The Tantric journey

The meditation we did in that last article — Highest Yoga Tantra: the quick path to enlightenment — was to provide a taste of what we can expect in Highest Yoga Tantra, where we purify our mind at its deepest level.

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.

This is all explained succinctly and powerfully in How to Understand the Mind:

The gross 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.

Related articles 

Find all the articles on Tantra in one place

Highest Yoga Tantra: the quick path to enlightenment

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.

As mentioned in the last article, the Tantric opportunity:

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!

Meditation

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.

At this point we can, if we like, do the Liberating Prayer.  

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!

Related articles

The Tantric opportunity

Living in a virtual world

 

Aligning with reality

 

Perspective is everything

 

Can you find anything?

*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!)

The Tantric opportunity

 

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:

  1. Renunciation
  2. Bodhichitta
  3. 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.

Abandoning attachment

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.

Commitments

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.

Further reading

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.

Here is the next installment: Highest Yoga Tantra ~ the quick path to enlightenment.

Please leave any questions or comments below. Feel to answer other people’s questions and comments as well for I am by no means the authority on any of this 🙂

Here is the International Kadampa Summer Festival 2021 website.

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Bringing the result into the path

All the other articles on Tantra in one place 

What does the Pure Land mean to you?

7.5 mins read.

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?

Click on pic for January retreats online

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.

On the cusp of Heruka and Vajrayogini month, which starts on January 3rd, I’d like to share a couple more vignettes on the subject.

Transforming our jobs

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.*

Anyone want to take this Mom home?

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.

Related articles

Preparing for the Pure Land 

Practicing Tantra is not as hard as you think 

What is compassion? 

Online Kadampa Spring Festival 2020

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 …

(Here is this article in Spanish.)

Vajrapani
Buddha Vajrapani, the Buddha of power, who destroys diseases and delusions

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.

Here is the link to register: https://kadampabookings.org/frontend/?eventid=587

May all the inner and outer obstacles of all living beings swiftly be pacified.

 

March of the Dakinis

5.5 mins read

Happy Heruka Day!

temple with dakinisI 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 😉

Carrying on from this article, Sky Dancers.

As Venerable Geshe Kelsang says on page 84 of The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra:

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.

heruka father and mother 1I 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.

beautiful colorado“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.

There is that question in Heruka Tantra:

Who are you and what do you seek?

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 bench and reflectionsamsara 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?!

vajrayogini 3So, 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.

arizona temple
Coming up, September 2019!

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.

Over to you, comments welcome!

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Wonder Woman 

More on Je Tsongkhapa 

Building temples for world peace 

 

Sky Dancers

7 mins read

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

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

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

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

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

download.png

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

What or who exactly is a Dakini?

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

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

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

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

A life-changing conversation with my Spiritual Guide

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

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

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

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

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

Dakini nature

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

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

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

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

Modern Buddhism

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

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

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

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

As it says in Great Treasury of Merit:

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

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

Dakini nature

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

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

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

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

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

Meantime, your comments are welcome below 😊

Related articles

Outer, inner, and secret Dharma practice

Escape to reality

Ashes to ashes, dust to stardust

 

 

 

Deep healing

8 mins & a video

An old friend of mine, a naturopath, has had a lot of success in healing people simply by telling them — confidently — to drop down into their hearts and feel they’re experiencing their own pure, peaceful natures, the restorative power of their own deep clear light awareness. He has been healing people like this for years, sometimes from intractable mental and physical problems that other medicines and therapies have not been able to touch.

beautiful heartExtraordinary, really, and it speaks to me of the importance of being direct and confident in our spiritual or meditation practice as well, not beating about the bush but heading straight for the source. So I thought I’d say a few things about that, starting with a little background.

The journey into the heart

We can travel all the way to enlightenment by learning to absorb deeply into our heart chakra, such that we manifest our own clear light mind. In fact, it is the only way to do it. As Buddha Shakyamuni says:

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

As the saying goes, the most important journey we will ever make is the journey into our heart.

It is inspiring to understand that inside us, at all times, is this indestructible potential for lasting happiness, healing, and freedom from all suffering. It is called our Buddha nature. Everyone has it.

There are different ways of talking about this potential – in The New Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe Kelsang says our compassion is our Buddha nature or Buddha seed because it is our compassion that will grow into enlightenment.

Elsewhere he says that our very subtle mind and body are our Buddha nature because these are the substantial causes of the mind and body of an enlightened being (rather as a rose seed is the substantial cause of a rose bush). In other words, we already have the actual ingredients for enlightenment inside us; nothing needs to be added, we just need to grow it.

Sometimes our Buddha nature refers to the emptiness of our clear light mind, which allows for everything and anything to appear and exist.

Through any of these explanations, we can understand that our mind is not set in concrete, however much it may seem like that some days; but can heal, purify, and transform completely. This means that we ourselves are also not at all fixed, but can and will one day become completely different people.

Whatever has happened up to now, if we go on this spiritual journey our future will be an entirely better story. We will end up completely free and blissful, day and night, life  radiate loveafter life, and able to bring others to the same state.

The goal …

The goal of Buddhist meditation is to use Tantric technology to deliberately manifest our very subtle mind of great bliss and use it to realize its perceived object, the emptiness of all phenomena. This bliss radiates eternally to all living beings as compassion, blessing them with mental peace. It mixes with the true nature of all phenomena, emptiness, like water mixing with water.

So cultivating bliss and emptiness, compassion and wisdom, are the way to go and the way to grow! And we also impute ourselves on this bliss and emptiness with correct imagination, thinking “This is me”, to attain enlightenment as fast as possible, even in this one short life.

Here is an illuminating extract from the teachings by Gen-la Khyenrab at the recent International Kadampa Festival in Portugal:

… is within reach already

Modern Buddhism emphasizes bringing this goal, or result, into the path. In other words, rather than laboriously working our way through all the stages of the path in a dualistic fashion — wherein we are over here all restricted and the realizations are light years away over there all transcendent — we can dip into them every day. Bathe in them, even.

Then we don’t have to wait forever to have them.

Try this for a moment if you like …

Gently close your eyes and imagine you drop from your head into your heart chakra (in the center of your chest cavity). Feel that your cloud-like distractions and worries have dissolved into an empty-like space in your heart, an inner light, like an infinite clear sky — just imagine. Feel your way into that peace, and think “This peace, however slight or relative, is my indestructible Buddha nature, my potential for lasting peace and mental freedom. It is who I really am.” It is also tuned into the enlightenment of all Buddhas. I can trust it. Believe that everything has dissolved away into the emptiness of this mind because nothing is as solid or as concrete as you thought. Bathe in that for a few moments or longer.

(By the way, if you’re not a Buddhist you can still do this — tuning into whatever holy or divine being works for you.)

reflection emptiness 2

So we dive or drop into our hearts and simply imagine, based on whatever understanding we have so far, that we are experiencing that bliss and wisdom right now. This is not make-believe going nowhere – as Gen-la Khyenrab says in that video above, imagination functions. All our thoughts are paths leading somewhere. Everything starts in the imagination. Then we can do all our step-by-step meditations in that context, not in the context of being an ordinary, deluded, inherently miserable person.

For the point is, the limited self we normally see and relate to doesn’t even exist; so there is really not much point in practicing Dharma, or meditation, in the context of that self, while believing in that self and buying into its limitations. It is far more effective and enjoyable to learn to practice in the context of feeling blissful, believing in and buying into the adamantine purity and goodness of our root mind. I mentioned this a bit before in an article where I explained how I like to meditate “backwards”, as it were.  

emptiness reflection 2I don’t think it matters how vague this bliss and emptiness are to begin with, it is still worth getting started. If we don’t take a few moments each day to dive in — to imagine dissolving ourselves and everything else away into this bliss and emptiness — our ordinary appearances and conceptions will for sure overpower us. We will go round continuing to assume that we are ordinary, others are ordinary, this world is ordinary. These ideas are not true, and both they and their objects are false hallucinations projected by the impure minds of self-grasping and ordinary conceptions. But they are so convincing and so deceptive that we can spend years lost in them.

I have met a lot of people who stop practicing meditation because they get immersed in appearances, too closely involved in the external situation as Geshe Kelsang puts it, like a dog with a bone; and in the “real” busyness of ordinary life simply forget to journey within. Only years later, when they come back to a meditation class or retreat, they realize, “I forgot who I really was! I forgot this alternative existed.” I think this scenario is something to watch out for because we are all subject to forgetfulness.

Healing ourselves, healing others

Now that we know that there’s an alternative to samsaric selves, places, and enjoyments, I think we owe it to ourselves not to forget. We can take a little time daily to taste the restorative, healing power of our own peaceful mind, for then we can regularly observe for ourselves that the neurotic or unlovable or unloving version of ourself doesn’t actually exist. So we’ll know for ourselves that we may as well stop right now trying to make that self we normally see happy or to solve its hallucinatory issues because it’s literally a fool’s game.

We can dive into our heart and experience the deeply healing power of truth, versus pandering to the barely existing but psychotropic projections that our ignorant mind takes to be concrete reality. We can let go of the thought and the labels “self”, “mine”, and “other”. “Stop grasping at labels” as Venerable Geshe Kelsang said in his Universal Compassion oral teachings. After all, everything is unfindable upon analysis. Everything is mere name. So why not rename ourselves?

No one is forcing us to keep grasping at a concrete reality that is not there. Believe me, no one needs us to be doing this.

Just as one drowning person cannot save another, however fervently he or she may wish to, so we cannot help others much if we are drowning ourselves. We need to be on at least some dry patch of reality.

I think that most of us could probably do with more confidence and directness in our approach to meditation. Bringing the result into the path is hallmark of our tradition, starting from the outset of our practice. We don’t need to skirt around the bliss and emptiness that is reality; we need to go for it as soon as possible — why not right now? We can trust it, take refuge in it. Then we can sort out our issues within the perspective of infinite space and freedom — and this process becomes so much more enjoyable, not to mention effective!

wings of a birdDharma teachings are not intended to make us all hung up on what is inherently wrong with us – there is nothing inherently nor permanently wrong with us, our problems and delusions are ephemeral clouds in the sky. (Check out these articles for more tips on how to overcome our faults and delusions without buying into them.)

We are not working our way up to blissful non-dualistic wholeness from a distant ordinary place, an OTHER place, a place of inherent lack. We are realizing that this is who we already are from one perspective, and we just need to gain this perspective. This is the quickest path to transformation.

Practicing as if no one is watching

And, by the way, while we’re working on getting enlightened we don’t need to prove anything to ourselves or to anyone else. Thinking that we do is just another elaboration, another ego game. It is another way we distance ourselves from our own wellbeing and reify our painful, limited sense of self by feeling alternately proud and/or bad about it. I personally like to practice as if no one is watching.

If you have time, check Part Two and Part Three of this article, including some tips and tricks for getting quickly into our heart. Meanwhile, over to you … was this helpful or not? Anything to add?

Related articles

Enlightenment is reality 

Meditating “backwards”

Bringing the result into the path 

Start where you are 

Once a Buddha, always a Buddha

4.5 mins read 

Escape to realitySometimes people get discouraged with their Tantric practice, thinking it’s beyond them and they should stick to Sutra. But I think Tantra can be pretty straightforward, especially if we can read and follow the instructions of the modern-day Vajra Master Geshe Kelsang who, like Je Tsongkhapa, is known for his ability to reveal Buddha’s wisdom and Tantric teachings in a clear and profound, yet totally accessible, way.

Carrying on from this last article about Tantra.

If we’re used to identifying with our Buddha nature from a Sutra point of view, then we do this now from a Tantric point of view, bringing the result into the path – which makes our progress smooth, joyful, and rapid.

And, as explained in the last couple of articles, we are not plopping an inherently existent ordinary miserable me onto Buddha Vajrayogini or Buddha Heruka. There is no such real me — our me or I is mere label, thank goodness. So we are generating some purity in our mind and labelling it with our mere I, Vajrayogini, and growing it from there. Try it and see!  nothing is real

Then we keep coming back to divine pride and clear appearance in very practical, usable ways, both in meditation and throughout our day. This way we transform our life into a very rapid path to enlightenment, which is what Tantra is all about.

As mentioned here, normally we believe the self we normally perceive, the one around which all our problems revolve, the ordinary limited self; and we cherish this self and protect it at all costs. We are obliged to follow its ordinary narrative and milestones. But we slowly come to understand that it is time to stop doing that — I don’t want to do that anymore! It is painful. It is daily frustrating. It is also a ginormous waste of time.

As we get going in our Tantric practice, for a long time we move back and forth between generating as a Deity and identifying as an ordinary being. This is normal, so there’s no need to entertain discouraged thoughts such as: “I thought I had this! I felt so blissful – I can’t believe I got all neurotic and graspy and sad again!”

Subtle impermanence and the emptiness of time

And here is a profound contemplation that I have always found enormously encouraging in this regard, and hope you might too.

When we appear as Vajrayogini or Heruka, we remember that we dissolved away all ordinary appearances, including their time, ie, including the pasts and futures of all ordinary appearances.

Past and future are mere name, mere appearance, now disappeared – so when we arise as Vajrayogini, we have always been Vajrayogini. Our previous identity has dissolved into emptiness, disappeared entirely, and we, Vajrayogini, have never been that person.

samsaric life

Remembering subtle impermanence is invaluable – always, but especially in Tantra. For the present moment to arise, the previous moment has to go out of existence, completely. Yesterday has gone, or where is it?! It had to go for today to arise. Everything before this moment in time has completely disappeared. By the same token, everything after this moment doesn’t exist yet because this moment has to disappear first.

In this article I talk about this incredibly useful teaching from Geshe Kelsang:

In reality we do not remain the same for one moment without changing, let alone for one life. Without the I of the previous moment ceasing, the I of the next moment could not arise. The I of one moment is the cause of the I of the next moment, and a cause and its effect cannot exist at the same time. A sprout, for example, can develop only when its cause, the seed, disintegrates. ~ How to Understand the Mind, page 134

When we arise in bliss and emptiness as a Buddha, the whole past is transformed because there is no past, only pasts of things (as explained in Ocean of Nectar), and Buddha’s past is bliss and emptiness. In that moment the whole future is transformed too, as there are only futures of things.

How long is a dream?

To help us understand this, we can consider our dreams. Dreams arise fully and all at once – they are mere projection of mind, and always present, unravelling moment by moment; but when we meet people in our dreams they have a past and a future, do they not? They were born in Clapham and they are going to die who knows where. All that is part of them in the present moment because this is the only moment there is.

Vajrayogini 1

The me of this present moment has a past and a future – so if I am ordinary I have an ordinary & suffering past and future and if I am Vajrayogini I have a pure & blissful past and future.

Wild, huh?! But true.

How old are you?

I was at the Grand Canyon recently, thinking about these rocks. They are, mind-bogglingly enough, millions of years old! Yet at the same time they are a momentary arising, an appearance to mind that is completely new in this moment. In this moment, which I am sharing with this rock, the rock has a past of millions of years whereas I only have a past of three (ahem) decades. old rocks

So once you are Buddha Vajrayogini, you have always been Vajrayogini. And always will be.

Yes, we may forget this due to lacking effort, mindfulness, and familiarity, and the ordinary person might reappear with an ordinary past and future, just like another dream. But it doesn’t invalidate the pure dream of being Vajrayogini; and at the next available opportunity we can dissolve away all the ordinariness and hallucination and go back to the Pure Land.

Eventually we can stay here  24/7, which is liberation. And then guide everyone else to this reality by helping them drop their self-grasping and ordinary appearances as well.

Check out these articles on subtle impermanence for a better idea of all this. And I have a bit more to say on the subject later.

Comments very welcome – please scroll below to leave one.

Related articles

Subtle impermanence 

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Improving the narrative of our lives

 

Using Tantra to destroy everyday delusions

7 mins read + a video

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

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

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

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

Who are we anyway?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the self

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

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

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

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

Do what you like!

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

Pure mind = pure identity

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

mandala offering

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

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

Using clear appearance to overcome delusions

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

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

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

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

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

Dream of the Dharmakaya

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

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

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

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

Further reading

Feel free to change your mind

Bringing the result of our spiritual practice into the present path

Bliss and emptiness