Y algo más: nos haríamos un gran favor al recordar que no practicamos Tantra en soledad, sino con la inmensa ayuda de las Dakinis y los Dakas, los Budas Tántricos. No siempre las personas lo ven, así que pensé decir algo al respecto, considerando que hoy es el mes de Vajrayoguini.
La práctica de Vajrayoguini comienza con el yoga del dormir entre otras razones porque:
Por la noche las Dakinis de los veinticuatro lugares sagrados visitan a los practicantes sinceros de Vajrayoguini y les conceden sus bendiciones… Puede ocurrir que se acuesten preocupados por los problemas que hayan tenido durante el día, pero que se levanten descansados y con una actitud clara y constructiva… También es posible que los obstáculos contra su práctica de Dharma se desvanezcan de manera inexplicable durante la noche. Las Dakinis tienen la capacidad de ayudar a los practicantes de esta forma cuando establecen un vínculo con ellas por medio de la práctica de Vajrayoguini. ~ Guía del Paraíso de las Dakinis
Y así es: las Dakinis constantemente ayudan a los practicantes, especialmente si permitimos que lo hagan. Esa es mi experiencia, incluso cuando estuve en retiro prolongado.
En tibetano, “Dakini” o “khandro” significa “viajera del espacio” o “bailarina del cielo”. (“Kha” significa espacio o cielo y “dro” significa ir o bailar). Ennuestra práctica tántrica aprendemos a volar en el cielo del gozo y la vacuidad al que pertenecemos, en lugar de arrastrarnos por los largos y dolorosos caminos del samsara, y permitimos que las Dakinis nos asistan. Queremos estar bajo el cuidado y la guía de las Dakinis y Dakas de los veinticuatro lugares y sus emanaciones. Esto incluye a las Dakinis coléricas como Kakase, que nos protegen de las fuerzas malignas y demás, con llamas del fuego de la sabiduría.
¿Precisamente qué o quién es la Dakini?
Para obtener realizaciones tántricas, necesitamos confiar plenamente en el Guía Espiritual (Gurú), Yidam (Deidad) y Protector. También necesitamos confiar en las Dakinis. Pero a veces observo que las personas no sienten su cuidado y guía tanto como sienten el cuidado y guía de otros Budas.
Entre otras cosas, escuché decir que las Dakinis no son Budas “reales”. Que no son figuras históricas con narrativa propia. Que son abstractas. Que se pueden sintetizar en una — por ejemplo, Tara y Vajrayoguini son la misma, por lo que en definitiva sólo hay una Dakini.
En base a lo que escuché, las personas no siempre sienten una relación personal fuerte con las Dakinis ¡Incluso escuché que los hombres inventaron a las Dakinis para asistir a los practicantes masculinos! Y esa percepción no es poco común.
Esta no es la manera de pensar en las Dakinis, especialmente si eres mujer, ¡o quizás aún más si eres hombre!
Una conversación con mi Guía Espiritual que me cambió la vida
Una vez pregunté a mi maestro el Venerable Gueshe Kelsang: “Hay un montón de Budas y Gurus masculinos en el linaje, pero en verdad no hay modelos de conducta para las mujeres de esta tradición, salvo Tara y Vajrayogini, que además se supone que sean la misma persona. ¿Dónde están las Budas femeninas en las que me voy a convertir?”
Gueshe-la me habló del tema durante una hora. Explicó la misoginia en la antigua India y Tíbet, y que hubo muchas mujeres iluminadas, pero debido a la estructura de la sociedad, o no podían enseñar, o sólo podían enseñar a unos pocos discípulos. Por eso no se hicieron famosas o conocidas como poseedoras del linaje — aunque lo fueran.
Sin embargo, continuó, tienes muchos modelos de conducta, porque todas las Dakinis de la mandala de Heruka fueron practicantes femeninas como tú. Todas tienen historias. Todas tienen nombres.
Esta conversación cambió todo. Me di cuenta que las Dakinis son reales. No “reales” con existencia inherente, sino que existieron realmente: fueron personas de verdad. Tuvieron historias, aunque se hayan perdido en el tiempo. Fueron modelos de conducta. Fueron poderosas. Aún tenemos sus nombres. Y cuanto más las conozco a lo largo de los años, más siento su guía y más gozosa se vuelve mi práctica tántrica.
Gueshe-la también explicó y demostró las buenas cualidades de las mujeres practicantes, como su relativa humildad y valentía en comparación con los hombres. Gueshe-la habló de la necesidad vital de contar con maestras, tanto ordenadas como laicas, en el Vajrayoguini-omnipresente mundo moderno. ¡Pero dejémoslo ahí que hay hombres leyendo! 😄
La naturaleza Dakini
Las Dakinis son seres extraordinariamente libres, gozosas y trascendentes. Todos y todas tenemos no sólo naturaleza de Buda, sino además, naturaleza Dakini.
Los términos «Héroes y Heroínas» y «Dakas y Dakinis» son sinónimos. Shantideva dice que un verdadero Héroe o Heroína es alguien que ha destruido su mente de estimación propia, que ha conquistado sus perturbaciones mentales y tiene el valor de ayudar a innumerables seres sintientes. ~ Guía del Paraíso de las Dakinis
A veces pienso que el budismo o el tantra nos llaman la atención porque tenemos este anhelo de libertad y no convencionalismo — hay algo de rebeldía en cada uno de nosotros. Pero a veces podemos encontrarnos en lo que pareciera ser una sociedad espiritual jerárquica; y tal vez sentirnos intimidados por cuan convencional e incluso rígidas parecen ser las cosas.
De ser así, es importante recordar que todas las estructuras externas, todas las jerarquías budistas, son formas de ayudar a los demás — que emanan del gozo y la vacuidad, y están diseñadas para guiar a todos hacia el gozo y la vacuidad.
El Budismo Moderno
Nuestro principal objeto de refugio en el budismo moderno o Kadampa es Guru Sumati Buda Heruka — nuestro Guía Espiritual en el aspecto de Je Tsongkhapa, con Buda Shakyamuni en su corazón, y éste a su vez con Buda Heruka y Vajrayogini en su corazón. Esto revela nuestra práctica externa, interna y secreta del Dharma, a través de la cual nuestro Guía Espiritual nos conduce a su corazón de gozo y vacuidad.
Guru Tsongkhapa encarna la disciplina moral y la renuncia. Absolutamente accesible, representa la estructura visible o externa para ayudar a los demás, como los centros, la comunidad ordenada y la comunidad Pratimoksha laica. Podemos “permanecer naturales mientras cambiamos nuestra aspiración”, como reza el lema Kadampa. Por ejemplo, obedeciendo las normas de tráfico, mejorando nuestra ética, o mostrando un ejemplo genuino de humildad y honradez, mientras por dentro las cosas cambian.
Je Tsongkhapa emana de Guru Buda Shakyamuni en su corazón. Guru Buda Shakyamuni encarna las realizaciones internas de amor, compasión y bodhichita de Je Tsongkhapa fluyendo sin esfuerzo por todo el mundo de los seres vivos.
Y a su vez, Buda Shakyamuni emana del Daka y la Dakini definitivos, Heruka y Vajrayogini en su corazón, que encarnan la práctica tántrica secreta u oculta del gozo y la vacuidad que origina e impregna todos los fenómenos, que es la realidad misma, y que ya existe como la solución.
Como se dice en Gran Tesoro de Mérito:
Según la tradición de Je Tsongkhapa, un maestro cualificado conducirá gradualmente a sus discípulos y discípulas a través de las etapas del Lamrim, el Lojong y el Mantra Secreto (Tantra), y mostrará cómo integrarlos en una práctica regular.
Únete a las Dakinis
Por lo tanto, es importante recordar nuestra naturaleza Dakini secreta — completamente libre de protocolos, y en verdad incluso, más bien anárquica. Toda apariencia y concepción ordinaria — sea o no virtuosa — debe desaparecer. Si recordamos que todo está impregnado por la Tierra Pura de las Dakinis, no hay razón para sentirnos oprimidos por estructuras en apariencia jerárquicas porque comprendemos su verdadera naturaleza e intención.
Identificarnos con esta naturaleza secreta es crucial si queremos utilizar nuestra comprensión del gozo y la vacuidad para superar las apariencias y concepciones ordinarias y alcanzar la Tierra interna de las Dakinis, es decir, la luz clara significativa y la iluminación. De lo contrario, si nos descuidamos, podemos terminar atrapados en aún más apariencia y elaboración, incluso juicios hacia nosotros mismos y los demás.
No hay necesidad de sentirnos limitados, estancados, aburridos, inadecuados o mal con nosotros mismos. De hecho, es mejor olvidarnos de nuestro sentido ordinario y equivocado del yo y disolverlo en la vacuidad lo más posible, y en su lugar unirnos a las Dakinis.
Podemos abrazar nuestra naturaleza Dakini sin restricciones, como Je Tsonghapa. En la ofrenda tántrica del tsog, que hacemos los días 10 y 25 de cada mes en los centros Kadampa de todo el mundo, cantamos la Canción de la Reina de la Primavera. Je Tsongkhapa se la cantaba a las Dakinis, y las Dakinis se la cantaban a él. Je Tsongkhapa, un Buda tántrico, se liberó por completo. Je Pabongkhapa tuvo visiones de él montado en un tigre.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
If everything is the nature of our mind, and we can gain the experience that everything is the nature of our very subtle mind of great bliss, then it follows that everything will be exceedingly blissful day and night in life after life.
To understand how everything can be a manifestation of great bliss, we need to understand the different levels of our mind. Then we need to know how to manifest and use our very subtle mind. This is where Highest Yoga Tantra really comes into its own.
Buddha didn’t talk about levels of mind in Sutra. If we practice Sutra alone, we’ll gain all the realizations of Sutra, including emptiness, with our normal waking awarenesses. In Highest Yoga Tantra, we learn to realize emptiness and everything else with our very subtle mind, the so-called “clear light of bliss”.
The different levels of mind
In the modern materialistic world, it is generally assumed that reality is what we experience when we are wide awake – at that time we are considered to be in tune with reality, whereas when we’re dreaming everything is highly subjective and not real at all.
This is because most people don’t know much if anything about their deeper levels of mind or awareness. Our waking mind is the grossest level of our mind and, as it happens, the most dualistic and mistaken. All those solid real things appearing to it right now don’t exist at all; these are just mistaken appearances. Therefore, our waking mind is, in important ways, our least reliable mind. It is also just as subjective as our dreaming mind. And our dreaming mind is also unreliable, as we know already. It turns out that the only mind we can fully trust is our very subtle mind.
During our waking life we normally use gross minds such as our eye awareness through which we can see things, ear awareness through which we can hear sounds, nose awareness through which we can smell, tongue awareness through which we can taste, body awareness through which we can experience tactile objects, and mental awareness through which we strongly think ‘I’ and ‘mine’. These awarenesses are gross minds because they are relatively easy to recognize. Without these awarenesses we cannot communicate with others and we cannot perform our daily activities.
We must be awake to do most things at the moment! And so must all the other people around us. We can only get our to-do list done and communicate with each other while using our grosser levels of awareness. However, as Geshe Kelsang says, all these awarenesses, even the good ones, are mistaken awarenesses!
What is mistaken about them?
They perceive inherently existent objects, which do not exist, and therefore they cause us to experience suffering.
And there you have it. Nothing is really there but it appears to be. Right now we have little choice but to use our gross waking minds, and yet they are all mistaken in this way, which leads directly and indirectly to our daily suffering. So that sucks.
For example, when our mental awareness thinks ‘I’ or ‘me’ through perceiving either our body or mind, we mistakenly perceive our body or mind to be our self.
Although we perceive it (or appear it), there is no self anywhere to be found in our body or our mind. Right now, for example, as you read this, you can ask yourself, “Who is sitting here reading this?” Ans: “I am.” That me or I seems to be sitting right here reading. But if we go looking for this I, we will not find it anywhere either in our body sitting here or in our mind comprehending what we are reading, or in the combination of the two. This searching and not finding is the meditation on the emptiness or true nature of things.
However, if we don’t go looking for it, our self will continue to appear to exist somewhere within our body and mind, and:
Because of this when our body is sick we think ‘I am sick’, when our body is old we think ‘I am old’, and when our mind “experiences suffering or pain we think ‘I am suffering’ or ‘I am in pain.’
There is no I there, but we believe there is, so our waking mind is in a constant state of hallucination! Is it any wonder we experience one pain after another? As Venerable Geshe Kelsang says:
We experience suffering and problems throughout our life and in life after life without end.
If all our waking minds are mistaken awarenesses, then definitely we are not tuned into reality when we are awake. We all keep trying to make this work, to find real happiness within this hallucination. But we can’t. Grasping at it produces more and more delusion, contaminated karma, and suffering — samsara just gets longer. As Geshe Kelsang says:
This is our normal painful situation. Understanding this we should develop renunciation, the sincere wish to liberate ourself permanently from this hallucination by realizing the true nature of things, the emptiness of all phenomena.
The subtle mind
Dream minds are called subtle minds because they are difficult to recognize and to use.
During sleep while we are dreaming we use subtle minds such as our dream eye awareness, ear awareness, nose awareness, tongue awareness, body awareness and mental awareness, through which we experience the appearance of various kinds of dream things. All these appearances are mistaken appearances.
It’s hard for us to keep any mindfulness together when we’re dreaming, which explains why our dreams are so weird, except while they’re happening when they seem completely normal. That’s the point – we don’t usually know we’re dreaming and so we just believe it’s all happening and go along with it, even when the story line is totally random and things are popping up all over the place. With no mindfulness we cannot keep the plot together for any length of time at all.
We have the same reactions and delusions in our dreams as when we’re awake because the ignorance is the same — asleep or awake, we believe that what we’re seeing has nothing to do with our mind, that it is out there, really happening. However, we only notice our mistake and feel somewhat foolish once we wake up.
Eyes wide open
Recently, I’ve been helping care for someone dementia. He has periods of lucidity when he knows moreorless what is going on and what things are, and periods of dullness and confusion when he might think the bed is the chair or not recognize his surroundings, “I am in someone else’s house.” Over the months and years that this dementia has been growing, I have several times tried to get to the bottom of how he feels and, as I suspected, when he is not lucid he fees as if he is asleep and dreaming, even though he is wandering around with his eyes open. “I haven’t woken up yet”, he says, whilst trying to navigate the room. At those times we have far less shared reality, so it is harder to converse or get him to follow simple instructions, and he panics more easily.
I have been thinking that we are all a bit like that – sometimes we’re lucid, but sometimes we feel dull, out of it, half-asleep, or perhaps day-dreaming, and just want to be left alone.
I have also been thinking that even when we are lucid, it is still only a relative lucidity. Our delusions are still relating to things that are not actually there! When we get angry, for example, the inherently unpleasant person we’re angry with doesn’t exist at all, no more than the chair as a bed – we too are in our own private fantasy. When we develop non-deluded minds such as compassion, things are still appearing as real, ie, we still have mistaken appearances. However, we are not apprehending or believing these inherently existent things, which is a huge improvement that’s taking us in the right direction.
The only true lucidity is when we know we are hallucinating.
No real meaning
Geshe Kelsang then says something a little bit devastating:
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.
Hang on a minute! No real meaning?!!! That’s a bit strong! Can it be true?
Let’s say we have a dream where we believe it’s all happening and we do lots of activities, really thinking we are going places – travelling, getting things done, meeting people, having a rich full life. Then we wake up.
Where did that go?! And where is the meaning in it?
It is the same with this waking life. We run around all our life going places trying to get things done. Then we die, and all these appearances dissolve away. (They even dissolve away each night when we fall asleep.) Why do they disappear? Because, however real they seemed, they were only ever appearances to begin with.
This is not to say we should just give up and be lazy and not bother being kind, etc. If we do good things in our dreams, for example, we will experience a happier more harmonious life and create good karma. Karma is definite precisely because everything is empty of independent existence and therefore totally dependent-related – being kind to others will result in happiness and being cruel will not. Therefore, if we don’t want to suffer, we have to observe the laws of karma.
So, what we do is not completely meaningless – that is not what’s being said here. Because our normal activities do have relative meaning, practicing the method teachings such as compassion, moral discipline, faith and all the rest will make our life meaningful and joyful. More about that here. However, our normal activities have no real meaning because we keep buying into something that just isn’t there.
If our normal activities in dreams and while we are awake have no real meaning, where does that leave us?!
It leaves us with the need to learn how to use our very subtle mind as explained in Highest Yoga Tantra.
Out of time, hoping to carry on in the next article … comments and questions welcome below!
Just a couple of practical points before you go …
I’ve been writing these recent articles in preparation for the Highest Yoga Tantra Festival coming up in two short weeks. The empowerments of Heruka and Vajrayogini take place from Friday to Sunday at 4 set times, so people will have to carve out the weekend to attend. They are also longer than other Tantric empowerments, with no intervals, so best not to plan lunch in the middle. And, while this may sound obvious, given our (my!) increasingly casual approach to livestream events, I think we’ll get the most out of these precious empowerments if we approach them with a more mindful mindset and planning to be as undisturbed as possible. The subsequent commentaries are available to view more at our leisure as needs be over the next couple of weeks.
Today I read an alarming statistic about loneliness in people aged 13-24 and all the reasons for it, which are sad. I was thinking, “If even our young are lonely, what does that say about our old? Those who can barely make it to their own front doors even when there isn’t a raging pandemic?” Despite brief flashes of excitement — such as England almost but not quite winning the European Football Championship last night* — there are so many recurring and new problems in the world, including loneliness. It has always been like this in samsara. According to Buddha, the only way to solve suffering for good is to realize our enormous spiritual potential by transforming our mind and heart.
Everyone’s going to attain enlightenment one day because we have Buddha nature and because the methods for attaining enlightenment exist — so the way I see it is that we may as well do it now rather than wait several more aeons. Waiting for conditions to improve isn’t going to work. Nor is waiting for rest of the world to change. I think that’s pretty clear by now.
In his Sutra teachings Buddha gives us great encouragement to accomplish the ultimate goal of human life. ~ Modern Buddhism
This ultimate goal is the full realization of our spiritual potential, aka enlightenment, which gives us the ability to help each and every living being every day through our blessings and emanations. It’s hard to imagine a higher goal. And as Geshe-la goes on to say:
This goal will be accomplished quickly through the practice of Tantra.
There is a slow way to enlightenment and there is a fast way. According to Sutra, it takes literally aeons to become a Bodhisattva, practice the six perfections, and attain enlightenment. According to Tantra, we can get the job done in one lifetime! Once we’re interested in attaining enlightenment, therefore, who wants to go the slow poke way? Not me.
There are many reasons why Highest Yoga Tantra is so fast, one of the most important being that we learn to manifest and use our very subtle mind. This is exceedingly powerful and can derail our samsara almost instantly. In completion stage Tantra we learn the precise mechanics for transforming our actual very subtle body and mind into the body and mind of a Buddha. There is nothing vague about these instructions. More on this coming up in the next article.
Taking advantage of emptiness
Another reason it is the quick path is because we take advantage of everything being empty of inherent existence to deliberately create a whole new world for ourselves and others.
As explained in Modern Buddhism – Volume 1: Sutra, our world does not exist from its own side; like a dream world, it is a mere appearance to our mind.
This is a key understanding for Tantra – if we understand about emptiness, we can understand how Tantra is the method to directly purify ourself, our enjoyments, our activities, and our world. Contemplating dreams is a helpful way into emptiness:
In dreams we can see and touch our dream world, but when we wake up we realize that it was simply a projection of our mind and had no existence outside our mind. In the same way, the world we see when we are awake is simply a projection of our mind and has no existence outside our mind.
The moment we wake up, we realize that our dream world never had any existence outside our dream mind. This is similar to realizing emptiness, when we realize this waking world also has no existence outside our waking mind. As Milarepa said:
You should know that all appearances are the nature of mind, and mind is the nature of emptiness.
It is our mind that is creating everything, projecting everything. Therefore if we want to change things – our world, our self, our body, or anything at all — we need to change the creator, our mind. Geshe Kelsang gives an example:
We know that when our mind is impure because we are feeling angry with our friend, we see him as bad; but when our mind is pure because we are feeling affectionate love for the same friend, we see him as good.
This is an obvious example that all of us understand – when we’re in a bad mood with a good friend or family member, they seem deliberately annoying and we may even tell them as much. When our fondness for them returns, they seem sweet and we once again enjoy their company. This is the same person, right? Whom within minutes can turn from bad to good and back again, depending on our thoughts. It doesn’t really have anything to do with them – they just want to be happy, have a good day, perhaps have us be nicer to them – but we see them as our enemy through our anger. All this is explained in Sutra – it is a simple example, but profound, because it shows how we create things with our mind.
Therefore, it is because of changing our own mind from pure to impure or from impure to pure that for us our friend changes from good to bad or from bad to good. This indicates that everything that is good, bad or neutral for us is a projection of our mind and has no existence outside our mind.
Purifying our mind at its deepest level
And what this means is that, if we purify our mind, we purify our entire experience of the world and all that is in it. Since there is no world outside of our experience (try and point to one!), we purify everything.
Tantra, also known as ‘Secret Mantra’ or ‘Vajrayana’, is a special method to purify our world, our self, our enjoyments and our activities; and if we put this method into practice we shall very quickly attain enlightenment.
Our entire Dharma practice can be seen as purifying our mind – making it less impure, deluded, and painful, and at the same time increasing our pure, peaceful, positive states of mind. However, there are many different levels of purifying our mind, and:
The subtle mistaken appearance of our mind cannot be purified through the practice of Sutra alone; we need to engage in the practice of Highest Yoga Tantra.
What is subtle mistaken appearance? It’s the appearance of things existing outside the mind. The things we normally see seem to exist out there, independent of the mind. It feels as if there is a gap between our mind and its objects, between me over here and everything else over there; so this is also called “dualistic” appearance.
Due to this, when we see something we are scared of, for example, we develop aversion wanting to push it away or get away from it. If we see something attractive, we feel we have to somehow grab it and pull it towards us, run towards it, merge with it. From this aversion and attachment come all the other mental poisons, as explained more here. And these give rise to all our negative karma and suffering.
If we see a big bear running toward us in a dream, we probably develop fear – why? There is only the appearance of a bear – the bear has no existence from its own side and no actual power to eat us. We develop fear not because there’s a bear there, because there isn’t! But because we believe there is. It’s the same when we are awake. In fact I read an article just yesterday about a man who sees, hears, and feels bears whenever he goes anywhere near nature – even though every encounter he has had thus far with a bear has turned out to be an encounter with a large rock, a branch brushing his arm, or the wind growling in the trees. He loves hiking but this fear of bears has put a stop to that.
All our suffering arises from believing mistaken appearances. If we never had any mistaken appearances to believe in the first place, we’d be enlightened. We can purify our delusions and impure appearances to a large extent through our practice of Sutra – for example, through our practice of love people appear to us as lovable as opposed to unpleasant. However, to completely purify our mistaken appearances such that we never have any at all, we need Tantra.
The four complete purities
Through practicing Tantra we shall completely purify our mind and thus experience the complete purity of our world, our self, our enjoyments and our activities – the ‘four complete purities’.
If you check, our life is pretty much comprised of our self, our environment or world, our deeds (or what we do all day long), and our enjoyments. These are all the nature of mind, not objective truths that can be found outside of the mind — we cannot find even one atom of them when we explore them. Everything is mere appearance of the mind, like a dream – there is nothing there to grasp at. This means that when our mind is impure, appearances are impure; but when we purify our mind they become pure.
Point being, we don’t just purify our mind or our self such that we are wandering around all pure and blissful in an impure suffering world — ALL areas of our life are completely purified and transformed through our practice of Tantra. We transform ourself into a Buddha in a Pure Land, with pure enjoyments and performing pure deeds. This is what is known as the “four complete purities”. As Geshe Kelsang says:
When we completely purify our mind through Tantric practice, our world, our self, our enjoyments and our activities also become completely pure – this is the state of enlightenment. Attaining enlightenment is therefore very simple; all we need to do is apply effort to purifying our mind.
Generally we make our life pretty complicated. But this could be because we don’t spend much time trying to purify our mind – instead tying ourselves in knots in the attempt to make everything work out there, outside the mind. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s very hard to get things to work all the time – indeed, there are periods when we can’t get things to work any of the time. And even when things do work, it’s usually only a matter of time before they stop working.
Just this morning I heard someone bemoaning the “planned obsolescence” of modern life, how everything we buy quickly breaks down and needs to be replaced rather than repaired, creating mountains of plastic in our world. It struck me that everything in samsara is doomed for obsolescence, planned or not. In fact, just as I am writing this, a very polite Englishman sitting next to me in Costa has just dropped his glass and it is smashed into pieces all around my toes. He is being terrible apologetic, and I am replying, “No worries at all, these things happen!” Because they do. All the time.
This is where our renunciation and compassion are needed – in understanding that we and everybody else have tried since beginningless time to make samsara work, but samsara is the creation of ignorance and delusion and so it CANNOT work. Nothing lasts, for a start.
Quick thought experiment: imagine you have finally managed to pull it off – you don’t have a single problem left in this life and by some miracle you have gathered everything you’ve ever wanted!
In our human realm, of course, it is highly unlikely this’ll ever happen. In the god realms we have a better chance of this, and things are pretty nice for a while. But let’s say by some miracle we have pulled this off …
We still drop dead.
Even gods drop dead. That is samsara for us. Now we have dropped dead, we almost immediately have to take another uncontrolled rebirth. So what was all that about? We have to start all over again. Due to our ignorance and mistaken appearances, we are still hallucinating a world that is not there. We have lost everything we strove for and are now suffering from a whole bunch of new problems. Perhaps we even have fur and a tail.
Where has all our hard work in this life gotten us, let alone the hard work in all our previous lives? We have worked so hard and so long to solve our problems and get happy, but where has that left us? Precisely nowhere.
There has to be a different way and, thank goodness, there is. If I use Tantra to purify my mind, I will purify my self, my world, my enjoyments, and my activities. I will experience everything as pure and blissful all the time, forever. This is not some make-believe world – it is more realistic than the hallucinatory world I am trying to live in now, with all its loneliness and other problems. And this new reality will not only be joyful but profoundly meaningful because we will be able to help everyone else in the same way every day.
I thought I could end this article with a meditation to bring together some of what I have been talking about in this and the previous article. You can do it now or come back to it later!
We can begin by sitting comfortably with a straight back, happy to be here doing this. We can drop into our heart where our very subtle mind is located, already starting to sense the peace and clarity we have within. To calm the mind and absorb more deeply, we can spend a couple of minutes following the sensation of our breath as it enters and leaves our nose.
We can imagine that everything outside our body has dissolved away into clear light, including the past and the future.
We are experiencing peace in our heart – a peace that arises naturally whenever we just allow our thoughts to settle. A peace that is teaching us that when we drop our distractions and delusions there is always the potential for peace within us, even bliss.
This peace fills our mind, we just imagine. Because my mind is boundless, so too is my potential for peace. This is my Buddha nature.
Everyone has this – I am not unique. Through Buddha’s teachings on Sutra and Tantra we can all realize fully our potential for enlightenment. How amazing this would be. We can meditate on this for a couple of minutes.
This good heart is already connected to the blissful compassion and omniscient wisdom of my Spiritual Guide, Buddha. To attain enlightenment I need blessings and already my mind is tuned into blessings just by this recognition.
We can understand that our Spiritual Guide is appearing in our life, in our mind, and in the space in front of us, surrounded by countless enlightened beings. He is looking at us with unconditional love.
Now all the Buddhas of the ten directions melt into light and dissolve into Buddha in the center. With great delight he comes to our crown and, facing the way we face, diminishes to the size of a thumb. We feel this powerful being at our crown.
With great love for us he then effortlessly descends down our central channel to the very center of our heart chakra in the center of our chest; and we go with him. We feel our mind mixes with his bliss and wisdom like a small stream flowing into a vast ocean. His good qualities pervade our mind and we feel deeply peaceful.
Now to increase this bliss we can bring a worldly enjoyment to mind. Something romantic. Beautiful music. Diving into a pool. Watching England score a goal a mere two minutes into game. Whatever it is, we bring this to mind and allow a good feeling to arise in our heart. We feel our mind become more concentrated and more blissful.
Normally we think that the source of our bliss is outside so we grasp at these things with attachment. Now we can ask ourself: “Is this pleasure coming from outside the mind or from inside the mind?”
When we observe that it’s coming from inside, we are free to let go of whatever it was we were thinking about. This pure enjoyment fills our heart and we can offer it to our Spiritual Guide.
Allowing ourself to bathe in the waves of bliss that arise from our root mind, we are reminded that our mind is naturally joyful and, at its deepest levels, very blissful.
We can now remember that the objects outside our mind don’t even exist – like last night’s dream world, today’s waking world is mere appearance to the mind. We allow our mind of bliss to mix with the mere absence of all the things we normally saw, which is emptiness. We can meditate on this for as long as we like.
As we prepare to arise from our meditation we can consider that when the next object of enjoyment presents itself we can enjoy it with the recognition that the actual bliss is coming from within – this attractive person or these Walkers Crisps or whatever it is are just reminding me of my own Buddha nature. I can offer that enjoyment at my heart. We can make some plan to transform our attachment into the quick path to enlightenment.
More on its way …
More coming soon on Highest Yoga Tantra in preparation for this Summer’s International Kadampa Festival. Meanwhile your comments and questions are most welcome!
*Re. the football, I also remembered Venerable Geshe-la’s advice to a football fan to have compassion for those who lose (which isn’t hard, those penalties were brutal) and rejoice in those who win (nice job, as always, Italy!)
If there’s a silver lining to our strange pandemic days, it could be that someone invented accessible live-streaming just in time. Most of us have been taking advantage of it all year; and this Summer it means that anyone who’s ready can receive Buddha’s teachings on the quick path to enlightenment, called Highest Yoga Tantra.
Throughout the centuries, whether in ancient India, Tibet, or even our modern world, people have travelled for days or even weeks to receive these empowerments and commentaries. But because it’s not safe for everyone to congregate in their thousands, and because this has been delayed once already, Venerable Geshe-la recently gave permission for them to be given online for the first time ever, at least in this human world.
Many people have been waiting for these empowerments for years, you might be one of them! They’re only granted every two years, either in England or elsewhere — the international Festivals are indubitably unique and life changing, but if we don’t live near those places it can be challenging to get to them in terms of time and money. This year is the exception. And because several people have asked me about this, I thought it might be helpful to spend a few articles talking about some of the special features of Highest Yoga Tantra, especially for those of you who are not sure what they are or whether you’re ready.
What is a human life for?
In the Modern Buddhism chapter “The Preciousness of Tantra”, Geshe Kelsang says:
In his Sutra teachings Buddha gives us great encouragement to accomplish the ultimate goal of human life. This goal will be accomplished quickly through the practice of Tantra.
All Buddha’s discourses are included in Sutra and Tantra, Sutra being those teachings that Buddha gave publicly to everyone. Most of the weekly classes given at Kadampa Centers, for example, come from Buddha’s Sutras, which boil down to three things:
The wisdom realizing emptiness
For example the stages of the path to enlightenment (Lamrim) is presented as 21 (or 14) step-by-step meditations, and all of these funnel into these so-called “three principal aspects of the path”. We need to have some appreciation for these before embarking on Highest Yoga Tantra because it is both impossible and pointless to practice Tantra without Sutra, which provides both the motivation and the wisdom we need.
With renunciation, we make a decision to leave samsara by destroying all our delusions and suffering, and with bodhichitta we want to free everybody without exception by attaining enlightenment. These motivations are the only reason for engaging in Tantra, regardless of what you may have read about couples’ intimacy-improving retreats in Hawaii. It is even said to be dangerous to practice Tantra without some renunciation and bodhichitta, the big picture.
It is in Sutra that Buddha extensively explains how to realize emptiness, which is the beating heart of Tantra. If things existed from their own side, as more than mere projection of mind, then Tantra wouldn’t make any sense at all. But because the things we normally see do not exist, Tantra makes perfect sense.
Sutra is the foundation of Tantra, and Tantra gives our spiritual practice vision, bringing our Sutra insights alive. I’ll stick my neck out here to say that in these degenerate times it might be almost impossible to gain deep realizations of renunciation, bodhichitta, and emptiness without practicing these in conjunction with Tantra.
One reason is because we’re riddled with attachment, which makes it pretty hard to develop even the slightest wish to leave samsara, let alone muster up the energy to free everyone else. Within renunciation we’re taught to abandon attachment to our worldly enjoyments; but even hearing something like this in the desire realm, where we live, can be disconcerting, “How am I supposed to do that?! That’s where all my happiness lies – in pizzas, romance, sunsets, and money. What are you asking me to do here?! What am I going to replace them with? I can’t and don’t want to imagine life without them.”
This is not a surprising reaction given that we have turned to attachment for our happiness since beginningless time. Without Tantra, can we envision what it’s like to be completely free from attachment and other delusions, to enjoy everything endlessly with a mind of great bliss?! I don’t think we can.
All the teachings on renunciation are absolutely applicable to Tantric practice. We envision what it is like to be a totally liberated person and this both encourages us and accelerates our path to liberation. I remember how much easier and more fun renunciation became when I started to practice Highest Yoga Tantra. I could immediately tell that this pure blissful alternative to samsaric bodies, environments, deeds, and enjoyments is vastly superior – we taste this through the power of correct imagination and blessings. Also, what does it mean to give up worldly enjoyments and experience pure enjoyments instead? In Highest Yoga Tantra we learn how to manifest our innate great bliss and transform our experience of worldly pleasures into rocket fuel for spiritual development. More on that here.
Freeing the world
In Sutra we learn that all living beings are suffering in this wretched ocean of samsara and we develop the compassion that wants to permanently liberate them all, from the tiniest ant to the highest god. From this we develop the good heart of bodhichitta, wishing to attain enlightenment so that we can liberate them. This sounds pretty wonderful, no?! Maybe we appreciate this, and we do all the meditations on love and so on, and we do really want this a lot of the time. But there is this niggling part of us, “Me, attain enlightenment?! Really? Have you met me?!” We feel pretty ordinary, not like someone who could liberate all beings. We have no vivid concept of what that would even be like without Tantra.
We do get a bit of taste with the Sutra practice of taking and giving, where we imagine taking away everyone’s suffering and our body transforming into a wishfulfilling jewel bestowing on them all endless happiness. Taking and giving is similar to Tantric practice, as Venerable Geshe-la explains in How to Transform Your Life. So if you like taking and giving, you’re going to love Tantra.
Beyond that it can be hard to wrap our mind around being a Buddha who goes around liberating each and every living being every day, bestowing blessings on everyone we meet and think about (which will be everyone) all the time! But once we receive the empowerments we do generate ourself as such an enlightened being, bringing the future result of our practice into the present, realizing the aims of our bodhichitta in the here and now. We practice this through correct imagination (the other side of the coin from wisdom realizing emptiness), and our bodhichitta becomes very joyful, this vision deeply encouraging us to be a Buddha like Vajrayogini and Heruka.
Moreover, it is Tantric practice that finally removes the mistaken appearances from our mind permanently – we cannot completely purify our minds through Sutra practices alone. Sooner or later, if we want to attain actual enlightenment, we have to practice Tantra. More on why later.
Even when we are a novice to Highest Yoga Tantra, straightaway it starts to increase our enthusiasm and confidence for the Dharma of renunciation bodhichitta, and emptiness – these practices start to come alive and inspire us deeply. This is even in the early stages, when we are not that good at it yet.
Am I ready?
In terms of whether or not we’re ready for Tantric empowerments, in my observation there are a few useful questions to consider. One important thing about these empowerments is that they’re for life, so if you know your interest in Buddhism is a passing fad, perhaps it’s best not to embark on these earth-shaking practices. You can ask yourself, “Do I like Buddhism enough to want to be a Buddhist for the rest of my life.?” Clearly you cannot practice Buddhist Tantra if you are not a Buddhist. “Do I trust Buddha enough and like the teachings enough to know I want to remain a Buddhist?”
Within this, do I have a feeling for and appreciation of the teachings on renunciation, including overcoming all my delusions? Do I want to do that? This renunciation doesn’t have to be fully qualified by any means, we may forget it 23 hours a day; but generally speaking we have to be interested in attaining liberation by getting rid of our self-grasping, negative karma, and suffering. We have to think that this is something we would like. If you can say “Yes!” to that question, that’s a good start.
Then, do I want to free others? Do I care enough about others and their suffering – even if it is only some of the time and only a little — to want to free them by becoming a Buddha? How interested am I in this, is it something I’d like to pursue with this life? This bodhichitta is the other motivation we need to receive the empowerments and start practicing.
Of the three principal paths, it is perhaps most important to have some renunciation and bodhichitta because these will motivate us to learn more and more about emptiness. However, the more understanding we have of emptiness the better, because, like I said, it is only because everything lacks inherent existence that Tantra works; it would be impossible to practice Tantra if things were real.
One important point is that we don’t have to do things sequentially, that is, wait until we have perfect renunciation before we develop bodhichitta, perfect bodhichitta before we develop the wisdom realizing emptiness, and perfect wisdom before we practice Highest Yoga Tantra. This is just as well because, if we did, none of this would never happen. Why? Because Sutra and Tantra are mutually supportive and both accelerate and perfect each other.
In Je Tsongkhapa’s Kadampa tradition, we emphasize the union of Sutra and Tantra. Venerable Geshe-la’s Guru’s Guru was a spiritual giant in Tibet called Je Phabongkhapa, who taught extensively, including, unusually for the time, large numbers of lay people. He explained that we should sow five seeds together and reap their five crops together — this is how a Kadampa should practice Dharma to attain enlightenment. The first three seeds are the three Sutra paths mentioned above, and the other two are the generation and completion stages of Highest Yoga Tantra. I’ve always found this advice on how to do a fully integrated spiritual practice very helpful, trying to touch on all five every day even if emphasizing one or another of them. It also indicates that we don’t need perfect renunciation and so on before we are ready for our Tantric empowerments.
By the way, once you have your empowerments, it’s not like you’ll be left hanging and won’t know what to do. You will know exactly what to do because there are teachings during the Festival and you can read the books and receive other teachings over time as you wish.
We also promise to observe various Tantric vows and commitments, especially a four-line verse that we contemplate six times a day. If we are sowing the five seeds we’re going in the right direction and don’t need to be concerned that we’re breaking these commitments. This is because we are not promising to keep them perfectly from day one, we are simply promising to keep the intention to keep them. And they are all very cool, if you ask me. For example, there’s a commitment to generate great bliss six times a day. When I first heard this, I was, like, “Who wouldn’t want to do that?!” Then our practical observation and understanding of these gets better and better as the years go by.
As I write these articles, I’ll be dipping into various books to give you a general idea. For starters, I recommend that you download this free gift of Modern Buddhism if you haven’t done so already, go to Part 2, and read four chapters in there: the Preciousness of Tantra, the Tantra of Generation Stage, the Tantra of Completion Stage, and the Completion Stage of Mahamudra. Don’t feel like you’re supposed to understand it all already, by the way! These chapters provide a general explanation of Highest Yoga Tantra. They don’t go into too much detail on how to do the various Tantric practices because we only engage in these once we’re empowered to do so, Buddha is very clear on this. You’ll have time to read and practice these chapters again, as well as the following chapters on Heruka body mandala and Vajrayogini, after you’ve received the empowerments and commentary.
Sitting in my new PJs this bitterly cold December morning, about to start my meditation, I was wondering how can I imagine being all blissed out in the Pure Land of Heruka and Vajrayogini (Keajra) when my unhoused neighbors are freezing half to death outside on the streets and piglets are having their tails cut off while conscious?
The Pure Land cannot just be an extension of my privilege – that is, “I have a relatively comfy life and I’d like it to continue and improve in Keajra when I die, please!” We can’t get to Keajra out of attachment to the status quo. The Pure Land only arises from our utter distaste (as Geshe Kelsang puts it) for samsara’s evil dealings, and a heart broken into 1,000 pieces (like Avalokiteshvara 1,000 arms) from witnessing others’ suffering. `
The bliss of the Pure Land doesn’t actually come from all those endless cool objects of enjoyment, but from being in the position to effortlessly free everyone from samsara because our mind just is bliss and emptiness. The enjoyments are simply a means to an end. Hence this verse from the Heruka sadhana:
I offer to you, synthesis of all Buddhas of the ten directions, all my daily enjoyments – eating, drinking and enjoying any other objects of desire. May I quickly attain enlightenment and become like you so that I will effortlessly benefit all living beings.
I have a friend here in Denver called Shala, who is still in the middle of (hands down, no competition) the toughest year of her life working as an ICU nurse with COVID patients. What is as terrible in some ways as the lonely choking deaths she has witnessed is her frustration at the administrators at all levels who cannot or will not do a decent job of supporting the frontline healthcare workers, leading not just to their exhaustion and lack of protection but to unnecessary sentinel patient events.
How does she get past this to carry on, month after month, I asked her. The answer is by remembering renunciation, focusing directly on the patients (trying to make them as peaceful and comfortable as she personally can), and constantly asking the Buddhas to bless the situation.
Shala has given me a lot to think about. In our day to day work lives (if we’re lucky enough to still have one of those), including running a meditation center or another non-profit (which some of you do), it’s easy for us to get annoyed with our co-workers or managers if we feel that we are dependent on them for success. To avoid this at work (or indeed wherever things are not working out), we need the fearlessness to look at our own actual painful situation — including our own frustrations and griefs and shame and trauma and rage — and sit with these long enough to develop renunciation.
Samsara’s job is to make us suffer. We are not “wholeheartedly accepting” suffering (as in the necessary practice of patient acceptance) if we are at the same time brushing it off as quickly as we can. It doesn’t work to bypass samsara’s nature, saying “Oh yes, I know! Samsara is bad!” while being prepared to keep living with it and making it work — we have to detest it very deeply, have a lifelong grudge, if we are to muster sufficient activity to abolish it.
All this of course done within the framework of identifying ourselves with the vast sky of our limitless potential, not the dark clouds of our delusions and mistaken appearances. We’re the sky looking at the thunder, who knows full well that the sky is still alright, that no thunder can ever harm it.
We are not inherently impure or ordinary or even suffering! Holding to that is identifying ourself incorrectly, as Geshe Kelsang explains so clearly in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra(which would be a wonderful book to dust off and read this month). Which is just as well because it means that we can change.
We also need always to keep our eye on the ball by staying directly and personally focused on the living beings we’re trying to help in our area, not on the faults of our team and/or others who are seemingly sabotaging our best efforts. This compassion and love will go a long way to protecting us from daily anger (not to mention self-pity).
And we are not talking just, “Oh that’s a shame!”, but about a compassion that finds the suffering of others unbearable and so will keep us going day after day for their sake, without becoming mentally side-tracked or full of inertia by taking everything personally.
Thirdly, we need to channel the frustration at things not going as well as we would like (eg, due to inefficiency, bad management, selfishness, prejudice, disharmony etc) into the determination to attain enlightenment as quickly as we possibly can. Because that way we can DIRECTLY help each and every living being every day through our blessings and emanations (bypassing all management, lol). Developing pure view and practicing being in the Pure Land — where there is “not even the name of mistaken impure appearance” — is a must if we are to do this skillfully.
Transforming our families
I am currently part of a family of six cats. Over two months ago, a mom arrived with five tiny new cats, and they’ve grown up mainly knowing the world of me and my apartment/jungle-playground. For a brief moment in their endless samsaric lives, and unlike the vast majority of other animals, they have the karma to be wanted. They have a devoted cat mom and sympathetic human relatives wanting to take care of them, offering them food, warmth, companionship, and love. They are even lined up for great homes in other families.
But as I was watching them this morning while they slumbered next to me, it struck me quite deeply that, even if they get to spend the next 16 or so years in relative comfort and security, these innocent trusting little folk are at some point going to become sick, old, and dead. And then what? Then where?
These few months are a snapshot in time, a vanishing moment given the endless suffering they’ve already been through and the endless suffering that awaits them. My heart was breaking when I looked not just at today’s challenges (for example, Kendrick feeling sad and hungry because he simply can’t abide cat food, and who can blame him), but the fact that this discomfort is NOTHING compared with the rest of it. And the fact that he doesn’t even know that, nor can do anything about it. Looking at me with that tilted kitten head, he doesn’t even know how to plead with me not to forget him, not to let him suffer — not now, not ever.*
It is bad enough just contemplating what lies in store for these six individuals, but that of course gets me thinking about all my family, blood related or otherwise, furry or fur-less. And everyone else in the six realms of samsara’s wasteland.
Turning the pain into power
I have seen the promised land!
So said Martin Luther King Jr – and did he keep going, I was wondering, despite endless odds, through the power of his faith and imagination? Was he already in some sense in the Pure Land, with the courage and power to lead others to that state? Do we have to be seeing the world that we want to create? I would say, Yes, we do.
Great compassion will be the new normal.
So said Gen Losang in the Summer. The ONLY solution we really have to this year and to every other terrible year is to become a Buddha as quickly as possible for the sake of others. And the only way to do that is to practice being a Buddha in the Pure Land now, making sure that Kendrick and everyone else is a mere aspect of our mind of bliss and emptiness, never separated from us, never again forgotten. For once we are in the outer or inner Pure Land of Heruka, this can happen fast for all our friends:
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
Over to you. What does the Pure Land mean to you? How are you going to spend Heruka and Vajrayogini month?
*Postscript: Kendrick died at 3am on Christmas day after a rapid decline.💔
He provides another compelling reason why not to feel a moment’s survivor’s guilt about hanging out in the Pure Land, given that I can do almost nothing for him while identified as an ordinary being. However, prayers work, so please let’s pray for this small cat and all other animals, whether beloved companions or hitherto completely unwanted.
I’m doing something a bit unusual in this blog article, which is simply encouraging anyone who is reading it and who is interested in Buddhism to tune into the International Kadampa Spring Festival if you haven’t done so already and can make the time …
This is because I’ve been finding it to be incredibly profound, clear, uplifting, and relevant to what’s going on right now. From what I am gleaning, it is helping people beyond measure, and it is definitely a huge shot in the arm for our troubled world.
I think it would be very powerful for everyone if loads and loads of people could hear these really clear Buddhist teachings on developing compassion and wisdom, receive the empowering blessings of Buddha Vajrapani, and do the inspiring meditations and retreat with these three close and immensely kind disciples of Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
Tomorrow is technically the last day of the Festival — however, the links are available until June 3rd, which is still a week away. If you have not been able to listen in yet, or if you didn’t know this was happening, maybe you can think about registering today and making a plan to listen in over the next several days? Because you still have time. There are people all over the world who are still joining in, and I think a lot of people will in any case want to listen to a lot of the teachings and meditations twice before the links expire.
I would suggest starting with the first teaching and working your way systematically through the meditations, empowerment, teachings, and retreat in the order they are presented on the page, getting as far as you can according to what else you have going on over the next week! There is no need to join in for the Pujas at this point unless you have lots of time. Any questions, write them in the comments box below.
I was thinking of our big temple in Ulverston, England, for example, the original temple for world peace based on the mandala of Heruka. This seems to have a very clear structure, with pillars and chairs in rows, ordained at the front and lay at the back, orderly rules for behavior, and even security. However, it’s also clear that this temple is the home of the Dakinis — they’re everywhere. If you look up at the walls, you will see that they have escaped from the glassed-in shrine cabinet and are flying around the room 😉
The Heroes and Dakinis who are the emanations of Heruka and Vajrayogini pervade everywhere throughout this world, and people receive their blessings and special care.
Relating to the unobstructed power and blessings of the Dakinis and Dakas, what is it and where does it come from? Bliss and emptiness — ecstatic compassion and non-dual wisdom. Not super reality, just reality.
Remembering them and how they have our back gives us immense freedom, an immense feeling of flight. We can think, I am a Space Goer. Or a Sky Dancer. As mentioned earlier, that is the meaning of “khandro”, the Tibetan word for Dakini.
I have noticed that the Dakinis always laugh when I take myself or anyone else too seriously. We can get wrapped up with appearances, even or especially if they seem to be virtuous — and this can make us rigid and/or judgmental of ourself and others. If we begin to feel heavy, even a little, then we need to remember our Dakini nature, remember who we really are at heart. Wild, that is untamed by ordinary conceptions, and compassionately blissful.
The still point of the turning world
I’ve always loved this quote by TS Eliot:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is.
In the sphere of emptiness anything is possible. Everything is a momentary manifestation of the emptiness of our blissful clear light mind, like a pure dream, a pure dance. Our Spiritual Guide and the Sky Dancers will give us everything we ever wanted, providing from our side we are doing the daily work of loving all beings and overcoming self-grasping and hallucinations. That’s the deal.
“Don’t squeeze me!”, a lover once told me, because, as it turned out, he had a broken rib. Like a moth enjoying a flame without feeling the need to fly right into it, we can learn to blissfully enjoy the mere appearance of everything providing we give up the grasping.
Our Spiritual Guide and Dakinis will take us wherever we want to go, so where exactly is that?!
What is the deepest compassion?
Another name for Dakini is “khachö”, which literally means “space (or sky) enjoyer”! (Same “chö” as in Buddha’s Enjoyment Body (chö ku) for those of you interested in etymology or impressing people at parties.) Dakinis and Dakas are always enjoying themselves. That is surely what we want for ourselves and everyone?
I have noticed in the past some survivors’ guilt, “How can I aim at being all happy and cheerful inside when so many people are suffering so grievously?” But I’ve come to see that I don’t need to be drowning as well in order to commiserate with others who are drowning – no, it’s better to be happy, it’s ok to be blissful, and that joy is meaningful. The best, or in fact only, place from which to help pull people out of the wretched ocean of samsara is the dry land of reality; and reality IS bliss and emptiness.
What is real compassion, what do we really want for everyone? If your Spiritual Guide, for example, only wanted you to be free from this headache or from this financial quandary, would that be enough for you? I doubt it. He is our Spiritual Guide because he wants us to be free from ALL delusions and mistaken appearances, in other words to be free from suffering and experience the reality of enlightenment day and night. I think we have to want that for everyone. That seems to be real love and compassion.
Jewel in the box
Je Tsongkhapa revitalized the organization and moral discipline of the spiritual communities of Tibet. And he did this not to create an assembly of goody two shoes just for its own sake, let alone an organization of uptight practitioners; but in order to help everyone everywhere realize their outer, inner, and secret natures, ie, get enlightened. Venerable Geshe Kelsang has been doing exactly the same since he arrived in the West in 1977.
If we get caught up in the appearances of our organization such that we become institutionalized, I think we run the danger of losing the plot. To me that would be like having a jewel box without a jewel inside it. What is the jewel of our tradition? Bliss and emptiness, enlightenment. This lies at the heart of our tradition and is our common destination. So, if we want to fly in the sky, we don’t repress that feeling, believing that we are not ready for it or that it is somehow dangerous.
In that meeting with my teacher, he also talked about the importance of women practitioners and Dakinis – and then he transformed into a Dakini and walked around the room. On the surface he is a pure, kind, reliable Buddhist monk. Inside he is always motivated by universal love and compassion. And deep down, who is he secretly?!
So, Dakinis are trying to get us up into the sky, we just have to go with it. If you’re ever feeling a bit squished, a bit rigid or repressed, worrying what other people are thinking of you, for example, don’t be. Or if you’re pushing, stop. If you have a chip on your shoulder, stop. All those worldly concerns, let go of them. That’s not what our tradition is about. If you ask me, anyway.
Instead, we need to remember our outer, inner, and secret natures: we need to be outwardly ethically kind and a relatable, trustworthy example, inwardly deeply loving, and secretly FREE.
If we practice like this, we will be receiving joyful blessings day and night – and blessings lift our mind and help us see that everything is in fact ok. Even delusions and mistaken appearances are ok because they are not really there, and therefore we will overcome them. Whenever they arise, they are helpfully reminding us that they are there to be dissolved away, like mist in the sunshine of wisdom and compassion.
We talk about “the precious celestial mansion as extensive as the three thousand worlds” – and I believe that this is what we are doing with the New Kadampa Tradition. We are building Heruka and Vajrayogini’s powerfully blessed mandala everywhere, for everyone; and the Dakas and Dakinis are simply longing to help us.
And another thing … we could do ourselves an enormous favor by remembering 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.
“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.
These 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.
This 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 world. But I won’t rub it in!, there are men reading this, lol 😄
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.
If 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.
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.
Je 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.
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.)
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.
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.