Highest Yoga Tantra: space odyssey

When we practice Highest Yoga Tantra, we are learning to do all our meditations and indeed live our lives from a more blissful place. (If that isn’t appealing, I don’t know what is.) As well as making everything more fun, bliss is a naturally concentrated mind so it helps us with all our meditations, not just realizing emptiness, though that is its chief purpose. In generation stage, this bliss arises from faith and correct imagination. In completion stage it becomes the real deal — spontaneous great bliss — which arises from the drops melting and flowing within the central channel and functions to dispel mistaken appearance. This is the blissful mind that Buddha is referring to in this famous quote: 

If you realize your own mind you will become a Buddha; you should not seek Buddhahood elsewhere.

Carrying on from this article, Happiness is the truth.

A brief summary of Highest Yoga Tantra

Just to get us caught up … In Sutra, we use the cycle of Lamrim meditations to develop the compassionate wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings and use this conventional bodhichitta to meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena, which is called ultimate bodhichitta or the perfection of wisdom. With this good heart and wisdom, we are ready for Highest Yoga Tantra.

Having mixed our mind with our Guru’s mind, we manifest our clear light of bliss first through imagination (generation stage) and then through manipulating our channels, winds, and drops (completion stage), and use this to meditate on emptiness. Because the clear light mind has no mistaken appearances, it naturally and directly mixes with emptiness like water mixing with water, the union of bliss and emptiness, the higher perfection of wisdom.

From this we arise as the Deity (Tantric Buddha) in the Pure Land and meditate on clear appearance and divine pride to overcome ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions. Furthermore, we understand that this appearance is non-dual with bliss and emptiness; they are not two objects but one, like blue being merely a manifestation of empty sky, empty sky appearing. As Venerable Geshe-la says:

Unmistaken appearance is this.

This is the union of appearance and emptiness, and meditating on it is the real quick path to enlightenment.

The clear light of bliss

Sutra is just incredible and so so necessary, and we can go a long way and become a very happy person with these meditations. However, we are doing all our meditations with grosser levels of mind and so Sutra is not the quick path. In fact, we cannot realize emptiness directly or non-conceptually with our gross mind because it still has dualistic appearances, like seeing something through spectacles. And we cannot attain the final result of enlightenment with our gross mind because is our very subtle mind that actually becomes the Truth Body of a Buddha — our gross and subtle minds have to dissolve away permanently.

As I was saying in the last article, our own very subtle mind is naturally blissful but at the moment we cannot use it. So, we learn to deliberately awaken or manifest it in meditation, and this clear light of realization is blissful, powerful, and completely undistracted. Free from mistaken appearances, it mixes effortless with emptiness, the true nature of things, like space mixing with space. This is actual Mahamudra or ultimate bodhichitta. This mind is so powerful, and it is mixed with reality, so we can attain enlightenment very quickly, in a matter of a few years. 

Dissolving the Guru

By the way, these articles are general and introductory, I am not explaining the techniques of the practice. For this you can read Modern Buddhism or one of the longer Tantric commentaries, having received empowerments or be intending to receive them next time around (eg, in Australia next year).

Our Spiritual Guide Heruka comes to our crown and descends through our central channel like a drop of dew flowing down a blade of grass, until he arrives in our heart channel wheel (Skt. chakra). As this happens, our mind becomes increasingly blissful and subtle. All of our grasping at ordinary appearances is loosened. We let go of the dreamlike hallucinations of the gross mind.

Guru Heruka mixes with our root mind in our heart and we experience his union of great bliss and emptiness. If you like, you can envisage our awareness as a small muddy stream flowing into a vast ocean of bliss and emptiness – who wins?! As a result, we imagine that we feel blissful. If you like, you can increase this bliss by transforming enjoyments as explained here.

We can remember that this bliss arises from the melting of the drops in the central channel. Unlike all our other minds, it is also free from dualistic appearances — which means that only the truth,  emptiness, is appearing to it.

As Gen Rabten said in his profound Festival retreat recently:

We completely let go, deeply relax, forget the self we have grasped at, the world we believed in, the samsara we feared. Even our own name, we forget. We become an unbounded, infinite ocean of bliss and emptiness. This infinite unbounded expanse of perfect peace, of exquisite stillness, is definitive Heruka. It is the Truth Body, the Dharmakaya. It is our real self.

We are imagining the Dharmakaya at this point, but it is correct imagination because it is based on the wisdom of emptiness and is also mixed with the definitive Guru, the Dharmakaya of all enlightened beings. This is a legitimate experience because (a) our world is not outside our mind and (b) our mind is mixed with our Guru’s mind. The key to unlock the secrets of the universe really is Guru yoga.

Permission to let go

I want to stress something at this point. Because this is a legitimate experience, we have permission to drop all ordinary appearances and conceptions completely and without guilt. There are no suffering relatives, no Afghanistan, no painful body, no unlovable self, etc etc, whom we are now ignoring. This is the direct antidote to all that hallucination.

There is no ordinary world somehow beyond or outside this world, all phenomena are gathered and absorbed into the truth. Identifying with this is correctly identifying our self — a self utterly unlike our normal self because it is mere appearance inseparable from the emptiness of all phenomena. There is no here/there, no self/other, no mind/object, no inside/outside, etc. There is no duality at all. We have permission to let go. The Guru and Deities can then take over.

When we later arise from this meditation, our ordinary body, world, to-do list, politics, and so on will appear again and we can relate to and deal with these, especially as they affect others. But we don’t need to go back to thinking of them as any more than mere name and mistaken appearances. It doesn’t help anybody to go back to grasping at these hallucinations as real.

This is the best way to actually get rid of suffering – even temporarily, let alone permanently. It is the only way, as far as I can see. Without this, the cobwebs of delusion and contaminated karmic appearances will spread forever and the only choice we will have is to try and make ourselves and others comfortable within these sticky deathtraps. It is very hard work. It is demoralizing, one sticky step forward, one sticky step back. And it is ultimately futile.

Samsara is vast and living beings are countless – so trying to help a few people or even 100 or 1000 people is never going to be enough, like helping a few drops in an ocean, and temporarily at that. It doesn’t mean that we don’t do it, of course, because everyone is important, and Bodhisattvas can and must help on different levels. But we can keep in mind that the only way to stop suffering once and for all is to drain the entire ocean of samsaric suffering (including the lower realms) through meditating on bliss and emptiness. We have then realized the deepest meaning of our human life.

The meditation on bliss and emptiness is not make-believe but the truth. For one thing, it is all our usual mistaken appearances that are gross hallucinations of the root mind, not this. To understand this, we need to keep studying the mind and how everything is the nature of the mind and mere appearance or projection. For another, we are using our Guru’s mind, so we don’t need to lack confidence. We are tuning into definite Heruka/enlightenment. From his perspective we are already an aspect of the Dharmakaya, and we are now sharing this perspective.

I think we need to give ourselves permission to let go in meditation or we will stay distracted by ordinary conceptions, whether a lot or just faintly. Even if not completely off-topic, there will still be that niggling need to sort things out solely by ordinary means: “After this admittedly enjoyable meditation, I must get back to real work, write that report, pick up the kids, pay those bills  …”

We have left suffering behind. Which means that it has actually disappeared and gone out of existence because there is no longer any basis for it.

We need to give ourselves permission to trust this meditation. To trust Guru Buddha. To trust the generations of Bodhisattvas and Yoginis who have done this and discovered to their delight that it worked.

We keep training in all the components of both Sutra and Tantra separately as well – especially refuge, renunciation, compassion, and wisdom. But we can remember that they all culminate in or funnel into this meditation. Unmistaken appearance is this. All other appearances are mistaken.

This meditation is a bit like a transcendental worm hole to another galaxy, except that as soon as we’re there we realize the previous suffering galaxy was just a simulation. And the one before that. And all of them. Even the dimension we are in now is a simulation, except this one now pervades reality. It IS reality because we have realized the truth and become one with it. That is enlightenment.

Highest Yoga Tantra requires a lot of faith or trust. A surrender into bliss and emptiness. I am not talking about bind or instant faith, but a faith that is built up through our own gradual authentic experiences of Sutra and Tantra. And our own trust in our Tantric Spiritual Guide as someone who really does know what they are talking about.  

This meditation also depends on our understanding of emptiness, of course. So we have to keep learning about the emptiness of our body, our self, and all phenomena, and keep applying what we learn, not leave it abstract.

The red alarm button

Once our mind mixes with our Guru’s mind of bliss and emptiness, if we like, and if we are about to engage in a detailed first bringing, we can envisage this appearing as a red letter BAM or blue letter HUM. We also concentrate on these so-called seed letters when we do completion stage meditations to bring all the energy winds into the central channel and manifest the actual clear light of bliss. Like the Deity, seed-letters and mantra are also not other than bliss and emptiness appearing.

My adorable mother has a red alarm button by her bed in case she gets too confused, overwhelmed, or anxious — help comes straightaway if she remembers to press it. The red letter BAM at the heart is the bliss and emptiness of the Guru’s mind mixed with ours and contains everything and everyone. When we remember to press (or concentrate on) it, everything disappears into transcendent bliss and emptiness for ourselves and everyone else. The virtual reality of mistaken appearances immediately evaporates because it’s not there to begin with.

My dad said the other day that the world is “very untidy”. Concentrating on the letter BAM dissolves and purifies everything and everyone – we can just press on it whenever the world gets too overwhelming. We are going deeper, to the source of the illusion, the source of all this untidiness, and unplugging it.

Even if we are a regular superhero, we cannot tidy up this world without doing this. Take Mrs Incredible’s word for it:

No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for… for ten minutes!

What is Buddha’s sense of self?

From that vast space of bliss and emptiness, the purified mistaken appearance of all phenomena which is Buddha’s Truth Body, we now appear as the Form Body, Heruka or Vajrayogini, with a blue or red-colored body and so on, like in a dream. We do this entirely out of compassion for others.

(Quick note: A Buddha has four bodies – the Wisdom Truth Body (Skt. Dharmakaya), the Nature Truth Body (Skt. Svavahikaya), the Enjoyment Body (Skt. Sambhogakaya), and the Emanation Body (Skt. Nirmanakaya). You can think of these not as corporeal but like a “body of water”, ie, an accumulation of water. The Truth Body is a body or accumulation of bliss and emptiness, for example.)

To begin with, this experience is probably not that dissimilar to our present experience – instead of being Luna with a meaty body sitting in my attic apartment, I am now a blue-colored Deity sitting in a mandala. However, for Buddha, there is no difference in feeling between being the Emanation Body and the Truth Body – they are one object, with two different names.

Practically speaking, arising as Heruka or Vajrayogini in that universe is utterly unlike being Luna in this universe because our sense of self pervades all phenomena, including all environments, enjoyments, activities, and other beings. These specific visualizations are deeply rich and beneficial, as I explain more here. Manifestations or embodiments of all the stages of the path of Sutra and Tantra, they increase our experience of these minds — including bliss and emptiness — rather than taking us away from them. However, they are still mere name, mere appearance not other than the (bliss and) emptiness of all phenomena.

One thing that can maybe help us into this experience: In the first bringing according to the long Vajrayogini sadhana Quick Path to Great Bliss, our mind the letter BAM expands until it reaches the ends of space and beyond, dissolving everything into bliss and emptiness. Then it contracts back into emptiness. This is our own mind expanding and contracting – and our sense of self pervades space, is beyond space, infinite. There is no sense of me inside this pure universe and samsara remaining outside. There is no sense of me over here and the mandala and Deities over there. As with the Truth Body, there is no here/there, up/down, inside/outside. We can really contemplate the layered meanings of non-dual and we’ll come to discover that Buddha’s sense of self is utterly different to the self we normally grasp at.

In other words, there is no actual difference in feeling between our self as infinite bliss and emptiness and ourself as Vajrayogini or Heruka.

Not feeling like the maid

As Gen Rabten said:

With a blissful relaxed mind, without any grasping, we enjoy our emptiness appearing ourselves as a Conqueror Buddha, destroyer of samsara, protector of all living beings. We are surrounded by our retinue inside our celestial mansion as vast as space.

We hold this clear appearances with concentration because it a direct antidote to ordinary appearances. We don’t need to be in any rush to get back to our ordinary world – we should never meditate in a hurry, especially not now. This is the possibly the most important activity in the world. Our actions of mind are in any case thousands of times more powerful than actions of body and speech, so, even if this meditation is nowhere near perfect, we are creating umpteen potentials to be reborn in a Pure Land and free everyone.

We also do a beautiful practice called the yoga of purifying migrators where we instantly fill all living beings with blessings. The only reason we have gone to this trouble of  becoming a fully enlightened being is to help others in this way — it is the very definition of enlightenment:

Enlightenment is the inner light of wisdom that is permanently free from all mistaken appearance, and whose function is to bestow mental peace upon each and every living being every day. ~ Modern Buddhism

Stay on the Dharma side

Approximately 4 decades ago as a new Buddhist, I stumbled upon this verse, a praise to Je Tsonkghapa, and stuck it on my wall at Madhyamaka Centre because I love it so much:

Your mind on bliss and emptiness inseparable
The flow of events appeared as a rainbow.
One body sends endless clouds of emanations
To set this world ablaze with joy.

~ A Song Rapidly Invoking Blessings by Lama Gyalwa Kelsang Gyatso, the 7th Dalai Lama

During the day, if we stay on the Dharma side like this, as Venerable Geshe-la recommends, we can focus on one person at a time as usual. We definitely do cherish the individual people around us, we get through our to-do lists and do the practical physical and verbal actions to help as many people as we can. But we don’t have to get sucked back into believing this is all real such that we get overwhelmed again, trying to figure things out piecemeal, shiffling around in the cobweb.

Is this escapism?

Before we have a deep realization of emptiness, we might be concerned that our meditation in general and Tantra in particular is a form of  escapism. But it’s not. We are not escaping reality but going to its heart. You don’t need to worry — all the things you normally see will reappear again soon enough, probably minutes after the meditation! Including all this world’s small and big problems alike. But we can believe it less and less.

If we take the time to go looking for anything, we will not find it. There is nothing actually there — everything is mere name not other than emptiness. Everything is like a dream. Yet sentient beings are suffering because they believe the hallucination is real. The Awakened Ones, or enlightened beings, are trying to wake us all up.

Our renunciation and compassion are utterly genuine and pervade this practice, giving it its meaning.

Have you noticed how in Sci Fi movies heaven is often depicted like lakes and mountains in Italy or an opulent country club in Florida? So pleasant! Nothing ever goes wrong again! Everyone is so polite! You can do whatever you want forever! You can bounce around on a cloud! (Happily oblivious to the poor sods left on earth.) And of course people tire of this because it is meaningless.

Plus we haven’t “made it” at all — an environment, enjoyments, and body perceived to be outside of the mind, however pleasant, just generates the suffering of change, naturally leading to existential boredom sooner or later. How much time can you spend on a beach, for example?!

Going to the Pure Land is not like this at all. It is realizing that all appearances are the nature of bliss and emptiness. Our aim is not to end up wandering around in some scenic god-like realm with ice cream on tap, but to become one with reality so that we can draw everyone to that state.

I find this verse helpful to remember in the meditation break:

Through the wheel of sharp weapons of the exalted wisdom of bliss and emptiness,
Circling throughout the space of the minds of sentient beings until the end of the aeon,
Cutting away the demon of self-grasping, the root of samsara,
May definitive Heruka be victorious. ~ The New Essence of Vajrayana 

And don’t worry

I want to finish this (sorry) long article with some reassurance from Gen Rabten:

“Many of you have received these empowerments for the first time, so it’s possible we don’t have much familiarity and the thought “I am Heruka” is a quiet thought compared to the loud thought ‘I am not Heruka and my knee hurts’. These meditations are however having a powerful impact on the mind. Many people have been doing this for years, and an ebb and flow are usual. Energy can wane and enthusiasm slip away, and we can lose conviction — then maybe we receive an empowerment and get back into it. All that is normal. And it can really help us to know that every moment we spend in these meditations we are obliterating our samsara, actively cutting through the chains that bind us to suffering, even if it doesn’t feel that way.”

Apparently we are out of space and time, but I do have more up my sleeve for another day if you’re still there.

Over to you – would love your comments, feedback, questions, and so on.

Related articles

Using Tantra to destroy everyday delusions

More on emptiness 

When the student is ready, the teacher appears

Happiness is the truth

Since I last wrote about Highest Yoga Tantra a month ago, a lot of you have received the empowerments and commentaries and even done some retreat. I hope you had an eye-opening and inspiring time in the mandala, whether you were in one of the Temples or sitting home with the dog. Tantra is not exactly simple breathing meditation, and can be a little unusual if you’re not used to it; so I hope you are asking lots of questions! It occurs to me that this article may now be redundant as you will have received teachings on all of this (and those teachings are still available until September 4). But perhaps it can serve as a reminder or a discussion opener. 

Our mind is continually circling through different levels, gross, subtle, and very subtle. As explained in that last article, the Tantric journey,  both our gross mind and subtle mind are mistaken awarenesses all the time. They cannot be unmistaken awareness because they always have mistaken appearance. They cannot help but perceive — or have appear — inherently existent objects, and inherently existent objects do not exist.

We are basically hallucinating, seeing things that are not there.

It’s not just our ignorance and other delusions that perceive inherent existence – even our gross virtuous minds perceive everything to be solid and real. For example, even though the mind of compassion itself does not apprehend inherently existent beings, living beings still appear to it to be independent of the mind.

Still, that’s a huge step up from our delusions – within all our delusions there is not just the appearance but an actual apprehension of inherent existence. We are not just seeing things that are not there but apprehending or believing them. And Buddha identified this as the source of all suffering.

The last article left off on a bit of a cliffhanger, with Geshe Kelsang concluding:

Because the appearances in our dreams and during our waking life are all mistaken appearances and hallucinations, our normal activities both in dreams and while we are awake have no real meaning.

Which begs the question: 

What is the real meaning of our human life?

Which brings us to the explanation of our very subtle mind.

Our very subtle mind

The very subtle mind is so called because it is extremely difficult to recognize. Without the very subtle mind we would have no life because our gross and subtle minds cannot hold our life. This is because they are only temporary minds, and very unstable. They suddenly arise and quickly disappear like clouds in the sky. Therefore, only our very subtle mind holds our life continuously throughout the day and night, and in life after life until we become an enlightened Buddha. ~ How to Understand the Mind

Our very subtle mind is like a foundational consciousness – the root mind from which all our other levels of mind arise. It is completely stable – traveling from life to life, carrying our karma. Although it is impermanent, changing moment by moment, it is eternal in that it never ends. Once fully purified it becomes the omniscient awareness of a Buddha.

When we become a Buddha our very subtle mind will become a Buddha’s mind and our very subtle inner wind will become a Buddha’s body. Our very subtle mind, or ‘continuously residing mind’, is therefore our Buddha nature.

Our very subtle body and mind are our actual Buddha nature because they are what transform into a Buddha’s body and mind, they are the actual ingredients!

Since our very subtle inner wind, or ‘continuously residing body’, will never die we have a deathless body that is our own body. In truth, our present body is a part of our parents’ bodies, and so it belongs to our parents and not to us.

Don’t tell them that! Lol. I spent a lot of this Summer with my wonderful, aged parents – a useful reminder that this meaty body is going in the same direction as theirs, it’s just a younger version. Kadam Bridget told a friend that our parents help us into this life and we eventually help them out of it, with any luck into a good next life.

These bodies are, in other words, entirely perishable, no shelf life worth talking about. Our very subtle body and mind, on the other hand, are entirely indestructible. Although we are completely unaware of this amazing fact until it is pointed out by Buddha, we have always had and can never lose this Buddha nature.

Our very subtle mind – our Buddha nature – is very precious, like a priceless jewel, but we cannot recognize it unless we engage in special methods for recognizing it that Buddha explained in his Highest Yoga Tantra teachings.

 

Geshe Kelsang is referring here to the completion stage meditations of Highest Yoga Tantra, through which we can deliberately gather and dissolve our inner winds into the central channel.

When all our inner winds completely dissolve into the central channel through the force of meditation, all our gross and subtle minds will also dissolve, and our very subtle mind will naturally manifest. We will then be able to recognize it through our own experience.

Falling asleep, dropping dead

Whenever our very subtle mind manifests, it is “clear light” – so called because it is a clear perception and an inner light. Right now, our inner winds dissolve naturally when we fall asleep and as we die, but we don’t recognize the clear light that arise and we cannot do anything with it, more’s the pity.

However, we all go so deep – we already have within us this entirely blissful ingredient of Buddhahood and briefly experience it every night! When we sleep, our winds absorb, and this helps to get all our elements back into balance – it seems as though that clear light mind is restorative. However, we still have no clue it is there until someone is kind enough to point it out.

If we watch someone go to sleep, we know there is a gathering and absorption. You can see it sometimes – one minute someone is rushing around, the next they stop and absorb until their head flops over. They have “fallen” asleep. Not just kittens, though they are particularly good at it; this is everyone. And a similar thing happens when we die.

The winds are absorbing, but normally we have no control over that process. This is where Tantra comes in. We learn how to absorb our winds and manifest our clear light mind without losing control. When the winds dissolve into the central channel through the force of mediation, it is called the “clear light of realization” or “the clear light of bliss”. And we can use this powerfully blissful and concentrated mind to mix with and realize emptiness very quickly

When we fall asleep or die, everything absorbs and dissolves — our winds absorb, and along with them all our gross minds and their objects, and then our subtle minds and their objects. We end up with the deepest or most subtle level of mind manifesting, the clear light mind, which is radiantly blissful.

Most importantly, the mind of clear light is naturally free from mistaken appearances or hallucinations and therefore the truth, emptiness, is naturally appearing to it!

Once we can use it, our clear light mind naturally mixes with or apprehends emptiness, the true nature of all things; and within that we have infinite blissful possibilities, including enlightenment.

This song by Pharrell Williams just came on in this cafe:

Clap along if you know that happiness is the truth.

Truth or reality is not mistaken appearance and suffering, but emptiness and bliss. Happiness IS the truth.

What to do?

Our problem is that it’s too hard for us to recognize the clear light, let alone use it. We miss it every night!

So what we need to do is manifest our clear light mind deliberately through meditation. We learn to do this in Tantra, especially completion stage Tantra, when we learn about all about our subtle body and how to manipulate our inner winds. Generation stage sets the scene by, amongst other things, blessing our subtle body of channels and drops so that it becomes very pliable and flexible.

Also, to begin with, with generation stage we can start to access this deep and powerful level of clear light through imagination. We imagine that our mind is the clear light of bliss mixed inseparably with Guru Heruka or Guru Vajrayogini’s mind at the level of our heart, and that we arise from that in the form of the Deity. We do many of our meditations at the level of our heart, slowly but surely bringing all our winds closer to our heart chakra; and then in completion stage we finish the job.

The first of the two stages of Highest Yoga Tantra — generation stage — is actually more complicated than completion stage, involving more visualizations and things to do. We might be tempted to jump straight into completion stage – how hard can it be to meditate on my central channel, drop, and indestructible wind and mind? But although these meditations seem simple, they don’t work if we don’t do generation stage first.

For example, while we remain identified with being an ordinary samsaric being, our inner energy winds that support mistaken or dualistic conceptions & appearances are going to be flowing through the left and the right channels and it will be impossible to bring them into the central channel where they need to be. (For more on inner winds, by the way, Tantric Grounds and Paths is a good book to study). To have success in completion stage, we need to view our gross body and subtle body as mere name not other than the emptiness of all phenomena, and that emptiness is mixed inseparably with great bliss. Wisdom winds can then flow through the central channel.

Practically, we train at first primarily in the generation stage practices of Heruka or Vajrayogini, using our wisdom, faith, and correct imagination, and motivated by renunciation and bodhichitta. We can start to sprinkle in a little completion stage, and eventually we will be able to just do completion stage.

There is some more general advice on generation stage here.

Controlling our death and rebirth
At the dentist.

The heart of generation stage is a practice called the three bringings. The first is called bringing death into the path to the Truth Body, when we imagine we are actually going through the death process until we end up with Buddha’s clear light mind, which we use to meditate on emptiness. This might be my favorite practice – it is profound and blissful and has helped me more than anything to live in accordance with impermanence.

Tantric practitioners of yore would notoriously keep reminders of death such as skull cups, bone malas, and even thigh-bone trumpets 🙂 This meditation helps us stop grasping at this life and everything in it, and also creates powerful causes to be able to recognize and use the clear light of bliss when we die. If we practice the first bringing at death, it acts as a powa, or transference of consciousness, and we will definitely go to the Pure Land where we can finish our path to enlightenment.

Every day in our Tantric sadhana, we practice for our death. We imagine going through the death process exactly as it will happen when we die. First we can remind ourself that we are going to die and take rebirth anyway within a few years, months, or weeks. At which point, as our gross minds dissolve, all the objects of those minds will also dissolve. All the hallucinations we have been holding onto for dear life simply slip away in the time it takes for us to fall dead, whether that is a few minutes or a few hours.

This means all the appearances of this life – our body, our sense of self, everything we have done, everyone we have known – are all gone. It’s similar to what happens when we fall asleep, except of course when we die none of this comes back. Even if I have managed to accomplish everything I ever wanted in this life, it all goes away very quickly. Even if I have solved all my problems, the problems of my next life are now on their way. Death is the final separation of this body and our mind. The world doesn’t reappear as it is now – we take another body in another world and everything is brand new.

As we are going to die anyway, we now take control of that process and transform the continuum of our awareness. We die from this ordinary sense of self and this ordinary world and arise in the Pure Land. With the three bringings, Buddha taught us how to transform the process of dying, entering the intermediate state, and rebirth – “bringing” these levels of awareness into the quick path to enlightenment, the three bodies of a Buddha.

In Sutra we learn in general terms how to get out of samsara and help others. In Tantra we learn the mechanics for directly disrupting that cycle of consciousness which is going around and around in endless circles – indirectly with generation stage and then directly with completion stage. We get in there, as it were, at the weakest link – access via our clear light mind — and now use it to meditate on ultimate truth emptiness. This way we quickly and powerfully purify all mistaken appearances and — instead of beginningless and endless contaminated consciousness arising in suffering lives — we have broken free. Using the clear light of bliss to meditate on emptiness, we have woken up. We can now emanate bodies to help everyone.

Hopefully that gives you a better idea of why Highest Yoga Tantra is Buddha’s ultimate intention and is called “the quick path.” Everyone who has attained enlightenment has done so through these direct methods – what other way could there be to do it?

Thank you for reading all this! My apologies if I have made things more confusing – if I have, please ask questions or offer clarifications in the comments.

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I’m a believer!

By now many of you know that Colin Chase died on Saturday. Because it turns out that this man is extraordinary, this past week has been a surreal, heart-breaking, yet also curiously peaceful journey for many hundreds of people. I can’t begin to capture this collective experience, but I can share what I thought about it at the time it was happening.

Wednesday August 11th: A devoted disciple of Venerable Geshe Kelsang had a motorcycle accident last night, on August 10th, leaving him with catastrophic brain damage.

I can’t believe I am writing those words. Not least because Colin Chase is also one of my closest friends.

I am going to write stuff down now because I have been making non-stop prayers and I will be praying again soon, and in the meantime I don’t know where else to put myself. I am so very sorry for all of you close family and friends, I think I can guess at some of how you feel.

I just spoke to him via phone. I knew what to say. But it’s not enough time. There’s so much more that was supposed to happen. There were still so many more conversations to be had, so many more adventures in the mandala, so many more mountains to climb. I even want to tell him about the strangeness that is going on now.

Colin made me laugh and was kind enough to find me humorous too. He has been a very reassuring, loving presence in my life, and not just mine, of course. He was a great listener. He genuinely loved helping people. You could learn a lot from watching him interact with others even in difficult negotiations or tense situations – smart, worldly-wise, diplomatic, always thoughtful. His effortless kindness is the first thing I noticed about him many years ago, watching him in some interaction I’ve now forgotten at Manjushri KMC, before we’d even exchanged a word. There is nothing he would not do to help bring about Geshe-la’s wishes to establish a Pure Land for all living beings. “I’m a believer!” he joked with me recently, and this combination of devotion and love made his life amazing. He was kinda epic, to be honest.

Endless lives

All appearances in my dream teach me that all my appearances while awake do not exist. Thus for me all my dream appearances are the supreme instructions of my Guru. ~ Lord of all Lineages

Last week Colin reminded me of the vivid dream I had when he was visiting in June. He said he had been thinking about it all the time since then. This was the dream as I recorded it at the time:

I was standing on the edge of the virtual reality show of this life, but a vast abyss of empty space had opened up that I knew plunged to all my previous rebirths. I was tipping over – I could scramble back on to this life or I could let go. For some reason I decided to let go and fall to see what was there.

I fell fast and was seeing all my human rebirths, thousands of appearances and versions of me as a different human being in different places doing different things, sometimes male, sometimes female, etc.

I wanted to stop before I got to all my previous lower realm rebirths, starting with animal rebirths — that felt too scary, as if I may not be able to get out again. So I went for refuge to ask to return to the albeit even more obviously temporary appearances of this current life.

A special aircraft appeared and the pilot told me to buckle up while he flew me back up past all those lives. We stopped at one life where he introduced me to someone who I recognized, though he didn’t recognize me yet – I could tell he was a previous different-looking version of a someone I know in this life. In that life I was a woman with yellow hair and a round face.

I asked the pilot why I hadn’t gone all the way to the lower realms and why he was able to appear so I could get back up to my human life; and he said it was because I had purified a lot of the karma of killing, which was protecting me from lower rebirth. However, he also cautioned that I didn’t necessarily have enough good karma next time to come straight back up if I fell again. I had used some up and needed to create more.

Past and future lives exist, I have believed in them for as long as I can remember. I felt the need for all of us to go for very strong refuge because this life is entirely dreamlike, fragile, and impermanent. And where we go/what appears to us depends entirely on our karma.

Colin asked how if I, with all my merit, might not be able to get easily back into the human realm if I fell, what chance did he have? I replied that he had created astonishing merit, far more than me. He replied by generously listing all the things he thinks I’ve done. I replied by listing his good qualities and accomplishments. Anyway, you get the drift. He was always rejoicing in other people, never pulling them down.

Death on our minds

And in the last few months, death was on his mind. We had several conversations about it, and the fleeting nature of this life and our fragile silly bodies. Including his knees – he was due for double knee replacements next week (August 17), repayment for a lifetime of daredevil bodily risks. Talking of which, I said he’d be needing a wheelchair if he insisted on having both knees done at the same time. “No, I won’t. I’ll have crutches.” “You do know how crutches work, right?!”

And now he lies in Newark hospital, the need for knee surgery gone.

In an astonishing coincidence, the main spiritual director of Newark Hospital happens to be a New York Sangha member, Helen, charged now with taking care of Colin and the family. Her assistant is called Tara.

Testament to his outsized role in our tradition, at very short notice hundreds of people attended Tara puja live at KMC New York City and at the upstate NY and Grand Canyon World Peace Temples or tuning in online. We could see KMC NYC’s beautiful city temple on one side of the screen and Colin on the other. All the way through puja his chest was exaggeratedly inflating and deflating with the life support machine. Seared into many minds now is the image of his beloved mother Marsha, same cheekbones and red hair, sitting by his bed and stealing glances at his poor damaged head. What a gift she gave us in Colin.

Colin’s vital signs improved during puja. That has to mean something, right?

Conversations on life and death

Like I said, over the last few months we were having conversations about the brevity of life, how quickly each decade had flown by, and how little time we had left. We are moreorless the same age and have both been caring for our mothers lately, in the front row seats to great old age. I hoped we’d grow old together, hanging out, building centers (the architects’ drawings just landed for KMC CO’s new building, and I would love nothing more right now than to hear what Colin has to say about them). At the same time I kinda figured that Colin might not stick around for the ravages of extreme old age.

I am still taken aback by how early he checked out and, if I’m honest, a trifle annoyed. When I sent a photo of him in Colorado in June to a mutual friend, he replied: “Should Colin really be climbing trees?!” Of course not, nor ignoring my protests to climb onto the roof of KMC Colorado’s new building (the views, though, turned out to be worth it.) Nor should he have been riding motorbikes between hip and knee surgeries, but I have to acknowledge that this was typical Colin. He was probably always set to go out in a blaze of glory (from his perspective, not so much ours). Sitting it out in an armchair for years wearing slippers was probably never going to happen.

Maybe his mother knew this too. I hope she did. I guess we all have to accept now that he was made to live fast and die too soon.

I just re-read the last text I had from Colin yesterday afternoon (August 10) on my way up this mountain for a week to look after four dogs and cats while attending the remainder of the Summer Festival:

“I am very happy that you’re getting away!! When you get settled, please let me know when we might connect again. Enjoy the mountains, and please say Hello for me. I miss them, and look forward to returning soon!”

He didn’t reply to the text I sent back at 7.39pm MST. Turns out he was climbing onto his motorbike. And it also turns out that I am not the one who is getting away.

“Be joyful”

A friend of mine is part of a healing energy group and they just spent time tuning into him. I don’t know if you believe in these things or not, but I am going to share this anyway because it honestly does sound just like Colin.

Curiously to their minds, because they are not Buddhists and don’t know Colin, they kept getting a strong message from him, “Be joyful!”  After helping to clear out his chakras they normally infuse the person with a lot of energy, but they said that he was already completely full of positive energy and there was nothing to add. (They had no idea about the Tara pujas being held for him worldwide.) They also said that he was very determined. And the word “Rinpoche” kept coming to them, even though they didn’t know what it meant. (“Rinpoche” is the Tibetan word for “precious” and is applied to reincarnate Lamas.)

Today, Thursday Aug 12, I woke up today feeling hopeful that maybe Colin can be healed after all. I understand that quite a number of people dare share this optimism, quoting Colin’s lack of boundaries, how many crazy accidents he has pulled through before, and the power of the prayers. A lot of people are praying for his full recovery in today’s Tara prayers. Helen said today: “In general you do not come back from this and, if you do, you wish you hadn’t. But I’ve seen miracles. He is in the right hospital.”

Later on Thursday: But now, later this same day, we have heard the deeply sad news that the doctors could not stop the bleeding. Colin is brain dead. Again, I cannot believe I am writing these words, but Colin will be taken off life support tomorrow. Powa is planned for just after he dies.

Right-hand man

The last time we spoke on the phone, Colin told me he had just spent a 14-hour day at KMC NYC making sure everyone could tune in online to the Vajrayogini empowerment and teachings. He was very happy and we talked for over an hour. Thousands of people received these empowerments, and to begin with he was doing all the tech himself. Then he handed it off to 3 people he’d trained — rejoicing in them when he saw them on CCTV (he loved his CCTV, lol) – and headed off to see his family.

It is no wonder that there is an outpouring of people now, saying “he helped me”; he was always there to help. Within minutes of arriving at a Festival he knew everyone and everyone knew him. He has been instrumental in the success of KMC New York City, from the day he turned up and went off roller blading on the hunt for a new building. For Colin, nothing was a problem. No vision was too big. He found that beautiful space in a huge cooperative skyrise, and not only managed to acquire it for the Center but also became the most important board member in the whole building. Later Greg showed up and took on all the day to day volunteer projects, allowing him to be full-on visionary along with KMC NYC’s wonderful EPC Simone.

I’m also going to go right ahead here and call out the quiet heroine Laurie, assistant AD, who worked tirelessly by Colin’s side the whole time he was there — never one to steal any limelight, she was nonetheless the right-hand woman to the right-hand man.

The barefoot Bodhisattva

In his occasional day job, Colin was a fixer for the one-percenters, so he often had plenty of resources. (Sometimes he was broke, too). However, that wasn’t his lifestyle and he was usually just trying to give money away.  Colin’s leased apartment wasn’t really his – and indeed it never looked very lived in to me. Instead it hosted everyone and anyone who came through town, if they needed a place to stay. Colin was always barefoot, unless the occasion demanded shoes, such as the opera, when he might wear flip flops. He only drank sparkly water, no tea, coffee, or any other beverages. He would often camp at Festivals despite being easily able to afford something more comfortable. He loved sailing on the open seas. He loved the freedom of his motorbike. A few years ago he wanted to go riding in the Rockies:

Colin: Maybe you will consider taking a ride with me, through the mountains, if I reschedule my visit. xx
Me:  haha, i may consider it — but not sure about my precious human life 😃
Colin:  You don’t trust me?!?!
Me: aha, i do.

Colin told me, and I witnessed several times, that he didn’t really mind physical pain. During a painful lung infection a few years back, for example, he replied to my text: “In truth, I am fine now. My body just has a few challenges. There are so many people out there, who are truly suffering.”

He was astonishingly successful and made everything fun at the same time. A friend told me that he reminded her of what Heruka would be like if you met him:

“He managed to make everyone feel happy and strong. When you were around him, that was the quality he had. He was heroic and gave you what you needed, whether that was a hug if you were cold or helping to negotiate a million-dollar building. And it wasn’t like there was anything in it for him.”

Within seven lifetimes

Last week Colin called me with a question about Vajrayogini practitioners definitely going to Keajra within seven lifetimes, asking if that was a rumor or was it true. I replied that it is in The New Guide to Dakini Land:

It is said that even those with the least fortune who do not attain Dakini Land in the intermediate state will be led by Vajrayogini to her Pure Land within seven lives.

He was very excited for some reason, and wanted to know which lifetime I thought he might be in. I said not the first, because it is unlikely that he could have all these unusually good conditions coming together in his life on a first encounter with Guru Vajrayogini, given that each of them needs a lot of good karma to create. “So, who knows, maybe your 4th or 5th, or perhaps even your 7th!” Turns out that might have been right.

Helen

When this picture was taken of Colin and Helen in front of Compassion Buddha Avalokiteshvara, no one had a clue that she would be able to orchestrate at his bedside not only all the Tara pujas but the transference of consciousness puja, when Avalokiteshvara could lead him to the Pure Land.

Helen is a force of nature herself. She trained hard for years to be a Buddhist Chaplain, the very first person in the Kadampa tradition to do so. She landed this job very quickly afterwards because she excelled in her training. I asked her yesterday how many people and families she had helped die, and she said hundreds. She tries to make the right situation for people to die peacefully, and I asked her how. One woman wanted so badly to go home to die in Puerto Rico, but could not be moved. Helen asked her what exactly about home she missed and, upon hearing that it was the scents and the plants and the food, she recreated that for her in the ICU.

She didn’t have time for attention to detail last year, however, when she had to help six or seven different people and their families every day during COVID. “That was a different world.”

What a meaningful job! Venerable Geshe-la has said that helping people die well is the kindest thing we can do. And helping their families find some measure of peace at one of the very worst times of their life is also no small feat. If any of you are looking for a career path … but I do believe this is not for the faint-hearted.

Helen said that she hopes that Colin’s death will also spark conversations about the end of our own lives and whether or not we want DNR and so on. (I did my Living Will a couple of months ago, it only took about 15 minutes, FYI.)

“Nothing gets in the way of that!”

It is thanks to Helen that I was able to talk to Colin in his last two days. I asked if I could say a few words into his ear and she did one better, organizing a WebEx between the end of visiting hours at 6 p.m. and the nighttime shift at 7 p.m. Talking to him for what turned out to be well over an hour was surprisingly not difficult. Here is the jist of some of what I said.

“Hello my beloved friend, and farewell for now, just for a short while though, I will see you on the other side. I know you’re going to enjoy being in Keajra so much sending emanations to help us all and everyone else — it’s what you’ve been practicing for the whole time I’ve known you, you were made for the Pure Land! You will so enjoy helping Geshe-la help everyone now on a grand scale. I do believe this was your seventh and final lifetime in samsara, just like we were speculating the other day.

Thousands of people have been praying for you because it turns out that you helped too many people to count. People are wondering when you had the time?!

Your family were very happy to discover about your life, and the powa we are doing tomorrow will bring your birth family and your Sangha family together in a way that you would love. The mother of all sendoffs awaits you, you created the cause for hundreds of people to send you the Pure Land. We insist you go. You are going anyway, but we’re going to make sure of it.”

I did make him promise us two things because he always liked to keep his promises: (1) he needed to visit us all with his emanations, including KMC NYC and KMC CO to finish those projects he started; (2) if he insisted on leaving early, he needed to set things up for me and everyone else to join him in the Pure Land. After all, that’s what he did. As he texted himself the other day:

This is Geshe la’s work, and NOTHING gets in the way of that!!!

Before I left, I asked the nurse to touch his heart to indicate we are all going with him, and then to touch his crown.

I thought that was it, but the following morning one of Helen’s assistants called again unsolicited to see if I’d like to talk to him. Of course I wanted to. Then again in the afternoon, I got this rather wonderful call:

Hello L, this is Tara. I have Colin here. Will you talk to him?

So that was lucky for me.

I also talked to him a lot about what the Pure Land is like from things I’ve read, “without even the name of mistaken impure appearance”, where even stepping on the ground gives rise to bliss. How it is full of all the things he loves, but all completely pure and known to be illusory, like dream oceans and dream mountains. How he will send emanations. It was me doing all the talking, of course, but a conversation nonetheless, because, along with Helen, I believe that people in this situation can hear “beyond words and sounds” as she put it. This is not least because I had this experience with Bob — his brain was also gone when Cheryl and I talked him into the Pure Land, yet “it worked”. That story is here.

I also shared with him several beautiful messages, such as from Sara Wendt, his “little red-headed childhood friend”, who did us all the big favor of introducing him to our tradition. And this one from Gen Samten:

“Please tell him that a life lived with kindness is a life lived without regrets. Please tell him that he has brought happiness to so many people in so many places. And please tell him that it is time for him to leave now, to let go of this life and to move on to a pure world where he can work with Geshe-la to bring happiness to many people.”

August 14th: I dreamt vividly of Colin last night, he was very youthful and joyful, it was blissful to see him, and it felt like he was on his way to the Pure Land.

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. ~ Buddha

I have been contemplating how Colin is mere name not other than emptiness and therefore can be Heruka. It is worth pointing out that all this has been going on during the retreat section of the Summer Festival, (good timing Colin!), where Gen Rabten has been giving profound instructions, including on what Buddhas experience. The suffering hallucinations of Colin’s gross mind are about to be all over for him, and indeed could be for us too, if we really want them to be.

Accepting the sorrow

Talking to myself … There are a million ways to transform this sadness, but I have to accept that it is there first, not paper over the cracks. Use the heartbreak to allow my heart to grow. Practice the yoga of equalizing samsara and nirvana. Not be attached to my sorrow, nor the ordinary narrative of our friendship.

Accepting the suffering means not repressing it, but at some point we know it is empty and we let it go, to be replaced by compassion and joy. I did this this morning, which is the day of his powa.

It is our joy, compassion, love, wisdom, and pure view that will help Colin get to the Pure Land, not dragging him with our sadness. But this is a process for everyone, it has to be natural, not forced nor pretended. We can’t tell people who are grieving: “Think like this and you’ll stop being sad”, and assume that’ll work. We cannot be disconnected from our sadness; it is the sadness which gives us the realization that suffering is unbearable. From there we can develop authentic renunciation and compassion, hence “Suffering had good qualities.” Then we can also view it as mere name. It is mere mistaken appearance blocking us from seeing the truth of bliss and emptiness.

The powa, 2.25pm EST, August 14th

Nearly 1,000 people attended Colin’s powa, joining in from all over the world. And it was very powerful. This has got to be a first. Who were you, Colin Chase?! As a friend said:

“Colin really did get a Powa Express, not too many have 500+ people on stand-by for your last moment in this life to send you off to the Pure Land. His kindness & bodhisattvaness touched countless beings ”

I think many people now feel deeply supported to know that we are united not only in our grief but also now in the knowledge that we can do this for each other – we can send our friends, Sangha, and family to the Pure Land. It is inspiring to see how our Sangha is open-ended because everyone is welcome, and that none of us has a monopoly over anyone else’s affection or memory, we are all learning to love one another.

At my deathtime may the Protectors, Heroes, Heroines and so forth,
Bearing flowers, parasols, and victory banners,
And offering the sweet music of cymbals and so forth,
Lead me to the Land of the Dakinis. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land

During his death and for about an hour after I had an unexpected and good experience that I won’t share here, but that was in keeping with everything else that has been happening these last few months and days. It convinced me that Colin is now in the Pure Land of the Dakinis.

For such practitioners, death is just mere name – they are simply moved from the prison of samsara to the Pure Land of Buddha Heruka. ~ Heruka Root Tantra

I will just say that we are usually so dualistic about samsara vs nirvana, for the Pure Land is mere name away at all times. We go where our mind goes. How many different ways has Guru Heruka explained this to us?!? He couldn’t have made it clearer.

Enlightenment is reality, it is right here. So of course the Pure Land is right here.

Living meaningfully, dying joyfully

I feel that Colin’s life and death have had a large impact on our Kadampa tradition, that something has shifted for a lot of people. It was a meditation on death par excellence, our own life of approx 4,000 weeks not to be taken for granted, not even a day of it. Of course we all die – we don’t all die on a stage, though, in a five-day drama watched by hundreds of practitioners. It revealed what happens if you do spend your whole life being kind — living meaningfully does mean you’re going to die joyfully. We have seen the power of the Guru and the power of the Sangha. We can do this for each other.

Honoring him

When someone I love and respect dies, I try to honor them by adopting some of their good qualities; and that may merit another article. Colin would read this blog from time to time and generously told me: “Your writing draws people into their heart, and leaves them yearning for more. That, my dear lady, is an unparalleled talent.” So perhaps he will be reading this along with all the comments I hope you will leave below. Please leave comments! Tell your stories. Let us be encouraged by this man’s life and works.

(Since I posted this, a lot of you have kindly sent inspiring comments below, thank you! This includes people (and good writers!) who knew Colin well such as Greg and Michelle — very well worth reading if you get the chance.)

Colin, if you are reading this … you may not fully appreciate how much you are loved and by how many. That, and riding a motorbike, might be the worst faults you had. But it doesn’t matter now because the Guru and Dakinis have you. I know we’re going to be hanging out again in the mountains of Keajra one way or another. We’re all going to be having endless fun with the Heroes and Heroines of Geshe-la’s mandala, a mandala that you’ve already been a huge part of creating. It is your home, where you belong, where we and our families all belong. Indeed, where else could you be now but there already, inseparable from your beloved Spiritual Father — paving the way, as ever, for us all to see through the illusion and join you.