Introduction to
TANTRAS

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   Introduction      

Today's topic is an introduction to Tantra. It is extremely important to make a few things clear about the Tantra approach since it is nowadays a very wide-spread approach, but because of its depth, it leads to many misunderstandings.

  Tantrayana is quicker than Sutrayana

     Somehow it is understandable that Tantra has spread so much in the West because usually westerners like quick, instantaneous things. There is instant coffee, instant soup, instant noodles, ... Thus, it is normal that nowadays people are seeking for instantaneous enlightenment! Even though, clearly, it is not possible to reach enlightenment as quick as an instant coffee, but there are quicker ways than some others.
Within the Sutrayana it is said that in order to reach Enlightenment, it takes eons (kalpas), namely three. This may not mean much too you, but it is a long time. I think I have read somewhere that a small kalpa is 84.000 years - I don't know how long can be a big one (a mahakalpa), and here we are talking about three. On the other hand, it is claimed, that within the Tantrayana it is possible to reach enlightenment in one lifetime... which makes quite some difference.
     The sutra approach most of the time is to consider that the main root of the samsara are the wrong views, desire/attachment. The Sutrayana therefore asks to treat pleasure and desire as a poison. The approach of the Tantra is to say that some toxic plant could also be a very good medicine. The Tantra approach is to try to see where is the strongest energy within ourselves. Tantra will try to find this strongest source of energy, whereever it is, and to use this energy toward the goal. If we analyse a little bit our life, and if we analyse by what our mind is usually disturbed, it is clear that desire is our strongest energy. So, the Tantra will try to approach that big source of energy and will try to transform it.

  About using energies

     There can be a kind of apparent contradiction between what the Tantras say and what is usually admitted, because most of the religions, including Sutrayana Buddhism, preach to refrain from desires. Most of the time we can hear about rejecting all good times and refraining from every kind of pleasurable sensations and to see the body as a source of all poisons. While the Tantra will rather tend to analyse what is behind the pleasure, behind the desire, and will try to use it for its goal. Somehow the Tantrayana says that there is nothing bad about the pleasure by itself, but the source of the problems is coming from the grasping we usually have towards the pleasure. The main problem comes from the attachment we can develop, but not from the pleasure itself.
     We have to clearly understand at this point that the main motivation and the main basis for Tantra is Bodhicitta, the Awakening Mind. Even though the Tantric Path is known to be the quickest path and is known to bring quick results, we should not understand it the way that we can skip the usual preliminaries. It does not mean either that there is no need of any discipline or any patience. For whoever has not done enough preliminaries, enough purifications and enough accumulation of merits, the Tantrayana may be a difficult path instead of being the quickest one. For somebody who has not developed Bodhicitta well enough, the Tantrayana will be an empty path. The only good result we can get out of the tantric path is coming from the strong Bodhicitta motivation. To be clear, when we are talking about 'Bodhicitta', it is meant as the 'Awakening Mind' and not only in a frequent translation as 'compassion'.
     The core idea of the Awakening Mind is to become aware of the suffering of all sentient beings without exception, and this with a sense of equanimity which means that we hold all sentient equally dear. Bodhicitta is also something which goes together with non-attachment, in order to reach that state of equanimity. That's why some people might have thought sometimes that this is close to 'indifference', while it is of course completely the opposite; suddenly one's mind starts to care about each single sentient being in exactly the same way as we would care for the dearest person we have. As a prerequisite to Tantra, we have to meditate on our motivation and analyse it well enough.
     If we are looking at our daily life, and our past and actual way to react, we can easily see that we seek for happiness outside of ourselves. And so far, every time that we have been seeking outside of ourselves for an ultimate happiness, we have failed. We could have found some instant, some moment of happiness, but most of the time, there is more a feeling of insatisfaction. We do not get all that we expect from outside. The tantric path teaches that we all contain within ourselves all the energies that we need, and that we all do contain the male and female energies within ourselves. Most of the time, a male being seeks for the female energy outside of himself, and a female being seeks for the male energy outside of herself; and it brings much more insatisfaction than ultimate pleasure. Nevertheless, we spend a huge amount of energy and time into this external search, and the Tantra somehow seeks to use that strong energy in order to transform it. It does not mean at all that to practice Tantra is to indulge into pleasure! It is taught that it is much more the way how we are usually looking at the desires which is disturbing the clear perception we could have of the reality. It is the amount of projections which we all the time create and superpose on reality that brings us a lot of insatisfaction. We could therefore say that our insatisfaction is our 'syndrome of lack'. We lack a type of energy, we lack a type of experience which we therefore seek outside.

  Types of Tantra

     Within the Tantra we talk about four tantric classes: Kriya, Charya, Yoga, and Maha-Anuttarayoga:

Kriya Tantra - Purification - (bya gy):
It emphasizes rituals as very important. We see ourselves as being deluded, while the deity is worshipped as having all the power to impart to us.

Charya Tantra - Action - (ch gyu):
There is a more balanced emphazise on both meditative states and ritual observances. The Deity is seen as closer to us, and is understood to be no different from one's own Buddha-nature, or the nature of mind.

Anuyoga Tantra - Union - (jesu naljor gy):
The practitionner relies less and less on relative truth and aims more toward absolute truth. From here, one must have taken absolutely the Bodhisattva vows.
Its is explain how defilements and delusions can be transformed into wisdom, and therefore the delusions are an important material we have to deal with - instead of abandonning - as it can give rise to insight and wisdom if dealt in a proper way.

Maha-anuttarayoga - Supreme Union - (la-me chenpo'i gy):
It is the most difficult one to practice. From here, one must take the Tantric vows, and undertake some daily commitments (Samaya). The practitionner deal direclty with his/her conflicting emotions and delusions.

     We could as well devide the Highest Tantra in three, according to the 'poison' it will directly focus on. The Three Poisons (kleshas) being: Ignorance, Passion and Aggression. Though we shouldn't think one Tantra "lack" anything, it is only a matter of emphasis.

Father Tantra: practicing utilizing mainly aggression as the path, focusing on the Emptiness aspect of Buddhanature. Like Guhyasamaja and Yamantanka, as well as the practices of the illusory body and of dream yoga.

Mother Tantra: utilize mainly passion as the path, focusing on the luminosity aspect of Buddhanature. It includes Chakrasamvara, tummo (heat generation), and clear light yoga.

Non-dual Tantra: practicing equally passion and anger - counteracting Ignorance - with equal focus on the luminosity and Emptiness aspects of Buddhanature. Include Kalachakra, Hevajra and the yoga of Bardo.

  Union Tantra (AnuttarayogaTantra)

     So, from this point there are a few misunderstandings in the west, when we talk about "Union" Tantra, and the misunderstanding is even stronger when people look at some thangka paintings, the traditional esoteric paintings. There are clearly some people who mixed a little bit Tantra paintings with kamasutra representations. But Tantra paintings, when you see a male and female Buddha in union, have to be understood from a symbolic point of view. As it is said that the male energy represented on such a thangka is the great Bliss, and the female energy symbolized in such paintings is non-dual Wisdom, Emptiness. This has to be clear, because we can hear a lot of quite strange things sometimes, and we can read in some magazines some very weird Tantra training. But Tantra is by no way indulging into pleasure, Tantra is a way to use desire. It is compared sometimes to termites in the wood. Because the termites are actually using the wood, but at the same time, they are destroying the support. In the same way we could say that the tantric path uses the desire in order to reach the non-dual Wisdom, and once this non-dual Wisdom is realized, in return it burns the source of it, it destroys the desire by itself.

     The Tantra path is a way to transform our daily perception. It tries to fight against the usual underestimation that we tend to have about ourselves. It tries to strengthen one's motivation into the practice. It tells you that you have some desire and that you think you might not understand exactly what is Emptiness and such things, but still deep inside yourself you have the Buddha nature which is able to understand and which is able to transcend everything. The main mistake is to see our environment on an ordinary basis, to see it as all mistaken. Thus, Tantra is a step by step training for the transformation of our perceptions.

  The three bases

     We can say that in order to progress on the tantric path, we need to develop what we call the three main bases. The first is Renunciation; the second is Bodhicitta; and the third is Emptiness. We could say the these three bases are the same as developed in the Sutrayana. But the renunciation will be seen not as rejecting the source of pleasure, but as working on our perceptions and on our attachment to pleasure.
     When we talk about the illusory aspect of all phenomena around us, we tend to make the comparison with a dream. And we try to train ourselves in order to be able to see the various phenomena that we are encountering as unreal as a dream perception can be. Within the practice often you will meet autovisualization of ourselves as the Deity, as the Buddha. And it is emphasis on the fact that our deep, our transcendental nature is of the nature of a Buddha.

  Divine pride

     What is tried to be achieved is an identification with the Deity, with an archetype. And this archetype is the one of a Buddha, of somebody having full Enlightenment. Surely at the beginning of such a practice, we are doing it a bit artificially, but step by step we will deepen our belief in the autovisualization. And slowly, we will believe strongly that while doing this autovisualization, we are the Deity. And we are reaching now to a concept which is important in Tantra, which is 'divine pride'.
     Here again, it seems to be a little bit contradictory with what we usually hear about the practice, because it is often said that we should throw away any kind of pride from our consciousness. And here it seems that I am saying you should be proud. But the main difference is that most of the time the pride we generate is a pride towards the grasping of a self-identity, while in the Tantra, when we talk about divine pride, it is because we become proud to be the Buddha, to be the Deity, with all his/her qualities, not forgetting the point that your main, ground motivation is Bodhicitta. Thus, you are not developing a pride in order to gain something for your little self, but you develop the pride to be the Buddha, to be a fully enlightened being for the sake of all sentient beings, for being able to help.

  The abrupt path

     And at the same time, you will understand why, when we talk about Tantra, we call it as well the quickest path, but we may also call it an 'abrupt path', because an abrupt path will lead you quicker to the goal of the path, but if you fall, then the fall is also harder. Thus, the tantric path is indeed able to help us to reach the goal quicker, but if we do not follow with a very strong autodiscipline, precisely listening the advice of a fully qualified Master, then it may end in a disaster.

     When we are talking about using the power of desire, we can give here a kind of example. It is like when you see one person, one being which your mind describes as extremely beautiful and desirable, this launches in your mind a lot of desire toward that appearance. In front of such appearance and with the same amount of desire, the practice would be to mentally transform such an object into a rainbow. So, somehow you remain with that type of very strong energy, but you don't have anymore the first object of your desire, of your attachment. And keeping that same energy through a meditation, you transform that energy into a blissful state of mind.
By repeating such exercise a bit more developed, the mind will reach a much clearer state of bliss.

  The qualified master

     Two things are fundamental in order to practice Tantra: the first is to find the right teacher, the right guide, which will embody all the qualities of the Buddhas, and the second thing is that you get from that qualified teacher a tantric Initiation. The Initiation is fundamental in the sense that it brings a contact between our consciousness and an unbroken lineage of trans-mission from the Buddha to our consciousness. It is somehow to be considered as an activa-tion of our inner qualities. An Initiation does not bring anything into your mind else than a blessing to awaken you own Buddha qualities. An Initiation is not to be seen just as a ritual, as a sum of mouvements and funny phrases, but it has to be experienced from inside. One has to exactly follow the different steps of that Initiation and to keep always a clear identification of the master with the Deity from whom we receive the Initiation.
We could easily say that a mere intellectual understanding of the different steps of an Initiation is not enough at all, it really has to be something which we 'live' from inside, that we go through from inside, that we experience from inside. Why from inside? Because within ourselves there are some specific components which have to be activated, which have to be switched on through the power of the Initiation and through the power of our visualisations. Within our physical body we have something more subtle which we call the 'Vajra body', which is composed of thousands of channels and subtle energies. In the ordinary time, all our energies are flowing here and there in different channels, everywhere else than in the central channel - while, if we would be able to concentrate and focus and dissolve all these disturbed winds/energies into that central channel, then we could experience a State of Great Bliss. So we have to search for the methods that will help to concentrate, to control and to bring those energies into the central channel. The realization that can be experienced once all winds are dissolved into the central channel is Emptiness.

  Realization of emptiness

     So we can see from now that there are two main ways to realize emptiness: it would be the analytical way through following step by step a scholastic text which depict exactly what is and what is not, and the second way is to operate control over the inner winds of our body and to engage them into the central channel.
     We should not oppose one way to another; these are two ways which have been taught by the Buddha and which correspond to different types of beings. We could say briefly that on one side there are people who have low desire and low attachment and who are very methodic in their way to learn, and for them the Sutra Path would be more appropriate. And on the other side, there are other people who feel quite 'wild' inside and have difficulties to control their desires, who have very strong desires, and for those, according to the strengths of their desires, they might fit into one of the four tantric classes.
     The Tantra path is dedicated to those minds who do not have a very low self-estimation. This is clearly a method which is opposed to a low self-estimation, opposed to discouragement as well.

  Identification visualization

     Within the Tantra, among the first practices, there is an autovisualization as the Deity, and at some point, the Deity, by visualization, dissolves into what is called the 'Clear Light'. At that moment, one's mind has to be as identified as much as possible to that clear light. Without any doubt about the reality of what is experienced. It is clear from one point that the experience at that moment is not the experience of Clear Light, but the goal is a less solid misconception. Once your mind is dissolved into this clear space, there is less chance to find a "I". If your mind can really dissolve into that clear light, and identify itself with that clear light, then we can say that the mind is approaching the concept of emptiness.
     At this point, you might say somehow: "Eh, Shenphen! There are so many deep descriptions by Nagarjuna and many others about the different steps to reach emptiness, that it might not be possible that by such easy meditation we might understand it!"
We could answer, that, here, it is not a question of study, but of action and of experience. The main goal here is to decrease the amount of misconceptions, to decrease the power of self-grasping, in order to make our consciousness as subtle as possible. From the Tantrayana point of view, we could say that the strict intellectual approach is more an obstacle than a help. The main point here is to be able to identify your mind with the qualities of the Buddha; you should not think that you are doing this in a fake way, but you really develop the divine pride that your consciousness has reached a state of a Buddha's consciousness. It is a state that seeks stopping the babbling of the mind and to decrease the usual expectations. It is necessary for that to do not generate any tension on an expected result, but just to be the Deity, the Buddha's consciousness, and to let go everything else. And once your mind is within that state of bliss, then you look at all the appearances as coming from that emptiness.

  Questions

Q. When those energies are going to the central channel, what happens to them?

A. They dissolve into the central channel, they disappear into the central channel, they do not exist in the same way within the central channel as they do outside. This stops the babbling of the mind which is maintained and produced by all the different winds in the other channels. By focussing all those winds into the central channel, it stops the babbling of the mind and allows the mind to have a much deeper, subtle, state.                        [.....

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Copyright texts and picture by Dharmaling