Using bliss to overcome attachment and other delusions

A guest article by a modern Buddhist practitioner who works full time as a manager of software development teams.

Light dispersion illustration.Leveraging objects of desire as a basis for rapid inner transformation is part of the quick path to enlightenment. To accomplish this transformation, we need to practice on the basis of a pure motivation and some understanding of ultimate truth, emptiness. These practices also require some experience of Buddhism and a Tantric empowerment. See the article Tantra: Transforming enjoyments for a similar practice that anyone can do.

Before engaging in them we develop the motivation of bodhichitta, a determination to become a fully enlightened being in order to liberate all living beings permanently from suffering. With this motivation we then recall our knowledge of emptiness, remembering that nothing exists from its own side. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso summarizes this preliminary practice in Part Four of The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra:

We should first develop the supreme good heart, bodhichitta, that sincerely wishes to liberate all living beings from suffering permanently by ourself becoming the enlightened being Heruka, and the understanding and belief that our body, our self and all the other phenomena that we normally see or perceive do not exist at all. ~ page 124

Learning to transform objects of desire

How can we begin learning to transform objects of desire? When we gaze upon an attractive person in the meditation break, or eat some delicious food, it induces a feeling of bliss in our mind. If we train our mind to recognize and hold this blissful feeling, we can use it as an object of meditation. With this feeling of bliss, we then contemplate emptiness by recalling that: 1) this appearance is not independent of our mind and 2) this appearance is not outside of our mind:

  1. If the pleasurable experience is independent of our mind, then everyone would perceive that person or object as attractive. Since the experience depends on our mind, the person we normally perceive, the independent person, does not exist at all.
  2. If the pleasurable experience is outside of our mind, then we could not experience it. Since pleasure is a feeling in the mind, this indicates that our mind is creating both the experience and the person or object who is the object of that experience, rather like an experience in a dream. Another way of saying this is that the person is an appearance of our mind, appearing to our mind.

1280px-European_honey_bee_extracts_nectarThese are very profound topics, but they will start to make sense naturally if we build familiarity with them now. Thinking in this way we can mix the feeling of bliss with the knowledge of emptiness. This recollection helps to oppose the mind of attachment that would suck our mind into the object. Instead, we can be like a bee extracting pollen from a flower, understanding that the pleasurable feeling is arising within the space of our mind. We can enhance this entire experience by connecting it to our Spiritual Guide’s mind of spontaneous great bliss at our heart.

Taking refuge in our own inner bliss

This process helps to train our mind in refuge, which is the foundation of being a Buddhist. We are learning to turn within to our experience to find the happiness and freedom we seek. With familiarity, this bliss within our heart will grow and we will naturally rely on it to find satisfaction. Over time it will become infinitely more satisfying than any of our ordinary enjoyments.

Ghantapa
Mahasiddha Tilopa

According to Lamrim, a mind of refuge contains faith in Buddha, his teachings the Dharma, and the Sangha practitioners. To incorporate this we can remember that this experience of bliss and emptiness is Dharma, protecting us from delusions and suffering. It is also mixed with the mind of our Spiritual Guide inseparable from Buddha, as well as the experience of the past and present Sangha Yogis and Yoginis.

By enjoying objects of desire in this way, we can come to understand how these practices destroy attachment, like a fire consuming the wood that started it. Every object of desire will take us straight into our heart to build an increasingly transcendental experience there.

Bringing the experience of bliss into the meditation session

Once we have some experience of enjoying objects of desire in the meditation break we can learn to apply this to the meditation session. For example, we can learn how to generate bliss in the meditation session by gazing upon a visualized god or goddess. This is easily done if we recall the bliss experienced from the meditation break.

There are many times in the meditation session that we can apply this in the context of our sadhana, or practice — for example, after dissolving our Spiritual Guide into our heart and before meditating on bringing death into the path of the Truth Body. In Tantric Grounds and Paths Geshe Kelsang says:  

At first our experience of bliss will not be very strong, but if we develop familiarity with this meditation we shall gradually develop a special feeling of bliss. We should maintain this experience and keep our own subtle mind focused on this feeling single-pointedly. ~ page 243

In this way, we use the meditation break to enhance our meditation session and vice versa.

Four complete purities of generation stage Tantra
JTK five visions.jpg
Khedrubje’s five visions of Je Tsongkhapa

We train in the practice of transforming objects of desire explained above on the basis of the four complete purities. In generation stage, this means enjoying objects while imagining we have complete purity of 1) place, 2) body, 3) activities, and 4) enjoyments. This means that we feel we are in an enlightened world, have the body of an enlightened being, and benefit all beings without exception, and that all our enjoyments are free from impurity. This correct imagination helps us to dissolve away the contaminated ordinary characteristics of our enjoyments and to experience them in a pure way.

To train in this, while enjoying ourselves we can recall the verse from Offering to the Spiritual Guide

All beings are actual Heroes and Heroines.
Everything is immaculately pure,
Without even the name of mistaken impure appearance.

By enjoying in this way, we are making offerings to all the Buddhas. As Geshe Kelsang says in The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra:

… we enjoy any objects of desire as offerings to the holy beings who reside in the Temple of our body. This practice is a special method to transform our daily enjoyments into the quick path to enlightenment. This is Tantric technology! ~ page 104

Four complete purities of completion stage Tantra

In completion stage, we enjoy objects of desire in dependence upon the great bliss developed from meditation on the central channel. The bliss developed in dependence upon completion stage is vastly superior to any other experience of bliss. This experience develops in the root mind at our heart and contains the four complete purities. It is a non-conceptual experience of emptiness, which means it is free from gross and subtle appearances. This realization of the true nature of things with a very subtle mind is free from mistaken appearance. Due to this, there are no impure places, bodies, enjoyments, and activities appearing to it.lotuss

One practice I like to do in accordance with completion stage is offering the blissful experience to myself generated as the Dharmakaya or Truth Body of my personal Deity, such as Dharmakaya Heruka. This, in turn, enhances my mind of bliss and deepens my experience of emptiness. I offer my experience of the four complete purities of great bliss and emptiness to my Spiritual Guide’s mind mixed with my own mind at my heart. This practice feels like a mandala offering in that it fills my mind with good karma and joy!

Progress through practice and familiarity

transform enjoymentsThis practice of transforming enjoyments encapsulates every aspect of Buddha’s teachings. If we gain familiarity with developing bliss in this way, our winds will gradually come closer to abiding in our central channel. Buddha teaches that when this happens we will experience a bliss that is stable and subtle, and that gives rise to unceasing physical and mental suppleness. Our mind will become lucid and flexible, and in this space we can let go of delusions quickly and easily.

This mental suppleness allows us to easily mix virtuous Lamrim minds into everything that happens, every appearance, both in and out of meditation. As a result we will experience deep inner peace and happiness day and night. Accomplishing this is the real meaning of our human life. Once we do, we will possess a wishfulfilling jewel of a mind that bestows endless benefit on ourselves and others.

I hope this is helpful. You can find out all about it by reading Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s Tantric books. Please feel free to make comments and I will try to reply 🙂

Compassion: the quick path to enlightenment

I was walking with an old friend yesterday evening on the beautiful beach at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre in the English Lake District, discussing how we could improve our compassion. We have to get ourselves more and more out of the way, for sure, and train in the time-honored Buddhist methods for improving our love and compassion. And we can just take a genuine interest in how others are — entering into their worlds monk on beachempathetically without fear, finding out what is going on for them, somehow, even simply by asking them when we can. We can actively want them to be free from any problems they may be having, and from all the pains queuing up endlessly for them in samsara. We can practice this again and again (and again) until it takes.

My friend and I also discussed the helpfulness of watching documentaries or movies that bring others’ lives home to us, for example Earthlings, a documentary I confess I have so far been too squeamish to watch.* But, a question for you, can we shy away from looking at unbearable suffering if we are to develop the compassionate wish to free those people from that suffering? Thinking “I can’t bear to watch this” is not necessarily what is meant by “unbearable compassion” for the suffering of others.

*Update: I have now watched it and wrote an article about it here.

What could be more fun?!

The other day I stumbled on a live webcam streaming a national park in Alaska. They asked, and I quote: “WHAT COULD BE more fun than watching brown bears fishing for bear and salmonsalmon?!”

I could think of a lot of things, but I still gingerly clicked on the link and spent a few relatively, I suppose, fun minutes watching some brown bears loll around in the river while silvery salmon jumped upstream. Could almost have been an idyllic scene, until one brown bear suddenly yanked a salmon from the water with its huge claws. The fish thrashed around in terror while the bear carried it in its mouth to a nearby rock. Then he tore a strip of flesh from its side. I gasped, as this was being shown live, and the salmon did not die – she carried on thrashing around in agony, bleeding. And there was nothing I could do.

Thirsty man’s wish for water

This line has struck me recently, even though I’ve read it many times:

If we train in taking and giving for a long time, our love and compassion will become very powerful and our wish to free others from suffering will be as strong as a thirsty man’s wish for water. ~ Great Treasury of Merit

Imagine having that urgent wish to free others from their suffering. It would do two things, it seems to me:

cows
Local cows, branded, their lives not their own.
  • It would drive all other deluded thoughts out of my mind. There would be no room for them. If you’re desperate for water, it’s all you can think about.
  • It would mean that nothing stops me from trying to help others. This is a short thought away from thinking, but how? I need to get into a position where I can help others, ie, I need to attain enlightenment.

The stronger our wish to free others, the stronger our efforts, and the quicker the results. In The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra Geshe Kelsang says that in general Highest Yoga Tantra is known as the quick path to enlightenment, but in the Sutras compassion observing all living beings is explained as the quick path:

If we have this mind, then through its power we will never waste a single moment, but draw closer and closer to the attainment of enlightenment every moment of the day and the night.

Taking and giving

monk on beach 2So, judging by the quote above, the so-called “magical practice” of taking and giving seems to be the way to get here. There is a lot that can be said about this practice and you can read all about it all over the place, including in Transform Your Life and the free eBook Modern Buddhism. But taking basically involves taking away others suffering in the form of smoke that dissolves into our heart and destroys our self-cherishing. And giving basically involves imagining giving others whatever they want, which bestows upon them endless, pure happiness.

Taking and giving has, when I last totted it up, at least 22 pretty amazing benefits, including obvious ones such as increasing our love and compassion, and slightly less obvious ones such as increasing our concentration and purifying our mind. And once we are used to doing it in meditation, we can then “mount taking and giving upon the breath”, which means breathing in others’ suffering and breathing out pure happiness – all as we wander about doing the regular things we do. There is then not a breath that need be wasted. Our whole life becomes meaningful. We feel incredible ourselves, and we become a walking, talking, breathing source of comfort and happiness for others, like Je Tsongkhapa, of whom his disciples said:

O Protector, even your daily breath brings benefit to countless beings.

Don’t take my word for it — do read all about this practice in the various books as soon as you get a spare moment.

Superior intention

To develop the motivation of going for enlightenment, the force of our compassion needs to grow until it becomes so-called “superior intention”. An analogy for this is given in the scriptures:

If we see a child fall into a river we will naturally want the child to be saved, but the child’s mother will wish so strongly that she will decide to act to save the child herself. ~ Great Treasury of Merit 

drowningEveryone standing on the bank (well, hopefully everyone) wants that child to be saved, but the mother jumps in after him. If we have superior intention we don’t plan on leaving it up to someone else, we take personal responsibility — we can’t help but take personal responsibility due to the force of our compassion. If my compassion for that agonized fish was strong enough, and I was close by, I would be compelled to help her if I could. And if I couldn’t, my wish to get into a stronger position to help her (and the bear) would grow naturally.

Superior intention leads to bodhichitta, which is the wish to free all others from suffering by developing all the qualities needed to do so, such as the requisite skill, omniscient wisdom, and freedom from limitations and faults.

Become their Buddha

So why, someone asked the other day, do WE need to become enlightened — why can’t Buddhasall the other Buddhas take care of the suffering of that fish and everyone else? After all they are already enlightened and have all the qualities needed to protect all living beings — isn’t that the whole point of becoming enlightened!?

What do you think about that? To me, it seems to be a question of timing – for others to be freed sooner rather than later. The ability to help others directly and practically — for example by removing them from suffering situations or teaching them — depends on karmic connections. It is a two-way street, a dependent relationship – we need a connection with an enlightened being from our side, too, to receive the full force of their help.

So, all the Buddhas want to help that brown bear and that fish, for example, not to mention my family etc; and they bless everyone’s mind every day. But I share some karmic two-way street with these particular living beings, meaning that I will be able to help them directly and soon, if I attain enlightenment.

We can strengthen our connections every day with a lot of living beings through love and compassion, through taking and giving, through prayer. Which means that one day, as a monk friend put it so beautifully, we will become “their Buddha”.

Over to you, comments welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

Tantra: Bringing the result into the path

I’m carrying on from this article on Tantra, and how we can use the power of bliss, wisdom, and the creative power of our imagination swiftly to switch our sense of being stuck and limited with the sense of being liberated and enlightened.

imaginationOf course we cannot say we are ACTUALLY a Buddha, but we can’t say we are ACTUALLY a neurotic person either. Identifying with our good qualities, identifying with future perfection, will actualize that result far more quickly than if we are thinking, “I am generally quite hopeless at this, and I’m not a very loving person, in fact I’m a bit of a grumpy git; but nonetheless here I am trying to become a Buddha.” There is always a gap then between whom we think we are and whom we are aspiring to be, isn’t there? Enlightenment is somewhere over there, my future attainment is far away from me, and I am over here – the gap will always be there for as long as we identify with being limited, ordinary, deluded. So we want to bridge that gap by thinking, “I’m already an enlightened being,” and then from that vantage point we can quickly increase our qualities.

It’s a bit like tying shoelaces

tying shoelacesHere’s a simple illustration. Do you remember once upon a time learning to tie your shoelaces?  You once had no clue, but then some kind person showed you, “This is how you do it.” I remember my mom teaching me, “This is how you do it, darling”, and I remember  the self-doubt, “Oh come on, that’s impossible! What do you expect from me!? I’m only five!” Tying these wiggly strings together in some strange formation, struggling, fumbling – on one level I remember trying, but on another level I was thinking, “Seriously? How am I supposed to do this!? I am not the kind of person who is lucky enough to tie shoelaces. Others may be able to. Maybe I’ll be able to when I’m 18 or something. Meanwhile I’ll stick with Velcro.” My mother was patient, “You can do it!”

Buddha is similarly very kind and patient, painstakingly pointing out to us that we can do it, he did it, others have done it, we have the potential, and the teachings and methods exist. The only thing stopping us is us. “This is how you do it!” And we think, “Noooo, I can’t, it is too tricky, other people can do it.” Or, “Maybe I’ll get enlightened in a future life or something, at some distant point in the future; I’ll just create some good karma in this one – after all, you can sow seeds for a happy future while going around being totally miserable, can’t you?! Can’t you?!” There is some discouragement going on.

Imagination 1But, going back to the shoelaces, I remember thinking one day while my mother was showing me (again), “Well, maybe I can actually do this.” And that was the day I could. Before we know how to tie our shoelaces, there is the thought, “I can tie my shoelaces. And I will.” There is that moment. It is the same for driving a car, using a computer, any skill – a point when we think “I can do this!” even though technically we can’t yet. And that is when we find we learn how to do it.

That is bringing the future result into the present path. “I can do this. I am already arising as a Buddha in an enlightened Pure Land, helping all living beings.” As soon as we can already imagine doing it, that is the point when it starts becoming a reality. And everything is sped up.

Sutra in Technicolor

Sutra are Buddha’s teachings given openly, his exoteric teachings; whereas practicing Tantra requires empowerment or initiation, and are Buddha’s more esoteric teachings for disciples who have some feeling for and commitment to renunciation (the wish for permanent mental freedom), bodhichitta (the compassionate wish to become a Buddha for the sake of others), and the wisdom realizing emptiness.

technicolorI sometimes think that Tantra is like Sutra in Technicolor. Tantra is what brings Sutra alive in some ways. Everything comes alive — you let go of your ordinary, limited, deluded sense of yourself by dissolving it into emptiness, and arise as the person you want to be out of your renunciation, bodhichitta, and wisdom.

Now you can believe yourself to be a Buddha who is eternally free, loving, kind, and wise. This so-called “correct imagination” based on the wisdom realizing that nothing is fixed, everything is mere imputation or conceptual label, is just as “realistic,” indeed far more so, than the limited, hallucinatory sense of self projected and fixed by the ignorance of our self-grasping. It also works a great deal better. Regarding ourselves as stuck, ordinary, and suffering keeps us exactly that way, whereas every moment of regarding ourselves as free, enlightened, and blissful draws us into liberation and enlightenment.

 

Tantra: Using the power of our imagination

As mentioned in the article What is Tantra, another reason Tantra is the quick path to enlightenment is because it harnesses the creative power of our imagination. We are always using our imagination to create our reality — reality is just a  product of our thoughts, or imaginations, or imputations. For example, where did the building you are sitting in right now come from? If you had to trace it back, where would you say it started?  Was it not merely a thought in someone’s mind? For example, the large house I’m sitting in has several floors (I am currently sweltering in the attic), and a stone lion on the front porch. An architect came up with photo 5the idea for this fine looking building, and from that imagination it became an object of various sense consciousnesses over many decades.

There is no real, objective building “out there” that anyone can find. Everyone who comes here has their own experience of it depending on their own mind and karma, and you can’t point to a building outside of those experiences of the building (try, see if you can). This attic, for example, appears very differently to Ringo the tiny kitten sitting next to me, and his siblings George and Jigger, who see it as a giant adventure playground, which may or may not be what the architect had in mind.

Denver Botanical Gardens is currently showcasing the glass artwork of Chihuly — it is quite the Pure Land there at the moment, and an example of how we can show the beauty of our imagination to others.

Everything starts in our thoughts, mind, or imagination, including us! Especially us.

Creativity and emptiness

Tantra harnesses that extraordinary creative power of the mind, which seems to me to be just the other side of the coin from emptiness, the mere absence of inherent existence. Nothing is fixed, everything is changeable, because nothing exists solidly or from its own side. There is no world outside the mind. There is no real world. The world is actually more dreamlike than we think. So we can recreate reality, and we do, every moment, with our thoughts and projections.

Chiluly 5
Where did Chihuly’s glass art come from?!

We can combine the understanding of the extraordinary creative power of the mind with the fact that nothing is fixed and everything is dependent on our mind, our thoughts, our conceptual imputations or labels. If we change our mind, we change our world, and we can also quickly change our self because we are no longer holding onto a tight and limited sense of who we are, what our world is, who other people are. This graspy mind of ignorance that fixes us, others, and the world in a limited way can be scrapped when we have wisdom and use our imagination.

Bliss and imagination

Tantra uses these two things, bliss and imagination, to go straight for the result we seek in our spiritual practice–our quest for improvement and the ability to help others—by our imagining that we are already enlightened. And why not? We make it up all the time anyway, who we are. Who were you today? Some neurotic stressed out person perhaps? Or perhaps you felt heroic today, felt great inside, made someone’s day. And perhaps tomorrow it’ll be the other way around. Depressed loser or hero — this depends on the day, for every day we think something about ourselves and sometimes it’s really good and sometimes it’s really bad, but in fact none of it is real, it is all mental fictions, it is just stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. But of course whenever we are doing it we are thinking this is really me, I’m really a depressed loser, I’m really stressed out, I can’t relax!! We say things like I AM stressed out and sad, we hold onto it for dear life, that is who I am. At other times we think, “I’m great, I’m wonderful, I’m really together.”

Chiluly 3Our problem at the moment is that whatever we think about ourselves, we think it’s real. We think it’s solid, permanent, unchanging, and nothing to do with the way we’re thinking about ourselves. Ignorance is holding onto a very limited sense of who we are as opposed to who we could be. Which is Buddha, if we want, because everyone has that potential, which is why Buddha gave his 84,000 teachings — to show us that we could become like him, like all the countless others who have become Buddhas. We all have the potential for limitless love, compassion, patience, joy, and wisdom. The whole path to enlightenment is about realizing that potential, and in Tantra we speed things up. Otherwise, it can take a long time. If we are slowly and laboriously trying to become more patient, loving, and so on, it is good of course, but it is also good to speed it up, and the way to do that is through bliss and imagination.

Bringing  the result into the path

“Bringing the result in the path” is what it is called in Tantra. The result we seek is to be joyful, blissful, light, free, wise, heroic, kind, patient, wonderful – would you not like to be like that, always happy, always helping others? To have an epic  life? That is what I want, and in Tantra we identify with already being someone who has all those qualities, to wit, a Buddha. We think, “I am an enlightened being, a Buddha.”

That is just as real as saying “I’m a stressed out neurotic anxious person.” It is just as real or unreal, whichever way you want to look at it.

More coming soon …

 

What is Tantra?

ClarityI wanted to say a bit about what Tantra is within the Buddhist tradition, and how accessible it can be.

Buddhist Tantra is known as the “quick path to enlightenment.” Judging by my local bookstore and a quick Google search, a lot of people might be misunderstanding what Tantra is — for example, it is not about middle-aged couples in Hawaii improving their sex lives. Buddha was a celibate monk and he taught Tantra to many monks and nuns as well as lay people; so Tantra is not what we do with our bodies, particularly our gross fleshy bodies, but with our minds.

Still, Tantra does involve generating a lot of bliss. There are many things we can do with a blissful mind, and a blissful life. Bliss in our heart is a very concentrated state of mind. We sort of know this already from the ordinary bits of bliss we have now from a lovely smoothy or nice romantic encounter — whenever we are experiencing bliss, wild horses can’t pull us away. All we really want is to be blissful, we’d like to be blissful 24 hours a day, at least I would. But our current bliss is exceedingly short-lived. “Desire realm beings,” as Buddha Shakyamuni called us, are constantly searching for the bliss high, the excitement, and then trying to hold onto it; but it is hard to find or hold onto it for any time at all. This is because we’re looking for bliss in entirely the wrong place, namely outside the mind, when in fact bliss is a state of mind.

There are many different levels of bliss, and in Tantra we are aiming at the deepest and most transcendent – the clear light of bliss — which is associated not with our five senses or conceptual thoughts but with the most subtle state of our consciousness.

blissThis blog often talks about our Buddha nature, aka our potential for limitless happiness, freedom, love, and wisdom, our natural kindness, our potential to improve ourselves to perfection … Our Buddha nature is analogous to a sky free from clouds, where our delusions are the clouds that are obscuring the clarity and purity of our mind. Get rid of these bad habits and we would naturally abide in contentment, peace, and purity – this is who we are, it is just that the delusions get in our way.

Our Buddha seed or potential is associated with our most subtle level of mental consciousness that goes from life to life, our root mind at our heart, that one day will become the omniscient mind of a Buddha. We all have this very subtle mind. At the moment it only manifests in deep sleep or when we’re dying, and we’re not mindful of it because it is too subtle for us, we can only deliberately use our grosser levels of consciousness. And the thing is that our actual Buddha nature — our clear light mind, our root mind, our very subtle mind — is not just naturally contented, but naturally blissful.

In Tantra we learn to access this bliss, deeper and deeper feelings of bliss. If we can do this, many good things happen — for one thing we have a blissful life because there is no life outside of our experience of life and we are experiencing bliss. We are also able to concentrate on any object we choose far better because we are enjoying ourselves. If you are blissed out, and someone offers you some worldly enjoyment such as a slice of pizza, you don’t need it, you can take it or leave it; but if your mind is in a state of agitation or craving, it’s like, “Give me something, give me that pizza!” We search outside ourself for happiness, we spend a lot of time waiting; but if we are happy inside, we’re already there.

TantraFor this reason, generating bliss is very helpful for concentration, very undistractable. We can mix it smoothly with any object of meditation, whether that be love, compassion, or indeed the ultimate nature of reality, which is what we mainly want to use our bliss for. Understanding the real nature of ourselves, our world, and other people — that things are not as solid and real as they appear — overcomes our ignorance, the root of all our problems. A subtle, blissful, concentrated mind mixes with emptiness like water mixing with water, so we are quickly able to realize the ultimate nature of things and transform completely into a pure being, someone who is completely free from obscurations and who has manifested and grown all their good qualities. We can quickly gain deep spiritual experience, which is one main reason why Tantra is called the quick path to enlightenment.

Another main reason is because Tantra harnesses the creative power of our imagination. More on bliss and imagination coming soon.