Since I last wrote about Highest Yoga Tantra a month ago, a lot of you have received the empowerments and commentaries and even done some retreat. I hope you had an eye-opening and inspiring time in the mandala, whether you were in one of the Temples or sitting home with the dog. Tantra is not exactly simple breathing meditation, and can be a little unusual if you’re not used to it; so I hope you are asking lots of questions! It occurs to me that this article may now be redundant as you will have received teachings on all of this (and those teachings are still available until September 4). But perhaps it can serve as a reminder or a discussion opener.
Our mind is continually circling through different levels, gross, subtle, and very subtle. As explained in that last article, the Tantric journey, both our gross mind and subtle mind are mistaken awarenesses all the time. They cannot be unmistaken awareness because they always have mistaken appearance. They cannot help but perceive — or have appear — inherently existent objects, and inherently existent objects do not exist.
We are basically hallucinating, seeing things that are not there.
It’s not just our ignorance and other delusions that perceive inherent existence – even our gross virtuous minds perceive everything to be solid and real. For example, even though the mind of compassion itself does not apprehend inherently existent beings, living beings still appear to it to be independent of the mind.
Still, that’s a huge step up from our delusions – within all our delusions there is not just the appearance but an actual apprehension of inherent existence. We are not just seeing things that are not there but apprehending or believing them. And Buddha identified this as the source of all suffering.
The last article left off on a bit of a cliffhanger, with Geshe Kelsang concluding:
Because the appearances in our dreams and during our waking life are all mistaken appearances and hallucinations, our normal activities both in dreams and while we are awake have no real meaning.
Which begs the question:
What is the real meaning of our human life?
Which brings us to the explanation of our very subtle mind.
Our very subtle mind
The very subtle mind is so called because it is extremely difficult to recognize. Without the very subtle mind we would have no life because our gross and subtle minds cannot hold our life. This is because they are only temporary minds, and very unstable. They suddenly arise and quickly disappear like clouds in the sky. Therefore, only our very subtle mind holds our life continuously throughout the day and night, and in life after life until we become an enlightened Buddha. ~ How to Understand the Mind
Our very subtle mind is like a foundational consciousness – the root mind from which all our other levels of mind arise. It is completely stable – traveling from life to life, carrying our karma. Although it is impermanent, changing moment by moment, it is eternal in that it never ends. Once fully purified it becomes the omniscient awareness of a Buddha.
When we become a Buddha our very subtle mind will become a Buddha’s mind and our very subtle inner wind will become a Buddha’s body. Our very subtle mind, or ‘continuously residing mind’, is therefore our Buddha nature.
Our very subtle body and mind are our actual Buddha nature because they are what transform into a Buddha’s body and mind, they are the actual ingredients!
Since our very subtle inner wind, or ‘continuously residing body’, will never die we have a deathless body that is our own body. In truth, our present body is a part of our parents’ bodies, and so it belongs to our parents and not to us.
Don’t tell them that! Lol. I spent a lot of this Summer with my wonderful, aged parents – a useful reminder that this meaty body is going in the same direction as theirs, it’s just a younger version. Kadam Bridget told a friend that our parents help us into this life and we eventually help them out of it, with any luck into a good next life.
These bodies are, in other words, entirely perishable, no shelf life worth talking about. Our very subtle body and mind, on the other hand, are entirely indestructible. Although we are completely unaware of this amazing fact until it is pointed out by Buddha, we have always had and can never lose this Buddha nature.
Our very subtle mind – our Buddha nature – is very precious, like a priceless jewel, but we cannot recognize it unless we engage in special methods for recognizing it that Buddha explained in his Highest Yoga Tantra teachings.
Geshe Kelsang is referring here to the completion stage meditations of Highest Yoga Tantra, through which we can deliberately gather and dissolve our inner winds into the central channel.
When all our inner winds completely dissolve into the central channel through the force of meditation, all our gross and subtle minds will also dissolve, and our very subtle mind will naturally manifest. We will then be able to recognize it through our own experience.
Falling asleep, dropping dead
Whenever our very subtle mind manifests, it is “clear light” – so called because it is a clear perception and an inner light. Right now, our inner winds dissolve naturally when we fall asleep and as we die, but we don’t recognize the clear light that arise and we cannot do anything with it, more’s the pity.
However, we all go so deep – we already have within us this entirely blissful ingredient of Buddhahood and briefly experience it every night! When we sleep, our winds absorb, and this helps to get all our elements back into balance – it seems as though that clear light mind is restorative. However, we still have no clue it is there until someone is kind enough to point it out.
If we watch someone go to sleep, we know there is a gathering and absorption. You can see it sometimes – one minute someone is rushing around, the next they stop and absorb until their head flops over. They have “fallen” asleep. Not just kittens, though they are particularly good at it; this is everyone. And a similar thing happens when we die.
The winds are absorbing, but normally we have no control over that process. This is where Tantra comes in. We learn how to absorb our winds and manifest our clear light mind without losing control. When the winds dissolve into the central channel through the force of mediation, it is called the “clear light of realization” or “the clear light of bliss”. And we can use this powerfully blissful and concentrated mind to mix with and realize emptiness very quickly.
When we fall asleep or die, everything absorbs and dissolves — our winds absorb, and along with them all our gross minds and their objects, and then our subtle minds and their objects. We end up with the deepest or most subtle level of mind manifesting, the clear light mind, which is radiantly blissful.
Most importantly, the mind of clear light is naturally free from mistaken appearances or hallucinations and therefore the truth, emptiness, is naturally appearing to it!
Once we can use it, our clear light mind naturally mixes with or apprehends emptiness, the true nature of all things; and within that we have infinite blissful possibilities, including enlightenment.
This song by Pharrell Williams just came on in this cafe:
Clap along if you know that happiness is the truth.
Truth or reality is not mistaken appearance and suffering, but emptiness and bliss. Happiness IS the truth.
What to do?
Our problem is that it’s too hard for us to recognize the clear light, let alone use it. We miss it every night!
So what we need to do is manifest our clear light mind deliberately through meditation. We learn to do this in Tantra, especially completion stage Tantra, when we learn about all about our subtle body and how to manipulate our inner winds. Generation stage sets the scene by, amongst other things, blessing our subtle body of channels and drops so that it becomes very pliable and flexible.
Also, to begin with, with generation stage we can start to access this deep and powerful level of clear light through imagination. We imagine that our mind is the clear light of bliss mixed inseparably with Guru Heruka or Guru Vajrayogini’s mind at the level of our heart, and that we arise from that in the form of the Deity. We do many of our meditations at the level of our heart, slowly but surely bringing all our winds closer to our heart chakra; and then in completion stage we finish the job.
The first of the two stages of Highest Yoga Tantra — generation stage — is actually more complicated than completion stage, involving more visualizations and things to do. We might be tempted to jump straight into completion stage – how hard can it be to meditate on my central channel, drop, and indestructible wind and mind? But although these meditations seem simple, they don’t work if we don’t do generation stage first.
For example, while we remain identified with being an ordinary samsaric being, our inner energy winds that support mistaken or dualistic conceptions & appearances are going to be flowing through the left and the right channels and it will be impossible to bring them into the central channel where they need to be. (For more on inner winds, by the way, Tantric Grounds and Paths is a good book to study). To have success in completion stage, we need to view our gross body and subtle body as mere name not other than the emptiness of all phenomena, and that emptiness is mixed inseparably with great bliss. Wisdom winds can then flow through the central channel.
Practically, we train at first primarily in the generation stage practices of Heruka or Vajrayogini, using our wisdom, faith, and correct imagination, and motivated by renunciation and bodhichitta. We can start to sprinkle in a little completion stage, and eventually we will be able to just do completion stage.
There is some more general advice on generation stage here.
Controlling our death and rebirth
The heart of generation stage is a practice called the three bringings. The first is called bringing death into the path to the Truth Body, when we imagine we are actually going through the death process until we end up with Buddha’s clear light mind, which we use to meditate on emptiness. This might be my favorite practice – it is profound and blissful and has helped me more than anything to live in accordance with impermanence.
Tantric practitioners of yore would notoriously keep reminders of death such as skull cups, bone malas, and even thigh-bone trumpets 🙂 This meditation helps us stop grasping at this life and everything in it, and also creates powerful causes to be able to recognize and use the clear light of bliss when we die. If we practice the first bringing at death, it acts as a powa, or transference of consciousness, and we will definitely go to the Pure Land where we can finish our path to enlightenment.
Every day in our Tantric sadhana, we practice for our death. We imagine going through the death process exactly as it will happen when we die. First we can remind ourself that we are going to die and take rebirth anyway within a few years, months, or weeks. At which point, as our gross minds dissolve, all the objects of those minds will also dissolve. All the hallucinations we have been holding onto for dear life simply slip away in the time it takes for us to fall dead, whether that is a few minutes or a few hours.
This means all the appearances of this life – our body, our sense of self, everything we have done, everyone we have known – are all gone. It’s similar to what happens when we fall asleep, except of course when we die none of this comes back. Even if I have managed to accomplish everything I ever wanted in this life, it all goes away very quickly. Even if I have solved all my problems, the problems of my next life are now on their way. Death is the final separation of this body and our mind. The world doesn’t reappear as it is now – we take another body in another world and everything is brand new.
As we are going to die anyway, we now take control of that process and transform the continuum of our awareness. We die from this ordinary sense of self and this ordinary world and arise in the Pure Land. With the three bringings, Buddha taught us how to transform the process of dying, entering the intermediate state, and rebirth – “bringing” these levels of awareness into the quick path to enlightenment, the three bodies of a Buddha.
In Sutra we learn in general terms how to get out of samsara and help others. In Tantra we learn the mechanics for directly disrupting that cycle of consciousness which is going around and around in endless circles – indirectly with generation stage and then directly with completion stage. We get in there, as it were, at the weakest link – access via our clear light mind — and now use it to meditate on ultimate truth emptiness. This way we quickly and powerfully purify all mistaken appearances and — instead of beginningless and endless contaminated consciousness arising in suffering lives — we have broken free. Using the clear light of bliss to meditate on emptiness, we have woken up. We can now emanate bodies to help everyone.
Hopefully that gives you a better idea of why Highest Yoga Tantra is Buddha’s ultimate intention and is called “the quick path.” Everyone who has attained enlightenment has done so through these direct methods – what other way could there be to do it?
Thank you for reading all this! My apologies if I have made things more confusing – if I have, please ask questions or offer clarifications in the comments.