice Posture twice a day for at least fifteen minutes. Try to practice at dawn & at dusk. Succes is achieved when unwavering Posture can be comfortably maintained for at least one hour.

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.

These postures act as powerful triggers for the (parasympathic) relaxation-response, opening up breath-awareness and the direct, poignant experience of the inner landscape of mental chatter.

GSK starts to drop from 1 to 1.5 (maximal decrease of 50%)

2. Fourfold Breath Practice

"Breath-control, 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 : Yoga-Sûtra, 2.49-50

In a general way, one should first not actively control the breath, but pay attention to it and try to sense it. In Taoism, the Eight Characteristics of Natural Breathing are (1) calm & silent, (2) slender, (3) deep, (4) long, (5) continuous, (6) uniform, (7) slow & (8) soft. Inhalation & exhalation require the muscles around the lungs and the diaphragm to expand & contract, sucking the air into and pushing it out of the chest cavity.

Posture has the effect of calming the mind and making it steady. This is the foundation of practice. To be able to turn the mind and "just sit" is one of the fruits of correct posture. Excitation causes one to exhale more strongly than inhale, while depression or sadness makes one inhale more strongly than exhale. A calm mind will cause both to be relatively equal. In a general sense, inhalation is "yin" and water, cooling down, while exhalation is "yang" and fire, warming up. Regulating the breath is the ultimate strategy to lead the winds ("prâna" or "ch'i") and so "prânâyâma" is the "royal road" to leading the mind.

Inhale Exhale
Ch'i Inward Ch'i Outward
bone & marrow muscle & skin
cold hot
float sink
light heavy
calm excited
store manifest
condense expand

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.

By regulating (controlling) "prâna" one controls the mind. The first stages of regulation are (1) counting, (2) following, (3) stopping & (4) looking. Counting means just counting the breaths. Following is being conscious of your breathing and follow inhalation & exhalation. Stopping is to stop thinking about your breathing. Looking is to see internally & listen inwardly what is happening. The next stages of regulation are (5) return & (6) clean. Return breathing is regulating without regulating and clean refers to the stage when you use natural breathing to regulate your thoughts, breathing & mind being one. These are the higher stages of breathing practice.

Let us discuss some basic breathing patterns as mentioned by Chinese sources : Natural Breathing, Chest Breathing, Normal Abdominal Breathing & Buddhist Breathing.

Natural Breathing :

Natural breathing is the method of breathing used every day, without any regulation. It is how you find your breath as it is. Feel the muscles related to this and be aware. This is called "finding the breath". When this has happened, one tries to establish the Eight Characteristics. If this does not happen smoothly, one does not forcibly regulate it, but takes note of what is lacking, nothing more.

Chest Breathing :

This is breathing by expanding & contracting the rib cage. It is very common in martial arts & deep sea diving (it increases the capacity of the lungs). Try to relax the chest muscles. Chest Breathing is very common. However, it should be slowly replaced by Normal Abdominal Breathing. The latter is more attuned to spiritual cultivation, emphasizing the abdomen instead of the chest.

According to Chinese Alchemy, Chest Breathing causes emphasis on the "Middle Elixir Field" (Middle Dan Tian), stimulating "Fire Ch'i'" and the emotional mind related to it. Spiritual practice calms the mind and so avoids "throwing oil on the fire". This is why Chest Breathing is avoided. Moreover, by adding "Fire Ch'i", the inner organs become too hot, reducing health and decreasing lifespan.

Normal Abdominal Breathing :

This is the key to spiritual practice. This "Fan Tong" (or "Back to Childhood") breath is a deep breathing exercise, involving slow, deep breaths going all the way down to the abdomen. When inhaling, the abdomen expands, and when exhaling it contracts.

In Chinese Alchemy the abdomen is called the "Lower Elixir Field" (Lower Dan Tian). It is the area between the navel, the perineum and an acupuncture point ("Ming Men") located between the kidneys, at the level of the second lumbar vertebrae. Drawing a line from the navel directly back to the spine, approximates the Ming Men. In Abdominal Breathing, t
he lungs are expanded & contracted by the muscles of the diaphragm and abdomen (instead of the chest muscles). It massages the internal organs, invigorates the abdominal muscles, increases the efficiency of the flow of vital energy from the kidneys to the Lower Dan Tian as well as "Water Ch'i", cooling "Fire Ch'i" and thereby maintaining health & lenghtening life. Regular practice will cause this type of breathing to become automatic.

Normal Abdominal Breathing should become habitual.

Buddhist Breathing :

When Normal Abdominal Breathing is established and during inhalation, the anus and perineum are relaxed, but during exhalation they are gently held up (not tightened), Normal Abdominal Breathing becomes "Buddhist Breathing".

The Fourfold Breath Practice

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Find Normal Abdominal Breathing

I. On Out-Breath :

4. Relaxed, on the In-breath, focus your attention on your Root Wheel ;
5. Notice your breath move upwards and stop at the Brow Wheel, then follow the Out-breath, stop at the Root Wheel and internally say "1". Do this a number of times, say ten times ;

II. On In-Breath :

6. After these ten breaths, follow the In-breath and focus your attention on your Brow Wheel ;
7. Notice your breath move downwards and stop at the Root Wheel, then follow the In-breath, stop at the Brow Wheel and internally say "1". Do this a number of times, say ten times ;

III. On Heart Wheel :

8. After these ten breaths, on the In-breath, focus your attention on your Heart Wheel ;
9. Imagine & try to feel your breath going In and Out of this Heart Wheel. Do this as long as you want ;

IV. On Ânâpâna :

10. Then, focus your attention on the area above the upper lip, under the nostrils (the "ânâpâna") and notice how the air goes in and out. Concentrate on this area. Continue to do this for some time.

11. Stop. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

Try to practice Posture & Fourfold Breath twice a day for at least fifteen minutes. Try to practice at dawn & at dusk.

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.

Such directed effort of the breath (when elaborated & enforced) causes changes in the anatomy of the subtle body and so caution is always imposed. Misdirected "prâna" causes illness & reduces lifespan. Moreover, if done to gain access to special psychic powers ("siddhis"), "prânâyâma" does not really assist liberation or awakening and can be even useless.

While posture is still rather "external", breath moves attention more inward. In this preliminary phase, breath regulation is intended to become more aware of internal process and so is a stepping-stone to mindfulness. As the subtle body is a refined sensing of the gross body, breath awareness is meta-sensing, i.e. a sensing of this refined sensing. This is sensitizing the subtle body. While posture is a gate to being mindfulness of the body, breath is a gate to being mindfulness of one's vital energy, and on the basis of this, of speech. Indeed, breath and speech are both manifestations of vital energy.

GSK drops to relaxed range (1.5 or 50%), HRV is green (level 1) with flux, reduced Beta-waves

3. Simple Mindfulness Practice

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.

Mindfulness or "smriti" is a spiritual faculty ("indriya") literally meaning "that which is remembered" and is related to words as vigilance, heedfulness, ardency, attention, engagement, ... awareness. In the Lower Vehicle, ten forms of mindfulness are identified : mindfulness of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, giving, heavens, stopping & resting, discipline, breathing, body & death. Mostly, mindfulness of breathing is emphasized more than any of the others. The Pali "sati" and the Sanskrit "smriti" have been translated as : attention, awareness, concentrated attention, inspection, recollection, reflection, reflective awareness etc.

When mindfulness is realized, four wholesome mental states arise : delight, gladness  ("pâmojja"), rapturous joy ("pîti"), serenity, repose, tranquility (P."passaddhi"), happiness ("sukha").

Simple Mindfulness Practice

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Normal Abdominal Breathing ;

I. Settle in Space : Here

5. Pay attention to Below you, focusing awareness on both feet and footsoles, then pay attention to Above you, focusing awareness on the open space above your head (part of this attention attends the spine) ;
6. Pay attention to what is before, right, behind and left of you (part of this attention attends the local horizon) ;
7. Bring vertical and horizontal together in a single integrated whole of spatial attention : the Here ;

II. Settle in the Moment : Now

8. Recall a memory. Realize it only exists now ;
9. Evoke the future. Realize it only exists now ;
10. Be aware of any simulation made the mind about itself, the world or the minds of other people ;

III. Move with Movement

11. Witness the Arising, Abiding & Ceasing of all phenomena at hand ;
12. Do not Add (passion), do not Negate (hate), remain Here & Now ;
13. Mindfulness of Breath is to be mindfull of breath ;

IV. Closure

14. Stop. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

Try to practice Posture, Fourfold Breath and formal Mindfulness sessions twice a day for half an hour. Try to practice at dawn & at dusk. Mindfulness can be practiced during the day too. These are then micro-practices, or informal (supererogatory) spiritual activity.

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.

Mindfulness, as taught in the Theravâda tradition, is simply being thoroughly in the present moment and letting awareness to be unbound as possible, devoid of any conceptual overlay, dispensing with judgments, classifications, emotional responses etc. Whatever happens is observed neutrally, without attending to it and without rejecting it, without grasping & without conceptual elaboration. The practice of this preliminary Mindfulness Meditation involves no elaborate trappings, but is as simple as carefully watching without putting in any effort, except that of bringing the wandering mind back to the present moment. If laxity, complacency or "sinking" happens, one just notices it. No antidote is applied. This is the main difference between mindfulness and Calm Abiding (cf. infra).

GSK drops from 1.5 to 2, or 100%, HRV is green (level 2), with flux, Alpha appears

4. Simple Mantra Practice

"The tongue of this Pharaoh is the pilot in charge of the Bark of Righteousness & Truth." - Pyramid Texts, utterance 539 (§ 1306) - ca. 2300 BCE.

The subject of "mantra" or "mind-tool" is vast and as profound as breath regulation. A mantra is a sacred word that, when sounded, realizes its meaning. This capacity, when properly spoken out, to materialize the meaning of the sound (not necessarily the conceptual meaning of the word, although both are possible), is deemed its automatic, inherent "magical" power.

The Ancient Egyptian word for "magic", "heka", also conveys this meaning of an executive power de opere operato, as it were propelled to actualization by way of the potential its own indwelling force. As in Nature all existing phenomena have their own name (Middle Egyptian "ren") and form (S."svabhâva") and a direct connection exist between a name and the thing-in-itself (or semantic adualism), knowing this name conveys power over these phenomena. Vedic thought shares this magical (sympathetic) thinking with the Ancient Egyptians. King Unis was first to use "sacred words" to magically secure his passage to the hereafter. The Memphite Creator-God Ptah is also said to have created the world by merely speaking his mind.

"There comes into being in the mind. There comes into being by the tongue. (It is) as the image of Atum. Ptah is the very great, who gives life to all the gods and their kas. It all in this mind and by this tongue."
Memphis Theology, 53 - ca. 1000 BCE.

This kind of nomen-est-omen-based magical thinking is prevalent in Antiquity as a whole. Magical words occur as early as the 3th Millennium BCE (Pyramid Texts), and Sanskrit mantras were originally conceived in the Vedas.

One may also view mantra as a special sound bringing to mind, or evoking, summoning up a particular quality of the original mind, the natural mind or Clear Light Bodhi-mind (superconsciousness). As such, it acts as support during meditation. In that sense, mantra -as one of the 84.000 Dharma Doors- may be practiced by all the vehicles. But the magico-sacred impact of mantras is only appreciated by the Mantrayâna, Vajrayâna or Tantrayâna. Can it be completely divorced from the science of mantra ? If so, what about the extraordinary effects, if any ?

OM : Pranava Mantra

bindu :
Buddha mind
raif :
the in-between
Dharma speech
Sangha body

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 Katha Upanishad, the syllable "OM" is said to be "Brahman".

"Recite it to realize its meaning. Hence the attainment of inwardmindedness and also the disappearance of the get betweens."  -
Patañjali : Yoga-Sûtra, 1.28 - 29.

As a symbol, "OM" has three parts : (a) the "bindu", representing the infinite & transcendent, (b) the "raif" ("to murmur"), or Lunar crescent, symbolizing the ineffable (energy) interphase between the infinite & the finite and (c) the letters "AUM", representing the immanent, finite, phenomenal world of desire, known by three states : waking (A), dreaming (U) and dreamless sleep (M). Bindu (Sun) & Crescent (Moon) are therefore related to the "fourth state" ("turîya"), cultivated by spiritual practice. With this sound, we obtain the fundamenal key of the Vedas.

Simple Mantra Practice 1 : the Pranava Mantra

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Buddhist Breathing ;
6. On In-Breath, while breath moves upwards from the Root Wheel and stops at the Brow Wheel, relax, empty out, let go, be silent ;
7. On Out-Breath, while breath moves downward and stops at the Root Wheel, internally sound "AUM";
8. Become mindful of the simultaneity of the cyle of breath and the "pranava mantra" covering both inhalation & exhalation ;
9. When distractions happen, always gently move attention back to the mantra ;
10. After repetitions (3 - 9 - 21 - 108) stop. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

Try to practice Posture, Fourfold Breath, Mindfulness & Mantra twice a day for half an hour. Try to practice at dawn & at dusk.

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.

In this practice, the In-Breath (Water, Yin, relaxation) is linked with the Bindu & Crescent, the original mind, beginningless & infinite and therefore first. This still mind is however not void, but merely empty of self-sufficient substance, and contains the potential or capacity to manifest, actualize & realize efficient processes (the dependent-arisings). These are the samsaric and mayavic manifestations of the conventional, phenomenal world (conventionally valid but ultimately mistaken), linked with the Out-Breath (Fire, Yang, tension). The perineal contractions on the Out-Breath manifest the restriction imposed on the emotional mind and on "Fire-ch'i" in general.

The "AUM" sound is the underlying absolute vibration or tremor ("spanda") holding the manifested universe together and so heals the broken isolation caused by interacting with phenomena on the basis of deluded minds (waking, dreaming or sleeping).


Three Wheels
purified body
Sangha body Bindu Visarga
purified speech
Dharma speech Throat
purified mind
Buddha mind Heart

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.

Simple Mantra Practice 2 : the Three Syllable Vajra Recitation

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Buddhist Breathing ;
6. On In-Breath, with the breath moving inside the nostrils coming inside, recall the sound "OM" ;
7. When the breath pauses slightly inside recall the sound "ÂH" ;
8. On Out-Breath, at the point the breath moves outside, recall the sound "HÛM" ;
9. When distractions happen, always gently move attention back to the mantra ;
10. After repetitions (3 - 9 - 21 - 108) stop. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

Try to practice Posture, Fourfold Breath, Mindfulness & Mantra twice a day for half an hour. Try to practice at dawn & at dusk.

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

5. Basic Energy Work

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 :

Emperor Wu : "How much karmic merit have I earned for ordaining Buddhist monks, building monasteries, having sûtras copied, and commissioning Buddha images ?"
Da Mo : "None. Good deeds done with worldly intent bring good karma, but no merit."
Emperor Wu : "So what is the highest meaning of noble truth ?"
Da Mo : "There is no noble truth, there is only emptiness."
Emperor Wu: "Then, who is standing before me ?"
Da Mo : "I don't know Your Majesty !"

Bodhidharma was a Brahmin who became a Buddhist. He is believed to be the second Indian to be invited to China (after Mi Le Fo). After the meeting with emperor Liang Wu, Da Mo withdrew to the Shaolin Temple on Shao Shi Mountain (Henan Province). But when he arrived there, he found the monks to be weak & sickly ! Indeed, they had only been doing "inner cultivation" or tranquility meditation and not balanced this with outer energy work. They aggravated the problem by an unnutritional, protein-deficient diet. Most considered the body as a "notorious skin bag" ("chou pi nang"), a negative attitude also found in the Lesser Vehicle. Less present in the Mâhayâna, it is rejected by the Vajrayâna.

To find a solution, Da Mo meditated facing a wall and then wrote the Muscle/Tendon Changing Classic ("Yi Jing Jing") and the Marrow/Brain Washing Classic ("Xi Sui Jing"). These became standard texts of "working with vital energy" or "Ch'i Kung". The first (on outer work or "wei dan") taught the monks to gain health and regain strong bodies, the second (on inner work or "nei dan") longevity & enlightenment. These works initiated a new era for "Ch'i Kung", dividing the practices in outer ("wei dan") and inner ("nei dan") cultivation. Because of the first text, Shaolin priests got involved in martial arts training. Nevertheless, "wei dan" training remained sparse in Chinese Ch'an and Japanese Zen ! But to practice tranquility without outer work is indeed hazardous. A stagnation of the flow of vital energy needs to be avoided ! To cool the fire too much is akin to dying. This is not a balanced, "Middle Way" approach.

In a general way, tranquility meditation (part of "inner cultivation" or "nei dan")  is Yin and so adds "Water Ch'i" to the subtle energy-system. This cools down the body and reduces Yang, "Fire Ch'i". This is a common "renunciate" strategy to reduce the impact of the emotional mind (which is fiery). But if too much Yin is added and left unbalanced, immunity is brought down ("shielding Ch'i" becoming too weak). Hence, prolonged & repeated inner activity (like still meditation) always needs to be balanced by outer activity, Yang-based energy work ("wei dan"), the Fire-based method of "working with vital energy" ("Ch'i Kung").

Although many Wei Dan techniques exist, one of the basic techniques are the so-called "Eight Pieces of Brocade" ("Ba Duan Jin"). A more elaborate Wei Dan practice is the so-called "Five-Animal Exercises" ("Wu Qin Xi"). Many more exist, but these two cover the training intended.

Basic Energy Work

Practice the Eight Pieces of Brocade daily or every other day (they take only 10 to 20 minutes). Practice in the morning.

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

6. Analytical Meditations

As an encouragement to agriculture, Shuddhodana, the father of 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.

The preliminaries to tranquility meditation, calmness meditation or Calm Abiding ("shamatha") are mindfulness and analytical meditation. The former duly prepares the mind to be aware of itself and its environment, introducing open space here & now, the latter deliberately posits various virtuous objects in its field of attention (projecting them on the "screen" of the mirror of consciousness). They are called "virtuous" because when the mind grasps at them, these objects undermine the tendency of the mind to substantialize & fixate. They cut at the root of the ontic mind. Slowing becoming detached from appearing objects, the mind becomes aware of the naturally arising, abiding & ceasing sensate & mental objects and no longer identifies with them, ending the grasping onto these objects as if they existed from their own side.

Analytical Meditations

Practice Guided Meditations on The Stages of the Path. To embed the virtuous objects, repeat these meditations.

Chodron, Th. : Guided Meditations on The Stages of the Path, Snow Lion Publications - Ithaca, 2007, with DVD.

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).

So the following steps ensue :

mindfulness meditation : passive, object-less awareness training ;
analytical meditation : on the Dharma, establishing its objects ;
placement meditation or Calm Abiding : active tranquility training using a coarse or a subtle object of placement ;
emptiness meditation or Insight Meditation : meditations on ultimate reality.

The "bird of enlightenment" flies with the two wings of Compassion (method) and Wisdom (emptiness), trained by Calm Abiding & Insight.

GSK stays very relaxed, HRV is green (level 2), steady, symmetrical Alpha

7. The Four Thoughts Practice

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.

This practice introduces four virtuous objects able to stimulate the mind to seek a final way out of suffering. The four thoughts are : (1) a precious human birth, (2) suffering, (3) impermanence, (4) cause & effect.

Spiritual practice should not be postponed. For most, joyous effort must be trained. Practitioners of lesser & middle capacity cannot avoid this. In those always ready & happy to practice, the realization our human birth is an exceptional chance has fully matured.

Suffering is the lot of all sentient beings. Not a single one of them escapes it. All human beings, half-gods, gods, hungry ghosts, animals & hell-beings suffer. Even moments of pleasure are saturated with the foreboding they endure not. Like music, they vanish. Although some sentient beings suffer less, they are all dissatisfied with the world of desire. This world is in constant turmoil and has no balance, pivoting between exaggerated passion and exaggerated rejection (hatred), playing out afflictive duality, reifying affirmation & denial. Suffering must irreversibly cease. This is the Third Noble Truth of Lord Buddha. All human beings possess the ability to be free & awake.

All sensate & mental objects endure not, they are impermanent. Phenomena rise, abide & cease. Moments continue to be followed by other moments. There is no underlying, enduring, permanent, self-sufficient ground or "Urgrund" emparting "being" to the objects it is deemed to be the matrix of. There actually exists nothing except dependent-arising phenomena. Because this is so, all things are in touch with the rest. Where is there a "fixed station", "isolated island" or "permanent abode" ad perpetuam ?
All actions have their consequence. This is cause & effect. Wholesome actions yield constructive results or positive "karma", unwholesome destruction or negative "karma". Some (unworldly) actions generate merits leading outside suffering altogether ! The law of cause & effect has a very positive message : new positive actions cause new wholesome effects. All situations can be changed. It may take a long time, but eventually the highest mountains are merely dust.

In the following version of this practice, the four Anaytical Meditations are (in step 10) anchored by the Earth Witnessing Mudra. An "anchor" is a tigger or a "switch", taking the attention of consciousness into the physical senses, in casu the sense of touch. This association "earths" the state of mind, for it is memorized together with the fruits of the meditation. After repetition, merely generating the mudra triggers a recall of these.

The Four Thoughts Practice

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;

6. Analytical Meditation on a Precious Human Birth ;
7. Analytical Meditation on Suffering ;
8. Analytical Meditation on Impermanence ;
9. Analytical Meditation on Cause & Effect ;

10. Anchor the Practice with the Earth Witnessing Mudra ;

11. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

Try to practice Posture, Fourfold Breath, Mindfulness & the Four Thoughts Practice twice a day for at least half an hour. Try to practice at dawn & at dusk. Use the Anchor when needed.

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".

GSK stays very relaxed, HRV is green (level 2), steady, symmetrical Alpha

8. Calm Abiding on a Coarse & Subtle Object

The bird of enlightenment is said to have two wings : method & wisdom.

Right method generates merit (good karma liberating the mind from
"samsâra") and the highest merit is achieved by compassion or the mind of enlightenment for all sentient beings ("bodhicitta") actually ending suffering (for all). With compassion comes bliss ("ânanda").

Wisdom translates as realizing the ultimate nature of phenomena, i.e. their emptiness or lack of inherent existence. Seeing emptiness is seeing dependent-arising, or the fullness of that what is ("dharmadhâtu"). With the union of bliss & emptiness comes awakening.

Each wing of the bird of enlightenment needs training. One of the possible pains of rebirth is precisely the need to put in (joyous) effort again & again. Method, merit, relative bodhicitta, compassion & bliss all call for a calm, tranquil, serene, poised, pliant mind. Calm Abiding ("shamatha") or calmness meditation is a yoga generating the conditions for such a mind, namely concentration
("dhârâna" in Classical Yoga, and "samâdhi" in the teachings of the Buddha). This yoga invites the mind to "stay somewhere", reducing the self-cherishing & mental chatter of this coarse, substantializing (ontic) monkey-mind, existentially felt as an ego existing from its own side, independent of its objects ... This yoga actively trains full concentration on any sensate and mental object. Also for Patañjali, perfect concentration leads to perfect contemplation ("dhyâna") and from there to union ("samâdhi"). The three together are called constraint.

"Concentration is the binding of consciousness to a single spot. Here, the one-directionality of the notions related to the object of concentration is contemplation. That, shining forth as the object of concentration -as it were empty of its own form- is union. The three together are constraint. Through mastery of that "prajñâ" flashes forth. Its progression is gradual. Compared with the previous members these three are inner. Yet in relation to union-without-seed they are outer members.
 - Patañjali : Yoga-Sûtra, 3.1 - 8.

Only with a calm mind, can objects like emptiness (the absolute property of each and every object) be clearly studied, reflected upon and placed as objects of concentration. With serenity, the question of absolute reality can be properly addressed and attended with fruit.

Wisdom, emptiness, absolute bodhicitta and the Truth Body of a Buddha ("dharmakâya") are the objects of Insight Meditation
("vipashyanâ"), an analytical meditation on emptiness, establishing a valid & definitive path, based on ultimate logic, to the non-affirmative exclusion-negation of the essential, substantial, permanent existence of an inhering object with its properties from its own side. This is a yoga generating a wisdom-mind realizing emptiness. This yoga is always based on the mind of Calm Abiding.

So during training, the two wings must be simultaneously coordinated. This leads to "special insight" (or "superior seeing"), a mind spontaneously generated during emptiness meditation, allowing a constructive coordination between analysis & calmness (synthesis), whereby deeper levels of calmness occur while analysis increases, and analysis becomes sharper when serenity is more extensively established in the mind. With the help of this kind of mind, delusion (ignorance) can be efficiently attended. The mind needs to simultaneously grasp conventional truth (of a samsaric world in need of compassion) and the ultimate truth, the emptiness of all possible sensate & mental objects (of "nirvana", true peace).

To distinguish Mindfulness Meditation proper, "mindfulness", as a mental operation, will, when part of the practice of Calm Abiding, be called "attention".

In this calmness or tranquility meditation, three factors are essential : (a) attentional stability or the capacity to keep one's attention ("smriti") on the object of placement constant & non-compulsive, (b) vividness, or the capacity of the mind to clearly see and maintain interest in the object, and (c) introspection or vigilance ("samprajanya"), or watching carefully to apprehend the precise moment attention begins to slip.

The way to serenity, is focusing the mind and maintaining one's attention continuously and clearly without distractions on an object. Although Calm Abiding uses attention, it is not a Mindfullness Meditation, but a Concentration Practice. It has a precise, focalizing object of meditation and an explicit technique (prerequisites, faults, powers & antidotes). Indeed, attention is no longer "overall" or 360°, as in Mindfulness Meditation, but confined to the object "placed" before the meditator. This is the "object of placement".

This object can be coarse (a sensuous object) or subtle (a mental object). Representing our own Buddha-nature, or potential of enlightenment, a statue of the Buddha is the most obvious object of placement. But all kinds of objects may be used. In principle, all sensuous objects are potential objects of placement. The goal of Calm Abiding is complete equipoise on the object of placement, the mind never abandoning the object. This is mind of concentration, immediately leading to a total apprehension of the object as well as to a nondual prehension of its absolute nature. This is total constraint.

In Tibetan Buddhism, Calm Abiding is practiced in terms of
the Nine Stages to Calm Abiding. From the beginning of the practice to its culmination, certain problems arise, addressed, each time when they happen, by specific antidotes. Without achieving meditative equipoise on an object, emptiness meditation is crippled, and the bird won't fly ...

At every step of the gradual path, the mind grasps, i.e. apprehends with exaggeration, adding & taking away. Compulsive grasping of the mind being the heart of the suffering ceased by the Buddhayâna. Ignorance brings forth the duality of exaggerated desire (passion) and virulent, toxic negation (hatred).

In Calm Abiding, this compulsion is evidenced by coarse & subtle laxity & excitation. Desire is linked with laxity, hatred with excitement. These distract the mind, taking attention away from the object of placement.

Laxity is either the absence of a clear mind apprehending the object (coarse) or the absence of an intensity of clarity, i.e. a sense of tightness of mind with respect to the object (subtle) ;

Excitement is the scattering of the mind away from the object to another object, like remembering a pleasant object while trying to focus on the object. Coarse excitement completely replaces the object of placement with this object of desire, while in subtle excitement only a "corner" of the mind has come under influence of discursiveness while the appearance of the pleasing object is imminent ;

Let us first discuss the teachings concerning Calm Abiding, summarized as the mental actions, prerequisites, faults, powers & antidotes.

The stages of the path to meditative equipose or full concentration on an object, put Four Mental Applications into evidence :

The Four Mental Applications :

1. forceful engaging : one has to force the mind to remain focused on the object of placement (stage 1 & 2) ;
2. interrupted engaging : our practice is interrupted by thoughts and we have to continually bring it back (stages 3 to 7) ;
3. uninterrupted engaging : the mind no longer wanders and stays with its object without interruptions (stage 8) ;
4. spontaneous engaging : the mind rests in meditative equipoise (stage 9).

There are Six Prerequisites to achieve Calm Abiding. If these are not actively sought, the whole training is rather futile, like bringing water to the ocean. These prerequisites are relative and need to be adapted to place, time & person.

The Six Prerequisites :

1. a suitable environment : a quiet, safe place with few companions ;
2. few desires : cultivating few and simple needs ;
3. contentment : attending to what is given in the moment and be satisfied ;
4. few concerns : a simple lifestyle, dealing with what is present right now ;
5. ethical discipline : recognizing the harmful and not indulging in it ;
6. avoiding compulsive thinking/feeling/acting : no mental toys, glib talks, goofy cravings, in particular regarding the worldly desires.

uring calmness meditation, there are Five Faults to avoid. As long as a single one is present, the object of placement is not stable and the Eight Antidotes still need to come into play.

The Five Faults ("âdînava") :

As long as one of these faults is present, the object of placement is unstable.

1. laziness ("kausîdya") : the wish to establish the object of placement not present ;
2. forgetting the precept ("avavâdasammosha") : the object is indeed entirely forgotten ;
3. laxity ("laya") & excitement/excitation ("auddhataya") : implying, on the one hand, lethargy or a heaviness of mind & body and, on the other hand, the fragmentation of attention ;
4. non-application ("anabhisamskâra") : the antidotes to laxity & excitement are not applied ;
5. over-application ("abhisamskâra") : the antidotes to laxity and excitement are applied too often.

Zeal to place the object and meditate on it is generated. This means a strong wish to do so at the start. Then the object cannot be forgotten. Lack of interest must be absent from the start. Moreover, the instructions have been memorized. With the object duly placed, only laxity & excitement need to be eliminated by attention & introspection. A clear mind must be attenting its object in an intensily clear way. This only happens if it is intensily interesting. Moreover, desire for another object is absent, the unscattered mind being totally dedicated to attending its object of placement. This leads to total familiarization with the object and finally union with it.

Without certain faculties, the goal of Calm Abiding cannot be reached. To train these powers, is to inhance the elimination of laxity & excitement, leading up to a total concentration on the object of placement.

The Six Powers ("bala") :

Only by the presence of these power can the object of placement become stable.

1. hearing ("shruta") : stage 1
refers to listening to and/or reading the instructions
2. thinking ("chintâ") : stages 2 & 3
thinking over what has been heard and/or read
3. attention ("smriti") : stages 2 & 3
keeping the object in mind
4. introspection ("samprajanya") : stages 5 & 6
watching attention slip away from the object
5. effort ("vîrya") : stages 7 & 8
doing what is needed to practice further, applying the antidotes
6. familiarity ("parichaya") : stage 9
being totally familiar with the object

Each time an object of placement is attended by the mind seeking meditative equipoise, this mind works its way through these nine stages. At first slowly and after practice rapidly and eventually instantly. When enthusiasm fades, introspection needs to be strong. Watching the arising moment of the mind slipping away from the object, effort is put in by applying the appropriate antidote. This is practiced and eventually the mind and the object integrate.

The Eight Antidotes ("pratipaksha") :

By not applying these antidotes, the hindrances to a stable object of placement remain and Calm Abiding is not realized.

Antidotes to laziness (in premeditation & postmeditation) :

1. faith ("shraddhâ")
2. aspiration ("chhanda")
3. exertion ("vyâyâma")
4. pliancy ("prashrabdhi")

Laziness is the absence of the wish to practice Calm Abiding. If this lack of motivation is present, one needs to gather one's genuine intentions regarding the spiritual path (to awakening). This is a faith check. If the wish to realize the spiritual goal is indeed found to be (still) present, and the necessity of calmness truly understood, then one must trigger enough emotional energy (interest) to be able to aspire strongly and put in the effort to realize more constancy and endurance. Finally, being able to practice in a non-compulsive way, adds suppleness to the actual performance of the practice, taking away harshness.

Antidotes during meditation :

5. attention ("smriti") : antidote to forgetting the precepts ;
6. introspection ("samprajanya") : antidote to laxity & excitement ;
7. application ("abhisamskâra") : antidote to non-application of antidotes ;
8. equanimity ("upekshâ") : antidote to over-application.

Attending the precepts is identifying the stage at hand and remembering the antidotes. On the one hand, in the case of laxity, the mind either becomes dull or the object becomes dull. On the other hand, in the case of excitement, the mind either becomes scattered (no longer identifies the object of placement) or is torn in two (object of placement and another object). Introspection, as a special kind of attention (one directed to the mind itself) identifies this. Working to not to forget to apply antidotes and stopping to use them automatically, as a reflex, are two meta-antidotes, resulting from the fact people even tend to forget or abuse what ceases their suffering.

At some point, the object of placement becomes stable. Finally, the mind never leaves its object. This is full concentration.

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 a general way, laxity is remedied by brightening or enlarging the object of placement and excitement is counteracted by decreasing the size & brightness of the object. Each of the Nine Stages has its own name.

1. Mental Placement : Gross Excitation

Setting the mind. The object, an image or statue of the Buddha or another virtuous object, is found. Concentration is intermittent and random thoughts enter often. The object can only be briefly held. Attention is brief and the object is often lost. There is a lot of mental chatter. Emotional resistances to the training are strong and lead the mind away from its object. This is gross excitation. The object is lost for a considerable time.

2. Continual Placement : Gross Excitation

Continuously setting the mind. Without gross excitation, by an increase of attention, the object can be held for a minute. Mental chatter is present but moves to the background. Resistances fade but are still present. After a small period of placement, the mind is led astray again and the object is lost for some considerable time. Then it is found again.

3. Patched Placement : Gross Excitation

Resetting the mind. One stays on the object longer, but due to excitation it is occasionally lost, but comes back quickly. It is not yet perfectly clear and background mental chatter is still intermittently present. Attention is never lost for long, but the mind does momentarily slip off into short distractions.

4. Close Placement : Gross Laxity & End of Gross Excitation

Close setting of the mind. The mind is imbued with calmness, and the object is not lost for hours at a time. Attention is stable enough for distraction to get hold. There is enough "ballast" to keep the boat of attention from rocking over into wandering. Gross excitation is temporarily overcome. But when continuity of attention is greater, laxity becomes stronger. Introspection is necessary to watch whether it is rising. One need to get rid of gross laxity, fading vividness. This is done by paying closer attention without putting in too much effort. The lens of attention is focuses more and more finely, seeing greater details. There is no wandering, but some background chatter remains. A split focus is present : one on the object, another on this "noise", or imagery on the periphery of one's awareness. After some time, a naturally arisen mental image or "sign" ("nimitta") appears in the area of attention, like a web of light surrounding the object of placement. Finally gross excitation is gone, but gross laxity not yet.

5. Taming : End of Gross Laxity, Subtle Laxity

Disciplining the mind. Vividness is enhanced. The advantages of this training emerge and they are delightful. Gross laxity is addressed. The object is not lost and mental chatter is gone. But bright vividness is not yet there, and so this state is not to be confused with "samâdhi". Training attention to details, paying very close attention to the object of placement brings greater "density" of moments of clear attention directed upon the object. Eventually gross laxity stops. But subtle laxity remains.

6. Pacification : Subtle Excitation

Pacifying the mind. The senses are withdrawn. There is very little sensoric input. All resistance to the training is gone and attention is stable and very tightly woven. Here, subtle excitation happens. Only a "corner" of the mind has come under influence of discursiveness while the appearance of the pleasing object is imminent.

7. Complete Pacification : End of Subtle Laxity

Thoroughly pacifying the mind. To overcome subtle laxity, vividness needs to be improved further. The object is clear, but can become even clearer ! Intense vividness is sought. Finally, subtle laxity stops and one focuses on the "sign" of the object of placement.

8. Single-Pointed Placement : End of Subtle Excitation

One-pointedness of mind. No laxity or excitation whatsoever arise. The training needs very little effort in the beginning and then goes effortlessly. The mind is cruising. Introspection is no longer necessary. The only thing done is to accustom the mind to this state, creating a deeper and deeper sense of familiarity with it.

9. Balanced Placement : Mind of Full Concentration

Setting the mind in meditative equipoise. No effort is needed. Entering meditation is like putting on new clothes. The mind is like a breeze. Deep transformation of the mind happens.

Calm Abiding on a Coarse Object

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;

6. Concentrate on a coarse object of placement ;
7. Identify the stage attained and apply the antidotes ;
8. Continue to practice for at least half an hour ;
9. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

Try to practice Posture, Fourfold Breath, Mindfulness & the Four Thoughts Practice once a day for at least half an hour. Practice Calm Abiding once a day for at least half an hour. Try to practice at dawn & at dusk.

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.

GSK very relaxed, HRV is green (level 3 or 4), steady, low Beta, symmetrical Alpha, Theta waves appear

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.

Calm Abiding on a Subtle Object

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;

6. Concentrate on a subtle object of placement ;
7. Identify the stage attained and apply the antidotes ;
8. Continue to practice for at least half an hour ;
9. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

Try to practice Posture, Fourfold Breath, Mindfulness & the Four Thoughts Practice once a day for at least half an hour. Practice Calm Abiding once a day for at least half an hour. Try to practice at dawn & at dusk.

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.

GSK very relaxed, HRV is green (level 3 or 4), steady, low Beta, symmetrical Alpha, Theta waves appear

9. Jhâna Yoga

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 :

(1) directed attention ("vitaka") : overcomes sloth & torpor ;
(2) sustained attention ("vicâra") : overcomes doubt ;
(3) joy ("pîti") : overcomes aversion ;
(4) bliss ("sukha") : overcomes restlessness ;
(5) one-pointedness ("ekaggatâ") : overcomes sensual desire.

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.

In the Pâli Canon, both wings, calmness & insight, can and are to be practiced together. But in later expert commentaries (as in the Vishuddhimarga of Buddhaghosa, ca.430 CE), "dry insight" is introduced. Here, insight comes while not in meditative calmness ! Of course, to allow for liberation, such dry insight still needs deep states of calmness. This also implies the mere study & (conceptual, philosophical) contemplation of emptiness is possible and may even assist actual entry into states of deeper concentrated calmness. 

In the Vishuddhimarga "eka-agratâ" (as is the case in the Yoga-Sûtra), is a very specific mental state of concentration, a one-pointed concentration on a single object, whereas in the Pâli sûtras the same word refers to the mere unification of mind. Within these semantic limits, the word also allows us to conceive of a stream of objects. The latter meaning does not preclude the former. Strict concentration could be seen as a special, intentional spatiotemporal constriction of the unified mind, continuously bathing in the warm, unified sea of "all possibilities" (360°).

Besides wisdom
("prajñâ") & morality ("śila"), the Eightfold Path also requires meditation ("samâdhi"). The latter is subdivided in "right effort" ("samyag vyâyâma"), "right mindfulness" ("samyag smriti") and "right union" ("samyag samâdhi"), also translated as "right concentration" ...

In my view, when standing next to wisdom & morality, "samâdhi" as "meditation" is a generic name for all Buddhist spiritual practices, and so refers to a broad set of yogas, including all preparatory practices like mindfulness and the various techniques suggested by Patañjali's concentration ("dhâranâ") & contemplation ("dhyâna"). But in the phrase "samyag samâdhi", i.e. next to right effort and right mindfulness, "samâdhi" means "union" and designates the highest possible state of true peace ; the cessation of suffering, "nirvâna".

And what is true peace ? Right union implies it is possible to realize wrong higher states of mind, causing more suffering instead of ending it. With these two words the Buddha has drawn a line in the sand. Patañjali also warns agains those taken by "becoming", i.e. by the lofty states of Nature.

As in Patañjali's "samyama", constraint, concentration ("dhârana") is the necessary pre-condition to realize anything. Whereas our teacher uses it to eradicate natural movement, for the Buddha it leads to stillness, tranquillity and deep calm. For both however, concentration is the base of all higher meditative states of consciousness. And the reason is simple : contemplation ("dhyâna") is nothing but perfect concentration.

Starting with Mindfulness, Calm Abiding leads to great stillness. Already when the first degrees of stable relaxation are attained, the Buddhist practitioner inquires about the nature of objective & subjective reality, and this to end the reification of one's personal identity, causing self-love & self-cherishing feeding afflictive emotions & obscured minds. For the "bird of awakening" to fly, both Calm Abiding & Insight Meditation are necessary.

In the Pâli Canon,
the wish to attain liberation from cyclic existence for oneself alone lies at the heart of the soteriology. The methods of the Theravâda do not focus on compassion (but on equanimity), nor are they dedicated to help all sentient beings (as in the Mahâyâna). Only enlightened beings (Buddhas) can do this and so one focuses on entering one's personal "nirvâna", called "liberation". This ends in Arhathood. Renunciation, equanimity & emptiness-of-self are the three pillars of this Individual Vehicle. Its views on the practice of meditation are outstanding.

Technically, liberation or enlightenment (in the Lower Vehicle the two cannot be distinguished), involves the breaking of a succession of "fetters" ("samyojana"), ten in number. These Ten Fetters represent the sum total of all subtle causes of personal suffering, i.e. of all emotional and person-based mental delusions. These foes generate hindrances to spiritual progress. The fetters are indeed the underlying tendencies in the mind acting as the root-cause of the hindrances (to spiritual practice). The Arhat is a Foe Destroyer, ending all personal suffering for all times. This is possible because a liberated mind no longer reifies the ego, i.e. has fully realized the impermanence of the aggregates of illusion ("skandhas"), the selflessness (or emptiness) of person.

• Five Lower Fetters :

(1) separate selfhood, (2) sceptical doubt, (3) attachment to rules and rituals for their own sake, (4) sexual desire, (5) ill will ;

• Five Higher Fetters :

(6) desire for existence in the world of form, (7) desire for existence in the formless world, (8) conceit, (9) restlessness and (10) ignorance.

The stages of liberation are marked by the weakening and finally the eradication of these fetters. Liberated practitioners are identified according to the resultant degree of liberation achieved.

Prior to the supramundane insight or wisdom accompanying these stages of liberation or levels of personal enlightenment, one walks the "mundane path" (consisting of the Eight Jhânas). The "supramundane path" ("lokottaramârga") is the dedicated practice of the Eightfold Path.

Four stages mark this supramundane path :

the "stream-enterer" ("shrotâpanna") : has eradicated the first three fetters. He has only seven rebirths in the human or god realms before liberation ;
the "once-returner" ("sakridâgamin") : reborn once more, has weakened the fourth & fifth fetter ;
the "non-returner" ("anâgamin") : has broken all the first five fetters and is reborn in the god realm from where liberation is attained ;
the Arhat or "Worthy One" : has broken all ten fetters and won liberation in this life.

Together, these four stages define the "Ârya-Sangha", the Sangha Jewel of Early Buddhism.

Ten Fetters Type of
Stages of Personal
Rebirths until End of Suffering
(1) separate self lower
the stream-enterer 7 human lives or in pure abode
(2) skeptical doubt
the once-returner once more
as human being
(3) attachment to rules
(4) sexual desire the non-returner one more in pure abode
(5) ill will
(6) desire for form existence higher
Arhathood none
 (7) desire for existence in the formless world
(8) conceit
(9) restlessness
(10) ignorance

First Calm 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 by Buddha.

When Calm Abiding has been realized, Jhâna Yoga may be practiced. Jhâna Yoga is a special concentration practice, i.e. one requiring specific objects of placement referring to the material & immaterial elements of the cosmos. The practice of the material Jhânas are mandatory to enter the supramundane Jhâna states, i.e. they are prerequisites to liberation.

In the Pâli Canon, Eight Jhânas are mentioned. These are all mundane and subdivided into four material states ("rûpa jhânas") and four immaterial or formless states ("ârûpa jhânas") . "Jhâna" is the Pâli for "dhyâna". It is derived from the verb "jhâyati", meaning "to contemplate, meditate". The Jhânas are unique mental absorptions, special kinds of concentrations involving material & immaterial states or very absorbed minds of concentration. Note both material (bound to form and also called "concentrations") and immaterial (formless and also called "absorptions") Jhânas are mundane, i.e. belong to the world of cyclic existence and its suffering.

Jhâna Type Technical Name Elements Planes
mundane 4 material Jhânas concentrations Earth : gross or coarse matter material planes of existence
Water, Air, Fire : subtle, etheric matter
4 immaterial Jhânas absorptions very subtle base of 4 Elements immaterial planes of existence
4 stages of liberation stream-enterer, once-returner, non-returner, Arhat beyond the elemental world beyond existential suffering

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.

The mundane Jhânas refer to the four cosmic elements (of matter), namely Earth, Water, Fire & Air, representing the multiple fourfolds defining structure, content & dynamics of the gross & subtle material plane, element Earth representing the gross or coarse materiality, Water, Fire & Air subtle materiality. Each mundane Jhâna is a method or skilful means to eradicate the suffering related to the element in question. The practice of these state Jhânas lead to rebirth in the heavens of Brahmâ. In the Mahâyâna, we find a similar procedure in the "dissolutions" practiced in Mahâmudrâ (four coarse states, three subtle states and Clear Light mind).

To this elemental list are added space (in which material objects are positioned), consciousness (apperceiving these objects situated in space), nothingness (the object of this immeasurable alertness) and neither-perception nor non-perception (the end of perception itself). This is the still super-subtle awareness of the state of peacefulness of total non-perception. This ends the mundane Jhânas. These immaterial Jhânas are called formless because they overcome all perceptions of coarse & subtle material form. They are also the subjective counterparts of the immaterial planes of existence. They have very little relationship with the ordinary world and represent the formless & very subtle foundation of the (coarse & subtle) material world of form.

Buddhist Jhâna Yoga, in the elaborated format found in the Vishuddhimarga, calls for the use of disk like images of various colours as objects of concentration (the so-called "kasinâyatanas" or "spheres of totality"). In Theravâda, forty visual objects are listed, of which only 10 are "kasinas", corresponding with the concepts of Earth, Water, Fire, Wind (Air), the colours Blue, Red, Yellow & White and the ideas of space & bright light (consciousness).

The supramundane stages of liberation (also called "supramundane Jhânas") are prerequisite to liberation and take place at the end of the practice of the mundane Jhânas. In these, calmness & insight are practiced subsequently, in the supramundane Jhânas both merge. The immaterial Jhânas are not necessary to achieve liberation and embellish the spiritual perfection of the meditator. They are optional. This is not the case for the material Jhânas.

First Earth
thought, reflection, joy, bliss Form


Second Water
joy, bliss, one-pointedness
Third Fire
bliss, one-pointedness
Fourth Air/Wind
equanimity, one-pointedness
Fifth Base of
Boundless Space
one-pointedness Formless


Sixth Base of
Boundless Consciousness
Seventh Base of
Eight Base of
Nor Non-Perception

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.

So interestingly, this elemental meditation has a Brahminical origin. Early Upanisadic parallels were found of the goals of Gautama's two teachers, Âlâra Kâlâma (the Seventh Jhâna, the sphere of "nothingness") and Udakka Râmapûtta (the Eight Jhâna, the sphere of "neither perception nor non-perception"). Both were probably part of the Brahminical clan of world renunciants ("shramanas"). Gautama realized they proclaimed their doctrines because of direct realization, his own preferred approach. But before attaining this direct realization of the Seventh & Eight Jhânas for himself, he first gained all intellectual understanding of these teachings. His teachers considered their goals to be liberating and so introduced the definitions of these lofty altered stated of consciousness as epithets of liberation, invoking nothingness and a nondual state of awareness beyond any predication.
Their yogic technology was thought to lead to the highest formless consciousness and so finally to liberation, union with Brahman.

As also the Yoga-Sûtra teaches, early Brahminical literature (predating Patañjali for centuries), depicts the wise attaining union with "Brahman" as simulating the process of world dissolution in his own yogic practice ("neti neti"). Nature needs to end if ordinary consciousness ("citta") is to be transformed into untainted, self-powered "pure" awareness of consciousness of itself ("purusa", "âtman"). "Âtman" is conceptualized as both "nothingness" ("akiñcana") and "the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception" ("naivasamjñânâsamjñâyatana"). Brahman is described as : "not one with awareness within, not one with awareness without, not one with awareness of both, not a mass of awareness, not awareness nor non-awareness." (Mândûkya Upanisad, 7). The goal of Udakka Râmaputta was the early conceptualization of the "âtman". When attained, this mind is the nondual state of the "âtman" or self. This state is like "seeing one does not see", implying one is aware ("seeing"), while simultaneously not being aware of any object in particular ("one does not see"). This is objectless consciousness-of. This highest state (on the Eight Jhâna), so Buddha's teacher's told him, leads to union with Brahman, in particular "nirguna Brahman". Hence, it must imply the end of physical existence ("Dharma-megha-samâdhi" calls, as our teacher explains, for the total cessation of the constituents of Nature, the "gunas"). For Lord Buddha, the material & immaterial Jhânas do not end suffering and so remain mundane. He seeks a path beyond suffering and so introduced the supramundane stages of liberation.

We know Buddha sought this-life salvation. Not Nature (ontology), but our ignorance regarding Nature's ultimate process-nature (epistemology) is target. Because of this changed methodology, Nature can be embraced without hindering spiritual emancipation.
Bodhisattva Gautama rejected the goals of his teachers (for they did not end suffering), but nevertheless incorporated his revised, desubstantialized version of their Element Yoga in his teachings, integrating these special states of mental concentration & absorption in terms of calmness (Calm Abiding) and insight (Insight Meditation), without "dry insight" (insight without tranquillity).

In actual Buddhist Jhâna Yoga practice, the base of the Fifth Jhâna is the space in which all objects in the material realm appear. The Sixth is the consciousness holding this boundless space as its object. The Seventh is the absence of this consciousness of boundless space, driving a sense of nothingness as a rich emptiness, a full-emptiness. Finally, in the Eight Jhâna, this consciousness of the base of nothingness itself is taken an the object of placement.

It could be argued the Buddhist Jhânas generate special reactors aiming at destroying the roots of ignorance, restoring our mind so it opens up to "what is" in each element of cyclic existence, thereby ending all co-relative suffering. These "totalizations" and salvic activity en masse returns in the Mahâyâna as the compassionate meditations to alleviate the suffering of the Six Realms of Suffering (gods, demi-gods, humans, nature, hungry ghosts, hell-beings).

Buddhist Meditation
Type of Meditation Main Characteristic Yoga
mindfulness 360° Ganzfeld, river-flow awareness Four Foundations of Mindfulness
unification of mind Calm Abiding
one-pointedness on object
Eight Mundane
Four Material
Calm Abiding and
Insight Meditation
Four Formless
Calm Abiding
stream-entry, once-returning, non-returning, Arhathood Noble Eightfold Path

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 Abiding), are 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 Jhanic concentration aimed at replacing the Five Hindrances : sense desire, ill will/aversion, sloth & torpor, restlessness & remorse and doubt.

These hindrances interfere with concentration and result from three types of erroneous actions : wrong thoughts (greed, hatred, cruelty), wrong speech (false speech, malicious speech, harsh speech & gossip) and wrong deeds (killing, stealing, sexual misconduct). These wrong actions are themselves but expressions of the Ten Fetters. When Jhâna is attained, the hindrances are in abeyance. They are permanently destroyed when supramundane liberation is realized (i.e. when the fetters, the subtle causes of the hindrances, are eradicated).

These Jhâna factors are :

1. "vitarka" : movement of the mind applied to sensate or mental objects or "thinking" and (later) initial conceptualizing cognition ("vitarka" - thought) - this calms sense desire ;
2. "vicâra" : conceptual examination and (later) the abiding of the mind on its object allowing for sustained conceptual elaboration and mental reflection ("vicâra" - reflection) - this pacifies ill will/aversion ;
3. "pîti" : joy, rapture, delight, exuberance, zest or physical pliancy ("pîti" - joy) - this vanquishes sloth & torpor ;
4. "sukha" : happiness, gladness, contentment, bliss or mental pliancy ("sukha" - bliss), transformed in the Fourth Jhâna (and higher) into
equanimity ("upekshâ") - this eliminates restlessness/remorse ;
5. "ekâgratâ" : one-pointedness ("ekâgratâ"), preluded by the unification of mind ("ekodi-bhavam") - this overcomes doubt.

Jhânas Jhâna Factor Secondary Qualities
First thought, reflection, joy, bliss contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision
Second  mental unification, joy, bliss contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision

internal assurance, persistence, mindfulness, attention
Third bliss, one-pointedness contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, attention
Fourth equanimity, one-pointedness contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, attention

neither pleasure or pain, unconcern due to serenity of awareness
Fifth to Eight one-pointedness not mentioned

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.

In the Pâli Canon, both are conceptual, and refers to thinking & examining, whereas in the Vishuddhimarga, they imply the initiation of thought ("vitarka") & its elaboration through sustained attention ("vicâra"). In Jhâna Yoga, this refers to the presence of such conceptual activity. To move up, this activity has to end, causing the arising of the "Noble Silence" of the Second Jhâna.

Despite these differences between our teacher and the Buddhadharma regarding "vitarka" & "vicâra", they are small enough to allow for comparison. Indeed, our teacher, trying to disentangle the mind from Nature, distinguished on the basis of the outer object of meditation (coarse or subtle), whereas Lord Buddha, aiming at ending false ideation, defines on the basis of the inner content of the meditative mind.

When a mind is free from the Five Hindrances, then the natural outcome of this seclusion is joy & bliss, the third & fourth factors. During physical pliancy,
the currents of energy (winds) of unhealthy physical states leave the body and serviceability moves throughout the body, ending states of roughness & heaviness, making the body feel light as cotton. Mental pliancy is the total pacification of unwholesome, afflictive states making the mind heavy and preventing it to be used according to will. Then it becomes possible to recognize the spacious, luminous, untainted (pure) & original (primordial) mind and eventually fully rest in it.

The fifth Jhâna factor, one-pointedness, refers to (a) the "unity of mind"
("ekodi-bhavam") of the Second Jhâna and (b) the single-minded, one-pointedness concentration  ("ekâgratâ") from the Third Jhâna onward. The latter is the ability of the mind to remain without distraction, unwavering as steady on the fixed object of placement as long as wanted. In the former, present in the Second Jhâna, the state of mind itself is unmoving, still, present & clear (cognizing) while the experience of sensate or mental objects is ever-changing. The unity of mind includes the possibility to realize meditative equipoise on an object of placement, which is at hand starting with the Fourth Jhâna.

In the First Jhâna,
thinking and thoughtful examination are present simultaneous with unification of mind ("ekodi-bhavam"), but not one-pointedness of mind ("ekâgratâ"). In the Second Jhâna, thinking & examining are replaced by inner tranquillity & one-pointedness.

In the vast majority (over 100 sûtras), the First Jhâna is described as having only four Jhâna factors, whereas only in a few late sûtras, in the Abhidharma and the commentarial tradition, 5 factors are listed.
So to add "one-pointedness" to the First Jhâna is in conflict with the original teachings of the Buddha. In fact, the presence of cognitive activity ("vitarka" & "vicâra") precludes one-pointedness, but not unification of mind. The yogi tries to suspend all conceptualizing, discursive thinking, thereby ending name-giving, judging and labelling. This seclusion from conceptual mind brings forth one-pointedness of mind (Second Jhâna). The cognitive activity of this "direct", "immediate" non-conceptual mind is nondual. Nonduality is not the end of the two poles of the dyad (this would be "a-duality"), but merely their lack of connectivity & relationality ; no longer polarities, but operating complementary identities & functions defined by determinations (laws) & conditions (contexts).

Jhâna Yoga ferrets the Jhâna qualities out, one after another, so they vanish. The Second Jhâna drops the activity of the conceptual mind, making the one-pointedness of mind arise. The Third Jhâna eliminates joy. At this point consciousness switches from the physical body (both coarse & subtle) to the mental body. The Fourth then eliminates this mental bliss, but not without replacing it by equanimity ("upekshâ"). In the Fourth Jhâna, only equanimity & one-pointedness remain. These mental states of calmness are used for Insight Meditation. Also a
t this stage, psychic powers are attained (clairvoyance, clairaudience, retrocognition, telepathy & psychokinesis).  In the Formless Jhânas, only one-pointedness remains.

Jhânas Names Jhâna Factor Patañjali
Preparation Four Foundations of Mindfulness
ordinary Calm Abiding
outer limbs, dhâranâ
First calmness & insight


Four Jhânas

Rûpa Jhânas



they prepare
mental unification, thought, reflection, joy, bliss dhyâna
savitarka samâdhi


Second one-pointedness, joy, bliss nirvitarka samâdhi

one-pointedness, bliss

Fourth one-pointedness equanimity
Fifth calmness & insight


Ârupa Jhânas



they embellish
one-pointedness kaivalya asamprajñâta-samâdhi"


Sixth one-pointedness
Seventh one-pointedness


Liberation supramundane

stream-entry, once returning, non returning, Arhathood


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.

Limb of Yoga Type of Concentration Yoga
Calm Abiding near-meditative equipoise
near-perfected concentration
Four Foundations of Mindfulness
Contemplation meditative equipoise
perfected concentration
mandala consciousness
onset of First Jhâna
Union samadhic thoughts &
their elaboration
"savitarka & savicâra samâdhi"
deepening of First Jhâna
restriction of all samadhic thoughts & their elaboration
"nirvitarka & nirvicâra samâdhi"
Second Jhâna

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.


Practices SÛTRA

On Foundational Practices



Posture, Abdominal Breathing, Mindfulness, knowledge of Dharma Themes & Concentration are the fruits of the preliminary practices. By themselves, these spiritual exercises lead to a calm & tranquil mind. Such a mind is a preliminary to the building of a solid Dharma foundation. The basic energy work complements these, so no excess of passivity is cultivated. It also helps to achieve and maintain vibrant health, necessary for the foundational, accumulative, preparative & finative stages of the work.

Although the preliminary practices lead to a calm & tranquil mind, recurrent emotional issues hinder its continuity, especially in post-meditation. Although mindful of these afflictive emotions, the practitioner does not yet address the underlying causes. Before cutting the root-cause (ignorance targetted in the Preparative Practices), afflictive emotions need to be thoroughly eliminated, both during as after meditation. When they happen, antidotes are applied. In a general way, all antidotes work by increasing compassion for all sentient beings. This by cultivating the perfections : generosity, ethics, patience, joyful effort, concentration & wisdom. In the Foundational Practices, the first five perfections are generated : generosity, ethics, patience & joyful effort, and because this happens in a ceremonial, ritual way, both aggregates of feeling & action are purified. This brings deep calm & great tranquility to the mind.

* Preliminary Practices : calmness ;
* Foundational Practices : deep calmness ;
* Accumulative Practices : deeper calmness ;
* Preparative Practices : insightful calmness ;
* Finative Practices : profound calmness.

The Foundational Practices start to build the house of Dharma. Various materials have been collected and their basic operations observed. Now the actual process of erecting the edifice begins. This foundation needs to be deep, strong & lasting, setting the stage for the vast accumulation of merits, fully addressed in the next set of practices. The mind needs to be relatively calm, but the mind of enlightenment for all sentient beings has not yet been generated. So during post-meditation, afflictive emotionality recurs. The actual work of liberating sentient beings can only be done given certain non-afflictive emotions & feelings, in particular joyful effort intimately linked with "Bodhicitta". These must be present during meditation, but also and especially in post-meditation. Thanks to these blissful feelings, activities are endowed with naturalness and spontaneity.

Joyful effort, the perfection of humanity, is fivefold :

1) armour-like : aspiration & committment are present & laziness halted ;
2) with zeal of application : skillful means applied to a meaningful life ;
3) relentless exertion : ceaseless application of antidotes ;
4) not turning back : application without doubts ;
5) insatiably persevering : steady application by disgust with non-virtue.

Contrary to the Preliminary Practices, these Foundational Practices reach out to the other, in particular to Lord Buddha, to the Dharma and to the Sangha and, in advanced practices, also to the Guru. In this way, they express the aspiration & application necessary to benefit all sentient beings (for only the Triple Gem does so perfectly).


0. Preliminary to the Foundational Practices :

1. Pratimoksha Vows
: cultivating the mind in which killing, stealing, lying, taking drugs & sexual abuse are absent ;

I. Opening & Closing Practices :

2. Refuge Practice : preliminary to Refuge and the practices of Outer, Inner & Secret Refuge in the Triple Gem in its coarse, subtle & very subtle manifestations ;
3. Small & Complete Prostration : outer, inner & secret practice of humbling body, speech & mind ;
4. Requests for Blessings & Dedication Practice : requesting blessing & practice of transferring one's acquired merits to the merit-field benefiting all sentient beings ;


II. Elementary Ritual Practices :

5. Homage to the Five Buddha Families : praise of the Five Dhyâna Buddhas ;
6. Light, Incense & Water Offerings to the Five Buddhas : practice of offering light, incense & water to the Five Buddha Families ;
7. The Seven Limbs Practice : practice of reciting the Seven Limbs : humbling, offering, confessing, rejoicing, supplicating, turning the wheel & dedicating ;
8. Generating Relative Bodhicitta : generating the mind of enlightenment for all sentient beings by meditations on the Four Immeasurables : Joy, Love, Compassion & Equanimity ;

III. Medium Ritual Practices :

9. The Hundred-Syllable Mantra Practice : purifying defilements of body, speech & mind by the Vajrasattva visualization & mantra recitation ;
10. Generating Absolute Bodhicitta : generating the mind of enlightenment for all sentient beings by meditating on the emptiness of subject & object of the Immeasurables ;


IV. Advanced Ritual Practice :

Guru Yoga with Mandala Offering : practice of attuning to & receiving blessings from one's Guru and of offering everything to him or her ;

V. Supererogatory Practices:

12. Lineage Light Offering
: practice of the lineage light ;
13. Energy Work II
: Five Organs Ch'i Kung.


1. Pratimoksha Vows

The Pratimoksha Vows ("pratimoksha-samvara") 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 liberation, the goal of the Lesser 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.

There are five Pratimoksha Vows for lay followers. One is not obliged to take all five. Seven types of lay followers are given in the texts :

1. Those promising to keep just one vow ;
2. Those promising to keep certain vows ;
3. Those promising to keep most of them ;
4. Those promising to keep all five ;
5. Those keeping all five and also promising to keep the pure conduct of avoiding sexual contact ;
6. Those keeping all five, pure conduct, and wearing robes with the promise to behave like a monk or a nun ;
7. Lay follower of mere Refuge. This person cannot keep Pratimoksha Vows, but promises to go for Refuge to the Triple Gem until death.

The practice intended here is for lay followers promising to keep all five Pratimoksha Vows (fourth category). Of course, one may choose to start with a lesser category, working one's way up to the full extent of the practice.

Vows are a device to protect Dharma practice, for the activities they eliminate are strong causes of physical & verbal suffering. Vows are like fences erected around the still fragile Dharma-shoot. They protect our practice, allowing it to grow and become stronger. They increase merit. Practicing Dharma while engaging in these activities, is a bit like washing blood with blood. If one aims negativity to stop boiling, then one should stop increasing the fire.

With the exception of no lying (negative verbal actions), the five Pratimoksha Vows (or Five Shilas, moral disciplines) eliminate strong negative physical actions.

(1) refrain from killing : any other sentient being, from an insect to a Buddha ;
(2) refrain from stealing : anything someone else regards as their own, anything not given by someone else ;
(3) refrain from lying (false speech) : about what is seen, heard, experienced, known, not seen, not heard, not experienced, not known and certain non-verbal actions like physical gestures, writing or remaining silent ;
(4) refrain from sexual misconduct : is not to be confused with "pure conduct", or sexual abstinence, and is analyzed in terms of the "Four Wrongs" :
(a) wrong object : any unsuitable object of attention : for a celibate monk (nun) this is any other person, for a layman, anyone else's partner, our own parents, a child, a monk (nun), a pregnant woman, animals, any non-consenting person ;
(b) wrong organ : anal or oral sex ;
(c) wrong place : places offending others (public space or sacred space) ;
(d) wrong time : during pregnancy, illness or when one has taken vows ;
(5) refrain from using intoxicants : the latter are all substances assimilated by the body actually leading to a confused state of mind.

Pratimoksha Vows Practice

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Analytically meditate on the meaning of killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct & the use of intoxicants.
7. Say : "Living Buddha, Buddhas & Bodhisattvas, please listen to what I have to say now. I refrain from killing. I refrain from stealing. I refrain from lying. I refrain from sexual misconduct. I refrain from using intoxicants. These vows I promise to keep until death."
8. Sit & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
9. Meditate a moment on how all sentient beings benefit from the smallest Dharma action ;
10. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

2. Refuge Practice

"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.

A person wholeheartedly going for Refuge to the Three Jewels (the Buddha, the Dharma & the Sangha) actually enters the paths of the Buddhadharma. Such a person is then called "a Buddhist". Hence, the Triple Gem or Three Treasures is the object of Buddhist faith and going for Refuge is the foundation of foundations. Being a Buddhist, Four Seals are present.

In the Buddhadharma, "faith" ("shraddhâ", also translated as "trust", but meaning "to place the heart on") implies perseverance, humility & steady effort, i.e. our full emotional response to a spiritual discipline based on truth. So there is an element of reasoning and accumulated experience present, strongly contrasting this notion of "faith" with the Western notion of unquestionally following or accepting religious authority (of God, His sacred texts, His prophets, saints & religious institutions). Not so in the Buddhadharma. Hence, avoiding confusion, "sraddha" will be translated as "trust".

Indeed, each time anything new is to be acquired, a minimal amount of trust has to be present (in the teacher, the teaching & those who practiced before). How, if this is lacking from the start,  can one learn anything ? Will one try out new things without trust ? Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels, is trusting the Dharma & Discipline proclaimed by Lord Buddha. This acceptance is however not blind or without good reasons, and goes in two steps : one first "seeks" Refuge (or Lesser Refuge) and one then "goes to" Refuge (or Complete Refuge). The former is informal, representing a period of study & reflection, the latter formal & ceremonial, and usually done with the help of a spiritual mentor. So Lesser Refuge defines a period of probation.

BUDDHA Lord Buddha
DHARMA Buddhadharma
SANGHA Discipline
instant achiever

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).

"Outer" points to all material, physical, practical & visible manifestations of any phenomenon, in this case of the Three Jewels. The historical Buddha is the teacher who heals the mind. This was his main concern. Lord Buddha knew philosophy, but was not a philosopher. He was a doctor with a science of mind. Without him, the Buddhadharma would not have propagated as it did. Why ? Because the diagnosis of the causes of ignorance, as given by the Dharma taught by Lord Buddha, is valid. Indeed, if the antidotes are applied, the sickness will cease. On the most basic level, the outer Sangha merely represents the "assembly" born, on the basis of daily practice, out of the discipline of the practitioner. But it also encompasses all practitioners of the Buddhadharma, including the Arya-Sangha, the community of all Superior, Mahâsattvic & Dhyâni Bodhisattvas & Buddhas.

"Inner" refers to all energetic, affective, mental & invisible manifestations of any phenomenon, in this case of the Three Treasures. The initiating (outer) Vajra Guru offers the bridge by forging a "link" between, on the one hand, the invisible power of the lineage, i.e. the holders of the secret knowledge (inner Dharma) about the astral, energetic & mental conditions of spiritual blessings, and, on the other hand, the body, speech (energy) & mind of the disciple. This knowledge is particularized, tailored to fit the student. Once this blessing happens, the Inner Guru of the disciple manifests. This is the (Buddhist) Deity
("ishta-deva", "chosen Deity" or Tib. "Yidam") residing in its mandala, transforming all impurity into purity. The outer Guru's blessing manifest the disciple's inner Guru. The inner Sangha is not only the Dharma Protector, instantly achieving a steady Dharma practice, but also the protection of the Arya-Sangha as a whole.

Finally, "secret" invokes the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, Buddha-nature or "bodhi-mind". The Triple Gem represents our own very subtle mind, continuously displaying an enlightened holomovement devoid of any permanent existence from its own side, i.e. simultaneously, in each moment of consciousness, prehending emptiness (or lack of inherent properties) & dependent-arising (or presence of interdependent process). This is the theme of full-emptiness, born out of emptiness meditation (cf. Preparative Practices).

OUTER body coarse renunciation
INNER speech subtle compassion
SECRET mind very subtle emptiness

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.

3. Request for Blessings & Dedication Practice

All practices based on the Buddhadharma begin with Refuge and end with Dedication. Usually, the latter is preluded by the Request for Blessings.

The notion of accumulation is essential to understand why people progress on the path. When non-virtuous actions are replaced by virtuous, meritorious ones, the material, emotional & mental conditions sustaining our practice improve. This because our brain, emotions & mental processes are changed under the influence of an increased familiarity with Dharma objects. These have the property of reducing mental grasping. They calm & brighten the mind-stream, the mind becoming more and more aware of the surface of the reflective mirror it is. As afflictive emotionality & mental delusion lessen, we gain greater freedom to respond in a constructive way, even when afflictive situations are at hand. Hence, the number of causes of afflictions decreases and our overall quality of life benefits. In short, by making others happy we become ourselves happier persons. If we first take care of "number one", our suffering increases. It is that simple !

The image of a "basket" is used to indicate a way to measure the accumulated virtue or special good karma leading one to a better situation in cyclic existence, but also to a definitive way out of "samsâra" and its suffering. Indeed, our worldly condition improves in such a way as to accommodate our spiritual practice (as symbolized by the "Dharmapâla") and our practice itself deepens, causing more effective realizations. Because of our enduring obscurations, afflictive emotions, ravings & delusions, the acquired "quantity" of merit diminishes and -if not replenished- is gone, as if the rice was thrown out of the basket of accumulation of merit. Especially very negative (hellish) emotions like anger, hatred & cruelty make merit flee, forcing the aspirant to have to start from "square one" ...

In their great compassion towards all sentient beings, the mentors, teachers and Gurus of the Buddhadharma starting with Lord Buddha, transfer their individual merit to a "merit field" or "field of accumulation", acting as the sole reference-point for all our individual "acts of merit" ("punyaksetra"). Especially in the Great Vehicle, this interconnectivity between the Enlightened Ones is emphasized. This merit field contains the merit of Lord Buddha and, thanks to the Dharma, all Buddhas after him, forming a "community" or Sangha. So the merit field contains the Triple Gem.

Dedication is the transference of individual merit to this merit field, containing the Three Treasures as objects of veneration. With Lord Buddha as root-teacher, a "lineage tree" is visualized starting from him and branching out to all mentors, teachers & Gurus after him. Individual merit is transferred to this field of merit of Lord Buddha, his Arhats & Bodhisattvas. Thus, this individual merit getting connected with the unified field of merit of all past mentors, teachers and Gurus, becomes part of (and profits from) their accumulated merit. This transference is done to benefit all sentient beings, invoking the lineage to assist in this. Thanks to this dedication, and because of the protection our finite merit receives from the infinite merit field, our afflictive emotions cannot exhaust one's individual basket of merit.

The Request for Blessings is said at the end of the meditation or ceremony, just before Dedication.

Request for Blessings (Lotus Mudra) :

Say : "Without loss, I offer all and everything which gives rise to my clinging and aversion. I pray you accept them Lord Buddha and extend your blessings, so we may be liberated from the Three Poisons : craving, hatred & ignorance." (pause)

Dedication (Lotus Mudra) :

Say : "I dedicate the merits collected during this meditation to the merit field of accumulated merit. May all sentient beings benefit. May all sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace !" - followed by the Mani Mantra.

The Mani Mantra, OM MANI PADME HÛM, is the mind-formula of the Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara, the "Lord who looks down", revered in the three vehicles. He is also the "Holder of the Lotus" ("padmapâni"), and the "Lord of the World" ("lokeshvara"). He is a manifestation of Padma Buddha Amitâbha, the Buddha of Discrimination.

As an aspect of Bodhi-mind applied to the aggregate of feelings, this wisdom of discrimination distinguishes between afflictive & non-afflictive emotions. They are named, transformed and self-liberated. As the Buddha of Compassion,  Avalokiteshvara is the Lord of Method and therefore of the accumulation of merit, leading to deep states of calmness powering up the mind for emptiness-meditations adding precise insight and sharp refinement. The Mani Mantra therefore anchors the transference of individual merit to the collective merit field generated by the Buddhas, their Dharma & Sangha, united to be enjoyed by all sentient beings.

When the interconnectivity necessary for compassion -as highly skillful method- is accommodated, then one cannot allow a single moment to become a fixed object existing from its own side, to be an abiding place ontologically independent from other objects, as well as from the apprehending subject or intersubjectivity. Thus emptiness is seen. Lacking own-power, objects are other-powered. Because of dependent-arising, compassion is seen. For compassion to work, absence of inherent existence is necessary. For emptiness to be more than a void or nihil, compassionate dependent-arising dawns.

The Mani Mantra :

visualize the gods ("OM"), demigods ("MA"), humans ("NI"), nature ("PAD"), ghosts ("ME") & hell-beings ("HÛM") as liberated ;
SECOND FORM : OM MA-NI PADME HÛM : "OM" (all phenomena), "MA" (of myself are empty), "NI" (of others are empty"), "PADME" (but interconnected), "HÛM" ("and empty") ;
THIRD FORM : OM MANI-PADME HÛM : one and interconnected.

4. Small & Complete Prostration

Prostration ("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.

In the Buddhadharma, one always prostrates three times : to the Buddha, to the Dharma and to the Sangha. The "mudrâ" used in these prostrations is the so-called "Lotus Mudra", with hands held at the Heart Wheel, the base of the palms and the fingertips together, and thumbs slightly tucked in to create a hollow. In the Indian subcontinent, this gesture (accompanying the valediction "namaste", or "I bow to You") is a customary greeting when individuals meet and part. Also called "Añjali Mudrâ" or "Pranamasana" it can also be performed wordlessly and is accompanied by a slight bow.

In the Buddhadharma, the Lotus Mudra is also called the "Mudra of Prostration". One prostrates with feet kept together and bows. The position of the feet represents the stability of our intention. To bow is to rejoicefully humble one's personal ego before the Buddha-nature of the other sentient being.

In the Lotus Mudra, the hollow between the palms signifies the Truth Body ("Dharmakâya"), realized by seeing with wisdom-mind all phenomena as lacking existence from their own side, with no abiding place. The two thumbs, put inside the empty space made by the palms, symbolize the two Form Bodies ("rûpakâya"), Enjoyment & Manifestation, offered to ultimate truth, the wisdom of Bodhi-mind. Enjoyment & Manifestation result from completing the path of method, resulting in the illusory body of boundless compassion. Truth results from completing the path of wisdom, recognizing the mind of Clear Light. In this exceptional "mudrâ", wisdom & method are joined. Seeing emptiness & Bodhicitta (highest compassion) form a dual-union. This is the natural state of a Buddha, simultaneously prehending ultimate truth & conventional truth, the emptiness of all and the interconnections between all.

In the Lesser Vehicle, Buddhahood cannot be achieved in this lifetime. Only Arhathood is attainable. This Foe Destroyer has ended all afflictive emotions and realized selflessness of person. The emptiness of self can be seen, but not the emptiness of others. Refuge & Prostration are devoid of Bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.

In the Great Vehicle, compassion is the ultimate method to accumulate enough merit to be able to meditate on emptiness considerably long enough to realize it in a contrived & an uncontrived way. The former is conceptual, the latter the nondual dual-union of prehension. Because of this highest of methods, the disciple of the Great Vehicle integrates the Bodhisattva aspirations in his or her Refuge Practice.

In the Diamond Vehicle, part of the Great Vehicle, prostrations are very common. They figure in the total devotion to the Vajra-Guru, revered, venerated & praised as a living Buddha. In general, prostrations are done before all Buddhas and their rejoicing manifestations. Great compassion (Bodhicitta) and a strong bond between Guru and disciple are preconditions of Tantra, always involving secret, hidden & esoteric aspects.

In the Great & Diamond Vehicles, the compassionate mind is part of Refuge Practice. After having gone for refuge to the Sangha Jewel, the ritualist says :

"I do so, attaining liberation from "samsâra", realizing awakening for the sake of all sentient beings."

The phrase is in present time. It begins with "I do so", I do so what ? seeking or going for refuge. Both intentions are generated to be free from personal afflictive emotions & mental obscurations (about oneself) and also to realize an awakening encompassing all others, so they too may be awakened.

Prostration & Refuge call for the Three Doors Mudra.

The Three Doors Mudra has three steps, reflecting body, speech & mind of a Buddha, devoid of all traces of self-power, with total cessation of ignorance, the ongoing movement of seamless flow.

1. Body :
ring your hands together in the Lotus Mudra at your heart. Raise your hands above the crown of your head (bindu), lower them to the brow (raif), and say "OM", visualizing the letters in white (at the Brow Wheel), praising the enlightened body of the Buddhas ;
2. Speech :
Lower them to the throat, say "ÂH", visualizing the letters in red (at the Throat Wheel), praising the enlightened speech of the Buddhas ;
3. Mind :
Again lower them to the heart, say "HÛM", visualizing the letters in blue (at the Heart Wheel), praising the enlightened mind of the Buddhas.

With this "mudrâ" the Three Doors are ceremonially identified and their original purity confirmed. The letters & colors condition the mind and will be used in later practices.

Distinguish between Small & Complete Prostrations :

The Small Prostration is as follows :

(1) bring your hands together in the Lotus Mudrâ at your heart ;
(2) then raise them above the crown of your head and offer homage to the enlightened body of the Buddha ;
(3) lower your hands to the brow, say "OM" visualizing the letters in white (at the brow) ;
(4) then descend the hands to the throat, offer homage to the enlightened speech of the Buddha, say "ÂH", visualizing the letters in red (at the throat) ;
(5) finally, touch your heart with your hands, offer homage to the enlightened mind of the Buddha, say "HÛM", visualizing the letters in blue (at the heart) ;
(6) moving your body straight down, go on your knees and place the palms of your hands on the floor ;
(7) touch the ground with your brow three times. The first time think : "I pay homage to the Buddha.", the second time : "I pay homage to the Dharma.", the third time : "I pay homage to the Sangha." ;
(8) rise again, bringing your hands back in the Lotus Mudra at your heart. Repeat this another two times.

The Complete Prostration is as follows. Perform the Lesser Prostration (1 - 7). Instead of rising after having paid homage three times (7), drop your body forward, stretching it full length on the floor, arms outstretched in front. With hands in the Lotus Mudra, bend your arms back and touch with your hands the top of your head. Then stretch your arms out once more and push yourself up. Repeat this another two times.

Refuge & Prostration can be combined. First, we seek for Lesser Refuge and perform the Small Prostration. Then, once we intend to go for Complete Refuge, the Complete Prostration is done. Refuge & Prostration are preluded by by a short (silent) meditation on the benefits of the three treasures. This is the version used here :

Reminding the Benefits of the Three Treasures (a silent meditation) :

"Thanks to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, I will not be reborn as a hell being, a hungry ghost or an animal. Thanks to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, I will not be reborn as a demi-god or god. Thanks to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, I will be reborn as a human being endowed with all the qualities of a perfect human birth (take one step, start with the right foot). If, during this actual live of mine, I attain Buddhahood, this is thanks to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha and for the benefit of all sentient beings."

Small Prostration Practice with Lesser Refuge

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Pratimoksha Vows Practice (6 - 7) ;
7. Move to the West and face East ;
8. Remind the Benefits of the Three Treasures. At your heart, bring your hands together in the Lotus Mudra, and say : "I seek Refuge in the Buddha." ;
9. Raise your hands above the crown of your head, lower them to the brow, and say "OM", visualizing the letters in white (at the Brow Wheel), lower them to the throat, say "ÂH", visualizing the letters in red (at the Throat Wheel) and lower them again to the heart, say "HÛM", visualizing the letters in blue (at the Heart Wheel) ;
10. Prostrate (6 & 7) ;
11. Rise, bring your hands together in the Lotus Mudra at your heart and then say : "I seek Refuge in the Dharma." ;
12. Raise your hands above the crown of your head, lower them to the brow, and say "OM", visualizing the letters in white (at the Brow Wheel), lower them to the throat, say "ÂH", visualizing the letters in red (at the Throat Wheel) and again lower them to the heart, say "HÛM", visualizing the letters in blue (at the Heart Wheel) ;
13. Prostrate (6 & 7) ;
14. Rise, bring your hands together in the Lotus Mudra at your heart and then say : "I seek Refuge in the Sangha. I do so, attaining liberation from "samsâra", realizing awakening for the sake of all sentient beings." ;
15. Raise your hands above the crown of your head, lower them to the brow, and say "OM", visualizing the letters in white (at the Brow Wheel), lower them to the throat, say "ÂH", visualizing the letters in red (at the Throat Wheel) and again lower them to the heart, say "HÛM", visualizing the letters in blue (at the Heart Wheel) ;
16. Prostrate (6 & 7) ;
17. Sit & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
18. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
19. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

Refuge can be taken alone.

As part of a ceremony, going for Refuge is mostly done in the presence of a spiritual mentor, teacher, Guru and/or an actual Sangha. Instead of merely seeking Refuge, we go for Refuge to the Buddha, go for Refuge to the Dharma & go for Refuge to the Sangha, performing the Complete Prostration.

To enhance the effect of the practice, the spiritual mentor, teacher or Guru may choose to add certain ritual acts, recitations & prayers. He or she may choose an auspicious moment to perform the ceremony, perform special purification & consecration rituals etc. This to enhance the impact on the suffering mind of the Dharma objects at hand.

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.

In the Buddhadharma, all ceremonial actions are so many ways of invoking the body, speech & mind of Lord Buddha. We open to the ideal of Buddhahood, paving the way for "bodhicitta", the higher method developed by the Great Vehicle, only surpassed by the Vajrayâna (introducing, on the basis of the mind of enlightenment, the simultaneous arising of emptiness & bliss).

With Prostration & Refuge, sitting Posture is lost. One moves to the center. As abdominal breathing is automatic, calmness remains. But the body moves, sitting stops.

Rising from one's seat, tranquility is invested in what happens here & now ; processes, relations, interdependences, synergies, interactions, transformations & transfigurations.

Obviously, the kinetography is not a common process, but a ceremonial one, infusing precise movements with special meaning, using visualization as a tool to erect a temporal & a spatial presence, the ceremonial fact anchoring Dharma.

One rises, moving to the center of what ?

Of a ritual space or shrine-room devoted to ceremonial meditation, with minimal ceremonial requirements : a sufficiently large, empty, clean, light, bright and beautiful space, a seat and, in the East, an altar or shrine. Upon this the physical representations of Lord Buddha's body, speech & mind. These objects only serve to direct the mind to the awakening one aspires to emulate for the benefit of others.

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 author).

The 360° spatiality of the observational sphere of the ceremonialist is divided in four quadrants of 90° : East (front), South (right), West (back) & North (left). Indeed, the horizontal plane is divided in four types of "physical" conditions, four modes of universal interconnectedness & interdependence (properties of all "dependent-arisings"), or "elements" (with in the East Air, in the South Fire, in the West Water and in the North Earth).

The temporal arc, the vertical plane or "prime vertical" defined by the pole of zenith & nadir running through the observer, is defined by the rotation of the axis of the Earth and suggestive of the Arrow of Time, ever-escaping the past while moving into the future, ever forgetful of the present. Facing East (rising), one turns South (culminating), then West (setting) to North (anti-culminating). This is the clockwise movement of the apparent Sun (the rotation of the Earth's axis). This Arrow of Time is uni-directional, flowing from past to future, eclipsing time present, but stops when the mind realizes the timelessness of every moment and retrieves the originality of every actual occasion, breaking the Arrow itself.

At some point, the yogi well-trained in sitting, must rise and move about in this observational sphere used during his ceremonial meditations. This is also meditation, albeit one actively making use of the body. Ritual is Action Meditation. Contemplation & action need to be balanced out. Then the fruits of sitting meditation nurture every activity, inviting pan-sacralism.

Meditation is not only about sitting, but encompasses the Four Daily Activities or Four Modes of Conduct : walking, standing, sitting, and lying down. Ceremonialism can thereby help the integration of meditation & post-meditation.

5. Homage to the Five Buddha Families

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.

Our samsaric condition is constant, ongoing dissatisfaction. This is pervasive suffering, clearly apprehended when all material longings have been satisfied, including health & the presence of loved ones. The Third Noble Truth confirms the possibility of an irreversible cessation of this final, insidious vestige of suffering. Remove this, and all suffering ended, "nirvâna" is prehended.

The Five Families of Buddhas represent five perfect enlightened properties of a Buddha defined by three bodies (truth, enjoyment & manifestation). In sentient beings, these enlightened properties do not manifest because the mind grasps at their objects to make them permanent. The aggregates constituting human beings present five delusional, samsaric properties shared (in various degrees) by all sentient beings. These are the same enlightened properties, but veiled by ignorance, delusion, illusion, fiction & darkness.

Human beings are defined by a material & a mental component, making two types of objects to be apprehended : sensate objects & mental objects. The material objects result from natural perception, involving the sense organs & the physical body. The mind, on the basis of volition, affection, cognition & sentience, apprehends mental objects. Although these aggregates are all impermanent and thus merely logical & functional relations, with no existence from their own side, ignorance ("avidyâ"), identifying objects as inherently existing from their own side, mistakes these objects for permanent substances & mummifies them, giving them an abiding place (they have not).

The Aggregates of Suffering
mind "vijñâna"
clarity & awareness
luminosity & movement
mental objects
thoughts, judgments, propositions
volitional factors
will, intent, motivation
affects, feelings, emotions
body "rûpa"
sensate objects

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.

The Enlightened Activities
mind "vijñâna"
Absolute Wisdom Vairochana
Space - Tathâgata
Mirrorlike Wisdom Aksobhya
Air - Vajra
All-accomplishing Wisdom Amoghasiddhi
Fire - Karma

Wisdom of Discrimination

Water - Padma
body "rûpa"
body, sensation
Wisdom of Equanimity Ratnasambhava
Earth - Ratna

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.

Homage to the Five Buddha Families

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Pratimoksha Vows Practice (6 - 7) ;
7. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
8. Move to the center, Three Doors Mudra ;
9. Facing East, Lotus Mudra, while visualizing this Buddha (blue against a yellow background), say : "HÛM NAMO AKSOBHYA BUDDHAYE SVÂHÂ", bow ;
10. Facing South, Lotus Mudra, while visualizing this Buddha (green against a red background), say : "ÂH NAMO AMOGHASIDDHI BUDDHAYE SVÂHÂ", and bow ;
11. Facing West, Lotus Mudra, while visualizing this Buddha (red against a blue background), say : "HRÎH NAMO AMITÂBHA BUDDHAYE SVÂHÂ", bow ;
12. Facing North, Lotus Mudra, while visualizing this Buddha (yellow against a green background), say :"TRAM NAMO RATNASAMBHAVA BUDDHAYE SVÂHÂ", bow ;
13. Facing East, Turning of the Wheel Mudra, while visualizing this Buddha (white floating in space) above your head, say : "OM NAMO VAIROCHANA BUDDHAYE SVÂHÂ", bow ;
14. Sit & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
15. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
16. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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 thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle or "Wheel of Dharma". At the hub of this wheel is a hollow, representing the wisdom-mind of a Buddha (in particular Vairochana, who's "mudrâ" this is). The union of method (left hand below) and wisdom (right hand above) is the powerhouse of the Buddhadharma. Their dual-union the goal of Tantra. The three remaining fingers of the two hands remain extended.

The Dharmachakra Mudra
(here each thumb & index hold the stem of a Lotus)

The fingers of the left hand represent the three vehicles, the treasurehouse of methods acquired by the Buddhayâna. The middle finger signifies the Shrâvakayâna (hearers) & Pratyekabuddhayâna (realizers), together forming the Lesser Vehicle. The ring finger represents the Great Vehicle. The little finger is the Vajrayâna, the Tantric path for the few.

The three extended fingers of the right hand symbolize the Three Jewels, the Buddha (middle finger), the Dharma and the Sangha. The right hand is held in front of the heart, the Wheel of the mind of Clear Light, with the left hand in front, as it were supporting the right.

6. Light, Incense & Water Offerings to the Five Buddhas.

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.

Although there is no limitation as to what can be offered, and many outer, inner & secret levels of offering pertain, sensate objects pleasing to the five senses are customary. In Ancient India, seven bowls were offered, representing (from left to right) : water for drinking, water for washing the feet, flowers, incense, light, perfume & food. Musical instruments were added to represent the human voice. Offering in itself is an art, requiring clean, new, honestly obtained objects, visualized as vast in number, as extensive as space. During the offering the thought is generated of the merit-field of the Triple Gem benefiting all sentient beings, accepting them, enjoying them with great satisfaction.

The ritual form chosen here brings the number of offerings down to three : light, incense & water, representing mind, energy & body of a Buddha. The highest, most virtuous Dharma objects are chosen to be offered. With the light, the darkness of ignorance is expelled by the mind of wisdom. Then, unnoticed, space is filled by the scent of the Dharma, making those touching Dharma to become Dharma themselves. Finally, the element of life of the body is invoked. Water representing the original purity of the physical plane.

Water is offered to the five Buddha families. If light is Truth Body, incense is the Enjoyment Body and water the Emanation Body. By offering water, the blessing of all the Buddhas is invoked, consecrating the water of the bowl, transforming them into pure nectar, pleasing to all the senses.

Five Water Bowls Symbolism
Aksobhya first, left blue on yellow thoughts
Amoghasiddhi second, left green on red actions
Vairochana sixth, middle, last white in space consciousness
Amitâbha fourth, right red on blue feelings
Ratnasambhava fifth, right yellow on green body

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.

Preparing the Altar

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar with empty Water Jar ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Move to the centre, face East, kneel in front of the altar ;
6. Make sure the altar is arranged properly (cf. supra)* and adjust if necessary ;
7. Take the empty Water Pitcher (with left hand) and while filling it with pure water (with a filled vessel held in the right hand), visualize a strings of white OM's, red ÂH's & blue HÛM's dissolving in the waterstream ;
8. Place the Pitcher back on the altar ;
9. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
10. Sit & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
11. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.


* cloth and lighter are near the altar, preferably underneath the table - the vessel with water for the Pitcher is taken away after the preparations

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.

The following simple consecration ritual is a set of actions by itself, intended to consecrate the water in the Kumbha, prepared on the altar.

Consecration of the Water Pitcher

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar properly with filled Water Jar ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13) ;
8. Facing East, kneel in front of the altar ;
9. Take the Water Pitcher with the left hand and place it on the right, rostral, with its bottom facing the Throat Wheel ;
10. In the middle of the belly of the Kumbha, intone & visualize a white "OM", letting it dissolve in the water - likewise a red "ÂH" and a blue "HÛM" ;
11. Meditate a moment on the absence of water from its own side, being the result of interdependences and relations. Meditate on how the water has been connected to your intention of purifying it ;
12. Place the Water Pitcher back on the altar ;
13. Sit & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
14. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
15. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

Light, Incense & Water Offerings

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar properly with consecrated Jar ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13) ;
8. Move to the East, kneel in front of the altar. Light the right offering lamp, intoning and visualizing a white "OM", a red "ÂH" and a blue "HÛM", dissolving these into the flame. Light the left offering lamp doing likewise.

Lotus Mudra, pray :

"Billions of lights are lit before the Living Buddha, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as so many stars surrounding the full Moon. May these lights guide all sentient beings to their final liberation.
OM MANI PADME HÛM (meditate -intoning each syllable- on how in each of the six worlds all beings are liberated).
OM MA- (meditate on the emptiness of self) NI (meditate the emptiness of others), PADME (meditate the interconnection between all beings) HÛM
OM MANI PADME HÛM (meditate on dependent-arising)"

9. Take the first water bowl on the left and clean it with tissue three times anticlockwise (expelling negativity of body, speech & mind) and three times clockwise (blessings of Buddha's body, speech & mind), reciting & visualizing "OM ÂH HÛM", finally blowing in it. Do this with all bowls (from left to right), and align them with only the space of a hair between them.

10. Take an incense stick with the right hand and light it using the right offering lamp reciting & visualizing "OM ÂH HÛM", dissolving the letters in the flame. Make clockwise circles in the first water bowl reciting & visualizing "OM", stop in the middle of the bowl reciting & visualizing "ÂH" and make counterclockwise circles reciting & visualizing "HÛM". Do likewise for all bowls. Place the incense stick in the incense holder (the other little bowl with rice).

11. Take the Water Jar with the left hand. Press thumb against right finger and pour, reciting & visualizing "OM ÂH HÛM", some water on both fingers and strike out towards heaven with ring finger saying : "Offerings to the Enlightened Ones !". Pour again, reciting & visualizing "OM ÂH HÛM", and strike out over the left shoulder, saying : "Offering to the spirits on my left !". Pour again, reciting & visualizing "OM ÂH HÛM", and strike out over the right shoulder, saying : "Offering to the spirits on my right !".

Meditate on the idea all spirits have been awakened to Buddhahood.

12. Take the Water Jar with the left hand, concentrate on the first water bowl and pray : "HÛM Vajra Buddha AKSOBHYA, please come forth and bestow your blessings upon all sentient beings, purify our thoughts." Slowly pour water in this bowl, reciting & visualizing "OM ÂH HÛM", dissolving the letters in the water of the bowl.

With the Water Jar in the left hand concentrate on the second bowl and pray : "ÂH Karma Buddha AMOGHASIDDHI, please come forth and bestow your blessings upon all sentient beings, purify our actions." Slowly pour water in this bowl, reciting & visualizing "OM ÂH HÛM" dissolving the letters in the water of the bowl.

Switching Water Jar to the right hand concentrate on the fourth bowl and pray : "HRÎH Padma Buddha AMITÂBHA, please come forth and bestow your blessings upon all sentient beings, purify our feelings." Slowly pour water in this bowl, reciting & visualizing "OM ÂH HÛM" dissolving the letters in the water of the bowl.

With the Water Jar in the right hand concentrate on the fifth bowl and pray : "TRAM Ratna Buddha RATNASAMBHAVA, please come forth and bestow your blessings upon all sentient beings, purify our bodies." Slowly pour water in this bowl, reciting & visualizing "OM ÂH HÛM", dissolving the letters in the water of the bowl.

With the Water Jar in both hands held at the third eye, pray : "OM Tathâgata Buddha VAIROCHANA, please come forth and bestow your blessings upon all sentient beings, purify our consciousnesses." Slowly pour water in the third (middle) bowl, reciting & visualizing "OM ÂH HÛM" dissolving the letters in the water of the bowl. Put the Water Jar back.

Before the altar, with Lotus Mudra, meditate on the purpose of these offerings. Meditate on how they connect with each aggregate and spatial direction. Meditate about the fact they appear to each Buddha Family in the aspect of Bodhi-mind they represent (Vajra, Karma, Padma, Ratna & Tathâgata).

13. Return to seat. Clear the mind of intentions & thoughts, relax. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
14. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
15. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

Eventually, the outer movement is acquired and then a deeper level of more inner attention may be trained. Given daily practice, to integrate each ritual and make it operational, a few months are needed (in Ch'i Kung, a period of 100 days is suggested, whereas according to the Tibetans, each of these and the following practices need to be performed at least a 100.000 times).

7. The Seven Limbs Practice

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 ?

Afflictive emotions make perfect emotions unavailable. This means these higher, refined states are blocked, making our emotional life coarse, brutal and vulgar. In the latter case, our human relationships are defined by low emotional intelligence, leading to afflictive states such as pride, arrogance, jealousy, passion, stupidity, avarice, sloth, cruelty & hatred. When these fester, emotional energy is wasted and invested in useless and harmful states of mind, finding outward verbal expressions in insults, shouting, grumbling, nagging, carping criticism, gossip and other forms of harmful speech etc. These drain away our energy, making us weak & depleted. Eventually, we may need a whipping-boy for our unconscious negative emotions.

Socialization trains our self-control to not express our crude emotions (like killing or stealing). Although this is necessary, if this suppression is carried out so the greater part of one's emotional life is stifled, then at some point nothing is allowed to get through. Perfect emotions cannot be generated but blocked out. This suppression creates an unconscious tension leading up to crude & unrefined affections. This is a great waste of energy, disabling us to transform our lives and become happy.

The Seven Limbs Practice, also called "Sevenfold Pûjâ", is a devotional ritual in which seven spiritual emotions are evoked. These are prepared by Homage & Offering. It is a sequence of seven different devotional moods or aspirations. The practice is derived from the text of the eighth century Shântideva, the Bodhicaryâvatâra, or Entry into the Path of Enlightenment.

Supreme Worship with Astrological Correspondences
obeisance vandâna humility
I humble body, speech mind
offering pûjâ generosity
Offerings I make in this world & the invisible
confession pâpa-deshanâ tact
I confess my countless wrong deeds
rejoicing punyânumodanâ joy
I rejoice in the merits collected by all
supplication yâcanâ prayer
I implore the Buddhas to stay, to teach.
surrender atmabhâvâdi-
I turn the Wheel of Dharma for all
transference parivâmanâ compassion
May all sentient beings benefit

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, great compassion.

Take note the seven limbs correspond with the sevenfold scheme found in the West, in particular in the Qabalah, with Malkuth as the first limb and Chesed as the seventh.

The Seven Limbs Practice

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13) ;
8. Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Facing East, Lotus Mudra, take your time to imagine a large assembly of Wisdom Buddhas and Buddhist Sûtra Masters. Address them with the following prayer, making sure the words are understood & felt :

"I humble body, speech, mind.
you decide to dedicate your actions, words and mind to the Dharma

Offerings I make in this world and the hidden worlds.
you give away generously to visible and invisible beings

I confess my wrong deeds from lifetimes without number.
you regret your wrong deeds and promise to follow the Dharma

I take great joy in all the virtues manifest in this world.
you rejoice in the merit of others

I implore the Enlightened Ones not to abandon this world.
you ask those more powerful than you to assist

(with Dharmachakra Mudra)
I turn the Wheel of Dharma for all sentient beings.
you propagate the Dharma by all means in harmony with the Dharma

May all sentient beings benefit."

the merits realized benefit all sentient beings

Hold the Dharmachakra Mudra for some time.

10. Sit & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
11. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
12. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

I prostrate to all You Buddhas who have graced the three times,
To the Dharma and to the Highest Assembly,
Bowing down with bodies as numerous
As all the atoms of the world.

Just as Mañjushri and others 
Have made offerings to You, the Triumphant,
So do I, too, make offerings to You, my Thusly Gone Guardians, 
And to Your spiritual offspring.

Throughout my beginningless samsaric existence,
In this and other lives, I have unwittingly committed negative acts,
Or caused others to commit them.
Oppressed by the confusion of naivety,
I have rejoiced in them.
Whatever I have done, I see them as mistakes
and openly declare them to You, my Guardians,
from the depths of my heart.

With pleasure, I rejoice in the ocean of positive force :
from Your having developed Bodhicitta aims
to bring every limited being joy,
and in Your deeds that have aided limited beings.

With palms pressed together, I beseech : 
You Buddhas of all directions :
please shine Dharma's lamp for limited beings
suffering and groping in darkness.

With palms pressed together, I beseech :
You Triumphant who would pass beyond sorrow : 
I beg You, remain for countless eons,
so as not to leave in their blindness these wandering beings.

By whatever positive force I have built up,
through all of these that I have done like that, 
may I remove every suffering 
of all limited beings !!!

Shântideva : Bodhicaryâvatâra.

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.

8. Generating Relative Bodhicitta.

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.

These perfect virtues ("pâramitâs") of joy, love, compassion & equanimity are said to bring about rebirth in the heaven of Brahmâ. They were cherished in Hinduism and can also be found in the three "religions of the book" (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). They represent the fine flowers of spiritual humanism and need no religion to be practiced. They are shared by all human beings.

The "Pure Abodes" inhabited by Brahmâ Sahampati are sublime attitudes. God-like dwellings are lofty and excellent abodes of the mind. There the mind reaches outwards towards the immeasurable world of living beings, embracing them with boundless, pure emotion, just as Brahmâ is the caring witness of the world. In the
Anguttara-nikâya, Lord Buddha  explains how those practicing radiating the Four Immeasurables in this life, dying "without losing it", are destined for rebirth in Brahmâ's heavenly realm in their next life (the five Pure Abodes are the five highest heavens of the Form World). If, added to this, they realize the three characteristics (sorrow, impermanence & emptiness) of the five aggregates, then after their heavenly life there, they are "non-returners" and so need no more rebirth, immediately entering "nirvâna" ! Because these attitudes benefit all sentient beings, their benefits are immeasurable.

Relative (conventional, white, Lunar) Bodhicitta (both aspiring & engaging) is the mind of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings gathering the method to actually realize this mind and to generate compassion. Absolute (ultimate, red, Solar) Bodhicitta is the same mind gathering the wisdom of the emptiness of the subject, the content & the object of this compassion thus turned into great compassion, manifesting as the perfection of the Four Immeasurables.  The sublime attitudes are cultivated by radiating them to all sentient beings, with no exception whatsoever,
integrating the welfare of all. Hence, their benefits cannot be measured.

Radiating out the Four Immeasurables is relative Bodhicitta. This is the sublime method. Radiating relative Bodhicitta with wisdom-mind is absolute Bodhicitta, sublime wisdom, and their (dual) union ("eka") is awakening ("bodhi"). So then Buddhahood is the prehension of bodhi-mind of what is ("dharmadhâtu").

To generate relative Bodhicitta during sitting meditation, the Sevenfold Instruction on Cause and Effect by Ashanga (4th century) is to be applied in the context of Calm Abiding (on these seven Dharma objects) :

(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 ;
(2) mindfulness of kindness : becoming aware that at some point all sentient beings have been close & kind to us, helps to extend kindness to all ;
(3) repaying kindness : cultivating the intention to repay the kindness of all sentient beings develops a sense of being in contact with them, it opens our heart to all, and cuts off the notion of being isolated or unable to be kind ;
(4) love : generating love towards all sentient mother-beings, i.e. wishing them to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering, helps the mind to find pleasantness in relation to everyone ;
(5) compassion : generating compassion towards all sentient mother-beings, i.e. helping them to actually realize their greatest happiness, namely freedom from all suffering and the causes of suffering, results in a spontaneous & universal intent ;
(6) great compassion : the attitude stating one will actually & constantly free each and every sentient being throughout space from suffering and the causes of suffering, changes an ordinary being into a person of great capacity, with a perspective beyond one's own benefit ;
(7) aspiration to enlightenment : realizing the aim of great compassion can only be perfectly fulfilled after enlightenment, makes one vow to attain the highest enlightenment for the sake of freeing all sentient beings from suffering and its causes as soon as possible. Keeping this in mind, Bodhicitta has been generated.

Another method, proposed by Shântideva, involves equalizing & exchanging self with others. First one regards others as precious & important while contemplating the disadvantages of self-cherishing and the advantages of cherishing others. After thus having equalized self and others, one trains to exchange self with others. Success in this comes when one spontaneously cherishes others in the same way as one used to cherish oneself.

In the last phase of this training, one practices taking & giving (Tib. "tonglen"). One (a) takes the suffering, fear, unhappiness, faults etc. of another (visualized as black smoke inhaled and drawn into our own heart, the seat of our self-cherishing mind), (b) mixes these contaminations with the causes of our own suffering, namely the Three Poisons (attachment, hatred & ignorance), allowing this smoke to consume our self-cherishing, and then (c) returns our very best (or Buddha-natura) to the other, visualizing how they are pure, uncontaminated ("anâshrava") and in great bliss.

Clearly the generation, cultivation & becoming spontaneous of Bodhicitta asks for continuous presence of mind. The practice below is a ceremonial confirmation of our commitment to generate this special mind (in the beginning at least six times a day).

Generating Relative Bodhicitta

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar properly with filled Water Jar ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13) ;
8. Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Seven Limbs Practice (8) ;
10. Rise up, face East, take three steps back. Lotus Mudra.

Consider a moment all sentient beings everywhere in all world-systems. Meditate they have all been your mother and so were very kind to you. Take your time. Visualize your father on your right, your mother on your left, your friends behind you and your enemies in front of you. Take your time. Treat them all with the same kindness & respect. Wish suffering for them to cease.

Then, with a slow voice, say :

"May all mother sentient beings enjoy happiness and the causes of happiness."
Feel this joy. Visualize all beings full of joy.
"May all mother sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering."
Feel this love you wish them. Visualize all beings without suffering.
"May all mother sentient beings realize the greatest happiness, freedom from suffering".
Make the resolve to actually do something to help others. Visualize you doing something to help others.
"May all mother sentient beings abide in equanimity, free from attachments of loved ones, free from hatred of foes."

Concentrate on the idea all beings are equal. Visualize a loved one behind you and an enemy in front of you, and send all good things to both of them ;
11. Return to your seat & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts. Relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
12. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
13. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

Once generated, Bodhicitta has to become spontaneous. In order to prevent it from degenerating in this lifetime, four precepts are kept :

  • remembering the benefits of Bodhicitta : if we remember the benefits often, we will be more motivated to generate Bodhicitta ;

  • generating Bodhicitta six times a day : generating Bodhicitta every four hours allows this mind to become a habitual formation ;

  • never abandoning any sentient being : while sentient beings may hurt us or abandon us, never generate the intent to reject another permanently and irreversibly ;

  • accumulate merit & wisdom : by daily adding merit to our basket of merit and deepening our understanding and/or experience of emptiness, we create the causes & conditions to maintain Bodhicitta.

9. The Hundred-Syllable Mantra Practice

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.

The Buddhadharma was launched to truly, effectively remedy this. The so-called 84.000 Dharma Doors are so many methods to do so for all types of practitioners. The negative effects of our deluded clinging and aversion is called negative "karma" or non-virtue, absence of merit. The methods proposed by Lord Buddha are efficient, skillful means to neutralize and/or remove this, stopping the pernicious cycle of committing non-virtuous deeds and building up defilements. Of all purification methods, the Vajrasattva Purification Meditation is the most powerful and effective. It can remove future effects and negative seeds not yet ripened. It even helps to defect effects already begun before, although the latter cannot be completely removed if secondary causes have effectuated their arising and/or continue to do so. But Vajrasattva clearly removes the fuel of these secondary causes, no longer facilitating the arising of deluded hallucinations.

Vajrasattva is the Buddha of the Purity of all the Buddhas. This means he is closely related to the aspect of the enlightened mind embodying the perfection of wisdom, for purity refers to the fact reality is prehended as it is, devoid of defilements or obscurations (i.e. unmixed with material coming from our own false ideations). Indeed, wisdom is the perfection allowing us to prehend all phenomena as they are, nothing more. Vajrasattva also integrates the Five Buddha Families, and so is also another manifestation of the Adi-Buddha, the Buddha of the Enlightenment of all the Buddhas, in Western Process Philosophy equated with God*.

In the practice of purification, Buddha Vajrasattva is invoked as the last of the so-called "four opponent powers", the culmination of four antidotes neutralizing negative "karma". Here he represents the purity realized by every Buddha. Without these Four Powers, there is no way to ultimately purify misdeeds and their residue, in other words, "oppose" delusion. As the "fourth power", Vajrasattva Purification is called the "actual antidote", preluded by the other three. So this Buddha vowed to purify all sentient beings from their deluded ideation and subsequent emotional suffering, leading to dis-ease and loss of wholeness.

The other three "opponent powers" are :

* the power of reliance : to end our predicament and cease our suffering definitively, we have to rely on the special power of the Three Jewels, the Buddhas and Superior Bodhisattvas. Without this, the power of regret has no object - so the least there must be, is an inkling of awareness every moment is absolute ;
* the power of regret : we bring our non-virtuous activities to mind, and direct this confession to the powers we rely in. We generate a sincere sense of regret by understanding the terrible consequences for us and others if we do not repent. It is not enough to generate regret without directing it to some higher, pure entity outside our monkey-ego, for this does not trigger the necessary perspective on an ideal not yet actualized ;
* the power of resolve : we make a firm determination or vow not to engage in these activities in the future and realize our ideal. In particular, we no longer attribute self-power to what we do or others do. This then I vow : "May I apprehend all phenomena, myself included, as other-powered."

If, and only if, we rely, confess and vow, will the actual antidote, when applied, have its fullest effect, i.e. cease all possible defilements, afflictions and deluded obscurations. What is prehended, is the interconnectivity, interdependence & interrelationality in every moment of every appearing sensate & mental object by a mind witnessing only absence of self-power. This is not, as De Cusa wrote, a "coincidentio oppositorum", but an incomprehensible, ineffable fusion like the color red & heat in burning iron, the point at infinity where "l'un est l'autre".

Buddha Vajrasattva
Buddha of the Nature of the Vajra

To invoke Vajrasattva, use his mantra, both the short and the long version.

The Short Vajrasattva Mantra :


The Long 100-syllable Mantra of Vajrasattva :

Om Vajrasattva samajam anupâlaya
Om Vajrasattva, protect the vow.

Vajrasattva tvenopatistha
Vajrasattva, may I be supported by You !

dridho me bhava
Remain firmly with me !

sutosyo me bhava
Be pleased with me !

suposhyo me bhava
Be happy with me !

anurakto me bhava
Be loving toward me !

sarva siddhi me prayaccha
Give me all Powers.

sarva karmasuccha me
Purify my karma !

cittam shrîyam kuru
Make my mind virtuous

Hûm ha ha ha ha hoh
Hûm ha ha ha hoh !

All the blessed Tathâgatas,
vajra ma me muñca
may I be liberated in the Vajra,
vajra bhava mahâsamaja-sattva
great pledge being of the nature of the Vajra.

Âh Hûm
Âh Hûm

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.


The Hundred-Syllable Mantra Practice

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar properly with filled Water Jar ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13)  ;
8. Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Seven Limbs Practice (8) ;
10. Generate Relative Bodhicitta (10 - 11) :
11. Return to your seat, short Analytical Meditation on Emptiness ;
12. In space, visualize ca. 10 cm above your head a white PAM. This transforms into a red Lotus on a white Moon disk. On this convex disk stands a radiant white HÛM, emanating white light in the ten directions.

Meditate : in all directions of space, all phenomena everywhere & now interconnect for lacking existence from their own side ;

13. Visualize how this white light returns to the white HÛM, and when completely assimilated transforms into a standing Vajra with a small white letter HÛM in its node, seen as if it were reflected therein. This white HÛM again emanates light of various colors (yellow, red, blue & green) in the ten directions.

Meditate : in all directions of space, rainbow-colored rays of light carry at their ends all manner of auspicious & beautiful offerings to the Buddhas & Superior Bodhisattvas ; they reach them and they are pleased ;

14. Visualize how, when this multicolored light returns, it touches all sentient beings with the blessings of the Enlightened Ones. When completely assimilated by the small white letter HÛM, the Vajra transforms into Vajrasattva, with a white, transparent body and a white HÛM on a white convex disk at his Heart Wheel ;

Meditate on the form and the attributes of Buddha Vajrasattva.

15. Visualize how a
first bundle of white rays emanate from the Crown Wheel of Vajrasattva straight down his spine, penetrating your Crown Wheel, in which a white "OM" is heard and visualized. These white rays fill the body completely, forcing all negative physical energy (as a thick, dark, black smoke) out of the body via the anus, cleaning our body from within ;

16. Visualize how a
second bundle of red rays emanate from the Throat Wheel of Vajrasattva straight down his spine, penetrating your Throat Wheel, in which a red "ÂH" is heard and visualized, forcing all negative vibrations resulting from negative speech to leave via the nose and the ears, making our speech right ;

17. Visualize how a third bundle of blue rays emanate from the Heart Wheel of Vajrasattva
straight down his spine, penetrating your Heart Wheel, in which a blue "HÛM" is heard and visualized, immediately eliminating wrong views and their effect ;

18. Visualize how
brilliantly shining nectar drips from the White Lotus of Vajrasattva, slowly entering your central channel and aligning all wheels, entering your whole being. Meditate a short while on the bliss generated by the nectar as it drips down. Take your time ;

Concentrate on Buddha Vajrasattva, visualizing him clearly. Around his space, hear the mantra "OM VAJRASATTVA HÛM". Then visualize his figure becoming smaller and smaller. He moves towards your head and enters your Crown Wheel (when the mantra is no longer heard). There he stops for a moment. Then a white "OM" is heard and visualized in Vajrasattva's Crown Wheel. Vajrasattva continues to descend and stops at your Throat Wheel. A red "ÂH" is heard and visualized in Vajrasattva's  Throat Wheel. Vajrasattva arrives in your Heart Wheel. A blue "HÛM" is heard and visualized in Vajrasattva's Heart Wheel ;

Meditate : the Heart Wheel is the natural abode of Vajrasattva, the Buddha of the Purity of all the Buddhas, i.e. of their realization of emptiness, here abides my very subtle mind, my Buddha-nature ;

Concentrating on the image of the brilliant white Vajrasattva in a circle of blazing letters forming the Short Mantra, starting in the East and turning clockwise. Recite the Long 100-syllable Mantra of Vajrasattva at least 7 times ;
21. After the mantra recitation, visualize how Vajrasattva dissolves into your whole being thanking him for his enlightened activity. Meditate on this presence. Take your time ;
22. Sit & clear the mind of intentions, images & thoughts. R
elax. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
23. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
24. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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".

10. Generating Absolute Bodhicitta

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.

Generating Absolute Bodhicitta

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar properly with filled Water Jar ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13)  ;
8.  Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Seven Limbs Practice (8) ;
10. Generate Relative Bodhicitta (10) ;
11. Short Analytical Meditation on Emptiness ;
12. Recite Hundred-Syllable Mantra three times ;
13. Consider all sentient beings everywhere in all world-systems. Meditate they are without self-power, inherent existence or substantial being. They are illusions because they do not appear as they really are. Their ultimate nature is pure process without any part being independent, isolated or powered by itself. Take your time.

Visualize your father on your right, your mother on your left, your friends behind you and your enemies facing you. Consider how they are not individuals in an absolute sense, only in a relative sense. They are empty of themselves but full of others. Take your time to go over this clearly.

Then, with a slow voice say :

"May all mother sentient beings enjoy happiness and the causes of happiness."
Feel this joy. Visualize all beings full of joy but empty of self-power. The joy, the joyous and the enjoyed are empty of inhering qualities ;
"May all mother sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering."
Feel this love you wish them. Visualize all beings without suffering. Realize the love, the lover and the beloved are empty of fixed selves ;
"May all mother sentient beings realize the greatest happiness, freedom from suffering".
Make the resolve to actually do something to help others. Visualize you doing something to help others. The compassion, the compassionate and the object of compassion do not exist from their own side ;
"May all mother sentient beings abide in equanimity, free from attachments of loved ones, free from hatred of foes."
Concentrate on the idea all beings are equal. Visualize a loved one behind you and an enemy in front of you, and send all good things to both of them. But equanimity, the equanimous and its object are only interdependent entities, only process, not substance.

Meditate on the truth of this absence of substance. Meditate on the truth of the presence of process devoid of substance. Meditate on the interconnectivity between all phenomena, events or objects. Meditate on the emptiness (or lack of self-powered properties) of emptiness, avoiding to turn absence of inhering properties into a substance of its own.

14. Return to your seatt & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts. Relax. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
15. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
16. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

So again the Four Immeasurables are radiated out to all sentient beings, but this radiation, the radiating mind and the radiated sentient beings all share in the same absolute property of not existing from their own side, of having no abiding place, but depending on one another. Without this, there would be nothing in existence at all. Without this, sentient beings could not be blessed.

11. Guru Yoga with Mandala Offering


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 ("vedanâ"). So 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 ...

In the Vajrayâna, the Guru appears as the fine flower of the Sangha Jewel without which no spiritual advancement is possible. Guru Yoga, at the core of the Fourth Turning of the Wheel, refers to the worship of the physical manifestation of a Buddha ("nirmânakâya"), in particular Buddha
Shâkyamuni, the wise of the Shâkyas and Buddha of the current age. By invoking the Divine, the Guru is a person able to lift us up out of our misery. Lord Buddha does this by way of his wisdom.


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.

Guru Yoga celebrates his physical manifestation in this samsaric world, and by extension the presence of all other Buddhas, infinite in number. This presence is deemed concrete, actual, efficient, skillful & definitive. In the Vajrayâna, the disciple must relate to his Guru as a Living Buddha. There are a few good books analyzing the role of this special spiritual teacher in Tibetan Buddhism :

Berzin, A. : Relating to a Spiritual Teacher, Snow Lion Publications - Ithaca, 2000.
Rig'dzin Dorje : Dangerous Friend, Shambhala - London, 2001.

In this interpretation, Guru Yoga is devotional and part of the yogas of Tantra. It is absent in the first Three Turnings (merely causal). Given the Fourth Turning is resultant, bringing the fruit (Buddhahood) into the path, Guru Yoga is deemed the best way to do so, projecting the original mind out upon a genuine Guru, a mind able to reflect it back to awaken the disciple (or, in other words, a skilled yogi connecting the disciple with his or her original very subtle mind of Clear Light).

The Fourth Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, after having been a private affair for five centuries, entered Buddhist universities as late as the 7th century CE. It builds on centuries of practice of the Buddhadharma, with Lord Buddha appearing as Vajra Guru Vajradhâra, the Holder of the Diamond, inspiring the minds of the Superior Bodhisattvas teaching the special method of Tantra (namely Deity Yoga and Ch'i regulation).

Guru devotion is however a pan-Indian phenomenon. Indeed, the Guru is universally understood as
the expeller of darkness. Guru Yoga being devotional, it is best placed in the context of "bhakti" practice. In Hinduism, Bhakti Yoga is generating the attitude of devotion to a personal God, establishing a loving relationship between the coarse mind and this unique soul-God, "hidden, one and millions" (cf. Amonism). The Bhâgavata Purâna (after 500 CE) establishes nine principles of devotional service helping the devotee to ongoingly staying in touch with the Divine, every day & night.

These actions return in (Hindu & Buddhist) Action Tantra, the first level of the Outer (Lower) Tantras. In Buddhist Tantra, these attitudes are the soul of the worship of the meditational deity
("ishta-deva", "chosen Deity" or Tib. "Yidam"), visualized on a high throne, as higher, purer and more exalted than oneself. This points to a pan-Indian view on the proper behavior towards superior, extraordinary beings. We find this before 2000 BCE in Ancient Egypt, but also in Judaism, Christianity & Islam. These are the universal modalities of devotional activity.

Guru Yoga is the Vajrayâna version of Bhakti Yoga, altering its object, no longer a super-soul, but a full-empty superform of enjoyment ("sambhogakâya") and manifestation ("nirmânakâya"). Below the list of the nine primary forms of devotion found in the Bhâgavata Purâna, Book 7 (5.23-24), but applied to Buddhist Lower Tantras, in particular Deity Yoga.

In the Vajrayâna, the Outer Guru temporarily manifests the Yidam, or Inner Guru, to the mind of the disciple. Guru Yoga is a practice facilitating this manifestation, opening the door to realize a stable link between the disciple and the Yidam (thanks to and via de Outer Guru). So in the list below, the devotional relationship established with the Yidam can be compared with the attitude generated by the disciple towards the Outer Guru.

(1) "shravana" (listening) : the disciple listens to everything about the Yidam ;
(2) "kîrtana" (praising, as in ecstatic group singing) : sings for the Chosen One ;
(3) "smarana" (remembering) : invokes the Beloved daily, also at night ;
(4) "pâda-sevana" (rendering service) : offers virtuous work ;
(5) "arcana" (worshipping an image) : worships the Form Body of the Yidam ;
(6) "vandana" (paying homage) : pays homage to the presence of the Yidam ;
(7) "dâsya" (servitude) : obeys the conditions related to manifesting the Deity ;
(8) "sâkhya" (friendship) : is touched by the care of the Beloved ;
(9) "âtma-nivedana" (complete self-surrender) : exists fused with the Other.

Consider Guru Yoga as a prelude to Tantra, and the "blessing" of the Guru as the forging of a special link between the disciple and the meditational deity. If Tantra is not part of the path, Guru Yoga is not required, for mentors & teachers are revered, but not worshipped. As the special nature of the link involves the invisible worlds, "siddhis" ("powers" or parapsychological feasts) are part of the game. This makes Guru Yoga and the Guru/disciple relationship so dangerous and objectionable, for the risks & stakes are unreasonably high.

So a distinction should be made between a mentor, a teacher and a Guru. The first two are spiritual advisors, assisting spiritual growth. They belong to the causal ways of the first Three Turnings. The Guru is more than just an advisor. The Vajra Master actively eliminates obscurations and the disciple has to "open up" completely, for the Guru is the resultant or fruit sought by the disciple, the latter takes into his or her path ! The intimacy of the relationship has to be established, and this is only the case after years of living together, requiring a special set-up. Hence, a genuine Guru/disciple relationship is rather rare.

Because of the scarcity of Gurus, the rapid path of Tantra cannot but remain narrow. Is there a risk for it to be too narrow, curtailing the advantage in terms of Bodhicitta ? For the latter seeks to heal as many sentient beings as possible, thanks to as many Buddhas as possible, as quickly as possible. To generate genuine devotional feelings and to consciously project the resultant into the path, is the physical presence of an Outer Guru always really necessary ?

In the East, the paternalistic model is very deeply rooted. Respect for elders is taken for granted. Likewise, the role of the Guru is unmistaken, especially in the Vajrayâna. Indeed, Tibetan Tantra cannot be practiced without proper initiation, and the latter -just as in Shaiva rituals- calls for the Guru. Without empowerment no contact with the Yidam and so no fast enlightenment.

Of course, disciples are called to choose their Guru well and to investigate if he or she has indeed realized something. But once this procedure is over (can this ever truly be ?), and the disciple has taken vows, nothing less than giving the latter back allows the disciple to regain spiritual independence. What if the Guru does not accept them back ? Moreover, certain Vajra Gurus include severe punishments if their disciples break their vows, like a special "Vajra hell" in which they will be tortured for aeons after their physical demise ! Buddhocratic obscurantism ?

Since the Renaissance, the West has slowly taken distance from the "authorities" determining spiritual life in the Middle Ages. The Age of Enlightenment placed trust in reason and experiment, and could no longer accept blind faith. Hence, spiritual authorities like the Papacy & the Episcopate have lost their appeal and individual spirituality has been on the rise and continues to grow. In such a context, the actual worship of a Guru (the representative of God on Earth) has become somewhat of an anachronism.

Exceptional Eastern teachers like Jiddu Krishnamurti have countlessly repeated how dangerous Gurus and spiritual schools are for one's spiritual evolution. They should all be rejected, for human beings must learn to be a lamp unto themselves. Hence, spiritual teachers should abstain from creating dependency, and instead teach their students to become spiritually mature, i.e. without a Guru. To relinquish spiritual independence and expect the Guru will solve the existential dialectic of our condition is silly, irresponsible and cause of more suffering for oneself and others. According to Krishnamurti, we do not need Gurus and if we accept one we take a trodden path, whereas ultimate truth is a pathless land. Suddenists will confirm this take, while gradualists will point out the majority of practitioners need a mentor, teacher or Guru to help them realize spiritual fruits. Indeed, suddenist approaches work for aspirants of high scope, whereas those of small and middling scope need direction to free themselves from their delusions. Left on their own, they just make things worse for themselves and others. The suddenists are again rather exceptional.

There is a difference between, on the one hand, accepting a mentor or a teacher, and, on the other hand, a Guru actually worshipped as a Living Buddha. There is even a crucial difference between the actual worship of the Guru as a Living Buddha and the ceremonial confirmation or deliberate yogic practice of the same. In the former case, the person is considered to actually be a Buddha 24/7, while in the latter case this identification serves the purpose of devotional worship during rituals or activities in a monastic setting, when the Guru figures as if a Living Buddha ... In the latter case, the genuine Guru or Master is at least an extraordinary person able to carry the projection of being treated as if he or she incarnates the ultimate attainment (while all know this is just an excellent & exemplary approximation). Devotional types are attracted to this kind of activity, but should they not train the opposite ?

Although the XIVth Dalai Lama repeatedly said to merely be "a simple Buddhist monk", most Tibetan monks believe he truly is the manifestation of the Buddha of Compassion, i.e. a Living Buddha ... Usually, devotional types like monks are not critical enough to witness to human side of their Guru. Abuse and attachment result. Rational types are quick to reject Guru devotion, but are they not the ones possibly truly benefiting from this ? Opening their heart to this may counter the dryness of their intellectual approach and so offer the necessary antidote ... Usually, rational types are too aware of the human side of their Guru and so fail to genuinely establish the link. They have to learn to revere the surplus of merit collected by their excellent teacher. They cannot (dare not or will not) project their own Buddha-nature out to recognize it. Hence, Guru Yoga is the proper practice for those lacking devotion.

Given the spirit of our age, moving away from Piscean devotionality and training to Aquarian responsibility, individuality, freedom, equality and brotherhood, actual, 24/7 Guru worship is out of joint. This consideration does not preclude ceremonial approaches as in the Guru Yoga proposed here. In this take, an extraordinary individual plays the role of a Living Buddha, blessing the disciple as an actual Buddha would. These blessings have only one intention, namely to -as quickly as possible- establish a stable connection between the disciple and his Inner Guru or meditational deity, acting as a bridge between the deluded mind of the disciple and his or her on secret Guru or Buddha-nature.

The extraordinary individual one feels great attraction to does in fact not need to be actually present, although this may be preferred. Suppose thus-gone teachers (like Guru Rinpoche or Lama Je), who have reached Buddhahood in the past, are taken as the higher subjects of such a ceremonial Guru Yoga, then the procedure does not even involve the actual, living presence of the Outer Guru. Both are Buddhas, so omniscient and invoked thanks to mantra. Perhaps this ceremonial as if approach of Guru Yoga merely plants the karmic seeds of a future encounter with one's actual Outer Guru. It does not replace the extraordinary experience of the living presence of an actual, genuine Vajra Master (and not one merely appearing to the mind).

Ceremonial Guru Yoga is a ceremonial act consciously inviting the chosen Guru to facilitate the recognition of one's Buddha-nature. The Guru accepts this and establishes a direct link between the mind of the worshipping disciple and his or her meditational deity. When the link between Outer Guru and disciple is thus invested in the connection between the disciple and his or her Inner Guru, the latter will accommodate the recognition of his or her Buddha-nature by the disciple. And when this happens, the task of the Outer Guru is finished.

In the practice below, the Guru is either Guru Rinpoche (for devotional, Padma types and actional, Karma types), Lama Tsongkhapa (for rational, Vajra types and physical & practical Ratna types) and Lord Buddha (for Tathâgata types). Hence, knowledge of one's psychological type is presupposed as well as insight -given the disciple's mindset- into the most appropriate Yidam ... Natal Buddhist astrology, offering objective insight in psychological & karmic processes, often helps here.
Avalokiteshvara is the meditational deity.

Guru Rinpoche is visualized & invoked using the Seven-Line Prayer containing his mantra :

1. In the northwest of the country of Oddiyana
2. Born on the pistel of a Lotus
3. Endowed with the most marvelous attainment
4. Renowed as the Lotus born
5. Surrounded by a vast retinue of dakas and dakinis
6. Following you in practice :
7. Please come forth and bestow your blessings upon all sentient beings : OM ÂH HÛM VAJRA GURU PADMA SIDDHI HÛM !

Lama Je Tsongkhapa is visualized & invoked using the Five-Line "Migtsema" Prayer and his mantra :

1. You are the crown jewel of the sages of the Land of Snow
2. You are Avalokiteshvara, the great treasure of boundless compassion
3. You are Mañjushrî, the pristine wisdom of all the Buddhas
4. You are Vajrapâni, the Divine action of all the Buddhas
5. Glorious Losang Dragpa, please come forth and bestow your blessings upon all sentient beings : OM ÂH GURU VAJRADHARA SUMATI KIRTI SIDDHI HÛM !

Buddha Shâkyamuni is visualized & invoked using his mantra :

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 !

Guru Yoga without Mandala Offering

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar properly with filled Water Jar ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13)  ;
8. Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Seven Limbs Practice (8) ;
10. Generate Relative Bodhicitta (10) ;
11. Short Analytical Meditation on Emptiness ;
12. Recite Hundred-Syllable Mantra three times ;
13. Generate Absolute Bodhicitta (13) ;
14. Still facing East, visualize the Guru in Lotus Posture on a high throne above the altar. Recite the Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Rinpoche, the Five-Line Prayer to Lama Tsongkhapa or the Mantra of Lord Buddha ;
15. Small Prostration ;
16. Visualize a beam of white light is emitting from the white OM at his Brow Wheel to yours, hear "OM" and say : "My body is purified, my body is as pure as the body of the Guru !" - visualize a beam of red light is emitting from the red ÂH at his Throat Wheel to yours, hear "ÂH" and say : "My speech is purified, my speech is as pure as the speech of the Guru !" - visualize a beam of blue light is emitting from the blue HÛM at his Heart Wheel to yours, hear "HÛM" and say : "My mind is purified, my mind is as pure as the mind of the Guru !"
17. Visualize the Guru transform into Avalokiteshvara. Hear Mani mantra. Meditate on it for a moment and then dissolve Avalokiteshvara into white light absorbed by your body, speech & mind - for a while remain in a state of non-objectification ;
18. Return to your seat & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
19. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
20. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.


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.

"Mandala" is a Sanskrit word meaning "circle". A mandala is used to define a sacred space and focus attention there. The Tibetan word for "mandala" is "dkyil-‘khor" or "that which encircles a center". Although a mandala is a round symbol, not all mandalas are round. Indeed, there are many types of mandalas, but in general distinguish three : a three-dimensional celestial Residence for the meditational Resident (the chosen deity) to dwell in, and a mandala offering set consisting of a baseplate, with rings and a crown. The former is used in Tantra, whereas the latter is part of the foundational practices. A third type is merely decorative, as a splendid, permanent offering.

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 :
Baseplate with Four Rings & Crown

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 mind).

Cosmic element Earth (the aggregate of form) represents all possible sensate processes of the visible world, including the cardinal directions with their corresponding mundane elements : air (front), fire (right), water (back) & earth (left). The other cosmic elements, Water (feelings), Fire (actions), Air (thoughts), Space (consciousness) correspond with the invisible worlds. This sequence  follows the outline of the "stûpa" : Earth, Water, Fire, Air & Space. The fifth cosmic element is Space itself, the realm of suchness, realized by emptying all objects of consciousness of their self-power. With these five elements all factors of the outer and inner worlds are signified.

Elaborate visualizations accompany the ritual actions. The traditional version was written by Chögyal Pakpa (1235 - 1280), one of the leader of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism.

This very elaborate Thirty-seven Point Mandala Offering calls for :

(Nirmânakâya :)
1) Mount Meru ;
2 - 5) the Four Continents ;
6 - 13) the Eight Subcontinents ;
14) the Jewel Mountain ;
15) the Wish-fulfilling Tree ;
16) the Wish-fulfilling Cow ;
17) the Harvest which needs no sowing ;
18 - 24) the Seven Attributes of Royalty ;
25) the Vase of Great Treasure ;
(Sambhogakâya :)
26 - 33) the Eight Offering Goddesses ;
(Dharmakâya :)
34) the Sun ;
35) the Moon ;
36) the Precious Umbrella ;
37) the Royal Banner victorious in all directions.

In the outline given below, a simpler form is presented. Its contents differs from the traditional Tibetan account. Tibetan cultural objects and mythological elements from Indian lore have been eliminated, and the only objects taken into account are Mount Meru (representing the mandala as a whole), the Sun, the Moon (the luminaries), the five cosmic elements and the five aggregates.

The Mandala Offering Set : an Interpretation
Baseplate cosmic Earth visible world of Air, Fire, Water & Earth
First Ring
Second Ring cosmic Water invisible world
Third Ring cosmic Fire action
Fourth Ring cosmic Air thought
Base of Crown infinite
Crown Dharmadhâtu

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 ;
2. Place the first ring on the base and add four mounds of rice in a clockwise direction around the center of the plate (starting in the North), while reciting the Emptiness Mantra : OM SVABHÂVA SHUDDHA SARVA DHARMA SVABHÂVA SHUDDHO HAM and meditate on the emptiness of all four quarters, seasons and other fourfold characteristics of the physical universe (include the Solar system, galaxies etc). Then, with your right hand equalize the mounds clockwise, recite HÛM and place a drop of scented water at the center ;
3. Place the second ring. On this equalized surface stack blue gem stones in a clockwise direction (starting in the West) while reciting the Emptiness Mantra. Meditate on the lack of own-form of all your emotional states, recite HÛM and place a drop of scented water at the center ;
4. Place the third ring on the blue gem stones and then red gem stones in a clockwise direction (starting in the South) while reciting the Emptiness Mantra. Meditate on the other-powered nature of all of your intentional states, recite HÛM and place a drop of scented water at the center ;
5. Place the fourth ring on the red gem stones and then transparent gem stones in a clockwise direction (starting in the East) while reciting the Emptiness Mantra. Meditate on the lack of own-form of all of your conceptual thoughts, recite HÛM and place a drop of scented water at the center ;
6. Place the crown on the transparent gems and recite the Emptiness Mantra. Meditate all objects are reflected in consciousness, the base of the crown. Then meditate on the emptiness of your consciousness and on the naturally pure Dharmadhâtu, the realm of suchness, signified by the Dharmachakra wheel itself. Recite the Hundred-Syllable Mantra ;
7. The whole mandala represents all things visible & invisible (or "Mount Meru" in the traditional account), emerging out of emptiness. With both hands raise the mandala and present it to your Guru, visualizing the Sun on the right side and the Moon on the left side of the mandala, and pray :

"By directing to the Fields of the Buddhas this pure offering of a Mandala built on a resplendent base with rice, scented water and precious gems, adorned with Mount Meru and the fourfold divisions, as well as with the Sun and the Moon, may all sentient beings be led to these Fields."

Recite the Mandala Mantra seven times :  IDAM GURU RATNA MANDALAKAM NIRYATAYAMI (This jewelled mandala I send forth to you Gurus).

Mandala Offering

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar properly with filled Water Jar ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13)  ;
8. Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Seven Limbs Practice (8) ;
10. Generate Relative Bodhicitta (10) ;
11. Short Analytical Meditation on Emptiness ;
12. Recite Hundred-Syllable Mantra three times ;
13. Generate Absolute Bodhicitta (13) ;
14. Still facing East, visualize the Guru in Lotus Posture on a high throne above the altar ;
15. Recite the Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Rinpoche, or the Five-Line Prayer to Lama Tsongkhapa or the Mantra of Lord Buddha (21 times) ;
16. Small Prostration ;
17. Mandala Offering Protocol ;
18. Visualize the Guru transforming into Avalokiteshvara. Hear Mani mantra. Meditate on this for a moment and then dissolve Avalokiteshvara into white light absorbed by your body, speech & mind ;
19. Return to your seat & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts. Relax. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
20. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
21. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

Short Mandala Offering

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar properly with filled Water Jar ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13)  ;
8. Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Seven Limbs Practice (8) ;
10. Generate Relative Bodhicitta (10) ;
11. Short Analytical Meditation on Emptiness ;
12. Recite Hundred-Syllable Mantra three times ;
13. Generate Absolute Bodhicitta (13) ;
14. Face East. Visualize the Guru in Lotus Posture on a high throne above the altar ;
15. Extend both hands with palms facing heaven and say : "The Pure Ground." Meditate on emptiness. Intone & visualize a white "OM" floating in space in between and above your hands. Bring the little fingers together and connect them, say : "The binding of the elements." Complete Mandala Mudra, say : "The rising of Mount Meru." Place the "OM" at the Brow Wheel of the Guru and visualize a white beam of light emitting from the white OM at his Brow Wheel to yours and say : "Glorious Guru, I offer my body to you !" Transform Mandala Mudra into Lotus Mudra ;
16. Again extend both hands with palms facing heaven and say : "The Pure Ground." Meditate on emptiness. Intone & visualize a red "ÂH" floating in space in between and above your hands. Bring the little fingers together and connect them, say : "The binding of the elements." Complete Mandala Mudra, say : "The rising of Mount Meru." Place the "ÂH" at the Throat Wheel of the Guru and visualize a red beam of light emitting from the red ÂH at his Throat Wheel to yours and say : "Glorious Guru, I offer my speech to you !" Transform Mandala Mudra into Lotus Mudra ;
17. Again extend both hands with palms facing heaven and say : "The Pure Ground." Meditate on emptiness. Intone & visualize a blue "HÛM" floating in space in between and above your hands. Bring the little fingers together and connect them, say : "The binding of the elements." Complete Mandala Mudra, say : "The rising of Mount Meru." Place the "HÛM" at the Heart Wheel of the Guru and visualize a blue beam of light emitting from the blue HÛM at his Heart Wheel to yours and say : "Glorious Guru, I offer my mind to you !" Transform Mandala Mudra into Lotus Mudra ;
18. Recite the Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Rinpoche, the Five-Line Prayer to Lama Tsongkhapa or the Mantra of Lord Buddha (21 times) ;
19. Small Prostration ;
20. Visualize the Guru dissolving into white light absorbed by your body, speech & mind - remain for a moment in a state of non-objectification ;
21. Return to your seat & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts. Relax. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
22. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
23. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

12. Lineage Light Practice

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.

The "homa" returns in the Vajrayâna, where the ritual of consecrated, ceremonial fire benefits (in principle all) sentient beings by cleansing them from their obscurations.

The Vajrayâna, in tune with the four Vajra Deeds performed by the Vajra Guru, knows four kinds of extensive rituals involving fire & offering (so-called "fire offerings"). The first two can be done for oneself and others, the last two only for others :

1) peaceful : pacify the results of unwholesome actions, clear away obstacles, forestall impending dangers like sickness, etc.
2) increasing : to increase all good things, in particular Dharma practice, health, wealth etc.
3) subduing (controlling) : dominate forces harming other sentient beings ;
4) forceful (destroying) : go against harmful sentient beings or forces, to instill fear so they end harming others.

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 ...

Constantly offering white light to the world and all sentient beings alive today, it specifically calls for the lineage of the Buddha, the so-called "sons & daughters of Lord Buddha". It reminds us all sentient beings possess a Buddha-nature. Like the merit field representing the accumulated merit of the Triple Gem, in ceremonial space the Lineage Lamp also serves as an important reference-point and anchors one's basic intention regarding all action based on the Buddhadharma.

Lineage Light Practice

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar, filled Water Jar & novene ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13)  ;
8.  Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Seven Limbs Practice (8) ;
10. Generate Relative Bodhicitta (10) ;
11. Recite Hundred-Syllable Mantra three times ;
13. Generate Absolute Bodhicitta (13) ;
14. Still facing East. Guru Yoga with Short Mandala Offering (14 - 20) ;
15. Move to the altar, kneel, Lotus Mudra. Visualize a large assembly of Buddhas & Bodhisattvas around Lord Buddha. Before them a vast sea of light-particles radiated by billions of butter lamps ;
16. Take hold of the novene with the left hand, light it with the right, intoning & visualizing OM, ÂH, HÛM, raise it and say : "Billions of Lights are lit before the Living Buddha, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as so many stars surrounding the full Moon. May these lights guide all sentient beings to their final liberation." ;
17. Mani Mantra - place novene into glass novene holder ;
18. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
19. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

As with all Buddhist ritual practices, one should be aware the ritual objects are metaphors for the mind and its pristine awareness. Or, as Bodhidharma wrote :

"The eternal lamp represents perfect awareness. Likening the illumination of awareness to that of a lamp, those who seek liberation see their body as the lamp, their mind as its wick, the addition of discipline as its oil, and the power of wisdom as its flame. By lightening this lamp of perfect awareness they dispell all darkness and delusion. And by passing this dharma on to others they're able to use one lamp to light thousands of lamps. And because these lamps likewise light countless other lamps, their light lasts forever." - Bodhidharma : Breakthrough Sermon (Pine, 1989, p.99).

13. Five Organs Ch'i Kung

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).

The cosmic elements (organizing the planes of hylic pluralism in Earth, Water, Fire, Air & Quintessence) represent the order or achitectecture of the world as a whole (with the "stûpa" as standard). Of all cosmic elements, only Earth is "visible". Earth itself is subdivided in four mundane elements, based on the notion of a sectagonal sphere of observation : front (air, rising), right (fire, culminating), back (water, setting), left (earth, anti-culmination) & prime vertical (nadir/zenith rotation)

The Taoist Five Elements of Nature are not geometrical, but temporal, indicating processes, dynamical states of rising, abiding & ceasing, defined by elaborate interdependent dependent-arisings. Therefore, to differentiate them from the more substance-based elements, they will be called "process-elements".

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.

Natural cycle : Earth > Metal > Water > Wood > Fire (again followed by Earth)

Each process-element is controlled by the process-element two steps back in the natural cycle : Earth by Wood, Metal by Fire, Water by Earth, Wood by Metal and Fire by Water. This is the controlling cycle. The interplay of these two cycles, as well as the balancing of Fire and Water define Taoist practice.

In more advanced Ch'i Kung, complementing the elementary Wei Dan classic for vibrant health, the "Eight Pieces of Brocade" ("Ba Duan Jin"), five things need to be regulated : the body, the breath, the mind, the "Ch'i" (vital energy) and the "Shen" (spirit).

Five Organs Ch'i Kung is an elementary Nei Dan practice belonging to the fourth training, namely directly regulating the flow of vital energy, in this case to the five "Yin" organs : liver (Wood), heart (Fire), spleen (Earth), lungs (Metal) & kidneys (Water). Doing so makes them function properly, nourishing the brain. Then, vital energy becomes abundant in all channels, after which advanced breathing techniques are applied to cycle vital energy and finally regulate the spirit, leading to awakening. This happens in advanced Nei Dan (with its vital energy orbits, brain & bone marrow nourishing).

Energy Work II

Practice Five Organs Ch'i Kung daily or every other day. Practice in the morning for at least 100 days.

To learn how to practice Five Organs Ch'i Kung, consult :
Yudelove, E.S. : 100 Days to Better Health, Good Sex & Long Life, Llewellyn - Minnesota, 1997 ; Chia, M. : Fusion of the Five Elements, Destiny - Vermont, 2007 ; Chia, M. : Wisdom Chi Kung, Destiny - Vermont, 2008.

Concluding Remarks

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.

The Grand Preliminary

I. Preparation :

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar properly with filled Water Jar ;

II. Body :

2. Find Posture ;

III. Breath :

3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;

IV. Mind :

6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13)  ;
8. Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Seven Limbs Practice (8) ;
10. Generate Relative Bodhicitta (10) ;
11. Short Analytical Meditation on Emptiness ;
12. The Hundred-Syllable Mantra Practice (12 - 21) ;
13. Generate Absolute Bodhicitta (13) ;
14. Still facing East : Guru Yoga with Mandala Offering (14 - 20) ;
15. Return to your seat & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

(... ) subsequent practices

16. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
17. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

These practices are especially useful to train devotional states of mind able to transform afflictive emotions. When the latter abide, hatred, cruelty, anger, avarice, sloth, blind passion, jealousy, arrogance & pride are the outcome. Must these not be transformed into refined, pure states of feeling ?
The latter do not cause more suffering because they have no abiding place. To nourish & cultivate them is done for the purpose of increasing one's sensitivity and therefore ability to discern what causes others to suffering. It all serves compassion. This wisdom discriminates between afflictive & non-afflictive emotions, transforming the former into the latter, ending the first obscuration : emotional suffering hindering liberation from one's own personal "foes". Guru Yoga enables the disciple to cultivate his feelings, and therefore his or her emotional intelligence, needed to operationalize the social networks of great compassion (or excellent & exemplary skillful method).

Refined feelings accommodate the peace, tranquility & calmness needed to realize the emptiness of the personal self, be it ego or higher self. Final destruction of the "foes" comes when there is no abiding place for the apprehender, no fixed abode or stable, permanent vantage point for one's personal identity to take refuge in. Such a thing cannot be found.

These Foundational Practices work to establish the reign of blissful emotions deeply calming our mind, making it ready to investigate the nature of ego, of identity & personal longings, cravings, passions & desires. To empower this study, reflection & meditation on a cultivated, meaningful life, the student of the Buddhadharma needs to accumulate merit & wisdom-minds. As conceived here, only two objects of devotion were required : the Three Jewels (in sûtra) and the Guru (in Tantra).

The Accumulative Practices are ways to empower this process. In other words, to transform the deep calmness of the mind into deeper calmness still. When afflictions come to rest, a period of cultivation is introduced, shaping the conditions for the prolonged emptiness meditations of the Preparative Practices.


Practices SÛTRA

On Accumulative Practices



The Preliminary Practices establish a calm mind and a body vibrating health. On the basis of this mind-body complex, at times still disrupted by negative emotional states, insight into the nature of phenomena is possible, but difficult & elusive. Study, reflection and Lamrim meditations on emptiness only improve understanding very slowly.

The Foundational Practices work on generating positive minds, eliminating the emotional obscuration caused by feelings overstressed by afflictive emotions. This triggers deep calmness, a tranquility no longer disturbed by afflictive emotionality. Guru Yoga is an "advanced" foundational practice, introducing the very basics of Tantra (and so mantra). This effort of clearing the aggregate of feeling of its impurities (emotional grasping), opts to take the fruit into the path. Causal (Buddhahood is the fruit of the path) and resultant methods (the fruit is part of the path) are both practiced. Fundamentally, the path of mantra ("Mantrayâna") intends to add an accelerator on the generation of merit. Qua wisdom, Vajrayâna adds nothing. This vehicle makes the notion of the actual presence of an awakened mind part of the practice.

Establishing a calmer mind (or deeper calmness), the Accumulative Practices integrate a single focus (Bodhisattvahood) on the extensive accumulation of merit. The presence of enough merit accommodates the physical, emotional, mental & spiritual dimensions of our spiritual practice, protecting it and facilitating its further development. It is also a guarantees sufficient reserves are present in case of karmic hindrances or afflictive desires & abiding hatred.

By training, the Accumulative Practices first consolidate what was generated by the Foundational Practices. Then, because of the extensive merit, they introduce a special introspective mind, aware of what happens at the three doors, i.e. physically, energetically & mentally. No longer contrived, this spontaneously arises. Analytical Meditations on emptiness lead to minds accommodating stable conceptualizations with emptiness as their object. Improving conceptual insight, this is not yet a vast view on its meaning. It lacks the "special insight" of "superior seeing". The latter is the goal of the Preparative Practices.

* Preliminary Practices : physical heath & well-being (body) ;
* Foundational Practices : absence of afflictive emotions (affect) ;
* Accumulative Practices : action & will accumulating merits (volition) ;
* Preparative Practices : generation of special insight (thought) ;
* Finative Practices : Clear Light mind of bliss-emptiness (consciousness).


1. The 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 training ;
2. The Mani Practice : the practice of the Mani Mantra of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion ;

3. Prayer Wheel Practice : practice of the extensive accumulation of compassion using the Prayer Wheel ;
4. Energy Work III : practice of various breathing techniques aiming at leading the vital force (winds) or "ch'i", preparing one to "raise the spirit" ("shen").

1. The Bodhisattva Vow

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.

In the Great Perfection Vehicle, also called Pâramitâyâna, Bodhisattvayâna and Sûtrayâna, the Eagle of Awakening is said to have two wings : method (skillful means) and wisdom (realization of emptiness). It cannot fly without both of these to be intact and strong. Both method (optimalized in the form of great compassion in dependence on "bodhicitta" or the mind of universal altruism) and wisdom (trained by meditations on emptiness) have to be coordinated in such a way the Eagle flies. They are distinct, but interdependent. A Buddha has coordinated both perfectly, but here this fruit is not taken into the path. So method & wisdom are trained sequentially, not simultaneously. This is how the Sutric Bodhisattva trains and, after a very long time, the flight of the Eagle is a fact ; another perfect dissipative symmetry-transformation or holo-movement flies !

The "path of the sûtras" is open to all. It allows everybody to train. It does not call for elaborate "initiations" and "empowerments" by specialized teachers. There is no secrecy, only transparency. Teachers are mentors, not gurus. The Sutric Bodhisattva works without anticipating Buddhahood. He or she realizes it takes special lives, defined by extraordinary material, volitional, affective, cognitive & sentient conditions, to accommodate more advanced, specialized expert-knowledge & practices.

To enter the Diamond Vehicle ("Vajrayâna"), also called Tantrayâna, Mantrayâna & Guhyamantrayâna, great compassion needs to be spontaneous and a complete valid conceptual understanding of emptiness must be in place. Initiation & empowerments are deemed necessary. In Buddhist Tantra, the fruit of the path, namely awakening, is intentionally made part of the path, and this by integrating all possible sentient states, including desires, afflictive emotions and delusions. All of this in the simultaneous apprehension of the absence of intrinsic reality, own-power and own-character. This is never falsely projected upon inner & outer phenomena. The ultimate seal ("mahâmudrâ") is placed when all phenomena are prehended as luminous emptiness. Full of the clear interconnectivity, but empty of their own intrinsic, substantial, essentialist existence.

Let us focus on the Sutric Bodhisattva.

Without leaving anything out, to extensively accumulate merit mobilizes the complete life of the Great Vehicle practitioner. Day and night are so many moments to practice and thanks to the method of the vow this can be done with greater ease. Preliminary & Foundational practices established calmness and deep calmness. These overcome physical & emotional afflictions. To be able to effectively analyze emptiness, establishing a generic idea of it, extensive merits need to be generated to eliminate the causes hindering practice, be they material, emotional, mental or intentional. Extensive merit brings a deeper level of calmness, ending all coarse & subtle forces countering spiritual emancipation. Deeper calmness can only be realized by mobilizing volition, the coordination of movements, causing behavior. Hence, all aspects of practical life need to be addressed, matters of property, right livelihood & socio-political intentions.

What is the conduct proper to those practicing the teachings of the Buddha ? The Lesser Vehicle took centuries to manifest the skillful means able to ban physical stress, eliminate all non-afflictive emotions and realize the emptiness of personhood. Given renunciation, monasticism seemed unavoidable. These early practices are part of the Mahâyâna. The Great Vehicle "extends" the Lesser Vehicle by integrating the great compassion ("mâhakarunâ") of the Bodhisattvas, as well as the emptiness of others (leading up to a generic & contrived conceptual realization of the property of emptiness shared by all sensate & mental objects). This movement towards inquiring into the ultimate nature of all phenomena (personal and other-based) is impossible without the mind of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. For only by cultivating this mind, deeper calmness ensues. This state is the foundation of the Preparative Practices, introducing Insight Meditation (or Emptiness Meditation).

A vow is a commitment aiming at the realization of a spiritual fruit. Indeed, it is a virtuous determination to abandon defilements or faults. This is a moral discipline. Three types are identified : morality aiming at personal liberation (the Pratimoksha Vows, or Lesser Vehicle Vows), morality aiming at the liberation of all sentient beings (the Bodhisattva Vow, or Great Vehicle Vow) and morality aiming at the liberation of all sentient beings as soon as possible and this by overcoming ordinary appearances & conceptions (the Tantric Vows).

Once taken, there are four main causes of the degeneration of vows :

1) ignoring the downfalls : the antidote is to study the downfalls and how they are incurred ;
2) lack of respect for Dharma instructions : the antidote is reminding us of the excellence of Buddha's teaching and advise and the absence of good reasons to doubt his instructions ;
3) strong delusions : the antidote is the practice of Lamrim meditation ;
4) lack of conscientiousness : the antidote is bringing to mind the disadvantages of incurring downfalls, their negative consequence on our spiritual well-being.

In the context of the extensive accumulation of merit, the Bodhisattva Vow realizes great compassion on the basis of a spontaneous and continuous presence of "bodhicitta". This purposeful activity is a 24/7 engagement and its core is the life and work of the Bodhisattva, vowing to realize the "perfections" for the sake of all sentient beings. Only then will Buddhahood be attained and sentient beings be genuinely assisted. The path of the Bodhisattva is said to demand many lifetimes.

It is pursued by two major methods : (a) training in the Ten Stages ("bhûmis") and (b) practicing the "pâramitâs" or Six Perfections : (1) generosity ("dâna"), (2) ethics ("shîla"), (3) effort ("vîrya"), (4) patience ("ksânti"), (5) meditation ("samâdhi") and (6) wisdom ("prajñâ"). To correlate these perfections with the Ten Stages ("bhûmis"), four perfections are added : (7) skillful means ("upâya"), (8) vow to achieve Buddhahood ("pranidhâna"), (9) power ("bala") and (10) knowledge ("jñâna"). The first five perfections are sealed by wisdom. Hence, the Bodhisattva realizes the ultimate reality (or conventional unreality) of the beings he or she saves. This is "mahâkarunâ" or "great compassion".

The Six Perfections also explain the two "accumulations" ("bodhi-sambhâra" or "equipments for Bodhi") : the accumulation of merit ("punya-sambhâra") or the generation of the first five perfections, while the accumulation of wisdom ("jñâna-sambhâra") is achieved through the perfection of wisdom, the sixth perfection. Because wisdom is perfected by understanding and seeing emptiness, giving, morality, joyous effort, patience & meditation can be perfected.

The Bodhisattva Vow addresses volition. The activity of the Three Gates of Body, Speech & Mind need to be attended and if needed regulated. This does not happen by virtue of a set of practices, but by throwing one's whole life into the stream of purification (the generation of pure minds). Contrary to the Pratimoksha Vows & the Tantric Vows, the Bodhisattva Vow cannot be given back. Once taken, this vow affects and continues to affect our mindstream into future rebirths. To take the Bodhisattva Vow is a decisive moment in the life of the practitioner. From that moment onward, he or she no longer only trains as the Buddha taught, but -by entering the lineage of Buddha Shâkyamuni-, actually becomes a son or daughter of the Buddha. Next to taking Refuge, this is the most decisive turn in Buddhist practice.

In A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, Shântideva advises those interested in the Bodhisattva Vow to study the Âkâshagarbha Sûtra. His own Compendium of Training as well as Asanga's The Bodhisattvas' Grounds are also sources of note. The actual "Bodhisattva Vow" ("pranidhâna") is at the end of the Avatamsaka Sûtra by Samantabhadra :

"Just as countless practitioners before me,
generated the mind of enlightenment
for the sake of all sentient beings,
and accomplished all the stages
of the Bodhisattva training,
so I too generate the mind of enlightenment
for the sake of all sentient beings,
and will accomplish all the stages
of the Bodhisattva training."

Regarding the Bodhisattva Vow, Asanga identified 18 major root downfalls and 46 minor or secondary downfalls. By this distinction, he brings to light the difference between a break and a crack. A crack unattended will lead to a break. At the stage of the crack antidotes need to be applied. Better states of mind need to be generated, countering wrong action. Then a break is avoided and nothing really serious happened. However, there is damage, this much must be conceded and immediately acted upon. But the damage can be easily reversed. Breaking the Bodhisattva Vow cannot be easily repaired, calling for a strong application of the Four Opponent Powers, often in closed Vajrasattva Retreat and/or doing the 35 Buddhas of Confession Practice.

To actually break the Bodhisattva Vow, incurring a single root downfall suffices.

For the Bodhsattva Vow to be broken, a root downfall needs four binding factors to be effective :

1) the action indicated by the downfall is not regarded as disadvantageous ;
2) the actor does not wish to abstain from the action in the future ;
3) the actor rejoices in the action ;
4) the actor knows no shame or consideration for others while acting.

If a root downfall is at hand, but one considers this to be an abvious wrongdoing, one is ashamed, embarrassed or regretful, with the intention not to repeat it, then the downfall is not completely incurred. It is still an infringement, but the result is not so detrimental to our basket of merit as when these factors are present. Then a leak is caused, and merit slips out. This is more than damage. It is the end of effective functionality !

To be completed, two particular root downfalls do not need the presence of these binding factors, namely the vows regarding holding perverted views & giving up Bodhicitta. Doing the action completes it. Simply firmly grasp these minds, and the Bodhisattva Vow is completely broken. To deny Bodhicitta is to refuse to generate the mind of enlightenment for all sentient beings. This means the best antidote is thrown out, making ludicrous the effort to reach the other shore using the Great Vehicle. One cannot be a Bodhisattva and deny the heart of Bodhisattvahood : interrelational & universal responsibility. Moreover, if views necessary to understand liberation & awakening are denied (such as Buddhahood, Arhathood, the law of karma, rebirth, emptiness, etc.), then the downfall is complete "de opere operato". One cannot be a practitioner of the Buddhadharma and deny the views needed to attain liberation & awakening. This is like breaking the Four Seals. From the perspective of Bodhisattvahood, negating Bodhicitta is terrible. But from the perspective of the Buddhadharma, negating crucial views (like emptiness) is worse.

The instructions on the downfalls serve to transform all daily actions into the way of life of the Bodhisattva. They define a set of vows delineating the way such a special being lives his or her life on a daily basis. By putting these instructions into practice, one gradually completes the training and gets ready for the bliss of awakening to what actually is. Each instruction sets boundaries to inspire us to realize the blessings of the way of life of the Bodhisattva, in particular the supple pliancy of the Dharma and its 84.000 Doors. All the Bodhisattva vows based on the instructions are aspects of the practice of the Six Perfections.

The Eighteen Root Downfalls

1. praising oneself and belittling others ;
2. not sharing with others one’s wealth and Dharma ;
3. not forgiving even when others apologize ;
4. doubting and abandoning the doctrine of the Great Vehicle ;
5. taking offerings intended for the Three Jewels ;
6. abandoning the doctrine through sectarianism ;
7. causing an ordained person to disrobe ;
8. committing one of the five crimes of immediate retribution ;
9. holding perverted views ;
10. destroying places such as towns ;
11. teaching emptiness to the untrained ;
12. discouraging others from seeking full enlightenment ;
13. causing others to break the Pratimoksha Vows ;
14. belittling those who follow the Lesser Vehicle ;
15. speaking falsely about emptiness ;
16. accepting gifts stolen from the Three Jewels ;
17. laying down harmful rules ;
18. giving up Bodhicitta.

Ranging from very severe to severe & heavy, this traditional list of the Eighteen Root Downfalls may be reorganized in two :

Extreme :

1. giving up Bodhicitta ;
2. holding perverted views ;

Mayor :

3. doubting and abandoning the doctrine of the Great Vehicle ;
4. committing one of the Five Crimes of Immediate Retribution* ;
5. speaking falsely about emptiness ;
6. teaching emptiness to the untrained ;
7. praising oneself & scorning others motivated by deception or the aim to hurt ;
8. accepting gifts stolen from the Three Jewels ;
9. taking offerings intended for the Three Jewels.

(*) Five Heinous Actions : killing one's father, killing one's mother, killing an Arhat, maliciously wounding a Buddha and causing a schism within the Sangha.

Minor :

1. destroying places* ;
2. not sharing with others one’s wealth and the Dharma ;
3. abandoning the doctrine through sectarianism ;
4. causing others to break the Pratimoksha Vows ;
5. belittling those who follow the Lesser Vehicle ;
6. causing an ordained person to disrobe ;
7. discouraging others from seeking full enlightenment** ;
8. laying down harmful community rules ;
9. not forgiving even when others apologize.

(*) willfully destroying the environment, a place of habitation or a town
(**) the awakening (of a Buddha) exceeding the personal liberation (of an Arhat)

The Forty-Six Secondary Downfalls below are based on Tsongkhapa's The Fundamental Way to Enlightenment. These are called "secondary", not because they are necessarily less important or less negative than the root vows, but because they stem from the root vows and are therefore not so likely to lead to other negative actions. In Tibetan, "root" can also mean "defeated". Indeed, if we incur a root downfall, our entire Bodhisattva Vow is broken, and we are defeated by our obscurations, which is not the case with the secondary downfalls. These are isolated cracks needing attention. If left unattended, such damage becomes fracture.

The Forty-Six Secondary Downfalls

generosity :

1. not making offerings every day to the Three Jewels ;
2. indulging in worldly pleasures out of attachment or discontent ;
3. not paying respect to those senior in taking the Bodhisattva Vow ;
4. not replying to others out of negligence though one is capable of doing so ;
5. not accepting invitations due to pride, the wish to hurt other’s feelings or anger or laziness ;
6. not accepting others’ gift out of jealousy, anger etc. or simply to hurt others ;
7. not giving the Dharma teaching to those who wish to learn ;

ethics :

8. forsaking those who broke their moral discipline, or treating him or her with contempt ;
9. not acting in ways causing others to generate confidence in us ;
10. complying with the minor precepts when the situation demands one's disregard of them for the better benefit of others ;
11. not committing one of the negative actions of body, speech and mind when -in the particular instance- love and compassion deem it necessary ;
12. accepting things acquired through one of the Five Wrong Livelihoods* ;
13. wasting time on frivolous actions** ;
14. misconceiving Bodhisattvas do not attempt to attain awakening and failing to view delusions as to be eliminated ;
15. not avoiding a bad reputation ;
16. not helping others motivated by delusions ;

(*) trading in weapons, human beings, intoxicants & narcotics, poisons and handling animal flesh (any business in meat)
(**) carelessness, lack of pure morality, wild dancing, playing music just for fun, gossiping and also distracting others in meditation

patience :

17. parting from the Four Noble Disciplines* ;
18. not apologizing when we have the opportunity ;
19. refusing to accept the apologies of others ;
20. acting out thoughts of anger ;

(*) To acquire patience, a practitioner of the Buddhadharma upholds four fundamental disciplines (found in both the Lesser & the Great Vehicle). These disciplines train patience.
(1) the first noble discipline : when somebody gets angry with us, we should never respond in the same way, with anger ; maintain a neutral state of mind ;
(2) the second noble discipline : when somebody harms us physically, we should never respond in the same way. We should not retaliate physically, harming their body in response to the harm they did to us ;
(3) the third noble discipline : if somebody criticizes us or discusses our faults, we should never respond in the same way, by picking on their weak points or criticizing them ;
(4) the fourth noble discipline : if somebody argues with us, we should never respond in the same way, by arguing back. If this helps them, we may skillfully discuss or debate a point, but without any adversity.

joyous effort :

21. gathering disciples out of the desire for respect and material gain ;
22. wasting time (laziness) and putting energy in trivial matters ;
23. being addicted to frivolous, senseless talk & conversation ;

concentration :

24. not seeking the means to develop concentration ;
25. not abandoning the Five Faults* hindering meditative stabilization ;
26. being addicted to the joy of meditative absorption ;

 The Five Faults ("âdînava") : as long as one of these faults is present, the object of placement is unstable.
1. laziness : the wish to establish the object of placement is not present ;
2. forgetting the precept : the object is indeed entirely forgotten ;
3. laxity & excitement/excitation : implying, on the one hand, lethargy or a heaviness of mind & body and, on the other hand, fragmented attention ;
4. non-application ("anabhisamskâra") : the antidotes to laxity & excitement are not applied ;
5. over-application ("abhisamskâra") : the antidotes to laxity and excitement are applied too often.

wisdom :

27. abandoning the Lesser Vehicle as contradictory to the Great Vehicle ;
28. exerting effort principally in Lesser Vehicle practice, neglecting the Great Vehicle practices one already has ;
29. exerting effort to learn or practice non-Dharma subjects without a good reason ;
30. although studying them for a good reason, beginning to favor and take delight in non-Dharma subjects ;
31. abandoning any part of the Great Vehicle as uninteresting or unpleasant ;
32. praising oneself and belittling others motivated by pride or anger ;
33. making no effort to study Dharma ;
34. preferring books rather than the teacher ;

ethics of benefiting others :

35. not helping those who are in need ;
36. not helping people who are sick ;
37. not alleviating the suffering of others ;
38. not explaining what is the proper conduct to those who are reckless ;
39. not returning help to those who benefit us ;
40. not relieving the distress of others ;
41. not giving material possessions to those who need charity ;
42. not taking care for those who have put their trust in us ;
43. not acting in accordance with the wishes of others, if doing so does not bring harm to oneself or others ;
44. not praising those who have good qualities ;
45. not performing wrathful actions to stop someone doing harm ;
46. if one has this ability, not using miracle powers, threatening actions etc. to stop others from doing unwholesome actions.

A vow is a devotional mental mechanism, like a tool turning the wheel of compassion. The three sets of vows are powerful combinations of virtuous objects, causing vast accumulations when integrated into the mindstream. The Pratimoksha Vows allow one to generate a protective "Dharma fence" around one's practice. This guarantees an unimpeded growth and the disappearance of the hindrances to practice. At some point, one's mindstream is liberated from afflictive emotions and aspiring Bodhicitta is trained. When spontaneously generated and engaged, this minds automatically propels one towards the Bodhisattva Vow, after which Bodhicitta never degenerates, except if the vow is broken.

The Bodhisattva Vow can be taken alone, visualizing the Buddha in front (assisted by a statue or a painting), or can be part of an elaborate Sangha Ceremony. Making a strong determination to practice the Six Perfections and avoiding the root downfalls and secondary downfalls, a prayer is recited (usually three times).

The Bodhisattva Vow

I. Preparation :

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar properly with filled Water Jar ;

II. Body :

2. Find Posture ;

III. Breath :

3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;

IV. Mind :

6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13)  ;
8. Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Seven Limbs Practice (8) ;
10. Generate Relative Bodhicitta (10) ;
11. Short Analytical Meditation on Emptiness ;
12. The Hundred-Syllable Mantra Practice (12 - 21) ;
13. Generate Absolute Bodhicitta (13) ;
14. Still facing East : Guru Yoga with Mandala Offering (14 - 20) ;
15. Visualize a countless number of Buddhas & Bodhisattvas surrounding the Buddha in front. Short Analytical Meditation on the 18 root downfalls.

Pray three times (reminding Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) :

"O Buddhas, Bodhisattvas & Gurus.
Please listen to what I say now :

Just as countless practitioners before me,
generated the mind of enlightenment
for the sake of all sentient beings,
and accomplished all the stages
of the Bodhisattva training,
so I too generate the mind of enlightenment
for the sake of all sentient beings,
and will accomplish all the stages
of the Bodhisattva training.

My precious human life has become extremely precious,
for I am born into the Lineage of the Buddha,
I am a Bodhisattva !
And from now on all my actions shall uphold this vow !

Or the small version :

"O Buddhas, Bodhisattvas & Gurus.
Please listen to what I say now :

I vow to deliver all sentient beings.
I vow to cease suffering.
I vow to master countless approaches to Dharma.
I vow to attain Buddhahood."

16. Return to your seat & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
17. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
18. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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).

Parallel to moral discipline, study of and reflection on emptiness continues daily. This is not yet Emptiness Meditation (or Insight Meditation requiring "superior seeing"), but a thorough familiarization with the various schools & tenets involved in the conceptual understanding of emptiness. This may happen in the context of Analytical Meditation, but emptiness itself is not yet an object of placement.

In this way, compassion & wisdom are trained, each in its own sweet time, sequentially, one after the other (and not simultaneously, as in Tantra's Deity Yoga). Exclusively based on the Mahâyâna Sûtras rooted & extending the Lesser Vehicle, this approach is a slow progression towards Buddhahood or full (complete) enlightenment, an awakening exceeding the (personal) liberation of Arhathood.

The Bodhisattva is called "ordinary" when he or she upholds the Bodhisattva Vow. When extensive merit has been accumulated, Preparative Practices may be initiated. These involve Emptiness Meditation, taking emptiness as an object on the basis of the mind of "special insight". This leads to a contrived generic idea of emptiness. When the emptiness of this idea itself is grasped, conceptual reification ends. Acquired self-grasping ends. Then emptiness may be directly prehended. When this happens, the Bodhisattva enters the Path of Seeing, and is no longer an "ordinary" enlightenment being.

Entering the Path of Seeing, he or she becomes "extraordinary", "Ârya" or "superior". This Bodhisattva enjoys the First Stage of Ten Stages ("bhûmis") and is called to enter the Path of Meditation, working hard to elimininate the last problem : innate self-grasping. But because of the presence of this direct experience of emptiness, the Superior Bodhisattva is already an exceptional being, but not yet a Buddha. Indeed, reaching the Seventh Stage, such a Bodhisattva exceeds the Arhat, but very subtle non-conceptual, innate reification abides. The path of Meditation is long and it takes aeons before No More Learning finally dawns ...

2. The Mani Practice

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.





joyous effort

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 perfections "perfect" particular Bodhisattvic moral qualities. This causes a rapid accumulation of merit, and hence the necessary deeper calmness to successfully meditate on emptiness. Not personal liberation is intended, but full enlightenment or awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings. Buddhahood is pursued to be able to awaken all suffering beings.

The two trainings are sequential. To be able to generate the mind of "special insight" or "superior seeing", apt to probe emptiness, merit needs to be extensive. Hence, the Accumulative Practices establish the rapid generation of white "karma", causing the conditions for physical and mental advancement. Great compassion is viewed as a direct path to this aim. Compassion-training sets the stage for Emptiness Meditation. Here, wisdom-training involves Analytical Meditations on tenets, or philosophical positions regarding emptiness, thereby "filling" the basket of wisdom, preparing the truth about ultimate reality.

The Bodhisattva never works alone. Aware of the interdependence between all phenomena and working together to cease suffering, a network of Bodhisattvas comes into existence. Among those are manifesting Buddhas (Eight Ground "Dhyâni Bodhisattvas"), "Mahâsattvic Bodhisattvas" (Eighth to Tenth Ground), Superior Bodhisattvas (First to Seventh Ground) & ordinary Bodhisattvas. Thanks to their transference of merit, the accumulations become a shared phenomenon, adding an absolute dimension to it.

The Mani Practice solicits the help of a Buddha manifesting as an Eight Ground Dhyâni Bodhisattva and this by the recitation ("ekajâpasya") of the mantra "Om Mani Padme Hûm". In Buddhist culture, this mantra is the "innermost heart" ("paramahridaya") associated with the Dhyâni Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of the Compassion of all the Buddhas, "the great compassionate one" ("âryâvalokiteshvarâya bodhisattvâya mahâsattvâya mahâkârunikâya"). Buddha Amitâbha is considered the "guru" of Avalokiteshvara.

In the West, the earliest reference to this famous formula is the remark made by the Franciscan friar William of Rubrick. In 1254, he noticed how the Mongolians of Karakoram always repeated the words "on mani baccam". And according to him this meant : "God, thou knowest." !  Thanks to the Tibetan Diaspora of the last fifty years, the influence of the Mani Mantra is no longer confined to the outer reaches of Central Asia. Avalokiteshvara, the patron of Tibet, is deemed to incarnate as the Dalai Lama. The Mani Mantra is a prominent visual feature of the landscape of Tibet, carved & painted onto the rocks lining roads, written in huge letters high up on hillsides or in monumental form in so-called "mani-walls".

The Mani Mantra, the heart ("hridaya") mantra of Avalokiteshvara, is a means to enter into the presence of this very special Bodhisattva, allowing one to wield his supernormal powers of compassion. Like the Bodhisattva himself, this heart mantra is made to emerge from the seed-syllable ("bîja") "HRÎH". No doubt on the basis of the emotional power of the involved connotative field, some compared  Avalokiteshvara with the Cosmic Christ.

The earliest textual source for any mention of the Mani Mantra is the Kârandavyûha Sûtra, the oldest version of which is a prose text composed in the late fourth or early-fifth century CE, consistent with the traditional account of the earliest "miraculous" arrival of this text in Tibet during the reign of Lha Thothori Nyantsen (apparently without lasting impact). This "sûtra" is a "basket" ("kâranda") containing the "magnificient display" ("vyûha") of the manifestations of Avalokiteshvara. The recitation of the Mani Mantra, viewed as a gift of Avalokiteshvara, is promoted as a universal practice, available to all Buddhists with faith in the extraordinary amount of merit accrued by this Bodhisattva. This is also the only thing required in Pure Land Buddhism, for entry into the Western Pure Land of Amitâbha, Sukhâvatî, the Land of Bliss, is granted by all who believe Amitâbha will keep his vows.

Much of the Kârandavyûha Sûtra evidences a close interaction between monastic Buddhism and Shaivism, in particular in Kashmir, where it most likely originated. Indeed, the influence of the Shaivite Skanda Purâna on this sûtra is clear. Scholars like Studholme (2002) conjecture the Kârandavyûha Sûtra is written from the point of view of a Mahâyâna monastic community entering into an uneasy alliance with the presence of Shaivite tantric yogis ("mahâsiddhis"). The Buddha of Compassion is represented, like Shiva, with eleven heads, and is thousand-armed & thousand-eyed ; a form nowhere found on Indian soil. So this representation probably also originated in Kashmir and was taken North, but not South. The Buddha of Compassion appears as a bee, a guise associated with Vishnu and Shiva. In effect, Avalokiteshvara converts Shiva to the way of the Buddha. The longer verse version of the Kârandavyûha Sûtra, later than the prose version by as much as a thousand years, explains the meaning of the name "Avalokiteshvara" as "the lord" ("-îshvara") who "looks down" ("avalokita-") with compassion. An earlier version of this name is "Avalokitasvara", meaning "sound perceiver", pointing to his ability to respond to the cries of suffering beings. The generic meaning of the latter name is however "lord" ("-îshvara") "of the world" ("loka-").

This close similarity between the Kârandavyûha Sûtra and the Skanda Purâna connects the Mani Mantra with the Shaiva Tantras. Indeed, a direct relationship between the mantra of Shiva ("Namah Shivâya") and the Mani Mantra can be established. This can be placed in the context of the influence of Kashmiri Shaiva Tantra on Buddhist Tantra. Indeed, one needs to see the mandala associated with the Mani Mantra before reciting it. The mantra appears as a female deity with four arms. Like the mantra of Shiva, the Mani Mantra has the qualities of the "pranava" (Om). It has protective powers & leads to enlightenment. The six-syllable formula is the "grain of rice of the Mahâyâna", a condensed expression of the complete Buddhist teachings. Its recitation is equivalent to singing the 84.000 Dharmas and a sui generis means to accumulate extensive merit. The Mani Mantra is the Buddhist "pranava", allowing the Bodhisattva to exhaust delusional "karma" quicker.

In the Kârandavyûha Sûtra, in an unmistaken tantric style, the Mani Mantra is presented (like the Shaivite formula) as a female deity appearing in a mandala. She has four arms, holding a lotus ("padmam") in her outer left hand and a string of prayer beads ("mâlâ") in her outer right. Her two inner hands are joined in the
"Añjali Mudrâ" or "Pranamasana". This reminds us of the representation of the four-armed Avalokiteshvara, holding a wish-fulfilling jewel ("cittamani") between the slightly cupped hands.

Now what does the Mani Mantra mean ? In esoteric terms, the ultimate meaning of this mantra remains unexplained.  A mantra is an instrument of the mind, encompassing sentience, thought, affect & volition. It is a tool for doing something with this mind. So function is more important than meaning. What effect does recitation of the Mani Mantra have ? To realize great compassion !

The power of a mantra lies in its sound. The Vedic mantras were well-fashioned ("sutasta") in the hearts of the seers ("rsis"). However, the specific conceptual meaning of the Mani Mantra is a means by which the intellect is involved in this integration of the mind with the energy of the Buddha of Compassion. Hence, knowing this conceptual elaboration of the Mani Mantra is important too. In a general sense, a mantra is well-formed, has meaning & inspires.

"Om" is the Hindu "pravana". All sounds emerge out of the absence of sound. With the Mani Mantra, the actual activity effectively causing the special effect of great compassion, is the purification (transformation) of impure body, speech & mind (as symbolized by "Om"). Exoterically, "hûm" brings closure, like adding "so it is" or "amen" at the end. Esoterically, this syllable refers to the Heart Wheel sheltering Buddha-nature, the indivisible union of merit (compassion, bliss, illusionary body) and wisdom (emptiness, ultimate truth, as-it-is-ness).

The central phrase of the Mani Mantra, "mani padme", gives rise to a multitude of undecided interpretations. This because of the ambiguities of Sanskrit and the musical features of mantra. The Tibetan translation is "the Jewel in the Lotus" ("mani" being "jewel", and "padme", "lotus"). But although "padme" may be a neuter (or masculine) locative, "mani" has no grammatical precedent as a nominative form. Indeed, the nominative of "mani" is "manih". If "mani-" is then regarded as a stem form, then "manipadme" is a compound noun. Saving the Tibetan interpretation, conjecture "manih" became "mani" purely out of the naturally pleasing reverberation when recited. The "h" in "manih" is a visarga, a slight aspiration or "h" sound after a vowel, in this case at the end of the word. If pronounced, this would make the recitation awkward.

Preferring a strict linguistic reading, the compound "manipadme" is a vocative, meaning "jewel-lotus" or "a lotus made of jewels", or "jewel and lotus". The compound would then refer to a person who is a "jewel-lotus". This may refer to the manner in which Buddhas & Bodhisattvas are seated in a lotus or to the mode of rebirth in Pure Lands like Sukhâvatî. Although the Kârandavyûha Sûtra arrives in Tibet in the 5th century, the Tantric Padmasambhâva or "Lotus Born" from Kashmir ("Oddiyana" or "Swât Valley") is said to have introduced Avalokiteshvara and his mantra in Tibet (and Bhutan) in the 8th century. Did he advocate the same practices or had this unexcelled method grown ? The correspondence between the six worlds of "samsâra" and the Mani Mantra is not found in the Kârandavyûha Sûtra. This later attribution suggests the syllables may act individually too, making a compound reading only one of the plausible possibilities. Given the melody of the mantra is also crucial when practicing, the elimination of the visarga is conjectured.

Exoterically, the Mani Mantra most likely means : "Om, the Jewel in the Lotus, Hûm".

What are the esoterics here ? At this point, we depart from parts of the consensual view of the Rinpoches. In the Kârandavyûha Sûtra, the Mani Mantra appears as a Resident female deity with four arms in the Residence, the "mandala" of
the Buddha of Compassion. In the middle of the mandala, four-cornered and about the size of five hands, is Amitâbha. The mandala may be entered by anyone who has exhibited faith in the Mahâyâna. Just as the four-armed Avalokiteshvara later, this female deity, taking on the "mudrâ" of the sign of the Lotus, holds a Lotus in her left and a "Mâlâ" in her right hand.

Ex hypothesis
, the "cittamani" or "Wish-Fulfilling Jewel", held in the cupped hands by the later
four-armed Avalokiteshvara, refers to our Buddha-nature, to the indestructible tantric "drop" in the Heart Wheel, to Bodhi-mind and to the word "mani" in the Mani Mantra. Hence, the "jewel" referred to here is a specific jewel, namely the ultimate, secret jewel of any practitioner (cf. the Vedic "seat of the soul"), the mind of Clear Light, the most subtle & original (primordial) mind. The outer arms of the four-armed Avalokiteshvara represent the activity of method to realize this wisdom.

This interpretation yields the following set of correspondences :



Heart Wheel
Sun (Shiva)
clear light mind
red drop

Lower Wheels
illusionary body
white drop

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.

In Buddhist iconography, Buddhas & Bodhisattvas often sit in Lotus Posture on a Lotus (or stand on one). This is the Moon as "foundation" ("Yesod" in Qabalah). The first step is therefore Lunar : Calm Abiding & the accumulation of merit. It is passive. On the basis of this, the second step ensues : Analytical Meditation on emptiness and Emptiness Meditation proper. Wielding the Sword of Wisdom and the Lion's Roar are apt metaphors for this active type of meditation. This is the Sun at the Zenith, clearing all false ideations (realizing emptiness) and radiating enlightening rays on all alike.

Anyone versed in Tibetan Buddhism grasps the total reversal at hand (the Tibetans take "wisdom" to be represented by the "lotus"). In fact, this list involves a return to the mainstream cross-cultural correspondences (as found in Vedic, Ancient Egyptian, Qabalistic & Taoist attributions). The same reversal has been suggested for Tantra.

Gods white pride concentration OM
Demigods green jealousy ethics MA
Humans yellow craving joyous effort NI
Animals blue stupidity wisdom PAD
Ghosts red greed generosity ME
Hell-beings black hatred patience HUM

The actual Mani Practice presupposes a series of Analytical Meditations on the six worlds of "samsâra". The specifics of these worlds have been discussed elsewhere. A "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.

Entering each world, the following Four Sensualizations (co-relative with the sets) are executed while reciting the mantra. These are called "sensualizations" because all five senses cooperate. One has to try to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the physical characteristics of each realm of cyclic existence.

Gods abundance of light soft, gentle sound sweet incense best of the best airy, open, silky
Demigods peace & war hard, loud voices dried blood sweet & bitter cold, dry
Humans lots of activity many
all kinds of odours sweet, bitter, sour, salty ranging from very soft to very coarse
Animals fight & flight howling excrements bloody meat coarse, harsh, crude
Ghosts starvation
begging putrid stench of decay & rot tasteless
scorching heat
Hell-beings darkness
cries, shouts
vomit claustrophobic
too cold or too warm

The four sets of the rosary give rise to four series of meditations on :

1) the scenery of the world ;
2) the delusion of the world and the causes leading to it ;
3) the way Avalokiteshvara appears in each world in tune with its perfection ;
4) the enlightenment of the sentient beings inhabiting it.

The background of these sensualizations, while the Prayer Wheel is turning, is the constant radiation of the multi-colored syllables of the Mani Mantra in all Ten Directions. These lights emanate from the wheel and touch all sentient beings of the world at hand. Simultaneously, dark smoke (of delusion) enters the bottom of the wheel and is ejected at its top as very bright light also radiating out in all directions, pleasing all the Buddhas and awakening all sentient beings.

The Mani Practice

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13)  ;
8. Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Seven Limbs Practice (8) ;
10. Generate Relative Bodhicitta (10) ;
11. Short Analytical Meditation on Emptiness ;
12. The Hundred-Syllable Mantra Practice (12 - 21) ;
13. Generate Absolute Bodhicitta (13) ;
14. Still facing East : Guru Yoga with Mandala Offering (14 - 20) ;
15. Bodhisattva Vow (15) ;
16. Move back to the West. Visualize a large "stûpa" in the middle of the shrine room and starting in the West (facing East) start circumambulating it clockwise, reciting the Mani Mantra, a complete rosary for the benefit of each of the following sentient beings : (1) yourself, (2) your family, (3) friends & enemies, (4) hell-beings, (5) hungry ghosts, (6) nature, (7) humans, (8) demi-gods, (9) gods & (10) Bodhisattvas. While doing this, go through the Four Sensualizations (except for 1, 2, 3 & 10) ;
17. Return to your seat & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
18. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
19. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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".

Traditionally, the Mani Practice is done each day untill 100.000 Mani Mantra's have been uttered. Lots of Tibetans do this Practice their whole lives, mostly as part of the Prayer Wheel Practice.

3. Prayer Wheel Practice

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
Altar Mani Wheel & Handheld 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.

"Lotus" refers to the  "inconceivable method" ("acintyo yogânâm") and the inconceivable, immeasurable meditation ("aprameyadhyânânâm")  described in the Kârandavyûha Sûtra. This is the purest of methods, the most sublime of skillful means to bring about the extensive accumulation of merit.

Turning the Mani Wheel is deemed similar to circumambulating a "stûpa". It has the power to transform impure body, speech & mind into the enlightened body, enlightened speech & enlightened mind of a Buddha. Of course, this is dependent upon one's own mind, i.e. the "bodhicitta" motivation and understanding of the person doing the action. The benefits of this practice are vast, profound & countless (Ladner, 2000, part 2). For example, turning the Mani Wheel leads to enlightenment and if placed on the crown of the head at the time of death, one is immediately reborn in the Pure Land of Bliss ("Sukhâvatî").

The Fourth Panchen Lama (1781 - 1852) writes : "So, if a fortunate person holds this Great Wheel of Dharma straight and turns it around, one with superior faculties will achieve Buddhahood and benefit all transmigrators ; one with middling faculties will attain a human life and practice holy Dharma ; and even one with lesser faculties will also find a human life and make an effort to abandon nonvirtues and practice virtues." ("Benefits of the Six-Syllable Prayer Wheel", in Ladner, 2000, p.49).

Regardless of the power of Avalokiteshvara and his mantra, these benefits cannot be harnessed without faith
("shraddhâ", also translated as "trust", but meaning "to place the heart on"). This the Kârandavyûha Sûtra makes clear.

In the sixth chapter of the second part of this "sûtra", the Mani Mantra is related to turning the twelvefold Wheel of Dharma ("dvâdashâkâram dharmarandhra-cakramâvartayeyam"). This same idea is present in the visualization of the Mani Mantra, with the female deity holding a rosary (also suggestive of a circular movement).

The prayer wheel simultaneously engages the Tree Doors : with the body one turns the wheel (upright, smoothly & steadily, not too slow & not too fast), with speech one recites the Mani Mantra clearly and with the mind the Four Sensualizations are generated with precision. The practice is dedicated to all sentient beings and is intended to cease their suffering. It calls all aggregates into action : body, will, affect, thought & sentience. The activity of the whole brain is called for, making this also a very healthy, invigorating practice.

The actual instrument is a turning cylindrical device filled in an appropriate way with rolls of paper on which the Mani Mantra is repeated as many times as possible (on microfilm, billions of these can thus be housed for at least a century).  The device is always turned clockwise, either by the movement of the right hand, or by running water, the wind or fire (hot air or smoke). There are Earth, Water, Fire & Wind prayer wheels. Recently, electrical, Solar powered & digital Mani Wheels have been introduced.

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.

In Ancient Egypt, as early as the Old Kingdom, we find evidence of the rejuvenational Heb Sed run of the divine king (clockwise for Upper and anticlockwise for Lower Egypt) and, in the New Kingdom, the processional chariot of Akhenaten. In Brahmanism, the meaning of the wheel as representing universal dominion reflects in the image of the supreme king ("Chakravartin"). The Rig Veda speaks of the "golden wheel of the Sun". In the Satapatha Brâhmana, the sacrificer is raised to the highest heaven by turning a wheel and singing a hymn from the Sâma Veda. In the Padma Purâna, the so-called "Sudarsana Chakra" or discus of Vishnu (a spinning, disk-like super weapon with 108 serrated edges) was prepared by the latter from the essence of Sûrya. According to the Vâmana Pûrana, this wheel had twelve spokes, representing the months of the year and the signs of the Zodiac, a counterpart of the Wheel of the Law turned by Lord Buddha (and its twelve links of dependent-arising). The returning image of rosaries with 108 prayer beads strikes.

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.

The Mani Practice

1. Preliminaries to Practice ;
2. Find Posture ;
3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;
6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13)  ;
8. Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Seven Limbs Practice (8) ;
10. Generate Relative Bodhicitta (10) ;
11. Short Analytical Meditation on Emptiness ;
12. The Hundred-Syllable Mantra Practice (12 - 21) ;
13. Generate Absolute Bodhicitta (13) ;
14. Still facing East : Guru Yoga with Mandala Offering (14 - 20) ;
15. Bodhisattva Vow (15) ;
16. Turn around and move back to the West. Facing West, take the rosary in the left hand and the Lotus Wheel in the right. Turn clockwise and face East. Visualize a large "stûpa" in the middle of the shrine room. Turn the Dharma Wheel and start circumambulating the "stûpa" clockwise, reciting the Mani Mantra, a complete rosary for the benefit of each of the following sentient beings : (1) yourself, (2) your family, friends & enemies, (3) bardo beings, (4) hell-beings, (5) hungry ghosts, (6) nature, (7) humans, (8) demi-gods, (9) gods & (10) Bodhisattvas. While doing this, go through the Four Sensualizations, adjusting your rosary count to this ;
18. Return to your seat & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;
17. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
18. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

4. Energy Work III

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.

Ch'i Kung investigates Ch'i in the human system by the differences between Body Ch'i, Mind Ch'i and Spirit Ch'i, the so-called "Three Treasures" (of Jing, Ch'i & Shen).

Body Ch'i is "jing", productive energy. It is the most subtle aspect of the physical system, equivalent to neurotransmitters, hormones, DNA, sperm and egg. The body is local, material and operates through physiological interactions. Original Essence ("yuang jing") is a fixed quantity of vital energy inherited from your parents. It is stored in the kidneys. From this original energy, Original Ch'i ('yuang ch'i") is created. This is Water Ch'i. It mixes with the Fire Ch'i generated by breathing & food intake.
Mind Ch'i is simply called "ch'i" or lifeforce and refers to the psychological system. Mind Ch'i is somewhat local, immaterial and works through memory, emotions, thoughts, intuition & creativity. Mind refers to either "Xin" (emotional mind or Fire mind) and "Yi" (wisdom mind or Water mind).
Spirit Ch'i is "shen", spiritual energy, transcendent, non-local & boundless. Being perfect, it is completely healthy, now and forever. It is used to help heal the mind and the body. It merges with the Tao. The "spirit of vitality" ("jing shen") is the result of a spirit energized by Fire but restrained by wisdom mind (Water). If this control is not present, the spirit is scattered and confused (a Yang spirit). But with this nourishment by Water Ch'i, the spirit is firm & steady (a Yin spirit).

Each of these Three Treasures, corresponding with three levels of vital energy ranging from coarse to very subtle, has its separate Elixir Field ("Tan T'ien"). This is the place or area where the energies of Body, Mind & Spirit come together with those of the Earth, of Nature and of the universe.

the Lower Elixir Field (Earth Treasure - Jing) : situated between the navel, the "kidney center point" or "gate of life" (in the spine between the second and third lumbar) and the prostate gland (top of cervix between the ovaries), this Elixir Field is the center of the physical body and its strength. It is also called "medicine field", "ocean of Ch'i", "sea of energy", "cauldron" or "navel center". Associated with the "jing", the productive energy of the physical system, and the Body Ch'i, it serves as the source of the lifeforce or "ch'i", related to the Mind Ch'i. Here this productive energy, healing the body, is collected, stored, calmed & purified (refined), ready to be transformed into this lifeforce. The rising of this subtle Body Ch'i or vital damp ("jing") to the Middle Elixir Field, where it is transformed into Mind Ch'i, is called "the blossoming of the lead flower" (Caterpillar) ;
the Middle Elixir Field (Life Treasure - Ch'i) : situated around the heart area and the Plexus Solaris, this field has as main task to collect, store, calm and refine the lifeforce ("ch'i") mainly resulting from the transformation of refined productive energy ("jing"), but also from food & air (Fire Ch'i). This heart Elixir Field is the residence of the mind. In Chinese, the concepts "mind" and "heart" are not differentiated. The concept "xin" (pronounced "shin") embraces both and so we may say it is the mind of the heart or "Heart-Mind". Another aspect is "Yi", wisdom mind. The Chinese characters for "thinking", "thought", "intent", "virtue", "listen" and "love" include the character for "heart". The Life Treasure Elixir heals affective and mental disorders. To work with this Elixir Field may well be the central key of spiritual growth, for when the Mind Ch'i is clear (wisdom mind predominant), the spirit ("shen") is revealed and a total integration happens, creating balance and radiation ("Jing Shen"). The rising of the refined Mind Ch'i to the Higher Elixir Field, to be transformed there into Spirit Ch'i ("shen"), is called "the blossoming of the silver flower" (Cocoon) ;
the Higher Elixir Field (Heaven Treasure - Shen) : situated at the brow, this "Tan T'ien" collects, stores, calms and refines the Mind Ch'i or "ch'i" rising from the Middle Elixir Field. Here Mind Ch'i is transformed into spiritual energy ("shen rising") and then integrated in the primordial, universal Ch'i of the Tao itself. The mind is emptied of concepts, and the duality of subject & object is gone. This is called "the blossoming of the golden flower" (Butterfly). The three energies (Jing, Ch'i and Shen) now move upwards to the top of the head and become one single undifferentiated energy. This collection of the three flowers is called "the arising of the seed of the Tao". This goes down to the belly and forms the immortal embryo, the "golden pill", "golden elixir" or "great medicine".

Unless there is sickness or absence of food, our physical body is usually too Yang, and, due to the intake of air & food, dominated by Fire Ch'i. If these supplies are not pure, our body heats up. Fire Ch'i triggers an emotional mind ("Xin"). This is cooled by "pure Ch'i" or Water Ch'i, generating wisdom mind ("Yi"). So the adjustment of Kan (Water) & Li (Fire) is essential to realize the "spirit of vitality" ("jing shen"). This by improving the quality of Water and reducing the quantity of Fire.

Nei Dan or inner cultivation is all about balancing the dynamics of the treasure fields, adding spiritual energy to vibrant health. Contrary to Wei Dan, the various levels of vital energy are brought into play. Here the hardware of the energy-matrix itself is transformed, calling for prudence, insight & mastership.

Breath is the strategy directing "Ch'i", while "Yi" is the intention doing so. Various breathing techniques direct this vital energy, and this for various purposes. But in a general sense, they use certain paths of Ch'i circulation, filling the 8 Ch'i reservoirs, making the flow in the 12 Ch'i channels strong & steady. When this has happened, Nei Dan work on the spirit begins.

Indeed, the most decisive element to properly adjust Kan & Li is the regulation of the spirit ("shen"). If "Yi" is the general establishing a breathing-strategy and "Ch'i" his officers & soldiers, then "Shen" is the morale of the latter and the headquarters governing vital energy. Knowing how to use the "Yi" to raise the "Shen" is therefore a major key. When "Yi" is energized, "Shen" is also raised. To raise the "Shen" is to energize it just below the point of excitation. Fire Ch'i must be present, but Water Ch'i must dominate.

Breathing techniques used to regulate the "Ch'i" in such a way the subsequent regulation of the "Shen" is easier are : Normal Abdominal Breathing, Buddhist Breathing (for both see Preliminary Practices), Reverse Abdominal Breathing, Shen Breathing, Five Gates Breathing, Full Inhale & Exhale Breathing & Body Breathing (Skin-Marrow Breathing). These are introduced here.

Finally, to raise the "Shen", the Small & Grand Circulation, Marrow Breathing, Brain Breathing & Embryonic Breathing are used. These last five techniques prepare for the higher transformations leading to "immortality". In the Completion Stage of Tantra, Vase Breathing is also called for. These latter breathing techniques will be approached later.

Reverse Abdominal Breathing

When during inhalation, the abdomen is drawn in and the anus is held up, but during exhalation they are both are relaxed (abdomen pushed out and perineum not tightened), Reversed Abdominal Breathing or Taoist Breathing is at hand. This leads vital energy more naturally and easily to the extremities and is also used in Marrow Breathing & Brain Breathing.

Shen Breathing

During Reverse Abdominal Breathing, on inhalation pay attention to the Upper Elixir Field and when exhaling, relax this concentration. This builds up the ability to raise the "Shen".

Five Gates Breathing

After Shen Breathing is realized, regulate the circulation of vital energy through five centers : the two cavities on the bottoms of the feet ("yongquan"), two cavities on the palms ("loagong") and one on the top of the head ("baihui"). Three steps : Soles Breathing, Palm Breathing & Spiritual Breathing.

• Soles Breathing :

Standing up or lying down, using Normal Abdominal Breathing, inhale, leading vital energy from the feet cavities to the Lower Elixir Field and exhale, leading vital energy back to the cavities. Standing, using Reversed Abdominal Breathing, inhale, leading vital energy from the feet cavities to the Lower Elixir Field and exhale, leading vital energy back to the cavities, but this while slightly squatting down, imagining pushing your feet down into the ground.

• add Palms Breathing :

Reached the regulating of no regulating in terms of Soles Breathing, standing up, using either Normal Abdominal Breathing or Reversed Abdominal Breathing, inhale leading vital energy from the Four Gates to the Lower Elixir Field and exhale leading it back again.

• add Spiritual Breathing :

Once a profound level in Four Gates Breathing has been reached, add the Fifth Gate, elevating the practice into Spiritual Breathing ("shen xi").

Full Inhale & Exhale Breathing

With a body as relaxed as possible and a calm & clear mind, practice -during Normal Abdominal Breathing- inhalation & exhalation to the maximum, and this in coordination with the movement of the abdomen, trying to extend the length of each breath, making a slight sound as you inhale and exhale. Practice this only occasionally to enliven unused long cells. It trains the abdominal muscles and helps leading vital energy to the skin. The sound raises "Yi".

Body Breathing (Skin-Marrow Breathing)

When inhaling, draw vital energy into your body from outside, leading it to the Lower Elixir Field, feeling the energy being led inward to the internal organs and marrow. When you exhale, lead it from the Elixir Field to your muscles, tendons, skin and beyond. During Normal Abdominal Breathing, center yourself in the Lower Elixir Field, start with full inhalation, and image your body as a large ball filled with vital energy shrinking, pushing the vital energy to the Elixir Field. When you exhale, let the air slowly out and imagine the ball getting larger. Inhaling you feel light, exhaling heavier. This practice culminates in Turtle Breath, extending life.

Energy Work III

Become familiar with these various breathing techniques.

For more information, consult :

Damo, M. : Daoist Nei Gong, Singing Dragon - London, 2011.
Jwing-Ming, Y. : The Roots of Chinese Qigong (1997), Qigong : the Secret of Youth (2000), Qigong Meditation : Embryonic Breathing (2003), Qigong Meditation : Small Circulation (2006, all by YMAA Publications - Boston).


Practices SÛTRA

On Preparative Practices


"I am a fool even among fools.
Thus, whatever faults there are here
I confess before those who see things as they are."
Tsongkhapa : Lam Rim Chen Mo - Dedication.

Deeper calmness, arrived at by massive accumulation, is a mind firmly anchored in the state of deep calmness. In a sence, accumulation merely stabilizes or settles the mind in deep calmness, allowing it to actually rest in it. This very deep relaxation of the mind is the bedrock of ultimate analysis. Contrary to conventional analysis, this probing into the ultimate, absolute & universal reality of phenomena, depends on a fully relaxed, pliant mind. If this condition is not satisfied, the result is spiritual folly, the paths of the wrong views ...

Although at times the ship of the mind may waver, it never leaves the mooring zone. Such a mind of deeper calmness has accumulated vast stores of merit and enjoys good states within "samsâra", and this on a constant, daily basis. Healthy, materially satisfied, emotionally refined and mentally sane (having eliminated self-cherishing), this pliant mind is finally ready to analytically meditate on emptiness. Such Emptiness Meditation or Insight Meditation ("vipashyanâ") either involves conceptual apprehensions (Analytical Insight Meditations) or non-conceptual nondual prehensions (Tantra, Ati-Yoga, Zen, Mahâsandhi, Mahâmudrâ), as in the Finative Practices.

* Preparative Practices : on the basis of "superior seeing", the generation of a contrived apprehension of emptiness or "special insight" ;
* Finative Practices : on the basis of the non-reified, non-reifying mind of actual presence, recognizing the reality of emptiness directly here & now.

Insight Meditation (ultimate analysis) is necessary for philosophical (in particular in epistemology & ontologyl) & soteriological reasons.

Philosophically, to conceptually understand the deepest meaning of reality, preparing the direct "seeing" of the ultimate, we need the ascertainment by reasoned knowledge intrinsic existence is non-existent. This first (contrived) step of realizing Buddha's wisdom ends our ignorance acquired by our education. It is followed by directly (in an uncontrived way) realizing wisdom by "seeing" emptiness, thus initiating the process of eradicating innate ignorance. This heralds the end of mental obscuration.

Soteriologically, ending ignorance, exhausts the subtle causes of our emotional afflictions, ceasing both the affirmation of exaggerated desires (passions) and their negation by virulent hatred. Ending these two subtle causes, afflictive emotionality will dry out, exhausting the subsequent negative states : anger, cruelty, avarice, stupidity, self-cherishing, blind lust, arrogance, violence, vanity, pride etc. The ignorant mind is a demon mind, always attributing own-power to sensate & mental objects. By destroying this ignorance, suffering automatically ceases, and the
Third Noble Truth is fulfilled.

* very subtle, secret (root) cause of suffering : ignorance ;
* two subtle causes of suffering : passion (white drop) & hatred (red drop) ;
* six coarse causes of suffering : the Six Delusions (co-relative to each realm of "samsâra").

Emptiness Meditation is a special Analytical Meditation, following the format of common Analytical Meditation (cf. Preliminary Practices - 6). Tsongkhapa underlines the necessity of an authentic view. This is a correct view (one affirming lack of inherent existence) proven by repeated meditative practice of analysis trying to disprove the proposition affirming this lack. Genuine certainty is called for, not just a passive acceptance of the arguments of the Middle Way consequentialists. When this certainty is established, the correct view has been authenticated. This means it can be used as a "tenet".

In the conceptualizations of ultimate truth, conventional (reasoned) knowledge is able to identify formal contradictions. This evidence is generated by way of analysis in a meditative state of mind. Even in the West, Marcus Aurellius (Meditations), René Descartes (Meditations on First Philosophy, 1647), Blaise Pascal (Pensées, 1670), as well as Edmund Husserl (Cartesian Meditations, 1931), coupled deep introspection (transcendental self-reflection of reason upon itself) with a meditative, highly introspective and calm state of mind. Tsongkhapa, building on millennia of meditative experience, qualified the mind coupling calmness with analysis, as "superior seeing". Tranquility & conceptual analysis happen simultaneously. As on the path of the lovers, they mutually reinforce one another.

In the Preparative Practices, emptiness is analyzed on the basis of this special mind of "superior seeing", generated by Calm Abiding on emptiness. When, after meditative equipoise on emptiness, insightful analysis happens without loss of calmness and calmness assists analysis, the mind of "superior seeing" is at hand. This mental tool of Insight Meditation (or Emptiness Meditation) leads to "special insight", the conceptual, contrived realization of emptiness, a generic image of emptiness, one including the emptiness of emptiness.

Thanks to the constant intensification of analysis by deeper calmness and the further deepening of calmness by this increasing sharpness of the "sword of wisdom", or insightful calmness, the fourth level of calmness next to calmness, deep calmness & deeper calmness, the conceptual analysis of reality can be exhausted and therefore acquired self-grasping (at an intrinsic, self-powered own-form or "substantial self") irreversibly cease. In "special insight", on the basis of "superior seeing", in meditative equipoise on the emptinesses of all sensate & mental objects, insightful calmness allows for the analysis of the fundamental nature of subjects & things as well as further sinking into calmness. This leads to a universal, generic image of all possible emptiness.

Emptiness Meditation does not involve ritual. It is a silent meditation.

Insight Meditation aims, on the basis of "superior seeing", to analytically (conceptually) investigate the fundamental nature of all possible phenomena, be they sensate or mental, realizing their emptiness, and this thoroughly. All meditative analysis of emptiness enhances tranquil concentration on emptiness, leading to insightful calmness, sharpening the blade of analysis.

Summarized succinctly, Emptiness Meditation realizes the absolute absence of own-nature ("svabhâva"), in other words, the total lack of inherent properties (permanently anchored in the object itself), thereby discovering the universal interconnectivity (dependent-arisings) between sensate & mental objects. Because all things are substanceless, they are processes, relations. Hence, all things are full-empty ; full of interrelationality, but empty of self-powered, self-subsistent substance (essence). Because this process-minded radical nominalism is the case, things are exclusively & totally relational.

Insight Meditation leads to the authentic correct view of genuine certainty regarding the universal lack of substance, essence, so-called "true" existence ("svabhâva"). In other words, no inherent, intrinsic nature, existing from its own side, independent & separate, exists. This self-identical core of A or A cannot be found, not logically, nor experientially.

The special mental operator involved in "special insight", generated by Insight Meditation on the basis of "superior seeing", is a true ideation (Ct) allowing for encounters with or prehensions of the absolute property of each and every sensate or mental object of mind (
A), but only in a contrived, conceptual, approximate way. In ultimate logic, radical nominalism is at hand. All object of conceptual (rational) knowledge are merely "names", conventional signs designating a sense agreed upon by all relevant sign-interpreters or object-possessors (subjects, intersubjectivity). There is no logical a-dualism between a name and the thing to which it refers.

In ultimate logic, there are no objects anywhere imputed in dependence upon an existential quantor :

A Ct

"Special insight" realizes this clear & distinct generic image of all possible emptinesses on the basis of an exclusive, non-affirmative negation (¬
A). With the realization of the emptiness of this generic image of the lack of inherent existence, the final purification of the conceptual mind is over and acquired ignorance stops. All conceptual reification ends. This does not mean duality and/or conceptualization ceases.

This purified conceptual mind remains tainted by innate ignorance, i.e. subtle reifications, transcending the order of concepts, calling for a specific mental training (known as the Ten Stages or "bhûmis"). On the Path of Meditation, innate self-grasping is removed by the Finative Practices, involving
Tantra, Dzogchen, Mahâmudrâ etc.

The Preparative Practices as it were "prepare" the mind of the ordinary Bodhisattva for the "path of seeing", the direct, immediate, non-conceptual, nondual & prehensive experience of the absolute nature of every phenomenon. The Superior Bodhisattva is a noble being ("Ârya"), eliminating innate ignorance in seven steps ...


Preparing Emptiness Meditation
Four Tenets Meditations
Fundamental Points Meditation
Four Essential Points
Seven Steps Meditation
Four Profundities
Meditation on the Right View
Generating Superior Seeing

1. Insight Meditation on the Selflessness of Persons : Analytical Meditations on the absence of inherent existence of persons ;
Insight Meditation on the Selflessness of Others : Analytical Meditations on the absence of inherent existence of outer phenomena ;
Garland Sûtra Practice : practice of the Net of Indra or Meditations on Dependent Origination.

Conclusion : Special Insight

Preparing Emptiness Meditation


Homage to Protector Mañjushrî !
Homage to the Buddha of the Wisdom of all the Buddha
prehending with the purity of Vajrasattva,
how all existents are empty of substance but full of dependent-arising.
Homage to the Crown Jewel and the Famous Pure Mind !
My Guru Je Tsongkhapa.

You hold to your heart the Sûtra symbolic of seeing all things as they are.
Your Sun-like wisdom shines unclouded by defilements or ignorance.
With the loving compassion of a father for his only son,
You teach all beings caught in the prison of cyclic existence,
confused in the darkness of their ignorance and overwhelmed by suffering.
Your dragon-thunder proclamation of the Dharma arouses us from the stupor of our delusions and frees us from the iron chains of our karma.
Dharma ceasing suffering.

O Mañjushrî, Your powerful Sword of Wisdom hews down suffering wherever it appears, clearing away the darkness of all ignorance.
Your sublime body is adorned with the 112 marks of a Buddha.
You appear on the Highest Bhûmi.

You complete the Ten Stages,
achieving the highest perfection of a Bodhisattva.
Pure from the beginning, I prostrate to You,

With the brilliance of your wisdom, illuminate the darkness enclosing my mind.
Enlighten my intelligence,
so that we may gain insight into the wisdom of Lord Buddha
and all texts explaining it.
So I may teach what needs to be taught.
Ending confusion, delusion and all impurity.

§ 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.

With cries of joys, the first points to a mirage up ahead. Taken by ignorance, he expects to clench his thirst soon. This is the lot of common humanity, self-grasping at something (inherent existence) not there at all. Hence, thinking his thirst will be clenched, this one is pleased with this appearance, expending more energy to get there faster !

The second sees the mirage for what it is (an optical illusion) and assures the first there is no water. The physicist sees the mirage, but knowing the laws of physics involved, unmasks this conventional appearance as a falsehood. The mirage is not a conventional truth because it violates conventional law. In the conventional realm, this one is indeed authoritative. Continuing walking East, he does not walk faster, keeping calm in the burning Sun.

The third sees nothing at all, and wonders what the first two are talking about. Suppose the mirage were entirely false -not appearing at all- then this one would be the most authoritative. This traveler has impaired senses and so cannot be authoritative at all. He follows the two others heading East.

How can the handicapped have a complete apprehension ?
How can these three know quicksand is due East ?

Simultaneously, the fourth prehends the mirage as space-like, i.e. empty of inherent properties, and -as the physicist- as a contaminated illusion-like dependent-arising of a conventional falsehood. The mirage appears, but like all appearing objects, is prehended as empty of inherent existence (space-like). But while it appears, a Buddha simultaneously prehends all the determinations & conditions of its dependent-arising as something different as what it truly is (illusion-like). Indeed, the mirage appears as something existing from its own side (even to the physicists), while this is definitely not the case. The former has valid, mistaken knowledge, the fourth unmistaken knowledge. Likewise, with the arising of his thirst, a Buddha prehends the lake of water in the West and so teaches (the truth of the water), turns and walks away from the first three (some might say he miraculously transforms hot sand into a lake of cool water, but this does not fit the purpose of the simile) ! Note how the Buddha's prehension exceeds the physicists apprehension. He is saved, the others likely lost (let us add the physicist is most likely to apprehend the quicksand).

§ 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).

Because ultimate truth awakens, the Conqueror taught emptiness as the ultimate path to cessation (of suffering).

When negative actions of body, speech & mind (or black "karma") and subsequent afflictions are extinguished, awakening is a fact. Physical, verbal & mental compositional activity associated with the afflicted mind constitutes "karma" establishing the cyclic existence of suffering. These afflicted minds only arise dependent upon the operation of misconceptions superimposing inherent existence upon subjects & objects, elaborating them into pleasant & unpleasant, intense desirable & hostile, etc. So when this superimposition is eliminated, these reifying elaborations end. And with their end, the misconceptions stop. Eventually, no longer clinging to an inherent I and its objects, suffering ceases.

§ 3 The Five Paths

Emptiness Meditation prepares the mind to directly see emptiness.

Kamalashila (ca. 700 - 750 CE), integrated the "pâramitâs" & "bhûmis" in five "paths". These correspond with the words of the Wisdom Mantra : "Gate, Gate, Pâragate, Pârasamgate, Bodhi" or "Go, Go, Beyond, Thoroughly Beyond, Enlightenment" as found in the Heart Sûtra. In Tibetan schools like the Gelugpas, the Five Paths form the basis for the understanding of the Path of the Bodhisattva, serving to instruct practice and to measure spiritual attainment :

  1. Path of Accumulation ("Gate") : entered upon the spontaneous arising of the mind of enlightenment for all sentient beings (Bodhicitta), becoming a Bodhisattva, the practice of the Six Perfections causes the two baskets (of merit and wisdom) to be filled. By improving their method and wisdom, Bodhisattvas train in generating virtuous minds, the Four Immeasurables and the Six Perfections. Understanding of emptiness is enhanced by relying principally on the wisdoms arising from listening and reflecting. Self-cherishing is eliminated ;

  2. Path of Preparation ("Gate") : entered upon the generation of "superior seeing", "special insight" realizes a conceptual insight into (and generic idea of) emptiness, the fundamental nature of all phenomena. Once achieved, this full conceptual understanding is irreversible. This preparation is a stepping-stone to directly perceive emptiness, for when the conceptual mind is truly convinced of the rational grounds for the absence of substantiality, it has the power to identify the illusions of conventional reality, generating the conceptual antidote for acquired (intellectual) self-grasping ;

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 ...

The Path of Preparation, a special series of intellectual meditations, has four stages : heat, summit, forbearance & highest mundane events (cf. Vasubandhu's Madhyânta-Vibhâga-Bhâsya or Commentary on the Separation of the Middle from Extremes) :

1. "coming to 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 realized. One first meditates on the impermanence of phenomena, then upon the absence of rise & fall in these and finally upon the realization of the constructed nature of concepts & truths ;
2. summit (peak) : the culmination of this strong love of wisdom is a very intense mind coming conceptually close to emptiness, as if the mind mixes with it, which is however not yet completely the case. The virtuous roots cultivated will no longer be lost or cease. Conceptual understanding of suchness is very high ;
3. forbearance (patience) : a special attitude is generated towards Dharma in general and emptiness in particular. Aversion-causing constructions are shattered. Gross conceptuality is gone, but subtle conceptual appearance remains, hindering a complete mixing of mind & emptiness. Nevertheless, a very refined conceptualization of emptiness is the case ;
4. highest mundane events (supreme Dharma) : here mind and emptiness are nearly mixed. All personality-factors have merged into meditational concentration. The non-arising of "own-being" of any inner & outer phenomenon is contemplated. 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. 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, thanks to
Ct, objects are no longer designated as independent and local absolute existences possessing their properties from their own side, or ¬A. Instead, they are dependent-arisings possessing impermanent functional properties. They are not substantial, but nevertheless not nothing, but something. The end of this stage is the realization of the generic concept of emptiness.

The point here is the approximate nature of the very subtle conceptual realization of emptiness at the end of the stage of supreme Dharma (the generic idea of emptiness itself). The mind has indeed been freed of self-cherishing and acquired self-grasping has been eliminated. In itself, this is a very high spiritual achievement, endowing the mindstream with lasting, irreversible qualities. But although lofty, this proximate emptiness is not the same as actually "seeing" emptiness. It is still contrived, and thus planned, manipulated and somehow artificial. It remains conceptual, albeit on a very subtle level. But precisely because it is conceptual, it cannot be said to be a direct, immediate, natural, spontaneous realization.

Supreme Dharma, the last stage before entering "seeing" emptiness, is not the end of duality, but merely the end of reified duality, as well as the cessation of own-power, all what exists being merely interdependent, other-powered interrelationality. This is the complete absence of self-power in formal, critical & creative thinking (cf. the seven modes of cognition - Metaphysics, 2012).

  1. Path of Seeing ("PÂRAGATE") : entered upon (a) this thorough conceptual understanding of emptiness and (b) the cessation of conceptualization hand in hand with abiding presence, a direct experience of emptiness during meditative equipoise happens. The Bodhisattva enters the First Stage ("bhûmi"), becoming a "Superior Bodhisattva" ("Ârya").

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.

The First Stage evidences how clear accumulation & conceptual understanding (of emptiness) remain incomplete, mere guesswork. Until the end, the obscuring activity of acquired ignorance never ceases. Even the methods are questionable (one may, for example, question the formal logic used). Even in the highest stages of this contrived realization of emptiness, the clarity of the light is not yet seen (only the light is).

This First Stage abounds with the clarity of the light and so offers a direct, immediate, palpable experience of what emptiness "is", not in the sense of a new substance (this has been eliminated earlier), but in the sense of the vast wealth of the amazing interdependence given by conventional, illusion-like dependent-arising. Great joy is felt when all things truly fall into place, not by a concept-based mental process, path or gradual method, but immediately here and now, by merely observing without memory & expectation prehending the sublime totality & wholeness of what is ("dharmadhâtu").

  1. Path of Meditation ("PÂRASAMGATE") : here, thanks to deeper Insight Meditation on the remaining perfections (ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration, wisdom), the direct experience of the First Stage is deepened, stabilized & refined by way of the remaining levels. To eliminate the subtle & very subtle delusions (obscurations caused by innate self-grasping and obscurations hindering omniscience), the Bodhisattva has to train further (stages two to seven : thoroughly go, and stages eight to ten : bodhi). The experience of emptiness of the Hînayâna Arhat is identified with end of the Sixth Stage. The Seventh Stage offers the Bodhisattva a mind entering into absorption on emptiness and rising again in a finger snap. Only a few obstructions to omniscience remain (to be dealt with on Eighth to Tenth Ground) ;

  1. Path of No More Learning ("BODHI") : eliminating the obscurations to omniscience caused by mythical cognition, these last three stages directly lead to the state of Buddhahood, the nondual simultaneous experience (prehension) of conventional & ultimate truth, of "samsâra" & "nirvâna", of compassion & wisdom ; luminous emptiness. The Eight Stage Great Bodhisattva equals Dhyâni Bodhisattvas, the emanations from enlightened beings and knows when his or her awakening will happen. In the Ninth the wisdom of the Bodhisattva is complete. The Tenth Stage, the Bodhisattva actually enters Buddhahood (bodhi).

§ 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 :
* accept the non-affirmative negation ;
* realize the object of negation ;
* understand the Four Essential Points ;
* practice the Seven Steps Meditation ;
* practice the Four Profundities ;
* meditate on the Right View ;
* generate the mind of "superior seeing" by Calm Abiding on emptiness.

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,

* meditate on selflessness of persons ;
* meditate on selflessness of others ;
* meditate on the emptiness of emptiness ;
* meditate on the full-empty "dharmadhâtu" ;
* realize "special insight" : the generic idea of emptiness.

Emptiness Meditation is defined as a special Analytical Meditation, a reasoned, conceptual type of meditation (cf. Preliminary Practices), most important at the time of "training in the view". It is special because in this context it presupposes the attainment of meditative equipoise on an object in Calm Abiding and because it targets the ultimate nature of phenomena, the crown jewel of Dharma teachings. This is a reasoned, formal & critical, approach of this issue aiming to attain "special insight", i.e. the authentic view of unshaken certainty about absence of inherent existence being the ultimate nature of all possible sensate or mental objects. This remarkable insight is the fruit of Insight Meditation on the basis of "superior seeing". This "special insight" leads to an "approximation" of the ultimate.

So Emptiness Meditation aims, by way of reason (not direct expience) to attain an authentic correct view. This by first seeking, finding & establishing the correct object of negation, then generating "superior seeing" and finally applying this to persons & others. If we negate too much, emptiness (ultimate reality or "nirvâna") is deemed nothing (nihilism). If we negate not enough, emptiness is deemed some kind of ultimate inherent existence (eternalism). The correct view is full-emptiness. Dependent-arising exists functionally, and this can be explained without introducing the inherent existence of conventional reality. Impermanence is only possible if inherent existence can nowhere be found. Permanence hinders production, causation, determination, conditioning. When thinking emptiness, dependent-arising is understood. Experiencing dependent-arising (as it is, i.e. as processes) brings emptiness to mind. The authentic correct view is thoroughly understanding this correct view, not merely accepting it without analysis. Indeed, for the correct view to be salvic, genuine certainty must be the case. The correct view needs to be authenticated !

When the correct view is realized (by way of Analytical Meditation & Calm Abiding), before authentication, Calm Abiding on emptiness needs to generate "superior seeing". This kind of insightful calmness couples analysis (insight) and calmness. The generation of this mind happens by cultivating a balance of calmness and insight. Indeed, at first, strong insight decreases serenity, making the mind waver (a flame placed in the wind). Strong serenity decreases insight (like a person asleep). When Calm Abiding on emptiness is sustained, after having established serenity & insight separately, they first mix and then merge. When this happens the mind of "superior seeing" is generated. In this way an authentic correct view can be realized. This culminates in "special insight", when -at the last stage of supreme Dharma- a generic image of emptiness is operational, the emptiness of which ends all possible reification. This ends the time of "training in the view" and initiates the time of "meditating on the nature of mind" (or the work of the Ten Stages).

I. Analyzing the Right View & Calm Abiding on the Fruits

Four Tenets Meditations

"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 Śâkyamuni : Kaśyapa Chapter Sûtra.

The Four Tenets Meditations are Analytical Meditations on the various tenets held by the four traditional tenet systems according to Tibetan exegesis : Great Exposition, Sûtra, Mind-Only & Middle Way. All of these tenets circumambulate three subjects : the Two Truths, emptiness & origination by dependence.

Tenet systems, or sets of established conclusions, are more than the academic acceptance of a series of philosophical answers (in particular concerning "first philosophy", the study of what all phenomena have in common). They are a position adhered to with sympathy, with certainty known to be correct and so not lightly to be given up.

For religious persons, trying to reconnect with a whole larger than themselves, this reasoned, correct view is also salvic, i.e. the most adequate antidote to cast away ignorance and to embrace ultimate truth (in casu, "nirvâna"). Although ultimate truth is the goal of the path, none of the four tenet systems refers to this. Devotion does not interfere with reasoned knowledge.

To understand Buddhadharma, tenets systems should never supersede the study of primary sources. But in these systematic views, mostly arrived at by long meditations on their objects, essential keys are summarized and so conclusions (needed to stabilize the authenticity of the correct view) can be reached at much quicker and with greater reliability. How can this not then assist the hermeneutics of available source texts ? Tibetan tenet system literature is not dismissed, but integrated. Indeed, these tenets incorporate the fruits of numerous Analytical Meditations, Calm Abidings and Insight Meditations on the ultimate nature of all possible sensate & mental objects, i.e. all phenomena, be they conventional or ultimate.

In terms of Tibetan (Gelugpa) tenet literature (which is not historical, but thematic & topical), Buddhist philosophy has 4 major schools : the Vaibhâshika-Sarvâstivâda, the Sautrântika, the Yogacârin and the Madhyamaka. The first two belong to the Lesser Vehicle, the last two to the Great Vehicle. Historically, the Mind Only School postdates the Madhyamaka, but insofar as the latter are concerned, represents a "lower tenet" system, failing to grasp the correct view (on emptiness).

I. Vaibhâshika - Sarvâstivâda
Great Exposition School


In the 3th century BCE, under the reign of Ashoka, the Sarvâstivâdin School, prevailing primarily in Kashmir, questioned the status of the Arhat and, like the Mahâsanghikas before them, maintained the possibility of his regression.

The name of the school was probably derived from the phrase "sarvam asti" or "all exists", pointing to the notion past "dharmas" still existed, albeit in the past "mode". As such, they were able to exert influence at a later time.

Their doctrines established a precedent for the later Mahâyâna. Indeed, the Sarvâstivâdin School constitutes a transitional stage between the Hînayâna and the Mahâyâna. The fact Arhathood is again questioned should be noted. It points to a felt need to expand the salvic horizon, moving beyond the Lesser Vehicle.

The Sarvāstivāda comprised two subschools, the Vaibhāśika and the Sautrāntika. The former adhered to the Mahāvibhāșa Śāstra, comprising the orthodox Kasmiri branch of the Sarvāstivāda school. It was a comprehensive doctrinal system.

The Sautrāntika Sarvāstivādins ("those who uphold the sūtras") did not uphold the Mahāvibhāșa Śāstra, but rather the Buddhist sūtras. According to Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośa, the Sautrāntikas held the doctrine that there may be many contemporaneous Buddhas.

They consider the latter compendium of teachings on the Seven Treatises of Manifest Knowledge as spoken by the Buddha. Vasubandhu's commentary on the root text of the Abidharmakosha reflects the tenets of the Sûtra School (Following Scripture).


CONVENTIONAL TRUTH : a phenomenon, if physically destroyed or mentally separated into parts, canceling the consciousness apprehending it ;
ULTIMATE TRUTH : a phenomenon, if physically destroyed or mentally separated into parts, not canceling the consciousness apprehending it.

a phenomenon canceling the consciousness apprehending it when it is physically destroyed or mentally separated a phenomenon not canceling the consciousness apprehending it when it is physically destroyed or mentally separated

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 conditions. This truth is conventionally existent and imputedly existent.

Ultimate truth are objects that cannot be destroyed or separated into parts. The Great Exposition School introduces (1) directionally quasi-partless particles, (2) substance particles, (3) uncompounded space, (4) form and (5) temporally durationless partless instants of consciousness. The first lack an East side and a West side, a top and a bottom, etc. These particles are not utterly partness. Each directionally quasi-partless particle is a conglomeration of substance particles. The former can exist in isolation (held together by uncompounded space), the latter not. Substance particles always exist together as parts of a conglomerate particle. Particles lacking spatial extension can form objects with spatial extension because directionally quasi-partless particles have "resistance" or "impenetrability", precluding their collapse into one another. This allows for gross material objects to have spatial extension. Absence of obstructive contact is another example of an ultimate truth, as is form, for the destruction of a form, resulting in parts is also form. Mentally isolating the qualities of form (sight, taste, odor, touch etc.), does not cancel consciousness of form because each of these components is a form. Likewise, the continuum of consciousness is built up from partless instants of consciousness ... In the Great Exposition School, an ultimate truth is substantially existent ("dravya-sat") and ultimately established ("paramârtha-siddha").

EMPTINESS : meditation on the non-existence of a permanent, partless and independent self of persons (coarse selflessness), as well as on the non-existence of a substantially existent or self-powered self of persons (subtle selflessness), removes the ignorance of apprehending conventional realities as unchanging and permanent, making us understand they depend on the aggregation of things other than themselves.

One needs to notice and experience the very subtlest substance particle and partless instants of consciousness to eradicate the ignorant conceptions of a permanent, partless, self-powered, independent and/or substantially existent self and eventually attain true cessation, "nirvâna".


the bond between ultimate truth & indestructible, partless, self-sufficient substances (particles & instances of consciousness)

the recognition all sensate and mental objects have parts and the connection made between the apprehended object & consciousness

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 ?

Great Exposition School Meditation

I. Preparation :

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar properly with filled Water Jar ;

II. Body :

2. Find Posture ;

III. Breath :

3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;

IV. Mind :

6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge (8 - 16) ;
7. Move to the center, Homage Practice (8 - 13)  ;
8. Light, Incense & Water Offerings (9 - 13) ;
9. Seven Limbs Practice (8) ;
10. Generate Relative Bodhicitta (10) ;
11. Short Analytical Meditation on Emptiness ;
12. The Hundred-Syllable Mantra Practice (12 - 21) ;
13. Generate Absolute Bodhicitta (13) ;
14. Still facing East : Guru Yoga with Mandala Offering (14 - 20) ;
15. Return to your seat & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

V. Great Exposition School Meditation

16. Prayer to Mañjushrî - Repeat the Mantra of the Buddha of Wisdom ("OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI") 21 times ;

The Five Sense-Consciousnesses :

1. Olfactory system :

17. Put a very small amount of rose oil underneath your nostrils. Apprehend the smell of roses. Intensely inhale this scent of a thousand roses. At some point, attend the fading away of this scent ;
18. Try to find (but not in memory) the original intense scent. Can someone attending the dissolution of any property detected by the olfactory system apprehend the original scent ? Can you ?
19. Now clear away the role oil and mentally apprehend the scent of a thousand roses.
Only a concentrated will maintains this original mental scent. It dissolves or disappears. Then, can the original scent be mentally noted ?
20. Meditate : sensed & sensitized (mentally apprehended) smells are impermanent and are composed of parts.

2. Gustatory system :

21. Put a very small amount of salt on your tongue. Apprehend this original salty taste as sharp as possible and, quite rapidly, apprehend the dissolution of the taste of salt ;
22. Try to find (but not in memory) the original salty taste. Can someone attending the disappearance of the reaction of tastebuds apprehend the original taste ? Can you ?
23. When the taste of the salt is gone, mentally apprehend the taste of salt.
Only a concentrated will maintains this original mental taste. It dissolves or disappears. Then, can the original taste be mentally savored ?
24. Meditate : sensed & sensitized tastes are impermanent and are composed of parts.

3. Visual system :

25. Look at a small yellow piece of paper (10 X 10 cm). Analyze it to apprehend it as a single piece of paper. Take your time. Then slowly and attentively tear it in as many pieces as possible. Look at these parts, scatter them and analyze them as a loose set of pieces of yellow paper ;
26. Try to find (but not in memory) the original sensation of a yellow piece of paper without ordering the pieces. Can someone seeing these scattered pieces apprehend the original piece ? Can you ?
27. Visualize the original piece of paper. Analyze it and apprehend this mental image of a single piece of paper. Now mentally divide this mental image in smaller pieces and continue to do this. Visualize these clearly as many tiny mental images of yellow pieces of paper ;
28. Try to find (but not in memory) the original mental image of the yellow piece of paper. Do you find this original piece when visualizing the mental set of pieces ?
29. Meditate : sensed & sensitized (mentally apprehended) visuals are impermanent and are composed of parts.

4. Auditory system :

30. Strike a bowl. Carefully apprehend the sound when the bowl is actually struck. As soon as possible attend the gradual dissolution of the sound and observe how it slowly faints ;
31. Try to find (but not in memory) the original sound. Can someone attending the dissolution of the sound apprehend the original vibration ? Can you ?
32. Do the same, but strike the bowl in your mind. Only a concentrated will maintains this original mental sound. It dissolves or disappears. Then, can the original sound be mentally heard ?
Meditate : sensed & sensitized sounds are impermanent and are composed of parts.

5. Tactile system :

34. In Meditation Mudra, press your right thumb somewhat against the left. Apprehend the original pressure as acute as possible, and, after some time, release the right thumb and apprehend how pressure ceases ;
35. Try to find (not in memory) the original pressure. Can someone attending the end of pressure apprehend the original pressure ? Can you ?
36. Mentally apprehend the pressure of the right thumb on the left. Only a concentrated will maintains this original mental pressure. It dissolves or disappears. Then, can the original pressure be mentally felt ?
37. Meditate : sensed & sensitized touch is impermanent and are composed of parts.

The Mind :

38. Apprehend how volition, feeling & thought all happen in the field of consciousness. Without consciousness or sentient awareness, there would be not someone acting, feeling or thinking ;
39. Apprehend how consciousness is a stream of moments of consciousness rapidly succeeding one another. Note how the
continuum of consciousness is a collection of these instants of consciousness ;
40. Meditate : the mind is imputed upon volition, affection, thought & sentience.

41. Meditate : all compounded phenomena depend on their parts.
42. Meditate :  all sensate and mental objects are compounded phenomena.
43. Meditate : conventional truths are compounded phenomena imputed on the collections of parts.
44. Meditate : one cannot in the same sensation (in the same mentation) apprehend both the collection and the parts of a given compound.

45. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
46. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

II. Sautrântika : Sûtra School


The Vaibhâsika School, the late phase of the Sarvâstivâdin School, placed emphasis on comprehensive commentaries. This "abhidarmic" trend produced vast manuals & treatises. Around 150 CE, as a reaction to this scholarly approach, the Sautrânika School, meaning "ending with the sûtra" rejected these treatises as the word of the Buddha and focused on the Sûtra-patika of the Pâli Canon. They do not regard the Abhidarmakosha as having been spoken by the Buddha.

This school rejected the idea the "dharmas" existed in the three modes of past, present & future, claiming they had only momentary existence. Hence, no direct perception of any object is possible, for one perceives only mental images which lag behind the momentary existence of the objects themselves (for the image is produced by contact and therefore later in time than the objects). These insights will influence the epistemology of the later Mâhayâna Middle Way School.

Actions "perfume" one's mental continuum and determine particular results. Seeds ("bîjas") "planted" by an action "sprout" at a later point when secondary conditions allow this, giving rise to a "fruit" appropriate to the original action. The Sautrântika School points to a persisting very subtle consciousness (not an entire "person"), in which the remaining four aggregates are absorbed at the time of death. This influenced the Mahâyâna Yogâcâra or Mind-Only School (cf. the "âlaya-vijñâna" or storehouse consciousness) and later "bardo" teachings.

There are two main subsystems of this school, the Followers of Scripture (as expounded by Vasubandhu's commentary on the Abhidarmakosha) and the Followers of Reasoning. As the view on wisdom given there is identical with the Two Truths in the Great Exposition School, the Followers of Reasoning are followed here, as found in Dharmakîrti's Commentary on the Compendium of Valid Cognition (by Dignâga).


CONVENTIONAL TRUTH : a phenomenon established as the mere imputation by a conceptual consciousness ;
ULTIMATE TRUTH : a phenomenon existing from its own side, self-powered, without being merely imputed by a conceptual consciousness.

appearing object of a
conceptual consciousness
appearing object of a
direct perception
permanent phenomenon impermanent phenomenon
non-functioning phenomenon functioning phenomenon
generally characterized phenomenon specifically characterized phenomenon
falsely established truly established
conventionally existing ultimately existing

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 their equivalents.

The distinction between the Two Truths is, according to Gelugpa interpretation, bound up with the difference between conceptual consciousness ("kalpanâ") and direct perceivers ("pratyaksa").

In a general sense, in terms of consciousness, we may distinguish between (a) the appearing object of consciousness and (b) the object of engagement of consciousness. The latter is simply the object "gotten at", the former is the way of engaging the object. These two operate both conceptual consciousness and direct perception.

Conceptual consciousness is an "eliminative engager", getting at its object in an indirect way, stripping away what does not fit in the image, thereby conveying the generic meaning (or name) of the object. This consciousness works with mental constructions, abstract generic images or names of objects appearing to it when an object is apprehended. This is the truth of obscured awareness, not knowing the specific, detailed characteristics of impermanent phenomena. This consciousness, despite having mistaken appearance, can be valid knowers of their objects of engagement. But the image is isolated from the richness of details appearing to direct perception.

Direct perception is an "collective engager", getting at its object by way of the collective appearance of every particularity of this one particular substantial entity. To realize subtle impermanence with direct perception, one has to first realize this with conceptual, inferential consciousness.

EMPTINESS : Escape from cyclic existence depends upon realizing the emptiness of the person, meaning there is no substantial, self-sufficient, self-powered self to be found. Persons cannot be known without cognition of some part of the mind or body to which they are imputed. The person and his self depend upon the functioning of the aggregates. The root of suffering is conceiving the person to exist in a substantial manner, from its own side. Emptiness is the mere absence of such a substantially self-existent person.


the bound between conventional reality and substantial, essential existence, between functionality and truly established, between emptiness and conventional truth

the clear distinction between direct perception and so-called conceptual consciousness - the non-functionality of the permanent - the absence of a self-powered self

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 ...

Sûtra School Meditation

I. Preparation
II. Body
III. Breath
IV. Mind

V. Sûtra School Meditation

16. Prayer to Mañjushrî - Repeat the Mantra of the Buddha of Wisdom ("OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI") 21 times ;
17. Find the stream of consciousness and reflect on its impermanence.

Meditate : every moment of consciousness is followed by another moment of consciousness, consciousness is a stream of moments and so momentary.

18. Find the conceptual mind and meditate : this mind attributes a mental object or "name" to what appears. Witness the appearance of an object and the seemingly immediate procedure of labeling  ;
19. Meditate : by designating a name to what appears, the latter is "squeezed" in the generalizing "box" of the label, thereby eclipsing the specifically characterized. Meditate : by naming I impoverish what appears.
20. Settle the mind in the here & now, eliminating past, future, the "there" and the minds of others. Be present and aware, never leaving this presence and "being-there". Stay as such for as long as possible ;
21. Meditate : by totally observing what is at hand, the abundance of specifics abound. 
22. Visualize a bicycle. Think of it as permanent, unchanging, always identical with its own-form or "bicycleness". Ask : can this bicycle move at all ?
23. Visualize the parts of the bicycle. Reflect on all the parts, probe into their physical nature and become aware these parts constantly change, in fact, there is no unchanging, permanent part of the bicycle. Ask : if the parts of the bicycle are impermanent, how can the bicycle be permanent ?
24. Find the "I" and strongly blame it or feel insulted. Now apprehend the "substantial I", offended. Recognize how this "I" depends on the aggregates. Take away the aggregates, one by one (form, volition, affect, thought, sentience). Is there an "I" left ? If the "I" is different than the aggregates, recognize one must be able to apprehend it clearly, distinctly and with no doubt in mind. Where is this self ?

24. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
26. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

III. Cittamâtra / Yogâcâra : Mind-Only School


The Yogâcârin School is "the practice of yoga school" or "Mind-Only School". The earliest text associated with this yogic approach is the Samdhinirmocana Sûtra (ca. 2nd century) and the most quoted is the Lankâvatâra Sûtra (4th century). The so-called "founder" of the school, the famous Asanga (ca. 310 - 390), wrote a series of important texts defining it : the Abhisamayâ-lamkâra, the Madhyântavibhâga, Yogâcârabhûmi and the Mahâyânasûtrâlamkâra. The Yogâcârabhûmi is the earliest Yogâcâra treatise. Vasubandhu (ca. 320 - 400) is another great scholar associated with this school. According to Tibetan myth, Asanga "invented" the Mind-Only School to convert his brother Vasubandhu to the Great Vehicle, he himself being a Madhyamika.

Although belonging to the Great Vehicle, Early Yogâcâra is still very influenced by the Lesser Vehicle, in particular the Abhidharma categorizations. The principal tenet of this school is referred to as "cittamâtra" ("mind-only"), the other name for the same school. Yogâcâra introduced several new doctrines, of which "vijñapti-mâtra" ("nothing but cognition" or "nothing but conscious construction") became outstanding. The yogis saw all sensoric & mental activities projected in consciousness ("vijñâna", the fifth aggregate). Consciousness, taking the activities of each of the other aggregates (form, volition, affect, thought) for its objects, became their principal object of meditation, giving rise to the model of Eight Consciousnesses (the six Abidharmic plus the unconscious). Yogâcâra distinguished between graspers and what is grasped.

The present interpretation does not follow Suzuki (1999) and his interpretation of Yogâcâra as an absolute idealistic monism. Instead, the views of Sutton (1991) & Lusthaus (2006) will be integrated. The reasons for this choice will be explained in a separate, forthcoming study on the Yogâcâra. The term "consciousness-only" refers to the advocated spiritual practice, and not to any kind of metaphysical (ontological) idealism. Tsongkhapa suggested the idea Yogâcâra is an idealist system is a provisional view aimed at reducing the materialism of certain practitioners.

Yogâcâra (introducing the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma) considered Madhyamika (the Second Turning) to over-emphasize the non-existence of the "dharmas" and to be nihilistic, denying the real existence of anything. For the Madhyamikas, the Yogâcârins merely misunderstood their universal emptiness doctrine and reintroduced "svabhâva" or eternalism.

Yogâcâra has been deemed "idealistic". While idealism is indeed the case in Tibetan Yogâcâra-Mâdhyamaka (Gorampa), such metaphysical (ontological) issues are absent in Indian Yogâcâra. In matters pertaining to Buddhahood, the Tibetan Yogâcâra-Mâdhyamakas found the role of conventional truth outright questionable. The ultimate should only be approached by the ultimate and the Two Truths, in absolute terms, are One Truth.

Because the Yogâcârins were convinced the Middle Way was not properly expounded by Nâgârjuna, they found it necessary to articulate the true, final and ultimate ("paramârtha") teaching of the Buddha. In the Tibetan "ladder of tenets", Yogâcâra preceeds the Middle Way School !


In the Mind-Only School, all objects, be they outer or inner, are cognitive objects ("visaya") occuring within acts of consciousness. No object of intentionality ("artha") outside the cognitive act exists. In this act, what is "grasped" is that which is intended. The apprehending consciousness ("grasper") and its object ("grasped") arise simultaneously. Most other tenets claim otherwise. Objects act as causes of the consciousness apprehending them and so each consciousness apprehends an object existing an instant prior to it (sequential). Not so for the Yogâcârins. Outer objects and the apprehending consciousness arise together. Without observer there is no object of observation. No doubt the mind has power over objects, and is intimately involved with them. This is the experience of all meditators. But the grasped also influences the grasper. Consciousness is more than merely the observing aspect of a moment of experience. It is also the content of the experience, intimately linked and this irreversibly & irreducibly to the grasped. No doubt this school partly derived from the experience of advanced practitioners of yoga. In particular from those who, when realizing emptiness with direct perception, find the sense of the difference between object & subject to be vanishing.

The Mind-Only School works out a system promoting the subject of experience and is therefore an excellent "work-out" to tackle the obscurations of any kind of reification of the object of experience. Was Bhâvaviveka missing the point when he called the doctrine "shamelessly" fabricated by Asanga ? He compared it with anointing oneself with mud. Perhaps Buddha spoke words not literally true, but merely as a skillful means to reduce the attachment in the mind of those who deem objects to be substances existing from their own side, with inhering properties. This would make the Mind-Only merely a provisional teaching and (for some) a useful stepping-stone to the Middle Way School, the highest tenet.

When the epistemological, phenomenological and soteriological registers of the founding texts are integrated, Indian Yogâcâra remains exceptional in terms of direct yogic experience, the yoga of consciousness.

CONVENTIONAL TRUTH : an object found by a correct knower, a valid cognizer distinguishing a conventionality ;
ULTIMATE TRUTH : an object found by a correct knower distinguishing an ultimate object  (a direct perception).

The Two Truths are two classes of existent, mutually exclusive objects "found" by two different types of correct knowledge : a conventional cognizer and a cognizer of an ultimate object. The latter is a direct (yogic) perception, a realization without deception with the power of antidote against all afflictive & mental obstructions, i.e. such a direct knowing saves. Unlike a conventional truth (valid in its sphere of conventionality), ultimate truth liberates, awakens. The final root of cyclic existence (ignorance) is the conception object & subject are different entities. Hence, emptiness is the non-difference in entity between subject & object.

Everything knowable about all phenomena can be classified under the three natures ("trisvabhâva"), i.e. each phenomenon (appearing in a moment or instance of consciousness) is characterized by these three :

(1) other-powered natures (dependent)
(2) imputed natures (imaginary)
(3) thoroughly established natures (perfect -)

Vasubandhu offered an interesting analogy to explain them. Suppose there is a magician who takes a piece of wood and by way of miracle powers makes it to appear as an elephant. In that case, the way things really are, the "dependent nature" is the piece of wood. It is impermanent and other-powered, i.e. depends on conditions outside the wood. Impermanent is how all phenomena are. The "imagined nature" is the elephant, a misconception of what is really there, the reality of the delusion caused by ignorance, the imputation based on false ideation, in particular reification, attributing a self-settled, self-powered underlying essence to sensate or mental objects. This is the way common people apprehend. Finally, the "perfect nature" is the direct yogic perception seeing there is no elephant in the piece of wood. This is how a Buddha witnesses the spectacle.

Technically, the dependent nature is other-powered, the imagined nature imputed and the perfect  nature thoroughly established. It is crucial to remember how the yogic practice of the Cittamâtrins confirmed the fleeting nature of moments of consciousness, unable to find anything "substantial", "self-powered" there. This refutes the common ontologico-idealist interpretation of their view.

other-powered (dependent) nature ("paratantra-svabhâva") : all objects under influence of causes (or more generally, determinations) and conditions outside themselves. They exist thanks to something other than themselves. They are impermanent and have no power to stay a single moment without others. Although they seem solid, permanent, independent, etc. they cannot remain a single instance without forces & conditions outside themselves. Other-powered, impermanent natures are the sole objects of cognition. All possible objects of knowledge are other-powered and so no self-powered objects of knowledge exist ;
imputational nature ("parikalpita-svabhâva") : a false status imputed to other-powered, dependent natures and described as a superimposition ("samâropa") entailing the distant and cut off appearance of grasper ("grâhaka") and grasped ("grâhya"). The latter seems "external" due to the false ideation ("vijñapti") on the side of the subject. Because of this false, imagined imputation, these natures seem to establish themselves by way of their own character, with attributes & properties falsely appearing to exist from their own side. All conventional truths are other-powered phenomena (dependent natures) falsely appearing, under the influence of false ideation, as distant & cut off, as substantial and inherently existing ;
thoroughly established (perfect) nature ("parinispanna-svabhâva") : or the final mode of other-powered dependent natures given when devoid (or empty) of their imputational nature. In all possible situations this Bodhi-mind apprehends in purity all dependent natures disposed of imaginary overlayering. The final object on the path of purification is a cognition removing the obstructions built on unfounded, false ideations. As this object does not change moment by moment (as do other-powered, dependent phenomena), the Yogâcârins calls it "permanent" (which is not the same as self-powered, substantial or inherently existing). This yogic perceiver ("jñâna") or prehension is a mind in which apprehending object & apprehending subject are absent. Only this perfect nature is ultimate, while the two former are conventional.

The three natures, or three aspects of every phenomenon, call for the following epistemological scheme : the object itself is the dependent nature. This is the basis of the false ideation, the imputational nature, as well as the basis of the thoroughly established nature, which is the dependent nature's lack of that imputational nature. By superimposing the sign of false ideation, by grasping at the imagination of the independent & separate solidity on the evanescent dependent nature at hand, sentient beings designate the convention the dependent nature is of the character of the imputational nature, i.e. substantial, existing inherently. They designate the dependent nature as substantial or self-powered, while in truth it is other-powered.

"Beings are trapped into a delusory state, not by misapprehending the thoroughly established nature but by misapprehending other-powered natures, such a bodies and houses, to be established in accordance with the imputational nature." - Hopkins, 2003, p.338.

The fact phenomena exist as nominal, conventional entities instantiated by terminological & functional imputations is not the superimposition of imputation (by false ideation). The latter is a substantial instantiation rooted in the substance-obsession of consciousness. With the existence of conventional facts, conventional knowledge is at hand. When valid, this cognizing apprehends the dependent nature and its flow of mutual conditioning "dharmas" correctly, both logically & functionally. When invalid, this cognizing does not apprehend the dependent nature and its flow of mutual conditioning "dharmas" correctly, both logically & functionally. But in both cases, this act of cognition is mistaken anyway, for conventional knowledge affirms the false ideation designating non-existent substantial existence to what appears, namely the "I" and the "other". The induction of such a powerful non-existent is the root-cause of all possible ignorance and so of all possible suffering ("samsâra") ; its negation (signlessness) "nirvâna". The false idea these conventional objects exist by way of their own character, is an assent such referentiality inheres in these objects themselves.

This is the superimposition the path of purification stops.
The core problem being the imaginary nature attributed to phenomena.

The world of everyday, conventional experience & validation, is the "imagined nature" in which we, as so-called "real" subjects, grasp at so-called "real" objects (the elephant). This is the "truth" (valid conventional, conceptual knowledge) or relative perspective of an ignorant consciousness concealing the real nature of phenomena, the thoroughly established nature. Because this cognizer does not perceive its object directly, he or she suffers, mentally & physically. The "dependent nature" is closer to an understanding of the way things are (the wood as it really is, an other-powered dependent-arising). All conventional phenomena depend upon the flow of mutually conditioning "dharmas" of the process of dependent arising ("pratîtya-samutpâda"). This gives rise to valid conventional knowledge about the world, the "system" behind the arising, abiding & ceasing of the dependent nature. This is the law (of life & death) of the samsaric scene of cyclic existence. Only by realizing the "perfect nature" can the pure, unchanging (permanent) and ultimate reality underlying the impermanent "dependent" nature be directly experienced, observed, witnessed. The latter is an absolute (like the absence of an elephant in the piece of wood), calling for a special cognizer, one distinguishing an ultimate object, a yogic perceiver.

EMPTINESS : the non-existence of a difference of entity between subject and object. In other words, the consciousness or (Bodhi) mind devoid of apprehended object and apprehending subject. Emptiness is a thoroughly established (perfect) nature and permanent.

This definition of emptiness is subjective, inner. The yogic perceivers are able to eradicate all false ideation, ending the superimposition of self-power on objects (ignorance causing suffering). This is enlightenment : cognizing without any superimposition of own-form, knowing dependent-arising as it becomes. This ultimate cognition or Great Mirror Cognition ("mahâdarsha-jñâna") has no difference of entity between grasper & grasped, the relation has ceased. It does not change moment by moment (is permanent). It is also non-conceptual ("nirvikalpa-jñâna").


objective definition of emptiness as the non-difference in entity between subject & object

the  epistemico-phenomenological co-arising of object & subject - the salvic power of yogic perceivers - the other-power of conventional reality - ending false ideation as salvic key

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").

Mind-Only School Meditation

I. Preparation
II. Body
III. Breath
IV. Mind

V. Mind-Only School Meditation

16. Prayer to Mañjushrî - Repeat the Mantra of the Buddha of Wisdom ("OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI") 21 times ;
17. Sequentially find a sensate object for each of the five sense-consciousnesses. Reflect how each time the subject is an object-possessor. Do likewise for the four mental objects : volition, affect, thought & sentience (self-reflection). Each time take away the subject and reflect how the apprehension itself ends.

1. Olfactory system :

18. Put a very small amount of rose oil underneath your nostrils. Apprehend the smell of roses. Intensely inhale this scent of a thousand roses ;
19. Apprehend the scent again and try to divorce the "you" actually smelling this object of the olfactory system from the experience. Is there a smell without this consciousness of smell ?
20. Meditate : a smell cannot be identified without a subject actually smelling it. This is a nose-consciousness.

2. Gustatory system :

21. Put a very small amount of salt on your tongue. Apprehend this original salty taste as sharp as possible ;
22. Apprehend the taste again and try to divorce the "you" actually tasting this object of the gustatory system from the experience. Is there a taste without this consciousness of taste ?
23. Meditate : a taste cannot be identified without a subject actually tasting it. This is a tongue-consciousness.

3. Visual system :

24. Look at a small yellow piece of paper (10 X 10 cm). Analyze it to apprehend it as a single piece of yellow paper ;
25. Apprehend what you see again and try to divorce the "you" actually seeing this object of the visual system from the experience. Is there something seen without this consciousness of sight ?
26. Meditate : nothing can be seen without a subject actually seeing. This is an eye-consciousness.

4. Auditory system :

27. Strike a bowl. Carefully apprehend the sound when the bowl is actually struck ;
28. Apprehend the sound again and try to divorce the "you" actually hearing this object of the auditory system from the experience. Is there something heard without this consciousness of hearing ?
29. Meditate : nothing can be heard without a subject actually hearing. This is an ear-consciousness.

5. Tactile system :

30. In Meditation Mudra, press your right thumb somewhat against the left. Apprehend this touch of the right thumb as acute as possible ;
31. Apprehend this touch again and try to divorce the "you" actually touching this object of the tactile system from the experience. Is there a touch without a consciousness of this touch ?
32. Meditate : a touch cannot be identified without a subject actually touching. This is a skin-consciousness.

Meditate : each and every object of the five senses has its apprehending subject.

Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

33. Sensualize as strongly as possible yourself in a dark room with a huge coiled object lying a meter away, considering : "This is a snake !". Feel the fear, take your time. Then hear a voice whispering "It is merely a piece of rope.", imagine the light being turned on and you seeing the rope. Imagine other situations, explore other afflictive responses. Reflect how the afflictive affective & mental states were gone when the truth about the matter at hand (in this case, the rope) dawned.

Meditate : all possible suffering is caused by being ignorant of the ultimate nature of phenomena. The end of ignorance is the end of suffering.

34. Sequentially find five sense objects and four objects of mind. Each time explore their parts, their arising, abiding & ceasing. Reflect : all sensate & mental objects exist in relation with other objects.

Meditate : all objects of the senses and the four objects of mind are impermanent, i.e. change moment by moment.

Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

35. Sequentially find five sense objects and four objects of mind. Each time note the labeling or name-giving of the apprehending mind. Reflect this is a conceptual mind. Reflect how the name tries to make what is fundamentally impermanent, permanent. Name objects and take note how the appearing object conforms to independency & separateness.

Meditate : the conceptual mind operates a false ideation turning mere words into things, thereby imputing (non-existent, imaginary) self-power to fundamentally impermanent, process-based phenomena.

36. Be very mindful of the present, and do not move the mind away from "here" into past, future or other minds. Sequentially find sensate & mental objects without naming them. Merely observe what appears. Return to this when it gets lost. Rest in it.

37. Meditate : the ultimate object is non-conceptual, nondual, simple & luminous.

38. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
39. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

IV. Madhyamaka : Middle Way School


"Dharma-shûnyatâ", the emptiness of the "dharmas", or all things in existence expounded by the Abhidharma, meaning all conventional realities and all ultimate realities, is the pivotal concept systematized by Nâgârjuna (2nd century CE) in his Mûlamadhyamakakârikâ. Put in an axiom, Nâgârjuna, the founder of the Mâdhyamaka School, posits all things (all existences) as empty ("shûnya") of inherent existence ("svabhâva"). All relative & absolute things lack intrinsic nature ("nihsvabhâva"). Chandrakîrti, Shântideva, Atîsha & Tsongkhapa defined this view most important at the time of "training in the view" (empty-of-self view). Others, like Maitreya, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dolpopa etc., enlarge the scope of the Middle Way view, to incorporate what is most important at the time of "meditating on the nature of mind" (empty-of-other view).

Another name associated with the founding of this school is Âryadeva (his Catuhshatakakârikâ), set out by Buddhapâlita. Already in India different interpretations and variations emerged, each interpreting "nihsvabhâva", the absence (or lack) of inhering essence or inherent existence in their own  specific way. They did so while remaining loyal to the "Golden Path" of Middle Way ontology, a definition of existence (conventional & ultimate) lying between the extreme of nihilism (conventional and ultimate existence do not exist or mysteriously, incomprehensibly) and the extreme of eternalism (emptiness is an inherent existence, a self-powered, cut off, separate substance or essence). These interpretations of the correct view gave rise to Madhyamaka philosophy.

Middle Way philosophy has various branches. In what follows Madhyamaka-Svâtantrikas, Madhyamaka-Prâsangika and Mahâmadhyamaka will be discussed.

Outside India, in Tibetan exegesis, the Middle Way School is divided in Madhyamaka-Svâtantrikas ("marks of right logic") & Madhyamaka-Prâsangika ("undesirable consequences"). The former are "autonomists" asserting  the presence of "autonomous" syllogisms and conclusions to affirm emptiness. The latter are "consequentialist", also rejecting all inherent existence, but positing no axioms, merely generating an untenable inference (reductio ad absurdum) or absurd consequence on the basis of an opponent's arguments, in this case someone asserting inherent existence in all possible ways.

Tsongkhapa also identified epistemological differences, in particular regarding the object of negation. The Prâsangika identifies this as inherent existence itself, while the Svâtantrika associates this with dualistic appearance, thus making, as in Yogâcâra, the apprehending subject part of the definition of emptiness.

There are two branches of Svâtantrikas, autonomists : Sûtric Autonomists (or "Sûtra Svâtantrika Madhyamaka" - like Bhâvaviveka), asserting the inherent existence of conventional reality (to explain dependent-arising), and Yogic Autonomists (or "Yogâcâra Svâtantrika Madhyamaka" - like Shântarasita, Kamalashila) holding nothing exists inherently (and in this sense agreeing with the Prâsangika), while keeping dualistic appearance (be it associated or vanishing).

The Prâsangika is regarded (by the Prâsangika) as the definitive tenet system of Buddhist logic, philosophy and reason. It claims all phenomena, from subatomic particles to Buddhas, are self-empty, i.e. lack substantial, self-powered, subsisting characteristics from their own side. This branch of the Madhyamaka uses a non-affirmative negation of inherent existence ("svabhâvasiddhi"). Its logic is impeccable, as often with radical nominalism (cf. Ockham, Kant & Whitehead in the West).

This non-affirmative negation, as its name indicates, is not a choice negation, but an exclusion negation. It therefore does not affirm anything, but only indicates the complete logical clearing of the negated object. This nominalism is not -as some claimed- a form of nihilism, for there is something remaining when this logic is applied. Suppose one accepts the axioms of formal logic :  when an object is identified, it has been isolated from what it is not and nothing else is given except the object itself and what it is not. In that case, the ultimate analysis of the Prâsangika leads to the most rational tenet system of the lot, one exceedingly suitable on the Path of Preparation ("training in the view"), targeting reification or acquired self-grasping at existing objects (
A - Metaphysics, 2012). The true ideation (Ct) sought is the complete negation of this without remainder(¬A Ct). Concepts themselves are not problematic, but their reification is. Not duality is default, but again its reification (or dualistic elaboration).

What remains after reification is over is dependent-arising, nothing else. Ultimate nature (the ultimate existence of any object) is merely a "pure" dependent-arising, as directly experienced by Bodhi-mind, Buddha-mind.

Also ultimate reality ("nirvâna") is an impermanent, evanescent phenomenon, albeit a beginningless pristine wisdom ("
prajñâjñâna"), and -unlike all other phenomena- continuous (never interrupted). As long as the Superior Bodhisattva walks the Path of Meditation, the sequential appearance, of directly realizing emptiness during meditation and loosing it after meditation, is still at hand. Only a Buddha prehends the Two Truths simultaneously and continuously ; the ultimate from his/her own side (space-like), the conventional from the side of sentient beings (illusion-like).

The Prâsangika (Tib. "Rangtong") offers the best Sutric training in the correct view, but has to be enlarged at the time of (Tantric) meditation on the nature of mind. It cleanses the conceptual mind, preparing it for Tantra. This was the aim set forth by Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa School adhering to Prâsangika.

The Great Middle Way School or Mahâmadhyamaka (Tib. "Shentong") describes how the innately present enlightened mind looks from within, constantly viewing itself only, and so empty of "otherness", i.e. of adventitious, staining (not tainting) and so obscuring factors of conventionality & suffering. These are contaminated, unlike the enlightened properties of the fully active Buddha-nature, defined by the enlightened actions of the enlightened body, the enlightened speech & the enlightened mind of a Buddha. These activities are exceptional dependent-arisings, uncontaminated by false ideation and merely existing as perfect(ed) luminous emptiness. Such a "tathâgata", One Thus Gone, merely exists as one who simultaneously prehends, on the one hand, what is there (together with its self-emptiness) and, on the other hand, its own ever existing & continuous (non-disintegrating) form-in-flux. The attributions (objects in the face of the mind) as well as the luminous mind itself are self-empty, but only the luminous mind recognizes itself as other-empty. The Great Middle Way accepts the Prâsangika (
"prajñâ"), but adds direct inner experience ("jñâna").

Generally speaking, all three subtenets of the Middle Way School (according to Rangtong, Shentong should not be seen as a tenet), refute the extreme of permanence (eternalism) and the extreme of annihilation (nihilism), although they explain this differently. For Rangtong, non-affirmatively (rationally, apophatically), this means eternal substances cannot be found (in ultimate analysis) and conventional objects are not non-existent (absence of inherent existence is not absence of something, i.e. contaminated & uncontaminated dependent origination). Existence is approached with a double negation. For Shentong, affirmatively (poetically, kataph
atically), this means only Buddha-nature is pure, continuous and empty of adventitious material, but not as a permanent & self-sufficient entity (as some Rangtong adversaries claim).

So within the Madhyamaka, various variations on emptiness exist.

Madhyamaka-Prâsangika establishes logic & functionality thanks to emptiness, and not -as the Sûtric Svâtantrikas- because of the supposed substantial nature of conventional reality. Nor does it introduce substance, not even in the case of Buddhas, or "pure" dependent-arisings. It logic is apophatic, its negation non-affirmative. It considers our Buddha-nature as the potential emptiness of the mind, and the generation of Buddha-qualities as the result of this meditation on this emptiness of the mind.

This differs from the view, path & fruit of the Great Madhyamakas, who see Buddha qualities as innately present, empty of non-enlightened properties. The pandits are interested in "sûtra", for they still need to train their conceptual mind. The yogis are interested in "tantra", for they have realized emptiness and have experienced the luminosity of the Clear Light mind.

By making this mind part of the Tantric path (as in Deity Yoga), the yogis acquire an excellent method to speed up the cessation of innate self-grasping. Appreciate Shentong as a very specialized (yogic) Middle Way view, one -like Yogâcâra- interested in direct yogic perception.

Let us discuss these positions.

Tenets of the Svâtantrika-Madhyamaka

CONVENTIONAL TRUTH : a phenomenon apprehended by a direct valid cognizer, cognizing it as associated with dualistic appearance ;
ULTIMATE TRUTH : a phenomenon apprehended by a direct valid cognizer, cognizing it as the vanishing of dualistic appearance.

When a sentient being directly cognizes the absence of inherent existence, all types of dualistic appearance (of generic idea, meaning-image, label or name, of object and subject, of true existence, of difference, of conventional phenomena) vanish. As long as a direct cognizer grasps at its object by way of dualistic appearance the object must be a concealer-truth (an object presenting, by superimposition, an imaginary, non-existent nature). So when emptiness is realized directly by a sentient being (a Superior Bodhisattva on the First Stage), a state of mind lacking this dualistic appearance is at hand.

A Buddha continuously and simultaneously realizes (prehends) all phenomena with all six mental and sense consciousnesses. With regard to conventional reality, the Buddha witnesses dualistic appearance while at the same time directly realizing emptiness. All ultimate truths happen as a vanishing of dualistic appearance and all conventional, concealer-truths happen in association with dualistic appearance. A Buddha's vision of conventionalities does not limit his or her simultaneous & nondual vision of emptiness.

EMPTINESS : (Sûtric) : the non-existence of a self-sufficient person ; (Yogic) : the non-difference of entity between the apprehended object and the apprehending consciousness.

Mind-Only views the non-difference of entity between object & subject as a subtle selflessness of others (phenomena). The Autonomists define this as merely a coarse selflessness of others. They hold the emptiness of ultimate truth itself to be the subtle selflessness of others, and the main object of the Bodhisattva on the Path of Meditation.

Tenets of the Prâsangikas-Madhyamaka

The Prâsangika does not reject conventional reality, giving it logic & function. The latter can be ascertained. Therefore valid (true) and invalid (false) conventional knowledge can be established. While these objects conceal ultimate truth, they are conventionally valid & operational. They operate because they lack inherent properties, not because they are supposed to possess them.

Let us distinguish, to broadly define Madhyamaka-Prâsangika, between base, path & fruit. The base, ground or view is the union of the Two Truths, the path is the union of the two accumulations (of merit & wisdom), and the result or fruit is the union of the two "kâyas", the Form Bodies & the Truth Body of a Buddha.

By not denying the functional reality of the appearances constituting conventional reality, nihilism is avoided and valid/invalid conventional knowledge is possible (conventional truth and conventional falsehood). As ultimate truth is free of all fabricated extremes, affirming the lack of inherent existence, eternalism is avoided. This is the Ground Madhyamaka.

By not holding on to any phenomena as a substance or permanent essence, eternalism is avoided. By explaining conventional functionality in terms of lack of substance and actual presence of process (without reintroducing the self-power of substances), virtue is saved, in casu, the accumulating positive deeds for the benefit of others, avoiding nihilism. This is the Path Madhyamaka.

By realizing the ultimate truth of the "Dharmakâya", lack of essential nature, the pacification of all conceptualization happens and freedom of eternalism is established. Because the activities of the Form Bodies is endless and touches all beings due to the universal & holistic interconnectedness of dependent-arising, nihilism is avoided. This is the Fruit Madhyamaka.

All things without any exception, are "shûnya" or "empty" of "svabhâva" or inherent (substantial) existence. This is the heart of the Middle Way approach of the Consequentialists. Universal substancelessness making universal process possible.

Indeed, for Nâgârjuna there is no independent "dharma" whatsoever. Nothing has "svabhâva", i.e. a lasting, permanent existence disconnected from external conditions (a substance distinct from its accidents). Not even "pure" dependent-arisings, uncontaminated, unpolluted, pure continua like Buddhas, gone to "nirvâna", enjoying their "Dharmakâyas". Conventional entities "merely" exist in terms of logic and function, they are process-like, never substance-like.

If nihilism would pertain, entities could not function and process would not be. In that case, relative & absolute things would simply not exist at all, or their true existence would remain a mystery, an irrationality outside reasonable approach. However, in absolute nothingness, even appearances are negated, and this is evidently not the case. There are appearances, and they work.

If eternalism would pertain, some entity would be isolated and not able to communicate, interact or connect with the other entities. Ultimate logic investigates if such an isolated object can be found ? Please posit such an object.

CONVENTIONAL TRUTH : (a) that with regard to which a conventional valid cognizer distinguishes conventionalities (valid or invalid) and (b) an object found by a conventional valid cognizer apprehending it as a false, deceiving thing (mistaken) ;
ULTIMATE TRUTH : (a) an object found by a valid reasoning consciousness distinguishing the ultimate and (b) that which regard to which that valid cognizer becomes a valid reasoning consciousness (unmistaken).

The object found by a valid reasoning consciousness is an ultimate truth. The object found by a conventional valid cognizer apprehending a false, mistaken object is a concealer-truth. These two objects are the two "natures" of every phenomenon, contaminated (samsaric) or pure (nirvanic). They exclude one another, for when a concealer-truth arises, ultimate truth is hidden. Likewise, to Bodhi-mind, all false ideation stops, and so there is no concealer-truth, only the conventional (illusion-like) dependent-arising of all phenomena continuously prehended as devoid of inherent existence (space-like). The ultimate valid cognizers of certain sentient beings (Superior Bodhisattvas on the Path of Meditation) cannot simultaneously maintain direct cognition of both ultimate truths & conventional truths. Only Buddhas can.

Every phenomenon has two natures or set of properties : a conventional nature and an ultimate nature.

The conventional nature of every phenomenon is impermanent. Only other-powered conventional phenomena exist. Such other-dependency is therefore universal. Conceptual (rational) knowledge about these is possible as is (conventional) validation. On the basis of conventional methodologies, false & true conventional knowledge can be arrived at. This means conventional truth is valid (logical & functional). But as conceptual knowledge superimposes a name, thereby isolating its object (generating a duality of difference, not of distinction), the latter cannot appear as it truly is and so is illusionary. Other-powered, it appears as self-powered ! Conventional truth is valid but mistaken. Valid because of its logic & function, mistaken because of its illusionary appearance (as a reified dualistic appearance concealing ultimate reality).

The ultimate nature of every phenomenon is also impermanent. Only other-powered ultimate phenomena exist. However, the prehension of the absence of self-power, once established, is continuous, unending and uninterrupted as space. This is Buddha-mind. This continuum of mind is a holomovement or perfect symmetry-transformation, a pure dance, a luminous kinetography. This Buddha-mind is realized when the potential given by Buddha-nature actualizes. And this actualization is realized by meditations on the emptiness of the mind itself. The Prâsangika merely "pushes", it never "pulls" !

EMPTINESS is the absence of this inherent existence ("svabhâvasiddhi") or substantial existence ("dravya-sat") in any object, be it conventional or ultimate. No object has existence from the object's side ("svarûpa-siddhi") or existence by way of its own character ("svalaksana-siddhi"). All sentient beings lack this "substantial self". All Buddhas lack this too. All is self-empty.

The Prâsangika substitutes non-difference in entity between subject & object or vanishing dualistic appearance (Mind-Only, Svâtantrika Madhyamaka) with inherent existence tout court. Existing from its own side, inherent existence, ultimate existence, own-form, self-power, self-sufficient, substantial, essential now all refer to the same thing. The absence of any kind of inherent existence is the only valid justification of change, for because of their emptiness, all objects are dependent and so capable of change. This philosophy accommodates the change of mind Lord Buddha's teachings bring.

Emptiness is the ultimate property (object) of a valid reasoning consciousness distinguishing the ultimate. Dependent-arising is the conventional property (object) of a conventional valid cognizer distinguishes conventionalities. Both objects are known. Sequentially by sentient beings. Simultaneously by Buddhas.

Duality is not the target. Object nor subject are the targets. Neither is difference. Only their reifications receive the blows of the Sword of Wisdom, the Thunder-Bolt ("vajra") striking down ignorance. These the "lion roar" scatters. The correct object of negation is inherent existence ; take that away and ignorance ceases.

Together with other tenet systems, the Middle Way Consequentialists accept all phenomena are dependent-arisings and therefore impermanent. All things exist interdependently and are part of a matrix of determinations & conditions. They differ from other tenet systems (like the Svâtantrika or the Mind-Only) by not explaining dependent-arising by way of substances, but merely by emptiness.

Three types of dependent origination are mentioned :

(1) causes & effects (determinations) depend upon one another, mutually (like fire and fuel, cotton & softness) ;
(2) wholes depend on parts, like a bycycle on its parts ;
(3) the apprehended object depends on the apprehended subject (like a table and the mind apprehending it).

Contrary to other tenet systems, the Prâsangika takes the functionality of the conventional world serious. Conventional knowledge is valid, because there is logic & function there. Because of this functionality, conventionalities seem to have solidity, independence, properties of their own. This is the case for natural & cultural objects. Because it is part of the conventional world defined by logic & function, dependent origination can ongoingly run its course, in both "karmic" (black & white) and "dharmic" ways (merit). This explains why compassion, the actual realization of the end of suffering for all sentient beings, rides on the "king of logic", the cycle of dependent origination. But can this -for Buddhists- rare interest in safeguarding the reality of the conventional world be made hard by the Prâsangika tenets themselves, especially with the crucial notion nothing exists except as a conceptual imputation ?

In the Consequentialist position, all existing objects are merely a name, a designation and imputation by thought. The third type of dependent origination is deemed the subtlest and most crucial. If this is true, then objectivity is never really about "something" extra-mental, but again somehow linked with the apprehending subject. If the facts of knowledge are not assumed to imply -besides the apprehending mind- a dependent-arising of their own, no extra-mental or theory-independent objectivity is possible. This runs against the formal frame-work of the contemporary normative epistemology of valid conceptual, conventional knowledge backing Western science (cf. Clearings, 2006). The validation of empirico-formal propositions is impossible if the object of knowledge cannot at least be assumed to somehow exist extra-mentally ! This means imputed by determinations & conditions and not by a mind.

Hence, the first two types of dependent-arising, as well as part of the apprehended object (namely the theory-independent face of a fact) precisely refer to this extra-mental objectivity the validation of conventional knowledge implies. To explain the natural processes seeming to occur at times, places, levels of scale etc. unwitnessed by the apprehending consciousness of sentient beings, one needs not to invoke the mind of the Adi-Buddha (or God, as in the case of Bishop George Berkeley), but merely point to the various classes of dependent-arisings in general, and, in particular, to the distinct operational properties of material & informational phenomena bound by specific determinations & conditions, supposed to be arising, abiding & ceasing depending on unapprehended causes, effects & architectures.

In this "critical" Middle Way approach, nihilism is avoided by affirming the functionality of dependent origination, both in terms of unapprehended natural processes, as well as cultural objects (or natural process infused with sentient choice). Conventional validation asserts the normative necessity of assuming extra-mental objectivity to be one of the two faces of the facts of valid conventional knowledge (the other being the theory-dependency of facts). The presence of this assumption or postulate of rational thought shows the necessity of conventional conceptualizations to divide facts in two, introducing the idea of an independent & separate objectivity. This implies even critical conventional knowledge has to refer to something existing from its own side. Conventionality cannot work without substantiality. That is why it is called "mistaken" although valid in the case of true conventional propositions of fact.


nothing exists except as a conceptual imputation - reluctance to say anything about the "something" left after reification has stopped

inherent existence made null by exclusion negation - dependent arising justified by emptiness - the simultaneity of the conventional & the ultimate in Bodhi-mind

Emptiness Meditation according to this approach will be at hand in the next paragraphs.

Tenets of the Mahâ Madhyamaka (Other Emptiness School)

For the Tibetan Mahâmadhyamakas (Shentong), ultimate reality is empty of all stains (otherness or conventionality), shining forth as a process-based, ever existing, radiant Thus Goneness. This is a very special, ever-unfolding, uncontaminated dependent-arising, deemed continuous, always existent & non-disintegrating. This enlightened being does not exist as a self-sufficient, self-existent substance or essence, does not exist from its own side, like something isolated or cut-off. On the contrary, a Buddha is a highly integrated & superbly communicative enlightened being. All conventionality is self-empty, and all ultimates are self-empty, but ultimates are also other-empty, i.e. empty of conventionality.

So the Jonang Order, holders of "shentong" or the "other-empty" view, affirms, besides the selflessness of conventional reality (the absence of conventional "svabhâva"), the luminosity of the ultimate, prehended by the continuous mind of Clear Light. To them, the Prâsangika is "Rangtong" or "self-empty".

Accepting the Third Turning of the Wheel as a definitive higher teaching of the Buddha than the Second Turning, Mahâmadhyamaka or Great Middle Way integrates Buddha-nature ("tathâgatagarbha"). The latter is not part of the Second Turning, on which Cittamâtra, Svâtantrika & Prâsangika are based.

In Shentong, Buddha-nature is not viewed as merely a potential (to be generated by meditations on the emptiness of the mind), but as the recognition of itself possessing all infinite qualities inherently from beginningless time ... Buddha-nature is not a substance, but a continuous, uncontaminated dependent-arising. Lord Buddha introduced this after self-emptiness because he first wanted to stop conceptual reification (at the time of training in the view on the Pats of Accumulation & Preparation) before the direct experience of emptiness (on the Paths of Seeing & Meditation, at the time of meditations on the nature of mind).

In its unenlightened state, consciousness is defiled by adventitious material stemming from reification. But ultimately, pristine wisdom-mind is not empty of its own-being or luminous existence, but merely empty of the defilements, wholly "other" to it. The Tathâgatagarbha doctrine is deemed "paramârtha-satya", the ultimate truth (for the Prâsangika, this doctrine is not definitive and so needs interpretation).

Tsongkhapa agrees ultimate truth is other-empty of conventionality, but insists ultimate truth itself is self-empty. Shentong agrees, although some Gelugpas say Dolpopa, who systematized Shentong, turned Buddha-nature into a substance like the Hindu "âtman".

Shentong also makes use of the division of all things in three natures, but understands these differently than the Cittamâtra :

Natures Cittamâtra Shentong
imaginary does not exist
dependent exists
exists conventionally
just appears
perfect dependent nature free
from imaginary nature
 nondual prehension
free from both imaginary & dependent nature : non-substantial luminous wisdom

CONVENTIONAL TRUTH : self-emptiness, all compounded phenomena, all adventitious uncompounded phenomena ;
ULTIMATE TRUTH : other-empty Buddha-nature, self-cognizing, self-illuminating pristine wisdom, all ultimate Buddha qualities intrinsically (but not substantially) and inseparably indwelling, the thoroughly established nature.

This tenet, based on the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, only makes real sense in terms of direct yogic experience (on the Paths of Seeing & Meditation). For Shentong, Rangtong (restricted to the Paths of Accumulation & Preparation) has only analyzed attributes, but not the overall picture, forgetting to integrate objectivity (of ultimate analysis) & subjectivity (of conventional synthesis), balancing "prajñâ" (the best conceptual wisdom) and "jñâna" (actual, living wisdom). Enlightened Buddha-qualities are not the result of a mere generation, but eternally established ...

EMPTINESS : self-emptiness of conventional & ultimate reality and other-emptiness of ultimate reality.

The Mahâmadhyamaka is a system based on yogic experience. It shall be critically analyzed when introducing the Finative Practices. Indeed, its tenets imply Buddha-nature as experienced on the Paths of Seeing (stage one) and Meditation (stages two to seven).


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.

Vehicle School Inherently
Exists but not Inherently
Great Exposition all phenomena : ultimate & conventional reality
substantial particles & instances of consciousness
Sûtra ultimate truth conventional truth
Great Vehicle Mind-Only permanent
Bodhi-mind (?)
thoroughly established nature (?)
dependent nature
imputational nature
Sûtric Svâtantrika
conventional reality ultimate reality
Yogic Svâtantrika
nothing all phenomena, compounded & uncompounded, conventional & ultimate
Logico-Philosophical Limit
Mahâ Madhyamaka


Buddha-nature always exists and is non-disintegrating
empty of the other
it is not

all compounded phenomena
all uncompounded phenomena

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 Sûtra School focuses on the clear distinction between direct perception and so-called conceptual consciousness. The latter is conventional and does not grasp the plethora of detail & refinement recognized by direct, yogic perception. It also brings home the point permanent substances cannot perform functions. Nâgârjuna stressed universal emptiness and dependent-arising work hand in hand. The momentary nature of consciousness is to be noted.

The Yogâcârins correctly identified the phenomenological & epistemic co-arising of object & subject. So in terms of the direct, immediate, actual experience at hand, the insight of these yogis is significant. Also pointing to the salvic power of the yogic perceivers is a plus. What's the point if Insight Meditation has no salvic fruit ? The sharper the Sword of Wisdom, the more definitive the blows ending intellectual and innate self-grasping. End this, and Buddhahood ensues. Another important key is the other-poweredness of conventional reality. Objects being very impermanent, merely existing momentarily, they depend on others for their existence. Things are relationships existings because of all other relationships. What exists is the product of relationships. Valid cognition merely designates relationships, not the substantial or non-substantial things relating.

The ontological status of the ultimate in Yogâcâra is open for debate. As ontological (metaphysical) idealism is clearly a misrepresentation, and given phenomenology & critical epistemology offer more potent hermeneutical frameworks, one may ask how the absolute exists in the mind. If, as will be shown elsewhere, Indian Yogâcâra did not introduce any substance at all, then also Yogâcâra would satisfy the conditions of radical nominalism.

The strong point of the Svâtantrika is the vanishing of dualistic appearance when direct experience of emptiness is at hand. The Prâsangika affirms the logical and/or functional existence of conventionality, as well as valid or invalid conventional (conceptual) knowledge. It denies inherent existence to both conventional & ultimate reality. Substance or essence are thoroughly negated without remainder. Emptiness itself is also empty (the emptiness of emptiness). Dependent origination is correctly justified by emptiness. In the minds of the Buddhas, the conventional & the ultimate happen simultaneously. From their own side, space-like, one & complete, they prehend the emptiness of every moment and at the same time, illusion-like, experience conventional reality from the side of sentient beings. Because this is so, they are able to teach and liberate by applying the proper antidote. Emptiness Meditation is the highest medicine.

All lower tenet systems, and even the Svâtantrikas, maintain some form of substantiality (or inherent existence). Note how the movement up the ladder of tenets implies an increasing denial of inherent existence. Indeed, the Prâsangika cannot be surpassed without introducing unacceptable logical errors and absurdities. It is therefore the final, definitive system insofar as conceptual thinking (reason) goes (on the Path of Preparation). Anything beyond this is, at best, sublime poetry about direct experience, waymarks on the Paths of Seeing & Meditation.

Fundamental Points Meditation

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, substantial 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 :

"It should be known that that of which its own character can be designated without relying on apprehending phenomena other than it and its apprehension does not need to depend on apprehension of phenomena other than it is, in brief, substantially existent. Anything of which its own character must be designated in reliance on apprehending other than itself and depending on other than itself is to be known, in brief, as existing imputedly ; it does not substantially exist."

Consequentialist Emptiness Meditation triggers a gradual realization of the components of the argument, heading towards a meditatively stabilized "generic idea" of emptiness, or "special insight". This idea can "zero" any kind of reified object, be it sensate or mental. Once this has been achieved, the total negation of all intellectually acquired reifications can be realized. Then a strict nominalist mode of conceptualization is at hand, a purified conceptual mind. Merely bringing this to a halt by thoroughly abiding in the direct, immediate presence of the phenomenon of our actual consciousness suffices to be pushed & pulled simultaneously out of the (proto-rational, formal, critical & creative) conceptual modes of cognition, leaving the Path of Preparation for the nondual, non-conceptual mode of cogition prevailing at the time of "meditation on the nature of mind" (Path of Seeing & Path of Meditation).

The first step in this long meditation, is accepting the formal principles of the logic at hand. Identity, non-contradiction & excluded third are fundamental to its formalism. Without these, the non-affirmative negation cannot be really anchored in the mind. To operate the non-affirmative negation, the third needs to be excluded.

When the conditions of the logic at hand are settled, the tool (the exclusion negation) can be used to identify the object of negation. Take note : non-affirmative negation, exclusion negation or simple negation are synonyms. Affirmative negation, choice negation or complex negation also mean the same thing.

Identity & Negation Meditation

I. Preparation
II. Body
III. Breath
IV. Mind

V. Identity & Negation Meditation

16. Prayer to Mañjushrî - Repeat the Mantra of the Buddha of Wisdom ("OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI") 21 times ;
17. Visualize a white rose and next to it a red geranium. Reflect : this white rose has an identity defined by its color, shape, scent, freshness etc. Because of this identity, it differs in identity from the red geranium. Given only these two are visualized, one cannot identify a third flower ;

Meditate : an object is identified by its properties and objects with different properties are not alike. If only two different objects are given, no third object can be identified.

Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

18. Visualize a table upon which some white sand is spread. See how you wipe off all the sand from the table with your hand. Reflect : by negating all, nothing is left ;

Meditate : a non-affirmative negation negates all, leaving room for nothing else.

Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

19. Again visualize the table with the white sand. Draw a line in the middle of the table from top to bottom, dividing the sand. Visualize wiping off
with your hand all the sand on the left side of the line. Reflect : by removing the left side, the right side remains ;

Meditate : an affirmative negation negates something and by doing so affirms another thing.

Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

(repeat this until a genuine sense of certainty is realized)

20. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
21. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

Object of Negation Meditation

I. Preparation
II. Body
III. Breath
IV. Mind

V. Object of Negation Meditation

16. Prayer to Mañjushrî - Repeat the Mantra of the Buddha of Wisdom ("OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI") 21 times ;
17. Sequentially find a seemingly solid & stable sensate object for each of the five sense-consciousnesses : see a big thing, hear a sustained tone, smell an intense odor, taste a strong flavor, feel a slap on your face. Identify the object, and try to find how it appears cut off, separate & unchanging. Each time apprehend the independent, isolated & enduring appearance. Reflect : the object to be negated is not the appearing object with its logic & function, but the sense of it being cut off, isolated, stable, enduring ;

Meditate : all sensate objects appear as existing from their own side, with inhering properties. This superimposed inherent existence is the object to be negated in Emptiness Meditation.

18. Sequentially, find four examples of intense mental objects of volition, affect, thought & sentience (self-reflection) : a decisive decision, a strong emotion, a compelling thought and a clear sense of self-awareness. Identify this subjective experience. Each time try to find out how it appears to reinforce your own sense of abiding selfhood, existential presence and existence from your own side. Reflect : the object to be negated is not the appearing object itself, but the sense of self-existing selfhood it feeds.

Meditate : all mental objects reinforce our sense of selfhood, so that not what is experienced, but that "I" experience this or that comes to the fore. Emptiness Meditation empties this inherent sense of "my" existence, the mental object to be negated.

Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

(repeat this until a genuine sense of certainty is realized)

19. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
20. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

Four Essential Points

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.

First Point : The Proper Negation : Attended & Attributed Object.

The attended object of a conceptual cognition is the unity of its logical identity (its name or label) and its functional properties (its relationships with other attended objects). This attended object is thus the observed sensate or mental object and the mere observation or apprehension is attending to it.

In dependence upon attending to the object, there arises the sense the object exists substantially, i.e. that the observed identity with its properties inhere in it. This sense of an inherently existing object, this attribution, by superimposition, of substantial existence or "essential existence" to the attending object, this moving beyond the mere logical & functional instantiation of an object, is the attributed object. The latter object is the attribute of ignorance, not of wisdom. Conventional truth does not escape the attributed object, as methodological realism & idealism show. Science does accept its objects to be cut off and independent, although, under transcendental analysis, such inherently existing properties (like separateness and independence) cannot be found. The attributed object is the one to be negated.

The attended object of the conventional mind is the conventional logical identity & its functions, the mind of "worldly wisdom", while its attributed object is the inherent existence of this identity & its functions, i.e. the presence of their true existence or inherent existence. The latter is the mind of ignorance. Its object, inherent existence, is non-existent.

worldly, scientific knowledge : attends conventional identity & function ;
ignorance : attributes inherent existence to objects attended.

The attended object of wisdom-mind is the conventional identity & its functions, while its attributed object is the absence of their true existence and so grasps the absolute, their emptiness.

supramundane, ultimate truth : attends logical identity & function as the mere observation of objects ;
wisdom : attributes emptiness to objects attended.

The First Point consists in understanding what needs to be negated. If too much is negated, like existence as a whole, nihilism ensues. If too little is negated, making inherent existence somehow endures, eternalism pertains.

Conventional reality or conventional truth is not the agent of ignorance. Logical & functional existence, the mere observation or attending of objects, is not delusional. Conventional truth is valid insofar as worldly truths, namely dependent arisings, goes. So nihilism is avoided, for conventional reality is a valid means to acquire conventional knowledge (establishing conventional objects by way of label & function).

Ultimate reality or ultimate truth is not some ontologically separate "thing", like a self-sufficient ground, ultimate true existence or substance. Ultimate truth attends conventional reality without reification, i.e. without attributing inherent existence or adding substantial nature to the sensate & mental objects attended as logical identities with their functions. Hence, no object is attributed as existing on its own. Eternalism is avoided, for ultimate truth exists conventionally, and although establishing a different object (namely the emptiness of the attended object), it does not attribute an eternal nature to it, does not posit its emptiness as an instantiating, inherent quality, nature or property existing from its own side, ontologically separate from the conventionalities.

Summary of the First Point
: identify inherent existence !

Second Point : Sameness ? Is an inherently existing object identical with its parts or with the collection of its parts ? No.

Conventional objects merely exist as transient, functional identities or compounds. Every worldly entity can be subdivided. But, to make sure, we do ask : can, in logic and/or in fact, partless objects be found ?

In logic. Suppose A is a partless object. This implies A cannot be subdivided. Suppose there is such an indivisible, infinitesimal partless material particle A. How can material compound Y consisting of X parts come into existence ? When X parts are joined to partless A to form Y, then A has X parts, and so A is not partless. Suppose these X parts converge to A to form compound Y, but then all compounds would be infinitesimal as A. As compounds have extension, this conclusion is absurd.

In fact. The subject of knowledge, the empirical ego, is imputed upon parts, namely its body, actions, affects, thoughts & consciousness. How can the self be partless if imputed upon parts ? Sensate objects of experience are always physical compounds, ranging from galaxies to the universal quantum field. They all are in a constant flux. Per definition, compounds cannot be partless. Mental objects of experience, like the mathematical point, can be partless, but then refer to nothing more than an ideal theoretical beginning in no way to be compared with functional physical objects, or wholes defined by their parts. These ideal constructions are merely necessary to make functions possible. They too are substanceless.

Lemma : definable & functional objects have parts and so are compounds.

Now suppose an inherently existing object A. Object A is singular, but its parts are multiple. Is A identical with its parts ? As its parts are many and A is inherently, i.e. permanently singular, A cannot be or become identical with its parts, for otherwise there would be as many A's as there are parts. As there is only one, single, inherently existing object A, it follows such an object cannot be identical with its parts.

Suppose A is identified as the singular collection of its parts, then one must reckon there is no such "collection" apart from the parts, i.e. this "collection" is not an entity in its own right, but only the mathematical set or label subsuming certain parts. If we identify A with this set, then this set must be found to substantially exist as A is assumed to exist. However, the set is only a designated gathering of parts and nowhere is this "collection" as such found, but only its parts. Hence, A cannot be the collection of its parts.

Summary of the Second Point
: singular, inherently existing objects cannot be the same or identical with their plural parts, nor can they be identical with the collection of their multiple parts.

Third Point : Difference ? Is a truly existing object different than its parts ? No.

Can this hypothetically inherently existing A exist as something distinct from its parts, i.e. utterly unrelated to them ? If this is the case, then this A, so self-powered to be able to posit itself as distinct from its parts, must be found. However, this is not the case. Only other-powered parts are found. Hence, A is cannot be different than its parts.

Summary of the Third Point
: singular, inherently existing objects cannot be distinct from or different than their multiple parts.

Fourth Point : Realization ! As an inherently existing object is not the same nor distinct from its parts, how to find such an object ? As yet, none have been found. Hence, the claim they exist is not established and so the supposition is not adequate.

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 :

1. to fathom : applying the correct procedures to grasp an object ;
2. to understand : gathering all necessary, valid knowledge about it ;
3. to eliminate uncertainty : sustaining a clear, certain view concerning it ;
4. to intensely experience : living it directly, in a sharp & saturated way.

When the negation of these characteristics is thoroughly overcome, one has truly realized something. Lack of a proper grasp, misunderstanding, abiding uncertainty & fleeting observation are the marks of not realizing an object. Not fathom the object can be due to faulty senses & wrong views. The latter may be due to lack of information, incorrect thinking or attachment. Misunderstanding the object is the result of persistently & consistently applying wrong views. Remaining uncertain is due to not enough study of & reflection on the object. Lacking experience may be due to not enough exposure to or lack of repetitive encounters with the object.

When the First, Second & Third Point are realized, then by the laws of formal logic, there is only one conclusion left : no inherent existent, substantial object was found. The proposition affirming substance is not established. The Consequentialist does not conclude : "An inherent object does not exist !", for this is positing he has found an path to deduce such a final, complete conclusion (as an Autonomist would).

As he has been using the reductio ad absurdum, showing the absurd conclusions resulting from accepting substances hypothetically, the only outcome possible confirms no substances have as yet been found ! This is an "open end" kind of logic. So to his critics, he may ask : "Show me a static object !", "Posit a substance !", etc. As soon as the challenge is taken up, the absurdities can be deduced, dislodging the opponent. When asked to positively prove no substances are to be found anywhere, he can only answer : What is a mere absence cannot be affirmed. Or : by negating substance, one does not negate all things.

Seven Steps Meditation

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.

This analysis is based on two conditional compound statements, and cannot be truly effective if both are not accepted beforehand :

1. if the inherent existence () of an existing object A is the case (A), then this substance of the object would be findable in at least one of seven ways ;
2. if this self-powered substance (A) is not findable in any of the seven ways, then the inherent existence of the object is not established, meaning it cannot be found under analysis (is not reasonably established).

The goal is not to prove inherent existence is indeed the case or not the case. Rather, the unfindability of inherent existence is put to the fore. If a substantialist claim is made, then the logic tools may be applied to show this claim is not backed by finding the substance postulated.

It should be clear by now inherently existing objects or substances do not change and so always remain what they are. Eternalized, they are permanent, leaving out alteration, transformation & dynamism. To eliminate this ignorant delusion superimposing a false ideation on sensate & mental objects, effectively cuts all affective & mental suffering at the root. This is the most effective means or antidote against delusion the Buddhadharma has in store. It is called the ultimate medicine.

The seven ways are :

A, any sensate or mental object :

1. is not inherently the same as its parts ;
2. is not inherently different from its parts ;
3. is not inherently dependent upon its parts ;
4. is not inherently the substratum upon which its parts depend ;
5. is not inherently the possessor of its parts ;
6. is not inherently the mere collection of its parts ;
7. is not inherently the shape of its parts.

1. The object is not inherently the same as its parts :

If A has parts, then note there is a singular object (A = 1) having multiple parts (1, 2, 3 etc.). If A were the same as its parts, then there would be as many objects as there are parts. As only a singular object is at hand, it cannot be the case the object is the same as its multiple parts. Again, accepting parts change, how can an unchanging object be identical with changing parts ? If the object has unchanging parts, then A is unchanging. Can such an object be found ? If so, then it should be very easy to point to one, which is obviously not the case.

2. The object is not inherently different from its parts :

If the object differs from its parts, then it must be possible to apprehend the object without its parts. Strip away the parts and the object should be found. This is not the case. Where would this partless object be ? Strip away the parts and other parts are found, never the object itself.

With these two logical forms, the general procedure is established (cf. the Four Points). Identity & difference cannot be substantially realized. The next four ways are variations on the same theme, exhausting futile attempts to escape the logical necessity of the argument. This does not preclude there could be more arguments , but with these seven a comprehensive logical defense can be construed.

3. The object is not inherently dependent upon its parts :

For A to depend on B, A has to be different than B. If the inherent object depends upon its parts, it differs from these. As this is not the case (2), the object cannot depend upon its parts.

4. The object is not inherently the substratum upon which its parts depend :

This is another case of (2), the object -now as substratum- being inherently different from its parts. Can this underlying substrate be identified without the parts supposed to depend on it ?

The argument is also similar to (3) with the dependence running in the opposite direction (the parts depending on the substratum).

5. The object is not inherently the possessor of its parts :

Yet again another case of (2) and (1). Suppose the object possesses its part as "I" possess my hands or my head. This could be the case if "I" am the same entity as my hands (refuted by 1). For the ego is singular and the parts of the body & mind I possess are plural. If the possessor and the possessed are two separate entities, then what links both ? Where is this link ? Nothing is found (as given by 2). An object redundant of its parts cannot inherently exist. There is no object standing as a possessor of parts.

6. The object is not inherently the mere collection of its parts :

The object is not the parts, but posited on the basis of the parts. Without the base (the parts), there is no imputed object (designated by the base). The collection of parts does not exist as a separate entity, or, if it does, only as a mental object designating (denoting) an empty set (non-existent objects). A plurality of parts designates a singular object. Without the parts, is a "collection" found ? Clearly not.

7. The object is not inherently the shape of its parts :

If the object is its shape, then a change of shape is impossible, for if it were the case, the inherent object would change, and this cannot be the case for substances, able to persist through changes in the shape of their parts. Objects constantly change shape without loosing more persisting properties.

Seven Steps Meditation on a Bicycle

I. Preparation
II. Body
III. Breath
IV. Mind

V. Identity & Negation Meditation

16. Prayer to Mañjushrî - Repeat the Mantra of the Buddha of Wisdom ("OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI") 21 times ;
17. Visualize a bicycle. Affirm this to be a substantial object, existing from its own side, cut off from the knower and with inhering properties. First visualize the whole thing, the one bicycle. Next, in your mind, take it apart and go over its parts one by one. Start with the large parts (wheels), then the smaller parts and then focus on the parts of these parts. Then, in your mind, put all these parts on a heap. Next, visualize the whole bicycle again. Reflect : when I see the heap, I don't see the bicycle, and when I see the bicycle, I don't see the parts ;

18. Meditate in Seven Steps as follows :

1. if the bicycle were identical with the parts, then the wheels or any other part would be a bicycle, which is not the case for the parts cannot execute the functionality of the bicycle ;
2. if the bicycle were different than its parts, then when taking it apart, the bicycle would be found, which is not the case ;
3. if the bicycle would depend on its parts, then it would be different than its parts. As we just found it cannot be different than its parts, it cannot depend upon them ;
4. if the bicycle is a stratum lying underneath its parts, then one should be able to find it without the parts, which is not the case. Hence, the bicycle is not a substrate upon which its parts depend ;
5. if the bicycle possesses its parts as objects other than itself, then the bicycle and its parts would be seen separately, yet they are not. Hence, the bicycle cannot possess its parts ;
6. if the bicycle would be the mere collection of its parts, then the bicycle would exist even if the bicycle lies in pieces, which is not the case. Hence, the bicycle cannot be merely the collection of its parts ;
7. if the bicycle is the shape of its parts, then is it the shape of the individual parts or the shape of the collection ? If the former, the bicycle is a shape no different from the shape of the parts prior to their being assembled. This is not the case, for the heap is not the bicycle. If the latter, then any change in one of the parts (larger wheels), changing the shape of the collection, would change the bicycle, which is not the case. Hence, the bicycle is not the shape of its parts ;

19. Meditate : the substantial bicycle cannot be found. What is found is a functional object (a bicycle) imputed on the basis of its parts. Likewise, all sensate & mental objects are like this functional object. They do not exist from their own side, but are imputed by the mind on the basis of their parts. 

Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

(repeat this until a genuine sense of certainty is realized)

20. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
21. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

In a nominalist perspective, objects always depend on other objects. This is the other-power of all existent things, be they conventional or ultimate.

Four Profundities

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 Mahâyâna schools.

First Profundity : the Profundity of the Ultimate.

"Form is Empty"

Under "form" is understood all objects of the five sense consciousnesses. All gross physical objects and a person's body are included. The aggregate of form is taken as the first basis for establishing emptiness. If form would be inherently existing, i.e. substance-like, it would exist as it appears and be found from the side of the object itself without depending upon the apprehending consciousness. But this is not the case.

Take the physical body as example. If we remove all objects different from our body, then if our body would inherently exist, we would be able to point to this body without pointing to any phenomenon not our body. But when we point to our body, we always point to a certain place, like the chest, the head, an arm, etc. These parts are not our body, for then we would have as many bodies as the body has parts. Suppose we say the collection of its parts is the body. However, if individual parts are not our body, then how can a collection of parts suddenly turn out to be our body ? A mere collection of "non-bodies" cannot magically transform into a body. Moreover, can we point to the "collection" ? Clearly not. If we eliminate all parts of our body the collection does not remain. Hence, our body is not found among its parts nor as the collection of its parts. Likewise, we may analyze each of the parts and find they too lack inherent existence. In fact, everything having parts cannot be found as existing from its own side, self-powered. All phenomena are other-powered, dependent of determinations & conditions outside themselves.

The body and its parts merely exist because they have a suitable basis to impute them, i.e. identify them and their dynamic functions. This is a merely nominalist designation, in no way establishing a static substance. Although a generic image of such a substance exists, it cannot be validated under analysis, meaning it is not found. Hence, when it is proposed, the supposition is not logically adequate in debate. While form appears to be static, it cannot be found to be so. The use of this false generic image is the false ideation to be removed. Nothing more need to be done.

All form is fundamentally empty of substance.
Ergo, all form lacks inherent existence. It is empty of any substantial self.

Second Profundity : The Profundity of the Conventional.

"Emptiness is Form"

Here, phenomena are seen as manifestations of emptiness. Ultimate truth and emptiness of inherent existence are synonyms. Emptiness is called a "sacred object truth" because its appearance to a non-conceptual direct perceiver (a nondual prehension) is always in accordance with its mode of existence. Unlike conventional truths, which do not appear as they ultimately are (they appear static but are in fact dynamic), emptiness does not conceal its true nature. To a wisdom-mind realizing emptiness directly, only emptiness appears hand in hand with dependent-arising, but inherent existence does not appear. Conventional truths are true with respect to the conventions of ordinary minds. Although they are deceptive regarding their mode of existence, they are not deceptive insofar as their logical identity & function go. If an object does not function as it appears, then a conventional falsehood is at hand (for example : a hallucination, a fata morgana, etc.). Such objects are "non-existent". Conventional objects are "truths for an obscurer" and this because self-grasping ignorantly conceives the apparent inherent existence, the substantial instantiation, to be true, which it is not.

This profundity of the conventional points to the subtle nature of conventional objects. All conventional objects share the same fundamental, ultimate nature, emptiness. Each and every object is therefore not separate from its emptiness, but is an appearance arising out of its emptiness. This means each and every object, be it sensate or mental, has two "natures", "aspects" or "properties". These are objective and each call for a particular mind to be known. The conventional properties of A are apprehended by the conventional mind. The ultimate properties prehended by the ultimate mind. Both sets of properties (the two sides) belong to the same object (the same coin), and so the ultimate is not divorced or ontologically separate from the conventional. The subtle nature of conventional objects is their ultimate nature.

While objects do not inherently exist (First Profundity), we can establish the mere existence of form by pointing to its base of designation, the display of dependent-arising, both contaminated (samsaric) & uncontaminated (nirvanic). This is a conventional appearance arising out of the ultimate nature of form, its subtle conventional nature (Second Profundity).

Take a gold coin. The underlying nature of the coin is gold, and this gold appears in the form of a coin. The coin appearing to us is not separate from its gold, unable to exist without it. Just as the coin is a manifestation of its gold, objects are a manifestation of their emptiness or lack of inherent existence. Coin A and coin B can be identified as "A" or "B" because of the different generic images or inscriptions & images on them, but the gold is the same. Likewise, objects differ because we designate a different "name" or "label" on their basis of designation, i.e. their conventional identities & functions. However, their subtle conventional nature (their emptiness-dependent-arising or full-emptiness) is the same.

Another similar example from the Chinese
"Hua-yen" or "Flower Garland School" founded by Fa-tsang (643 - 712).

Fa-tsang explains the fundamental tenets of his school with the famous simile of the Golden Lion (On the Golden Lion). The lion and his organs (legs, body, head, senses, etc.) represents the phenomenal, conventional world and the gold the principle, the ultimate. The latter has no form of its own, but rather takes on any form according to conditions & circumstances (is empty). Every part of the lion participates in the result, the lion made of gold. All phenomena (the organs of the lion and the lion as a whole) manifest one principle (emptiness) and each phenomenon encompasses all others. Gold and lion exist simultaneously and include each other mutually. Hence, each phenomenon (lion) represents the principle, emptiness or "li" (gold).

End reification, and only dependent-arising is left.
Ergo, all emptiness is form.

Third Profundity : The Profundity of the Two Truths being the Same Entity.

"Emptiness is not other than Form"

The Two Truths refer to the same entity (the same coin), but are not identical (the two faces), or one ontic entity with two epistemic isolates (two sets of objects & subjects). A conventional apprehender of conventionalities and an ultimate prehender of ultimates.

For two phenomena to be identical, they must have the same generic image (logical identity & function). If they are not identical, they must have a different generic image. If two phenomena are not identical, but are properties of the same entity (like fire and its heat, or the body and its shape), this means they do not appear as separate to wisdom-mind, but appear as different to an ordinary conceptual mind. The same entity is at hand, but two different objects are known : the conventional nature or mode of existence is known (by apprehension) by the conceptual mind, the ultimate nature is known (by prehension) by wisdom-mind.

Form and form's emptiness only appear simultaneously to a Buddha. For all other minds, phenomena appear to be inherently existent. Hence, to the deluded mind, form and inherent existence of form seem to be the same entity, rather than form and the emptiness of inherent existence ! When emptiness is explained, the Two Truth appear as two distinct, separate phenomena, like a chariot and the charioteer. The Two Truths appear as different entities. How to understand they are the same entity ? By realizing emptiness of inherent existence is an inseparable characteristic or property of form. Every object has its emptiness. The object and its emptiness are not two entities. There is only one entity, the object, but two different natures or modes of existence can be identified (by two types of cognitive acts) : the conventional nature, the mere existential instantiation (by the conventional mind), and the ultimate nature, the absence of inherent existence (by the ultimate mind).

Only wisdom-mind prehends the Two Truth simultaneously. Even Superior Bodhisattvas cannot maintain meditative equipoise on the emptiness of an object while performing other actions (of body, speech & mind). When doing so, they relinquish their wisdom-mind and engage in the conventional process, victim of innate substantial instantiation. Hence, only Buddhas "merely" observe objects, i.e. are capable of a perfect mere existential instantiation, i.e. an observation totally & perfectly devoid of substantial instantiation (lacking attributing inherent existence).

The ultimate & the conventional are always properties of the same thing.
Ergo, emptiness is not other than form.

Fourth Profundity : The Profundity of the Two Truths being Nominally Distinct.

"Form also is not other than Emptiness"

Although the Two Truths are the same entity (Third Profundity), they are not identical. Being designated on the basis of the same form, they are two different epistemic isolates (or cognizing minds) revealing two different objects of knowledge. The Two Truths can be distinguished on the basis of the difference between the conventional and ultimate nature of every object. The ultimate nature of an object is the object's emptiness of inherent existence as prehended by nondual wisdom-mind. The conventional nature of an object is the object's dependence on all other objects, i.e. it being other-powered, as apprehended by the worldly mind. Hence, conventional objects are not independent substances, but interdependent dependent-related phenomena.

In order of increasing subtlety, this dependence of objects on other objects can be analyzed in five ways :

1. dependence on determinations : phenomena depend on laws determining their evolution from initial condition to outcome. These laws may be causal, interactive, teleological, statistical, etc. ;
2. dependence on parts : if phenomena were independent of parts, we would be able to remove the parts and find the phenomenon ;
3. dependence on names : phenomena can only be conceptualized by way of the names & labels given to them. Nameless phenomena cannot be objects of conventional reason ;
4. dependence on a basis of imputation : the names given to phenomena are given to them because some identity & some functions have been grasped. The latter serve as the basis of designation, allowing the conceptual mind to impute or posit the name ;
5. dependence on imputation by conceptualization : phenomena cannot be understood to depend on determinations, parts, names and a basis of imputation without the cognitive process itself allowing the conceptual mind to produce empirico-formal propositions about them.

Emptiness does not oppose conventional reality. The ultimate truth is not in opposition with conventional truth, in fact, the ultimate exists conventionally. But dependent-arising is the direct opposite or direct enemy of inherent existence. Ultimate truth opposes substantial instantiation, nothing more.

Understanding the dynamic, other-powered nature of all possible phenomena opposes the false ideation superimposing they have their own static existence within themselves, quite separate from, and independent of, all other phenomena. So realize the dependent-arising of phenomena actually undermines this false ideation accommodating substantial instantiation.

The Two Truths, although always referring to the same ontological entity (or form) are therefore nominally & epistemologically distinct and so not identical.

Indeed, although always the two properties of the same thing, ultimate & conventional are distinct in logic & function, the ultimate being unmistaken, the conventional mistaken.

Ergo, form also is not other than emptiness.

Looking at these profundities, we understand all dependent-arisings to be self-empty, be they uncontaminated (pure) or contaminated (impure). The latter are subject to a false ideation superimposing an imaginary nature on dependent nature, thereby designating an inherently existing object. Only to tame the deluded mind apprehending such imaginary, hallucinated substance, need dependent & perfect nature to be differentiated.

Meditation on the Right View

"For whom there is emptiness, there are all things. For whom there is no emptiness, there is nothing whatsoever."
Nâgârjuna : The Dispeller of Disputes, 70.

The study of Buddhist philosophy, in general, and the tenets on emptiness as conceived by Tibetan scholasticism, in particular, aim to establish the correct view and authenticate it by genuine certainty on the basis of rational debate. Argumentative practices result in shared convictions or "tenets". Formal rationality calls to accept different tenets cannot be both definitive. This begs the the question which tenet is backed by the best arguments ?

For Nâgârjuna and his followers, the laws of formal logic were definitive, and so a final arbitration was possible, singling out a definitive tenet, one answering all the given questions of the actual debate in the most satisfactory manner. As the rules of formal logic order our everyday understanding of the world, a claim not in conflict with those rules has at least the merit to be conventionally established and so adequate.

According to the correct view,
in every act of cognition, the mind must, in all cases, apprehend dependent origination and prehend its emptiness as a single entity (or object). The Two Truths are not identical, but apply to the same entity, to each appearing sensate or mental object in every instance of consciousness. This includes all conventional things, as well as all ultimate things like purity, Clear Light mind, Bodhi-mind, Buddhahood & "nirvâna".

Ultimate truth is prehended by a nondual, non-conceptual, direct perception attending ultimates, revealing the absolute object : the emptiness of whatever is at hand. Conventional truth is apprehended by a conceptual mind attending the conventionalities of knower & known, thereby gathering worldly understanding regarding the dependent origination of all existing things.


ultimate reality
ultimate, absolute knowledge
universal emptiness
substanceless things
continuous perfect nature
true peace

conventional reality
conventional, relative knowledge
functional efficacy
process-based things
valid but mistaken
discontinuous concealer
definite spatio-temporality
ignorant, inept mind

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 ultimate.

The Prâsangika aims to eliminate reification, i.e. a mental operation attributing substantiality to appearing phenomena (all possible sensate & mental objects), conceptualize them as fixed, substantial entities cut off from others. To establish this view, nothing more than the correct negation is necessary, taking away enough, but not too much. In the Prâsangika, the substance of
A (As) affirming inherent existence (A) is the only target. The true ideation (Ct) is the complete, non-affirmative negation of this substantial existence without remainder(¬A Ct).

The base of the view is substancelessness, in other words, process-nature.

the way of Svabhâva
the way of Nihsvabhâva

substance / essence
acausal, non-efficient
from its own side
with inhering properties
One Alone
definitely restricted
clinging, attachment
being there (Dasein)

determinate & conditioned
universal connectedness
from the others side
with non-inhering processes
plurality of units
infinite possibilities
release, detachment
whatness (Sosein)

Prâsangika logic is clear : if A is a substance, then A cannot be unsubstantial, if A is unsubstantial, then A cannot be substantial

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).

All possible ultimate & conventional phenomena are substanceless things. A Buddha has no substance. Ultimate, absolute truth is not substantial. Insubstantiality is established in both ways, encompassing both truths. So Buddhahood does not ontologically differ from sentience, although a Buddha is no longer a sentient being. Both are dependent originations, but a Buddha is pure and prehending with a continuous, uncontaminated wisdom-mind. Sentient beings suffer & lack wisdom, operate a contaminated conceptual mind.

By identifying this absence of substance in all things, non-existence is not affirmed. The non-existent is made known, in casu the non-existence of self-subsistence.

Ultimate analysis (investigating the ultimate nature of phenomena) establishes the universal absence of own-power. It does so by making this absence known. This happens by way of logic, or by way of example. By identifying the object of negation (inherent existence), the operation of de-reification can start. This does not lead to the absence of concepts (or of sensate reality), but simply to a pure mind (a mind of pure reason), one in which attributing substance has ceased (at least, intellectually). This transcendental mind then apprehends sensate & mental realities without attributing substance, but exclusively designating process. This is a "critical mind", a truly scientific mind purified from any tendency to reify, but perfectly capable of reasoning & debate.

In logic (a priori).
Married bachelors.

Searching after inherently existing substances is like someone looking for a married bachelor to be happy. As the latter cannot be unwed because he is married, nor can be wed because he is a bachelor, the wish to find one is unreasonable and based on a misconception, for the set of married bachelors is a forteriori empty. Introducing substance brings absurd consequences, like the inability to essentially change, produce or cause consequences, hampering a valid logical & functionalist view on sensate & mental objects.

Likewise, the concept "inherently existent objects" involves a contradictio in terminis. If these objects are truly inherently existing, then they must be either the same or distinct from their parts. As they are neither the same nor different from their parts, they logically cannot exist at all and so constitute an empty set. For other logical variations, refer to the schemes discussed above.

So the phrases "inherent existence", "married bachelors", "square circles" or "four-angled triangles" are analytically not well-formed. Although they seem to mean something, they don't. They are all examples of analytical fallacies a priori.

In fact (a posteriori). A hippopotamus in the house.

If substances exist, they must be as easy identifiable as any large object, say a hippopotamus in the house. Suppose a house has ten rooms and someone says there is a hippopotamus in the house. If, after having closed all exits, a healthy, reasonable person is placed in each room and asked to search everywhere for the hippopotamus, and if, after having searched thoroughly, all ten willing observers agree on the fact no hippopotamus was found, then the conclusion there is no hippopotamus in the house must be considered as a posteriori established (valid). If the claim is made again, and the search is repeated a number of times with identical results, then at some point the absurdity of the claim must become obvious to all reasonable persons and no more searches are made or need to be made to ascertain whether there is a hippopotamus in the house. Then the proposition stating there is no hippopotamus in the house is said to be rationally established. While not a definitive proof, the supposition (the absence of the animal) is adequate, while affirming the presence of the animal is inadequate. And so one may act upon it.

Likewise, if after thinking over all possible arguments positing inherent existence honestly, repeatedly & profoundly, no such object is found, then one may reasonably assume such an object is not established. Not claiming the definite proof of absence of inherent existence, one posits unfindability and merely asks : "Show me a single static object !". "Where is the hippopotamus ?" What is established is the fact no substance was found.

Perhaps the hippopotamus is about to suddenly appear in the kitchen ? What is observed is that all things are exclusively process-based. When the world devoid of substantiality is apprehended, universal interconnectedness is observed. When dependent origination is observed, emptiness is found. The latter is not a new "substance", nor is "emptiness". Both are impermanent and so emptiness itself is empty of substantial identity (emptiness of emptiness).

Meditation on the Right View

I. Preparation
II. Body
III. Breath
IV. Mind

V. Meditation on the Right View

16. Prayer to Mañjushrî - Repeat the Mantra of the Buddha of Wisdom ("OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI") 21 times ;
17. Meditate :
emptiness is the absence of inherent existence, all things lacking substance.
18. Meditate :
all things lack substance and therefore all things are dependent-arisings.
19. Meditate : all objects, be they sensate or mental, depend on outside determinations & conditions.
20. Meditate : although empty of substance, dependent origination is not lack of something ; there exists an interconnected network of determinations & conditions ;
21. Meditate : absence of inherent existence or emptiness is not a universal substance of things ; emptiness is empty.
22. Meditate : Buddhas are pure dependent-arisings, continuous wisdom-minds unlike sentient beings deluded by ignorance.
23. Meditate : Buddhas know
ultimate reality -space-like- from their own side, and sentient beings -illusion-like- from their side.

Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness.

(repeat this until a genuine sense of the view is realized)

24. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
25. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

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.

Generating Superior Seeing

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 ...

sequential calmness & analysis fight


truce of calmness & analysis


synergy of calmness & analysis

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 emptiness) merge.

Indeed, at some point calmness triggers sharper analysis and probing deeper into the ultimate nature of things brings about deeper calmness. This is the mind of "superior seeing", a mental tool used to actually meditate on the selflessness of persons and selflessness of others. Once established, this special minds allows one to advance quickly in our practice of Emptiness Meditation. So its function is to assist us in eliminating faults & delusions. Its objects are all sensate & mental objects, in casu, all persons & all others (persons & objects).

This mind is generated by meditating on emptiness. All previous meditations assist in bringing it about, but in particular meditations in line with the definitive view, the Prâsangika. It is a mind dependent on a repeated analysis of absence of inherent existence, and this over a prolonged period of time.

II. Insight Meditation on Persons & Others

1. Selflessness of Persons

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 it.

On the mere logico-functional use of the empirical ego (
A), as a reference when objectifying process, is superimposed the false ideation of an imaginary "being" or substantial existence (A). The empirical ego or logico-functional ego is designated on the basis of the aggregates : body, action, affect, thought & consciousness. This means it depends on the aggregates to exist. Take away the aggregates, and no ego can be identified. The ego is singular, the aggregates are plural.


First Point : target the substantial sense of selfhood ;

The logical & functional "I", "empirical ego" or personal sense of selfhood
(A) is not targeted, but its reification is (A). Such a false ideation posits the existence of a self-powered nature, in particular a substantial self (cf. the "âtman" in Hinduism).

Let us analyze such a supposed substantial sense of identity, of "self", of a substantial, ontic ego ;

Second Point : the substantial self is not identical with the aggregates ;

Is the substantial, permanent "I", which is singular, identical with its multiple parts, to wit its "body" and "mind" (volitions, affects, thought, consciousness) ? If so, then there should be a body-I & a mind-I, which runs against the singularity of the "I". Perhaps body & mind are a singular entity, but then designating "I" would be superfluous, and we do it all the time. There would be no need for the appellation of the word "I", which is again problematic if a substantial I is postulated.

Is the "I" perhaps the collection of both body & mind ? There is no such a "collection", for the collection of body & mind is designated upon the basis of body & mind. If this collection would be truly existent, it would be found under analysis. Take away the components. Can the "collection" be found ? As body & mind depend upon their components and so change, they cannot, apart or as a "collection", be identical with the substantial, unchanging "I".

Hence, the truly existent "I" is not identical with the aggregates, nor with the mere "collection" of the aggregates. The identity of the "I" with its aggregates cannot be validated. The postulated "I" cannot be found as identical with its aggregates.

Third Point : the substantial self is not different from the aggregates ;

Is the substantial "I" perhaps distinct from the aggregates of body & mind ? If so, then analytically setting aside the body on one side and the mind on the other, there should be something left over to point to as the truly existent "I". But besides body and mind, nothing is found.

A substantial "I" would have to be independent from the aggregates, but as there is no substantial "I" apart from them, this postulated "I" cannot be found distinct from the aggregates.

Fourth Point : the substantial self cannot be found ;

As the substantial "I" is not found to be identical or distinct from the aggregates upon which it is designated, it cannot be established. What is found is a logical identity (a name) and a functional process of attending sensate (body) and mental objects (actions, affects, thought & sentience).

Meditation on the Selflessness of Persons

I. Preparation
II. Body
III. Breath
IV. Mind

V. Meditation on
the Selflessness of Persons

16. Prayer to Mañjushrî - Repeat the Mantra of the Buddha of Wisdom ("OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI") 21 times ;
17. Find the substantial self. Reflect : this sense of self is cut-off, separate, and existentially auto-sufficient. Sensualize your substantial self ;

Meditate : has the substantial self been found ?

18. Meditate on the Identity of the substantial self with its actions, emotions, thoughts & consciousnesses.
19. Meditate on the Difference of the substantial self with these.

20. Reflect : the reified self is not identical nor different than its parts ;

Meditate : the substantial self is not found. The self does not exist inherently, as a substance with a fixed essence "in here".

21. Find the substantial self again. Reflect : this sense of self is not found, and so this appearance is illusion-like, not appearing as it is ;

22. Meditate : the self is a logical & functional phenomenon, allowing consciousness to have a name and a referent of itself when attending process (i.e. identify the own unique mind-stream to which it belongs). The substantial self is non-existent.

Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

(repeat this until a genuine sense of selflessness of self is realized)

23. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
24. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

Whenever, during post-meditation, the substantial self appears, remind yourself of its illusion-like nature, and blame it for the suffering its sense of separateness causes.


As shown above, the Seven Points merely elaborate on the fundamental logical divide between part & whole, between singularity & plurality. Each of the seven logical possibilities lead to absurdities. The presence of a substantial self is not found and so the supposition is not adequate.

The remaining points of the Seven Points Meditation are easily integrated in the meditation above.

2. Selflessness of Others

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 difference between liberation and Buddhahood.


First Point : the logical & functional sensate & mental objects are not targeted here, but merely the substantial instantiation of these. Take the classical example of a table ;

Second Point : Is the substantial table identical with its parts ? If so, then there are as many tables as there are parts, which is absurd. There is only one table with multiple parts, like a single table-top, three or four legs, nails etc. As soon as the table is broken in pieces, the designation "table" is no longer valid. We can say, "This is a broken table.", but if we split the pieces again and again, at some point the logical instantiation A = table can no longer be made by a new observer of the multiple pieces scattered about.

Perhaps the substantial table is the collection of its parts, but such a "collection" can not be found. We observe the object, and on the basis of the available parts designate "table". We never observe the "collection" as such. Take away the parts, and there is nowhere a "collection" to be found.

Hence, the table is not identical with its parts, nor with the mere collection of its parts.

Third Point : Is the substantial table different from its part ? Suppose it is, then we should be able to find this substance if we eliminate all its parts. Should we not find the "essence" of the table ? However, this "tableness" cannot be found, only the parts are logically (names) & functionally (operations) instantiated.

Hence, the table is not distinct from its parts.

Fourth Point : As the table, instantiated as a substance, cannot be found to be identical or different than its parts, we conclude the substantial table cannot be found. The proposition claiming this is not established.

As in the Seven Points Meditation, argumentation may be refined and expanded in various ways, accommodating various counter-positions. But despite their sophistication, because positing the substantial object introduces absurdities, inconsistencies and fallacies, these arguments do not establish such. It cannot be found.

Here the word "object" refers to sensate objects only. The latter establish the difference between "inner" and "outer". Selflessness of others deals with the selflessness of the outer world, whereas the selflessness of persons analyzed the inner world of our mentality.

Meditation on the Selflessness of Others

I. Preparation
II. Body
III. Breath
IV. Mind

V. Meditation on
the Selflessness of Others

16. Prayer to Mañjushrî - Repeat the Mantra of the Buddha of Wisdom ("OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI") 21 times ;
17. Find a substantial other. Reflect : the sense of otherness of this object is cut-off, separate, and existentially alterio-sufficient. Sensualize the substantial other ;

Meditate : has the substantial other been found ?

18. Meditate on the Identity of the substantial other with its parts.
19. Meditate on the Difference of the substantial other with its part.

20. Reflect : the substantial other is not identical, not different than its parts ;

Meditate : the substantial other has not been found. The other does not exist inherently, as a substance with a fixed essence "out there".

21. Find the substantial other again. Reflect : this sense of otherness is not found, and so this appearance is illusion-like, not appearing as it is ;

22. Meditate : the other is a logical & functional phenomenon, allowing consciousness to name others and to efficiently distinguish the unique dependent-arising to which they belong. The substantial other is non-existent.

Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

(repeat this until a genuine sense of the view is realized)

23. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
24. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.

Whenever, during post-meditation, the substantial other appears, remind yourself of its illusion-like nature.

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 :

during meditation : train to generate the space-like generic image of emptiness by investigating all possible objects and grasping how under analysis each time no substance can be found ;
during post-meditation : train to apprehend conventional reality as illusion-like, not appearing as it truly is.

Realizing "special insight", and so an "approximate ultimate", i.e. a contrived understanding of emptiness, Although free of all self-grasping caused by conceptuality (proto-concepts, formal concepts, critical concepts, creative hyper-concepts), the Bodhisattva has not yet abandoned innate self-grasping.

To apprehend conventionality as illusion-like is not like saying the world does not exist. It does, for it has logical & functional properties. But how it appears, in the guise of these particular dependent-arisings we apprehend, the world "pretends" to be more than what it truly is, namely in some sense "out there" or "in here", with objects existing from their own side. But, under analysis in Emptiness Meditation, such a separate substance-nature cannot be found !

This practice of reminding us the illusion-like nature of things generates a mind attending the hic et nunc strongly, continuously and with ease, as it were resting in it. When this happens, the scene is set for the direct, non-conceptual cognition of absence of inherent existence during meditation, in other words, for the prehension (or direct perception) of the process-like, dependent arising nature of all phenomena, ending the Path of Preparation.

This path initiates the formidable, extraordinary & auspicious turn of mind from the consciousness of an ordinary Bodhisattva to the higher mind of a Superior Being ending all acquired self-grasping and so entering the First Stage of the Superior Bodhisattva Training, the Path of Seeing, called "the Joyous". To tackle innate self-grasping, he or she then moves ahead on the Path of Meditation (the Finative Practices), ending innate self-grasping (Stage Two to Stage Seven). Finally, on the last three stages, the obscurations to omniscience are removed.

3. The Net of Indra

"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 process occurring."
Cook, F.C. : Hua-Yen Buddhism : The Jewel Net of Indra, 1973.

Emptiness and dependent origination are the two sides of the same coin. Emptiness appears as a dependently related actual occasion, event, happening or fact. So dependent-arising is appears as the meaning of emptiness. To ascertain something exists depending on others is complementary to ascertaining this phenomenon does not inherently exist. Understand emptiness, and both the reified extremes of substantialism and nothingness (absolute non-existence) are dispelled. But to understand this unfindability of essences, is to apprehend all phenomena are other-powered, i.e. relations.

The Avatamsaka Sûtra is the basic scripture of Hua-Yen Buddhism, Flower Ornament or Flower Garland Buddhism. The three main pillars are : emptiness, totality & Mind-Only. However, the last pillar is not fundamental and, if need be, can be put aside. The Flower Garland School also defines "emptiness" as lack of inherent existence, and posits the universal absence of this (radical nominalism). Its "lion roar" refutes all reified concepts. Only then can the "realm of totality" be entered. This is its main theme. What can be said of the "something" left after all conceptual reification has ceased ? Distinguishing between noumenon ("li") & phenomenon ("shih"), no unique, intrinsic, self-defined nature characterizing a thing in its very essence can be found. Emptiness does not imply non-existence, nor something set apart from existent things (not being itself an entity). What is this dependent origination ?

The best way to intellectually understand emptiness is in terms of relativity, interdependence and impermanence, i.e. the insubstantiality of existence. Relative or conditional existence and universal emptiness are not opposed, but "two faces of the same die" (as a famous Ch'an metaphor calls it). Things existing interdependently have no inherent nature and absolute emptiness exists conventionally (as dependent origination). A focus on the noumenon brings detachment from the world, and a focus on the phenomenon brings transcendence of detachment itself, developing compassion. Both are interdependent & coexistent. One transcends the world while being in its very midst. "Thusness" is associated with the noumenon and "birth-and-death" with the phenomenon. Thusness means holistic awareness not clinging to specific appearances, merely perceiving the "flux of being" as simply "thus". Birth-and-death refers to the awareness grasping particulars. Both always walk together.

The gist of Flower Garland Buddhism can be summarized by two terms : (a) mutual penetration (mutual entering) and (b) mutual identity. The latter is equivalent to the Heart Sûtra's "form is emptiness and emptiness is form", whereas the former points to dependent-arising, all things being empty of substance and depending upon one another for their name & function, arising in togetherness. However, dependent-arising is made more explicit : mutual penetration has three phases : (1) simultaneous-mutual-arising, (2) simultaneous-mutual-entering and (3) simultaneous-mutual-containment. Take a glass of water. All the different entities (liquid, molecules, particles etc.) arise simultaneously without impeding one another. This is simultaneous-mutual-arising. Not only do they arise together, but they also penetrate into one another without hindrance. They do not form a different glass of water. This is simultaneous-mutual-entering.  Finally, all these things also contain one another without impediment. Nothing in the universe is an isolated event. All things are at once an image and also a reflector of all other things.
This is in tune with Whitehead's organicism, part of his Process Philosophy (cf. metaphysics).

1. since all things are not substantial, but designated images, their existence is not self-subsistent but depend ;
2. since all images reflected from a mirror all arise abruptly at the same time, the simultaneous arising of all things is given ;
3. since each thing in the universe is simultaneous a reflector (mirror) and a reflection (image), mutual containment is realized.

Realizing this is realizing the non-obstruction of the concealment and disclosure of all things, seeing the totalistic whole. Due to substantialist thinking, we automatically exclude the multiplex aspects of things, asserting something and concealing other features. Because basically our thinking is realm-bound due to "svabhâva" thinking, interrelationships and mutual simultaneous subsistence is concealed. This is the obstruction of the concealment and disclosure of things. Only by ending reification is totality observed. This totality is an interpenetrating & interdependent whole. Its metaphor is the Net of Indra.

Above in heaven, on the roof of the palace of the God Indra, Emperor of the Gods, hangs an limitless net made of an infinite number of clear, reflecting jewels or crystals. Each jewel is so clear, it reflects all other jewels. Moreover, in each jewel, the reflection of all the jewels contains the reflection of all the other jewels, ad infinitum.
The world of dependent-arisings is a "house of light" ("nourmahal").

This "infinity of infinities" (to be organized by a transfinite logic) points to the interidentification and interpenetration of all phenomena. Since all (the net) would not exist if there were not one (jewel), it is said this whole is made by one jewel only (vectorial conjunction). This is the whole entering the one. But as all jewels reflect in each individual jewel, the one also enters the whole (scalar disjunction).

The Net of Indra is an interdependent nexus of phenomena. Dependent-arising is never isolated, but other-powered in the most extensive possible way. Indeed, besides the local vectorial (horizontal) connection between A and A + dt, there is the instantaneous, non-local scalar (vertical) connection between A and all other phenomena of the continuum (in casu, the world).

Only by pushing the "king of logics" ("pratîtya-samutpâda") to its limits can this organicist (meta)physics help the view of great compassion ("mahâkarunâ"). The Buddhadharma is a rational system exceeding reason without turning irrational. A science of mind as well as a salvic antidote. When all reification is over, only dependent origination is left.

"And what, monks, is dependent origination ?
With ignorance as condition, volitional formations come to be,
With volitional formations as condition, consciousness,
With consciousness as condition, name & form,
With name & form as condition, the six sense bases,
With the six sense bases, contact,
With contact as condition, feeling,
With feeling as condition, craving,
With craving as condition, clinging,
With clinging as condition, becoming,
With becoming as condition, birth,
With birth as condition, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. This, monks, is called dependent origination."

Samyuktâgama (Samyutta-nikâya), IV 1-2.

The process of dependent origination is described by the twelve pictures on the rim of the Wheel of Life. Although variations occur, the iconography is quite stable.

1. 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 ;

2. volitional (karmic) formations ("samskârâ") : a potter : throwing all kinds of pots on his wheel, the potter represents the accumulation of conditioned, karma-bearing actions or impulses, manifesting in body, speech & mind as a result of ignorance. These can be virtuous (good karma), neutral or negative (bad karma). The form of the pot is the result of the activities of the potter. Too much or too little pressure makes an ugly pot. Likewise, because the ignorant exist in their made-up reality & ideality, the form of their experiences depend on their own activities, whether physical, verbal (energetic) or mental. Due to karmic pressure (negative actions), they are locked in a cyclic repetition of unwholesome habits ;

3. consciousness ("vijñâna") : a tree and a monkey jumping from branch to branch : the monkey seizes a fruit, plucks it and takes a bite while another fruit catches its eyes. It dashes off towards it, disregarding the fruit just plucked, swallowing it down in a hurry or dropping it. At the end of the day, there is a heap of half-chewed fruit left. The jumping monkey represents the versatile, fluctuating, restless nature of deluded, karma-stricken, polluting concept-bound consciousness ;

4. name & form ("nâma-rûpa") : a boat with two people : as consciousness expands, it labels things. This name-giving is a form attributed to what appears, crystallizing phenomena into designated sensate & mental objects or limitations, measurements ("mâyâ"). So the two persons represent mind & body, the two major constituents of the individual ;

5. six sense bases ("shadâyatana") : a house with five windows & one door : the five senses (windows) and the door (mental sense) are the portals enabling consciousness to communicate (let in and let out), allowing it to commune with others, stepping outside itself to interact with the environment. The windows access the "lower" (visible) worlds, whereas the door of the mind offers an entry into the "higher" (invisible) worlds ;

6. contact ("sparsha") : a man & a woman embracing : the meeting of the senses with their object is made possible by the six sense bases, allowing physical interaction between beings ;

7. feeling/sensation ("vedanâ") : a man with an arrow in his right eye : because there is contact between beings, there are pleasant, neutral & painful sensations. The image conveys the strong vividness evoked by the sense organs ;

The following two links tell us how we continue to create karma conditioning the future :

8. thirst/craving ("trishna") : a woman offering drink to a man slaking his thirst : the repetition of strong, afflictive emotions works addictive, and so conditioned by the experience of contact with an object, craving can be for (a) pleasure, (b) eternity, (c) substantial existence & (d) substantial annihilation (non-existence). These continue to produce negative effects ;

9. attachment/grasping/clinging ("upâdâna") : a woman grasping a fruit : craving itself begs for satisfaction and this leads to grasping or an exaggerated way to satisfy thirst. Once grasping is firmly established, we do anything to have our desires satisfied. Four kinds of clinging occur : (a) to sense pleasure, (b) to wrong views, (c) to rules & rituals & (d) to the notion of a soul or a self. These attachments cause an "automatic" form of rebirth, as by reflex ;

The last three links point to issues related to this next life. They underline the notion of rebirth (in other words, the continuity of the continuum of consciousness, even after the demise of the physical body), making mind beyond death an integral part of Buddhist philosophy :

10. becoming/existence ("bhava") : a couple making love : conception occurs because during our previous life we constantly fed our karmic tendencies, which have now ripened. The conditions of our rebirth are thus determined by our karma, but conception (the actual, gross materialization of our rebirth consciousness) is determined by a couple making love. Rebirthing consciousness is the result of past karma, arranging a new personality around this kernel ;

11. birth/rebirth ("jâti") : a woman in labor : the "newborn" is an "oldborn", carrying the karma of a previous existence. The gross elements and the physical body are the result of the imputing activities of rebirth consciousness.  As a result of this old karma, one is born in one of the six realms and of all rebirths in "samsâra", being born as a human being with free choice offers the most opportunities for spiritual growth ;

12. old age & death ("jarâmarana") : a man carrying a corpse : it is in the nature of all transient things to end. Even gods die. When life-karma is exhausted, our gross body dies and the subtle elements are peeled away until the naked, empty & luminous nature of mind (the Clear Light of death) remains. This is the great opportunity of death (balancing the dissolutions).

These twelve links may be divided in three interdependent causal chains :

causal chain from 1 to 7 : from ignorance to feeling/sensation : describes the general dynamics from the original ignorant misconception to the strong impact of the hallucinated world (actually from the root-cause of delusion to the "now" of our afflictive experience or suffering)

•  causal chain from 8 to 9 : karma conditioning the future of events : describes how the hallucinated world brings about craving & clinging, the root-causes of all future suffering ;

causal chain from 10 to 12 : karma conditioning rebirth :
describes the continuity of future suffering, and the conditions causing rebirth, i.e. the fact physical death is not the end of suffering. Ending rebirth is the same as the total cessation of suffering.

Arrived at the "now" of our painful, hallucinated, conventional existence (link 7), we can take our future in hand or not. Hence the second causal group, spelling out the concordant conditions influencing the future of events (link 8 & 9). If afflictive emotions remain (the second causal group being ineffective), then the third causal group comes into action : because of our past karma (link 10) and some couple making love, rebirth happens (link 11) and the whole cycle of suffering continues until we die (link 12), triggering another rebirth (link 10), etc. ad nauseam !

Svabhâva Way
suffering - the reactive mind
Nihsvabhâva Way
enlightenment - the aware mind
01 ignorance 01 prajňâ/vidyâ
02 karma 02 punya
03 consciousness 03 five wisdoms
04 mind & body 04 Nirmanakâya
05 five senses + mind 05 Sambhogakâya
06 contact 06 Bodhicitta
07 feeling 07 compassion
08 craving 08 love
09 grasping 09 joy
10 coming to be 10 equanimity
11 birth/rebirth 11 upâya
12 old age/death 12 Dharmakâya

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.

Without strong joyous effort to "turn the mind", we continue to cycle & suffer. The power of contaminated dependent origination sustains our cycling without end. At a certain point, we "meet ourselves", adjust, and the tiresome circle begins anew. This movement carries itself through, feeds its own momentum by our ignorance, craving & hatred.

Then, at some point, we decide to change our lot. This is an important moment, especially if nurtured and its intent actualized. This is entering the path to uncontaminated dependent origination, the enlightened action of a Buddha. At this point, the cycle of interdependence can be used in reverse. Eliminating the tendency to reify thoroughly, every moment of consciousness is experienced as new, fresh and perfect.

Meditation on the Net of Indra

I. Preparation
II. Body
III. Breath
IV. Mind

V. Meditation on
the Net of Indra

16. Prayer to Mañjushrî - Repeat the Mantra of the Buddha of Wisdom ("OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI") 21 times ;
17. Reflect : the world is material, informational & sentient. Find the material universe. Reflect : 13.7 billion years ago, this exceedingly vast realm did not exceed 10-15m. The whole was a singularity ;

Meditate : by sharing the same origin, all material things in the world are interconnected.

18. Find the informational universe. Reflect : all architectures between the material things in the world share certain mathematical properties. The variety of softwares is possible thanks to an operational code ;

Meditate : by sharing operational code, all informational things in the world are interdefined ;

19. Find the sentient universe. Reflect : all sentient beings in the world presently attend sensate & mental objects. The multiple streams of consciousness are so many expressions of the same intentional activity, this "prise de conscience" of what is at hand here & now ;

Meditate : by sharing suchness, all sentient beings in the world share truth, goodness & beauty.

Meditate on Indra's Net & Dependent Origination.

Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

(repeat this until a genuine sense of the view is realized)

21. Request for Blessings & Dedication ;
22. Return to Breath. Return to Posture. Slowly activate body.


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.

Lord Buddha's wisdom, clarifying reality, embraces the middle way between affirming substance exist (eternalism) and negating existence (nihilism). Affirming substance exists is affirming too much. Negating existence is also negating too much. Both are extremes.

Three stages of analysis pertain :

the stage of "no analysis" : investigation into the nature of phenomena, merely apprehending how things appear to ordinary people who have not begon ultimate analysis ; things are described how they appear to exist ;
(2) the stage of "slight analysis" : investigation into existence and non-existence, arriving at the generic idea of emptiness (Path of Preparation) ;
(3) the stage of "thorough analysis" : all concepts about existence and non-existence pacified, the mind prehends reality as it is, free from conceptual fabrications whatsoever (Paths of Seeing & Meditation) :

"Not dependent on another, peaceful and
Not fabricated by mental fabrication,
Not thought, without distinctions,
That is the character of reality (that-ness)."

Nâgârjuna : Mûlamadhyamakakârikâ, XVIII:9.

What exists is not a substance (eternal), but definitely not nothing, so something, namely dependent origination. This universal interconnectedness & relativity (relative existence) is logical & functional in an other-powered way, and nothing more. When sentient beings apprehend this relative existence as existing from its own side, it becomes imaginary existence. But prehended by Buddhas, conventional existence as a whole and every single sensate & mental object is a pure dependent origination, uncontaminated by this ignorance, as prehended by a continuous wisdom-mind of full-emptiness. This is the "dharmadhâtu", the "realm of totality" as experienced by the enlightened mind.

Emptiness Meditation is a tool to conceptually realize the correct view and authenticate it, sealing it with genuine certainty. It brings about a generic image of emptiness, understanding emptiness as empty. This is "special insight". This  "approximate ultimate" heralds the end of the Path of Preparation, yielding a contrived, approximate experience of emptiness. But, by realizing emptiness conceptually, intellectual (acquired) self-grasping stops. This
"bracketing" of all influences of wrong thinking on all of one's categories is indeed a formidable achievement. It is irreversible and leads the Bodhisattva to the Path of Seeing.

"Special insight", the fruit of Emptiness Meditation, brings us at the threshold separating the conceptual from the non-conceptual. It represents the fruit of the "training in the view". All extensive methods for analyzing are exhausted. An approximate ultimate is reached. By this thoroughly analyzing the clinging to substantial existence and its objects, this approximate ultimate ascertains this intellectual self-grasping to be without any foundation, and substantial objects to be without nature, i.e. non-existent. The mind has become pure.

A pure mind is finally able to thoroughly silence the conceptual mind completely, entering the realm of direct, immediate, instantaneous existence. This happens at the time of "meditating on the nature of mind". Beyond conceptualization, the self-luminosity of the mind is recognized, ascertaining experientially how the dualistic appearances of apprehender & apprehended, obscuring "what is", are not established in the way they appear.

This initiates the First Stage of the Bodhisattva training towards enlightenment and entry into the "actual ultimate".

* Path of Seeing : First Stage : establishing the mind in nondual prehension ;
* Path of Meditation : Second to Tenth Stage : ceasing innate self-grasping and ending the obscurations to omniscience. ;
* Path of No More Learning :Buddhahood.

The Finative Practices, integrating Buddhahood and desire into the path (Tantra), as well as the higher yogas of direct perception ("Ati-Yoga", "Mahâsandhi" & "Mahâmudrâ"), all belong to the Path of Meditation, addressing innate self-grasping. The "obstructions of afflictive emotions" ("klesha-varana") are finally overcome on the Path of Seeing. Over the course of the Path of Meditation, the "obstructions to knowledge" ("jñeyâvarana") are definitively overcome, ending innate self-grasping and therefore ceasing self-grasping as a whole.
The Eight Stage Bodhisattva knows when he or she will fully awaken. The Ninth Stage Bodhisattva completes the training. The Tenth Stage Bodhisattva places the highest seal ("mahâmudrâ") and enters Buddhahood, the Path of No More Learning.


Practices TANTRA

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.


General Introduction

The Aspiration of Samantabhadra
Homage to Guru Rinpoche
Homage to Guru Je


1. General Preliminaries to Lower Tantra.

1.1 Tantric Requisites.
1.2 The Grand Preliminary.
1.3 Nine Breath Purification.

1.3.1 The Vajra Body.
1.3.2 The Nine Breath Purification.

1.4 Initiation, the Guru & Self-Initiation.
1.5 Deity Yoga in Lower Tantra

2. The Two Yogas of Lower Tantra.

The Tantric View on Offerings

2.1 Yoga with Sign : Three Concentrations :

2.1.1 First Concentration (Body) : Of Four Branches of Recitation.

First Degree : Action towards a Superior

I) Other Base : Six Deity Yoga with Front Generation :

Second Degree : Performance with a Senior

II) Self Base : Six Deity Yoga with Self-Generation.

The Dharma Wheel Practice
The Four Vajra Actions

III) Mind Base : Mind as a Solar Disk at the Heart Wheel
IV) Sound Base : Mantra at the Heart Wheel

2.1.2 Second Concentration (Speech) : Of Abiding in Fire.
2.1.3 Third Concentration (Mind) : Of Abiding in Sound.

2.2 Yoga without Sign (Exalted Mind) : Bestowing Liberation at the End of Sound.

Third Degree : Yoga of Peers

2.3 Dedication.
2.4 Lower Tantra Sâdhana

Commentary on the Lower Tantra Yogas


1. General Preliminaries to Higher Tantra.

1.1 Tantric Commitments & Vows.
1.2 Initiations.

Invoking Protectors

1.3 Six Stage Preliminary Practice.

1.3.1 Visualizing the Resident & the Residence.
1.3.2 Blessing Vajra & Ghanta.
1.3.3 Outer, Inner & Secret Offering.

2. The Generation Stage.

2.1 General Principles.
2.2 Deity Yoga : the Three Bringings.

2.2.1 Bringing Death into the Path of the Truth Body.
2.2.2 Bringing the Intermeditate Stage into the Path of the Enjoyment Body.
2.2.3 Bringing Rebirth into the Path of the Emanation Body.

3. The Practice of Loosening the Knots.

3.1 Visualizing the Channels & the Wheels.
3.2 Entering the Mind-Drop.
3.3 Moving the Mind-Drop.

4. Completion Stage Practices.

4.1 Yogas of the Three Isolations.

I) Stage 1 : Isolated Body.

I.1 Meditation on Emptiness.
I.2 Meditation on the Central Channel.
I.3 Meditation on the Vajra drop.
I.4 Meditation on the Very Subtle Wind & Very Subtle Mind.
I.5 The Four Joys.
I.6 Practicing Isolated Body during Post-Meditation.

II) Stage 2 : Isolated Speech.

II.1 Meditation on the Vajra Drop.
II.2 Meditation on the Vajra Wind & Vajra Mind.
II.3 Meditation on Vajra Recitation.

III) Stage 3 : Isolated Mind.

III.1 External : Meditation with Action Consort.
III.2 Internal : Meditation on the Process of Absorption.

III.2.1 Absorption of Subsequent Destruction.
III.2.2 Absorption of Holding Body Entirely.

4.2 Yogas of the Two Truths.

4.2.1 Stage 4 : Illusory Body (Conventional Truth).
4.2.2 Stage 5 : Clear Light (Ultimate Truth).
4.2.3 Stage 6 : Union (Indivisibility of the Two Truths).

4.3 Dedication.

An Apology

BOOK III : Ati-Yoga Practices


"I take refuge in the triple refuge,
Of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
I supplicate the three roots,
Of the Guru, Yidam and Dâkinî.
Bestow the blessings of the Three Perfections,
Of Dharmakâya, Sambhogakâya and Nirmânakâya."

Guru Rinpoche (The Lotus-Born, chapter 41, in : Tsogyal, 2004)

Depending on the conditions of awakening, Buddhahood may be prepared, but, given the gap between (a) the conceptual (rational, conventional) dual mode of knowing and (b) the non-conceptual (meta-rational, ultimate) nondual mode of cognition, awakening cannot be efficiently caused. If awakening could be caused, Buddhahood would depend on conventional knowledge. Then, it would not be full enlightenment or the irreversable cessation of all possible suffering.

Dôgen (1200 - 1253) used to say no ordinary beings ever became Buddhas ; only Buddhas become Buddhas.

Tantra always involves "something new". The old ways no longer work, or inappropriately, or too slow, and another method takes over. In Buddhist Tantra, in particular in its Second and Third Phase (cf. infra), relatively fast change is expected (anticipated). Tantra seeks transformation, or the irreversible change of the "impure" body, speech & mind of a human being into the "pure" body, speech & mind of a Buddha. This is the "short path to awakening". W
hile the yogas of Tantra (in particular the yoga of Isolated Mind of Higher Tantra) do not cause the purity of awakening, it brings about an impure bridge and this, so Tantra claims, will definitely lead to purity, i.e. to the yogic experience of the actual Clear Light mind.

Buddhahood invokes a meta-logic implying a "holomovement" (Guenther, 1984), an ever-new, always fresh & impermanent totality changing on the beat of a continuous harmonic symmetry-transformation. Tantra addresses the "energy-side" of this holo- equation, directly "completing" the Vajra Body (etheric double or vital matrix), thereby generating the conditions for the Illusory Body, serving as an interphase with the Enjoyment Body ("Sambhogakâya") of the Buddha-nature at hand.

"It is the ultimate dimension of phenomena, indivisible profundity and clarity, abiding in the body as the pristine awareness dimension of the nature of great bliss."
Kongdrul, J. : Systems of Buddhist Tantra, 8, b"ii"aa"(1)(b) : The Uncommon Explanation : The Special Feature in Highest Yoga Tantra.

Profound calmness is the true peace of "nirvâna".

How can this be described in words ? Awakening remains nameless, without the possibility of a verbal expression of the non-verbal (ineffable).

Because the Sutric practitioner, unsatisfied with making real a contrived, fabricated approximate ultimate (as given by the Sûtras), vowed to complete the Bodhisattva training, a direct, intuitive yogic kind of knowing (by way of direct perceivers) may come into play. This is the direct yogic cognizer, the cognitive activity of prehension, the act of knowing in the nondual mode of cognition (Metaphysics, 2012). Stable access to this initial prehension is acquired on the Path of Seeing. It is sustained by the practices of constant generosity towards all sentient beings.

Training in this nondual logic requires Ten Stages ("bhûmis"), grounds, or foundations for the thorough elimination of innate self-grasping, as well as the obscurations to omniscience ("jñeyâvarana"). The latter is the end of very subtle innate self-grasping, stopping the reification of duality itself, i.e. a mind only witnessing vanishing dualities.

The Ten Stages of the ("Ârya") Bodhisattva encompass the last three Paths of the Five Paths of Emptiness Meditation introduced by
Kamalaśila (ca. 700 - 750 CE), who was a Yogâcâra Svâtantrika Madhyamaka. This is linked with the highest training, namely Lower & Higher Tantra.

* Paths of Accumulation : ends self-cherishing and generates superior seeing ;
* Path of Preparation : ends acquired, intellectual self-grasping ;
* Path of Seeing (First Stage) : one rests in nondual prehension of emptiness ;
* Path of Meditation (Stages Two to Ten) :
trains to end innate self-grasping (Stages One to Seven) and unlocks omniscience (Stages Eight to Ten) ;
* Path of No More Learning : Buddhahood.

* Gate ! Go ! Accumulative Practices : increasing favorable conditions based on Sûtra ;
* Gate ! Go ! Preparative Practices : making real the approximate ultimate of Sûtra ;
* Parâgate ! Go Beyond ! Finative Practices : training the Joy of Giving ;
* Parâsamgate ! Go Thoroughly Beyond ! Finative Practices : perfecting Perfections, Ati-Yoga, Mahâmudrâ ;
* Bodhi ! No More Practices, Buddhahood.

In the scheme suggested here, Tantra is of the Path of Seeing (First Stage), with the Bodhisattva initiating Finative Practices (Lower Tantra), but also of the Path of Meditation (from Second to Seventh Stage - Higher Tantra). As a "supreme yoga" (or "Ati-Yoga"), it eliminates the reification of duality itself (from Eight to Tenth Stage).

Contrary to Sûtra Practices (Preliminary, Foundational, Accumulative & Preparative), the Finative Practices introduced are based on the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, introducing Buddha-nature and on the Fourth Turning, bringing in Tantra. This means one anticipates the presence of a clear (knowing), self-aware, continually present, continuous & impermanent fundamental (original, primordial, natural, very subtle) level of mind ("tathâgatagarbha"). As demonstrated by the analysis of the Prâsangika Madhyamakas, this mind does not exist inherently, but is nevertheless a continuous & perfect kinetography and only in that sense permanent. To experience the presence of a perfect mind totally empty of substance is a datum of direct yogic experience. But experience (prehension of this Buddha-nature) always goes with "great bliss" and "great compassion". When direct experience is at hand, emptiness is always coupled with great joy and compassion for all sentient beings. Absolute Bodhicitta is the presence of compassion at the heart of emptiness. If the Third Turning introduces Buddha-nature, the Fourth Turning actually teaches how to realize Buddhahood in this lifetime. Such a fruit lies beyond the scope of the Sûtra teachings, encompassing the first three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma.

Sûtra Practices in general and Emptiness Meditation in particular define the Analytical Meditation of the scholar ("pandita"), whereas Tantra Practices refer to the resting meditation of the yogi. The latter presuppose the former. Indeed, Tantra does not add anything more to the wisdom realized by the scholar, but merely introduces powerful new methods (like Deity Yoga in Tantra and Pointing-Out Instructions in Ati-Yoga). Thanks to these special methods, Buddhahood comes within reach now.

Finative Practices are "Tantra Practices", encompassing Lower & Higher Tantra, and the special highest, super ("ati") yoga. Tantra transforms impure into pure, while the super yogas, here called "Ati-Yoga", self-liberate all phenomena in the present moment. They all presuppose vast stores of compassion & wisdom, without which their instructions are pointless & quite useless. These stores need rapid accumulation which Tantra provides. So super-yoga presupposes Tantra (at least Lower Tantra).

All Vajra Masters agree Tantra should never be practiced without strong "bodhicitta", a thorough analytical insight into emptiness & the actuality of the approximate ultimate. Go against this and Deity Yoga causes rebirth in the world of the Devas.

"There are those whose capacity of the Mahâyâna lineage is not meagre, whose minds are strongly moved by great compassion through having trained in the common path sustained by a spiritual guide, and excellent protector. They are in great haste to free from cyclic existence the kind mothers wandering there. They should enter the short path, the profound Vajra Vehicle that quickly bestows the state of a Blessed Buddha, the sole refuge of all sentient beings." -
Tsongkhapa : The Great Exposition of Secret Mantra, Reasons for Faith (in : Tantra in Tibet, 1977, p.85.)

Tantrics also need "mental guards" to remain aware of the dangers involved in the use of "siddhis". Even at the level of the Lower Tantras, a very considerable mental power is harnassed. The Four Vajra Action are possible. Two of these are "of the right" (Pacification & Increase), two are "of the left" (Control & Wrath). The actual application of these powers allows for an even greater potentiation of the accumulated merit, empowering deeper calmness. But they do imply a very defined interaction with the world, as the notion of "action" implies.

Tantra directly invokes Buddhahood and accepts desire as part of the path. The super-yoga or Ati-Yoga recognizes Buddhahood in every moment. Tantra (Lower, Higher & Most Excellent) remains the most powerful anti-dote to passion, hatred & ignorance the Buddhadharma has in store. Because of its complexity, Tantra cannot be practiced without extensive training in Sûtra.

Tantra aims at bodily, volitional, affective, cognitive & sentient transformation through a variety of esoteric yogas based on special texts (also called "tantras"), giving rise to a vast commentarial literature. Impure body, speech & mind are to become purified body, speech/energy & mind. Also called the "Method Vehicle", or "path of methods", Tantra contains special yogic technologies to rapidly attain Buddhahood. This by taking the final result or fruit as the path, directly training in the characteristics of awakening. Hence, it is also called the "Effect Vehicle" or the "Resultant Vehicle" (contrasting it with the "Causal Vehicle" of the Sûtras, sequentially training Method & wisdom and so "causing" the fruit -the Wisdom Body & Form Body of a Buddha- to arise only after a very long time).

Tantra is a separate vehicle next to Hinayâna and Mahâyâna, called "Vajrayâna". It is however not accepted by all Buddhist traditions. While Lesser Vehicle practitioners reject Tantra, even some Mahâyâna schools, like Zen, discard it completely. A few good reason pertain.

The discrepancy between the time of Lord Buddha and the period of the inception & flourishing of the Vajrayâna in India (2th to 11th century CE) has prompted the invention of a mythological account of the origin of Buddhist Tantra. Moreover, the Buddha rejected the distinction between "exoteric" and "esoteric".

"I have taught the Dharma', Ânanda, making no 'inner' and 'outer' : the Tathâgata has no 'teacher's fist' in respect to doctrines." - Shâkyamuni : Digha Nikaya, II. 100.

Târanâtha (1575 - 1635) states Buddha Shâkyamuni taught the tantras during his lifetime, to  be passed on in secret from master to disciple or hidden in the Pure Land of Tusita. He also reports tantric teachings to be first given to the Indian king Indrabhûti of Zahor, with the Buddha appearing to him ... There are no historical records of an Indian king Indrabhûti receiving or transmitting tantric teachings. Indeed, this as well as other extraordinary accounts of the creation & dissemination of Vajrayâna are to be dismissed as mostly if not completely fictional. Tantric lineages claiming as initiators Indian giants like Nâgârjuna (ca. 150 - 250), Asanga (ca. fourth century) and others, make these attributions retrospectively, mostly to overshadow their claims with the authority of an important figure (the same happened in the West in Late Antiquity, as well as in the Middle Ages). Authority arguments are however defunct. Even today, Tibetan Vajrayanists continue to back the historical origins of Buddhist Tantra with mythological accounts. Must we therefore conclude their scholastic education (cf. the "Geshe" degree) still lacks the scientific standards of historical & textual critique ? Does it integrate modern academic standards worldwide ?

As the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang (596 - 664), who travelled all over Buddhist India and through Central Azia, scrupulously reporting what he found, makes no mention of tantric texts or practices, it is very unlikely Vajrayâna was, at its inception, more than a private practice ! Later, another Chinese pilgrim (Wuxing travelling to India ca. 680), reported Vajrayâna had entered the monastic mainstream in the North Indian monastic centers, indicating this to be a recent phenomenon ... The first Vajrayâna techniques are (as we will see) Shivaite methods adapted by private Buddhist practitioners, to the Buddhist view. The historical origin of the Second & Third Phase of the Vajrayâna are very likely rooted in Shivaite Tantra, as will be explained. This happened in the second century CE.

The historical origins of the Indian Vajrayâna are to be found in the Feudal Period of Medieval India. At first a private undertaking, it became, after the fall of the stable centralized government of India -the dynasties of the Guptas and Vâkâtas (ca. 320 - 550)- part of an attempt to adapt Buddhism to the changing social conditions (defined by armed conflicts between the various kingdoms), and this by developing a new method to suit the dark times. During this post-Gupta, Feudal Period, Buddhist borrowed from rival "Hindu" groups like the Pâshupatas and Kâpâlikas. This emerging system incorporated much of the symbolism and organization of the surrounding (Brahmanistic) society, and so the "mandala", the consecration rituals and the stated goal of becoming a universal monarch ("cakravartin"), with dominion over a particular area, so present in Buddhist Tantra, reflect the royal rituals of this Feudal Period.

The Early Vajrayâna (2th century) contained significant antinomian elements, like "adepts" ("siddha") living at the margins of society. They frequented cemeteries, charnel grounds & the wilderness, engaging in practices abhorrent to orthodox Brahmanism. They had long matted hair, wore ornaments of human bones, dressed in animal skins, smeared ashes from cremation grounds on their face & body, fornicated with consorts and consumed forbidden substances (cannabis, alcohol, urine, faeces and human flesh). They composed works of prose & inspired poetry ("dohâ"). This strange collection of tribal people, outcasts, beggars, criminals and some upper class members, defeating demons, flying through the air, passing through solid objects, travelling to higher realms to receive esoteric teachings etc., reflects the activities of Vajrayâna before its incorporation in the monastic institutions (i.e. the phase of inception). In the next phase, beginning toward the end of the 7th century, these antinomian elements were "purged", but -as the importance of the 12th century hagiography, called Lives of the Eighty-Four Mahâsiddhas proves- these remarkable "adepts" remained of crucial importance as originators of various Tibetan tantric lineages (in particular the Kagyupas, rooting their lineage in people like Virûpa, Kânha and Tilopa, and the Tibetans Marpa & Milarepa). Indeed, when the Tibetans finalized the contents of their own canon in the 13th century, they excluded from the Tantra sections these tantras lacking direct Indian authority in the form of a Sanskrit original. When the first dissimination of Buddhism in Tibet happened (during the 9th and 10th centuries), Indian Tantra was already well established. New Tantras continued to be composed until the 12th century, and possibly later.

For some, the Vajrayâna reflects the final degeneration of Indian Buddhism, a corruption of the ideals and practices of the "Dharma" of Buddha Shakyamuni. They reject the idea of a "Fourth Turning of the Wheel of Dharma", and consider Buddhist Tantra fraudulent ...

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 views.

The crucial semantic difference adopted here is the axiom the Sun is masculine energy, the Moon feminine energy. Therefore, the wisdom realizing emptiness is associated with the masculine (Solar Vajra), whereas the method (compassion) is associated with the feminine (Lunar Ghanta).  So in the male (female) Vajra Body, the right channel is Solar (Lunar) and the left channel is Lunar (Solar). Given the energy-wheels, the white drops (Crown Wheel) are of method, Lunar and feminine, the red drops (Sacral Wheel) are of wisdom, Solar and masculine.

Note the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition has it otherwise. The Solar Vajra is method (masculine) and the Lunar white drops of method are masculine (associated with white "semen"). The Lunar Bell is wisdom (feminine), and the Solar red drops of wisdom are feminine (associated with red "blood").

In the West, substance-thinking was never abolished. So to combine the idea of substance with interdependence (and the co-relative system of "sympathetic correspondences") remained difficult (if not impossible). This is the main weakness of Western esotericism and its initiatic cycle. Because the Buddhadharma stresses emptiness (and therefore process-thinking), it does not focus on a practical, worldly methodology of interdependence (as in Taoism & Qabalah), except in Buddhist Tantra, but then not without incorporating emptiness (making the difference with Hindu Tantra).

To combine the best of both traditions (process & interdependence) is a challenge.

In the context of this "New Vehicle", we witness the emergence of a Western kind of Vajrayâna, integrating the full range of the
Buddhayâna with Western science, in particular cosmology, quantum mechanics, epistemology, language philosophy, linguistics, depth psychology, parapsychology, neurotheology, artificial intelligence, as well as biofeedback, alternative medicine and a whole range of self-realization tools, including astrology, magic & alchemy. In principle, practitioners of both Lesser & Greater Vehicle may choose to adhere to the Navayanic ideal of a "New Buddhism", integrating East & West. This movement is decentralized, multi-cultural & informed by Western science, in particular cosmology (stars), biology (life) & psychology (mind).

My aim here is to establish a comprehensive template of Lower Tantra, involving most primary & important secondary yogas, and an intelligent description of Higher Tantra. My exegesis distinguishes between Lower & Higher Tantras & Ati-Yoga. This is a move away from the historical fourfold of the Tibetan Serma schools (Action,  Performance, Yoga Tantra, Higher Yoga Tantra), based on philosophical categories, and a return to the structure of the Old Translation School. Moreover, it is foremost a soteriological, initiatic division, solving the tension between, on the one hand, the so-called "Higher Yoga Tantras" ("annutarayogatantra") and, on the other hand, the suddenist, abruptist, super yogas of Ati-Yoga, namely Mahâsandhi, Mahâmudrâ, Other Emptiness Yoga, Ch'an, said to crown the path (and often explicitly distinguishing themselves from Lower & Higher Tantra). Taken together, the latter form a new category, called "Ati-Yoga" or "supreme yoga", whereas the first three classes are taken together in a single protocol called "Lower Tantra".

Lower & Higher Tantras are gradual. Ati-Yoga is suddenist. Lower Tantra is a stand-alone necessary to practice Higher Tantra. Supreme yoga is a stand-alone.

From its historical inception in the early 2th century CE, Buddhist Tantra was an elitist activity, and this -due to its complexity- remains largely the case today. Intended as secular, non-sectarian & universal, these Studies in Buddhist Tantra are based on the
Sûtra Practices published in 2012. Technically different from the classical Higher Tantras, the chosen template of Heruka nevertheless refers to these, in particular the Guhyasamâya, Hevajra, Cakrasamvara, Vajrayoginî & Kâlacakra Tantras. To solve problems related to the semantics of the white & red drops, it also integrates Taoist Inner Alchemy (in particular the work of Chang Po-tuang on reversing Li -Fire- and Kan -Water-).

Polemic discussions are avoided. In Lower Tantra, focus lies on a comprehensive framework, one apt to be practiced ("sâdhana"). In Higher Tantra, a meta-description of both Generation Stage & Completion Stage yogas is offered, but without developing a means of accomplishment (for this requires the presence of a Vajra Guru).

The author is aware his presentation of Lower Tantra differs from the traditional approach. In particular, the integration of the traditional three Lower Tantra sets (Action, Performance & Yoga) in one single set may raise questions, but is meant to facilitate a more comprehensive & didactical approach, not excluding the possibility of integrating elements from the traditional sets in each of the three steps of this Lower Tantra, thereby expanding the suggested "sâdhana".

Of course, all mistakes are mine and do not reflect on the Buddhadharma. My texts appear under the restriction of constant revision.

General Introduction

"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.

In a certain sense, "Hinduism" does not exist. Overwhelmed by the complexity of the indigenous religions & cultural traditions of India, the Europeans of the 16th century simply referred to all non-Muslim Indian people as "Hindoos" (from the Persian, meaning "people East of the Indus River").

In the early 1800s, educated Indians began to use the term "Hinduism" to denote all lineages, sects and traditions regarding the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama & Artharva) as the ultimate spiritual authority. The Rig Veda ("knowledge of praise") being the oldest (ca. 2000 BCE). This definition of Hinduism excluded Jainism & Buddhism. Although not based on the Vedas, Shaivism was included ! Hinduism, contrary to the three Abrahamic faiths, and just like Ancient Egyptian religion remained more henotheist than monotheist.

In Ancient Egypt, in the tombs of the last Pharaoh of the Vth Dynasty (Wenis, ca. 2378 - 2348 BCE) and in those of the VIth Dynasty (ca.2348 - 2198 BCE), we read about "that One" :

"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 Horus existed."
Pyramid Texts, Utterance 486 (1040a-d) - ca. 2300 BCE.

"There was neither non-existence nor existence then ;
there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.
What stirred ?
Where ?
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) ?

The term "shramana" is generic and used by members of different ascetic groups of wandering renunciants. Vedic or non-Vedic, they shared the view a radical & profound change of mind reshaping the individual & his social relationships is possible. Such a total transformation leads either to the life of a wanderer (an ascetic) or to that of an enlightened householder. Presumably, these "new" Vedic ascetics authored the early Upanishads and made no clear distinction between yogic & tantric methods. But they were not alone. Non-Vedic ascetics, followers of Buddha Shâkyamuni, Mahâvîra, Gosala, Shiva and others, were also part of this heterodox Shramana Movement. Perhaps at some point, some of them, like the "Pâshupatas" and "Kâpâlikas", adopted an extreme "kâpâlika" style, denying the householder and introducing transgressive practices inspired by Shiva, walking the "left hand path" and avoided by common society.

Between these various renunciate movements, the fundamental divide lies between those maintaining a "Vedic fire" and those who practiced without one. The fruits were rebirth in heaven or seeking liberation from rebirth (also found in the Chândogya Upanishad). But at a later date, the renunciates became clearly opposed to the Brahmanical priest and the Vedic beliefs ! And in this later Brahmanical context, "tântrika" indeed meant "non-Vedic", i.e. not based on Vedic scripture and also "outside" the Vedic fold.

For these tantrics, the Vedas had lost their salvic power, making Brahmanism obsolete. At this point, Yoga refers to the transformation of human consciousness into Divine consciousness, whereas Tantra implies specific (often transgressive) ritual practices, sacred formulae ("mantra"), spiritual diagrams ("yantra"), gestures ("mudra"), postures ("âsana"), initiations ("diksâ"), and yoga practices, some of which involving afflictive desire and sexual-erotical activity.

At the start of the Shramana Movement, Vedic ascetics saw spiritual practices in terms of a return to the source of the Vedas, namely the state of mind of the Vedic seers ("rishi") of old, those who had directly received the Vedic revelation. Like them, these ascetics among the Brahmins lived austere lives in forest hermitages. Desire to share in the experience of the seers, knowledge of how to do so, and the actual realization of this spiritual fact (or genuine direct experience of absolute reality) were the leitmotifs of these ascetic authors, each following a path based on their view regarding the fruit.

Buddha Shâkyamuni is renowed for having gone through "austerities" or extreme ascetic practices and for having rejected them. This means Brahmins, Jains, materialists & others had already been around long enough to become organized. So Yoga & Tantra, as different, in the process of being clearly differentiated methods of spiritual practice, were probably not earlier than the age of the earliest Upanishads (Jaiminīya, Brihadâranyaka & Chândogya), i.e. mid first millennium BCE, while the Shramana Movement itself may at least have started a century earlier.

Can an underlying cultural connection between, on the one hand, (a) Vedic ritual, (c) subsequent Brahmanism, (c) native Indian religion and, on the other hand, mid first millennium, late Vedic Brahmanical practice (both priestly & ascetic) be plausibly denied ?

Although the Keshin Hymn (Rig Veda, X.136) mentions "breath" and the "fire & poison" endured by the extraordinary figure of the "long-haired one", called the "wind's steed", it is true the Rig Veda as a whole offers little textual evidence for an early Vedic system of Yoga or Tantra. But similarities with later Tantra, albeit as Vedic Shamanism, are present. The naked sage "drinks from the cup, drinking the drug with Rudra". The latter is the prototype for the later Shiva, linked with the later "skull-cup" ascetics, and not fully incorporated into the Vedic pantheon ! The Vedic seers communicate with the gods in ecstatic trances or altered states of consciousness, induced by the ritual consumption of Soma. Their visionary power results from direct contact with the Divine, the absolute. Yoga & Tantra are not yet distinct & differentiated, but seem resonating practices assisting the continuum of the trance-consciousness of the Vedic shaman-seer. The Vedas bring us in touch with the Shamanism of the Vedic religion, involving the direct experience of the absolute. And this in a direct, trance-induced, clan-based way. This created powerful symbolic tools, used to integrate the native religion during & after the Indo-Aryan migrations.

Early Vedic inner technology focused on visionary revelation of sacred knowledge (as hymns & statements), used in ritual contexts. At times Soma-induced, this Shamanism was eventually lost. But, these early Vedic seers did also use mantras, sacrificial formulas, animal sacrifices, yantra (magical diagrams) and visualisations. There is even evidence of "pûjâ", and the eagerness to acquire knowledge about the hidden planes of existence. Even the tantric "kundalinî" may have been present, as the term "kunamnamâ" (Rig-Veda, X.126.7) testifies. Indeed, meaning "she who is badly bent" may be a reference to the dormant serpent power, also called "kabjikâ" or "crooked one". In the Brâhmanas, as in the Vedas, sexual symbolism is pervasive, but the former are first to introduce "bîja-mantras" or "seed mantras". Vedic religion clearly integrated a "wild" side (Rudra, Shiva). Did this transgressive side facilitate the integration of the popular religion of the native Indians (the cultures of the subcontinent before the start of the Indo-Aryan migratory movements) ?

The (re)emergence in the late Vedic period, around the 6th century BCE, of an ascetic movement inspired by the Vedas (the "new" Vedic Shramanas) coincided with the redaction of the Upanishads, probably composed by these new groups of ascetics. In these texts, union with "the One", hylic pluralism and the subtle anatomy with its sheets, channels, wheels ("cakra"), channels ("nâdî") and breaths ("prâna" or "vâyu") are mentioned. These authors return to the life of the Vedic seers, and experience the visions for themselves, i.e. directly, without intermediaries. As ritualists, they offered fire and most of them sought rebirth in (the Vedic) heaven. These texts mention the various bodies & subtle winds, but not yet a technology to "move" subtle energy (at that time in the hands of Chinese Taoism). In the early Upanishads, perhaps as early as the 6th century BCE, the Yogas (as ways to change the mind) emerge.

Did Hindu Tantra begin as a "special" way introduced by these non-Vedic, skull-cup styled renunciants ? I think this is indeed the case.

At the time of Siddhârtha Gautama (ca. 563 - 483 BCE), various groups practiced renunciation (recently, scholars date the "parinirvâna" of Lord Buddha at ca. 400 BCE). Some of these "wandering" Vedic & non-Vedic (heterodox) ascetics were in the process of becoming more integrated (with resulting discussions and conflicts between various views). Gautama followed their ways (austerities & the meditative "jhânas"), but found these unsatisfactory. He discussed with many of them. His disciples did not keep a Vedic fire and wanted release from rebirth as such. They dropped the whole theo-ontology of Brahmanism and the Vedas. The wisdom of the Buddha rejected any form of self-sufficiency ("anâtman"), and, with one roar, this process-based view cleared millennia of substance-thinking.

In the common era, Hindu Tantra became foremost associated with Shiva, a deity who (as Rudra) had always retained a transgressive, antinomian side. Scholars conjecture the first Shaivite ascetics (leaving the "vrâtyas", the Vedic "fighting men", aside) were the "Pâshupatas" (cf. Pâshupata-sûtra), first mentioned in the Mahâbhârata and known for their deliberately shocking behaviour. They were held to achieve the magical powers of a "siddha" (an "accomplished one"). Their legendary founder, Lakulîsha or Nakulîsha, is placed ca. 100 CE, but Shiva ascetics probably existed centuries earlier (cf. the Upanishads dealing with Shiva). Were they already part of the non-Vedic renunciates of the early (poorly organized) Shramana Movement (6th century BCE) ? Skull-cup styled Shaivite yogis & tantrics ("Kâpâlikas", "Bhairavas") were usually "wilder" than the ascetics practicing purification and the worship of the Divine Shakti.

The proto-tantric form of Shaivism of the Pâshupatas (limited to male Brâhmin renunciates shunning the community) is also called "Atimârga" ("the Higher Path"). They practiced yoga, rose through the planes of existence to realize liberation, and transcended karma through antinomian forms of behavior. On the other end, our first textual evidence for a system of Shaiva Tantra is the voluminous Nishvâsa-tattva-samhitâ, around 500 - 550 CE, clearly drawing on Atimârga teachings.

In view of the complexity of the Nishvâsa-tattva-samhitâ, is it unreasonable to suppose Shaiva Tantra, acquiring its systematic & textual Shaivite form by the fourth century CE, was initiated at least four centuries earlier by the Atimârga ? Conjecture oral lineages brought the latter in contact with the "false gospel" of even earlier "kâpâlikas" and other non-Vedic renunciants moving against the truth of the Vedas ("nâstika", unorthodox), taking us at least back to the early Shramana Movement, way before Buddha Shâkyamuni and Mahâvîra, at the beginning of the 6th century BCE (if not earlier). By contrast, the earliest Buddhist Action Tantras saw the light in the 2nd century CE, while the first systematic Higher Tantra ("mahâyoga", in Tibet, "anuttara tantra"), the Guhyasamâja Tantra, integrating transgressive elements, most probably only emerged in the early 7th century. It does not mention the subtle channels of the Vajra body and is relatively short. This textual chronology undermines the claim Buddhist Tantra brought Hindu Tantra into being ! It even suggests the latter being prior to the former. Tibetan Lama's never mention this, and prefer to teach the mythical origin of their Tantras instead of the historical facts.

While some texts emerged around the same time, and both Hindu & Buddhist tantrics extensively borrowed from each other, the roots of Hindu Tantra plunge deeper down, even to (late) Vedic times predating the arrival of Lord Buddha, if not earlier. Indeed, is it unreasonable to suppose Buddhist Tantra emerged (as part of the Mahâyâna) after proto-Shaiva & full-scale Shaiva Tantra (integrating desire into the path) had already been successful ? I think not.

Although it has been claimed Shaiva & Buddhist Tantra are more or less co-emergent, Buddhist Tantra is historically, thematically & energetically (in terms of subtle physiology) based on the Hindu spiritual heritage in general (bringing us back to early Vedic times) and (proto-) Shaiva Tantra in particular. The Shaiva tantrics of the Shramana Movement formed centres for highly cultivated experts in various branches of the "inner science" ("adhyâtmavidyâ"). When the first major Buddhist Tantras (Guhyasamâja, Cakrasamvara & Hevajra) appeared, Shaiva Tantra was already fully developed and had been practiced for centuries. Buddhist Tantra started as a minority interest when Shaiva Tantra was already a cultural phenomenon. This is very important to realize.

Shaiva Tantra has three outstanding components :

  • the identification with a powerful & transgressive male resident shaman-deity such as the wild Shiva (placed in a  residence "mandala"), in the highest tantra (Vajñâna-Bhairava Tantra) he is identified with empty space ;

  • the cult of the fierce goddess ("Shakti") burning the knots in the subtle channel connecting her with her spouse, in the highest tantra she is identified with energy, and

  • a "subtle body" Kundalinî Yoga, involving the conscious manipulation (leading) of "prâna" or the subtle energy (wind) upon which the mind "rides", causing (a) accomplishments (a "siddha" has paranormal powers and can perform the Four Vajra Acts of pacification, increase, control & destruction) and finally (b) the union of the Lord with His Goddess.

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 :

absolute truth (dis)play, mâyâ
projecting introjecting
shining reflecting
stillness movement
space energy
yang / masculine yin / feminine
heaven earth
Shiva Shakti
Parama Shiva - dual-union of Shiva & Shakti

"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 (!).

Shaiva Tantra (nondual, trika) Hevajra Tantra
male Shiva (space) Sun wisdom - emptiness - female (?)
female Shakti (energy) Moon method (compassion) - bliss - male (?)

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 feminine (reflecting).

" ... Ray suggests that we need a threefold model of Buddhism in India, which incorporates urban monastics, forest renunciates and lay people." -
Samuel, 2008, p.213.

(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.

male Heruka method male Moon (?) Vajra (?)
female consort wisdom female Sun (?) Bell (?)

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 Heruka wisdom male Sun Vajra
method female Moon Bell

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.

"The Buddhists in particular had reason to avoid too strong a commitment to a supreme inclusive deity-figure. Arguably, they did not really reach this point until the Adi-Buddha concept came in with the Kâlacakra Tantra in the early eleventh century."
Samuel, 2008, p.213.

(3) Third Phase (ca. 11th to 20th century CE) :

After this, monastic Buddhist Tantra became international. This third phase marks the origin of the Vajrayâna proper, including its "purged" symbolism, terminology & ritual. It culminated in the Kâlacakra Tantra, a Buddhocratic text promoting monasticism and written by and for monks. It was largely from the Indian universities at Vikramashîla and Odantapurî that Buddhism was then taken to Tibet. There, it was integrated in the Buddhayâna, to become the pinnacle of the path to enlightenment (cf. "outwardly Hînayâna, inwardly Mahâyâna, and secretly Vajrayâna"). This happened in several stages, integrating (mahâyoga & Ati-Yoga) Tantra (Padmasambhava), Siddha-based Yogas (the Six Yogas of Naropa), and the monastic Tantras introduced by Virupa (9th century), Atisha (982 - 1054), and others. So while Tibetan Tantra is mainly monastic, "wild" exceptions of the "siddhi" type style endured (cf. "mad wisdom" and "secret yogis"). So in Tibet, both the monastic and the siddha-based approach to spiritual life was maintained. The latter had first entered Tibet in the 8th century (Padmasambhava) and incorporated the Indian classification of the Tantras, whereas in the 11th century the former, under pressure of the devastating Muslim invasions, is brought to the Land of Snow. It would remain there and be institutionally practiced in terms of a Buddhocracy without interruption untill 1959 (the date of the exodus of the XIVth Dalai Lama).

When Tibetan Buddhism was completely reorganized by Tsongkhapa the Great (1357 - 1419), the monastic vow of celibacy and the Highest Yoga Tantra technique of attaining Buddhahood by way of sexual union with a wisdom-consort, were harmonized by allowing the monk to become a Mahâsattvic Bodhisattva in this life, but only a Buddha immediately after death (hence not needing a wisdom-consort and so not breaking the vow of celibacy, or setting up a bad example for disciples !). Again we see the influence of monastic rule ("vinâya") on the development of tantric practice.

Buddhist Tantra uses the "standard" subtle apparatus of Hindu Yoga (the Vajra Body of winds, channels, wheels  & drops), but adds the wisdom of seeing reality as it is, i.e. without "own-being" ("svabhâva") and not independent ("svatantra"). Applying Buddhist philosophy to Tantra involves a radical departure from the realist ("Brahman") & idealist ("âtman") Hindu ontologies (maintaining a self-powered, self-sufficient ground of being). Spiritual experience is the union of great compassion & the wisdom-mind realizing emptiness, the unique features of Buddhism, in particular Mahâyâna. Great bliss is generated and then used to meditate on emptiness. The specific method (Deity Yoga) making both rise simultaneously is specific to Tantra, the "turbo" of the Greater Vehicle. The indissoluble union of wisdom & compassion (emptiness & bliss) being the "mind of enlightenment" (absolute "bodhicitta").

In fact, Tantric union with the chosed Diety remains possible, and hence great bliss can be directly experienced united with wisdom, i.e. with a mind realizing the emptiness of this bliss, in other words, devoid of any trace of substantializing the Deity or the direct blissful experience of its Divine Presence in all possible phenomena. If we accept the highest nondual Shaiva Tantas to no longer essentialize Shiva/Shakti, then the only difference between these highest Shaiva Tantras and their Buddhist equivalent is the absence in the latter of the Vedic cultural context (its terminology and sacred language). Remarkably, Ati-Yoga comes close to the teachings & practices found in the Vajñâna-Bhairava Tantra.

We may summarize these considerations of Hindu & Buddhist Tantra by these points.

On the Hindu side, the Shaiva side, a "transgressive" tradition is in place, with rituals involving polluting substances, cremation grounds, sex, death, fierce gods & goddesses, carried out in magic & sorcery by a hereditary cast ("kula"). The trail of this goes back to Vedic times. Later, these practices were adopted by "kâpâlikas", with increasing importance in the seventh to ninth centuries (the "kaula" lineages). Extreme elements were purged and eventually an "internal" yoga emerged. It has a marked sexual component and involves the subtle body physiology of channels, vital energy, drops & energy-wheels. This is a yoga of liberated insight and direct yogic perception.

On the Buddhist side, proto-tantra practices (of the sixth and seventh century) were developments of Deity visualizations (both of Buddhas & their heavens) as found in the later Mahâyâna sûtras. Fierce deities were slowly introduced as secondary figures in the "mandala", but in the eight to eleventh centuries, fierce Shiva-styled couples in sexual union became the primary figures at the centre of the "mandala" ! Also here we witness a progressive shift to an "internal" yoga, closely parallel to what was happening in the Shaiva tradition.

At this point, both no doubt influenced each other, while India as a whole communicated with China & Tibet.

§ 3 Requisites for Mahâyâna Tantra & General Principles.

In terms of understanding reality, Buddhist Tantra does not differ from the wisdom of the Great Perfection Vehicle, but introduces, to realize Buddhahood (the Mahâyâna "nirvâna"), two powerful new methods, or ways to carry out an action, namely (a) Deity Yoga (Generation Stage) and (b) the manipulation of the winds (Completion Stage). These Yogas cause the two baskets of merit & emptiness to be simultaneously filled (as one result of one technique and in one mind), and not separately (as two results of various techniques). Compassion (merit) & wisdom (emptiness) are gathered together. This quick collection serves as the basis for a this-life transformation of impure body, speech & mind of an ordinary person into the pure body, speech & mind of a Buddha. To "isolate" the impure from the pure is the basic modus operandi.

Generating relative bodhicitta and understanding emptiness in terms of a non-affirmative negation are the necessary pre-conditions to practice Buddhist Tantra. This is a thoroughgoing negation with no positive remainder, i.e. an exclusion negation. Only in Ati-Yoga is the choice negation, with positive implications, used.

To attempt Tantra lacking this mind of enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings and/or blocking a thorough negative conceptual grasping of emptiness, is sheer folly and usually causes an increase in suffering due to self-cherishing (ego-inflation) and heightened self-grasping (attending objects as self-powered). This is said to lead to a rebirth as a desire-god.

Without great compassion, the quintessence of relative Bodhicitta, it is impossible to deeply realize wisdom. The "energy" of merit makes the mind supple enough to conceptualize emptiness distinctly & clearly. Then one understands why the Consequentialism of the Middle Way ("Prâsangika-Mâdhyamaka") is the philosophical viewpoint of the Four Tantra Sets. Inherent existence ("svabhâva") is the target of this view, designating emptiness or absolute Bodhicitta by way of a Rangtong non-affirming negation (not a choice-negation as in Shentong other-emptiness). This theoretical view on emptiness is "objective" (emptiness is an object of knowledge) and epistemic (emptiness is the end of substantial instatiation or reification), identifying "samsâra" as a state of mind, affirming the functional existence of interconnected phenomena.

"Everything you taught
Is based on dependent arising―
designed to effect nirvâna.
As your every deed―
to yield nothing but space."

Tsongkhapa : A Praise to the Buddha, 38 (2002, p.209).

The Tantric Bodhisattva wants to attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings as soon as possible. There is no time to waste. To really help these countless suffering beings, nothing less than Buddhahood will do. Achieving this in this life, will allow the Buddha-to-be to manifest countless forms to help & bless others until the whole of "samsâra" ceases. So all Tantric Bodhisattvas are Sutric Bodhisattvas, while not all Sutric Bodhisattvas are "tântrikas". Sutric Bodhisattvas possess Bodhicitta and so may eventually realize emptiness (conceptually, approximately, ending the Path of Preparation) and then enter the Vajrayâna.

The Sûtras are called "causal" because they shape the conditions for the effect, namely Buddhahood. The Tantras as called "resultant" because they take the result (Buddhahood) into the path (Deity Yoga) before it has been actually attained, but anticipates it. Imagining having the abilities of Buddhahood to be gained in the future in the present, creates the causes to attain these more quickly. Familiarizing body, speech & mind with the very subtle body mounted by Bodhi-mind quickens the recognition of our own very subtle mind of Clear Light.

As long as Bodhicitta is fabricated (i.e. not spontaneous), it needs to be "generated" and consolidated (by mind training). At some point though, Bodhicitta comes as natural as breathing. Then the Path of Accumulation is entered and the Bodhisattva is truly established (ready to take the Bodhisattva Vow). To perfect the practice of the Six Perfections, further Insight Meditations into emptiness are required. Bodhisattvas who attain "superior seeing" (at the beginning of the Path of Preparation) are able to thoroughly realize emptiness by way of conceptual thought. This enables them to enter the Tantric path and practice Deity Yoga on the Stage of Generation Stage, preparing them for the Stage of Completion. At the beginning of completion, one enters the Path of Seeing and establishes, during meditative equipoise, a direct experience of emptiness devoid of conceptualization.

In Lower Tantra, to achieve Buddhahood with Action Tantra, Performance Tantra or Yoga Tantra, Deity Yoga must be coupled with other Yogas. In these lower Tantras, the process of tantric transformation can however not be completed in one lifetime (except if the "siddhi" of prolonging lifespan is made operational). Only Highest Yoga Tantra offers this-life salvation ! The Completion Stage of Highest Yoga Tantra makes use of the subtle anatomy of the body (cf. hylic pluralism), consisting of subtle winds ("prâna"), channels ("nâdîs"), energy wheels ("chakras") and seminal drops ("bindu"). The winds are first brought into the central channel, then into the Heart Wheel and finally in the Vajra drop (cf. the yogas of Isolated Body, Isolated Speech, Isolated Mind, Illusory Body, Clear Light & Union). When this happens, Buddhahood is a fact.

As the subtle body is the energy-matrix underpining all physical processes, wrong techniques may damage this fine network, causing reduced immunity, disease, shortened lifespan, insanity or sudden death (cf. "wind" disease). By contrast, a successfull tantric, besides being very compassionate, has strong health, feels & behaves youthful, has a prolonged lifespan, extraordinary mental capacities and is able to choose where he or she will be reborn.

§ 4 The Four Tantra Sets : Levels of Desire.

The Nyingmapas had an Indian classification of the Tantra sets, one based on the "Nine Yanas" :

The Sutra System :


1. Shrâvakayâna : vehicle of listeners or disciples ;
2. Pratyekabuddhayâna : vehicle of the Solitary Buddhas ;


3. Pâramitâyâna - Sûtrayâna - Bodhisattvayâna : the Great or Causal Vehicle, is the way of those who seek enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings ;


Outer/Lower Tantras :

4. Tantra of Action :  a "completed action" with only outer ritual actions ;
5. Tantra of Conduct : balance between outer ritual actions and inner cultivation ;
6. Yoga Tantra or Tantra of Union :  emphasizing the inner yoga meditation of method and wisdom and contemplations of their inseparable unity (but without directing the winds into the central channel) ;

Inner/Higher Tantras :

7. Mahâyoga or Great Yoga (masculine, aggression - Father Tantras) : generating oneself as a Deity with consort ;
8. Anuyoga or Subsequent (Further) Yoga (feminine, passion - Mother Tantras) : completing (perfecting) oneself thus ;
9. Ati-Yoga : Mahâmudrâ & Dzogchen or the Ultimate Yoga of the Great Perfection (Nondual Tantras).

Later, in accord with the late Indian Buddhist classification of philosophical trends in four views (analytical, traditional, experiental & centrist), the Tantras were divided by the Tibetans in four classes : Action ("kriyâ"), Performance ("caryâ"), Yoga ("yoga") & Highest Yoga ("anuttarayoga"). The first three sets are "Lower Tantras", the last set "Higher Tantra". Just as had been the case in the "old translation" school (the Nyingmapas), Highest Yoga Tantra was further subdivided in Father Tantras (stressing method), Mother Tantras (stressing wisdom) & Non-Dual Tantras (stressing the unity of wisdom & method).

The later Gelugpa explanation of the Four Tantra Sets, constituting systems of analogy, involved the intensity with which desire is satisfied. Desire is the overruling quality of cyclic existence as experienced by the six classes of sentient beings of the Desire Realm in general, but manifests in the human world as strong attachment, the exaggerated desire for what pleases (passion, attachment, attraction) and the exaggerated desire to avoid was displeases (aggression, hatred, repulsion). Therefore, in Tantra, desire is the "prima materia" to be transformed into wisdom (integrated by dissolving into emptiness).

Each level of intensity of desire is associated with a level of interiority (note how higher levels of desire-satisfaction call for higher levels of interiority, causing sexual union to correspond with complete interiority) :

  • Action Tantra : practitioners delight in external ritual over yogic concentration = partners in love laughing at each other ;

  • Performance Tantra : practitioners delight in external ritual & internal yogic concentration equally = partners in love mutually gazing at each other ;

  • Yoga Tantra : practitioners delight inner yogic concentration over external ritual = partners in love holding hands ;

  • Highest Yoga Tantra : practitioners delight in internal yogic concentration = partners in love sexually unite.

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.

  • Action Tantra : practitioners primarily purify the body by way of external ritual realizing its emptiness (external washing) - the Deity is a superior, not an equal ;

  • Performance Tantra : practitioners primarily purify speech by way of the interaction between external ritual and internal concentration realizing its emptiness (inner washing) - the Deity is not yet an equal, but more like a senior family member ;

  • Yoga Tantra : practitioners primarily purify mind by way of internal concentration realizing emptiness (secret washing) - the Deity is treated as an equal, a peer ;

  • Highest Yoga Tantra : practitioners, by moving the winds into the central channel, the Heart Wheel and the Vajra drop, purify & unite body, speech & mind. By way of this supreme internal concentration they realize the emptiness of great bliss (ultimate washing) - the Deity and the tantric are one being.


ACTION TANTRA primarily focuses on ritual activity : outer conduct, ablution, offerings, cleanliness, eating & drinking codes, clothing etc.  To overcome the separation between ordinary (conventional) life and the Divine (in the form of the Deity), one conforms to a way of purity in attire & conduct, visualizing the Deity and recollecting the emptiness of one's own ego. Traditionally, some Action Tantras position the Deity only outside of oneself, and foster the notion of inferiority to the Deity. As Tsongkhapa wrote, this is not the case for all Action Tantras. Eventually, a vivid experience of oneself as indivisible from the Deity arises.

PERFORMANCE or CONDUCT TANTRA focuses both on outer rituals and inner Yoga, training in a vast number of actions while entering the inner, empty reality presenting itself in visual and audible Divine representations. Here one is deemed close to the state of the Deity, but not yet fused with it. Mantra is essential here. As before, Conduct Tantra visualizes the Deity outside of oneself or oneself as the Deity. One trains to experience form as the appearance of emptiness. The practices of this Tantra (Four Concentrations & the Yogas with and without Sign) are very similar to those of Action Tantra.

YOGA TANTRA primarily focuses on the contemplation of the inner reality, placing the yogi in the center of it and establishing a network of subjective relationships with it, appearing in a variety of Divine features. Both are viewed as equal. Method and wisdom are applied inseparably in contemplations on the indivisibility of one's body, speech, mind & activities with those of the Deity (the Four Seals) .


HIGHEST YOGA TANTRA completely focuses on the contemplation of the inner reality, and this in two stages : Generation & Completion. In Generation Stage yoga, the three bodies of a Buddha are brought into the path (the Three Bringings) and associated with the process of death, intermediate state and rebirth. Death is brought into the path of the Truth Body. Intermediate state is brought into the Path of the Enjoyment Body and rebirth is brought into the path of the Emanation Body. This is the Deity Yoga practiced in Highest Yoga Tantra. Indeed, an imagined Deity body is created or generated, which will become an actual Deity body (the continuously residing body or very subtle wind abiding in the Heart Wheel). In Completion Stage yoga, the winds are made to enter, abide and cease (dissolve) within the central channel, the" Heart Wheel and the Vajra drop. In Isolated Body yoga, through the force of Inner Fire Yoga (vase breathing), the white drops in the "Bindu Visarga" are made to "melt" producing four levels of increasing bliss burning away all ignorance or "knots" (Four Joys). Completion is subdivided in the Yogas of Isolated Body, Isolated Speech, Isolated Mind, Illusory Body, Clear Light and Union. Completion Stage yoga holds the promise of Buddhahood in a single lifetime.

"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.

male, Solar space wisdom androgyny
female, Lunar energy method gynandry

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.

To arrive at such a new Buddhist Tantra, prevailing correspondences are no longer valid. As in Hindu Yoga & Tantra, Taoist Inner Alchemy (Complete Reality School), Traditional Chinese Medicine & the Western Tradition, the feminine is equated with the Lunar, with Form (Left Pillar) & the passive, i.e. with Yin. This is consistent with the association of the "kundalinî" ("Shakti") with the bottom of the spine (cf. the Gate of Life & Death or Hui-Yin at the perineum & the passive Earth Field or Lower Tan-Tien at the navel in Taoism, or Malkuth/Yesod in Qabalah). The masculine is then Solar, active, Force (Right Pillar), i.e. Yang, situated at the top of the spine, i.e. "Shiva", and the active Heaven Field or Upper Tan-Tien at the crown, or Kether in Qabalah. Vajra (masculine) is then wisdom, emptiness and Bell (feminine) is method, compassion.

The traditional Tibetan correspondences, based on an exclusive masculine model, too often foster Guru-Yoga to "enhance" and "develop" the process ignited by initiation. Instead of giving the disciples the tools to grow up by themselves well assisted, they often result in an increased dependence upon the male Vajra Guru, at times leading to grotesque, abasing & potentially abusive forms of Guru-worship, calling for the Guru to be constantly worshipped as a living Buddha ... Projected collectively, this leads to spirito-communal phenomena, bringing to life the doctrine of "lineages", "tulkus" &
Buddhocratic inventions, as traditional Tibetan Buddhism of old amply evidences.

§ 6 Towards A Pan-Erotic Tantra.

Consistent with Eastern and Western Alchemy, after having identified the putrified components ("negrido"), the basis or root is the "albedo" or "white phase", to be identified with the Lower Elixir Field, the three lower wheels, the red drops (the Fire of Water, KAN) and with Lunar method. Mutatis mutandis, the "rubedo" or "red phase" refers to the Upper Elixir Field, Bindu Visarga, Brow & Crown wheels, the white drops (the Water of Fire, LI) and with Solar wisdom.

Navâyana Tantra
Energy Wheels Polarity Drops Function
Crown/Bindu Visarga/Brow Masculine/Yang
foremost white drops (Yin) wisdom/emptiness
Heart Harmony
foremost red drops (Yang) method/bliss

The "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 solution to the riddle of its mysteries that Tantrism poses is obvious. It can only involve the union of the two poles, not their domination of one another. On its own the (masculine) spirit is not sufficient to become 'whole', instead nature and spirit, emotions and reason, logos and eros, woman and man, god and goddess, a masculine and a feminine Buddha as two autonomous beings must wed mystically (as yab and yum, yin and yang) as two subjects that fuse together into a WE. (...) For in WE all the polarities of the universe fuse, subjectivity and objectivity, rule and servitude, union and division. The unio mystica with the partner dissolves both the individual and the transpersonal subjectivity (the human ego and the divine ego). Both poles, the masculine and the feminine, experience their spiritual, psychic and physical unity as intersubjectivity, as exchange, as WE. They join into a higher dimension without destroying one another."
- Trimondi, The Shadow of the Dalai Lama, Postcript : Creative Polarity beyond Tantrism, 2003).

Then, instead of exclusively building the completion technology on fierce Inner Fire through vase breathing (on the basis of the red drops at the Sacral Wheel unleashing the fire-goddess "Candâlî" burning at the navel), the gentle circulation & harmonization of the life force ("prâna", "c'hi", "ka", "pneuma" or "ruach") may offer alternate methods to make the winds enter the central channel, realizing the nondual union of bliss & emptiness by building the Illusory Body slowly & with great care. The ultimate state or "mysterious pass" is clearly associated with the Heart Wheel, the indestructible drop therein, the HeartMind Elixir of Taoism (or Middle Elixir Field), or the ultimate integration as Tiphareth in Qabalah. In Hindu Yoga, this is like slowly untying & dissolving the knots ("bandhas"), not burning them up violently !

When, in Completion Stage yoga, after Isolated Mind all knots are loosened and all winds dissolve in the Heart Wheel, the Illusory Body of the nature of great bliss is generated and with it meaning (actual) Clear Light recognized, bringing about Union or Buddhahood.

Lower Tantra Practices

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.
I, Samantabhadra,
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―
The definitions,
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
Just what
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 paths shared and become
A vessel that is worthy,
I enter with perfect ease
The Way of the Diamond,
Highest of all ways,
Holiest door to come inside
For the fortunate and the good."

Tsongkhapa, The Source of All my Good, X
(Preparing for Tantra, 1995)

1. General Preliminaries to Lower Tantra.

"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 Grand Preliminary in Tantra Ritual

I. Preparation :

1. Preliminaries to Practice - Arrange altar properly with filled Water Jar ;

II. Body :

2. Find Posture ;

III. Breath :

3. Fourfold Breath Practice ;
4. Settle in Mindfulness ;
5. Settle in Natural Abdominal Breathing ;

IV. Mind :

6. Move to the West, face East, Prostration & Refuge. Instead of the Sutric formula, the Tantric Refuge is used. It involves outer, inner & secret Refuge, each calling for three Prostrations (instead of "Guru", "Yidam" & "Protector", mention the inner objects of Refuge at hand, for example "Guru Je", "Avalokiteshvara", "Mahâkâla") :

Outer :
"I go for Refuge to the Buddha.
I go for Refuge to the Dharma.
I go for Refuge to the Sangha.
I do so attaining liberation from 'samsâra', realizing awakening for the sake of all sentient beings.

Inner :
I go for Refuge to the Guru.
I go for Refuge to the Yidam.
I go for Refuge to the Protector.
I do so attaining liberation from 'samsâra', realizing awakening for the sake of all sentient beings.

Secret :
I go for Refuge to Emptiness.
I go for Refuge to my Buddha-nature.
I go for Refuge to the Energy.
I do so attaining liberation from 'samsâra', realizing awakening for the sake of all sentient beings."


7. Move to the center, Homage Practice ;
8. Light, Incense & Water Offerings. End every Water Offering with the mantra of the corresponding Buddha :


When finished with these offerings, apply the freedom of the Three Spheres, meditating on the emptiness of giver, gift & recipient.

9. Seven Limbs Practice ;
10. Generate Relative Bodhicitta ;
11. Short Analytical Meditation on Emptiness ;
12. The Hundred-Syllable Mantra Practice ;
13. Generate Absolute Bodhicitta ;
14. Still facing East : Guru Yoga with Mandala Offering. End with the Mandala Mantra : IDAM GURU RATNA MANDALAKAM NIRYATAYAMI ;
15. Return to your seat before the image or statue of the Deity & clear the mind of intentions & thoughts and relax for a moment. Concentrate on the "ânâpâna" for a while. Settle in Mindfulness ;

16. Nine Breath Purification.

(... ) subsequent practices

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".

1.3 Nine Breath Purification.

1.3.1 The Vajra Body.

In Sâmkhya & Vedânta, elaborate Vedic-based philosophical systems integrating the Yoga experience of India, the absolute, inherent existent higher Self, called "purusa", "jîvâtman" or "âtman", is deemed to be covered by 3 sheaths :

the gross body : "sthûla-sharîra", "annamaya-kosha" (food body) ;
the subtle bodies : "sûkshma-sharîra", also called "linga-sharîra", made up of "prânamaya-kosha" (breath body), "kâmamaya-kosha" (feeling body), "manomaya-kosha" (thought body), "âtimamaya-kosha" (abstract thought body) & "vijñanamaya-kosha" (intuition body) ;
the sheath of bliss : or "kârana-sharîra", also called "ânandamaya-kosha" (bliss body).

Although the Buddha rejected the substantial nature of the "âtman", the idea our Buddha-nature (introduced with the Third Turning) is covered by adventitious, accidental material remained. Moreoever, the radical transformation (of impure into pure) sought in Tantra can only be accomplished by working with the so-called "Vajra Body", a technical term for the subtle body or "prânamayakosha" ("sheath of breath").

The Vajra Body is not really a "body", suggestive of relative functional independence, but the subtle extension of the physical body. Hence, Vajra Body and physical body form a whole. In fact, the Vajra Body is the underlying energy-matrix of the physical body. It acts as an interphase between the coarse physical plane (1) and the more subtle planes (2 - 7). Perhaps this explains why in Completion Stage yoga of Higher Tantra, Isolated Body & Isolated Speech are sometimes regarded as a single stage.

Planes Hindu Loka Yoga
7 parâ-
logoic Dharma-
6 satya hiranya
monadic Sambhoga-
5 tapar atmic
4 janar vijñana
3 mahar âtima
2 svar mano
1 bhur prâna
Vajra Body

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.

In Theosophy and Qabalah, the physical plane ("bhur") is subdivided in 7 subplanes. Four of these define the gross, coarse physical body (the "food sheath" of Earth, Water, Fire & Air), whereas three subplanes house the "etheric double". This is another, more precise name for the Vajra Body, also used Chinese systems of philosophy (Taoism), medicine (acupuncture) and martial arts (based on Ch'i Kung or "working with vital energy"). This energy-field is dynamically energized by "ch'i", "prâna", "vâyu", "breath", "vital energy", "vital force", "orgone", "pneuma", "ruach" or "wind" ("lung" in Tibetan). In the Buddhadharma, the elements of physical reality are the base of the observation of existing objects positioned in space & time.

Subplanes of
the physical realm
Function Element Aggregates Type of Body
7 quantum space
very subtle
Clear Light mind

Vajra Body

matrix of vital energy
6 ch'i
subtle mind of near-attainment
subtle mind of increase
5 electro-
subtle mind of appearance
4 wet & hot Air
thought gross
3 hot & dry Fire
2 cold & wet Water
1 dry & cold