7. The special methods of the Tantra or Mantrayana
The text says:
In the Mantra approach, with its many methods and few austerities,
A person of sharp faculties and high intelligence
May gather the two accumulations during all activities
And never do even a trace of anything meaningless.
This is not, however, the sphere of activity of a fool with mistaken view.
With little attachment to the reality of whatever arises,
Deeply rooted devotion and belief in the path of methods,
And tenacity in pursuing the significance of the goal,
Ordinary and supreme mastery will come quicker than a summoned guest.
These are usually counted as the three main distinctive qualities of the Vajrayana practice: it has many methods, it is easy, it is for very intelligent and disciplined people.
Vajrayana is not just working hard and banging one’s head on a wall but it is all about using skilful means. In the Vajrayana, the methods and the way you work with them are the main thing. We apply the methods directly on and within our experiences. Our experiences are made of reactions to three things: forms, sounds and thoughts. The form is the grossest and strongest aspect and it is a very important part of our way of reacting because form, size, substance, colours are the first things that we notice. Sounds come next and thoughts, emotions, feelings are the most subtle. In the Vajrayana, we mainly work on these three levels of form, sound and mental activities to transform our usual, ordinary reactions in slightly more enlightened ones. When we understand the purpose and meaning of the different methods, it makes practice easy and light. However, as the practice is mainly at the mental level, a great mental discipline and sharpness are required. We need great intelligence (the capacity to understand) but also trust and openness. This is what is expressed by ‘deeply rooted devotion and belief in the path of methods’. Without trust and openness, we won’t be able to properly use these methods. If we have them, then we can swiftly accumulate merits and wisdom, that is, get rid of the negative, accumulate the positive and see the truth. And this can be applied at every level, during all activities, so that nothing we do is meaningless. Everything can be used, every part of our life, every activity. This means we can accumulate merit all the time and progress very swiftly. Of course, the important factor is to have the right view, the right perspective.
If we have mistaken views, if we are too narrow-minded, if we have the tendency to think that whatever comes out of the ordinary is impossible, then we won’t achieve anything. That’s why it is said that we need to be very open and have some capacity to do things that are not usually thought to be possible. Actually, there’s nothing that is impossible.
A story comes to my mind. It’s a modern story that I like very much. It’s the story of a very creative and intelligent man who was living in a village somewhere in Europe. In that same village, the richest and most successful family had a very handsome, intelligent and well-educated son. He was the heartthrob of all the young ladies in the area. This man went to see the rich father and offered him to find a good bride for his son in exchange of a large amount of money. The father asked the guy whether he was crazy. He was the richest man around, his son was the most intelligent and handsome young man in the whole area, every eligible girl was running after him, surely there was no need of paying someone for finding him a bride! He asked the guy to get out at once before he kicked him out. “Wait! Wait a second! What if I that girl is the daughter of the Rotschild family?” “Oh, in that case, maybe I will consider it!” The man then flew straight to New York and asked an interview with Mr. Rotschild. “Do you have a daughter?” “Yes, I have a daughter.” “If you give me this much – and he mentioned a very large amount – I’ll find a good husband for your daughter.” “Are you crazy? I’m one of the richest men in the world and my daughter is not only rich, but she’s also very beautiful and intelligent. All the eligible men in the world are just dying to marry her. And you are asking me to give you money to get a husband for my daughter?” “Please listen a second, what if your future son-in-law is the Vice President of the World Bank?” “Well, in that case, I might consider it.” The man then went to the World Bank to meet its President. “If you give me lots of money – and he named a huge amount – I’ll find you a very nice Vice President.” “What are you talking about? You must be completely mad. Everybody tries to become the Vice President of the World Bank! Why should I pay you to get me a Vice President? Everybody’s going to pay ME to become Vice President!” “What if he’s Mr Rotschild’s son-in-law?” “Oh, in that case, maybe I’ll reconsider it.” So that man got it all together and cashed a lot of money from all three sides.
Nothing’s impossible. This is the understanding from the Vajrayana point of view: if we can be open, if we have trust and correctly use the right methods on ourselves, then things can happen very quickly. That’s why it’s said that we need to have trust and confidence in ourselves, to be open and, of course, to practise these techniques. Then things can happen, we can obtain the two masteries or two siddhi. The ordinary and supreme masteries are accomplishments or attainments.
Ordinary accomplishments are what we would call supernatural powers: telepathy, clairvoyance, being able to perform miracles, to see things far and wide, to have mental control over matter and so on. They are by-products of an increased power of the mind. They are not considered as very important and we should not get attached to them. There is a story of a Hindu master – Ramakrishna I think – who was living in Calcutta near the Ganges. He used to walk over the water to cross the river. Some people were very impressed and asked him to teach them how to do the same. The master laughed and asked them why they wanted to waste years of their lives to learn something useless instead of just buying a boat! Sometimes people come to ask me to teach them the practice of Dzambala, the God of wealth, so that they may get rich. Wouldn’t it be wiser to engage in business? One poor man in Tibet was practising Dzambala all day and all night long. Once he had a vision of Dzambala and thought that he would at last get rich the next day. The next day, he went to the monastery, got a bowl of soup, came back, and nothing happened. He was very disappointed. He did his Dzambala practice all night and around dawn, Dzambala appeared. “What is this?”, he asked. “I was supposed to get the boon, and nothing happened?” And Dzambala answered: “Of course you got something! Didn’t you notice the big piece of meat in your soup yesterday?”
As to the supreme mastery, it is the realisation of the truth, the liberation from the samsaric state of mind. Actualising the complete wisdom in ourselves brings out undiluted, natural compassion. Wisdom and compassion come together and both are completely developed, completely manifested. That’s enlightenment, what we call the supreme siddha. So, both of these will come quicker than expected. If you send an invitation for dinner to a guest, he will come very quickly, even before the dinner. In the same way, it is said that if we are good in Vajrayana methods the two siddhis, ordinary and supreme, will come very quickly, even quicker than would an invited guest.
8. The two truths
This eighth point defines the view:
All phenomena are subsumed under the two truths:
The relative truth is true with respect to delusion,
And the absolute truth is true with respect to true nature.
The definition of ‘truth’ is that it is without deception.
If you know that the two truths are inseparable, like the moon in water,
Then the extinction of deluded appearances is close at hand.
In the view of Buddhism, all phenomena are included within the two truths: the relative and the ultimate. The relative truth is what we could call the ‘functional’ truth. Within this deluded, samsaric state of mind, whatever we find as workable, functional and true is called the relative truth. The ultimate truth is the real, actual nature of phenomena. Maybe we could say that the relative truth is ‘unnatural’ because it is very much coming out of our habitual tendencies, whereas the absolute truth is the natural way things are.
I would like to make an important remark here. The Buddhist approach is always from the point of view of our experience, not of the things out there. This is very different from the modern scientific approach that is always studying an objective world. Buddhists are talking about our mind, about our own consciousness. Even when we talk about a tree, we are discussing it from the point of view of how the tree appears in our consciousness. This is important to understand.
We experience the world as an “I” grasping at an object. But within the mind, this division, this split between a grasper and something grasped is not real. It appears without being really there and therefore has the quality of dreams. That’s the relative truth: what is true at the level of our experience, but cannot be found at an ultimate level when we analyze it.
Because the two truths are so fundamental and important, many things can be said about them. What appears is the relative truth and what actually is, is the absolute truth. It’s not that they are two different things. The way things appear to us, everything we see, hear, understand, that’s the relative truth because it’s how we see it. If we look deeply into it and see what they really are, that’s the absolute truth. The relative truth is not necessarily only the deluded aspect, there is the pure relative truth and the impure relative truth. Pure and impure are the way things appear to us, the deluded way we perceive them. But if we can see the real, absolute nature through the appearances, then there’s nothing pure or impure. There is nothing called the ultimate truth other than what we see when we see in depth, exactly the way it is. This is why it is said that we find the ultimate truth by examining the relative truth. When we are within our relative mind, one way to approach the ultimate truth is through analysing the way things really are, like for instance when we discuss emptiness, selflessness and interdependence. We look at the relative truth, at whatever appears to us, examine it, try to see how it is structured and what is its nature, analyse it in depth and what we find at the end of this investigation is the absolute truth. That’s one way of finding the ultimate truth.
Another way of finding the ultimate truth is to let our mind ‘be’ in its most natural state. If we know how to let our mind truly be in its un-contrived, natural state, then within that state, we look at how the relative truth appears, to directly see the ultimate truth through the relative truth. That’s the Mahamudra or the Dzogchen approach.
So there are two approaches. One is through analysis: we look at each thing, going deeper and deeper, to find its ultimate nature and we then let our mind be in that. The other way is to get instructions on how to let ourselves completely be in a totally natural state and through that, see how the relative truths appear. This is said here:
If you know that the two truths are inseparable, like the moon in water, then the extinction of deluded appearance is close at hand.
If you see the two truths as inseparable, ‘like the moon in water’, that is, not as two completely separate truths having nothing to do with each other, it means that you see the ultimate truth as the nature of the relative truth. The example of the moon in water is one of the twelve different illustrations traditionally given, each illustrating different aspects of the relative or the absolute truths. In this case, when you look at the reflection of the moon, you know that there is no moon in the water, nevertheless you can really see it there. In the same way, all the phenomena that we perceive, including ourselves, are a little bit like the moon in the water. This is the philosophy or the view of interdependence and emptiness. It is very important in Buddhism, because it is what leads us to see the actual nature of things. At the moment we have a very solid perception of things. Whatever we see, hear or experience, we perceive it as very real, as existing in an absolutely solid way, which brings delusion and causes us to react in the samsaric way. Things lose this solidity when we see their nature as, for instance, when we see their interdependence.
I feel it is sometimes easier to understand interdependence than to talk about emptiness, though it is exactly the same thing. Interdependence means that everything, including ourselves, what we call ‘me’, is made of many things. Nothing exists as a solid and completely homogeneous block. Of course, to accept things on authority is not the best way to come to a conclusion. Each of us has to genuinely and honestly reflect, analyse and find out for her/himself how things really are. But in a teaching like this, we have no time to go through the whole process. We have to talk about it and jump to the conclusion. To give a general idea of what we should discover at the end of our investigation, we have to find out that anything that we can think of, anything that we can point to, any object that we can take hold of, has many parts, is made of and caused by many things, and that, therefore, there’s nothing which is absolutely independent, which is not changing and not affected by other things. This means that everything we can think of, inside or outside our own mind, all phenomena, are interdependent, impermanent and compounded. The very nature of phenomena is interdependence, or what we call emptiness, because when we look at something and analyse it, we find nothing in the end. But even if we find nothing, still it is there, which is why things are said to be like a dream, a reflection or a bubble. They are there, but while there, it’s as if they were made of nothing. That’s why it’s sometimes called emptiness. Nothing exists independently, without having anything to do with other things, without being made of and caused by many things. Emptiness, selflessness and interdependence are the nature of phenomena.
While it helps us a little bit, that conceptual understanding of the ultimate nature of things does not liberate us from the samsaric mind. We have to integrate this understanding into our experience, and when we actually, experientially, truly understand and see this interdependent, empty nature of things, then we are very close to the extinction of deluded appearances and our way of reacting will change. When things no longer appear to be so solid and so real, we become less passionate and emotional about them. We have less fear, because we find out that there is actually nothing to fear, nobody to fear for and nobody who is afraid. If there’s nothing in us that can actually be secured, then we can’t feel insecurity because what is there that could be harmed or destroyed? When we fully and deeply feel that, then the delusion, the way we react, has to change, which is why it’s always said, again and again, that this wisdom, seeing the truth, is what actually liberates us from the samsaric state of mind. The calming down meditation and all other practices are nice and very important stepping stones, but they are not liberating us. Buddhism always talks about interdependence, emptiness, and wisdom, because this is directly linked with our liberation.
9. The two paths to buddhahood.
We now come to the ninth and last point:
There is no doubt that both the provisional and definitive paths lead to buddhahood, but there are shorter and longer paths.
For instance, the destination may be a single place, such as Lhasa,
but you could either go on foot or by flying through the air.
As we have discussed before, there are many different paths. There is the Sutrayana, with the different schools of the Hinayana and Mahayana, and the Vajrayana which also comprises different levels and paths. None of them is wrong but some may be quicker than others. The Vajrayana may be quicker if we have connections with it and can understand its methods. If we don’t understand exactly what the Vajrayana practice is about then it may not necessarily be quicker.
Even on the short path a person with meagre intelligence will not discover the distinctive wisdom, but will be left among the ordinary.
Disdaining the lower and unable to grasp the higher, talking of emptiness, such a person will neglect cause and effect, mouthing on about the view while in a state of self-deception.
It would be better to concentrate on the gradual path.
If emptiness becomes just a conceptual notion that we are unable to understand in an experiential way, we may just talk about it and neglect the very fundamental things like cause and effect, karma and ethics. Then it’s no use, we are not really practising. The persons who cannot fully understand how to practise the short path should rather concentrate on the gradual path, because then nothing much can go wrong. This doesn’t mean however that the higher path is necessarily more dangerous than the gradual path, it’s just a question of understanding.
We should be careful not to neglect the most fundamental things. Take the case of the Third Dodrupchen, a very high and learned lama of the 19th century. His Holiness the Dalai Lama admires him a lot and quotes from him all the time because he considers his writings on Vajrayana as the clearest and most authentic. Dodrupchen Rinpoche was a student of Patrul Rinpoche and used to teach Dzogchen and high practices. One day, after he had given a teaching on Dzogchen, he overheard the conversation of two students: “Oh, you know, in the ultimate reality, there’s nothing, no karma, no good, no bad, everything is OK. There’s nothing.” From that day onwards, Dodrupchen Rinpoche stopped teaching Dzogchen or any of those high subjects and only taught the basics. He thought that if teaching Dzogchen was leading some people to misunderstand it and disregard ethics and karma, it was useless.
When we say that there is nothing within the ultimate reality, that everything is interdependent, that everything is emptiness, it does not mean that nothing’s there at all. It’s not there in a way, but as long as we experience things in the samsaric way, we experience the effects of whatever we do and therefore, we have to be careful about that. Of course, if we understand it fully, from the Buddhist point of view, in the perspective of the absolute truth, there’s no good, no bad, no hell, no heaven, there’s no karma, there’s no self, and so there is no rebirth. But as long as we have not fully realised that and still react with aversion and attachment, there is hell and heaven, good and bad, karma and rebirth for us. Sometimes people wonder whether heaven and hell really exist. From the Buddhist point of view, what we see now is not really there, so from that point of view, there is no hell and no heaven. Nevertheless, we experience what is now around us and when we experience something, it is there in a way. When we understand this more deeply, then I think things are much clearer. It all depends on the way we perceive and react. Things are not totally solid and totally real, but as long as we perceive them as solid and real and react accordingly with aversion or attachment, for us, in our experience, things are real and solid, and therefore causes and effects are produced, they affect us and it goes on and on. Causes and effects stop only when we deeply understand and go beyond this whole process.
II. Meditation according to the Sutra
We now come to the second part of the second section, namely the general practice of meditation according to the Sutra approach.
In entering the path, there is both the Sutra approach and the Mantra approach, and there is a vast amount of methods for following them.
The omniscient one taught that to do no unvirtuous deeds whatsoever, to practise virtue, and to control one’s own mind summarises Sutra practice,
Buddhism has many schools that can broadly be categorized as belonging to Sutrayana or Mantrayana. Within the Sutrayana, we find the Shravakayana, the Pratyekabuddhayana and the Bodhisattvayana. Within the Vajrayana, we find different classes of Tantras: Kriya, Charya, Yoga, Annuttarayoga, and also the Father and Mother tantras, the Eight Lineages of practice, etc.
Many ways and paths were presented by the Buddha himself. As you know, this is also the basis of the Buddhist attitude of tolerance, because the Buddha himself said that different paths, different ways and methods are necessary for different individuals. Therefore, as a Buddhist, one cannot say that other methods or practices are completely wrong and of no benefit. As there are so many different paths, if we want to know the essence of the Buddha’s teachings, we usually define it like this, “Refrain from non virtuous deeds, practise virtue, and control your own mind.”
Digpa is translated here as negative, non virtuous deeds. From a Buddhist point of view, any action performed through body, speech or mind that brings about unpleasant results and suffering to ourselves and/or others is called a negative deed. It is also whatever we do when our mind is under the control of mind poisons, like anger, jealousy, pride, too much clinging or greed and the like. We are advised to avoid such negative deeds as much as possible.
Positive or virtuous deeds are whatever we do with a pure heart, a pure motivation, loving kindness, compassion, and that brings pleasant, nice results for ourselves and/or for others. We should do as many virtuous deeds as possible.
And then we should “Subdue the mind”, which means learning to control our own mind, to bring our wild mind completely under our control.
If we can do these three, we practise the Dharma according to the Sutra approach. Nothing else is needed, all is included in it.
III. Meditation according to the Tantra
Introduction: How to work on afflictive emotions
And meditation on the two stages of creation and completion summarises Mantra practice.
Mantra and Tantra are two words for the same thing. The Tantra practice has two stages, the creation stage and the completion stage, that encompass the whole of meditation according to the Tantra approach.
In order to practise these two stages, it is essential to know how to work on our afflictive emotions.
Since the mind is the root all phenomena, it is crucial to control it right from the start.
Doing recitation and visualisation practices without mental control could go on for lifetimes without resulting in enlightenment.
What is called “mental control” means controlling afflictive emotions.
Methods of controlling afflictive emotions can be subsumed into three: rejection, transformation, and recognition.
The main practice, meditation or whatever we call it, is working on our mind, on our emotions and especially our afflictive emotions, what we call kleshas in Sanskrit. There’s in fact nothing else to do. As we discussed in the beginning, how we react with aversion, attachment and ignorance and how we can transform this way of reacting, is our field of practice. If we don’t know how to work on that, then whatever practice we do is useless, even if it is supposed to be very high, very effective and strong. That’s why the text says, “Doing recitation and visualisation practices without mental control could go on for lifetimes without resulting in enlightenment.” This doesn’t mean that the practices are bad and inefficient, but they don’t give rise to the proper results because we cannot connect them with our actual life, with our way of reacting, with how our mind functions. We don’t direct the practices to where they need to go. We don’t use the methods to where they need to be applied, namely at controlling the afflictive emotions or mind poisons.
If we now consider all the Buddhist approaches, the methods for controlling or working on afflictive emotions fall roughly into the three categories mentioned here: rejection, transformation and recognition, which can be applied either separately or in one go, in one session, in one instant. The text briefly explains each approach.
1. Renouncing emotions according to the Sutrayana approach
Rejecting these emotions is the ordinary approach of the Sutras.
Desire is renounced through contemplation on repulsiveness, hatred through contemplation on love, and stupidity through meditation on interdependent relationship.
Pangwa is translated as ‘rejection’. I don’t know whether it’s the right word. Pangwa actually means to abandon or to renounce. The general Sutrayana way of working on negative emotions is to replace them with something else. If we feel too much attachment or too much desire, then we look at what is desired, and analyze whether that thing or that person is really worth dying for. We break it down into its parts and come to understand that there’s finally nothing so desirable in it and our attachment lessens. If we feel hatred, we develop loving kindness and compassion. Whatever negative emotion we fall pray to, we try to lessen it by generating its opposite. That’s the main understanding. We don’t allow the negative emotion to grow, gather strength and then take over. We shift our attention, our focus onto something else and we let the negative emotion die down as quickly as possible. That’s what is meant by the word translated here as ‘rejection’.
Some people told me, “I don’t believe in this method. When I was young my mother/father told me not to get angry, so I didn’t get angry. But now I have lots of problems because of this repressed anger.” I have been thinking about this, wondering whether anger really is something that your mother can just order you to stop and then you don’t get angry. If it was that simple, things would be very easy. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. I think these people simply didn’t show their anger. Something happened that made them angry and when their mother (or whoever) told them not to get angry, they didn’t bang the door, break the cups or knock somebody’s nose but still they were seething with anger. That’s not what we mean by ‘rejection’. From the Buddhist point of view, not to get angry means to replace anger, abandon it or let it go. Maybe ‘to let it go’ is a good description. When the anger - or whatever emotion - comes up, we don’t repress it, instead we acknowledge its presence and then reflect that if we let it become strong and take over, it will harm us and others. And we don’t need, we don’t want to cause trouble, pain and suffering to ourselves and to others. So we let it go. With that understanding as our background, we can shift our focus.
It is sometimes said that all we need to do in order to stop getting very angry, is to refrain from an immediate reaction and count from one to ten. Instead of focussing our attention on whatever negative thing just happened, on whatever makes us angry, we just count, and as our attention is diverted somewhere else, the continuum of getting angry is broken and we can regain control. In Buddhism we use different means, maybe a little stronger than counting one, two, three, but the idea is the same. If we know deep down that to let this emotion take over is not going to do us and others any good and if we have enough discipline, we can break its continuum in our mind, cut it off and focus on something else. Therefore our mind calms down, we can think things over and see the situation much more clearly. If we succeed to do this once or twice, we get the confidence that it is possible to work with our emotions. The more we’ll do it, the stronger this confidence will grow. Of course, sometimes it is not possible to stop emotions. In that case, we shouldn’t repress or keep them hidden, we can just let them come up and work on them afterwards.
There is also a sutra called the Definitive Vinaya, in which it is said that out of the three mind poisons, hatred is the most harmful. We have to work on it extremely quickly because there is absolutely nothing good in it for anybody, except that it is so gross and obvious that we can easily detect its presence and immediately counter it. Desire is a little less negative, there are even positive sides to it, but it’s more difficult to deal with. And ignorance, which is the basis of everything, is the most difficult poison to deal with because it’s very deeply rooted but it does not cause as much immediate harm as hatred and desire. Therefore we have to deal with it slowly and in depth. So we also have to take that into account.
2. Transforming emotions according to the Vajrayana tradition
The second approach is transformation.
The uncommon approach of Mantra is to transform afflictive emotions.
When desire arises, you meditate on Amitabha or a deity such as Heruka in union.
The desirous thought is transformed into the deity.
The other deluded emotions are treated in the same way.
This is called transformation of emotions in the Vajrayana way. We use the visualisation or creation stage to work on emotions. There are also different types of practices related to the Five Buddha Families or Five Wisdoms, which represent different emotions. For instance, desire corresponds to the Padma or Lotus Family, which is represented by Amitabha. When we visualise ourselves as a Heruka in union (the union of the male and female deities), we bring out our desire and expose it in the fullest way. However, instead of concentrating on desire itself, we let it take the form of Amitabha’s enlightened energy. So therefore, in a way, we don't own the desire, which is transformed into Amitabha. When we can do that, desire is no longer something that overtakes or overpowers us but it is transformed into the energy of what we call discriminating wisdom. We lose our identity and transform into an enlightened Buddha. Therefore, desire becomes the emotion of that enlightened being. When we no longer own the desire, we don't have to react with craving, attachment or rejection. All the other deluded emotions can be transmuted in the same way. We can transform anger into the deity. At the very moment we visualise the wrathful deity, there is no clinging or rejection from our side, no running away or after, we just let the anger become a deity. This is another way of transforming the negative emotions.
3. Understanding emotions according to the Mahamudra tradition
The third approach is recognition:
The exceptional approach is to recognise the true nature of afflictive emotions.
When thoughts of desire arise vividly, looking directly at their essence, they subside in themselves.
This is the dawning of the Great Seal, bliss and emptiness inseparable.
It is also called the pristine wisdom of discernment.
There has never been anything to reject, accept, or transform; everything is contained within mind.
Know that there is no other intention of Buddha than simply the uncontrived mind itself.
Looking at emotions and recognizing their nature is the highest and most effective way of dealing with them. Whatever emotion comes up, whether desire, hatred or any other, we just look back a little at that state of mind, and because we look back at the emotion itself, it naturally subsides.
The emotion subsides with all three methods. When we are using rejection, we don't let that emotion continue. We bring up something else and by so doing, we cut that trend in our mind. When we use the second method, transformation, it is the same. When we visualise the deity and become, for example, Amitabha who embodies the wisdom associated with desire, we concentrate on Amitabha and not on desire. By doing this, we have already applied the first method. On top of it, we have added something else by identifying with Amitabha. And when we use the third one, it encompasses the two previous ones. Usually, when an emotion arises, we always feel that it is coming from outside and we look outwards. Therefore, 'I'm angry' means ‘I'm angry at this person who did something really nasty’. So, when we look in, at our own mind, we cut off that trait to look outwards and go after the cause that triggered the emotion. On top of that, when we look at the nature of our mind, at the nature of anger, desire or whatever, we see that it’s just empty. We can't find anything solid there, any kind of totally self-existing thing.
When we learn how to just let ourselves relax and rest in that looking back at the angry, desirous or jealous mind, we discover the nature of emotions. To know the nature of emotions means to understand that whatever appears, it just comes and goes. Nothing in our experience ever remains, ever stays. Emotions come and go. It doesn't mean that once gone an emotion doesn't come back again. It will come back again and again, but it will also each time go away. To see the nature of mind is to discover that it’s nothing really solid and of one piece but just a fluid coming together of many constantly arising and disappearing elements. Our mind is a very strange thing. There is nothing we can hold on to and say 'This is it', nevertheless its manifestations arise all the time, sometimes good, sometimes not so good, emotions, thoughts, every different kind of things constantly coming and going.
When we understand this, we also realize that we don't need to treat emotions too seriously. There’s no need to worry and think, 'All this anger's coming up. This is not good! This is very bad! Oh, it's coming again!' Actually, the more we fear an emotion, the more we pay attention to it, the stronger it becomes. On the contrary, if we know that it's just momentary, that it will go as it came, if we can let ourselves almost relax in it, rest in it, then it doesn’t become something serious, it cannot control us. When we can let any kind of emotion, any kind of negative or positive thing come up and go away, we can say that we are capable of liberating ourselves, liberating our own emotions. This is often illustrated by the image of a snake tied into a knot that unravels itself without any help. We can allow our own emotions to liberate themselves in the same way and when we can do that, we no longer have anything to fear. It's sometimes compared to a thief entering an empty house. The thief can come in and go out, and nobody bothers because there is nothing to be taken away.
This is therefore a very important way of dealing with our emotions, identified with the 'dawning of the Great Seal, bliss and emptiness inseparable'. The Great Seal is the translation of Mahamudra. ‘Bliss and emptiness in union or inseparable’… We found that there's nothing solid, nothing totally self existing in emotions: that’s their empty nature. And once we have found that, there's no longer anything we need to run after or away from, which is bliss according to the Vajrayana. We call it blissful because it is beyond struggle. When we go beyond struggle, we find the greatest peace. So bliss and emptiness are inseparable in the experience of Mahamudra or the Great Seal.
This is also called the pristine wisdom of discernment. According to the previous transformation approach, we tried to imagine ourselves as Amitabha, who also embodies the wisdom of discernment. But when we actually look at our mind in this way, then that is the wisdom of discernment. The negative emotion itself is no longer negative and that is wisdom, what we call the pristine wisdom of discernment.
Therefore, when that happens, 'there has never been anything to reject nor to accept, nor to transform; everything is contained within mind.' This un-contrived, natural mind is what we call the nature of mind, the true nature, the Buddha nature. There are many different names but whatever the name you give it, that's it. We look at it momentarily. We look just at that moment, at that moment of whatever emotions, whatever thoughts or whatever is going on. We look at it, relax in that state, and then it is transformed. That's the natural state. We just let ourselves ‘be’ in that natural state.
4. Practising all 3 methods together according to the seven points of Gyalwa Yangön
The fourth approach is to practise the three previous ones in one and the same session:
There is a method for practicing all three of these approaches in one sitting, according to Gyalwa Yangön.
With thoughts of desire, for example, as soon as they arise think: "From now on until enlightenment I will do away with these ordinary thoughts of desire."
In this way, establish an attitude of rejection.
Gyalwa Yangön lived in the 13th century, and he used to do these three in one sitting practice that he divided in seven points.
The first one is to acknowledge that a negative emotion arises, remember that it is something that is going to harm us and harm other beings and decide never to let it completely control us. So we develop an attitude of rejection, a resolve not to let these negative emotions completely overcome us. This strong determination is the attitude developed as of the first step, the aspiration.
Then imagine that whatever ordinary disturbing thoughts of desire
are in the minds of all beings throughout space
causing unbearable experiences of suffering,
as well as the thoughts of desire causing obstacles to
the minds of spiritual guides who are practicing Dharma,
are all gathered into your own desire,
and the minds of all beings become free of desire.
This second point is similar to the Tonglen practice. We feel that our own desire magnetizes and attracts all the desire of other sentient beings throughout space, especially the desire in the minds of Dharma practitioners. We take onto our desire the desire of all other beings and by doing this, they are freed from it.
Then, thinking that by using these very thoughts of desire you will practice the two stages
in order to place all beings in the state of Vajradhara, . . .
The third point is the aspiration of bodhicitta. We resolve to use these thoughts of desire in order to practise the creation and completion stages and then bring all sentient beings to the state of Vajradhara. Vajradhara is the primordial Buddha. Vajra means indestructible, dhara means the one who holds. When we talk about a ‘primordial buddha’, it should be understood that we mean the state of reality, our primordial true state. Vajradhara is not only the name of one particular Buddha, it stands for the state of perfect enlightenment. Therefore, to become Vajradhara means to experience our own true state, to see things as they really are. We wish to use this desire as a path, and this is the aspiration of bodhicitta.
. . . meditate that you instantly become a Heruka such as Chakrasamvara,
masculine and feminine in union, with all the adornments.
When you identify your awareness with the masculine
and visualise the form of the feminine too intimately,
there is still the danger that the toxic affects of desire will resurface,
resulting initially in loss of vital energy and
ultimately in coming under the power of desire.
In general, it is inappropriate to pursue mundane thoughts
and afflictive emotions while meditating on a deity.
The fourth point is the creation stage, the transformation into the deity. Some details are given here, but mainly, we visualise ourselves as the deity or yidam and, within that state, transform the negative emotion. It is assumed that we have a yidam practice because the text is addressing someone who is practising the Creation and Completion stage. Here it is said that we become Chakrasamvara, who is one of the main yidams of the Kagyu tradition, but usually, one tries to select a yidam that belongs to the Buddha family related to one’s strongest negative emotion so as to directly work on that particular emotion. Here we are dealing with desire and desire is very much manifested in the sexual union of masculine and feminine. How does it work? When the emotion comes up, we visualise ourselves as the yidam and by so doing, the sequence of our involvement in that emotion is cut. Our mind enters a different sphere. Moreover, the elements of our visualisation are very symbolic and these symbols work on our habitual tendencies, our wrong perception of ourselves. From the Vajrayana point of view, all of us are enlightened beings, but as long as we don’t believe this, we can’t use all the capacities, the power and the qualities of an enlightened being. We don’t even know what these are. Therefore we first train to accept ourselves as enlightened beings through the visualisation, with the understanding that the enlightened quality, the buddha nature is already within us although we have not recognised it yet. We get free of our fixation on being a small, weak, limited, vulnerable little person. We become the great Chakrasamvara in union with its consort and we relax in that state, without rejecting or fighting the emotion because it no longer overpowers us. We are not struggling with anything. We let ourselves be, completely naturally. We are not afraid of what arises in our mind but we don’t get involved with it either. We are not indulging in desire or negative emotions. This is why the text warns that if we have a male energy, we shouldn’t focus too much on the female consort, and if we have a female energy, we shouldn’t focus too much on the male so as not to strengthen the desire energy. We concentrate on the purity that has transformed the desire, on the nature of the deity, instead of getting entangled in the desire or the act of desire itself.
Imagine that your root guru, magnificent and powerful,
is in your heart on a lotus and moon seat.
Pray sincerely again and again for the blessing that
the thoughts of desire that occur in your mind
arise as the pristine wisdom of discernment.
The fifth point is a kind of guru yoga. In Vajrayana, the guru yoga is used in many ways to generate devotion and bring more positive emotions into our mind stream. Points three, four and five belong to the second approach, the transformation. With point six we go on to the third approach, recognition:
Then look directly at your own mind
as the inseparability of the deity, the guru, and the emotion.
The meditation should be maintained from the time
the emotion arises just until it is resolved.
This is a very important technique. Usually, we think in a dualistic way. Thoughts and emotions arise in a continuous flow of consciousness and we feel, ‘this is my emotion’, ‘this is my thought’, ‘there is a ‘me’ doing all this’. If there is a thought, we assume that there must be a thinker. If there is an emotion, we assume that there must be a feeler. Buddhists call this the dualistic view. It is also expressed in the Western philosophy by Descartes’ assertion: ‘I think, therefore I am.’ However, if we look directly into this process, we can’t find an ego. Is the thought or emotion ‘me’ or not? Is there anything behind these arisings that could be pinpointed as ‘me’ or not? This has to be examined and clearly investigated. The conclusion, from the Buddhist point of view, is that this process of thoughts and emotions is what we designate as ‘I’. The ego is only an assumption based on a stream of thoughts and emotions. There is nothing called ‘I’ other that these thoughts and emotions. The dualistic view, this splitting of our experience, is what we call ignorance. Here we meditate and realize in an experiential, non-conceptual way that the deity, Chakrasamvara, is the enlightened state, that the guru is also the enlightened state, and that the emotion is the enlightened state as well. All these are inseparable as one.
And then the seventh point is the dedication.
Afterwards, do a prayer to perfectly dedicate the merit, such as
"By this virtue may the thoughts of desire of
all deluded sentient beings
and obstacles to the stages and paths of Dharma practitioners be eliminated,
and the bliss-emptiness of the Great Seal be actualised."
So these are the seven points.
Apply this kind of meditation to hatred and stupidity as well.
For pacifying hatred, it is especially effective to meditate on a deity.
There's a word missing in the translation. This last sentence should read: 'To pacify hatred it is especially effective to meditate on a peaceful deity'. Usually, it is said that to transform hatred, one should use a wrathful deity, but here it says that it is also effective to use a peaceful deity.
So this is Gyalwa Yangönpa's instruction on how to do a practice dealing with the negative emotions in one sitting by using all these methods and it can be done with any kind of strong emotion coming up.
Every morning, I start my daily practice by taking refuge and reciting the bodhisattva vows, but sometimes I feel a bit discouraged thinking of all the people who are practising and yet, there are still so many people suffering in samsara. It just seems endless.
Yes, that’s true. But we don’t know how many get liberated either! If I’m practising and I don’t see anybody getting liberated, that doesn’t mean that nobody is getting liberated. Who knows? Maybe lots of people are getting liberated. If I myself get liberated, maybe I’ll know. But of course, as I said before, it’s very important to understand that to get liberated is not easy. To expect to get liberated with doing only a little practice is not wise. If you understand and accept that it’s not easy, you will have more grounding and more courage. I think we can only do whatever we can, not more than that. If we have a good motivation and do whatever we can to contribute to others’ liberation and our own, that’s good. If we cannot make much of a contribution, that’s also good. There’s no hurry. Well, in a way, there is hurry, but what can we do? We can only do what is at our level. So it is important to be enthusiastic and diligent and there’s no need to become impatient, because impatience is a form of discouragement. We have to be careful. Enlightenment is not easy to achieve. It’s actually the most difficult thing in the world, because it’s what can put an end to all our problems. Liberating all sentient beings from samsara is indeed the highest Buddhist goal but, until we reach the capacity to do so, there are many good things we can do for ourselves and for others right now in our everyday life. If I’m doing something good for me and good for others, I’m leading a useful life. So then if it takes me one, a hundred, a thousand or countless lives to get liberated, it’s OK. What’s the hurry?
The Buddha said in one sutra: “Among four members of my sangha, there is always one who is an emanation of the Buddha.” So maybe there are many liberated people, who knows? But we can also interpret the Buddha’s words in the light of a Christian story I remember. Only three very old monks were left in a Catholic monastery where nobody ever came. Nobody visited, there were no new monks and the three old monks were very sad thinking that when they’d die, it would be finished. They were wondering why so few people were interested in religion and spirituality. One day, they heard about a hermit living nearby, who was supposed to be very wise. They went to see him, explained their problem and asked him whether he had any advice on how they could rejuvenate their monastery. The hermit looked at them, thought about the matter for some time and told them, “One of you three is actually the Messiah”, before going back into his cave. Father John thought that maybe Father Peter was the Messiah, because he was always so kind, had never been angry and was always trying to help others. Father Peter thought that maybe Father Paul was the Messiah, because he was so good, so efficient and competent, so humble and doing his daily practices so well. And Father Paul thought maybe Father John was the Messiah, because he was so intelligent and wise and nice. They became very respectful and nice to each other and the whole atmosphere changed. Once, people came to picnic in the garden of the monastery and they saw these three fathers who looked so special and nice. Soon, one came to the church, then two, then three, and slowly the church started to revive and flourish.
So maybe that’s what the Buddha meant.
One thing often happens to me. When I’m in a situation where there is some kind of conflict or some difficulties, if I just maintain a position as an observer or spectator and I don’t get involved in it, then I can more or less manage and control the situation. But usually the situation itself takes over and then I become involved. I lose perspective and detachment. Do you have any advice on how not to become involved? In theory, I understand what to do, but in the actual situation I become completely involved and overwhelmed by all the usually negative reactions.
That’s very good. Of course that’s why we first try to practise within the scope of meditation, in a peaceful and favourable situation. It’s the learning phase, the training process. First we will be able to develop the right attitude in meditation, when we are alone or when we are in a positive situation, but we won’t be able to do it in real conflict situations where we will get involved and fall into the trap. That’s why I said in the beginning that we should not think it would be easy. It won’t be easy. Our objective is to become able to react in the proper, in the really right way every time in all situations. When we can do that, then we have ‘done it’, we have finished our practice. But that is not the case yet! Therefore, what we try to do is to work on those situations in our mind first. We try to visualise the situations, to see how we react, and we try to react in a proper way and get used to that right approach. And then, when something happens and we actually get into the situation in our daily life, hopefully the right approach comes up quicker than usual. Sometimes, in the middle of being angry, we may suddenly remember: ‘Oh, it’s not really necessary to react this way,’ and instead of putting oil on the fire, we just shut up. That’s, I think, a good sign of progress. We remember. Of course, there are many different stages and sometimes we are overwhelmed by the emotions. But afterwards, we can sit down and reflect, ‘Oh, that was not useful. It’s not good to go on like this. There’s no need to go on fuelling these conflicts and problems, I have to stop it.’ Then we stop chewing on the problem and we let go of resentment. That’s a very important effect of our training. It’s not a problem if you still go through the emotions and react strongly with anger in situations of conflict, that’s OK. But then, when it is finished and you relax a little bit, you can give it up, you can forgive more easily, which is also, I think, a very good thing.
I personally find that our attitude is a most important element. We have conflicts all the time, they are bound to happen in our relationships with others. I think it is extremely important to understand that we are all samsaric beings. That’s the most basic thing. Maybe there are many ‘emanations’ amongst us - maybe one quarter of us are emanations, maybe…, but still all of us are samsaric beings with lots, lots, of problems, negative tendencies and habits, with lots of aversion, lots of attachment and greed, lots of selfishness, lots of ignorance. I am like that. Everybody is like that. We are not about to be enlightened. Maybe we have the Buddha Nature, but that Buddha Nature is not about to be fully revealed. That’s the first and most important thing to realise and to get used to when we are, for instance, caught within conflicts. With this understanding and attitude, we won’t expect everybody to be absolutely nice, kind and good. Actually, half of the problem lies in our own expectations. We always react to everything by relating and comparing with our own standards. So, if we expect everybody to be nice, kind and wise, we have a problem. We have a problem because not everybody is like that. Nobody is like that. But if we understand and accept that we are all samsaric beings with all these samsaric problems, then we will have fewer problems. We can even be positively surprised. If we expect our friends to be selfish, to easily get angry, to be prone to misunderstandings and negative feelings like greed, jealousy and so on, then if they show us some kindness, it will really come as a good surprise. With this understanding we will find it easier to deal with people and live nicely with them. I basically stress all the time that the most important thing for us to learn is how to live in harmony with others. We can never live without the others. Our whole life long we have to depend on each other. Even if I am in retreat in a remote place, somebody has to bring me food and whatever I need. I can’t be completely independent. I have to live with other people all the time, all my life - and maybe all my lives. If I have a next life, I can’t just be born out of flowers. Even Guru Rinpoche, who was born out of a lotus flower, had to be with other people!
When there is a conflict – there will be conflicts and, of course, conflicts are not good - if everybody gets involved and reacts in a negative way, it can only worsen and generate more confusion, which is pointless. Conflicts are a chain reaction. Somebody says or does something bad to me, then I get angry and I do something bad to this person, who gets even angrier and does something worse to me. And then my people get angry and do something bad to their people. Their people get angry and retaliate. This is the way conflict and wars start. Hatred begets hatred. It is not good for anybody. Somewhere we have to stop. We can’t go on like this for ever. It can go on forever if nobody stops it, so we have to stop somewhere, and the sooner the better. Even if I am the loser at that time, even if I am wronged, I am still actually the winner because I stopped the process and all its consequences. Everybody is a winner. So this is only one example, but it underlines the importance of that kind of attitude.
Of course, when you are at the height of your emotion, it may be hard to apply the techniques and have the right attitude, but if you often use this way of seeing, it will slowly develop. Also, when we have this right attitude from the start, we won’t overreact when confronted with an aggressive behaviour. I really think it helps.
I’m curious to know why some people gain very high realisations and attain the rainbow body, while other people with the same high realization don’t. Is it because they know different particular practices?
Yes, I think it may be the result of the way one practises, what kind of practices one does. But there are also many different factors, many different conditions. It is said for instance that a teacher who has students, never gets a rainbow body.
Is it because he wants to leave some relics for his students?
Not only, it also has to do with his connection with his students, with the fact that maybe all students cannot be perfect. It is usually said that if a Lama teaches, it is most likely that he will not be able to attain the rainbow body. This may be one reason, but it can also be due to different practices.
Is it not also due to the different capacities of people, because of past karma and things like this, as you said before?
Of course, whether you get enlightened quickly or not also depends on your previous karma and many other things. But the question here was why it is that two people with the same realisation may or may not get the rainbow body. Whether you realise enlightenment quicker or not is due to many reasons and depends on many things, but not necessarily on how long you have been practising. Once Milarepa was asked, “You have become such a great master and you have become enlightened so quickly in this very life, how comes? You must have been somebody very great in your past lifetime. You must be an emanation of a great Buddha or Bodhisattva. Please tell us, who you were in your past life?” Milarepa answered, “You must be thinking that you are praising me, but actually you are disregarding the Dharma. You imply that Dharma practice has no power on its own. I was nobody in my past life. I am nobody’s emanation. I did all this just in this very life.” That’s the strength of the Dharma. If you really practise, you can become enlightened.
Could you clarify the third of the seven point system, because I didn't understand very well what exactly happens in between the second point where all the desires of all sentient beings become your own desire, and the third point which is where you visualise yourself as the deity and make the transformation.
The third point is an aspiration to use desire and negative emotions as it is said here, 'Thinking that by using these very thoughts of desire you will practice the true stages in order to place all beings in the state of Vajradhara.' So that's the Bodhicitta, the aspiration of a Bodhisattva.
You have nicely described the character of a Shravaka, a Pratyekabuddha and a Mahayana practitioner. Could you also define the character of a Vajrayana practitioner or a Siddha?
A Vajrayana practitioner is the same as a Mahayana practitioner. Exactly the same. And on top of that it is said that he has more trust and devotion. I think also that a Vajrayana practitioner can be a little more adventurous because the practice of Vajrayana is very experiential. It's not through thinking or concepts. So, there's a need to plunge into it; you have to do it. You can't wonder, 'Will it work or will it not?' You can't do a Vajrayana practice like that. Of course, understanding is important, so as to know how to do the practice, but once you have some understanding then you have to just do it. If you only think about it, it won't work. You have to experience it. Everything in Vajrayana is experiential. Even visualisations are experiential. Sometimes people think the deities only belong to the Tibetan culture but this is not the Vajrayana way of thinking. The Vajrayana way is just doing it, experiencing it, and therefore culture is irrelevant because culture is at the level of understanding and communication. When you start wondering whether it is your culture or not, whether it is more this or more that, then you can't do it. At the experiential level, there is no culture, all beings are the same. You first need understanding, yes, but then, doing becomes more important.
But how can we prevent this kind of experiential thing to become a mental or an intellectual goal? Because even with these three methods, you present the third one as the most attractive, the easiest, the most profound and so we wish to practise this third one. But maybe we are not really experiencing the method and instead it becomes an idea, a wish, the thought of what we want to do. How can we avoid the danger of just following on a theoretical idea, not really having the experience?
There is always a risk of falling into a thought, a theoretical process, but nevertheless we have to dare. Of course, out of these three ways, the third is the most inclusive. It is supposed to be the highest but, when you practise it in the Vajrayana way, you don't think 'Maybe I become too theoretical. Maybe I'm not doing it correctly.' You just do it. If you fall into the trap of a theoretical idea, as soon as you notice it, you just try again. Most of the problems in the practice of Dharma befall those who think instead of practising. This is especially the case for Vajrayana. Those who don't practice but have theoretical ideas usually encounter problems. Those who actually do it have fewer problems.
My practice seems to conflict with my parental role. According to my practise, I should accept my children as they are, but at the same time I’m aware of the need to bring them up correctly, which might sometimes mean not to accept the way they are but instead to interfere and try to change them. Could you please advise me?
I think you misunderstand what acceptance means. Acceptance doesn't mean that you just let children do anything they want without correcting what needs to be improved. Acceptance means that you have to accept your children as they are, but that doesn't mean that you can't try to socialise and change them. Acceptance doesn't mean giving up. It means acknowledging: 'It's like this, that's a fact. But now what can I do to make it better?' Children are children, you can't expect them to behave like adults. They need to be educated, they may need some discipline too. And they also need to be loved. That is accepting the way things are. Then, on top of that, you have to think of the best way to bring them up. With some children, you can't too much say, 'Don't do this, don't do that!', because they will do the exact opposite. So you have to manoeuvre them in a more subtle manner. With others you have to be a little harder. Children are all very different and we have to be aware of that.
About this fourth method of transforming oneself into a deity, is it appropriate to transform oneself into Dorje Phurba?
Why not? In this kind of practice, it is said that whatever negative emotions we are dealing with, we transform into a deity of that family. Theoretically at least, each of us belongs to a different Buddha family according to his/her strongest mind poison. For instance, if my hatred is stronger, then I belong to the Vajra family. If my desire is stronger, I belong to the Padma family. We are supposed to work first on our strongest mind poison, although in a way they are all the same, they are related. So that's one thing. But then also, we can take as our deity yoga practice whatever deity we feel more connected with, for whom we have a certain liking. However, that doesn't mean that we can't do anything else. Today I can do Dorje Phurba, tomorrow Hayagriva, the next day Amitabha, because these deities are all actually, in a way, the same. It doesn't make much difference. What matters is to understand the exact meaning, the idea behind the deity yoga. It's not just imagining; it's a transformation. When you understand this a little bit, then you can transform into whatever deity you want to practice.
The right ideas on how to solve some daily problems often pop up during my sitting meditation practice. These thoughts are often very interesting, very useful and actually really very good. So I wonder what to do, should I sometimes stop the meditation to write them down so as not to forget them, or should I leave all them alone and just keep on meditating?
I think you can write them down. When we can relax our mind, it becomes really creative. If many creative thoughts come up, it means that your mind is relaxed, which is the sign you are doing a good meditation. it's OK to use them, it's very good. Why not? Otherwise you’ll forget. We forget very easily. At the end of the meditation, we think, 'I had some very nice ideas, what were they?', and we can't get them back. So you had better write them down.
1. The Creation Stage
1.1. How to practice the Creation and Completion meditations
The main meditation according to the Tantra is categorised into two points, or two parts, the Creation and Completion stages. The Creation stage is devised to purify the delusion, the negative states of our mind, whereas the Completion stage purifies even the concept of or the grasping at the deity. As long as there is grasping, it is causing the samsaric state. So we first purify the impurities and then we purify even the concept of purity. That's how it is presented:
Creation stage is mainly for undermining the deluded appearance of ordinary reality, and completion stage for undermining attachment to the reality of that creation stage itself.
The actualisation of Vajradhara in a single lifetime will not be achieved if creation and completion are separated.
Even though the unity of creation and completion is the profound approach,
until the movement of thoughts arises as meditation,
it is not the real practice of unity, so you should alternate their practice.
Contrived unity is a mental fabrication and should be abandoned.
This is the first point: how to integrate or alternate creation and completion. As we discussed previously, our main objective in order to get rid of the samsaric state of mind, in order to uproot the causes of our suffering, is to gain the full realisation of the wisdom, which means completely realising, actualizing what we really are and the way things really are. In the Vajrayana, this wisdom is mainly dealt with in the completion stage, where we try to be completely in the ultimate nature. Of course, to some extent, there are methods involved, which is why we talk about the true nature aspect, the emptiness part of it, or the clarity aspect, but actually, there's not much difference; it's the same.
In the creation stage, we find the different methods used to work on our habitual tendencies, which actually encompass the whole of our experience. When we think, ‘this is my body, this is me, this is all around me, this is like this, this is like that’, all these perceptions and ideas, all these experiences in our consciousness are our habitual tendencies. These habitual tendencies are so very strong, so very deeply rooted in us that we cannot think in any other way. For us, this is the reality. We cannot even conceive that there might be anything else, something other than what we see, what we hear, what we feel. These habitual tendencies, with which we have been experiencing the whole world, is based on our experiences in this life as well as in all our many previous ones. It is also rooted in our way of reacting with suffering to all the painful traumatic experiences we went through in the past. Our experiences are very much related to the traumatic events of the past.
The two most traumatic experiences are birth and death. They are therefore two of the main focuses of the Vajrayana practice. Birth and death are traumatic experiences because we undergo painful changes. We don't like pain, we don't like change. We don't like to lose things or to get into totally unknown situations, and therefore the process of dying and of being born are very painful. We fear any change coming because these painful experiences have become our reference point and therefore, it's very difficult for us to relax, to have confidence, not to react with aversion and attachment, because aversion and attachment are based on fear. Aversion is a fear of what we see as bad, as terrible. Attachment is just another side of aversion and fear. We cling to what we think could save us from something terrible happening to us. Behind attachment we find a history of fear. If we don’t work on these basic patterns, working on other things will be much more difficult. This is why in Vajrayana we try to work directly on these experiences through forms, sounds, and feelings, which are the three main aspects we relate to in our life. Form is the grossest, thoughts or feelings are more subtle and sounds are in between. They are of course all interrelated. In the creation stage, we work with form, sound and feeling through a series of exercises that transform the painful and negative experiences into more peaceful and even completely purified ones. We have such a solid view of what we are now, our impure perception is so deeply ingrained that it is very difficult for us to see ourselves in a different way. In order to break these habitual patterns, we visualise ourselves as different deities, seed syllables or symbols. Now I become nothing. Now I become a seed syllable. Now I become a symbol. Now I become lights. Now I become a being with many heads and hands. Now I dissolve into something else. Now I become a letter Hung as tiny as if it were written with one strand of hair. The next moment, I’m filling the whole of space.... This is how we loosen the straight jacket of our habitual tendencies. We loosen attachment to our impure vision of ourselves. We exercise to become more flexible and get rid of the fear of change, the fear of disappearing and becoming something different. What kind of deity we visualize is in fact not important, it’s not really the point. The point is the mental exercise.
To practice the creation and completion stages together is the objective. If we can do it simultaneously, it is very good, but we should not cheat ourselves. As it is not easy, we have to start by practising the two stages alternately.
1.2.1 The basis of purification
In the meditation of creation stage there are four aspects of which you should gain at least some understanding:
the basis of purification, that which is to be purified, that which purifies, and the result of purification.
The basis of purification is the eternal, non-composite realm of reality
that fully permeates all beings as the buddha nature.
Sentient beings thus also possess the qualities of the Body of Reality, such as the marks and signs,
that exist as an integral aspect of awareness: this is the basis for purification.
The realm of reality, Dharmata, is said here to be ‘eternal’ and ‘non-composite’. There have been lots of debates regarding these words. Should the Buddha nature be called eternal or non-eternal? This is an intellectual debate and maybe it’s not necessary to discuss this here but I’ll just say a few words to clarify this issue. We should understand that calling things permanent or impermanent are relative statements. Some say that if it is called eternal, it may be misunderstood for something that never changes, that is totally independent and really existing. But there’s nothing really there that never changes, so there’s no use saying it’s eternal. That’s one way of seeing. Others argue that if one says it’s not eternal, then one has to define it as impermanent, which means that it must be compounded and brings Buddha nature back at the level of any worldly, relative thing. However the true nature is an ultimate reality, not a relative thing. Therefore one cannot say that it is impermanent either. This is why many tantras and Shentong philosophers call the Buddha nature eternal and un-compounded. However that is only a way of describing with relative words and concepts what is beyond all concepts. The nature of things is just the way it is. As it is not a compounded, composite thing, it is described as unborn and eternal, but we should not understand it as a truly existing, unchanging ‘thing’. It is described here as 'eternal’ and ‘non-composite’ precisely because the way things are is not a ‘thing’. It’s beyond any notion of eternal or impermanent, composite or non-composite. It’s the realm of reality that permeates all beings as the Buddha nature.
So the basis of purification is the Buddha nature, or wisdom. When we are able to see it, then all the qualities of the Buddha are there. The difference between the samsaric and the enlightened state of mind is not in its basis but in how we perceive things. There's nothing to be gained, nothing to be lost, and the positive qualities of this reality, the clarity, the marks and signs of the Buddha, are an integral part of it. That is what is called the basis of the purification.
1.2.2 That which is to be purified
That which is to be purified is the incidental blemish of delusion arising from ignorance without beginning, which obscures this buddha nature.
An example would be the sun obscured by clouds, the sunshine is the capacity to manifest inherent qualities.
The clouds are incidental blemishes that could clear away.
Emotional and cognitive obscurations and those of meditative absorption are what is to be purified.
From the Buddhist point of view there is nothing in our true nature that has to be purified. Our true nature is already completely pure because it's the reality, it's ‘the way it is’. It can’t be either defiled or purified. The problem with us is that we don't perceive things just as they are. That's our delusion. Therefore, what we have to do is to clear this deluded view, the misunderstanding, the wrong concepts that we have accumulated. Once this darkness is cleared away, we get the result. This is sometimes illustrated by the example of the sun and the clouds. The sun is always there but sometimes clouds prevent us from being able to see it. When the clouds are cleared, then we can see the sun, but the sun itself has never been changed. Nothing has been done to it. It is as it always was. The ground and the result are exactly the same. Of course, examples only illustrate some aspects of the question, here namely the fact that the real nature is neither defiled nor affected by the delusion. Those who stand below the clouds experience the sun as veiled whereas actually the sun has never been covered by the clouds. In the same way, delusion is covering our vision, it veils our Buddha nature, which is not stained in any way by delusion. When we talk about these four things - the ground, what is to be purified, the methods of purification and the purified result, the result is the same as the ground, the only difference is in our own way of seeing it. The delusions that we have to purify are just temporary things. This is the main understanding from the Buddhist point of view. They are like clouds in the sky, coming and going without ever harming the sun. However, those who stand under the clouds cannot see the sun, and that is why it matters. That is why the temporary delusions have to be purified.
Another example sometimes given is a crystal ball rolled in the dirt. If a crystal ball falls in the mud, we just see a muddy object. But if we clean the dirt, then the crystal shines perfectly pure and brilliant, because the mud doesn't get into the crystal ball, it stays outside. So that's how the process of purification is supposed to take place and that's why it is said here that what has to be purified, the basis of purification, is already enlightened, is already the Buddha nature, 'the eternal non-composite realm of reality'.
These ‘incidental blemishes’ that are not part of our Buddha nature come up out of ignorance 'without beginning'. If we try to find out when it started, we cannot pinpoint a beginning. The reason why there is no beginning is because, from the Buddhist point of view, - and sometimes this is difficult to understand - delusion has never truly existed. How can anything that has no true existence have a beginning? It cannot be found. It is said that someone who becomes enlightened will not think 'Oh, before this I had never been enlightened but now I have become enlightened, how nice!' Instead, this person would say: 'Oh, I have always been enlightened, why didn't I know it?' He/she finds out that there has never actually been any delusion. Delusion is just a delusion and therefore there cannot be a beginning to this delusion because delusion has no real existence. But of course, as long as we are deluded, for us, it is very much there.
Emotional and cognitive obscurations and those of meditative absorptions are what is to be purified.” There are in short three things to be purified. What is translated here as ‘emotional obscurations’ are aversion, attachment, ignorance and all the subsequent mind poisons. The ‘cognitive obscurations’ are very subtle habitual tendencies, a very subtle grasping that urges us always to react by identifying things as 'this is it’, ‘this is not like that’, etc. In this commentary, it is explained as a view, a concept which has a certain grasping quality, like, for instance, seeing everything in terms of what we call the triplicity, or kor sum (‘kor gsum) in Tibetan, that is distinguishing a subject, an object and an action. That is what we call the cognitive obscuration. And then the obscurations of the meditative absorption are distraction and dullness. These can sometimes be included in the previous two, but here they appear as separate in order to emphasise their importance.
1.3 The four methods of purification
We now come to the third aspect that has to be understood, ‘that which purifies'. There are two parts to it, one at the level of creation and the other at the level of completion. First we talk about creation, because creation is what works on the experience of birth. Through the creation practice, we purify the experience of forms, sounds and feelings. The grossest, coarsest, has to be purified first.
Sometimes creation is also said to have two parts, generation and dissolution. Generation is working on the purification of the experience of birth and dissolution on the purification of the experience of death. The visualisations are meant to purify our present experiences in this life. The process involved in this generation or creation stage is also actually more important than the visualisation itself.
That which purifies are the many different form yogas,
such as the creation of the Five Actual Enlightening Factors,
the Four Vajras and the Three Rituals, which purify respectively,
womb-birth, egg-birth, and moisture-warmth-birth.
Miraculous birth is purified by the instantaneously complete creation.
Although scholars have applied many conflicting explanations, we could summarise in the knowledge that there is nothing really contradictory.
The aim of the form yogas is to purify the four types of birth, which are the birth from a womb, the birth from an egg, the birth from what we call moisture warmth, and the miraculous birth (spontaneous and instantaneous appearance). We usually experience our birth as a turbulent, traumatic and very painful event. It brings about lots of problems. You know that these days, psychologists and therapists try to relate the causes of our psychological problems to our childhood. From the Buddhist point of view, they are related to birth and death, which are the main causes of traumas. Birth is a very traumatic situation. We spend nine months in the womb, which is not always pleasant. Then we have to get out of it, which is even less pleasant both for the mother and for the child. So, there are lots of traumas involved and how we experience life now, how we react, is very much based on those traumatic moments. Therefore we try to work on these experiences in order to purify them by the practice of these meditations, appearing and disappearing in a very pleasant way. We can almost say that we use these exercises as a kind of therapy.
This is not necessarily exactly how a birth takes place. All the different stages may not be there and this training doesn’t have much to do with the physical process of birth. What is important is working from the point of view of what we experience and therefore it’s not necessary to have an exact correspondence. We are dealing with the big problem we have with going through changes. In order to get rid of our fear, we are going through lots of changes in a pure way as an exercise. And there are some less, some more and some very elaborate ways of generating or becoming a deity. Generally, it is also said to be related to the four different groups of Tantras, what we call Kriya, Charya, Yoga and Anuttarayoga Tantra. But we can’t exactly define it in that way either.
All the Vajrayana sadhanas are related to one of the four types of birth. We practise the creation either in the way of the womb-birth, the egg-birth, the warmth moisture-birth, or in the miraculous birth process. The womb-birth is the most complicated, whereas the others get progressively less and less elaborate.
1.3.1 Birth from the womb
The first, birth from the womb, is here described as the Five Actual Enlightening Factors. In Tibetan, it is ngön jang nga (mngon byang lnga), which is very difficult to translate. If we translate it literally, it doesn't have much meaning. Maybe it would be easier to understand if we translated it as ‘generating through the Five Wisdoms,’ or ‘purification through the Five Wisdoms’. Essentially, it is a process with successive stages.
When we visualise ourselves as a deity, then it's very good if we have a very clear understandingof the shunyata (emptiness), because it's a very important part of it. But even if we do not have this understanding, we can just think that everything is a vacuum, that everything dissolves, that there's nothing. And then, out of nothing, a moon disk appears. The moon disk is a flat disk that has the colour of the moon and is softly shining. It represents the father's seed. I don't know whether it's really relevant to mention it at this point, but each stage of the visualisation is related to one of the five Wisdoms. The moon disk represents the ‘mirror-like wisdom,’ me long yeshe. Then, on top of the moon disk appears a sun disk,representing the mother's essence, corresponding to the ‘wisdom of equality’, mnyam yeshe. Above them appears a seed syllable or sometimes a symbol, which represents the consciousness of the baby entering into the mother's and the father's essences. This purifies the mind and corresponds to the enlightened state of ‘discriminating wisdom’, sor tok yeshe (rsor rtog yeshe). Then this letter or symbol radiates lights that go up to all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and enlightened beings. When these rays are absorbed back into the seed syllable, they carry all the enlightened beings’ blessings. Again, it radiates lights that, this time, go to all the sentient beings and liberate them all before being absorbed back into the letter or symbol. These activities are maturing the baby’s body, they purify the development of the foetus. When we talk from the wisdom side, this purified state is the ‘all accomplishing wisdom’, ja drup yeshe (bya sgrub yeshe). Then, when these lights come back to the seed syllable or the symbol for the second time, it transforms into the full body of whatever deity we are visualising. That’s the moment when we are being born. This corresponds to the ‘wisdom of dharmadatu’, chö ying yeshe (chos dbying yeshe).
When we go again and again through this process of visualizing ourselves becoming the deity, we are purifying our painful and traumatic past experiences of birth, replacing it by a very enlightened, peaceful and purposeful experience of birth. As I have always said from the beginning, when we work on our experience, it has nothing to do with thinking: we go through the experience itself as a training. So when we become the deity, we feel we are the deity. We stop identifying with our usual selves because this karmic body is the basis on which we identify all our problems, negative experiences and weaknesses. When we become a deity, we no longer can identify with them. It is therefore necessary to visualise something pure, a pure being. And that pure being can be anything: what it is is not important. That's why there are a hundred thousand deities in the Buddhist pantheon. In fact, it's not really a pantheon of deities as such, they are just methods. It's not important what and how we visualise ourselves, but what matter is no longer to feel this poor little me with all its problems linked to the karmic body we have right now. We identify with a pure being and then, through this method, we purify our experiences. That's the understanding.
1.3.2 Birth from an egg
The next, birth from an egg, is purified by the Four Vajras. There are differences of opinion between different scholars about how these things relate to each other, but the Four Vajras are the Vajra of Mind, the Vajra of Speech, the Vajra of Body, and the Vajra of Wisdom.
The first one, the Mind Vajra, is meditation on emptiness. To purify the dying stage and the bardo, we should let our mind meditate or be in shunyata, emptiness, what is called the vajra mind. This is what we always do before we visualize ourselves as a deity. We always first say some mantras like ‘Om swabhava shuddha sarwa dharma swabhava shuddho ham’ and then we feel that everything is shunyata. The mantra brings up our understanding of emptiness. That is what is said to be the most effective way for purifying the process of dying, death and the bardo state.
And then, within that emptiness, within that space, we visualize or feel that a seed syllable appears. This purifies what is called the consciousness of the bardo being. There can be other elements according to different sadhanas but the main thing here is the seed syllable. That is what we call the ‘sung dorje’, the Speech Vajra, that purifies the consciousness at the moment of conception.
When that seed syllable transforms into the whole body of the deity, that’s what is called the Body Vajra. Its purpose is to purify our gross feeling of form and the development of the physical body.
After that, we visualise the mantra in our heart. After we are born, our five senses get into contact with their five objects. To visualise the mantra and its movement in our heart purifies the senses. That is called the Wisdom Vajra.
So within these four vajras, there is also a process of generating the deity. Of course, if you want to do it properly, you have to do it according to the sadhana, but this gives you a general idea.
1.3.3 Birth through heat and moisture
The third one, which purifies the birth through heat and moisture, has three stages that are called the three rituals or cho ga gsum. The first is called the ritual of the seed syllable and consists in visualising the seed syllable, working on the sound in order to purify the bardo being. The second is the ritual of the sign or symbol, which consists in the seed syllable transforming into a symbol, like a vajra, a sword, a lotus flower, etc. This works on the mind. And then the third stage is the completion ritual, which consists in visualising the whole body of the deity, the Vajra of the Body. These are the three rituals.
1.3.4 Miraculous birth
The fourth one is what we call the miraculous birth. We don’t have to go through any stages. We just say the mantra or Om, or Hung, and immediately, spontaneously, become the deity without going through any process.
There are many different commentaries, opinions and discussions on these different things, but actually it doesn’t really matter much. We always find slight differences in the different sadhanas. It’s not that one of these can only purify one type of birth or that all of them can purify all the different kinds of births. Basically, the purpose of all these creation stage practices is to work on and loosen our very solid and gross attachment to our present form, our identification with our karmic body or more accurately with the whole psycho-physical complex that we presently are. These mind exercises are said to be very powerful and important, because what we are is actually what we think we are. Our way of thinking, of seeing ourselves in different stages is therefore very important.
The creation stage is also very much a shamatha practice. As you know, all Buddhist meditations can be divided or categorised into two types of meditations, shamatha and vipashana. There’s no other type of meditation. The generation or creation stage and its visualisations are a form of shamatha meditation. Here, basically, our mind is concentrated and the clearer it is, the better. This is why many commentaries and instructions sometimes emphasize the importance of how clearly we can visualise, because the calmer our mind, the clearer it becomes.
But then, there are also different kinds of people. There are visual types of people who see things more clearly, whereas others hear or feel things more clearly. According to the type of people you belong to, it may be necessary in the beginning to approach the sadhanas in slightly different ways. If you are a visual type of person, you will be able to see the forms and to visualise very easily. If you are a feeling type of person, then it will maybe be easier for you to feel that you are in the enlightened state. And if you are a hearing kind of person, then maybe the mantra practice will appeal more to you. These may vary a little from person to person, but the main point is to develop a certain level of concentration without being too tense. To ‘concentrate’ here means that we relax and let things appear effortlessly. Usually, when we do these visualisations – and it’s also said somewhere in this book - we don’t have to forcefully create images with our mind, like building something by putting parts together. ‘The head is a little bit this way, so—the hand is a little down’, etc. We should let our mind be very open and very clear, just like a mirror, so that whatever we are visualising simply reflects on it. We just let things completely be. Sometimes it is easier to just look at one particular element, just let something appear in our mind, like an eye, a symbol, a letter, or maybe just a colour, and then let our mind rest on it. The main problem, whenever we talk about any practice, is that it is first presented in a global and perfect way, as it should be in ideal conditions. Then people feel that they have to do it just as described, right from the beginning, and if they can’t, they feel inadequate. But it may not be possible for us to do it perfectly right from the beginning, with complete clarity and everything. Practically, we have to start with very small things, sometimes maybe just with a letter, or maybe just a colour, just a light in front of us or something like that. We begin with something on which the mind can rest and focus a little. In this way, we can slowly, slowly increase the power of our mind, its concentration, clarity and stability. After a while, our mind will be able to create things in a very vivid way and it will have a great power, not only for visualisations but also later on, for instance to heal ourselves and others with these radiating lights. These all come from the power of mental concentration. The stronger it is, the more effective it becomes.
The text goes on explaining this in a little more detail:
From the initial meditation on the deity visualisation up to the dissolution,
each ritual has its own sequence, but to generalise:
the basis on which purification takes place is the Buddha nature itself;
As I already mentioned, we find slight differences in the various sadhanas but there are many similarities too. Most are actually quite similar. The understanding here is that the basis on which purification takes place is the Buddha nature itself, as we already discussed previously.
That which is purified is the delusion of the infant consciousness from the time it enters and is born
through the time of the intermediate state of death.
So, what is to be purified is our presently deluded mind and all its experiences right from conception to death.
There are different ritual sequences in the old and new traditions,
The Vajrayana in Tibet is usually categorised into the old and new traditions. This refers to the ‘old’ and ‘new’ translations. The Buddhist texts were first brought to Tibet from India and translated in the time of King Trisong Detsen and Guru Padmasambhava, Shantarakshita, Vimalamitra, Vairochana and many others. In the Samye monastery, there was a section called Darjur Beroling where all this translation work was done. Each text was translated by a team of one or two Indian pandits and a Tibetan translator. When they had completed one text, it would then go to another more experienced translator who would improve it. The Nyingma tradition is based on these ‘old translations’. After a period of decline, Buddhism was revived with the arrival of new teachers from India like Atisha Dipankara. Many Tibetans, like Marpa Lotsawa or Drönmi Lotsawa, also went to India where they studied different texts that they subsequently translated into Tibetan. This second wave of translations is considered to have started with the great translator Rinchen Zangpo. The schools of the new tradition (Sakya, Kagyu, Kadam, Gelug) are based on this second wave of translations.
but with respect to purifying the blemishes of deluded emotion they are the same.
It doesn’t make any difference. There are slight differences in how the rituals, the sadhanas, are organized, but their actual meaning remains the same.
For instance, for disease of the eyes one primarily uses a scalpel,
or orally administers cooling or warming substances for imbalances in heat or cold, the particular remedy depending on the kind of disease.
There are as many methods of purification as there are problems to be purified.
For the eyes, whether they are restored with instruments or healed with medicine,
for relieving the pain and suffering, it is the same,
Similarly, there are various ritual sequences in the new and old traditions,
but in so far as they all purify the thoughts of afflictive emotions, there is no difference.
I think most of this is not difficult to understand. It just illustrates the fact that there are many different and skilful ways of working on our minds, but all of them come to the same things.
I don’t understand very well the third type of birth - from humidity or warmth.
I don’t know. I mean, is there nothing like that? In the Buddhist texts, it is explained that many small insects are born in this way, through moisture and warmth, but some people told me that it’s not like that, that there is still an egg. But how does a flower or grass grow? They grow because of the sun or the warmth and the moisture.
Even in the case of plants, there is still a seed. Without a seed, no matter how much warmth and moisture, nothing will grow.
Yes, of course, but the seed without the moisture and warmth won’t produce any plant either.
When there’s no seed, is it a miraculous birth?
Then it’s miraculous, but the miraculous type of birth also, who knows whether it exists or not? All this doesn’t matter too much. It’s not that it has to be this way or that way. I think what matters here is the experience of going through the birth process in different ways, be it quicker or slower, more or less elaborate.
I wonder whether there is less suffering in the modern way of giving birth, like when there’s a Caesarean and anaesthetics.
Maybe. If I could choose, I would rather do it that way. I don’t know. Unless it affects the child. But anyway, even if the child is a little bit sleepy, that’s OK.
I’m studying astrology and I found out by comparing different birth charts that some aspects tell a little bit about the birth experience of that particular person. Then I discovered that these aspects or factors seemed also to relate to the experience of the mother, or even to her particular feelings, emotions or states of mind. Further studies gave me the confirmation that there is a kind of interrelationship between the experience of the child, according to astrological observations, and the experience of the mother. I wonder whether this also makes sense according to the Buddhist point of view.
I don’t know exactly, but sometimes it is said that, with certain children, a pregnant mother may feel very happy. It is written in certain Buddhist biographies that when this being was in his/her mother’s womb, the mother felt very light, relaxed and happy. It is usually considered that the child affects the mother’s mental state. With some children the mother becomes very tumultuous and with other children the mother is very peaceful. I don’t know whether it’s because of the specific child - because it is usually mentioned in order to suggest that the baby is very special - or because of other causes, I don’t know.
I would have seen things the other way round, that the mother’s mental state may also affect the experience of the child, in the womb but also especially at the moment of giving birth if she feels a lot of fear or very intense feelings.
Probably, yes. That is usually said. These are things that we don’t specifically find in Buddhist texts but that we find in medical teachings. In medicine we would find for instance that when the mother has lots of emotional problems it also affects the child in the womb.
Do these methods of purification also purify the karma or only the perception of reality?
It should purify the karma because karma is our perception, karma is the way we are, the way we react, that’s karma. From the Buddhist point of view, karma can be completely destroyed right now if we want, because if we develop complete wisdom, if we totally purify our perception, then the karma is no longer there. That’s the Buddhist way of seeing.
Anyway, don’t take all these things too seriously. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, but I think it is very important not to take things too seriously. Too seriously means things becoming heavy, tense, problematic. The Dharma, some understanding of the Dharma and its practice, should make things a little lighter, a little easier, a little bit more relaxed for us. Of all the Dharma practitioners I have seen, both in the East and the West, the really good Dharma practitioners are always people who are joyful. They take their life as quite easy and light, as not so serious. There may be some kind of seriousness - I mean they don't take things carelessly - but there’s a difference between being free of care and being completely uncaring, careless or lazy. And there is a kind of ease in the way they do things. They can be doing lots of things. It’s not that they don’t do anything. They can be very active, but whatever they do, they do it with a sense of freedom, a sense of spaciousness and lightness. So this has to be developed, whatever practices you are doing.
Is this a practice we do on our own or does it relate to a sadhana, like Chenrezig or Amitabha?
It’s usually related to a sadhana. A sadhana is this process put into words, it’s like a script for what is explained here.
Is there a different emphasis when the sadhana is practised in a group – such as clearing away obstacles – and when it is practised by an individual alone?
I don’t think you can say that there is a different emphasis when we practise alone or in a group. A different emphasis can be given in both cases. We find in sadhanas aspects that have not been discussed here so far, like the accumulation of merits and other activities. We could say that a sadhana is a whole life story experienced in a pure way and therefore it’s not only for birth and death, but also for a whole lifespan. If it is done properly and with understanding, the benefit is for all different purposes, not only to get rid of obstacles. Of course, it can be considered as a positive deed and we can pray and dedicate the benefits of this positive deed to a specific purpose, like clearing obstacles. Then it doesn’t matter whether we are doing a sadhana or any other kind of positive deed, it’s the same. But I think it’s not the fact that we practise it alone or in a group that changes the emphasis. From the Vajrayana point of view, doing it together with others is actually regarded as very important. It creates a good dam tsig or samaya, a good connection between the participants.
Do you think that these therapies we have nowadays that make us regress to the time of birth and even to the time previous birth may be useful in any way?
Maybe. I don’t know exactly, but most probably. It could be helpful. But from our point of view, the exercises of the creation stage are not supposed to work on particular incidents of this life. We are not supposed to remember a particular trauma and then work on it. That’s not the way. The Buddhist approach is to deal with general problems, not with specific ones. We try to cure not the various symptoms but the root-cause generating these symptoms. We use the experience of birth and death and all other experiences in order to revise our whole approach and start looking at life in a fresh way. How we usually feel is a question of habit. For instance, we can feel sad or fall in a bad mood very easily at any time. We don’t need any big reason to feel bad. On the contrary, we need something special happening to us in order to feel good, happy and joyful. I was wondering, why can’t we feel joyful without any reason? If we can feel bad just like that, we should be able to feel good just like that as well. That’s because of our habitual tendency. If we train in feeling more happy, we’ll be able to feel good with no need of a special reason for it. The more we train, the more at ease, relaxed, in harmony and joyful we will feel. We can become whatever we train to become. Therefore, if we also train to become pure, free, free from fear, full of loving compassion, that’s how we will slowly feel more and more. It’s all a question of habit. There’s nothing we cannot get used to through practice.
The main objective of the usual therapies is to try to bring a person back to normal, to help him/her become a normal person with aversion, attachment, and selfishness - just a normal person. This is not exactly the Buddhist goal. For example, I may have a problem with my mother or my father, or I may have had a problem in my childhood, but that’s not what we deal with. Of course we can deal with it, but we don’t focus on the problem itself, we try to see why we have any problem at all. Aversion, attachment, fear: these are the problems. The way we react: there lies the problem. So unless we do something about the way we react, even if we clear all the different problems we encountered in our lives, we will still go on encountering new ones, because our state of mind, our way of reacting will always create the same kind of problems. We have to go to the very root cause of these problems, not to the peripheral incidents. That’s the Buddhist way of working with problems.
Do these methods also help one gain a better rebirth in the future?
They are supposed to do that. It is usually said that if you are good at this creation stage, then you can be liberated in the bardo. When lights radiate, sounds roar and all kind of experiences manifest, it is said that if you realise at that time that whatever arises is not out there, but a manifestation of your own mind, and if you can transform and visualise yourself as the deity and the whole universe as a Pure Land, then you can be liberated. If you have the habit of doing this by practising the creation stage during your lifetime, then it is said that at it will be easy in the bardo, because at that time you won’t have a material or physical body and a mental body can be transformed more easily. If on top of this you have some understanding of the nature of mind and you can relax in it, then liberation will be very easy. Therefore this training is said to be very useful.
Very recently I met a young man in Europe who said that he had had a heart bypass operation. While he was under the anaesthetic, he experienced lots of things and immediately he thought, ‘Well, this is my own projection, there is nothing else, it’s my own mind.’ He came out of his anaesthesia smiling and relaxed with no breathing problem and his doctors were very surprised. They told him that people usually have lots of breathing problems after this operation because the surgeons have to insert various tubes in the throat, which causes people to struggle, which he hadn’t done at all.
From the Buddhist point of view, if you have fear, the fear brings aversion and clinging, and then everything goes wrong. But if you can see things without fear and without aversion, you can relax and then things become much easier. That’s the understanding. So, whether you get a better birth depends on how you react in that situation. Just as whatever you do most in this life comes up more strongly in your dreams, it will come up in the same way at the time of death. If you can have some understanding or even better, some experience of doing these visualisations and creating everything in a pure way, if you can remember and apply it, it may be very helpful in the bardo.
© Dr. Ringu Tulku