Tantric Buddhism developed within the larger mahAyAna tradition , and it developed gradually, over the course of several centuries beginning no later than the sixth century. Early Buddhist tantras generally followed the scriptural model of the mahAyAna sUtras. By the late eighth century, Indian Buddhist scholars began composing a genre of tantric Buddhist scripture that departed radically from earlier Buddhist textual models. These texts were known as yoginI tantras , largely on account of their focus on a class of female deities known as yoginI-s and DAkinI-s. They were an ambiguous group of entities and were generally seen as horrific quasi-human or non-human beings , notorious for their love of human flesh, and associated with black magic. However, in this literature they gained a more positive association as enlightening goddesses , at least for the initiated men brave enough to interact with them.
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Why do we want to know more about this? Why do we want to practice it? And as we went through in setting our motivation for this lecture, the main reason needs to be compassion, our deep concern for others, and our very, very strong bodhichitta wish to achieve not only better rebirths but, beyond that, liberation from uncontrollably recurring rebirth and, beyond that, the enlightened state of a Buddha to be able to help others as much as possible to also gain liberation and enlightenment.
And our compassion, our concern for others, is so strong that we want to do that in the most efficient way. This is very important. That means that we not only understand how it works, how it will bring us to enlightenment, but also we are convinced that it will work and, on top of that, that we are capable of actually following that successfully to the goal of enlightenment.
Otherwise, what are we doing in practicing this? Now, you might object. So why do we need to understand anything about the practice? His Holiness the Dalai Lama is giving it. The next question is: Why do we need yet another deity? Why do we need Chakrasamvara? There are so many different deity practices, why this one? Why yet another one? And here we need to understand what is the general method that is used in anuttarayoga tantra. When we understand all the different aspects that are involved in the path, then we see that it is really quite complex, quite complicated.
Chakrasamvara is the system that gives the most detail on one aspect. So let me present the general picture, and then you can understand a little bit better which aspect Chakrasamvara gives us the most detailed practice for. So in the intermediate scope in lam-rim, after we have described all the different types of suffering and the causes of suffering karma, disturbing emotions, etc.
And because the system of the twelve links is shared in common with both the Hinayana and the Mahayana systems, then the unawareness here is the unawareness of how persons exist — how we exist and everybody else exists. But in the Mahayana, more specifically the Prasangika Madhyamaka, viewpoint of this, as presented in the Gelug tradition by Tsongkhapa, then the root of these twelve links — this first link of unawareness — is the unawareness of how all phenomena exist, and that pertains to persons as well as everything.
We project, we imagine, that everything exists in impossible ways, that they are establishing themselves independently of everything.
So voidness means a total absence of an actual corresponding thing, a referent, to what we project. And then we understand that everything arises dependently on causes, conditions, and what mental labels refer to. Okay, this is not a lecture on voidness, but I had to say that. What we want, then, is to have a mind which nonconceptually understands voidness, voidness of all phenomena, so that we basically do not have the arising of any disturbing emotions.
All the disturbing emotions are based on that unawareness. And to be able to benefit others, we need to arise in some physical form that will be able to help others without the restrictions of this type of karmic body. And if you stay with that level of mind focused on voidness all the time?
Well, fine. However, there is a more subtle level of mind — or mental activity, I should say — which is called the subtlest level. It provides the continuity lifetime to lifetime and into the enlightened state of a Buddha. Now, this level of mind is not a troublemaker. And it is totally nonconceptual, which is not so easy to understand.
You have to understand what conceptual cognition means, which, in just a few words, is to perceive things in terms of categories. And when we perceive things in terms of categories, it gives the impression that everything exists in boxes — the box of the category of good, bad, pretty, ugly, red, yellow, orange, etc.
So this clear-light level of mental activity is more subtle than that level that works with categories of things. Now, the problem is how do we access this level of mental activity. And it is not naturally blissful, at least according to the Gelugpa explanation of it. Okay, so here is our mission, our goal, why we practice anuttarayoga tantra, the highest class of tantra. We want to get access to this clear-light level of mental activity, and we want to make it have the understanding of voidness — it will automatically be nonconceptual — and we want to make it blissful.
So this is called inseparable voidness and bliss. You get that a lot in Gelugpa. Now, how do we access this clear-light level without having to die in order to do that? And there are various methods in which we experience something a little bit similar to it during our lifetime: when you sneeze and so on, or you yawn, or you have orgasm.
So what we want to do of course is to be able to withdraw the energy without having an explosion afterwards, hold it. There are two basic ways of doing this. So one method is working with these to get them into the central channel and to get the mental activity to withdraw from the grosser energies as its basis.
And the other method is to work within the central channel of experiencing increasing levels of blissful awareness based on also manipulating certain things within the central channel.
And then in our actual meditation to attain clear light, we work through these stages in that session to get to the clear light. This is found in the most detail in the Guhyasamaja system. Now, although one can achieve the more subtle levels working with either of the two systems, to have a little bit of experience with both is helpful.
But, depending on our energy systems and so on, one will have an easier time with one rather than the other. And all of these are going to be aiming to reach that clear-light state of mind, as I said, with nonconceptual cognition of voidness and blissful, the bliss of having achieved some true stopping of at least some level of the obstacles preventing liberation or enlightenment.
And then within that state, we want to generate the form of what would become the body of a Buddha, a cause for the body of a Buddha. And the systems in which we work with the winds — Guhyasamaja system — then the type of body that we generate from that clear-light mind is called illusory body sgyu-lus , which is obtained working more with these energy winds. So, very nice.
And the first stage is called the generation stage bskyed-rim , in which we do all of this in our imagination. In the complete stage we are actually really working with the energy systems and the central channel and all of this. But on the generation stage, we start by just imagining it. So in the Guhyasamaja system, we have very elaborate generation-stage visualizations of dissolving the various winds. And in the Chakrasamvara system, we have very elaborate visualizations which are helping to imagine the different stages of bliss.
Why Chakrasamvara? By the way, these levels of bliss cause the energies to get more subtle. One method is actually, through various yoga processes, bringing these winds into the central channel — it has a lot to do with certain breathing practices — so that the mental activity withdraws more and more from these energy winds.
The other method, Chakrasamvara, is to generate these increasing levels of bliss, which also causes the mental activity to withdraw from these grosser levels of the winds.
But if we understand what is the purpose of the various visualizations in the Chakrasamvara practice and how they will work, this gives us great confidence. So in sadhana practice or whatever, by using the imagination I am building up the causes for actually being able to work with the energy systems to experience all the stages of this process.
Never ignore the lam-rim level of practice. First of all, what does the name Chakrasamvara mean? So what we have are all the aspects of body, speech, and mind collected together within the context of blissful nonconceptual cognition of voidness.
Another name for Chakrasamvara is Heruka. And ka is short for the Sanskrit word for skullcup. It represents various things in the subtle energy system used to get access to this subtlest mental activity.
And in the Kagyu and Nyingma systems, Heruka is sometimes used as a general name for male deities. But in the Gelugpa system, Heruka is not used with that meaning.
So these are all the different names that we will come across for this deity and the deity system. Sometimes the name is given just to the central figure. So what do we study? What are the texts? The full Chakrasamvara tantras were in two versions, one in , verses and one in , verses — verses called shloka in Sanskrit, a four-line verse of a certain type of meter — and these were not translated into Tibetan.
This we find quite frequently with these tantras, that the large tantras never made it into Tibetan, and actually they seem to have been lost in Sanskrit for the most part, not completely. Fifty-one is for the letters in the Sanskrit alphabet there are fifty-one letters. The root tantra is mostly about the complete-stage practice. And there are many Indian commentaries. When we talk about the anuttarayoga tantras, we have a division into two.
And in the hidden, or obscure, tantras — Chakrasamvara is one of them — the explanations in the root tantra are written in a very obscure, hidden manner that is not at all obvious what it means. And because of that they have what are known as explanatory tantras to expand and make the meaning clear, as we have in the Guhyasamaja system, for example. So here we have that also in Chakrasamvara. They had Sanskrit original versions of this material. When Buton, a great Sakya master, put together the Kangyur, the collection of the words of the Buddha, he included only those works which have a Sanskrit original.
So this fact that there are the Sanskrit originals of the root tantra and explanatory tantras, etc. For the Tibetans that was very important, although again one can start to get into a little debate about that because of the whole issue of revealed texts and treasure texts and so on in other words, if it was revealed by Vajradhara in India it was more valid than if it was revealed in Tibet, and so on.
So you can get into a lot of debates about it. But anyway Buton had his criteria. There are three main lineages of Chakrasamvara. These derive from three great Indian masters. This Drilbupa, or Ghantapa, lineage has both a five-deity practice and a body-mandala practice [See also: What is Mandala?
I believe the empowerment that you received from His Holiness the Dalai Lama was this five-deity practice within the Drilbupa, Ghantapa, tradition.
The Chakrasamvara Tantra: Its History, Interpretation, and Practice in India and Tibet
Why do we want to know more about this? Why do we want to practice it? And as we went through in setting our motivation for this lecture, the main reason needs to be compassion, our deep concern for others, and our very, very strong bodhichitta wish to achieve not only better rebirths but, beyond that, liberation from uncontrollably recurring rebirth and, beyond that, the enlightened state of a Buddha to be able to help others as much as possible to also gain liberation and enlightenment. And our compassion, our concern for others, is so strong that we want to do that in the most efficient way. This is very important. That means that we not only understand how it works, how it will bring us to enlightenment, but also we are convinced that it will work and, on top of that, that we are capable of actually following that successfully to the goal of enlightenment.
Tantric techniques :. David B. Gray dates this tantra to the late eight or early ninth century. The Cakrasamvara Tantra is mostly dedicated to describing rituals and meditations which produce either mundane siddhis accomplishment such as flight and the supramundane siddhi of awakening. These are achieved through deity yoga visualizing oneself as the deity and the use of mantras.
What Is Chakrasamvara Practice?