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Vajrayana Tantras

Subject: Vajrayana Tantras

        I decided to offer some of my own understanding on the role of  
practice within the realm of Vajrayana Buddhism.  This is in some ways  
inspired by the recent discussions regarding effort and its part in  
spirituality.  I find the on-going discussions very interesting.  I do not  
seek to explain other paths that I am not familiar with.  In fact, I do  
not dare claim that what I understand (and is about to write)perfectly  
mirrors the teachings of the masters of the Vajrayana tradition.  So, if  
there is any spiritual friend in this s.r.e group who has a better grasp  
of the Vajrayana tradition, please correct any mistakes that I might make  
        According to the Nyingmapa (the followers of the "early schools"  
in Tibet) masters, the Buddhist path can be divided into nine "vehicles."   
These nine vehicles are the sravakayana (traditionally considered as  
adherents of "Hinayana"), the pratyekayana ("solitary buddhas" - a rather  
vague category even in early Buddhism), the bodhisattvayana (adherents of  
the way that aspires for the enlightenment of all sentient beings and not  
only themselves - generally considered the Mahayana), carya tantra, kirya  
tantra, yoga tantra (three stages of tantra - might have confused the  
order of the first two tantras!), mahayoga tantra (sometimes known as  
"father-tantra" or "stage of generation"), anuyogatantra (known as  
mother-tantra or "stage of perfection") and atiyogatantra (or Dzog-chen).  
        Here, I will concern myself with the stages beginning with the  
tantras.  The three stages before the tantras are common to the Mahayana  
tradition but the tantras are the distinct stages pertaining to the  
Vajrayana.  In the lower tantras (i.e. carya, kriya and yoga) there is a  
very strong emphasis on ritual cleanliness, accuracy and other fine  
details in the practice.  This is especially true for the first stage.   
Here, a yogin utilizes rituals to effect a change in his own samsaric  
state.  The yogin meditates on emptiness and how from that emptiness  
arises the form of a deity and the deity is visualized in front or above  
the yogin showering blessings and powers on the yogin.  Through this, the  
yogin strives to purify himself.  In the next stage, there is less  
emphasis on the ritual and more on the mental visualization and this  
becomes increasingly true as one goes up the stages of tantra.  This is a  
very simplified explanation of the lower tantras.  But the point here is  
that we see an movement from the external to the internal.  
        Now we look at the three higher tantras (mahayoga, anuyoga and  
atiyoga).  In Mahayogatantra, the yogin visualizes himself as the deity.   
While in the lower tantras one does not visualize oneself as the deity  
itself but rather one is receiving the purificative powers and blessings  
of the diety, in the Mahayogatantra one sees oneself as deity.  This is a  
giant leap of view and faith.  In this stage, one must view all of one's  
activities in the "purified" way.  For example, it even get to such  
"mundane" subjects like going to the toilet.  A certain master once said  
that even when we are in the toilet, we should visualize ourselves as  
deity and as we empty our bowels we visualize how the impurities in our  
bodies are discharged and they in turn becomes pure nectar which benefits  
all suffering beings.  So, even the act of going to the toilet in used as  
a practice of compassion.  The same for all activities.  This is extremely  
difficult to do - maintaining the purity of view at all times.  Practice  
in the Mahayogatantra is extremely vigorous.  Some people go into years of  
retreat to practice this!
        In the Anuyogatantra stage, after being able to clearly see  
ourselves as deity at all times, we start working with the internal system  
itself - i.e. the inner channels, winds and drops.  This is when a yogin  
locates the exact points of the internal system in his body and works with  
them.  All stages of tantra needs the guidance a competent teacher - one  
who has recieved the transmission of blessings and views of the lineage as  
well as experienced in the practices.  The role of a teacher is even more  
important here.  One's visualization at this point has to be so clear that  
one can visualize all of the 72,000 channels and sub-channels in the  
internal system and work with them.  The masters warn that it is extremely  
dangerous even if some of the inner chakras are visualized slightly away  
from the actual place.  Traditional practitioners spend all their time for  
years in this kind of practice.  
        When we arrive at the Atiyoga or Dzog-chen, suddenly everything  
becomes so direct and simple - at least at the surface level.  In  
Dzog-chen, it is said that no practice at all is necessary.  Everything is  
perfect and empty right from the very beginning - there are no defilements  
to subtract and no virtues to add. The verse that best expresses the View  
of Dzog-chen is the Six Vajra Verses:

"Although apparent phenomena manifest as diversity
Yet this diversity is non-dual,
And all of the multiplicity of individual things that exist
None can be confined in a limited concept

Staying free from the trap of any attempt to say
"it's like this," or "like that,"
It becomes clear that alll manifested forms are aspects of the infinite  
And, indivisible from it, are self-perfected.

Seeing that everything is self-perfected from the very beginning,
 The disease of striving for any achivement is surrendered
And just remaining in the natural state, as it is,
The presence of non-dual contemplation continuously spontaneously arises" 
                    - translated by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.

>From reading the Dzog-chen materials, they seem to say that all we have to  
do is to be aware of the natural state.  There is no "practice" in  
Dzog-chen.  The Truth is pathless and cannot be approached.  There is  
nothing to practice for because there is no "goal" to gain since we are  
already self-perfected in the beginning.  It is the "effortless way."   
However, in the Dzog-chen tradition, the masters are very clear that they  
are far from advocating a way of life with no "practice."  According to  
"conservative" Dzog-chen masters, Dzog-chen should not even be disclosed  
publicly.  It should be kept a secret from those who are not ready for it.   
Their reason is because they can see the dangers that can arise from  
misunderstanding the Dzog-chen texts that teaches "no effort and no  
practice."  Because of the directness and simplicity of the Dzog-chen, it  
is easily misintrepreted.  In the worst cases, this misunderstanding might  
even lead to actions that create bad karma.  The whole teaching of law of  
karma might be negated wrongly by those who misunderstand the Dzog-chen  
teaching.  Since everything is "self-perfected" one can even kill others  
and still believe that that's fine.  Or one might be heavily plagued by  
anger and greed but pretend as if one is enlightened and further indulge  
in anger and greed.  Therefore, in the past, the Dzog-Chen lineage is not  
easily accesible to everyone - for fear of harming people who  
misunderstand it.  Dzog-chen was only disclosed to those who have spent  
almost all their lives in the difficult practices of other stages of  
tantras.  Even after Dzog-chen has been disclosed to a yogin, they are  
given very precise and careful instructions by their teachers how to truly  
practice the Dzog-chen path.  This stage of practice is the most simple  
and yet the most difficult path of all.  This is because if one is not  
doing something right in the other tantras, the mistake is more visible  
and clearer.  However, in Dzog-chen, yogins cannot so easily recognize  
their mistakes or misunderstandings.  Their mistakes are more subtle but  
at the same time more dangerous too!  Therefore, from the conventional  
point of view, Dzog-chen is far from an easy way.
        So, we can see that at least from Vajrayana's point of view,  
practice and effort is necessary.  But attachment to them is unnecessary  
and in fact must be transformed.  Negative energies within ourselves are  
not destroyed out of anger or suppressed out of ignorance.  Rather, they  
are to be transformed and liberated out of wisdom and compassion.  In some  
ways, it is true to say that the Path and the Goal are non-dual.  
        This is a very brief attempt to try to explain some of the  
Vajrayana teachings.  If I have wrongly presented anything, please correct  
me for others' as well as my own benefit.  If anyone is interested in  
reading more about this, pls e-mail me and I can refer you to better  
authorities on the Vajrayana path.  E-mail me - I am open to comments and  
corrections!  Meanwhile, be well, be happy.
|                                         | 
| Hun-yeow Lye                            |
|                          |

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