Vows, commitments and modern life:  Don’t forget the lower Tantras

To rely upon the teachings of the two lower classes of Tantra

According to Sutra, the root of samsara is self-grasping ignorance.  According to Tantra, the root of samsara is ordinary appearance and ordinary conception.  Ordinary appearance is an object appearing to us as ordinary (meaning, existing from its own side, and all of its characteristics likewise appear to exist from their own side).  Ordinary conception is when we assent to ordinary appearances as being true.  We will continue to have ordinary appearances until we become a Buddha, but we can abandon our ordinary conceptions along the way.  Practically speaking, by abandoning ordinary conceptions we cut the power of ordinary appearances to generate delusions within our mind.  By abandoning delusions, we stop planting new contaminated karmic seeds on our mind, which will gradually weaken the preponderance of contaminated karma ripening.  But it is not until we completely abandon ordinary appearance that we attain the omniscient wisdom of a Buddha.

The actual method for overcoming our ordinary appearance is to remove from our very subtle mind the karmic imprints of all of our past delusion.  We do this by realizing the emptiness of our very subtle mind.  Realizing the emptiness of one object – our very subtle mind – functions to uproot all of the contaminated karma we have accumulated since beginningless time.  We can understand this by considering the analogy of a wheel.  A wheel has a hub and many spokes.  If you shined a light inside any individual spoke, it would illuminate that spoke.  But if you could shine a light inside the hub of the wheel, it would illuminate all of the spokes directly and simultaneously.  It is the same with our realization of the emptiness of our very subtle mind.  If we realize the emptiness of a single object, it is like illuminating light in a single spoke; but since all karma is stored on our very subtle mind, by realizing the emptiness of our very subtle mind, it is like shining light in the hub, which illuminates all of the spokes of our karma.

With this background, all of the tantric path can be divided into two main parts.  The first part is making manifest our very subtle mind, and the second part is realizing the emptiness of our very subtle mind.  It is impossible to realize the emptiness of an object you do not cognize.  So if you don’t first realize your very subtle mind, you can never realize its emptiness.  Without realizing the emptiness of the very subtle mind, you can never attain enlightenment.

The very subtle mind in Sutra is sometimes referred to as our “root mind” or as “our Buddha nature.”  In Tantra, it is known as our “mind of great bliss.”  There is a good deal of misunderstanding concerning what Tantric bliss is all about.  There all sorts of “classes” people take on “Tantra” where the only requirement is you wear loose fitting shorts.  You know the rest.  In reality, this is just people misusing Buddha’s teachings for the sake of worldly pleasures.  This is like using $100 bills for toilet paper, a complete waste.  Worse, it leads to the degeneration of the pure Buddhadharma in this world.  The negative karma from this is beyond measure.

Tantric bliss, properly understood, is the feeling of inner peace taken to its ultimate fruition.  It is so peaceful, it is blissful.  Our very subtle mind, when manifest, is naturally blissful.  Put another way, when our aggregate of discrimination is perceiving our very subtle mind, our aggregate of feeling is experiencing great bliss.  Once this mind becomes manifest, we then meditate on its emptiness.  When we realize its emptiness directly, the duality between our subject mind of great bliss and its object, emptiness, dissolve completely like water mixing with water.  This is the mind of meaning clear light, the union of bliss and emptiness.  Once we attain this realization, it is said we can attain enlightenment in 3 years, and even in 3 months.  Of course, to get to this mind may take many lifetimes, but once there, we are very close.

So the question becomes, how do we make manifest our very subtle mind of great bliss?  The answer is by causing our inner energy winds to gather and dissolve into our central channel at our heart.  Our central channel at our heart is like a purifying bath for our inner winds.  When our winds are pure, all of the minds mounted on these winds are likewise pure.  Practically speaking, there are many methods for generating the mind of great bliss.  The four classes of Tantra (action tantra, performance tantra, yoga tantra and highest yoga tantra) are simply increasingly profound methods for doing so.

The way all four tantras work is the same:  we observe an object that would otherwise normally give rise to attachment.  When that occurs, we usually generate some sort of pleasant feeling in our mind.  We then consider how the pleasant feeling does not come from the object, but rather comes from inside our mind.  We then try to dissolve the object which gave rise to our attachment into emptiness while preserving the pleasant feeling.  When we do this, the pleasant feeling transforms into a pure feeling that is a similitude of the mind of great bliss (pure inner peace).  We then hold that mind for as long as we can, trying to stabilize it.  Once stabilized, we can then turn our attention to meditating on the emptiness of this mind of great bliss.

In all tantras, we first generate ourselves as the deity we are going to practice.  It is inappropriate to maintain our ordinary body and mind when engaging in Tantric practice, so we do so as the self-generated deity.  In action tantra, we imagine we look upon a beautiful deity.  In performance tantra, we imagine that she is looking at us in an enticing, seductive way.  In yoga tantra, we touch, kiss, etc., the deity.  And in highest yoga tantra, we engage in union with the deity.  Each of these is a higher level of attachment, and so therefore a stronger feeling of bliss, which we then realize the emptiness of in the way just described.  We cannot engage in qualified highest yoga tantra without first being able to do qualified yoga tantra.  We cannot do qualified yoga tantra without first being able to do qualified performance tantra, and so forth.  But we can’t do any of these without first being able to generate ourselves as the deity in a qualified way.  Our ability to generate ourselves in a qualified way depends upon (1) a motivation of bodhichitta, in other words a solid practice of Lamrim, (2) a solid foundation of moral discipline, in other words training in all of our vows and commitments, and (3) a clear understanding of emptiness.  So our focus at this stage should not be on trying different methods for generating bliss, rather our focus should be on Lamrim, moral discipline, the wisdom realizing emptiness, and self-generation practice.


3 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Don’t forget the lower Tantras

  1. Hello and thanks for a great article. I took the HYT last year and have been an avid Vajrayogini practitioner since then. My question- there seems to be a path we take that gets us straight in at HYT but very little in terms of retreats./courses /books I can find that actually describe a rigorous practise in the lower tantras- is it just me missing something? The tantric Grounds book describes a bit on Action but not much on Performance and less on Guru- wondered if I am surely missing something?
    Many thanks in advance for any wisdom ! -Paul

    • Sorry for the delay in responding. Usually we just do the lower Tantra practices from time to time when there is a special puja or something, for example on Tara day. But it is not uncommon for their to be specifically targeted lower Tantra retreats after some big festival where a lower tantric empowerment was given. Some of the larger centers, in particular the retreat centers like Tharpaland, often offer such retreats. There is a facebook group called Students and Followers of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, you can post a question there to ask about lower Tantra retreats being organized.

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