Tantra techniques (Vajrayana)
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Tantra techniques in Vajrayana Buddhism are techniques used to attain Buddhahood. Vajrayana partially relies on various tantric techniques rooted in scriptures such as tantras and various tantric commentaries and treatises. The most important aspect of the tantric path is to 'use the result as the Path'; which means that rather than placing full enlightenment as a goal far away in the future, one identifies with the indivisible three vajras that is, the enlightened body, speech and mind of a Buddha. The practitioner focusses on and identifies with the resultant buddha-form or 'meditation deity', the yidam (Tibetan) or (Sanskrit) 'ishtadevata'. In order to achieve this self-identification with the yidam, much symbolism, ritual and visualization is used in Buddhist tantric techniques. Tantra is defined as an inner realization that functions to prevent ordinary appearances and conceptions and to accomplish the four complete purities of a Buddha (environment, body, enjoyments and deeds)."
Secrecy is a cornerstone of tantric Buddhism, simply to avoid harming oneself and others by practicing without proper guidance. It is not even allowed to explain the full symbolism and psychology of the practice to the uninitiated, which can easily lead to misunderstanding and dismissal by the uninitiated. Tantric techniques may initially appear to consist of ritualistic nonsense; however, it should only be practiced on the basis of a thorough understanding of Buddhist philosophy and strictly following the traditions.Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama says:
Tantra is limited to persons whose compassion is so great that they cannot bear to spend unnecessary time in attaining Buddhahood, as they want to be a supreme source of help and happiness for others quickly.
Tantric techniques include:
- repetition of meditative spells (mantras) and incantations (dharanis),
- use of various yoga techniques such as Trul Khor, including breath control (Pranayama), yantra and the use of special hand positions (mudras)
- Ganachakra feasts with ritual consumption of meat and alcohol
- Paramita sadhana
- use of an extensive vocabulary of visual aids, such as cosmic mandala diagrams which teach and map pathways to spiritual enlightenment. Seed syllables in Tibetan and Lendza are also used.
- the use of ritual objects such as the vajra and bell (ghanta), phurba, hand drum (damaru), and many other symbolic tools and musical instruments
- use of specialized rituals rooted in Vajrayana cosmology and beliefs
- importance of a guru-disciple relationship, for example by ritual 'empowerments' or 'initiations' wherein the student obtains permission to practise a particular tantra.
- of high importance are the oral transmissions given by a tantric master. These teachings are only given personally from teacher to student and are secret, because they demand a certain maturity of the student. Otherwise they might have a negative effect. Such teachings describe certain aspects of the mind and how to attain them, realize them by certain practices that can be dangerous to one's health if not prepared thoroughly, as such states of mind are normally experienced at the time of death. A mature yogi 'dies' in the meditation and comes back again, experiencing all the levels of mind.
Deity yoga (Tibetan: lha'i rnal 'byor; Sanskrit: Devata-yoga) is the fundamental Vajrayana practice, generally involving a sadhana practice in which the practitioner visualizes themselves as the meditation Buddha or yidam of the sadhana. The purpose of Deity yoga is to bring the meditator to the realization that the deity and the practitioner are in essence the same, non-dual. The yidam generally appears in a mandala and the practitioner visualizes themself and their environment as the yidam and mandala of their Deity Yoga practice. This visualization method undermines a habitual belief that views of reality and self are solid and fixed, enabling the practitioner to purify spiritual obscurations (Sanskrit: klesha) and to practice compassion and wisdom simultaneously. Robert Beer describes the process:
Deity Yoga employs highly refined techniques of creative imagination, visualisation, and photism in order to self-identify with the divine form and qualities of a particular deity as the union of method or skilful means and wisdom. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, "In brief, the body of a Buddha is attained through meditating on it".
Visualisation in deity yoga
Representations of the deity, such as a statues, paintings (Tibetan:thangka), or mandalas, are often employed as an aid to visualization in both the Generation Stage (Tibetan: Kye-rim) and the Completion Stage (Tibetan: Dzog-rim) of Anuttarayoga Tantra. The mandalas are symbolic representations of sacred enclosures, sacred architecture that house and contain the uncontainable essence of a yidam. In the book, The World of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama describes a mandala: “This is the celestial mansion, the pure residence of the deity.”
The Guru or spiritual teacher, in Tibetan Buddhism generally the lama, is essential as a guide during tantric practice. Without the guru's example, blessings and grace, genuine progress is held to be impossible for all but the most keen and gifted. Many tantric texts qualify the Three Jewels of refuge thus: "Guru is Buddha, Guru is Dharma and Guru is Sangha" to reflect their importance for the disciple. In the Vajrayana the guru is considered even more compassionate and more potent than the Buddha because a direct relationship can be had with the guru. The Guru also appears in the 'Inner' refuge formulation of the Three Roots, the three foundations of tantric practice.
Guru yoga (or 'teacher practice') (Tibetan: bla ma'i rnal 'byor) is a practice that has many variations, but may be understood as a tantric devotional process where the practitioner unites their mindstream with the mindstream of the guru's Three Vajras. Guru yoga is akin to Deity yoga since the guru is engaged as the yidam, or meditational deity, a nirmanakaya manifestation of a Buddha. The process of guru yoga generally entails visualization of a refuge tree as an invocation of the lineage, with the root guru channelling the blessings of the refuge tree (and thus the entire lineage) to the practitioner. It might involve visualization of the guru above or in front of the practitioner. Guru yoga may also entail a liturgy or mantra such as the Prayer in Seven Lines (Tibetan: tshig bdun gsol 'debs), an evocation and invocation of Padmasambhava, though this is neither necessary nor mandatory.
Clear Light yoga
The yoga of Clear Light focusses on accessing the luminosity of the mindstream that is seen to be its essential nature. Practices often include aspects of dream yoga, including lucid dreaming. It is one of the six yogas of Naropa.
According to the Vajrayana tradition, at certain times when a person's mind is in a transitional state, or 'bardo', the various Vajrayana techniques can be particularly effective. Some of this states include during sex, death, meditation and dreaming and at other liminal states, the bodymind is in a very subtle state which can be used by advanced practitioners to transform the mindstream. According to the Vajrayana tradition it is possible to attain enlightenment in a single lifetime by practicing certain techniques.
Death yoga (or 'death practice') is another important aspect of Tantra techniques. Although it is called Death yoga, most of the practice actually happens during life. It is the accumulation of meditative practice that helps to prepare the practitioner for what they need to do at the time of death. At the time of death the mind is in a state (clear light) that can open the mind to enlightenment, when used very skillfully. It is said that masters like Lama Tsong Khapa used these techniques to achieve enlightenment during the death process. Actually, there are three stages at which it is possible to do this; at the end of the death process, during the bardo (or 'in between period') and during the process of rebirth. During these stages, the mind is in a very subtle state, and an advanced practitioner can use these natural states to make significant progress on the spiritual path. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is an important commentary for this kind of traditional practice.
This Death yoga should not be confused with normal meditation on death, which is a common practice within Buddhist traditions. In most non-tantra traditions it is done to reduce attachment and desire, and not to use the death process itself as a means to practice.
Tantric sadhana may include:
There is an aspect of sex in Highest Yoga Tantra practice which is both symbolic as well as descriptive of the practice of using sexual intercourse to transform one's sexual potential into a blissful consciousness directed towards achieving enlightenment. The purpose is to refrain from ejaculating and this is the most important part, as one should be able to control the winds and energies of one's body. It is also important for the consort to be as equally realised a practitioner as oneself. This practice is not a necessity to practise Vajrayana, as it is well known that Lama Tsong Khapa gained enlightenment without this practice.
It is important to remember that sexual practices in the Vajrayana context are very different from ordinary sexual activity. This is an extremely advanced practice and should only be performed once realisations of the path have been achieved. Some of the realisations include renunciation and bodhicitta, or the enlightened mind that is committed to attaining enlightenment for the sake of others. This is very different from ordinary sexual activity. Sexual symbolism is common in Vajrayana iconography, where it basically represents the union of wisdom and compassion or wisdom and method. This is of utmost importance as this shows that enlightenment can only be achieved through practising both wisdom and compassion.
According to some Tibetan authorities, the physical practice of sexual yoga is necessary at the highest level for the attainment of Buddhahood. The use of sexual yoga is highly regulated. It is only permitted after years of training. The physical practice of sexual yoga is extremely rare, and has been historically. A great majority of Tibetans believe that the only proper practice of tantric texts is metaphorically, not physically, in rituals and during meditative visualizations. The dominant Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism holds that sexual yoga as an actual physical practice is the only way to attain Buddhahood in one lifetime. The founder of the sect Tsongkhapa did not, according to tradition, engage in this practice, but instead attained complete enlightenment at the moment of death, that being according to this school the nearest possible without sexual yoga. The school also taught that they are only appropriate for the most elite practitioners, who had directly realized emptiness and who had unusually strong compassion. The next largest school in Tibet, the Nyingma, holds that this is not necessary to achieve Buddhahood in one lifetime.  The current de facto leader of the Gelug sect, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, holds that for ordained monks the practice should only be done as a visualization. Shingon, along with all non-tantric forms of Buddhism, does not recognize sexual yoga.
- ↑ Mahamudra Tantra: The Supreme Heart Jewel Nectar, page 19, Tharpa Publications (2005) ISBN 978-0-948006-93-7
- ↑ Tantric Grounds and Paths: How to Enter, Progress on, and Complete the Vajrayana Path, page 65, Tharpa Publications (1994) ISBN 978-0-948006-33-3
- ↑ quoted in p. 111 of Jeffrey Hopkins's Meditation on Emptiness, Wisdom Publication, 1996, ISBN 0861711106.
- ↑ Beer, Robert (2004). The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. Serindia Publications, Inc. ISBN 1932476105. p.142. Source:  (accessed: January 9, 2008)
- ↑ Rinpoche, Patrul (author); Brown, Kerry (ed.); and Sharma, Sima (ed.)(1994). The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Tibetan title: kunzang lama'i shelung). Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group. With a forward by the Dalai Lama. San Francisco, California, USA: HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN 0-06-066449-5 (cloth: alk. paper). P.416
- ↑ Rinpoche, Patrul (author); Brown, Kerry (ed.); and Sharma, Sima (ed.)(1994). The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Tibetan title: kunzang lama'i shelung). Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group. With a forward by the Dalai Lama. San Francisco, California, USA: HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN 0-06-066449-5 (cloth: alk. paper). P.442
- ↑ Luminous Emptiness. 2001. Francesca Fremantle. Boston: Shambala Publications. ISBN 1-57062-450-X
- ↑ There are numerous liminal states discussed in the Bardo literature.
- ↑ Arpaia, Joseph & D. Lobsang Rapgay (2004). Tibetan Wisdom for Modern Life. Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-1955-1.
- ↑ H. H. XIV Dalai Lama (1999). The Heart of the Buddha's Path. Thorsons. pp. 100–101. ISBN 0-7225-3932-0. "In Tibetan Buddhism, especially if you look at the iconography of the deities with their consorts, you can see a lot of very explicit sexual symbolism which often gives the wrong impression. Actually, in this case the sexual organ is utilized, but the energy movement which is taking place is, in the end, fully controlled. The energy should never be let out. This energy must be controlled and eventually returned to other parts of the body. What is required for a Tantric practitioner is to develop the capacity to utilize one's faculties of bliss and the blissful experiences which are specifically generated due to the flow of regenerative fluids within one's own energy channels. It is crucial to have the ability to protect oneself from the fault of emission. It is not just a purely ordinary sexual act."
- ↑ Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, page 781
- ↑ Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2000, page 142. 
- ↑ Thomas Laird, The Story of Tibet. Grove Press, 2006, page 81. 
- ↑ Thomas Laird, The Story of Tibet. Grove Press, 2006, page 82. 
- ↑ Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, page 781; the briefer statement in this article by Powers should be understood in the light of his fuller statement in his book Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, Snow Lion, 1995, pages 252f
- ↑ Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Volume One), page 216
- ↑ Thomas Laird, The Story of Tibet. Grove Press, 2006, page 82. 
- Pollock, Neal J. Practices Supporting Dzogchen – The Great Perfection of Tibetan Buddhism
- Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Tantric Grounds and Paths: How to Enter, Progress on, and Complete the Vajrayana Path, Tharpa Publications (1994) ISBN 978-0-948006-33-3
- Gyatso, Essence of Vajrayana: The Highest Yoga Tantra Practice of Heruka Body Mandala , Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN-13: 978-812081729