A Survey of the Paths of Tibetan Buddhism (Part 3/3)

28 January 2010 - 5:05am Comments Off

By His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso

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Actualizing the Speech of the Buddha

Action Tantra speaks of two types of mantra repetition: one is whispered, which means you recite quietly so you can hear yourself, and the other is mental repetition, which means you do not voice but imagine the sound of the mantra.

Actualizing the Mind of the Resultant Buddha

The concentration abiding in fire is a term given to the meditation in which the practitioner visualizes different mantras, seed syllables and so on, at the heart of the meditational deity and imagines flames arising from them.

The concentration abiding in the sound refers to a meditation in which the practitioner imagines and concentrates on the tone of the mantra not as if he or she were reciting it themselves, but rather listening to the tone of mantra as though it were received by someone else.

So, the practitioner cultivates single-pointedness or a calmly abiding mind in these ways, which is why we find passages in the Action Tantras which say that through the practice of concentration abiding in fire, the practitioner will gain physical and mental suppleness. Then, through the concentration abiding in the sound, the practitioner will actually attain a calmly abiding mind.

The third type of yoga, called bestowing liberation at the end of the sound, is a technique which provides the practitioner with eventual realization of liberation.

General speaking, it we were to classify the tantric teachings among the three scriptural collections of discipline, discourses and knowledge, the tantric teachings would be included amongst the second, the sets of discourses. Therefore, in the tantras, Buddha himself has said that he would teach tantra in the style of the sutras.

The significance of this is that the unique or profound features of tantra come about through techniques for cultivating meditation stabilization. The unique feature, common to all four tantras, that distinguishes tantric practice from practices of the sutras is the tantras’ special technique for cultivating meditative stabilization.

One thing I would like to clarify here is that, generally speaking, calm abiding is an absorptive state of mind in which a person is able to maintain his or her attention to a chose object undistractedly. Therefore, techniques for cultivating such a state are also absorptive rather than contemplative.

Special insight is an analytical type of meditation, so the methods for cultivating special insight are also analytical in nature.

Calm abiding is a heightened state of mind in which not only is your concentration single-pointed, but it is also accompanied by faculties of mental and physical suppleness. Similarly, special insight is a heightened state of mind in which your analytical power is so developed that it is also equipped with mental and physical suppleness.

So, because meditation on calm abiding is absorptive in nature and meditation on special insight is analytical, when we speak about meditation in general, we must be aware that there are many different types. Certain types of meditation are states of mind which focus on an object, such as meditation on emptiness, in which emptiness is the object, whereas in meditation on love, you generate your mind into a state of love. In addition, there are different types of meditation in which the focus is on imagining or visualizing something.

According to explanations in the sutras and the three lower tantras, when you cultivate calm abiding in a meditative session, you are thoroughly absorbed, maintaining single-pointedness and not employing any analysis. The two different types of meditation are usually distinct from one another, but Highest Yoga Tantra contains a unique method of penetrating the vital points of the body. It is by pin-pointing these sensitive points of the body that even special insight can be cultivated through concentrated or absorptive meditation.

In the practice of the sutra path and three lower tantras, attainment of calm abiding and special insight are always sequential. Calm abiding is attained first, leading on to special insight, whereas in Highest Yoga Tantra, some of the most able practitioners can attain the two simultaneously.

The third type of yoga referred to earlier, the concentration bestowing liberation at the end of the sound, is a technical term given to the meditation on emptiness according to the tantric system. It is also known as the yoga without signs, while the two earlier concentrations are referred to as the yoga with signs.

Performance Tantra

Mandalas belonging to Performance Tantra are quite rate in the Tibetan tradition, but when they do occur the most common deity is Vairochana Abhisambodhi.

Performance Tantra also presents the path in terms of the yoga with signs and yoga without signs. Here, yoga without signs refers to meditation, the emphasis of which is on emptiness, while the emphasis of the yoga with signs is not.

Both Action and Performance Tantra speak of the requirement to practise deity yoga and undertake the appropriate meditation retreat, which is followed by engaging in the activities of the practice. In the Action and Performance Tantras this refers mainly to certain types of activities such as the prolongation of life on the basis of a long-life deity. Other types of activity, such as achieving the highest liberation and so on, are not described in detail.

Yoga Tantra

The most important tantra of this class translated into Tibetan is the Compedium of the Principles of All the Tathagatas (Sarva-tathagata-tattva-samgraha), which concerns the Vajra Realm and includes the Sarvavid tantras.

The general procedure of the path of Yoga Tantra is explained on the basis of three factors: the basis of purification, the purifying path and the purified result. The basis of purification here refers to the practitioner’s body, speech and mind and activity, while the purifying paths refer to the practice of the great seal, the phenomenal seal, the pledge seal, and the wisdom or action seal. Just as there are four bases of purification, the body, speech, mind and activity of the practitioner, and four corresponding paths of purification, there are four purified results: the body, speech, mind and activities of Buddhahood. This is why the principal text of this class of tantra, the Compendium of Principles, has four sections.

Highest Yoga Tantra

Highest Yoga Tantra for us Tibetans is like our daily diet. I have found that the practice of the Compendium of Principles and the Vairochana-abhisambodhi tantra is widespread in Japan, where there are quite a lot of practitioners of the lower tantras. But it seems that Highest Yoga Tantra is found only in the Tibetan tradition, although I cannot state this definitely.

The trainees for whom Highest Yoga Tantra was intended are human beings belonging to the desire realm whose physical structure is comprise of six constituents. These refer to the three constituents we obtain from our father and the three we obtain from our mother.

One unique feature of the profound paths of Highest Yoga Tantra is that they employ techniques which correspond not only to phenomena related to the basis of purification as they occur on the ordinary level, such as death, intermediate state and rebirth, but also to features of the resultant state of Buddhahood, the three bodies of the Buddha.

Highest Yoga Tantra explains the term tantra on three levels, causal tantra, which is the basis, method tantra which is the path and resultant tantra. All three levels of tantra arise from the fundamental innate mind of clear light.

If you understand the significance of this, you will understand the explanation of the Sakya tradition which speaks of causal tantra called the basis of all, or the fundamental basis, referring to the mandala and the deities within it, all of which actually arise from this fundamental basis.

This tradition explains that the fundamental basis is present in our basic faculties and all the phenomena on an ordinary level in the form of characteristics. All the phenomena on the path are present within this fundamental basis in the form of qualities, and all the phenomena of resultant state of Buddhahood are present within this fundamental basis in the form of potential. Similarly, we find statements such as ‘the equality of the basis and the result’ in the writings of the Nyingmapa.

Since all the phenomena of the resultant state are complete or present in this fundamental basis in the form of potential, we can also understand such statements as the body of the Buddha and his wisdom being inseparable. But it is also important to understand these statements and concepts correctly, otherwise there is a danger of mistakenly asserting something like the Enumerator’s (Samkhya) view that the sprout is present at the time of its seed.

Keeping the ultimate intent of such points in mind, we can understand that what Maitreya wrote in his Sublime Continuum, ‘all the stains of the mind are temporary and adventitious, all the qualities of the mind are present within it naturally’ doesn’t mean that all the qualities and realizations of the mind are actually present within the mind, but exist in the form of potential, because all of them are present as potential in the fundamental innate mind clear light. From this point of view we can also understand such statements as, ‘recognizing one’s true nature is equivalent to becoming totally enlightened’.

There are similar passages in other tantras such as Hevajra tantra where we read, ‘sentient beings are completely enlightened, but they are obscured by mental stains’. The Kalachakra tantra also speaks very emphatically on this point, the fundamental innate mind of clear light, but it employs different terminology, giving it the name ‘all pervasive vajra space’.

In his commentary on the fivefold completion state of Guhyasamaja tantra, Lamp Illuminating the Five Stages, Nagarjuna mentions that the practitioner abiding in an illusory meditation perceives all phenomena in the same aspect. The implication here is that at the completion stage, when the practitioner is able to arise in a very subtle body, technically known as an illusory body, which is of the nature of the very subtlest energy and mind, he extends his perception to all phenomena, perceiving them as manifestations of this fundamental mind of clear light.

Now, although we may be able to understand perceiving all living beings as manifestations of the fundamental innate mind of clear light, because ultimately this is the fundamental source from which they all arose, the question is, how logically do we justify the whole environment being a manifestation of this fundamental innate mind of clear light? I don’t think the reference here is to the environment or phenomena being of the nature of the mind, although the Mind Only School of Buddhist thought maintains that that is the nature of all external reality. Here the meaning is slightly different. We should understand the whole environment, all external phenomena, as creations, manifestations or appearances of this fundamental innate mind of clear light, rather than being of the nature of it.

So, when a person goes through the manifest experience of this fundamental innate mind of clear light, which is the subtlest level of the mind, at that point all the gross levels of energy and mental processes are withdrawn or dissolved. What then appears to the mind at such a level is only pure emptiness.

In tantra, techniques and methods are explained by which a person is able to utilize the fundamental innate mind of clear light that naturally manifests at the time of death or other occasions. Generally, in the sutra system, the last moment of a dying consciousness is said to be neutral though very subtle, but methods are explained in tantra to put that state of mind to positive use, by generating it into something virtuous.

I have read in the works of the Indian master Vasubhandu that, compare to negative states of mind, virtuous states are more powerful. The reason being, from one point of view, that virtuous states of mind have a valid basis because they are rational and unmistaken. Another reason is that it is only virtuous states of mind that can be generated at moments of generating the fundamental innate mind of clear light, such as the time of death, and even extended beyond it. Negative states of mind could never be generated once the fundamental innate mind of clear light has become manifest.

The view of the Great Seal, the Mahamudra of the Kagyu tradition, and the view of the Great Perfection, Dzogchen, all come down to the same point – understanding the fundamental innate mind of clear light.

You might want to question that, because normally the Great Perfection is presented as the peak of the nine vehicles for the reason that in practicing it we utilize our basic awareness, while in the preceding vehicles, we used our minds. If that is the case, how can we say that the view of the Great Perfection comes to the same thing, that is an understanding of the fundamental innate mind of clear light, which is also referred to in Highest Yoga Tantra?

The answer to this question has been given by the Dzogchen master Tenpai Nyima. He says that, while it is true that in Highest Yoga Tantra much emphasis is given to exploring and developing the fundamental innate mind of clear light, this is also a feature of Great Perfection practice. The difference lies in their methods.

In Highest Yoga Tantra practice, techniques for exploring and developing the fundamental innate mind of clear light are explained as a very gradual process leading from the generation stage on to the subsequent stages of completion, and eventually to actualization of the clear light. In the practice of Great Perfection the development and enhancement of the fundamental innate mind of clear light has been explained, not as a gradual process, but as directly grasping the mind of clear light itself, right from the beginning, by using our basic awareness.

When studying Highest Yoga Tantra, we must keep in mind that in tantric treatises, a single word can have many different levels of interpretation, just as in the case of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras that we discussed earlier, which had two levels of interpretation, a literal meaning and a hidden meaning. In the tantric case, the interpretation is much deeper, one word can have many different levels of meaning and interpretation.

It is said that one word of the tantra can have four interpretations, four modes of explanation: the literal meaning; the explanation common to the sutra system and the lower tantras; the hidden or concealed meaning which is of three types:- that which conceals the method for taking desire into the path, that which conceals appearance, and that which conceals conventional truth – the illusory body; and finally, the ultimate meaning, which refers here to the ultimate clear light and union.

There is also a mode of interpretation called the six boundaries: the interpretive and definitive, the intentional and non-intentional, the literal and non-literal meaning.

In this complex approach tantra, there are two ways of actually explaining it to the disciples. One refers to the presentation given at a public teaching or gathering and the other refers to the manner of the teacher-disciple relationship.

In order to validate the practice of tantra as a Buddhist practice that will eventually lead to the achievement of Buddhahood, reference is always made in tantric treatises to the mode of procedure on the sutra path. The complexity and subtle differences in the various tantras are due to the differences in the practitioners’ mental disposition, physical structure and so on. Therefore, tantras begin with a preface in which the qualifications of the appropriate trainees are identified. There are four types of practitioners of tantra, the chief being called the jewel-like practitioners.

The purpose of explaining the tantras to an appropriate trainee in such a complex way is to enable the trainee to realize the two truths. The two truths here do not refer to the two truths explained in the sutra system, which are ultimate and conventional truths. These are the two truths in the context of Highest Yoga Tantra.

According to the sutra explanation, both ultimate and conventional truths in the context of the Highest Yoga Tantra would both be conventional truths. This mode of interpreting a tantric treatise is explained in a tantra called Compendium of Wisdom Vajras, which is an explanatory sutra.

One feature of tantra is that almost all the tantras began with two words E wam. These two letters encompass the entire meaning of tantra, not only the literal, but also the definitive meaning of tantras. All tantras, because they are treatises, are composed of many letters, which ultimately are all derived from vowels and consonants, therefore all of them are contained in these two letter E wam and since the entire meaning of tantra is encompassed in the three factors, base, path and result, all of them are also included in the meaning of E wam.

E wam actually encompasses the entire subject matter of tantra, as Chandakirti explained when he summarized the whole content of tantra in one verse in his renowned commentary the Brilliant Lamp. It was so famous that at one time it was said that just as the sun and the moon are the two sources of light in the sky, on earth there are two sources of clarity, referring to Clear Words, which is Chandakirti’s commentary to Nagajurn’s Treatise on the Middle Way and his Brilliant Lamp, which is his extensive commentary to the Guhyasamaja Tantra.

The verse says,

The generation state actualizing the deity’s body is first,
Meditation on the nature of the mind is second,
Attaining a stable conventional truth is third,
Purification of conventional truth is fourth,
Conjoining the two truths in union is fifth.

In essence this is the entire subject matter of Highest Yoga Tantra. Chandakirti’s treatise divides the entire tantric path into five stages; the generation stage and the four stages of completion stage.

Just as there are different stages on the path, so there are different initiations which are ripening factors for these paths. The initiation that empowers the practitioner to undertake the generation stage is called the vase initiation. The factor that empowers the practitioner to undertake the practice of the illusory body, which includes the three isolations; isolated body, isolated speech and isolated mind that are actually preliminaries to the illusory body and make up the three first stage of the completion stage, is the second or secret initiation. With the wisdom knowledge initiation, the practitioner is empowered to undertake meditation on clear light. And with the fourth initiation, the practitioner is empowered to undertake meditation on union.

Bliss and Emptiness

There are two different connotations of the term ‘union’. One is the union of emptiness and bliss and the other is the union of conventional and ultimate truths. When we speak of union in the sense of conventional and ultimate truth, the union of emptiness and bliss is one part of the pair and the illusory body is the other. When these two are united or inseparable conjoined, they form the union the two truths.

One meaning of the union of emptiness and bliss, is that the wisdom realizing emptiness is conjoined with bliss – the wisdom realizing emptiness is generated in the aspect of bliss, such that they are one entity. Another interpretation of joining bliss and emptiness is that you utilize a blissful state of mind to realize emptiness and such a realization of emptiness through that blissful state of mind is called the union of bliss and emptiness.

As to the sequence for attaining bliss and the realization of emptiness there are two modes. In some cases, experience of a blissful state of mind comes first, followed by the realization of emptiness. However, for most practitioners of Highest Yoga Tantra, realization of emptiness precedes the actual experience of bliss.

Certain practitioners’ realization of emptiness may not be as complete as that of the Middle Way Consequentialist school. They may adhere to a view of emptiness as propounded by the Yogic Practitioner or Middle Way Autonomist schools, but by applying certain tantric meditative techniques, such as ignition of the inner heat, or penetrating the vital points of the body through wind yoga, you may be able to generate an experience of bliss. This may eventually lead to a state where you are able to withdraw or dissolve the gross level of mind or energies.

Such a deep level of experience, when conjoined with a little understanding of emptiness, may lead to a subtler understanding of emptiness, an understanding that all phenomena are mere mental imputations, mere designations, imputed to the basis, lacing inherent existence and so on. For that type of person bliss is attained earlier and the realization of emptiness later.

The practitioner with sharp faculties, who is the main trainee of Highest Yoga Tantra, should be equipped with a realization of emptiness before taking a Highest Yoga Tantra initiation. For such a practitioner, therefore, the wisdom realizing emptiness is attained earlier than experience of bliss.

During an actual tantric meditation session a practitioner with sharp high faculties uses methods such as ignition of the inner heat, or deity yoga, or penetrating vital points of the body through wind yoga and so on. Through the force of desire which he has generated, he is able to melt the mind of enlightenment or elements within his body and experiences a state of great bliss. At this point the experience is the same whether the practitioner is male or female. He or she recollects the realization of emptiness and conjoins it with the experience of great bliss.

The way great bliss is experience is that when the mind of enlightenment or elements within the body are melted, you experience a physical sensation within the central channel which gives rise to a very powerful experience of bliss. This in turn induces a subtle mental bliss. When the meditator then recollects his or her understanding of emptiness, the experience of mental bliss is conjoined with it. That is the conjunction of bliss and emptiness.

According to the tantric explanation, when we speak of a blissful experience here, we are referring to the bliss that is derived from the emission of the element or regenerative fluid, another type of bliss which is derived from the movement of that element within the channels, and a third type of bliss which is derived through the state of immutable bliss. In tantric practice it is the two latter types of bliss that are utilized for realizing emptiness.

Because of the great significance of utilizing bliss in the realization of emptiness we find that many of the meditational deities in Highest Yoga Tantra are in union with a consort. As I explained before, this experience of bliss is very different from the ordinary bliss of sexual experience.

Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth

Since the practice of Highest Yoga Tantra is intended to benefit the trainee or practitioner whose physical structure possess the six constituents, the processes of the path resemble ordinary experiences and have similar features to the experiences of death, intermediate state and rebirth.

Because of human beings; unique physical structure, they naturally pass through three stages of death, intermediate state and rebirth. Death is a state when all the gross levels of mind and energy are withdrawn or dissolved into their subtlest levels. It is at that point that we experience the clear light of death. After that we assume a subtle body known as the intermediate state and when the intermediate state being assumes a coarser body, visible to other persons, it has taken rebirth into a new life.

Although we naturally pass through these different states, in their tantric treatises, Nagarjuna and Aryadeva have described unique techniques and methods whereby practitioners can put these experiences to positive use. Rather than go through them helplessly, can gain control of these three states and use them to achieve the resultant state of Buddhahood.

The procedures for achieving the three bodies of the Buddha, the Truth Body, Enjoyment Body and Emanation Body, have features similar to the states of death, intermediate state and rebirth. Thus, there is a possibility of achieving the three bodies by utilizing these three states.

As the path of Highest Yoga Tantra is explained in terms of meditation on the three bodies of the Buddha, any generation stage practice in Highest Yoga Tantra should incorporate these three aspects.

The Nyingma texts describe this process in different terms, referring to the three meditative stabilizations instead of the meditation on the three bodies, the meditative stabilization of suchness, the meditative stabilization of arising appearances and the causal meditative stabilization. These meditative stabilizations are equivalent to those generation stage practices explained in both Yoga Tantra and Highest Yoga Tantra, comprising the meditative stabilization of the initial stage, the victorious mandala meditative stabilization and the victorious activities meditative stabilization.

Meditation of the three bodies refers to the meditation in which you take death, intermediate state and rebirth into the process of the path. For instance, taking death into the process of the path as the Truth Body is where you transform the condition of dying by imagining or visualizing going through the process of death. On the imaginary level you withdraw and dissolve all the processes of your mind and energies. The death process begins with dissolution of elements within your own body, consequently it has eight stages starting with the dissolution of the earth, water, fire, and wind elements.

This is followed by four stages, technically referred to as the experiences of white appearance, red increase, black near attainment and the clear light of the death. This dissolution is experience during the generation stage only on an imaginary level, while deeper experiences of the dissolution process arise as the practitioner progresses and advances in his realization during the completion stage. This will eventually lead to a point where he will be able to go through the experience of the actual death process.

Nowadays, scientists have been conducting experiments to examine the death process to find out how it works. The process of dissolution will be much clearer in a person going through the death process gradually, such as someone who has been sick for a long time, and more conclusive results may be achieved in this way.

A tantric practitioner who has attained an advanced state of realization will be able to recognize the experience of death for what it is and will be able to put it to positive use, maintaining his awareness and not simply being overwhelmed by it.  Generally speaking, ordinary people may remain in the clear light of death for up to three days at most, but some meditators may abide in it for a week or more. What indicates that a person, although externally they may appear to be dead, has remained in the clear light of death, is that the body does not decompose.

The point at which the meditator goes through the experience of clear light on an imaginary level during the generation state, is the point at which he or she should enter into meditative equipoise on emptiness.

Just as an ordinary person enters into the intermediate state and assumes a very subtle body following the experience of the clear light of death, in the generation stage practice, after arising from this meditative equipoise on emptiness, the practitioner assumes a subtle body on an imaginary level, which is the factor that ripens the intermediate state. This is meditation on the Enjoyment Body.

Then, just as on an ordinary level a person in the intermediate state assumes a gross physical body marking their rebirth into a new life, so a practitioners of the generation stage, following the adoption of an Enjoyment Body, assumes and Emanation Body.
ate state assumes a gross physical body marking their rebirth into a new life, so a practitioners of the generation stage, following the adoption of an Enjoyment Body, assumes and Emanation Body.

There are many manuals describing meditations on the generation stage for generating yourself as a deity. In some practices you find yourself arising first as a causal vajra-holder, in other cases, you find that you generate yourself into a deity through a process known as the ‘five clarifications’ and so forth.

Although there are a lot of ways to visualize yourself as a deity in the practices of the generation stage which are very important, the most significant part of the meditation is the point at which you give special emphasis to meditation on the vast and the profound by cultivating the clarity of the visualization and divine pride. I have already mentioned this when I explained that the practitioner should cultivate clarity in the visualization of the deity and divine pride based on that.

As a serious practitioner you should try to undertake all these meditations, always relating them to your own mental state and level of realization, and always watching that your own meditation is free from the influences of mental laxity and excitement. Such forms of meditation should be undertaken in a sustained and concerted manner.

The greatest obstacle to obtaining and maintaining single-pointedness of mind is mental distraction. This includes many different types of mental states, such as mental scattering, but amongst them all the greatest obstacle is mental excitement. This arises when your mind is distracted by a desirable object. In order to overcome and counteract such influences, the meditator is recommended to try to relax the intensity of the meditation, to withdraw the attention from external objects and so on, so that the mind can be calmed down.

Because mental excitement comes about when your mind is too alert or your meditation is too intense, it helps to reflect on the nature of suffering of cyclic existence and so on. This will enable you to reduce the intensity of your alertness.

In order to develop firm single-pointedness of mind, it is necessary to have both clarity of mind and clarity of its object, for without clarity, even though you may be able to withdraw your mind from external objects, you will not be able to achieve single-pointedness. Clarity here is of two types, clarity of vision and clarity of the subjective experience itself. The factor that disrupts clarity of mind is mental sinking. This can be overcome by raising your level of awareness.

When you engage in meditation to develop single-pointedness, you should judge for yourself whether your mind is too intensely alert or whether it is too relaxed and so on. Assessing the level of your own mind you should cultivate single-pointedness correctly.

Because the object of meditation in the practice of Highest Yoga Tantra is yourself in the form of a deity, and also because of the practice of single-pointedly focusing your attention on certain points within your body, you are able to bring about movement of the elements in the body. Some meditators have related their experiences of this to me. When you are able to hold a clear image of the deity single-pointedly for a long period of time, this obstructs your normal sense of ordinariness and so leads to a feeling of divide price. However, during all these stages of meditation, it is very important constantly to reaffirm your awareness of emptiness.

When you undertake practice properly in this way you will reach a point where you will have a clear visualization of the entire mandala and the deities within it of such vividness that it is as if you could see them and touch them. This indicates realization of the first stage of generation.

If, as a result of your further meditation, you are able to reach the stage where you have a clear vision of the subtle deities that are generated from different parts of your body in a single instant, you will have achieved the second level of the generation stage.

Once you have attained firm meditation stabilization, different meditations, such as emanating deities, dissolving them back into your heart and so on, are explained in order to train yourself to gain further control over this single-pointedness. These meditations include visualization of subtle hand symbols at the opening of the upper end of the central channel and visualization of subtle drops and syllables at its lower end. Then, if you feel exhausted as a result of all this meditation, the next step is to do the mantra repetitions.

Mantra repetition in Highest Yoga Tantra is of many varieties, mantra repetition that is a commitment, mantra repetition that is gathered up like a heap, wrathful mantra repetition, and so on.

The Post-meditation Period

Following this there are practices for the post-meditation period. Since a tantric practitioner has to lead a life in which he is never separated from his practice of union of method and wisdom, the post-meditation periods are very important. There are different yogas to be practiced in these periods such as the yoga of sleeping, the yoga of eating, which includes the proper way of maintaining your diet, the yoga of washing and so on. There are even certain practices to be observed while relieving yourself.

Just as the great masters say, ‘The progress made during the meditation session should complete and reinforce the practices during the post-meditation period, and the progress made in the period after your meditation session should reinforce and complement your practices during the session.’

It is during the post-meditation period that you can really judge whether your practice during the meditation sessions has been successful or not. If you find that despite having undertaken meditation for years, your way of thinking, your lifestyle and behaviour during the post-meditation period remain unchanged and unaffected, it is not a good sign.

We don’t take medicine in order to try it or test it for taste, colour or size, but in order to improve our health. If after taking it for a long time it has done us no good, there is no point in continuing to take it. Whether your practices are short or elaborate, they should bring about some transformation or change for the better.

The Completion Stage

There are different kinds of activities that can be done on the basis of the deity yoga practiced I the generation stage. Consistently engaging in such forms of practice, the meditator will reach a point where he or she will begin to feel the physical effect of these practices. Experiencing this special physical effect within your body marks the attainment of the first level of completion stage.

There are many different types of completion stage practice, such as the yoga of inner heat, wind yoga – that is yoga that makes use of the currents of energy – and the yoga of the four joys and so forth. Wind yoga includes such techniques as holding the vase breath or what is technically referred to as vajra repetition.

At that point a lay practitioner can seek the assistance of a consort. But if the practitioner is an ordained person holding monastic vows, the point has not yet been reached. In order to engage in such profound practices of the completion stage, the practitioner should first be aware of the structure of his or her own body. This means understanding the stationary channels, the flowing energies and the drops that reside in certain parts of the body.

When we speak of channels, we generally refer to three main ones – the central, right and left channels – and also the five channel wheels or energy centres. These three main channels branch and re-branch so that there are, according to tantric texts, 72,000 channels in the body. Some sutras also mention 80,000 channels within the body.

Then, there are the flowing energies. These are of ten types, five major energies and the five minor ones. The drops refer to the white element and the red element. The Kalachakra tantra refers to four types of drops: the drop between the brows, which becomes manifest during the waking period; the drop at the throat, which becomes manifest during the dream state; the drop at the heart, which becomes manifest at the time of deep sleep; and the drop at the navel, which becomes manifest at the fourth stage (death).

In the Kalachakra we find very detailed explanations of these things. The entire structure of the practitioner’s body with its channels, energies and the drops is called the internal Kalachakra, which is the basis of purification. The Kalachakra Tantra speaks of three types of Kalachakra or wheel of time, the outer, inner and the alternative Kalachakras.

Based on the proper knowledge of the physical structure of his or her body, when the meditator focuses on certain vital points and penetrates them, he or she is able to withdraw and dissolve the flow of the gross level of wind and mind. Eventually, the practitioner will be able to generate the subtlest level of clear light, the clear light of death, into an entity of the path which is the wisdom realizing emptiness. Gaining such a realization is like having found the key which provides access to many treasures.

Once you achieve that stage and you have the key, you can attain the complete enlightenment of Buddhahood through the path of Guhyasamaja, that is by actualizaing the illusory body as explained in the Guhyasamaja, or through thr path of Kalachakra which speaks of the achievement of empty form, or through the rainbow body as explained in the Mayajala Tantra, which is also explained in the Great Perfection practices.

When a meditator has gained a certain control over his mind during the waking state, he or she begins to utilize even the dream state in the practice of the path and certain techniques are described for doing this. These kinds of meditations are called ‘mixings’, mixing during the waking state, during the dream state and during death.

Highest Yoga Tantra explains that the best practitioner is someone who is able to attain complete enlightenment within his or her lifetime. Those with middling faculties are able to attain complete enlightenment during the intermediate state and those of inferior ability will be able to attain it during their future lives. For those practitioners who will become enlightened during the intermediate state or during their future lives, practices such as the transference of consciousness are explained. There is also another practice quite similar to the transference of consciousness, but with the difference that the consciousness is transferred into another being’s boy or corpse.

These techniques belong to what are called the Six Yogas of Naropa, which are techniques Naropa extracted from many different tantras. These are among the basic practices of the Kagyu tradition. There is also a Gelup oractice of the Six Yogas of Naropa derived from Marpa’s tradition. These meditations can also be found in the Sakya practices of Path and Fruit and in the Nyingma practice of the Heart’s Drop.

We have been discussing the Highest Yoga Tantra procedures according to the new tradition. But the old tradition or old transmission school, the Nyingma, refers to the Great Perfection Vechile, whose practices consist of the Mind Collection, the Centredness Collection and the Collection of Quintessential Instructions.

Although there are many works on these topics, it is very difficult to perceive the subtleties of these different practices. Among these three collections, the Collection of Quintessential Instruction sis said to be the most profound. We can say that the practices of the first two Collections lay the foundations for the practice of ‘break-through’.

The view of emptiness explained in the Mind and Centredness Collections must have some features that distinguish it from the view of emptiness expounded in the low vehicle, but it is difficult to explain this clearly in words. The practices of the Collection of Quintessential Instructions have two aims: actualization of the Truth Body and actualization of the Enjoyment Body. The paths by which you actualize these two bodies of the Buddha are the practice of ‘breakthrough’ and ‘leap-over’.

Through understanding these elements of the Great Perfection School, you can understand what is meant by the Great Perfection of the base, the Great Perfection of the path and the Great Perfection of the resultant state. As I have remarked before, these are factors that can be understood only through experience and cannot be explained merely through words. However, you can appreciate the extent of their profundity and difficulty by reading Long-chen-pa’s text on the Great Perfection practices called Treasury of the Supreme Vechile, although the fundamental text as well as the commentary to it is very large and difficult to understand. He has also composed a text called the Treasury of Reality, which also outlines the practices of the Great Perfection.

You can only hope to gain a good understanding of the Great Perfection if you are able to explain the practices of the Great perfection according to these two texts of Long-chen-pa. It is also important to study Kunkhyen Jigme Linpa’s text on the Great Perfection called the Treasury of Virtue, in the second volume of which you will find explanations of Great Perfection practices.

There are also very short and succinct texts composed by masters who have themselves had experience of the Great Perfection. I myself believe that these texts were composed by highly realized masters who have been able to extract the essence of all the elements of the Great Perfection and its practices and as a result have been able to recount their experiences in a very few words. However, I think it would be very difficult to try to understand the practice of the Great Perfection on the basis of these short texts.

For example, when Lord Buddha taught the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, the shortest one consisted of the single syllable ‘Ah’. This sutra is said to encompass the entire meaning of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, but it would be either too simple or too difficult if we were to try to study the Perfection of Wisdom on the basis of that sutra. To say ‘Ah’ is very simple, but it doesn’t mean we have understood the meaning of the sutra.

When we study the Middle Way philosophy in all its complexity, studying the different reasons through which we can arrive at the conclusion that all phenomena lack inherent existence, if we are to understand all the subtleties and implications of such a philosophical view, it is also necessary to understand the viewpoint of the lower schools of thought. The conclusion you then arrive at is very simple. Because things are interdependent, and rely on other causal factors, they lack an independent nature or inherent existence.

But if you were to approach the Middle Way Consequentialist view of emptiness right from the beginning with that simple statement, ‘Because things are interdependent or dependently arising, they are empty of inherent existence’, you would not fully understand what it meant or implied. If, in a similar way, you were to read a short text composed by an inexperienced lama on the Great Perfection and were to conclude that the view of the Great Perfection was very simple, that would be a sign that you had not understood it properly. It would also be very ironic if the highest of the nine vehicles could also be said to be the simplest.

And with this I come to an end of my survey of all the Buddhist practices including the systems of both sutra and tantra undertaken in the Tibetan tradition.

London, 1988
Translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa
Edited by Jeremy Russell

Words of Truth

A Prayer Composed by His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso,
Honouring and Invoking the Great Compassion of the Three Jewels:
the Buddha, The Teachings, and the Spiritual Community.

O Buddhas of the past, present and future, Bodhisattvas and disciples;
Having remarkable qualities immeasurably vast as the ocean;
And who regard all sentient beings as your only child;
Please consider the truth of my anguished pleas.

Buddha’s teachings dispel the pain of worldly existence and self-centred peace;
May they flourish, spreading prosperity and happiness throughout this spacious world;
O holders of the Dharma: scholars and realized practitioners;
May your ten-fold virtuous practice prevail.

Completely suppressed by seemingly endless and terribly negative karmic acts;
Humble sentient beings are immersed in misery, tormented by sufferings without cease;
May all their fears from unbearable war, famine and disease be pacified;
To attain an ocean of happiness and well-being.

Barbarian hordes on the side of darkness, by various means;
Mercilessly destroy pious people, particularly in the Land of Snow;
Kindly let the power of compassion arise;
To quickly stem the flow of blood and tears.

Through wild madness, brought on by the evils of delusion;
These objects of compassion do disservice to themselves and to others;
May the irresponsible attain the eye of wisdom to discern good from bad;
And be established in a state of love and friendship.

May this heart-felt wish of total freedom for all Tibet;
Which has been awaited for such a long time; be spontaneously fulfilled;
Please grant soon the great fortune to enjoy;
The celebration of spiritual and temporal rule.

For the sake of the teachings and practitioners, the nation and its people;
Many have undergone myriad hardships;
Completely sacrificing their most cherished lives, bodies and wealth;
O Protector Chenrezig, compassionately care for them.

Thus the great Patron of Boundless Love, before Buddhas and Bodhisattvas;
Embraced the people of the Land of Snow;
May good results now quickly dawn;
Through the prayerful vows you have made.

By the power of the profound reality of emptiness and its relative forms;
Together with the force of great compassion in the Three Jewels and the Words of Truth;
And through the infallible law of actions and their effects;
May this truthful prayer be unhindered and quickly fulfilled.

The Prayer: WORDS OF TRUTH was composed by His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the Spiritual Head of Tibetan Buddhism on 29 September 1960 at his temporary headquarters in the Swarg Ashram, located in Dharamsala, India. This prayer for the restoration of peace, the Buddhist teachings, the culture and self-determination of the Tibetan people in their homeland was written after repeated requests by Tibetan government officials along with unanimous consensus of the monastic and lay communities. Particular acknowledgement was given to the requests of Barzhi Phuntsog Wangyal; Lobsang Tendzin – treasurer of Lhatzun Labrang and his wife, Tashi Dolma; and Lobsang Dorje – treasurer of Shelkar Monastery.

This translation was made by Ramjampa Dupchok Gyaltsen and Peter Gold, under the editorial guidance of Lotsawa Tenzin Dorje and with certain clarifications by the Ven. Geshe Lobsang Gyatso, Principal of the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, in Dharamsala, India, during April 1992.

Article extracted from Chö Yang: The Voice of Tibetan Religion & Culture No. 5

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