Just as there are three levels of mantra recitation – verbal, mental, and vajra – I would say there are three levels at which we can recite sadhanas – verbal, mental, and vajra. Mental recitation of our sadhanas is superior to verbal recitation, and vajra recitation of them is supreme. When we learn how to do this, it feels as if guru Heruka is reciting the sadhanas in our mind for us, like a blessing or an empowerment. We can do the same with listening to Dharma teachings, giving Dharma teachings, and contemplating and meditating on the Dharma.
Mantras are Buddha’s Speech and the Nature of Pure Winds
All of this is derived from Tantric Grounds and Paths. The short version is simple: mantras have four levels, form, speech, wind, and mind. The form is the written letters, the speech is the spoken mantra, wind is their nature before being spoken, and mind is their ultimate nature of bliss and emptiness. There are three types of mantra recitation – verbal, mental, and vajra. Mental recitation is superior to verbal recitation, and vajra recitation is superior to mental recitation. Verbal recitation is saying the mantra out loud with our speech, mental recitation is saying it with our mind, vajra recitation is listening to the mantra arising in our mind, understanding its conventional nature is pure wind and its ultimate nature is the bliss and emptiness of the Dharmakaya, or the definitive guru. So just as we say “Dharmakaya dreaming,” we can also say vajra recitation is “Dharmakaya speaking.” It is our definitive guru reciting the mantras in our mind as a blessing – quite similar to an empowerment. The Dharmakaya – the Truth Body of Guru Heruka – is speaking in our mind.
There is no reason why we cannot practice the guru yoga of the wind and mind levels of mantras. Indeed, doing so brings them alive and feels like an empowerment every time we engage in vajra recitation of any mantra. The definitive guru is speaking directly into our mind. The nature of speech is wind – in this case the pure winds of our guru mixed inseparably with our own. The duality between ourself and the guru has dissolved, we “listen” to him infuse his vajra speech in our mind understanding his winds and our winds and his mind and our mind are inseparably one.
Three Ways of Reciting Sadhanas – Verbal, Mental, and Vajra
So how does this connect to recitation of sadhanas? Just as there are four levels to mantras, so too there are four levels to sadhanas. Just as there are three ways of reciting mantras, so too there are three levels to reciting sadhanas – verbal, mental, and vajra. Geshe-la advises us to memorize our sadhanas so we can recite them mentally as opposed to just verbally because doing so is more powerful. In exactly the same way, implicit within the teachings on vajra recitation of mantras is the possibility of vajra recitation of our sadhanas.
The nature of Dharma is speech, and the nature of speech is wind. All Dharma is the nature of a Buddha’s speech, which is the nature of the purified winds of our guru. What is a sadhana? It is the speech of our guru. It has a written level (the words on the page), a verbal level, a wind level, and a mind level.
For me, the key link is a sadhana is a scripture. In Tantric Grounds and Paths, Venerable Geshe-la says, “Some scholars have raised the question: ‘What is the real nature of scriptures?’ This is very difficult to answer in terms of Sutra teachings alone. If we say scriptures are mind, then we have to explain how they can be communicated to others, but if we say scriptures are sound or visible form, we must explain how matter can express meanings. How can a sound, which is devoid of awareness, become an object-possessor? These problems can easily be resolved if we consider the Highest Yoga Tantra teachings on winds. The inner nature of scriptures is wind, which is conjoined with awareness. When the scriptures are recited they become sound, and when they are written down they become form.”
From this, it is easy to understand how we can engage in our sadhanas as vajra recitation of them. It’s exactly the same as mantras. Both are Buddha’s speech and both are the nature of pure winds. Both can be “listened to” (with faith) arising in our mind from guru definitive Heruka, like our guru engaging in the sadhana for us in our mind like a blessing or empowerment. When we actually try it, we will see how it can be done and how much more powerful this is than mental recitation alone. Mental recitation is engaging in the sadhana with our ordinary mind, vajra recitation is engaging in the sadhana with our guru’s mind. When we engage in vajra recitation of our sadhanas, it feels as if the guru is revealing to us the hidden meanings of the sadhana directly into our mind. The recitation of each word of the sadhana is like a request for blessings, “please reveal to me the meaning of this word” and the understandings that dawn within our mind when we do so are the guru directly infusing his pure winds and minds into our own. It feels as if he is engaging in the sadhana for us in our mind, carrying us to enlightenment, and all we need to do is enjoy the ride. When we combine this with the emptiness of our guru, the sadhana, and ourselves, we let go of our grasping at these three as being distinct. The are experienced as inseparably one.
How to Vajra Listen to and Vajra Give Dharma Teachings
When we understand this, it also opens up new ways of “listening to” Dharma teachings – or even to giving Dharma teachings as well. When we listen to Dharma teachings, we can not just listen to the words as verbal speech, we can ”hear them” as the pure winds of definitive Heruka arising from the Dharmakaya, and indeed we can do this with an awareness of the emptiness of the three spheres of the teacher, the teaching, and the listener. The whole teaching is a vajra recitation taking place witin our mind, mixing our winds inseparably with our guru’s pure winds, like an empowerment. As these pure winds course through our mind, they blow open the obstructions in our mind, directly revealing new understandings. It is like our guru going, ”and if you thought that was amazing, let me show you this…” This gives a whole new meaning to having our “mind blown.”
This is likewise true for giving Dharma teachings. Anybody who has given Dharma teachings has had the experience of feeling as if it was Geshe-la speaking through us. Ideas or explanations come out of our mouth which we have never heard or understood before. When we give Dharma teachings, we need to essentially get out of the way and let the guru teach through us. We can center ourselves in the Dharmakaya, let is ”speak” through us as pure winds, giving rise to understandings within our mind, and words out of our mouth. All four levels of the Dharma discourse are present – form (our students taking notes), verbal (our words), wind (Dharmakaya speaking), and mind (our mind remaining mixed inseparably with definitive Heruka). Verbal teaching is good (repeating Geshe-la’s words), mental teaching is better (sharing the understandings we have gained through our own contemplations and meditations), vajra teaching is supreme (allowing the guru to teach through us).
How to Engage in Vajra Contemplation
Normally when we contemplate the Dharma, we do so with our ordinary mind asking ourselves, ”what does this mean?” or ”how does that make sense?” or ”how does that work?” etc. This is a very good thing to do. Venerable Tharchin says listening to Dharma is trying to understand how the guru sees things. Contemplation is transforming that understanding into our own. We start to see things as the guru does. But there is absolutely no reason why we cannot engage in vajra contemplation instead. Instead of directing our questions of ”what does this mean?” and so forth to our ordinary mind, we direct the same questins to our guru. We ask him, ”what does this mean?” We are essentially asking him to reveal the meaning to us through his blessings. Indeed, Geshe-la directly teaches us that every time we get stuck in our meditations, we should image our guru at our crown or our heart, offer a mandala, and then request blessings to be able to understand. We then imagine we receive blessings and new understandings dawn. Where do these understandings come from? They arise from definitive guru Heruka inseparable from our own mind. We ”listen” to them arising in our mind, recognizing them as by nature the pure winds of our guru. Dharmakaya speaking.
To get some experience of this, we can train in reciting the Three Principal Aspects of the Path. The entire scripture is written from the point of view of Je Tsongkhapa speaking directly to us. It is a teaching. We can read it. We can memorize it and mentally recite it. Or we can vajra recite it, imagining he is speaking directly into our mind. We “listen to” him recite it directly into our mind, like a blessing empowerment. As he does so, he is revealing to us the deep meaning. He is showing us directly what he sees within our mind. Where does this speech come from? It arises from his Dharmakaya. The Three Principal Aspects of the Path are what the Dharmakaya has to say. Dharmakaya speaking. More profundly still, we can first dissolve Lama Tsongkhapa into our heart, mix his Dharmakaya with our own root mind to the point where we feel his Dharmakaya is our root mind, and then we listen to him give this teaching in our mind, revealing directly its most profound meanings. We can do the same with all of our scriptures.
We can even meditate in the same way. When vajra ”ah ha” moments arise, we can meditate on them, familiarizing ourselves with the new understanding so that we never forget it. But we don’t need to meditate with our ordinary mind. We can meditate with our guru’s mind. We can view these new understandings not as ”our” realization, but rather ”his” realization arising within our mind like an emanation. Part of his mind is in our mind. The object of meditation itself is his realization in our mind, or more profoundly, mixed inseprably one with our mind. There is only his mind, and on that basis we think our mind, our realizations. We can even ”hold” our object of meditation with his mind by using his completely purified and fully developed mental factors of mindfulness, alertness, concentration, and so forth. Why do so with our ordinary mental factors when we can do so with his?
Don’t be Afraid to Contemplate the Dharma
Sometimes people object to new ideas they haven’t heard before saying, ”where does Geshe-la say this?” And if he does not explicitly say something somewhere, it is default assumed to be ”wrong.” This is a premature conclusion which is actually quite harmful to our practice – it can be a form of holding onto wrong views or at the very least it can be closing the door to discovering the profound depths of the Dharma. We arrive at this default premature conclusion because we, quite understandably, want to rely upon our guru’s teachings and not make up our own lineage. We feel as if some new idea not explicitly taught must be making up our own lineage and since we don’t want to rely upon something unreliable, we reject anything that is not explicitly taught.
The key to overcoming our doubts of this nature is realizing there are three types of wisdom – the wisdom arising from listening, the wisdom arising from contemplation, and the wisdom arising from meditation. Listening refers to audibly listening to teachings or reading Dharma books. Contemplation refers to when we consider ourselves the teachings, including connecting the dots between the different teachings so that they become integrated into a coherent whole of our Dharma understanding. We need to realize how all of the teachings relate to one another and are not only non-contradictory, but mutually reinforcing. We contemplate the Dharma until we come to some sort of ”ah ha” moment, and then we meditate on that to familiarize ourselves with our new understanding so that we don’t forget it. We should not be afraid to ”contemplate” the Dharma, indeed, we are encouraged to do so.
But how do we know if our new understandings we discover are reliable? I have discussed this point with Gen Rabten, and we concluded there are four tests we can use. First, does this new understanding contradict any known instruction? Second, does the new understanding naturally follow from all known instructions? Third, we can request Dorje Shugden – the protector of the Dharma within our mind – to thoroughly sabotage this new understanding if it is wrong or be reinforced if it is correct. And fourth, does this new understanding take us higher up the mountain towards the peak of enlightenment (as opposed to just being an interesting, but ultimately irrelevant avenue)? If our new understandings satisfy these four tests, then we can have sufficient confidence that they are reliable at least as stepping stones to higher understandings. This doesn’t mean these new understandings should be considered ”definitive Dharma.” We very well may realize a few years later that the understanding was good, but not good enough. We discover some new nuance and our understanding becomes refined. We are encouraged to refine and refine our understandings over time.
Geshe-la encourages us all the time to ”make your own commentary,” and he explains how he does so when he describes how he develops oral lineage teachings. We rely upon the guru through vajra contemplation, we write down what we understood, we work with it through contemplation and meditation, fine-tuning it until it is exactly right. Making our own commentary is not meant to replace Geshe-la’s holy scriptures, rather doing so is our way of mixing our mind more deeply with what he has taught us. Our commentary represents our best possible understanding of what is being taught at the time we write it, and our commentaries will improve over time as our understanding deepens. Stepping stones. Parts of the path. What I have shared here is my understanding as it has been revealed to me. If others perhaps also find it helpful, all the better.