Giving up aspiring or engaging bodhichitta.
This downfall is the same as the last root downfall of the Bodhisattva vows. Since bodhichitta is the foundation of all Tantric practice, if we abandon bodhichitta we incur a root Tantric downfall.
At a very simple level, our Tantric practice is the logical conclusion of our Sutra practice. The “quintessential butter” that comes from churning the milk of Sutra is the mind of bodhichitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of all living beings. Our Tantric practice explains how, namely by changing the basis of imputation of our “I” from that of an ordinary, samsaric being to that of the completely pure body and mind of our deity. Then, in completion stage, we purify the subtle body of that self-generated deity, enabling all of our inner winds to gather and dissolve into our central channel at our heart, giving rise to the very subtle mind of great bliss. We then meditate on the emptiness of that mind, gradually uproot all of our delusions and their imprints, and finally become a Buddha. In short, Sutra gives us the goal of becoming a Buddha, Tantra gives us the means for accomplishing this goal. Without bodhichitta, our Tantric practice will still be beneficial, but it won’t be powerful enough to carry us through all of the Tantric grounds and paths. Without bodhichitta, there is no enlightenment, even if we practice Tantra for many aeons.
Our Tantric practice also greatly reinforces our Sutra practice, and in particular our bodhichitta. Venerable Tharchin explains the key to generating effort is to see clearly how the practices work to produce their given results. When we understand the inner mechanism by which the practices work, we generate great confidence in them, and as such, he says, “effort becomes effortless.” Tantra shows us very clearly how it is actually possible to become a Buddha. We see exactly what is required and how the practices we have been given will work to take us through all the required steps. Seeing this, the accomplishment of our bodhichitta wish transforms from being a “wouldn’t that be great if I could become a Buddha” to “if I do XYZ, I can indeed become a Buddha.” This supercharges our bodhichitta. In this way, Sutra and Tantra mutually reinforce one another.
Kadam Bjorn said whether we are successful or not in overcoming our delusions depends almost entirely upon whether our desire to be free from our delusion is greater than our desire for the object of our delusion. He gave the example of a drug addict. A drug addict will only overcome their addiction when their desire to be free from addiction is greater than their desire for using the drug again. It is the same with overcoming our addiction to samsara.
In the same way, he said, our ability to transform attachment into the path with our Tantric practice depends almost entirely upon whether our desire to be free from attachment is greater than our desire for indulging in the object of our attachment. If we lack this, then if we attempt to transform attachment into the path with our Tantric practice, all we will really do is misuse the Dharma for worldly, deluded purposes. There are many reasons why we might want to become free from our attachment, such as our wish to be happy in this life, our wish to avoid lower rebirth or our wish to escape from samsara. But the supreme reason for wanting to do so is bodhichitta, our wish to become a Buddha capable of leading all beings to enlightenment. Attachment to the things of samsara prevents us from leaving it; but once we see through the lies of our attachment, nothing can stop us from walking straight out of samsara, and then leading all others to do the same. When we consider the fate of all living beings, it becomes easy to see how it is far more important to lead them to freedom than it is to enjoy a couple of moments of contaminated pleasure.
We should never underestimate the power of attachment to kidnap our Tantric practice. Anyone who received teachings from ex-Gen-la Samden would agree that his teachings were some of the most sublime ever given within the tradition, in particular his teachings on patient acceptance from Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. This was a man who had deep experience of Dharma. Yet even he got fooled by his attachment. His attachment kidnapped his understanding of Dharma, and led him down a path of misinterpreting the teachings. It may seem unthinkable how somebody so realized could do something so wrong, but we think that only because we underestimate the cunning power of delusions and the subtle strength of our sexual attachment. I have said it before, delusions killed the holy being that was Gen-la Samden. If they can kill him, they can make mince-meat out of us.
But qualified bodhichitta, however, would protect us from making such mistakes. Obviously breaking our vows and causing others to break their vows does not bring us closer to enlightenment, and it certainly doesn’t help lead others to the same state. He had the opportunity to be the next guru of the lineage, but he lost it all due to the deceptiveness of delusion. Being an advanced practitioner will not protect us, only deep and stable realizations of renunciation and bodhichitta will.