Fujisan's Kyareng

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Brief Introduction to Yoga Tantra

Teaching on Yoga Tantra
by Geshe Dorjee Damdul, Director of Tibet House
New Delhi, India

To understand Tantra practice, Arya Nagarjuna's work on Dharmadhatu and Arya Maitriya's Uttratantra are very helpful. Buddha had on various occasions taught Tantra like Shri Kalachakra, Shri Heruka, Shri Guhyasamaja, Shri Bhairava and so forth. It is the third turning of the wheel of Dharma by the Buddha which links the teaching on Sutra with the teachings on Tantra. The first stanza of Arya Nagarjuna's "In Praise of Dharmadhatu" said:

I bow to the Dharmadhatu
Which resides in every sentient being
But if they aren't aware of it
They circle through three realms.
Dharmadhatu, the Buddha nature is present in all of us. But we don't realize it as long as we remain as ordinary . We don't see the reality. So we see the distorted version of the reality under the sway of ignorance. With ignorance, we are in Samsara. The moment we see Dharmadhatu, wisdom is born in us; ignorance disappears; Samsara comes to an end.

What is Tantra, and what distinguish Tantra from Sutra? One of the distinctive features of Tantra is employment of subtle mind and subtle energy. Sutra is referred to as causal vehicle. It makes effort to understand the cause of full enlightenment and engage in the practice accordingly. In Tantra, it is more of taking the result into the path rather than the cause into the path. Grabbing the result directly and using that as path to achieve the result is the practice of Tantra. But Sutra is an indispensable foundation of Tantra. Without Sutra, Tantra makes no sense. Proper understanding of Emptiness and Bodhicitta is very important for Tantra.

In Sutra, there do exist teaching on the subtle mind, but there is no clear explanation about the subtle mind, such as the experience of subtle mind of people in sleeping and unconscious state or one who is dying. In Tantra, explanation is given in great detail and in precision in this regard inclusive of how to activate these subtle minds in normal waking state. In Sutra, when non-dual experience of emptiness is realized, it is the gross mind, not the subtle mind. As the experience of emptiness is a remedy to dispel ignorance, with the experience of emptiness at gross level of mind, only the gross ignorance is overcome, not the subtle ignorance. Sutra teaching does have meditation on gross and subtle mind as the object of meditation, but the mind realizing emptiness in Sutra is always on the gross level, including the non-dual wisdom of emptiness.

Buddhahood is within us, but it is obscured by two obscurations: afflictive obscuration and cognitive obscuration. There are many layers of obscuration all grounded on ignorance. These obscurations are also classified as gross and subtle. Obscurations at grosser level of mind can be  eliminated through the practice of Sutra. Tantra offers us the wisdom to overcome the obscurations both at gross and subtle level of mind. To achieve the subtle wisdom, not only of the object subtlety, but also the subject subtlety is unique of Tantra. This subtle mind has two elements, the facet of subtlety and the facet of wisdom. The facet of subtlety may not necessarily have anything to do with the wisdom, and vice versa. In Tantra practice, we have to merge the two through the activation of subtlest mind and the subtle wisdom.

Wisdom refers to the one whose apprehension of the object tallies with the reality, knowing the object in its subtlest form. It is the subtlest wisdom which realizes the subtlest reality, emptiness (Shunyata.) This emptiness is the objective clear light. And the subtlest of the mind is the subjective clear light. Now, we need to bring these clear lights into unity within one mind. The same mind should be the subtlest wisdom as well as the subtlest clear light mind. Tantra practice is to have the subtlest subjective clear light focused on the subtlest objective clear light.

There is no difference in objective clear light [emptiness] in Sutra and Tantra.  It is the same. Difference lies in the subjective mind with and without clear light. In Sutra, we don't find any means to activate the subjective clear light. In Tantra, it is mostly about activating this subjective clear light and then merging it with the objective clear light. Now, to activate this subjective clear light, there are many traditions like that of the innate primordial clear light as taught by Arya Nagarjuna and Acharya Chandrakirti, dZogchen tradition, Mahamudra, Meditation on channel and drops tradition etc. Through one of these genuine practices, subtlest subjective clear light is activated.

But with only subjective clear light realization without Bodhcitta push, it cannot move further and any further. There are many non-Buddhist Tantrics as well who have realized this subjective clear light. But they have not realized the intended subjective clear light because of lack of the spirit of unconditional love of Boddhicitta. Subjective clear light needs special powerful boost at higher level, this is ushered in by the force of Boddhicitta. The mind will not become subtler anymore at certain point without this great force.   

This subjective clear light, in order to be used as a remedy for the subtlest of mental defilements self-grasping ignorance pertaining to the clear light mind, subjective clear light should take the form of wisdom – the wisdom to see the reality, i.e. emptiness which is the objective clear light as described earlier. Without the realization of the objective clear light, the subjective clear light alone cannot serve as remedy to exterminate the subtlest of the mental defilements. With the realization of the objective clear light, but in the absence of Bodhicitta, one cannot fully untangle the knots of the six vital chakras in our body. For the subjective clear light to reach the subtlest level to be able to untangle these knots, one requires a very special and incredible force of Bodhicitta. The wisdom of emptiness and Bodhicitta are very important to push the subjective clear light to be able to remedy the subtlest of mental defilements.

Mental defilements have the element of ignorance, which has to be eliminated. Bodhicitta and objective clear light (emptiness) are very important to make the practice of Tantra effective and meaningful in realizing Buddhahood. As Bodhicitta and Emptiness are the highlights of Sutra practice, which is the ground and foundation for Tantra practice. As Arya Nagarjuna said in his work, "In Praise of Dharmadhatu", Buddhahood is to be sought within not without. It is within us; we only need to make effort to realize or see it. But it is obscured by our mental defilements. These mental defilements are exhibited through our body, speech and mind. They are contaminated and not pure. We need to cleanse or purify them. For this reason, in Tantra, there are special techniques for purifying them through series of stages. The stages are referred to as the isolation of  body , speech and mind.

Body isolation is the practice to isolate one's ordinary body to see the aspect of its divinity. Speech isolation is to see all the sounds in the light of Mantras of various deities. Mind isolation is to identify and meditate on our own mind as Dharmakaya.

The practice of Mantra breathing, channel and drops etc. are some important practices. There are three channels in our body running straight from the crown down to the secret point below the navel. Usually, we breath only through the two side channels. The central channel is not used. There are six chakras or knots on the central channel in our body: midbrow, crown, throat, heart, navel and the secret. Tantra practice here involves the use of central channel and untangle the knots to realize the subjective clear light, which reside at the heart's position. Mantra used here is: OM, AHH, HUM. Mantra is to be visualized and only mentally recited.

Sitting in a lotus position, we imagine a drop at our forehead, breath in with identifying the vibration of the breath as the sound of OM and feel the drop moving from our forehead to heart through crown. When it reaches the heart, imagine the drop abides while resonating with  vibration of the sound of AHH. As you breath out with the vibration of HUM sound, let the drop move back to the forehead. With this the wind or energy enters, abides and dissolves in the central channel. As the energy enters, abides and dissolves, subtle mind gets activated.

Mind is said to have five states:

1.       Mind of waking state
2.       Mind of sleep with dream
3.       Mind of deep sleep
4.       Mind in the state of faint
5.       Mind at the time of dying

Normally, we can experience the first two minds only. Through the practice of Tantra, we can experience all these states of mind and voluntarily activate the subtlest mind. Appearance of the subtle mind is in four phases: White appearance, red increase, black near attainment, and clear light.
In Sutra, we have Shamatha mediation as in Tantra. But the Shamatha meditation in Tantra is more sophisticated. When energy dissolves at the heart chakra, subtle mind is activated. Then we have to focus this mind on the subtlest reality of emptiness. This subtle mind is subjective clear light mind and the reality of emptiness is the objective clear light. When the unity of subjective clear light and objective clear light is achieved in its full form due to the dissolution of all the energies the way it happens at the time of death, one achieves example clear-light mind and as a result, illusory body is realized. This illusory body is the contaminated illusory body, because defilements still accompany it. But once you have achieved this contaminated illusory body, Buddhahood is guaranteed within this life.

In Sutra system, it takes three eons to accumulate merits to achieve Buddhahood. Whereas this illusory body brings to realization of Buddhahood for the individual in such a short time as a single lifetime. After the achievement of the defiled illusory body, although one has clear light, it is in the state of dual experience. Through further practice one reaches a stage where one achieves the mini clear light which is non-dual with emptiness. This is the fifth stage.

This mini clear light has the power to overcome all afflictions, both innate and acquired simultaneously. In Sutra system, acquired afflictions are eliminated first followed by the elimination of innate afflictions. It is analogous to dismantling a building piece by piece - Sutra, and dismantling it at one go by a powerful explosive - Tantra. The moment one achieves mini clear light, one becomes an Arhat according to Tantric system. According to Sutra, one has to reach the eighth Boddhisattva bhumi in order to become Arahat by following the Bodhisattva path.

The illusory body thus achieved through mini clear light becomes uncontaminated illusory body, which is the substantial cause of Dharmakaya,  Buddha's Truth Body. Whereas the mini clear light will be the substantial cause of Rupakaya.

In Sutra system, substantial cause for Dharmakaya is taught, but the substantial cause for Rupakaya is not presented as coherently as the concept of uncontaminated illusory body which is taught in Tantra system.  This initial stage of uncontaminated illusory body is known as the stage of the union. The completion stage of the Tantra can therefore be explained as follows:

1.       Body isolation
2.       Speech isolation
3.       Mind isolation
4.       Contaminated illusory body
5.       Meaning clear light
6.       Union
Union means the union of mini clear light, and the uncontaminated illusory body. Even after this union, one is still not Buddha. This union is known as the union of the learning stage. Through further practice, the union stage of no-more-learning is achieved which is final Buddhahood. This is how Buddhahood is achieved as explained in Buddhist Tantra system.

In Tantra practice, energy and mind is not seen as different. Sutra never accepts the oneness of entity of energy and mind. Mind seen from the point of view of travelling freely towards its object is referred to as energy. The ability of the mind to cognize things is awareness. So it is the same object which moves and knows things. Movement of the mind is energy and the element of cognizing  things is the awareness. The two are characteristics of the same object.

This is a brief note of what Geshe Dorjee Damdul la taught on Tantra at Tibet House in December 2014 in New Delhi. This is a lay student's summary note, error and misinterpretation is bound to be there. Serious students are requested to listen to the Geshe la's recorded tapes available at Tibet House, New Delhi. Revised on 28/11/2017