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I study, and try to practice, Vajrayana Buddhism. My main areas of interest are Chod, Kagyu and Nyingma traditions as well as Buddhisms interactions with the West, pop-culture and engaged Buddhism.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Stupa

At the Northern side I prostrate to Master of Oddiyana, Peerless Longchen Ramjab and others of the old schools. May your direct link to the state of knowing remain forever, benefiting beings through the teachings on the Great Perfection and the blessing of the natural state.

At the Eastern side I prostrate to the Buddha of the three times, Gyalwa Karmapa, Dhagpo Lhaje and others of the father-son lineage. May your pristine teachings on Buddhahood in one life remain forever, benefiting beings through the path of joyous effortless effort and the blessing of the natural state.

At the Southern side I prostrate to the Glorious Drakpa Gyaltsen, Jamyang Khyentse and others of the Sakya school. May your mastery of tantra remain forever, benefiting beings through The Hundred Sadhanas and the stainless teachings of the six Ornaments of the land of snow.

At the Western side I prostrate to the Manjushri emanation Lord Tsongkhapa, Tsangyang Gyatso and others of the virtuous ones. May your admantine intellect remain forever, benefiting beings through The Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path and Yamantaka.

Having completed a circuit I pray all samaya breakers, including myself, connect with genuine lineages, develop sincere devotion and compassion, liberating concepts instantly and in this very instant realise Buddhahood for the sake of beings to the ends of space.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Deity Meditation

Sadhana practice is one of the most common and important forms of Tantric Buddhist ritual practice. It was practiced at the height of Tantric Buddhism in India and is practiced in all schools contemporary of Tantric Buddhism, Tibetan Vajrayana, Korean Milgyo and Japanese Shingon. A Sadhana is a ritualised meditation on a chosen deity, or ishta-deva (yi dam); its mantra and the liturgy that goes with it. Whilst there is a great variety of Sadhanas practiced, depending on factors such as lineage and classification of Tantra, they all are fairly similar in terms of contents and method. This paper aims to explore how Sadhana is practiced in the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition. The basic premise of Tantric deity meditation is that it is a method for transforming ones ordinary perception of reality and ultimately experience and understand the nature of reality, or become enlightened. Here it is useful to briefly mention a couple of doctrines which are essential to understanding Vajrayana practices.

Emptiness and Buddha Nature

Mahayana, and consequently Vajrayana, Prajnaparamita or perfection of wisdom literature, such as the Heart Sutra, The Diamond Cutter Sutra and other texts expound the teachings on emptiness or Shunyata (stong pa nyid). The teachings on emptiness were codified and propagated by scholars such as Nagarjuna and others in the Madhyamika (u ma) philosophical school. A necessarily simplified explanation of Emptiness is that all phenomena are ‘empty’ of inherent independent existence and as such only exist in interdependence on other factors and phenomena. This emptiness is not a simple nihilistic absence of anything whatsoever as clearly phenomena do exist on a conventional or relative level according to our everyday sensory experience. This everyday experience of the world could be said to have its basis in conceptual and dualistic intelligence. With this conceptual and dualistic approach to the world comes suffering in all its forms. Once ultimate reality is understood on a deep level, rather than a purely intellectual one, suffering ceases. The enlightenment of the Buddha is simply understanding things how they actually are, rather than how they appear, whilst at the same time not being separate from it.

This ultimate non-differentiation between Buddha and seemingly unenlightened beings is essential to Vajrayana, as it gives a doctrinal basis for Buddha Nature.

The Buddha has said that all beings possess the essence of Buddhahood because the buddhajnana has always been present in all beings, the immaculate nature is non-dual and the Buddha-potential is named after its result. Asanga

Buddha Nature is the belief and doctrine that all sentient beings have the potential to become Buddha. So key to Vajrayana practice is this doctrine, that Gampopa entirely devotes the first chapter of the Jewel Ornament of Liberation to it, describing it as the ‘Primary cause’ of enlightenment. Considering the importance of Asanga in the Karma Kagyu (karma bka' brgyud), it is interesting to note that he quotes from a number of Sutras to support his argument, but does not quote Asanga in this chapter. The potential to become enlightened as espoused by the doctrine of Buddha Nature is understood somewhat differently depending on the tradition, where many Mahayanist would see the path to enlightenment as being a very long process, whereas Vajrayanists believe enlightenment can be realised in a single lifetime through the utilisation of methods such as deity Sadhana practice.

The theory behind deity meditation in Vajrayana is that the yogi can access his true nature, thus understanding the nature of reality and be freed from the dualistic ignorance which keeps him in conditioned existence or samsara ('khor ba).

Misunderstanding this reality, we wander endlessly in the cycle of existence. The disciple must be introduced to the realisation of the true nature of his or her mind by a competent master, and then must meditate. When the disciple effectively reaches this recognition, the waves of the mind are reabsorbed in the immensity of primordial awareness. It is realisation of Mahamudra (phyag rgya chen po) or Maha-Ati (rdzogs pa chen po), the union of intelligence and emptiness, to which the phase of completion leads. Kalu Rinpoche

It is very important to note that the level of ‘reality’ accredited to Yidams varies depending on the practitioners level of experience and understanding. The Vajrayana pantheon serves as a focus for hope and devotion for thousands, few of whom are likely to have the time and resources to engage in the meditational approach that a yogi will take. The cross-cultural devotion to Avalokiteshvara (spyan ras gzigs), the Buddha of compassion, across the parts of Asia where Vajrayana and Mahayana Buddhism are practiced is testament to this. Avalokiteshvara is found in many forms, including two armed, four armed, eight armed and thousand armed. In Vajrayana countries this deity is seen as male, whilst in parts of China and Japan it is more commonly depicted as female and is known as Guan Yin or Kannon. Devotees of the Dalai Lamas and Karmapas view them as incarnations of Avalokiteshvara.

Preparation for Sadhana

Before the yogi can engage in the Sadhana fully there are a number of factors that have to be in place. Firstly, he needs to have a Guru (bla ma) who can initiate and instruct him, and secondly he may have to complete various preliminary practices known as Ngondro (sngon 'gro), although some of the practices of the Ngondro, such as Vajrasattva (rdo rje sems pas) and Guru Yoga (bla ma'i rnal 'byor) are no different from the Yidam deity meditation that shall be discussed in detail later. Ngondro varies slightly between the different lineages of Tibetan Vajrayana, but generally consists of performing 100,000 prostrations with taking refuge and generating Bodhicitta, 100,000 Vajrasattva 100 syllable mantras, 100,000 Mandala offerings and 100,000 Guru Yoga.

Whilst the teacher is important to varying degrees in most schools of Buddhism, in Vajrayana Buddhism he is a key figure, without whom practice is impossible for the yogi. In Vajrayana the Guru is seen as a Buddha.

Although in their realization they are Buddhas, in their actions they are attuned to how we are. With their skilful means they accept us as disciples, introduce us to the supreme authentic Dharma, open our eyes to what we should do and what we should not do, and unerringly point out the best path to liberation and omniscience. In truth, they are no different from the Buddha himself; but compared to the Buddha their kindness in caring for us is even greater. Always try, therefore, to follow your teacher in the right way, with the three kinds of faith Patrul Rinpoche

The reason for the centrality of the Guru in Vajrayana lies in the difficult concept of the transference of ‘chinlap’ (byin rlabs), which is varyingly translated as grace, empowering energy, inspiration or blessing. It is difficult not only due to the lack of a perfect translation, but also because it is something which is difficult to study academically as an outsider to a tradition. Kalu Rinpoche compares it to electric power in that it flows from the Buddha, through the lineage of transmission to the yogi. Consequentially the Yidam is seen as inseparable from the Guru, in fact the Sadhana liturgical text used for this paper sees the deity addressed as Lama.

Assuming the Guru has this ‘empowering energy’, the yogi has to have certain corresponding qualities for the transference to work. There exists a great deal of writing, both Tibetan and Indian on the requirements of both Tantric Gurus and their disciples, Jamgon Kongtrul devotes several chapters of his encyclopaedic Treasury of Knowledge to exploring these qualities as well as how the yogi should follow his Guru as well as how the process of finding a suitable Guru should be undertaken, similarly Patrul Rinpoche has a whole chapter on the topic in Words of My Perfect Teacher. Ashvaghosa’s Fifty Stanzas of Guru-Devotion is a more condensed and poetic description, which Jamgon Kongtrul extensively quotes from and comments on. In brief, the qualities required of the Guru are summed up as being honest, compassionate and loving towards all sentient beings, having a tamed mind and being knowledgeable about the tantras, sutras and shastras. Kongtrul also talks about the different types of Guru in terms of whether or not they are a layperson or ordained to novice level (dge tshul) or have full ordination (dge slong), where he concludes by saying that a fully ordained Guru is best, unless he or she is someone who has reached the first bodhisattva Bhumis as the realisation that goes with this supersedes any issues of which vows they have as ‘support’.

The aspiring yogi must have certain qualities which Jamgon Kongtrul lists as: devotion, ability to understand the ‘profound view’ or pure view (dag snang), confidence or faith in Tantric practice and the ability to keep pure samaya (dam tshig). It is generally accepted that keeping a pure view of the Guru is essential to the maintenance of samaya, and that samaya is established once a connection is made between a Guru and a yogi. As Tantric commitments and samaya are seen as extremely serious business, it is important that the Guru and prospective disciple examine each other very closely rather than immediately rushing into a relationship which could be detrimental to both of them. Patrul Rinpoche quotes Padmasambhava:

Not to examine the teacher, is like drinking poison. Not to examine the disciple is like leaping from a precipice.

Once the basis for a proper Guru disciple relationship has been established, the Guru can then empower the yogi to practice. According to Stephan Beyer there are five types of “transmission of lineage and authority”, ranging from the more fantastical “revelatory” and the hidden treasure (gter ma) tradition of Padmasambhava to the more commonplace “lineage of initiation, textual transmission and instruction”. When discussing Sadhana in a general sense it is most expedient to focus on the latter, although there are many Sadhana practices that come from the hidden treasure tradition of the Nyingma lineage.

Vajrayana empowerments have three parts: the actual empowerment ritual (dbang), the reading transmission of the liturgical Sadhana text (lung) and the actual meditation instructions (tri) for the deity. The empowerment ritual itself can be more or less elaborate, but always contains the vase empowerment, secret empowerment, knowledge-wisdom empowerment and speech empowerment. Irrespective of how elaborate the initiation ritual itself is, it can be summed up as giving the aspiring yogi the permission and ability to meditate on himself as the deity in order to understand the union of appearance and emptiness, the permission and ability to meditate on the union of sound and emptiness through receiving and reciting the mantra of the deity and also to meditate on the union of emptiness and compassion through the mind of the deity being given. In order for the empowerment ritual to be successful, the Guru must be motivated by love and compassion, as well as having some experiential meditational accomplishment of both the development (bskyed rim) and completion (rdzogs rim) stages of the deity of whom the empowerment that is being given. The aspiring yogi must also trust the specific ritual and the Guru, and the symbolic ritual objects must be in place. Refuge and Bodhisattva vows are also included in all empowerments. After being initiated and receiving instructions the yogi is then ready to start practicing the Sadhana of the particular deity in question.

Structure of a Sadhana.

The ritualised structure of most Sadhana practices is pretty similar, so for the sake of simplicity I will illustrate by primarily focusing only on one relatively common Sadhana, All-Pervading Benefit of Beings, The Meditation and Recitation of the Great Compassionate One. This is a short Avaloketishvara (spyan ras gzigs) Sadhana by the ‘renaissance man’ figure of Tangtong Gyalpo9 (thang stong rgyal po), which is practiced across Kagyu, Nyingma and Shakya (sa skya) lineages. It belongs to the Kriya class of Tantra.

Like all Vajrayana rituals the Sadhana starts with taking Refuge and generating Bodhicitta (byang chub kyi sems). Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels, is what makes this meditation specifically Buddhist, whilst the generation of Bodhicitta is what marks it as a Mahayana practice. Vajrayana Buddhism has Mahayana philosophy and ethics as its foundation, the techniques and practices described in the Tantras are what make it different from other the other Mahayana traditions.

Depending on time and the elaborateness of the ritual, after this there may be inserted various other prayers of aspiration such as the Four Immeasurables (tshans pa'i gnas bzi) or various lineage prayers, either to the general lineage of the yogi or the lineage of transmission of the particular practice. There may also be offering prayers or some sort of Mandala offering. However in this particular Sadhana there is not. During this part of the Sadhana the deity, in this case Avaloketishvara, is visualised as appearing in space in front and above the yogi, thus the deity is supplicated for Refuge as well as being an object of offering.

From the HRIH, appears noble and supreme Avalokita. He is brilliant white and radiates the five lights. Handsome and smiling, he looks on with eyes of compassion. He has four hands: the first are joined in anjali; the lower two hold a crystal mala and a white lotus. Adorned with ornaments of silk and jewels, he wears an upper garment of deerskin. Amitabha ('od dpag med) crowns his head. His two feet are in the vajra posture. His back rests against a stainless moon. He is the embodiment of all objects of refuge Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

The syllable HRIH is the seed syllable of Avalokiteshvara. When meditating, the yogi will visualise radiating lights from this syllable, which is standing on a lotus and moon. These lights are seen as going in two directions: Firstly the lights go ‘down’ to relieve the suffering of sentient beings in samsara, they do this by taking the suffering and bringing it back to the HRIH. Then the lights go ‘up’ to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas carrying offerings, the lights return then return carrying the blessing of these deities which transforms the HRIH into Avalokiteshvara. The physical features relate to various Buddhist teachings or have other symbolic meaning, in some cases multiple meanings. The four hands correspond to the Four Immeasurables; the joined hands are holding a jewel which is representative of Bodhicitta. The mala represents the drawing of beings towards liberation, whilst the white lotus is symbolic of purity and working in the world without being tainted by it. Sitting in the vajra posture symbolises the union of compassion and emptiness, the deer skin represents the legendary kindness of the deer. Amitabha is visualised on top of Avalokiteshvara as he is his teacher in the traditional mythology of Avaloketishvara.

After this the liturgy contains a short supplication of verbal prostration to Avalokiteshvara. In the fasting ritual of the thousand armed Avalokiteshvara (smyung gnas), physical prostrations are performed whilst chanting this particular supplication prayer.

Next comes the seven branched prayer, various versions of which are found in most Sadhanas, it is also found in all Mahayana Buddhist schools. In this Sadhana text the words are given, but this is not always the case.

The act of homage functions to reduce pride and foster a sense of devotion, whilst offering is intended to generate merit (bsod nams), whilst also being an expression of the Bodhisattva perfection16 of generosity (sbyin pa) and a way of reducing greedy tendencies. Confession, if done sincerely and in conjunction with Four Powers, is believed to reduce the effects of negative karma, or even purify it completely. Rejoicing in the virtues of others is a way of generating merit, habituating oneself to valuing virtue, effectively functioning as mind training. Requesting the teachings generates merit and also serves to express and develop further appreciation for the teachings. Requesting the Buddhas to not enter Nirvana is similar to requesting the teachings and dedicating the merit makes the whole practice a Mahayana practice and aids the development of Bodhicitta. Whilst the above order is generally how the seven branch prayer is performed, the 9th Gyalwa Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje (dbang phyug rdo rje) states that Refuge is occasionally added between making offerings and confession.

After the seven branched prayer there is a supplicatory prayer called, “The supplication of calling with longing”, where the relationship between negative emotions and their corresponding samsaric realm is laid out. This reminds the yogi to be mindful of these emotions, develops renunciation by contemplating the suffering of samsaric existence and develops compassion as each verse ends with a supplication that beings from the realm mentioned be born in the presence of Avalokiteshvara, which can be taken literally or as an aspiration that all beings develop the non-dual compassion embodied in Avaloketishvara. This part of the liturgy concludes with aspirations to carry out the activities of Avaloketishvara, as up until now the visualisation has been of the deity as something external ‘in front’ of the yogi. This changes during what could be considered the main part of the visualisation.

The main visualisation is done according to the description in the first part of the liturgy, however the radical difference is that the yogi is now identifying himself with the deity. The initial stage of the visualisation, with the syllable HRIH transforming is done exactly as before this visualisation is known as the ‘pledge being’ (dam tshig pa), this is a complicated concept, but basically means it’s created purely by the yogi, who after receiving initiation is a holder of a pledge, or samaya (dam tshig), with the deity in question. The yogi then visualises lights emanating from a HRIH in his heart, which summons the wisdom deity (ye she pa) who effectively consecrates the initial visualisation. The visualisation is now seen as more ‘alive’, and at this point the yogi will remain in this state whilst reciting the mantra of the deity, which in this case is the six syllables OM MA NI PAD ME HUNG18. This mantra is then visualised as circling the white HRIH inside the yogi visualised in the form of the deity. Each syllable emits lights which pacify a corresponding negative mental state and realm of existence. The 15th Gyalwa Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje (mkha' khyab rdo rje), lists them in the following way: OM is white, and purifies pride and karma associated with the gods realm. MA is green, and purifies jealousy and karma associated with jealousy. NI is yellow, and is associated with the human realm and purifying desire. PAD is blue, and purifies the karma associated with ignorance and the animal realms. ME is red, and purifies the negative emotion of greed which is associated with the hungry ghosts (yi dags), whilst HUNG is black, and associated with purifying aggression and hatred in the hell realms. All beins are transformed into the deity and all realms are transformed into Sukghavati (bde ba can), the land of bliss. All of this is a rather complicated process of multitasking and simplified versions are encouraged until the yogi is able to carry out the whole process.

This part of the meditation is what is known as the creation stage (bskyed rim). As mentioned this is quite an all encompassing process, however it is essential that the yogi keeps a view of emptiness during the process, as to avoid simply replacing the samsaric ignorance driven reality with another, perhaps seemingly more pleasant one. According to Padmasambhava:

Do not regard the Yidam deity as a form body; it is a Dharmakaya. The meditation on this form body as manifesting from Dharmakaya and appearing with colour, attributes, ornaments, attire, and major and minor marks should be practiced as being visible while devoid of a self-nature. It is just like the reflection of the moon in water. When you attain mental stability by practicing like this, you will have a vision of the deity, receive teachings, and so forth. If you cling to that you will go astray and be caught by Mara. Do not become fascinated or overjoyed by such visions since they are only the manifestations of your mind.

The yogi will do this part of the practice for a certain period of time, which is not specified, although some Sadhanas specify a certain number of mantra recitations for each session. After this the yogi will begin to dissolve the visualisation as part of beginning the completion stage (rdzogs rim). The process of dissolving the deity, much like the creation stage, can be done in a number of ways, but they are either gradual or instant. If it is done gradually, the deity is visualised as melting into the mantra, which melts into the seed syllable, in this case a HRIH, which is then dissolved in stages, until it dissolves into emptiness. Once the visualisation is dissolved, the yogi rests in the natural state into which the Yidam deity has dissolved. According to Vajrayana, this natural state of mind is Mahamudra (phyag rgya chen po) or Dzogchen (rdzogs pa chen po), and is no different from Buddhahood itself. This is effectively a ‘formless’ meditation as there is nothing to cling to and is simply experiencing reality as it is, free from dualistic fixation.

Free from intellectual speculation, it is Mahamudra. Free from extremes, it is the great middle way. Being the totality of everything, it is also called the great perfection (Dzogchen). May I gain conviction that to know this one thing is to understand all. From Rangjung Dorje's "Aspiration of Mahamudra"

Becoming accustomed to, or familiar with this state, is really what Mahamudra and Dzogchen meditation is and as such Yidam deity meditation is an effective way of practicing. How long the yogi rests in this state will depend on his level of experience, although it is probably not very long for most practitioners as any conceptualisation. According to Jamgon Kongtrul this part of the practice lasts while there are no “discursive pursuits of altering, accepting or rejecting”.

For the reasons described above there is no liturgical commentary in the practice text, apart from “rest evenly in your own nature”. The secondary reason for this is that Mahamudra and Dzogchen are not general and open teachings, but are traditionally taught from Guru to disciple only after a proper relationship has been established and trust has been established. As such, the next part of the text concerns keeping pure perception (dag snang) and the pride of the deity, which was developed during the creation phase. These are basically keeping a view of the world as the pure land of the deity, oneself and all beings are the deity and all sound are the mantra. This is not a visualisation, rather an attitude or ‘view’, continuing what has been experienced and learnt during meditation:

During meditation you rest in the inconcrete essence of Dharmata, cognizant but without conceptual thinking. During post-meditation, you realise everything to be empty, without self-nature. Free from attachment to or fascination for the experience of emptiness, you will naturally progress beyond meditation and post-meditation and be free from holding a conceptual focus or conceiving of attributes, just as clouds and mist spontaneously clear in the vast expanse of the sky MahaGuru Padmasambhava

The liturgy then goes into the sealing of the practice with the dedication of merit, which should be done with a continuing understanding of emptiness. After this comes an aspiration prayer for oneself and all others to achieve rebirth in Sukhavati as well as other aspiration prayers for the development and spread of Bodhicitta.

Benefits of this practice

The various commentaries on this practice go into some degree of detail as to the benefits of this practice, and on various other aspects of it. The mantra of Avaloketishvara is ubiquitous anywhere Tibetan Vajrayana is practiced, recited by everyone, painted on rocks, prayer flags and over doors. Bokar Rinpoche points out that Tibetans recite the mantra without having received the initiation and without doing the visualisation, but purely out of “faith and devotion acquired since infancy”. In his commentary, the 15th Gyalwa Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje, quotes from the "Root Tantra of the Lotus Net":

The Mandala of body that accomplishes meditating on all Buddhas combined is the body of the protector. Through meditating on or even recalling it, the actions of immediate retribution and all obscurations are purified.

His teacher, Jamgon Kongtrul, finishes his commentary on the practice of Avaloketishvara by saying that the benefits of it “cannot be properly conveyed using words” and that it benefits “all those whom it comes into contact (with)”. As if to highlight the importance of impartial compassion, he encourages the sound of the mantra to be shared with animals “from ants upward” and ends by an exhortation for everyone to practice.

Functions of the meditation.

Buddhist meditation can be classified as either calming, or Shamatha (zhi gnas) meditation, which lays the foundations for insight or Vipassana (lhag mthong) meditation. Whilst these can, and are practiced separately in the Tibetan tradition, they are combined within the practice of Yidam deity meditation. During the development stage the details of the appearance of the deity and the mantra serve as a focus for the mind which, with sufficient practice, leads to a gradual calming of the mind. Insight is developed by keeping the visualisation light and non solid as mentioned previously. The union of calm and insight is Mahamudra:

The deity is, therefore, appearance-emptiness. But it is not, on the one hand, appearance and on the other hand, emptiness, sometimes appearance or sometimes emptiness. Being an appearance it does not lose its emptiness; being empty it does not lose its appearance. It is the union of appearance and emptiness, not with the meaning of two things placed side by side, but with the meaning of the two things forming the same indissociable reality. To dwell without distraction in this state of union is the simultaneity of mental calm and superior vision. This is also called Mahamudra and more precisely in this case, the Mahamudra of the deity’s body. Bokar Rinpoche

Earlier it was mentioned how the yogi in post-meditation should keep the view and pride of the deity. This in itself will serve as an exercise in mindfulness as well as further developing devotion and compassion. By doing this it is possible to use “all the circumstances of existence” as part of the yogi’s spiritual practice. When walking the yogi will visualise the deity over his right shoulder so as to transform the walk into a devotional circumambulation, when sitting the deity is visualised seated above his head. When the yogi eats he will imagine the food as an offering to the deity, which he will visualise in his throat, whilst at the same time seeing the food itself as amrita (bdud rtsi). When going to sleep the deity is visualised at the heart emitting light. There are variations on these practices as well as lots of others serving similar functions, the main point is that the “view” is maintained. According to the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje, appearances are like a “mirage” in post-meditation.

Technical points of meditation.

As we have seen, Yidam deity meditation can be extremely complex, and so far this is without the inclusion of additional factors that may be included in particular Sadhana practices, such as playing ritual music, making physical offerings in the forms of torma (gtor ma) offerings. As such there are a few points which are crucially important to note. Meditation is often portrayed as a way to relax, and whilst relaxation and calming are effects of successful meditation, it is also important to relax before meditating. Rather than worrying about whether or not the whole deity is visualised in glorious three dimensional form, the aspiring yogi should relax and take an approach of focussing on specific parts of the deity in turn, rather than trying to see everything at the same time. Bokar Rinpoche advices against approaching the process in a “rigid and too structured way”, suggesting instead that one begins with simply adopting the thought of being the deity, before moving on to specific parts of the visualisation once one feels more confident. This way, the whole process is gradually built up in a relaxed and natural way.

When a little child is seated in the middle of many toys, he does not consider playing with them all at once. He takes one toy and plays with it for awhile, then when he has had enough, he takes another that he in turn puts away to play with a third, and so on. He has many toys but he does not worry about being able to play with them at the same time. He knows they are there, that one toy is enough and when he is bored with it, he can take another. Bokar Rinpoche

Whilst taking a gentle relaxed approach, it is also important that the yogi does not let the mind wander completely, so a typically Buddhist “middle way” approach is generally recommended. Kagyu Lamas often talk of "little and often" when it comes to formal sitting, not just in relation to yidam practice, so it might be a good approach.


We have seen that Yidam deity meditation is a ritual practice which covers many areas of the yogis training. Yidam meditation allows the yogi to engage in the ‘two accumulations” (tshogs gnyis), the accumulation of conceptual merit by offering the seven branch prayer, and engaging in the Bodhisattva perfections, whilst accumulating non-conceptual wisdom by keeping a view of emptiness both when engaged in the actual visualisation and in the post-meditation. Both relative, and ultimate, Bodhicitta are also developed. Relative Bodhicitta, in the form of dualistic compassion is developed through the recitation of the Bodhicitta prayers, the visualisation of lights liberating the suffering of others and by the dedication of merit, whilst ultimate Bodhicitta is developed by seeing the Yidam deity as the union of appearance and emptiness, as ultimate Bodhicitta is emptiness or the direct experience and understanding of it. The practice simultaneously develops calm and insight, the union of which is considered to be the fruition of Mahamudra or Dzogchen practice. From the Mahamudra point of view, nothing has then been achieved in terms of creating something new, rather what is naturally there has been realised directly and spontaneously as it is, rather than through conventional dualistic mind.

The present mind having been released freely into the state of naturalness, the unmodified spontaneous perfection of whatever arises, there is no attachment towards external and internal phenomena. (In the present mind,) as there are not thoughts of rejecting or accepting, the state of non-duality of the mind remains ceaselessly. As there are no gross thoughts, the wildly roaming mind has been liberated from the thoughts of the desire (realm). As the projecting thoughts have arisen in naturalness, the mind has transcended all diversion to the form and formless realms. Having no apprehension as “this”, the tranquillity has been accomplished spontaneously. As the naturalness (so ma) (of the mind) has arisen spontaneously, the insight has been accomplished spontaneously. As there is no separate and projecting and dwelling, their union has been accomplished spontaneously. As it has been liberated in the instantaneous state itself (or instantaneously in its own state), the wisdom has been accomplished spontaneously. As there is no dwelling, the absorption has been accomplished. As there is no apprehension of liberation-upon-arising (of intrinsic awareness), the primordial wisdom has been accomplished spontaneously. As all the faults are present through the aspect of apprehension, they are liberated in freedom from apprehension and hindrances. As all the virtues arise in the awareness wisdom, they are progressing. It is the mind perfected in its own naturalness, and it is the supreme accomplishment of the Great Seal (Mahamudra), in this very lifetime. Longchenpa

To conclude, the yogi, through the practice of the Yidam deity meditation, simply comes to see himself, and the world as they are. According to Vajrayana Buddhism, ultimately everything is pure, but through dualistic thinking, rooted in a belief in a separate and inherently existent self, things appear and are experienced as impure and painful, as such the Yidam meditation becomes the yogis corrective glasses.

This is a rehash of an acadmic essay I wrote, minus the footnotes and bibliogrpahy. Should any merit have been generated, may all beings benefit from it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Retreat was awesome, both in terms of the actual practice and some 'networking'. Nothing more needs to be said. I hope both my readers are well and happy.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Finished and managed to pass summer school. Am off to Namo Buddha in a few hours to spend a week in retreat, then it's back here to have some fun whilst getting ready for the next semester.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vajrayana foundations

When beginning any process, whether it is traveling, building a house or making a meal, it is essential that all the necessary factors for successful completion of the process are in place. This is also true in Vajrayana Buddhism. The so called Tantric preliminary practices, or Ngondro (Tib. sngon 'gro), are common to all schools of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. The differences in how they are practiced are relatively minor and primarily focus on factors such as which figures are visualised and liturgies chanted, although there can also be some differences in actual practices performed as part of a ‘complete’ Ngondro. The main focus of this paper is how preliminaries are practiced in the Karma Kagyu (Tib. karma bka' brgyud) and Nyingma (Tib. rnying ma), with only occasional reference made to other lineages. In the case of the Nyingma Ngondro, the main information comes from the Longchen Nyingthig (Tib. klong chen snying thig) lineage. Availability of material and word limit is the reason for focussing on these two lineages.

Ngondro overview

The word Ngondro literally means ‘that which goes before’, however it might be better to view the practices of the Ngondro as foundation practices rather than preliminaries in the sense of something which is simply done and then forgotten about. One does not build a house and neglect the foundations whilst maintaining the other parts of the house. As such there are many practitioners who complete Ngondro multiple times. A complete Ngondro generally consists of the Four Ordinary Foundations, or thoughts which turn the mind to Dharma (Tib. blo do nam shi). These are precious human birth, impermanence, karma and the suffering of conditioned existence or samsara (Tib. 'khor ba). These contemplations are also common to Hinayana and Mahayana schools of Buddhism. Following these are the Four Extraordinary Foundations consisting of taking of refuge and engendering Bodhicitta 100,000 times, followed by meditation on Vajrasattva (Tib. rdo rje sems pas), Mandala offering and Guru Yoga (Tib. bla ma'i rnal 'byor ), which are also done 100.000 times each. With taking refuge 100,000 full prostrations are also performed. The Four Extraordinary Foundations are specific to Vajrayana Buddhism and are seen as the foundations for advanced Tantric practices as well as Mahamudra (Tib. phyag rgya chen po) and Dzogchen (Tib. rdzogs pa chen po). Generally Mahamudra is seen as a Kagyu practice whilst Dzogchen is associated with the Nyingma.

The Four Ordinary Foundations

The first meditation topic concerns the precious human life endowed with every freedom and asset. It is difficult to get and can easily be destroyed, so now is the time to make it meaningful - 9th Gyalwa Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje

The first of the Four Ordinary Foundations is precious human birth. Whilst there are various definitions as to what makes a human birth precious, it is generally seen as such primarily in terms of being an opportunity to engage in spiritual practice. This opportunity presents itself as human birth is generally viewed as having less of the obstacles that other births come with. Gampopa classifies precious human birth into two factors of body and three of mind. The two factors of body are leisure and endowment, whilst the three factors of mind are trust, longing and clarity.

Leisure and endowment effectively mean having the freedom, time and ability to engage in spiritual practice. Human birth entails suffering; however it is not on the scale of the lower realms or with the distractions of the upper realms. Birth in the non-human realms are seen as lacking the freedom to practice for the following reasons: The hell realms, whether hot, cold or ‘miscellaneous’ involve unrelenting constant pain and misery making anything other than suffering impossible. The pretas (Tib. yi dags), or hungry ghosts are similarly in constant pain caused by thirst and hunger as well as exposure to the elements. Animals are constantly busy trying to feed themselves whilst avoiding being eaten or exploited by humans . In brief the lower realms are believed to be too painful as to allow the freedom to anything other than suffer, let alone engage in spiritual practice. Those born in the god realms are too busy indulging in what appears unending pleasure to be interested in spiritual practice whilst the Auras (Tib. lha min) or jealous gods are too busy fighting the god and being jealous of their pleasure.

Gampopa goes on to classify endowment into two groups of five personal qualities and five external qualities of a precious human life. The five personal qualities are being human, being born somewhere with access to Buddhist teachings, having all senses, some sense of morality and some devotion to the Buddhist teachings. The external factors are: the appearance of a Buddha in the world, the Buddha teaching, the teachings continuing, and followers of the teachings being around and there being “love and kind support” from others. Having these qualities and circumstances present is also seen as precious due to the relative rarity of this happening, Gampopa, Patrul Rinpoche, Shantideva and numerous others use the example of the blind turtle to illustrate the statistical chances of precious human birth.

Suppose this whole earth were an ocean and a person threw in a yoke that only had one hole. The yoke would float back and forth in all the four directions. Underneath that ocean, there is a blind tortoise who lives for many thousands of years but who comes up above the surface once every hundred years. It would be very difficult for the tortoise’s head to meet with the yoke’s hole; still it is possible. To be born in a precious human life is much more difficult - From Gampopas "Jewel Ornament of Liberation"

Gampopa the continues to describe the three factors of mind trust, longing and clarity in the following way: Trusting faith is the belief in the law of karma, longing faith is the wish to become Enlightened and clear faith is taking refuge in the Three Jewels.

The practitioner meditates on the precious human life in order to motivate themselves to really use the opportunity to practice whilst they have the chance, before moving on to contemplate impermanence and certain death.

Secondly, the universe and everything that lives therein is impermanent – particularly the lives of beings which are like water-bubbles. The time of death is uncertain and when you die you will become a corpse. Dharma will help you at that time, therefore practice it diligently now. - 9th Gyalwa Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje

Impermanence is one of the key doctrines of Buddhism. In the context of the Four Ordinary Foundations it is essential to understand that impermanence here isn’t a doctrine to be understood intellectually as an abstract concept, or something to be believe in as an article of faith, but rather it is to be experienced and internalised as this will then make the practitioner more able to deal with it as it arises in everyday experience and be less affected by it as well as being mindful that the opportunity to engage in spiritual practice is itself not something to be taken for granted and as such must be prioritised. According to the 9th Gyalwa Karmapa quotes Nagarjuna when explaining how failure to meditate on impermanence will make liberation impossible.

Patrul Rinpoche devotes the second chapter of "Words of my Perfect Teacher" to explaining how to meditate on impermanence. He suggests progressively contemplating the impermanence of the external universe, sentient beings, holy beings the impermanence of those in positions of power. He then moves on to miscellaneous examples of impermanence. The function of this is to remind the practitioner of his own mortality and thus spur him on to practice. Linked from this is a reminder that the uncertainty that comes with impermanence also applies to the moment of death as the causes and circumstances of death are varied. He quotes Aryadeva:

Causes of death are numerous, Causes of life are few, and even they may become causes of death.

The remainder of the chapter is devoted to extolling the benefits of meditation on impermanence. He does this by quoting a number of sources including the King of Yogis Jetsun Milarepa, Gampopa and Buddha Shakyamuni, whilst illustrating the points using examples and language which is highly accessible and clearly intended as a manual for practitioners rather than simply for intellectual study. Patrul Rinpoche states that meditation on impermanence will engender deep renunciation and as such serves as a gateway for spiritual practice. Kongtrul concurs on this describing it as the “root of the entire Dharma”. Gampopa states that the benefits of mediation on impermanence are renunciation, the development of faith as well as something which leads to less attachment and aversion.

Summarising the meditation on impermanence we can say that it is practiced to develop renunciation and to serve as an antidote to procrastination encouraging the practitioner to make use of their precious human birth. On a meditational level, becoming familiar with impermanence leads to being less attached to thoughts, emotions and experiences. It logically follows the meditation on precious human birth and precedes the meditation on karma.

Thirdly, after your death you will have to experience your own karma, having no degree of control over what happens. So give up harmful actions – all your time should be spent in the practice of virtue. Thinking this was, evaluate your life daily. - 9th Gyalwa Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje

The third of the Four Ordinary foundations is the meditation on karma (Tib. las). Karma is a fundamental doctrine in Buddhism and one that is very often misunderstood. Whilst acknowledging its centrality and complexity, he sums it up by stating that a negative cause will generate a negative result, whilst a positive cause will generate a positive result. After this he lists actions which lead to Samsaric birth and those which lead to liberation. At the end of his chapter on karma he talks about the primacy of motivation in the formation of karmic results, citing examples of seemingly positive acts which will yield negative results due to their motivation, whilst at the same time warning against committing negative actions even if they are positively motivated, urging the practitioner to avoid judgement of others actions.

In “The Jewel Ornament of Liberation”, Gampopa deals with karma in a similar way to Kongtrul, but goes into greater detail generally, including when talking about the actions which lead to birth in formless realms. The reasons for the greater details are probably due to the Jewel Ornament of Liberation being a somewhat scholarly text dealing which covers topics such as the six Bodhisattva perfections, Buddha nature and the ten Bodhisattva Bhumis or levels (Tib. lam lnga), whereas Kongtrul’s “The Torch of Certainty” is purely a practice guide. It is also worth pointing out that karma is acknowledged to be so profound that only a Buddha fully understands its working as it is said to be “unthinkable”.

The meditation on karma as part of the Four Ordinary foundations is to make the practitioner be mindful of his actions in general, but more specifically to think how karma will affect him even after inevitable death. This is why it comes after the meditation on impermanence and before the meditation on the suffering of samsara.

One is constantly tormented by the three kinds of suffering. Therefore samsaric places, friends, pleasures and possessions are like a party given by an executioner who will then lead on to the place of execution. Cutting through the snares of attachment, strive for enlightenment with diligence. - 9th Gyalwa Karmpa Wangchuk Dorje.

The suffering of samsara is the final of the Four Ordinary Foundations. Gampopa, Kongtrul and Patrul Rinpoche all list the specific forms of suffering associated with each realm as described previously when discussing the precious human birth. The “three sufferings” mentioned in the above quote are: suffering itself, the suffering of change and what is generally referred to as all pervasive. Suffering itself includes the physical pain involved in birth, sickness, ageing and death as well as the emotional pain that can go with these. Gampopa and Patrul Rinpoche elaborate on these in great detail, whilst Kongtrul is much more concise. The suffering of change is losing that and those one is attached to as well as being faced with that and those whom one finds unpleasant, such as meeting a carjacker and consequently losing one’s car. All pervasive suffering is the sense of not having what we want or being attached to conceptual ideals and then suffering when experienced reality fails to live up to them. Jamgon Kongtrul states that the first two sufferings are rooted in the coming together of the five aggregates and that it is latent in all samsaric existence. Samsara is also described as a state of mind where there is continuous fear and attachment As with the preceding meditations, the practice of meditating on the suffering of samsara is seen has having multiple benefits.

The meditation on the sufferings of samsara is the basis and support for all the good qualities of the path. It turns your mind towards the Dharma. It gives you confidence in the principle of cause and effect in all your actions. And it makes you feel love and compassion for all beings. - Patrul Rinpoche.

The Four Extraordinary Foundations
According to the Ngondro text The Chariot for Travelling the Path to Freedom, after completing the Four Ordinary Foundations one should be a “fit vessel” for taking refuge. Refuge and Bodhicitta, performed with prostrations make up the first of the Four Extraordinary Foundations. In this practice the yogi recites a refuge prayer whilst performing full prostrations in front of a visualised assembly of the sources of refuge. Vajrayana refuge includes the teacher (Tib. bla ma), meditational deities (Tib. yi dam) and Dakinis (Tib. mkha' 'gro ma) as well as the Three Jewels or Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, which are common to all Buddhist schools. The Lama is seen as corresponding to the Buddha in terms of giving the teachings, the Yidam corresponding to the Dharma path one is practicing, and the Dakinis to the Sangha as the spiritual community. Kongtrul refers to these six sources of refuge as the Three Jewels and Three Roots, whilst stating that they are all embodied in the Lama. The purpose of this practice is to prepare the mind for so called advanced practices as well as to purify negative karma.

The visualisation varies depending on the lineage, although there are several similarities. Both the Karma Kagyu and Longchen Nyingthig Ngondro describe the refuge visualisation as a three on an island in a lake with the various lineage gurus seated on the branches and various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on other branches. Protector deities (Tib. chos skyong) are lined at the front branch. In the centre of the tree is the practitioners own root teacher, visualised in the form of Vajradhara (Tib. rdo rje ‘chang) for Kagyupa practitioners and Padmasambhava (Tib. gu ru rin po che) for Nyingma practitioners. The yogi prostrates to the visualised refuge tree, whilst imagining his parents, and all sentient beings surrounding him. At the same time he chants a refuge prayer with each prostration. Jamgon Kongtrul and Patrul Rinpoche both describe their respective refuge trees in great detail and describe the benefits of refuge. In "The Torch of Certainty" Kongtrul states:

If you practice Taking Refuge continuously and it never leaves your thoughts, you become a Buddhist. Your minor wrong-doings are purified; your major ones decrease. Human and non-human obstacles cannot affect you. Your vows, studies and other wholesome activities become more and more fruitful. If you truly rely on the Precious Ones, you will not be born in the lower realms even if you feel yourself being pushed in that direction.

And Patrul Rinpoche concurs by saying taking refuge is the source of all goodness in samsara and ultimately will lead to Buddhahood. Once the main visualisation and prostrations are done, the practitioner visualises the refuge tree melting into themselves and then rest in the natural state.

After taking refuge comes the engendering of Bodhicitta (Tib. byang chub kyi sems), or the Enlightened attitude. Bodhicitta is an integral part of Mahayana, and consequently Vajrayana, practice and philosophy. Liturgically this is done in the "The Chariot for Travelling the Path to Freedom", by chanting the four immeasurable contemplations; that all beings have happiness and its causes, are separated from suffering and its causes, have happiness untainted by suffering and that they may have unbiased impartiality free from attachment and aversion. In addition to the four immeasurable contemplations, Jamgon Kongtrul also recommends generating Bodhicitta by, practicing the six perfections and reflecting that all being have at some point been ones kind parents, and as such one would not wish to see them suffer, but rather to help them have the freedom of Enlightenment. He also recommends practicing “sending and receiving”:

When you are beset by illness or demons, tormented by gossip or by an upsurge of conflicting emotions, take on the misfortunes of all other sentient beings. Knowing that your former deeds are the cause (of present sorrow), do not be depressed when sorrow strikes, but take up the sorrows of others. When you are happy, use your wealth, influence and merit to perform wholesome acts. Do not sit idly by, but engage your body and speech in wholesome acts such as praying for the happiness of all sentient beings.

I have no personal experience of Bodhcitta, or really even conventional compassion, but can attest to the above being worthwhile generally and in relation to "practice".

Patrul Rinpoche approaches generating Bodhicitta by starting with the four immeasurable contemplations, followed by a classification of the types of Bodhicitta, before moving on to the Bodhisattva perfections. He classifies Bodhicitta by degrees of courage as well as distinguishing between relative and ultimate Bodhicitta. The degrees of courage are that of a king, boatman and a shepherd. The king rules over his subjects, so this type of courage is described as being that which aspires to attain Buddhahood in order to bring others to the same state. The boatman like courage is taking others along on the path to Buddhahood. The shepherd puts the safety of his sheep first and as such this form of arousing Bodhicitta is when one wishes for others to have Buddhahood first.

The benefits of Bodhicitta are universally lauded in the Vajrayana tradition, according to Patrul Rinpoche it represents the “quintessence” of the Buddha’s teaching, Jamgon Kongtrul calls it the “Heart of the entire Dharma” and the previous Kalu Rinpoche stated that a single instant of it purifies aeons worth of negative karma.

After Refuge and Bodhicitta follows the purifying practice of Vajrasattva (Tib. rdo rje sems pa). The purpose of this practice is to purify the “four veils” which obscure our own true nature of mind, which, according to Vajrayana theory, is Enlightenment. Ignorance of one’s own Buddha nature, the dualistic belief in inherently existing self and other, negative emotions and karma.

The fundamental purity of our mind is hindered by veils and faults. Veils refer here to what prevents us from recognising the real nature of our mind. Faults designate negative karma we experience with painful consequences, as if we were beating ourselves. - Kalu Rinpoche.

At this point it is worth commenting on this “fundamental purity of mind” or Buddha nature. An understanding of Buddha nature and faith in it is essential in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. The practice of Vajrasattva highlights the importance of this belief and understanding as the whole practice would be futile without this as a basis. To this end Gampopa devotes the first chapter of “The Jewel Ornament of Liberation” to it. Similarly the peerless protector of beings, the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, in his “Aspiration of Mahamudar”, goes to great lengths throughout this text to point out Buddha nature and Enlightenment as never being separate from ones experience, even in the depths of samsara.

The importance of confidence in one’s own Buddha nature, and the acknowledgement of possible lack of this confidence, is played out in the visualisation of Vajrasattva. The initial visualisation (Tib. dam tshig pa) after being built up is then effectively empowered by invoking the wisdom deity (Tib. ye she pa) who consecrates the initial visualisation giving it power and vitality. The wisdom deity could be seen as the ‘real’ Vajrasattva, although this is a less than ideal explanation and could easily be misinterpreted as theistic. Religion can bee seen as imaginary friends for adults, but in Buddhism we acknowledge them to be imaginary, just like ourselves. To counter this, the yogi should remember to keep the visualisation as transparent rather than solid. Vajrasattva is also seen as being a manifestation of the yogi’s root teacher. In the Longchen Nyingthig Ngondro, Vajrasattva is visualised with a consort, whilst in the Karma Kagyu this is not always the case. Kongtrul acknowledges that both are done in the Karma Kagyu.

Once the visualisation is in place the yogi then chants a liturgy of confession and imagines white elixir pouring from Vajrasattva. If the visualisation is of Vajrasattva without a consort it is seen as flowing into the yogi via his right foot, whereas if it is from Vajrasattva with consort it drips from where they are joined in sexual union. This forms the main part of the practice and is done whilst simultaneous reciting the one hundred syllable mantra of Vajrasattva. Whilst this is taking place the yogi imagines all their negative karma, illness, broken vows and so on are washed out of their lower body by the elixir coming from above. This process of taking on what is positive and eliminating what is negative is done whilst imagining one’s own body to be hollow and light. Once this is done, the six syllable mantra of Vajrasattva is also recited, after which a prayer of confession is recited before the visualisation is dissolved into light which then dissolves into the yogi.

It is emphasised by Jamgon Kongtrul, Patrul Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche that Vajrasattva practice, or any other purification practice, must be done in conjunction with the Four Powers. These are the power of regretting past negativity, the power of making the resolve not to commit it again, the power of support, which means taking Refuge and Bodhicitta, and the power of positive action as antidote. Another point of agreement is that the practice of Vajrasattva is beneficial in accordance with the effort put into it by the yogi.

It is said that if you strenuously (practice this meditation and recite this mantra) your minor and moderate misdeeds will be completely purified. Your major misdeeds will not increase but be suppressed and gradually purified. Generally speaking, if you truly believe in (the doctrine of) action and result you will inevitably regret your harmful deeds. Then your confession will be genuine. All this seem to imply that realisation will inevitably follow purification. But those of us who merely mouth the prayers and affect the practices of the monastic life, without true faith or regret, will achieve no more realisation than a tortoise has hair. - Jamgon Kongtrul

So pretending to be engaged in Ngondro whilst consciously engaging in the generation of harmful acts ranging from smoking to genocide seems at best futile.

Having completed the purifying practice of Vajrasattva, the yogi then moves on to the third of the Four Extraordinary Foundations, the Mandala (Tib. dkyil khor) offering. The Mandala is an imagined universe containing anything of value one could offer; the purpose is the accumulation of the two accumulations of merit and wisdom.

In this practice, the aspirant perfects his accumulation of merit by the supremely meritorious act of repeatedly offering the entire universe to the sources of refuge. He perfects his accumulation of transcending awareness (wisdom) by maintaining the understanding that this offering, it’s recipients and the giver himself are not things in themselves but empty. - Jamgon Kongtrul

The accumulation of merit also functions as part of the Bodhisattva training in the six perfections and one a psychological level deals with attachment, which in meditational terms means the ability to let go of thoughts and concepts.

In the visualisation the object of offering is the refuge tree is as in the first of the Four Ordinary Foundations, although here the tree is inside a palace rather than in a lake. Again the central figure is seen as inseparable from the yogi’s root teacher. The Mandala which is offered takes a physical and visualised form, the physical acting as a support for the visualised. In some cases two physical Mandalas are offered, one which is more elaborate and is placed on the shrine (sgrub pa’i), representing the sources of refuge, and a second more simple version (mchod pa’i) which is the one which is offered 100,000 times. The physical and visualised Mandalas represent the traditional universe of Buddhist cosmology, along with the symbols of the seven possessions of a Chakravartin , the eight auspicious symbols and the eight auspicious objects. The visualisation can be even more elaborate, but what it most important is that the yogi really generates a sense of giving everything he can imagine as generosity and non-attachment are the goals of this practice. The practice session finishes with the visualisation of light from the sources of refuge granting the completion of the two accumulations and then dissolving into light which dissolves into the yogi, as with all Vajrayana practice the session is ‘sealed’ with the dedication of merit.

The Mandala offering is obviously a key component to Ngondro practice, but like the other practices it is also something that has a place central place in Vajrayana outside Ngondro, as it is always part on any big ritual such as empowerments, consecrations and other special occasions.

In order to practice true Dharma, it is of great importance first to seek an authentic spiritual friend, a teacher who has all the necessary qualifications. Then you should obey his every instruction, praying to him from the very depths of your heart and considering him to be a real Buddha. - Patrul Rinpoche.

The Final of the Four Extraordinary Foundations is Guru Yoga (Tib. bla ma'i rnal 'byor). The purpose of this practice is for the yogi to receive the blessing of his Guru in order to realise Mahamudra or Dzogchen. The visualisation and ritual here is almost identical in Karma Kagyu and Longchen Nyingthig. First the yogi visualises their root teacher, in the form of Vajradhara or Padmasambhava, surrounded by the various masters of the lineage in front of him in space. Then the seven branch prayer is offered as a succinct method of gathering the two accumulations. The seven branches are prostration, offering, confession, rejoicing in the virtues of others, requesting the teachings, requesting the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to remain and dedication of merit. After this there are more prayers, mantra recitation, after which come the Four Empowerments, which could be described as the primary section of the Guru Yoga. Here the yogi visualises a white syllable OM radiating light from the forehead of the visualised deity, this is absorbed into the forehead of the yogi, purifying obscurations of the body and empowers him to meditate on the development stage ((Tib. bskyed rim) and to realise Nirmanakaya (Tib. sprul ku). The process is then repeated with a red AH at the throat which removes obscurations of speech and enables the yogi to meditate on the subtle channels (Tib. rtsa rlung) as well as to realise the Sambhogakaya (Tib longs spyod rdzogs pa'i sku). The third empowerment takes the form of a blue syllable HUM, radiating from the heart of the deity to the yogi as before which this time purifies the obscurations of mind enabling the yogi to practice “absorptions” (Tib. snyom 'jug) and to realise the Dharmakaya (Tib. chos sku). Finally the all three lights simultaneously radiate into the same parts of the yogi as before, enabling him to practice Mahamudra, the fourth empowerment also makes the yogi a Svabhavikakaya (Tib. ngo bo nyid sku). After receiving the four empowerments the visualisation is dissolved into light which is then absorbed through the top of the yogi’s head. The yogi then rests in this state, before dedicating merit. Kongtrul describes the signs of successful practice as lessening mental attachment to the concerns of this life and glimpses of realisation. It is crucial the yogi tries to keep a sense of unity with the Guru at all times, in between sessions. This is done by doing things like visualising the Guru in the throat when eating and similar activities.

This is all well and good, but utterly pointless if you don't have a Guru. Without a Guru there is no Vajrayana and consequently no Ngondro. So who is a Guru?

Due to the variety of lineages and overall decentralised nature of Vajrayana, this could potentially be an area for widespread abuse and corruption and it is fair to say that this has and does happen. In an attempt to safeguard against false teachers simply citing names of their teachers and lineage, various ideas have developed.

To understand the at times seemingly overemphasised importance of the Guru in Vajrayana we need to understand the concept of ‘byin rlabs’. This word has no direct English equivalent, but has been translated as blessing, grace, consecration, inspiration, stream of empowering energy and flowing blessings. One of the most influential meditation teachers of the 20th Century, Kalu Rinpoche, likened ‘byin labs’ to a powerful electric current flowing to the practitioner from the Buddha, via the Guru and lineage. There is some implication of this blessing or empowering energy flowing in a wavelike fashion. However it is interpreted it is clear that it is seen as something ongoing and not simply a one off event received during a formal empowerment ritual (dbang). In fact requesting ‘byin labs’ is a common part of all Yidam meditation liturgical texts, and it is also often found in other prayers too, as it is seen as really being what powers the spiritual progress and realisation of the practitioner.

In spite of the formality, etiquette and seemingly cultic devotion sometimes presented in Vajrayana, it is crucial to note that the reception of ‘byin labs’ is not a purely passive experience on the part of the practitioner either. To benefit from the ‘byin labs’ the practitioner must obviously have confidence in the practice itself.


The preliminary practices as we have seen are very much interconnected and not something to be completed by the yogi in a linear process, simply to move on to something else. For the yogi these practices become something do be done now and not something to be aspired to at some future point in time.

This very moment is the watershed between the right and wrong direction of your entire existence. This opportunity is like finding something to eat when you have only had one meal in a hundred throughout your whole life. So make use of the Dharma to free yourself while you still can, taking death as your spur at all times. Cut short your plans for this life, and diligently try to practice good and give up evil – even at the risk of your life. Follow an authentic teacher and accept whatever he tells you without hesitation. Give yourself, in body and mind, to the Three Jewels. When happiness comes recognise it as their compassion. When suffering comes, recognise it as the result of your own past actions. Apply yourself to the practices of accumulation and purification with the perfectly pure motivation of Bodhicitta. Ultimately, through immaculate devotion and samaya, unite you mind undissolubly with that of a sublime teacher in an authentic lineage. Capture the stronghold of the absolute in this very life, courageously taking on the responsibility of freeing all beings, our old mothers, from samsara’s dungeon. This includes all the most crucial instructions. - Patrul Rinpoche

The Four Ordinary Foundations set the worldview and motivation for the yogi who, once convinced on more than an intellectual level of the futility of samsaric existence, is the spurred into the practice of the Four Extraordinary Foundations which all to some extent contain each other and which also further detach the yogi from attachment to samsaric illusory existence and thoroughly preparing him for the higher Tantric practices and possibly Enlightenment itself. By practicing Ngondro sincerely, under the blessing of a genuine Guru, all manner of obstacles are overcome and experiences are gained. However, simply going through the motions without paying attention to ones own mind and actions is hypocrisy and pretence. As the Master of Oddiana said:

"My view is like space, but my attention to actions like dust"

I'm recycling old essays as blog posts as someone enjoyed the last one. Footnotes and bibliography are missing and I've added a few comments in places. This is an academic essay and is unlikely to benefit anyone on a practice level.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bodhicitta in the Tibetan Meditational Tradition.

Bodhicitta is one of the most talked about subjects in both Mahayana and consequently Vajrayana Buddhism and as such also one of the major differences between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. It is also mentioned increasingly in popular Buddhist media in the West. It is possibly one of the first few ‘technical’ terms those studying Buddhism, academically or personally, will come across. Like the words Buddha, Karma and Nirvana, it is often used with no attempt at translation as understanding is often presupposed.

Despite being often used in both relative and ultimate forms, Bodhicitta is possibly one of the most difficult and important of Buddhist Doctrines to understand. According to Patrul Rinpoche it is the “quintessence” of the Buddha’s teaching.

"This arousing of Bodhicitta is the quintessence of the eighty-four thousand methods taught by the Conqueror. It is the instruction to have which is enough by itself, but to lack which renders anything else futile. It is a panacea the medicine for a hundred ills. All other Dharma paths, such as the two accumulations, the purification of defilements, meditation on deities and recitation of mantras, are simply methods to make this wish-granting gem, Bodhicitta, take birth in the mind. Without Bodhicitta, none of them can lead you to the level of perfect Buddhahood on their own. But once Bodhicitta has been aroused in you, whatever Dharma practices you do will lead to the attainment of perfect Buddhahood. Learn always to use whatever means you can to make even the slightest spark of Bodhicitta arise in you."

Historically the importance of Bodhicitta has been expressed in a variety of ways. Atisha is reported to have cried and placed his hands above his head in reverence when speaking of the teacher from whom he had received Bodhicitta teachings Patrul Rinpoche and Jamgon Kongtrul considered Bodhicitta to be the crystallisation of the Buddha’s teaching. Contemporary Buddhist teachers also place great emphasis on Bodhicitta, Gyalwa Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje and His Holiness the Dalai Lama will regularly praise it and always include it in their teachings. During an empowerment at Gyuto Monastery in October 2000, Gyalwa Karmapa stopped the ritual of the empowerment and gave a spontaneous teaching on Bodhicitta; he has been known to do the same on many other occasions including the annual Kagyu Monlam.

The importance of Bodhicitta is also emphasised in some of the most popular Buddhist texts ranging from the Jataka Tales to the Bodhicaryavatara6, although the emphasis varies. Gampopa describes Bodhicitta as the wish to achieve perfect enlightenment for the welfare of others. The aim of this essay is to give a general overview of Bodhicitta and how it is approached in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, predominantly from a meditational point of view.

Relative Bodhicitta, essential compassion.

Bodhicitta can be said to be relative or ultimate. Relative Bodhicitta can be subdivided into aspiration and action Bodhicitta. Kongtrul is following from Shantideva on this point and he summarises relative Bodhicitta overall as meaning compassion. The difference between aspiration and action Bodhicitta is likened by Shantideva to the difference between a person wishing to travel and a person actually travelling, however in usual Buddhist fashion intention is of paramount importance and a critical precursor to action of any kind.

The cultivation of relative Bodhicitta is essential for fruitful Mahayana and Vajrayana practice and there are several methods. A method common to all four major lineages of Vajrayana Buddhism is to think that all beings have in past lives been ones kind and loving mother and as such we would not wish them to suffer. This is quite logical when one considers the Buddhist cosmological view of time being without beginning and sentient beings being limitless. Using this method one recalls the kindness of one’s mother in this life from pregnancy onwards, thinking how one was utterly reliant on her for survival and later development. The seemingly unconditional love with which she cared for one and the sacrifices she made for us should induce a sense of gratitude and love is generated one then expands this out to other beings, eventually without limit. According to the Nyingma master Dudjom Rinpoche:

"We should understand that the whole of space is pervaded by living beings; there is not one of them that has not been, at one time or another, our father or our mother. We should recognise that they have been out parents and feel gratitude towards them for the love and kindness they have shown us. We should also realise that all these beings, once our mothers, are sinking in the ocean of the sufferings of samsara"

At this point it is worth considering the nature of this compassion. What is it the nature of the suffering beings experience, which the aspiring Bodhisattvas are generating compassion for?

Always Suffering.

Buddhism teaches Dukkha, translated as suffering, pain or unsatisfactoriness as the first of the Four Noble Truths. In the Tibetan tradition the suffering of samsara is generally classified into three categories; the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change and the suffering of all conditioned existence. The suffering of suffering includes physical and mental pain in the form of sickness, ageing and death. The intensity of this type of suffering varies according to individual experience, but is said to be greater in the lower samsaric realms. The suffering of change is being separated from what you find pleasant and encountering that which you find unpleasant. This is a form of suffering experienced even by beings in higher realms, and one which human beings experience constantly in various forms. The third form of suffering is very subtle and known as all-pervasive suffering. It can be described as having everything, yet not being content. According to Gampopa only the spiritually mature with some degree of realisation can really understand this experientially. He likens the difference in how this suffering is experienced by an ordinary person and a spiritually mature person to the difference between feeling a hair in the palm of the hand compared to feeling it in the eye.

Understanding suffering is essential to the development of compassion and Bodhicitta, however simply doing so on an intellectual and abstract level is not sufficient, we have to actually realise it through personal experience, rather than simply accepting it because someone we respect, or want to been seen as respecting says it is thus.

"Compassion must start with seeing our own suffering. If it does not, then seeing the suffering of others will be merely conceptual. It will merely be a matter of having learned about suffering from a book or philosophy. We may intellectually know about the different types of suffering and so forth, but without inward reflection, our understanding will always be a theoretical knowledge that is directed towards the outside. Starting from our own experience of suffering becomes most important for the practice of open and genuine compassion"
- Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Once a practitioner has developed, or experienced, a certain level of compassion, he will then take the Bodhisattva vow and practice the six Bodhisattva perfections. Shantideva and Gampopa both present them in the following order: generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation and wisdom.

A fundamental concept in Buddhism is the doctrine of no self. It logically follows that seeking liberation purely for oneself is not going to lead to anything other than frustration. Analytical meditation and investigation leads to a greater confidence in there being no self and makes it easier to consider the happiness and welfare of others more readily.

Training the Mind.

There are several techniques for further developing compassion through meditation practice; one of the most popular is mind training (Tib. blo-sbyong). This system was brought to Tibet by Atisha (980-1054 CE) and is currently in use by all four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and is taught relatively openly. This form of mind training can be done through ‘formal’ sitting or in everyday situations. When doing the sitting meditation, the practitioner imagines that they are breathing in all the suffering, negative qualities and negative future experiences of others whilst breathing out all their own happiness and future experiences of happiness, their own positive qualities. In the everyday practice the idea is for the practitioner to mentally take on any negativity she encounters. For example if the practitioner is sick they should imagine the sickness purifying the negativities of others and willingly accept more. In this sense the practice also helps in the development of mindfulness as the practitioner has to constantly look at their own mental experiences and thoughts.

In chapter eight of the Bodhicaryavatara, Shantideva details a practice whereby one mentally exchanges place with others as a way to develop compassion and equanimity. This is done by imagining how a person one is interacting with is experiencing the situation, for example are they jealous of what the practitioner has in terms of personal qualities or material possessions. The practitioner is then able to identify with the suffering of others in quite an intimate way.

When it comes to Vajrayana practice, Bodhicitta is crucial as Vajrayana is very much Mahayana Buddhism and the practices would not work correctly without it. Refuge and Bodhicitta constitute the first section of the four special foundations, followed by Vajrasattva meditation, Mandala offering and Guru Yoga. These four special foundations form the major part of what is known as the preliminary practices (Tib. sngon 'gro) which are practices, with minor differences in all four main lineages of Tibetan Vajrayana. Bodhicitta is however included in all of the practices following it. Jamgon Kongtrul and Patrul Rinpoche both present the preliminaries in the order described here as it is the traditional way of doing so, however due to the nature of the Vajrayana teacher – student relationship, the order in which the practices are done may vary.

All deity practice liturgies start with taking refuge and generating Bodhicitta and depending on factors such as the elaborateness of the practice, time available to the practitioner and tradition there may also be various aspiration prayers of Bodhicitta included in the liturgical text. Bodhicitta is often covered in the generation stage (Tib. bskyed rim) by visualising light rays emanating from the deity removing the suffering of sentient beings throughout samsaric existence. In the practice instruction text, The Continuous Rain of Benefit to Beings, the 15th Gyalwa Karmapa Khakhyab Dorje describes this light like “the rays of the moon”. At this point it is worth pointing out that the exact details of this, varies between different deities, the lineage of transmission of that particular practice and how experienced the individual doing the practice is. Most teachers will emphasise this by giving more or less elaborate instructions on any given deity practice depending on the audience. A contemporary illustration of this point is Bokar Rinpoche’s book of instructions on the common meditation on Avaloketishvara, Chenrezig, Lord of Love, which gives several different instructions for this practice suitable for different levels of experience.

At the end of the meditation one comes to the completion stage (Tib. rdzogs rim). This is where the practitioner dissolves the visualisation and rests in the natural state of mind free from conceptual and dualistic thought, experiencing things as they are. Khakhyab Dorje describes it as follows:

"Rest evenly for as long as possible in the luminous emptiness free of any conception about the three spheres11 the clings to self and other, the deity and the mantra. Let go of all references towards fabricated attributes such as existence and nonexistence, “it is” and “it is not,” and emptiness and non-emptiness. Free of viewer and viewed, not differentiating appearance, sound, and awareness from emptiness, rest for as long as possible in the mind of the Noble One, the natural face of great all-pervading dharmadhatu"

Regarding how long one rests in this state, it depends on the experience of the practitioner and the context in which the practice is being done. If it is part of a group practice in retreat or a monastery it is not likely to be very long at all as the liturgy will carry one being chanted almost immediately. If however the practice is being done alone it might be longer, although when I presumptiously asked Gyalwa Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje about this he told me it was “very difficult” and as such not something that is specified to an exact time. When I asked Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche I was given a similar answer.

Ultimate Bodhicitta

This ‘natural state’ can also be called Ultimate Bodhicitta, or seeing things they way they actually are, even if it is a very momentary experience. Jamgon Kongtrul describes it as “essentially insight” which is what Enlightenment is often described as, simply seeing the way things actually are.

The way things are, is a key concept in Buddhism, and from the point of view of the Tibetan tradition it can generally be summed up as Shunyata (Tib. stong pa nyid), which is generally translated to emptiness. Emptiness in the context of Buddhist philosophy does not mean a nihilistic absence of anything, rather a lack of inherent independent existence of phenomena. Whilst the Heart Sutra and other Prajnaparamita literature states that form is emptiness and emptiness is form, it is important to note that form is still form and emptiness is still emptiness. So whilst the world may not exist the way most people experience it on the ultimate level, it is still very real on a relative level. One can say that relative truth is how conceptual and dualistic intelligence interprets the world, whereas ultimate reality, and consequently ultimate Bodhicitta, is interpreted as such by non-dualistic intelligence, although being non-dualistic there is no interpreter, process of interpretation or object of interpretation. The Buddha nature of all sentient beings as espoused in the Tathgatagarbha literature, such as Asanga’s The Changeless Nature not only relies on the doctrine of emptiness in order to become a logical possibility, but is inseparable from it.

According to the Tathgatagarbha doctrine Buddhahood is not something that comes from outside, it is in fact the true nature of all sentient beings trapped in the suffering of samsara. From the 3rd Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Dorje’s Aspiration of Mahamudra:

"The nature of all beings is at all times Buddha, but since they do not understand this they wander in endless samsara. May overwhelming compassion be born in me, towards those beings in such endless infinite suffering."

Here Rangjung Dorje is not talking about compassion such as one might have for someone experiencing physical or emotional pain or even the all pervasive suffering, rather it is compassion born out of the tragedy that the suffering is totally needless as the object of compassion does not have suffering as it’s true nature, rather the failure to recognise itself is the cause of its own suffering. The tragic irony of this situation is what causes this compassion overwhelming or unbearable. Once this compassion is stably present and there is a realization of emptiness it can be said to be a high level of realisation and one is firmly on the path to full realization.

As an aside it is worth pointing out that, in spite of what is often posted on the internet, Mahamudra (Tib. phyag rgya chen po) and Dzogchen (Tib. rdzogs pa chen po) are the same and somewhat synonymous with Buddhahood. Their approaches however are different and there are also different approaches within each of them, for example in Mahamudra there are sutra, tantra and so called essence approaches, the goal and result however is the same Rangjung Dorje points this out in his Aspiration for Mahamudra, particularly around verse 19. During a conversation with Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche I asked him about the relationship between Mahamudra and Bodhicitta, his response was that they were ‘inseparable’. Similarly according to the Eight Situpa, Nyinchay Situ Rinpoche, compassion in the context of Mahamudra is non referential.


Given the richness and diversity of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition it can sometimes seem like there is a lack of unity. However when it comes to the teachings and practices relating to Bodhicitta, there is consensus that to practice it is to be prized above all else, even tantric samaya, although it is so deeply woven into the practice of tantra than to think of the two as separate seems unthinkable in the context Vajrayana has, and is, being practiced in the Tibetan tradition. In most cases, damaging Bodhicitta would be seen as damaging samaya too. According to the previous Khunu Rinpoche:

"To give up supreme Bodhicitta in one’s heart is the heaviest amongst the downfalls. If the life power peters out, all the other sense powers stop functioning."

Given the sincere high regard given to Bodhicitta by the previous masters of Vajrayana in the Tibetan tradition, a few of whom have been referenced here, and the regard with which ever contemporary teacher of Vajrayana I have met or received teachings from, I can come to no conclusion other that Bodhicitta is the pinnacle of this particular Buddhist meditational tradition.

Perless Bodhicitta, lifeblood of the entire doctrine of the Buddhas of the three times, May is infuse the practice of all meditators and beings in general to the point where dualism and even conceiving of "I" is impossible.

Most of the above is from an essay I wrote in an academic context so there is unlikely to be anything of interest to practitioners of Dharma. Due to the way blogger works, I left out the footnotes, which were pretty poor, and the bibliography.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

’People gossip about me.
I am sorry for what I have done;
I have taken three thin steps
And landed myself in the tavern of my mistress’ - Tsangyang Gyatso.

People gossip about you, me and everyone else. It's inevitable.

How affected you are by it is however anything but inevitable. Yeah under the sway of the 8 worldly dharmas far too much weight is given to what people think and say about us, or worse, what we think they think and say about us. If these people are in the group we've at that time labeled friends then the whole thing takes on another level of perceived importance.

Amongst all the hypocrisy, delusion, pretense and samaya damage, what someone you'll never meet again thinks comes pretty low on the scale of importance. Perspective is a great thing if kept loosely.
There is a week of summer school left. Then a two week break before translator training starts. The two weeks will be spent studying and possibly a few days in retreat.

Today has mostly been spent talking Tibetan with two monk friends of mine from the time when I was living in D'sala. One of them is a Khenpo at Sherab Ling and the other is currently running Lama Wangdus monastery. Following recent meetings with various fake monks, Lamas and tulkus, it's awesome to be reminded that there are not only genuine practitioners out there, but genuine sangha.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Like most big buildings in Kathmandu, the one I live in has a lot of cockroaches in it. In our flat they seem to be mostly small and few in numbers, possibly due to the restaurants downstairs. The only really big on lives in the bathroom behind the shelving unit. It's usually not visible apart from late at night. Every time I see "him" I feel a sense of sadness, not due to the inevitability of taking such a birth myself in future, but just how sad he looks. People hate cockroaches in an excessive way. Every time I see him, I see every person who has ever been despised ever, and for whatever plethora of just or unjust reasons. And it's simply sad.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Part of my morning practice.

The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra

Composed by
The Lord Protector Rangjung Dorje
The Third Gyalwa Karmapa

Gurus and yidams, deities of the mandala,
Buddhas of the three times in the ten directions and your sons and daughters,
Please consider us with kindness and understanding, and
Grant your blessing that these aspirations may be accomplished exactly as we ask.

Sprung from the snow mountain of pure intentions and actions
Of myself and all sentient beings without limit,
May the river of accumulated virtue of the threefold purity
Flow into the ocean of the four bodies of the Victorious Ones.

So long as this is not accomplished,
Through all my lifetimes, birth upon birth,
May not even the words "evil deeds" and "suffering" be heard
And may we enjoy the splendour
and goodness of oceans of happiness and virtue.

Having obtained the supreme freedoms
and conjunctions of the precious human existence,
endowed with faith, energy, and intelligence,
Having attended on a worthy spiritual friend
and received the pith of the holy instructions,
May we practice these properly, just as we have received them,
without obstacle or interruption.
In all our lives, may we practice and enjoy the holy dharma.

Hearing and studying the scriptures and
reasonings free us from the obscuration of not knowing,
Contemplating the oral instructions disperses the darkness of doubt.
In the light born of meditation what is shines forth just as it is.
May the brightness of the three prajnas grow in power.

By understanding the meaning of the ground,
which is the two truths free from the extremes of eternalism and nihilism
And by practising the supreme path of the two accumulations,
free from the extremes of exaggeration and denial,
Is attained the fruit of well-being for oneself and others,
free from the extremes of samsara and nirvana.
May all beings meet the dharma which neither errs nor misleads.

The ground of purification is the mind itself,
indivisible cognitive clarity and emptiness.
That which purifies is the great vajra yoga of mahamudra.
What is to be purified are the adventitious,
temporary contaminations of confusion,
May the fruit of purification, the stainless dharmakaya, be manifest.

Resolving doubts about the ground brings conviction in the view.
Then keeping one's awareness unwavering in accordance with the view,
is the subtle pith of meditation.
Putting all aspects of meditation into practice is the supreme action.
The view, the meditation, the action--may there be confidence in these.

All phenomena are illusory displays of mind.
Mind is no mind--the mind's nature is empty of any entity that is mind
Being empty, it is unceasing and unimpeded,
manifesting as everything whatsoever.
Examining well, may all doubts about the ground be discerned and cut.

Naturally manifesting appearances, that never truly exist, are confused into objects. Spontaneous intelligence, under the power of ignorance, is confused into a self.
By the power of this dualistic fixation, beings wander in the realms of samsaric existence.
May ignorance, the root of confusion, he discovered and cut.

It is not existent--even the Victorious Ones do not see it.
It is not nonexistent--it is the basis of all samsara and nirvana.
This is not a contradiction, but the middle path of unity.
May the ultimate nature of phenomena, limitless mind beyond extremes, he realised.

If one says, "This is it," there is nothing to show.
If one says, "This is not it," there is nothing to deny.
The true nature of phenomena,
which transcends conceptual understanding, is unconditioned.
May conviction he gained in the ultimate, perfect truth.

Not realising it, one circles in the ocean of samsara.
If it is realised, buddha is not anything other.
It is completely devoid of any "This is it," or "This is not it."
May this simple secret, this ultimate essence of phenomena,
which is the basis of everything, be realised.

Appearance is mind and emptiness is mind.
Realisation is mind and confusion is mind.
Arising is mind and cessation is mind.
May all doubts about mind be resolved.

Not adulterating meditation with conceptual striving or mentally created meditation,
Unmoved by the winds of everyday busyness,
Knowing how to rest in the uncontrived, natural spontaneous flow,
May the practice of resting in mind's true nature be skilfully sustained.

The waves of subtle and coarse thoughts calm down by themselves in their own place,
And the unmoving waters of mind rest naturally.
Free from dullness, torpor, and, murkiness,
May the ocean of shamatha be unmoving and stable.

Looking again and again at the mind which cannot be looked at,
The meaning which cannot be seen is vividly seen, just as it is.
Thus cutting doubts about how it is or is not,
May the unconfused genuine self-nature he known by self-nature itself.

Looking at objects, the mind devoid of objects is seen;
Looking at mind, its empty nature devoid of mind is seen;
Looking at both of these, dualistic clinging is self-liberated.
May the nature of mind, the clear light nature of what is, be realised.

Free from mental fabrication, it is the great seal, mahamudra.
Free from extremes, it is the great middle way, madhyamika.
The consummation of everything, it is also called the great perfection, dzogchen.
May there be confidence that by understanding one,
the essential meaning of all is realised.

Great bliss free from attachment is unceasing.
Luminosity free from fixation on characteristics is unobscured.
Nonthought transcending conceptual mind is spontaneous presence.
May the effortless enjoyment of these experiences be continuous.

Longing for good and clinging to experiences are self-liberated.
Negative thoughts and confusion purify naturally in ultimate space.
In ordinary mind there is no rejecting and accepting, loss and gain.
May simplicity, the truth of the ultimate essence of everything, be realised.

The true nature of beings is always buddha.
Not realising that, they wander in endless samsara.
For the boundless suffering of sentient beings
May unbearable compassion be conceived in our being.

When the energy of unbearable compassion is unceasing,
In expressions of loving kindness,
the truth of its essential emptiness is nakedly clear.
This unity is the supreme unerring path.
Inseparable from it, may we meditate day and night.

By the power of meditation arise the eyes and supernormal perceptions,
Sentient beings are ripened and buddha fields are perfectly purified,
The aspirations that accomplish the qualities of a buddha are fulfilled.
By bringing these three to utmost fruition-fulfilling,
ripening and purifying-may utmost buddhahood be manifest.

By the power of the compassion of the Victorious Ones of the ten directions
and their sons and daughters,
And by the power of all the pure virtue that exists,
May the pure aspirations of myself and all sentient beings
Be accomplished exactly as we wish.