Highest Yoga Tantra: space odyssey

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

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

Carrying on from this article, Happiness is the truth.

A brief summary of Highest Yoga Tantra

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

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

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

Unmistaken appearance is this.

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

The clear light of bliss

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

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

Dissolving the Guru

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

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

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

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

As Gen Rabten said in his profound Festival retreat recently:

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

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

Permission to let go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The red alarm button

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

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

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

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

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

What is Buddha’s sense of self?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not feeling like the maid

As Gen Rabten said:

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

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

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

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

Stay on the Dharma side

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

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

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

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

Is this escapism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And don’t worry

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

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

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

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

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More on emptiness 

When the student is ready, the teacher appears