Sky Dancers

7 mins read

And another thing … we could do ourselves an enormous favor by remeheruka and vajrayogini 1mbering that we are not practicing Tantra alone but have an immense amount of help coming to us from the Dakinis and Dakas, the Tantric Buddhas. People aren’t always feeling this — so I thought it’d be nice to say something about it, seeing as it is Vajrayogini Day today.

Carrying on from this article, I’m sharing more thoughts with those of you who have received Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments.

One reason we start Vajrayogini practice with the yoga of sleeping is because:

During the night the Dakinis of the twenty-four places visit sincere Vajrayogini practitioners and bestow their blessings… They may go to bed with a mind preoccupied with the problems of the day, but wake up refreshed, with a clear and positive mind … They may also find that obstacles to their Dharma practice inexplicably disappear overnight… Dakinis are able to help a practitioner in this way when he or she establishes a connection with them through pure Vajrayogini practice. ~ New Guide to Dakini Land, page 27-8

I believe this is so, that Dakinis are helping practitioners all the time, especially if we let them. This has been my experience in any event, including when I was on a longish retreat.

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“Dakini”, or “khandro” in Tibetan, means “space goer” or “sky dancer”. (“Kha” means space or sky, and “dro” means going or dancing.) In Tantra we learn to fly in the sky of bliss and emptiness where we belong, instead of lumbering along the long and painful paths of samsara; and we let the Dakinis help. We want to come under the care and guidance of the Dakinis and Dakas of the twenty-four places and their emanations. This includes the wrathful Dakinis, Kakase and so on, who protect us from malevolent forces and everything else with flames of wisdom fire.

What or who exactly is a Dakini?

For Tantric realizations, we need complete reliance on the Spiritual Guide (Guru), Yidam (Deity), and Protector. We also need to rely on the Dakinis. But I sometimes observe that people don’t feel as guided and cared for by the Dakinis as they do by these other Buddhas.

heruka father and motherThese are some of the things I have heard about Dakinis: They are not “real” Buddhas. They are not historical figures with their own stories. They’re abstract. You can fit them all into one, for example Tara and Vajrayogini are the same; so there’s really only one Dakini!

People don’t always feel a strong personal relationship with the Dakinis. I don’t know, I’ve just heard people talking like this. Even someone said the other day that Dakinis were just the invention of men with too much time on their hands, to help male practitioners! And that view is not uncommon.

This is not the way to think about Dakinis, especially if you are a woman, or maybe even more so if you are a man!

A life-changing conversation with my Spiritual Guide

Once upon a time, I asked my teacher Venerable Geshe Kelsang: “There are a ton of male lineage Gurus and Buddhas, but there are really no role models for women in this tradition, apart from Tara and Vajrayogini — who are even supposedly one person. So where are the female Buddhas I’m supposed to be becoming?”

Geshe-la then spoke to me for an hour on this subject. He explained about misogyny in ancient India and Tibet, explaining that there were many enlightened females, but due to the structure of society they were either not able to teach or else they were only able to teach a few disciples. Therefore, they didn’t become famous, or known as lineage holders even if they were.

But actually, he continued, you have many role models, because every female Dakini in Heruka’s mandala was a female practitioner just like you. They all have stories. They all have names.

paradigm shiftThis conversation changed everything for me. I realized Dakinis were real. Not “real” in the sense of inherently existent, but you know what I mean — they really existed. They were actual people. They had histories, even if those were lost to the mists of time. They were role models. They were powerful. We still have their names. And the more over the years as I’ve gotten to know them, as I’ve felt more and more guided by them, the more enjoyment I have gotten from my Tantric practice.

Geshe-la also went on to explain and demonstrate all the good qualities of female practitioners, including their relative humility and fearlessness compared with men. He talked about the vital need for female teachers, both ordained and lay, in the modern vajrayogini is everywhereworld. But I won’t rub it in!, there are men reading this, lol 😄

Dakini nature

Dakinis are extraordinarily free, blissful, transcendent beings. Every one of us, male or female, has not just Buddha nature but Dakini nature.

The terms “Hero and Heroine” and “Daka and Dakini” are interchangeable. Shantideva said that a real Hero or Heroine is someone who has destroyed their enemy, the self-grasping and self-cherishing minds, has conquered their delusions, and has developed the courage to help countless living beings. ~ page 191

Sometimes I think we’re attracted to Buddhism and to Tantra in particular because we have this yearning for freedom and unconventionality, there’s this little bit of rebelliousness in all of us. But we can sometimes find ourselves in what may seem to be a hierarchical spiritual society; and may perhaps feel intimidated by how conventional and even rigid things can appear to us.

vajrayogini 2If this is the case, it’s worth remembering that all outer structures, all Buddhist hierarchies, are ways of helping others that are emanating from bliss and emptiness, and designed ultimately to guide everyone into bliss and emptiness.

Modern Buddhism

Our main object of refuge in modern or Kadampa Buddhism is Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka – our Spiritual Guide is appearing as Je Tsongkhapa, with Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart, and Buddha Heruka and Vajrayogini at his heart. This reveals our outer, inner, and secret Dharma practice through which our Spiritual Guide is drawing us all into his heart of bliss and emptiness.

Guru Tsongkhapa is the embodiment of moral discipline and renunciation and, totally relatable, represents the visible or outer structure for helping others, such as the organized centers, ordained community, and lay Pratimoksha community. We can “remain natural while changing our aspiration” as the Kadampa motto goes – obeying traffic rules, for example, improving our ethics, showing the genuine example of humility and trustworthiness, while inside things are changing.

guru sumati buddha herukaJe Tsongkhapa emanates from Guru Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart, who is the embodiment of his inner realizations of love, compassion, and bodhichitta, which flow effortlessly throughout the whole world of living beings.

And Buddha Shakyamuni in turn emanates from the ultimate Daka and Dakini, Heruka and Vajrayogini, at his heart, who are the embodiment of the secret or hidden Tantric practice of bliss and emptiness that sources and pervades all phenomena, that is reality itself, that already exists as the solution.

As it says in Great Treasury of Merit:

According to Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition, a skilled teacher will gradually lead his or her disciples through the stages of Lamrim, Lojong, and Secret Mantra (Tantra), and show how to combine all these into a regular practice.

(You can find out more about this outer, inner, and secret Dharma practice in Great Treasury of Merit and in this article.)

Dakini nature

So we need to keep in mind our secret Dakini nature, which is completely free from protocol, actually, even rather anarchic. Every ordinary appearance and conception – whether it is virtuous or non-virtuous, it still has to go. If we remember how everything is pervaded by Pure Dakini Land, then we don’t have to feel oppressed by any seeming hierarchical structure because we understand its real nature and intention. samsara

Identifying with this secret nature is crucial if we are to use our realization of bliss and emptiness to overcome ordinary appearances and conceptions to attain inner Dakini Land, ie, meaning clear light and enlightenment. Otherwise, if we are not careful, we can just get bogged down with more appearance and more elaboration, even judgment of ourselves and others.

We need never feel constricted, staid, boring, inadequate, or bad about ourselves. In fact we are better off just forgetting all about our ordinary mistaken sense of self, dissolving it into emptiness every chance we get and joining the Dakinis instead.

We can embrace our unfettered Dakini nature, just as Je Tsonghapa did. In the Tantric tsog offering, which we do on the 10th and 25th of every month at Kadampa Centers worldwide, we sing the Song of the Spring Queen. Je Tsongkhapa originally sang this to the Dakinis, and the Dakinis also sang it to him. He was completely free, Je Tsongkhapa, a Tantric Buddha. Je Pabongkhapa had visions of him riding on a tiger.

Part 2 of this article coming up on Heruka Day, January 25th.

Meantime, your comments are welcome below 😊

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Emergency aid for a troubled mind

9 mins read

bla bla meditation

Do you ever wish you had a quick fix for an unhappy mind? Like you even know what you could be doing to feel better, but your mind is just too roiled to be able to do it? The craving is just too strong and convincing, the irritation just too, well, irritating?

Well, I’ve been wanting to talk for ages about a really helpful meditation that has a lot of benefits, including being emergency aid for strong delusions (unpeaceful, uncontrolled thoughts). Called “absorption of cessation of gross conceptual thought”, it’s surprisingly easy to do and takes as long as we have, even if that is only five to fifteen minutes.

In addition, we can also use this meditation to absorb deeply into our heart, into a subtler level of our consciousness, as explained below. And this happens to be perfect preparation for success in other meditations, so I hope it’s particularly good timing for those of you lucky enough to be doing Lamrim or Tantric retreats this month.  

I’ll talk about some of its benefits and then outline how to do it below.

Switch off unhappy thoughts

To bring about instant, temporary freedom from a very disturbed or deluded mind, Shantideva, the great 8th century Indian Buddhist Master, advises us to “remain like a mindless piece of wood” for a few minutes.block of wood

One effective way to deal with this strong arising of delusions is to remain for a short while as if we were a piece of wood: unmoving, non-reactive, and without thoughts. ~ Meaningful to Behold page 143

Briefly, after relaxing into a good posture and dropping into our heart, we imagine we become an inanimate object, as if made of wood or stone, devoid of thought and feeling. We switch off our thoughts like switching off the TV.

We should merely be as unresponsive as possible to the thoughts flooding our mind. By depriving them of energy in this way, we shall prevent our delusions from motivating our behaviour and they will soon fade away of their own accord. ~ page 147

A “technique of non-reaction,” as Shantideva puts it, this temporarily solves all our problems. And Geshe Kelsang explained it during the 2006 Medicine Buddha teachings in upstate New York:

Meditation on this absorption is very useful for solving human problems temporarily because through this method we can temporarily cease gross conceptual thoughts, such that there are no unpleasant feelings, painful feelings, unhappiness. This is a very special method, and very simple; and it can be practiced by both Buddhists and non-Buddhists, anyone.

Remaining impassive like wood for a few minutes will calm us down and give us a welcome break from unhappiness. Geshe Kelsang also said:

Practicing this is not difficult, it is very easy. The only thing we need is interest, energy, and effort.

You can stop reading the article here and try it out, if you need to!

It can also be a means to an end because we can then, optionally, advance to a second stage of the absorption of cessation (as described below).

Advance through neutral

absorption 3If we are driving 150 MPH in reverse, taken over by strong annoyance for example, it is hard to go straight from there to 150 MPH in the right direction, with, for example, loving kindness. If you’ve ever driven a shift stick you’ll know we have to go through neutral first. Breathing meditation, clarity of mind meditation, and this absorption of cessation meditation all bring us back to a peaceful center, so any of them is helpful preparation for productive meditation on a positive object.

Overcome distractions quickly

In the same Medicine Buddha teachings, Geshe Kelsang defines this meditation:

The absorption of cessation of gross conceptual thought is a subtle mind that is single-pointedly absorbed or focused on the cessation of gross conceptual thought.

He explains that our various gross minds are “very rough, uncontrolled, disturbing, distracting, and interfering with our inner peace” whereas our subtle mind is “a very special mind” that is “very calm, peaceful, controlled, tranquil, without distraction, and so forth.”

creating peace in our mindNormally we only have subtle minds when we sleep or die, which is not that helpful at the moment because we don’t have the mindfulness to enjoy them. By becoming as impassive as wood, we can manifest a subtler mind even while awake:

At this point in reality we have established a cessation of gross feeling and discrimination on our subtle consciousness. Because we stopped gross feeling and discrimination, there is no gross mind. Therefore, only our subtle mind remains. ~ Geshe Kelsang, Sutra Mahamudra teachings 2003

So as well as temporarily giving us a break from unhappy thoughts, this method frees us quickly and effectively from all inappropriate attention and distraction, enabling us to experience a more subtle, spacious, mindful, and joyful mind.

We are calmed down and set up, if we wish, to meditate more deeply on whatever object we choose, including the mind itself, or a Lamrim object. As Geshe Kelsang explains:

With this subtle mind, this absorption, we can concentrate on any virtuous object, including emptiness, bodhichitta, or compassion.

planting flowers

 Journey to enlightenment

In Mahamudra Tantra, this meditation is included in the third stage of training in the six stages of Mahamudra, allowing our mind to become more and more subtle. As such, it is a time-honored part of a profound, blissful, direct journey to enlightenment itself, providing we’re doing it with bodhichitta motivation.

How to do the meditation

Step 1

We make a strong determination to cease our gross conceptual thoughts, self-grasping, and other delusions, remembering how they are the source of our daily problems. Then we follow the instructions in Mahamudra Tantra:

First, we stop paying attention to any object; we should not think about anything but remain like a stone or a piece of wood, without experiencing or perceiving anything. We remain in this state for few minutes.

meditation and inner peaceWe bring about a temporary cessation of our gross conceptual thoughts, or thinky minds, by thinking “I am completely inanimate, as if made of wood or stone. I am not perceiving, paying attention to, or feeling anything. It is as if the TV has been switched off. There is no more projecting going on. I am as if unconscious. All my thoughts have ceased, including all my delusions and anxieties.

We remain as an inanimate block of wood without feeling or attention for a few minutes.

NB: We can stop the meditation here if we only want to calm down and stop giving energy to our disturbed thoughts. Or we can continue to meditate on identifying our subtle mind as follows.

Step 2

And then we imagine that all our gross minds dissolve into our subtle mind like water bubbles disappearing into the water from which they arose. ~ Mahamudra Tantra

Through generating this cessation of all gross conceptual thoughts, these distracting, superficial thoughts subside like bubbles into water. As a result, a naturally quieter, deeper, calmer, more lucid, less distracted, and more blissful level of mind manifests or surfaces; and we understand this to be our subtle mind at our heart. buddha

Step 3

As it says in Mahamudra Tantra:

We then try to perceive our subtle mind by contemplating:

Its nature is the cessation of all gross minds, and its function is to perceive an empty like space.

With our subtle mind we very gently recognize the cessation of all our gross conceptual thoughts, including all delusions and unhappiness, and perceive an empty like space.

We have found the main object of meditation according to the third stage of the six stages of Mahamudra training.

We remember this cessation and stay in this deeply peaceful absorption for as long as we can, without forgetting and also without pushing, just very relaxed.

(According to his Sutra Mahamudra teachings in 2003, Venerable Geshe-la adds that as we gain familiarity with this meditation, “instead of observing the cessation we are observing the subtle mind itself.” And we can then also, if we wish, perceive that its nature and function are clarity and cognizing, like all minds.)absorption 2

We may only be able to focus on this meditation object for a few minutes or seconds to begin with. If so, depending on our time, we can rinse and repeat. If our mind starts moving and distractions re-emerge such that we lose our object, we repeat steps 1 to 3, seeking and finding our object through first turning our mind to wood and so on.

Step 4

Optional: I like to do my other meditations with this mind. As mentioned above, unlike our gross minds, which tend to be rough, uncontrolled, disturbing, and interfering of our inner peace, our subtle mind is very calm, peaceful, controlled, tranquil, and free from distraction – making it a great deal easier to stay concentrated.

Step 5

cosmic energyAs we prepare to arise from the meditation, we can think:

I will carry this deep experience of being still and centered, free from unhappy minds, out of the meditation and into my everyday life.

Our day then arises from a place of stillness within, rather than bombarding us from all directions in a stressful or aggravating manner.

As we gently relax our concentration, we become aware again of our body. Then we become aware again of the room, but staying centered at our heart. We can learn to carry this deep inner feeling of stillness and freedom into our everyday life. We are not in the world, the world is in us, is what I like to think.

We need to get in the habit of identifying with our deep peace, knowing that however weirdly life appears or however crazy our gross minds become, we can always drop into our hearts and return to this.

And, by the way, in case you were wondering, feeling peaceful inside doesn’t mean we stop trying to solve outer problems such as climate change and so on. As Geshe Kelsang put it, our main aim to solve all our inner problems, but:

inner peace outer peaceOf course, we human beings need external conditions. Of course, whatever problem we see, we need to solve it. For example if I have torn my yellow robe, I need to repair it. If I need anything, I need to prepare it. If I am sick, I can rely on a doctor and medicine, of course; this is normal. But no matter how hard we work to solve outer problems, our real or inner problems never reduce. So in this way we need to try to solve both our outer and inner problems.

And here is the meditation in brief
  1. Remain like a piece of wood for a few minutes.
  2. Our gross conceptual thoughts dissolve into the subtle mind, like bubbles into water.
  3. With our subtle mind, we very gently recognize the cessation of all gross thoughts and perceive an empty like space.
  4. If we like, we do other meditations now that our mind is peaceful and concentrated.
  5. We carry this peace into our day, as the background to solving outer problems.

Over to you. Do you have any experience of this practice that you can share here?

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