Using Tantra to destroy everyday delusions

7 mins read + a video

The Mirror of DharmaDo you fancy being one of the first people in this world to read The Mirror of Dharma?! It just came out at the weekend, and the epub is here. It gives all manner of magical advice directly from Je Tsongkhapa’s heart. I am really happy about this book 😊

Now carrying on from this conversation about Tantra. And, by the way, this is the 400th article on Kadampa Life …

In The New Guide to Dakini Land, Geshe Kelsang says:

The ordinary deluded pride that I have had until now results only in suffering and continued rebirth in samsara, but divine pride will lead me to liberation and Vajrayogini’s Pure Land. Therefore, I will never give up this pure pride of being Vajrayogini.

We don’t need to use self-deprecating language on ourselves, thinking, “I am trying to be Vajrayogini” — we can just be her! Or “This is too hard” — instead we think “I am already doing it!” Bliss and emptiness are actually not that complicated — it is our delusions and over-conceptualization that are complicated, weighing things down with elaboration.

Who are we anyway?!

As Geshe Kelsang says in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

Many of Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples and their disciples in turn became enlightened Buddhas in their lifetime by attaining the realization of the union of great bliss and emptiness through practicing the instructions of the Ganden Oral Lineage. However, it is difficult for people to believe that this is true because their minds are obstructed by ordinary appearance.

joyNot surprisingly, due to beginningless familiarity with everything appearing as ordinary and impure, it is a stretch of our imagination at first to conceive of things as extraordinary and pure. But just because we haven’t experienced ourselves or our reality like this before doesn’t mean we cannot do it now. There is always a first time. We have been busy creating our suffering beginningless time; now we can start creating our happiness.

And we need to be convinced that this new experience is just as “real” as what we are currently experiencing.

Our current self is mere name, mere label, imputed by our ordinary imagination or conception on the basis of a hallucinatory meaty body and deluded mind. It cannot be found upon investigation. As Geshe Kelsang says:

What does taking rebirth in samsara mean? It means that in each of our lives due to ignorance we grasp our body and mind as our self, thinking, ‘I’, ‘I’, where there is no I, or self. Through this we experience the sufferings of this life and countless future lives as hallucinations endlessly. ~ The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra

Think about this … how can we NOT experience suffering if we think we are a meaty body and a deluded mind?! Our self-grasping ignorance has trapped us in the very sources of suffering, so the most we can ever hope for is temporary liberation from particular sufferings – which is never going to be good enough.

Finding the self

Trying to find the self or me I normally perceive is like trying to touch the water of a mirage.

Geshe-la meditating in his roomIf this real me existed, it must be findable in its parts or separate from its parts. We should be able to point to it without pointing at anything that is not it. But luckily we cannot find a me or I if we look for it with analytical wisdom. I am not the body, not the mind, and not the collection of the body and mind — yet take the body and mind away and I disappear. (Thank goodness.)

These four essential points are explained in detail in this recent article. And you might find this video helpful – a hair is not the macrofibrils, microfibrils, or protofibrils, for example, but take any of those parts away and there is no hair. Everything is unfindable.

So there is no self separate from a sense (or thought) of self – self is mere appearance to that sense of self. There is no self, or anything else for that matter, other than its mere name. You will never find your self outside the mind, existing objectively or from its own side, however hard you look. (This probably explains why no one else can see your self! And why they come up with their own crazy versions all the time 😄) All there is is the emptiness of the self appearing as the self due to our mistaken minds.

Do what you like!

blissThing is, if the self doesn’t exist from its own side but depends upon our thoughts, then why can’t we change our self by changing our thoughts? We can! In which case we can impute Me (or identify Me with) the pure body and mind of a Buddha, “I am a Buddha;” and this is just as “real”, or indeed more valid. This is because the body and mind of a Buddha, albeit still projections or appearances of mind like everything else, are non-dual with bliss and emptiness.

Pure mind = pure identity

When talking about making mandala offerings in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra, Geshe Kelsang interestingly says:

mandala offering

Offering the mandala is offering a Pure Land generated through the power of correct imagination. There is no difference between offering a Pure Land generated through the power of correct imagination and offering an actual Pure Land – both are mere appearance to the mind. If we have a pure mind both exist, and if we do not have a pure mind neither exists.

I think this explanation of Pure Lands applies to self-generation as well.

Using clear appearance to overcome delusions

From a daily practical point of view, we can rely upon clear appearance to overcome specific delusions.

We impute ourselves as Vajrayogini mainly on the basis of the Truth Body (or Dharmakaya) of bliss and emptiness, ultimate bodhichitta; but many times in and out of meditation I find it immensely helpful to remember the features of Vajrayogini and her mandala as a way to overcome the delusions that come up in everyday life. These features are not other than the bliss and emptiness of the Truth Body, but they teach us what to abandon and what to practice.

For example, if I am suffering from ignorance, aversion, or attachment, remembering my curved knife immediately reminds me to cut these away; or I remember that I am stamping on the symbolic forms of Bhairawa and Kalarati. If I am suffering from spiritual inertia, I remember that I’m looking up to space, demonstrating my attainment of blissful Dakini Land. We need the joy of unconditional love to help others, and our body blazes with joy like the fire at the end of the aeon. If we are identifying ourself with Heruka, there are even more features to choose from – such as his nine moods. You can read all about the features and their meaning in The New Guide to Dakini Land and Essence of Vajrayana.

shower thoughtsWe can use pure appearances/perceptions both in and out of meditation to overcome the appearances/perceptions of imperfection and ordinariness of ourselves and others. This is a lot of fun, to be honest, and gives us so much power, confidence, and energy to help others as well.

This is because what we end up doing every day depends on who we think we are.

Dream of the Dharmakaya

These features are mere appearance not other than emptiness – they are bliss and emptiness appearing. Therefore, they are not fixed — but the mandala is the rainbow-like manifestation of the omniscient wisdom of Heruka and Vajrayogini, created and blessed by enlightened beings. Geshe Kelsang once called it the “dream of the Dharmakaya”.

The mandala and Deities are inspirational and powerful because they are the embodiment of every stage of the path and every quality of enlightenment. Just remembering them automatically purifies and empowers our mind. I think of it as like all the Sutra and Tantra realizations appearing in technicolor. Vajrayogini in phenomena source

Like every pure AND impure appearance — everything that exists in fact — Vajrayogini and her Pure Land are empty and dream-like; but it would be hard to come up with a better dream. We now have a dynamic, transcendental, pure, and blissful paradigm for relating to ourselves, our world, our enjoyments, our activities, and other people.

Over to you for comments. And Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments and commentary are coming up again soon, this Summer in England – perhaps I’ll see you there.

Further reading

Feel free to change your mind

Bringing the result of our spiritual practice into the present path

Bliss and emptiness

 

Meditating on the emptiness of our self

emancipate yourselves10 mins read

Someone told me today that he felt like he was a very ordinary person. I am not sure whether he wanted me to contradict him or not, but the point is that he is neither inherently ordinary nor extraordinary. What he is and what he does depends on what thoughts he is identifying himself with. Same goes for you and for me.

According to Buddhism, by far the best thing we could do for ourselves is to stop believing in a limited, ordinary, and often painful sense of me as if it was the truth. To understand instead that we are merely imputed by conceptual thought like everything else.

If we don’t know how to stop holding on, it is hard to let go and reimagine ourselves because we don’t realize we exist in that state of freedom.

This is why we need to do the meditation on the emptiness of our self. Once we can dissolve away our stuck sense of self, we can start being who we want to be. We can change everything.

Step One of this meditation explained in this last article, identifying the negated object, involves gaining a clear image of the Me or I we normally perceive, the one that appears real or inherently existent. In Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Geshe Kelsang says:

There is something quite strange about the inherently existent I. If we do not investigate it, it will appear all the time and even in our dreams we shall grasp at it; but as soon as we actually examine it, it becomes very unclear. As we search for it, instead of being able to locate it we lose it. This very experience is a sign that the I does not exist from its own side, because if it did exist from its own side investigation would reveal it more and more clearly.

We can start by recollecting or imagining a vivid personal example, such as walking along a narrow path in the Grand Canyon (no railings!) when a GC pathtourist coming the other way bumps into us with his oversized rucksack and we start to lose our footing …. At that time we’re not thinking “My body is about to fall” or “My mind is about to fall”, but “I am about to fall!!!” And that I seems independent of the body and mind, real and solid, existing all on its own. Luckily I didn’t fall. True story! Happened last week.

(Given me an excuse, at least, to litter this article with my Grand Canyon photos …)

It is practical to use any of our current greatest hits — whether that be the afraid me or rejected me or worried me or stuck me or frankly any me we’d rather we shot of — because the greater the impact of our emptiness meditation, the more we’ll come to enjoy it.

This first step is the most important part of the meditation because the remaining 3 steps are really not that hard if we get it right.

And by the way:

When it is said that inherent existence is the negated object of emptiness, this does not mean that it is put out of existence by emptiness, because inherent existence has never existed. Nevertheless, because we believe that inherent existence really exists we need to examine this object and get a clearer idea of it. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune

Step Two: Ascertaining the pervasion

If that self or me exists from its own side, as solid and real as it appears, it should be findable — and the more we look for it the clearer it should become. We should be able to take away everything that is not Me and be left with Me.

Likewise, we should be able to point to it and say, “Here I am!”, without pointing at anything that is not it. That’s only fair, wouldn’t you agree? You wouldn’t accept that someone had found the ketchup in the fridge if they are pointing at the mayo.

Where would we search for our self?!

In The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra, Geshe Kelsang says:

We should know that if our self that we normally see exists, it must exist in our body, in our mind, as the collection of our body and mind, or somewhere other than these.

The first obvious place to look for me is within my body and mind, as opposed to over there down the street somewhere.

But if I cannot find me in my body and mind, the only other option is that I am somewhere else.

In other words, I either have to be somewhere around here (imagine my hands waving around my body) or somewhere else. Grand Canyon view

In this part of the meditation we think this through and understand that there is no third possibility. This means that we can now look in these two places with the certainty that our search will cover, or pervade, everywhere this I could possibly be.

This is a helpful analogy from Joyful Path of Good Fortune (providing you don’t go thinking that the fish is jumping in and out … )

If we think there is a fish in our house, there are only two places where it could be. Either it is inside the aquarium or it is outside the aquarium. There is no third place it could be. If we establish that there is no fish inside the aquarium and no fish outside the aquarium, we can firmly conclude there is no fish in our house.

So now we go looking for our self with analytical wisdom — trying to find an actual me that corresponds or matches up with our vivid idea of me.

Step Three: Ascertaining the absence of oneness

We start our search in our body and mind.

Is my body me? (We can ask this question the other way around too – “Am I my body?” Whichever works better for you.)

No, my body is my body, not me. I’m not a pile of inanimate flesh and bones; there is a lot more to me than that! I have lots of interesting ideas, for a start. I have a body but I am not a body. My sense of me doesn’t even feel like flesh and bones. I cannot find my me anywhere in this body.

Also, try saying “My body” – and see how that has a different connotation or feel than saying “Me”.

Is my mind me? (Am I my mind?) Perhaps this is a more likely candidate?

No, my mind is my mind, not me. I am not a thought or an idea, there is a lot more to me than that! I can sit down, for a start. And I can type on this keyboard; something my formless awareness cannot do. If someone insults me, I don’t think they are insulting my thoughts but ME. And today my body has a fever and I feel ill, even though my mind doesn’t have a temperature.

Also, saying “My mind” has a different connotation than saying “Me”. They don’t denote the same things.

As and when you get time, do check out How to Transform Your Life or Joyful Path of Good Fortune or some of the other books for more reasoning on how you are neither your body nor your mind. One of these reasons may work well for you, it’s good to find one that clicks.

We will never find anything anywhere in our body or our mind that matches up or corresponds with our sense of me. I have thoughts and I have a body, but I am not my thoughts nor my body. pointing at the GC

Whenever we try to point at our Me, physically or mentally, we cannot. If we point at ourselves sitting here reading this, for example, and follow the trajectory of our finger, we end up just focusing on a part of our body, eg, our chest. I am not a chest. And it is even harder to point to the mind — we end up pointing at a thought, and I am not a thought. Or, if I am, which one?!

Everything we point to as we attempt to point to me turns out to be NOT me.

Is the collection of my body and mind me? (Am I the collection of my body and mind?) Since my body and mind individually are not me, perhaps I can find my self in a combination of the two?

But it is impossible for a collection of non-me’s to be me. For example, if we put two non-sheep together, such as two cows, how do we magically get a sheep out of that? We don’t, we just have two cows. My body is a non-me and my mind is a non-me; so how do we get a me out of that? We don’t, we just have two non-me’s.

We conclude that I am not my body, not my mind, and not the collection of my body and mind. Or that we cannot find a me in my body, my mind, or the collection of the two.

Step Four: Ascertaining the absence of difference

tree and hole Grand CanyonThat leaves only somewhere else for that me to be – perhaps as some separate possessor of my body and mind?

So, where would that be? Can we point to Me without pointing at our body or our mind?

Here is a helpful bit from The New Meditation Handbook for this part:

We should imagine that our body gradually dissolves into thin air, and then our mind dissolves, our thoughts scatter with the wind, our feelings, wishes, and awareness melt into nothingness. Is there anything left that is the I? There is nothing. Clearly, the I is not something separate from the body and mind.

Conclusion

The conclusion of this meditation is that we don’t find our I anywhere. It disappears. Where there previously appeared an inherently existent I, there now appears an absence of that I, like an empty-like space. As Geshe Kelsang says:

We allow our mind to become absorbed in space-like emptiness for as long as possible.

This is the emptiness of the self. It is the truth of the self, and meditating on it directly undercuts our ignorance, the root of all our suffering.

What an incredible sense of lightness and relaxation! I no longer have to cherish this thing or worry about it, because it’s not there! When we get it, we want to stay with that wonderful realization for a while. Forever, if we could.

So what, we may now be wondering, is my self?

The I is merely a designation imputed by the conceptual mind upon the collection of the body and mind. ~ The New Meditation Handbook

In other words, it is no more than an idea. And often quite a bad one!

hole in Grand CanyonDue to self-grasping ignorance, our I appears as far more than a mere imputation or label. It feels solid and independent, a real I existing behind the label, and we grasp at this as the truth; but if we do this meditation we find out for ourselves that we have been clutching at straws this whole time.

The I that we grasp at so strongly is merely a fabrication of our ignorance, the non-existent object of a wrong awareness. What happens to a thought when we stop thinking it? What happens to the self when we stop believing it is there?

Practicing wisdom

Please try out these four steps until you get a taste for losing your I. It can take a bit of practice, but that’s okay – we are generally happy to practice patience, love, etc, and so we can be happy to practice wisdom too, knowing it’ll get easier and more powerful the more we do. Unless we actually meditate on Buddha’s instructions on emptiness, they’ll just sound abstract or intellectual or complicated – when in fact they are the liberating path to incredible happiness.

Geshe Kelsang says in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

We should learn to stop grasping at our self that we normally see by remembering that our self that we normally see does not exist. If this works practically, then there is no basis for experiencing problems and suffering.

squirrel at GC

If we really get a sense of its disappearance,  “practically”, we immediately feel a freedom. We are immediately opening the door to freedom. We don’t have to wait until we are Superior beings with a direct realization of emptiness; we can start accumulating mini-freedoms starting today.

Liberation doesn’t happen overnight – I think it is the result of many freedoms that we accomplish over the course of our lives through identifying our vividly appearing limited self and letting it dissolve away into the space of emptiness. Our daily neuroses start to subside immediately. For example, if we have let go of being that person who needs someone else to make us happy, we have instant confidence. Or if we are no longer holding ourselves as a competitor, fearing that our rival is getting all the glory and we are being passed over, we can enjoy our work again.

The possibilities are endless.

“Who am I relating to now?” This question is great for the meditation break, particularly when a painful feeling is arising. For example, if an inadequate neglected self is appearing, instead of immediately feeling. “Oh no, I’m stuck again!” we can be happy. “Oh yes! Fantastic. I need you to see you. Now I can identify you, which means I can abandon you.”blackbird at GC

If we are putting these instructions into practice, we are happy to recognize the enemy, to learn from it. “Let me see how this self is appearing to be independent and how I am grasping it as such.” We want to watch that until we see it clearly, at which point we realize how ridiculous it is. We see that it has no power other than the power we are giving it. The thoughts that revolve around that me create our present and future suffering, rendering us powerless and pathetic; but the moment we apply wisdom we can easily vanquish this enemy. And now we can be whoever we want to be.

As the great Yogi Saraha said:

If your mind is released permanently from self-grasping, there is no doubt that you will be released permanently from suffering.

I have this quote on my fridge. I sometimes think it’s all I need.

Over to you. Any questions or comments?

Related articles

Just who do you think you are?

How our sufferings revolve around a limited self

There is no boogeyman under the bed

 

Being bound for freedom

 7.5 mins read

Who are you?

How we think about ourselves will bring that out of us.

Even if you have only meditated once in your entire life, would you do me a favor and try this thought out for size, for it is already in some ways true:

I am a meditator.

meditatorWhat do meditators do?! Yes, exactly, they meditate. Whether it goes well or not on any particular day, they do it anyway because that is who they are.

If instead we are thinking, “I am not a meditator, just vaguely attempting to do it ‘cos I can see that it could help, though it is unnatural to me and I’m basically useless at it,” what will happen? We’ll stay useless at it. There will be no energy behind it, zero enthusiasm.

Also, if we think of ourselves as a meditator, life becomes a fascinating journey — meditators use what comes up in their day to feed their meditations and insights instead of letting it drag them down.

Who we are depends a lot on who we think we are and can be. We need to stop identifying with a meaty body and sad, heavy, deluded mind, setting ourselves up for endless suffering and failure.

Truth is, every living being has such deep indestructible potential, and Buddhism has the methods to dig out from the mud of the delusions this gold nugget of endless compassion, wisdom, and happiness. The sooner we think of ourselves in the light of our potential, the sooner these methods will work for us.

This is the last of three articles on renunciation.

Boring party

Have you ever been to a party where you’re doing your darndest to enjoy yourself — drinking, eating, chatting, dancing, wandering around looking for people – but you’re actually feeling really bored?!

boring party

We’re supposed to be having fun so we don’t want to admit this. But after a while we think, “Okay, that’s enough … I’m outta here.”

We walk out the door to instant relief and fresh air.

This is like giving up on trying to make samsara work. We feel free because we no longer have to buy into something that’s not working. We don’t have to pretend any more. We have made the decision to leave this idiotic party. This constantly seeking happiness outside ourselves is not working. I want to be happy and free, but this samsara is not working — I am not getting happier and freer as the days and months go by. Year after year it’s the same. I can do better. I am going to do better.

In the context of renunciation, we identify with being someone on their way out already, feeling really happy. We are beings bound for freedom. We identify with this: “I am a being bound for freedom.” What do beings bound for freedom do?!

Existential context

Life is short, Buddha said, like a water bubble. I was wandering alongside Bear Creek last week, watching the water flow and the bubbles rise and subside. Each one of those bubbles is like one of my countless lives in the continuous river of samsara – fragile, fleeting, but in which I have invested everything as if that’s all there is, completely missing the existential context. Bear Creek

We need to take a step back to see our “real situation” as Geshe Kelsang puts it, or get an overview of where we’re actually at. We have had countless bubble-like lives already, and there are countless more waiting to rise up from the clear light continuum of our root mind once this one pops.

If we wake up to that truth we can use this life to become a Foe Destroyer (destroying ignorance and other delusions with wisdom), or a Bodhisattva, or at least in a position to carry on with our spiritual practice in our next life. This will only happen if we put our spiritual practice first in this life.

Dream-like nature of all things

Ever had a dream when you fell madly in love with someone, only to wake up and think, “Hmmm, what was that about?”

The point about falling for someone in our dreams is that (a) it can’t last! (b) we are making the whole thing up! They were never really there!

So what is the point of all that grasping and sadness? What’s it based on? Just illusions.

dream boy meets girlAs Buddha says in King of Concentration Sutra:

In a dream, a girl meets a boy and sees that he is dying.
She is happy to meet him but unhappy to see him dying.
We should understand that all phenomena are like this.

I find contemplating the dream-like nature of things – both their fleetingness and their emptiness — incredibly helpful for letting go of individual objects of attachment. It also works to develop the wish to let go generally of all the pointless suffering and sadness that comes from grasping onto something that isn’t even there.

For is it not so painful to grasp at something that is already slipping through our fingers and that doesn’t even exist from its own side to begin with? But that is what we are doing with attachment. Such relief arises from letting go. In samsara, all our dreams are broken in the end. It is about time we realized that and released our death grip on samsara so we can spring for liberation and enlightenment.

Meditation on renunciationrenunciation

Here is a practical way to do a meditation on renunciation based on the two parts I brought up in How to lighten up and And we have lift off!

We relax into our heart, maybe do some clarity of mind or breathing meditation, and feel the peace and freedom of a settled mind — the natural peace of our own mind when it is relatively free from delusions. There is plenty more of that where it came from; it is our Buddha nature.

We enjoy it and identify with it, thinking, “This is me. I am a being bound for liberation.” I don’t want samsara. I want the pure land and liberation. 

Part one: In the space of this concentration, we ask ourselves, “Am I a samsaric being at the moment?” Do I have a meaty body and a deluded mind, for example, and am I identifying with these, thinking this is who I actually am?

We can also take any problem we are having and go through the 7 sufferings to see if it belongs in that desperately monotonous samsaric pattern. If so, whatever problem we manage to get rid of, there will be another one waiting to take its place, guaranteed. And not just in this life but in countless future lives, just as it has been in our countless past lives — problems arising like waves from the ocean of our root mind, day after day and life after life.

Through a contemplation like this, we develop the wish to be free. This is renunciation. We can focus on it single-pointedly for a while, understanding that we CAN be free.

Part two: However, we cannot afford to keep following our attachment, or it will hold us back and down. We don’t want to be like a barnacle, or a bird with stones tied to its ankles, or attached to the prison porridge. Understanding the deceptive nature of worldly pleasures, and how our attachment causes most of our daily problems and prevents us from escaping even while we have the chance, we develop the wish to stop it.

We identify with being someone on their way out already, feeling really happy. We have made the decision to leave this very bad party, we don’t have to pretend it works any more. We become accustomed to this feeling in placement meditation until it sticks.

To conclude …

In this way we start experiencing the deep peace of renunciation. Now, too, we have a firm foundation for the happiness of bodhichitta, the joy of wisdom, and the bliss of Tantra. Our life will never be the same again.

Which direction we go in and where we end up depends upon our motivation. The meaning of our actions depends upon our motivation. With renunciation, even brushing our teeth can be a cause of liberation. Without it, no amount of virtuous deeds can get us out of samsara.

heroesRenunciation is great. We no longer need to buy into samsara’s dreary, heavy, repetitive, ordinary identity with its endless chapters of suffering, but instead start to view ourselves as a hero or heroine bound for freedom. We can start really enjoying ourselves!

We are very motivated also to contemplate emptiness, the doorway out of here. Renunciation gives us the lift off we need. Without it we succumb easily to the laziness of discouragement and attachment to worldly pleasures because we have no sense of the alternative.

If you ever find that your mind is not moving in the direction you want it to, or seems to keep slipping backwards, check your attachment levels. Despondency, instability, boredom, frustration, and feeling stuck are all built into attachment to samsara.

Over to you: Thank you for your interest in these 3 articles on renunciation. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below.

Related articles

How’s samsara working out for you?!

The monotony of samsara 

Transforming worldly enjoyments into the spiritual path