Tantra, in brief, is a Mahayana system of practice to reach enlightenment so as to be of best benefit to all beings. As the word “tantra” connotes, it employs an everlasting continuum of practice with Buddha-figures as a path to purify away the obscuring factors from the everlasting continuum of Buddha-nature factors that is the basis, in order to attain the everlasting continuum of the Buddha Bodies as the result. The various faces, arms and legs of the Buddha-figure function as a loom – the second meaning of the word “tantra.” They are a loom which to weave all the sutra teachings that they represent.
Tantra is more efficient than sutra for four different points, if we’d like to analyze it and get a little bit of structure here.
- The practice is closer to the resultant stage.
- There’s a closer union of method and wisdom, so a closer union of method and discriminating awareness as the path.
- There’s a special basis for voidness.
- There’s a special level of mind for focusing on voidness.
This type of presentation can be used for discussing general tantra, for anuttarayoga, the highest class of tantra, and for Kalachakra. Here, we’ll probably only have time to look at general tantra. When we speak about general tantra, this is the level that is common to all four classes of tantra.
The four classes of tantra are not practiced in the manner that we have, for instance, in the lam-rim. They don’t present a graded path, where we go from the first class to the second class and so on – it’s not that type of system – or like the tenet systems of Indian Buddhism that likewise, we work to progress from one tenet system to the next, from Vaibhashika to Sautrantika to Chittamatra to Madhyamaka. It’s not like that.
Each of the four classes presents a valid path to enlightenment.
- Kriya, the first class of tantra, is ritual tantra, and this puts a great deal of emphasis on external practices: ritual cleanliness, ablution, that type of thing, fasting practices, and so on.
- The charya class, the second class, is sometimes called behavioral tantra. That puts an equal emphasis on external and internal methods. The general manner of practice is very similar to the first class, just a little bit more complex in its visualizations.
- The third class of tantra, yoga tantra, puts more emphasis on internal practices. It also entails making a great number of mudras, these hand gestures, and a lot of ritual, as well, but it has its own special, very complex way of practicing.
- The fourth class is anuttarayoga tantra, the highest yoga tantra, and that has special methods of working internally.
It’s that class of tantra, anuttarayoga, that speaks about the different levels of mental activity with the subtlest level being the clear light mental activity. It’s that class of tantra that speaks about the subtle energy system of the body, with the chakras, the channels and the winds and working with them in order to dissolve the grosser levels of energy and mental activity in order to access the clear light level. In all of these types of practices, the main thrust is to be able, of course, to get a non-conceptual cognition of voidness as a true path, which will bring about a true stopping of the first two noble truths, true suffering and its true cause. Or we can look at his third noble truth in terms of a true stopping of the two obscurations – the emotional ones preventing liberation and the cognitive ones preventing omniscience, or enlightenment.
That clear light level of mental activity is the most efficient level for getting rid of these obscurations, for achieving a true stopping, and it is always mentioned that, in fact, to get rid of the most subtle level of the cognitive obscurations preventing omniscience or enlightenment, it is necessary to access that clear light level of mental activity. Without it, it’s not possible to do that, because the mind of a Buddha is exclusively this clear light level of mental activity, this clear light mind. So, even if we are practicing sutra or one of the other classes of tantra – the first three classes of tantra – they always say, at the very, very final step, like on the tenth bodhisattva bhumi, we need to switch to anuttarayoga tantra. Whether that happens sort of automatically or we have to do certain practices to reach it, that is dependent on the individual.
In the Sakya presentation, that switch to the clear light level comes earlier, at the path of seeing, so they have a slightly different presentation there. They say that it happens even with sutra that one needs to get to that level in order to achieve even the first instance of a non-conceptual cognition of voidness, which is with a seeing pathway of mind.
General Tantra Theory
Let’s look at these four points of why tantra is more efficient than sutra in terms of general tantra. General tantra would be something that is valid for all four classes of tantra. What we want to do on the path to enlightenment is to achieve a body and mind of a Buddha, the appearance of the physical body of a Buddha and a mind that has type of cognition of a Buddha. The unified pair of the body and mind of Buddha corresponds to the discussion of mental activity as entailing the unified pair of appearance-making and cognizing. The body is on the side of appearance-making, and the mind is on the side of cognizing.
Mental activity can be described not only from the point of view of it being a way of being aware of something with these two aspects, but it can also be described from the point of view of the subtlest energy that is underlying and supporting that mental activity. More specifically, the subtlest energy supports the appearance-making aspect of mental activity and the arising of an appearance of a physical body.
It’s on the basis of mental activity and the subtlest energy supporting it that we want to achieve a body and mind of a Buddha. We have the basic working materials for them in terms of our Buddha-nature factors, such as our networks of positive force and deep awareness, but they are obscured. Because of that, these working materials give rise to our samsaric type of body and mind. They are obscured by not only the emotional obscurations, which, according to the Gelug presentation, include grasping for truly established existence, unawareness, and the disturbing emotions, but also by the cognitive obscurations, which Gelug asserts as the constant habits of grasping for truly established existence, which give rise to the appearance-making of truly established existence.
Because of that appearance-making of truly established existence, our minds are limited and our bodies are limited, even if we were to get rid of the disturbing emotions. The problem is that our hardware apparatus is limited. We can only perceive what’s basically in front of us, in a limited field. We can’t really see what’s behind us or know things of the past, or the future, or all the different causes and all the different effects of our actions. We have what I call “periscope perception” – it’s like cognizing the world through a periscope in a submarine, and so our minds are very limited. We feel as though we’re a solid “me” inside the submarine, which is a very distorted perception. It feels like that because there’s a little voice in our head talking, so that seems as though there’s a “me” inside doing the talking, a solid “me.” We need to get rid of that periscope perception that comes with having a limited body and limited mind.
Our basic mental activity of appearance-making and cognizing and the subtlest energy underlying it give rise, when obscured, to that type of limited samsaric body and mind – with the mind limited by periscope vision and disturbing emotions, and the body limited by the various karmic influences causing it to run down, grow old, get sick, and die. Instead, we want this mental activity and the energy of it to give rise to the body and mind of a Buddha, the fully purified resultant state of our Buddha-nature factors.
So, how do we do this? What’s the most efficient way of doing this? In sutra, we work with the two enlightenment-builder networks, the network of positive force from doing constructive things with a bodhichitta dedication – it’s usually called “the collection of merit” – and the network of deep awareness. According to the Gelug presentation, the network of deep awareness consists of the deep awareness of voidness. The other Tibetan traditions include in it as well the five types of deep awareness – mirror-like and so on.
In other words, by engaging in more and more constructive behavior, we build up more and more positive force and all that positive force networks together. The same thing with the deep awareness, the individual moments of deep awareness that we have network together and build up more and more strength. In order for these two networks to become enlightenment-building networks and not just samsara-building networks, everything we do to strengthen them needs to be initiated with bodhichitta, carried out with bodhichitta, and dedicated at the end with bodhichitta.
Tantra Practice Resembles the Result: The Four Purities
When we work to strengthen our two networks with the sutra methods, the method is not so similar to the result. Let me give an example. When we speak about the causes for the physical appearance of a Buddha, we’re talking about the appearance of a Buddha with the 32 excellent signs and 80 exemplary features – the so-called “major and minor marks.” Each of these features indicates its cause. That’s the way that they’re presented. For instance, a Buddha has a long tongue, and the cause for that is that while practicing as a bodhisattva, they care for others like a mother animal licking her young. That acts as a cause for having a long tongue. It’s not that we practice licking each other in order to have that, but rather we practice caring for each other, like a mother animal, and this will result in having that type of long tongue.
The practice of caring for others doesn’t resemble the result so closely. It resembles it more by analogy. And because the cause is not so similar to the result, it takes quite a long time for the cause to bring about the result. By contrast, in tantra what we do is imagine that we are already at that stage of the result. We practice now in our imaginations that we are a fully enlightened being, that we have the purified state of these Buddha-nature factors.
Specifically, we work with four aspects, called “the four purities.” We imagine we have:
- A purified body, which would include speech
- A purified environment
- A purified experience of joy
- A purified way of acting or actions.
Imagining these four purities needs to be done with bodhichitta. We’re thinking of our future attainment of enlightenment, we’re aiming for that as the resultant state of our everlasting continuum, and so that is a valid basis for the imputation phenomenon “me.” An imputation phenomenon is one that cannot exist or be known independently of a basis. For example, a line is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of an unbroken series of dots. It cannot exist or be known independently of that series of dots. Similarly, the conventional “me” is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the unbroken continuum of the moments of an individual mental continuum. So, that future point on the continuum when we will be enlightened is a valid basis for “me,” just as is any other point on that mental continuum.
The conventional “me” as an imputation phenomenon on the basis of that future point is what we’re working with here with the four purities. So, we imagine that our body is that of a yidam, a Buddha-figure – yidam (yi-dam) is short for yi and damtsig (dam-tshig, Skt. samaya). “Yi” is the mind, and “dam,” short for “damtsig,” is a close bond. We want to make a close bond for our mind by having our mental activity give rise to this appearance of a Buddha-figure and by considering our conventional “me” as an imputation phenomenon on that appearance as its basis. By making a close connection, a close bond with the form of that Buddha-figure, familiarizing ourselves with it over and over again as our basis for imputation, that acts as a cause for actually having our energy manifest, in conjunction with mental activity, to ourselves appearing in that form.
We practice now in terms of that in our imaginations. It’s like working with an internal hologram from our imaginations. The mental activity of imagining that form acts as a cause for the mental activity to project, in a sense, an external hologram of us actually appearing like that in the world.
We work like that not only with a purified body, but also likewise with purified speech by working with mantras. We imagine that our speech is in the form of mantras. When we recite mantras, these mantras, in a sense, are a shaping of our energy. We always say that the word “mantra” means something to protect the mind – protect the mind from wandering all over the place with internal chatter. On one level, we can protect the mind from that wandering by harnessing it to a mantra, sort of like a mental judo. If the type of internal verbal energy that we have is so compelling, so strong that it’s difficult to just stop it from producing mental chatter, then one way of overcoming its debilitating effects would be to harness that internal verbal energy and flip it, in a sense, by having it recite a mantra, so that it stays within the set structure of the mantra. In that sense, it protects the mind.
However, on a more subtle level, what reciting mantras does is it shapes the breath, which, in turn, shapes the energy because breath and energy are intimately connected – it’s the same word for both in Tibetan and Sanskrit (rlung, Skt. prana). It’s very important to give a structured shape to our breath and energy.
Also, when we talk about speech, that refers to communication, which refers to responsiveness if we look at it from a Nyingma point of view. In other words, we have this basic level of energy, and that energy goes out, naturally. That’s what it does. It goes out in response to various things. It radiates out, and this is in a communicative type of way, so that’s speech. In terms of practicing the purity of speech, we also imagine that our speech radiates out in response to others and communicates with everybody in their own language. Everybody is able to understand what we say; we’re able to communicate with everybody perfectly.
These are the ways in which we work with a Buddha-figure and mantras, and we work with both within the context of the understanding of voidness and bodhichitta. That’s the first aspect, the purified body that is similar to the result.
We also imagine that we are in a purified environment, and that environment is one of a mandala. A mandala is a three-dimensional building, a palace, and it’s not only that, but it’s the whole environment around it as well. Normally, we see two-dimensional drawings of mandalas, and that’s the most common aspect that we encounter – although sometimes we can find a three-dimensional building. There is one, for instance, at Tibet House in New York that we can see, and there are several of them in India and Mongolia.
A mandala is never intended to be practiced as a two-dimensional thing. The two-dimensional diagram is basically like an architect’s blueprint, and if we know how to read it, we can see how the various segments and divisions of the walls are laid out, how the gates work, and the entrance halls, and all these sorts of things. The diagram also indicates some of the measurements and proportions. What we want to visualize is never a two-dimensional mandala, but always a three-dimensional palace and that we are inside in the form of a Buddha-figure.
The palace is a very complex architectural structure, and each of its features has many different levels of meaning, just as all the different arms and faces and legs of a Buddha-figure have many different levels of representation. Again, it helps us as a method for keeping all the insights they represent together, like the warp of a loom for weaving the threads of sutra.
What is important to remember when working with mandalas and these Buddha-figures is that our conventional “me” is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of all of them. It’s not that we’re just a central figure in a mandala palace, but we are all the figures of the mandala, whether it’s merely a solitary figure, a couple, or even the 722 figures as in the Kalachakra mandala. Not only are we all the figures in the pure environment of this mandala palace, but we are also the building as well; we are on imputation phenomenon on the whole thing.
That becomes very interesting if we think about it. Here, Kalachakra is very helpful for seeing the parallel between the external, internal and alternative levels of meaning, the alternative being the nirvanic level. On the level of our ordinary samsaric appearance, we are a complex of many, many different things: the circulatory system, the digestive system, the nervous system, all the bones, and the skin covering them all; we’re an imputation phenomenon based on the whole thing. It’s not just that we’re based only the liver, or the heart, or something like that. Our basis of imputation is a network of all these different systems and their components.
Similarly, our basis for imputation can be specified in terms of all the components of our five aggregates, with each component represented by a Buddha-figure. In some tantra systems, there is one figure for each aggregate, one figure for each of the elements, one for each of the cognitive sensors – the photosensitive cells of the eyes, the sound-sensitive of the ears, and so on – and one each for the five types of sensory objects such as the sights we see, the sounds we hear, and so on. All of these are represented by Buddha-figures. Just as we have skin covering all the internal components of our body, likewise we have the mandala palace covering all the Buddha-figures inside. Different features of the building represent different things. So, it’s not so weird to imagine that we have this cluster of figures and the palace as the basis for the imputation phenomenon “me.”
When we’re working with such a visualization, and even if we’re working just with a central couple, it’s important to do this within the context of understanding voidness. That’s because often people have difficulties with these practices due to gender issues. The gender issue being that “I am a woman. How can I feel that I’m a male figure in this system?” Or “I’m a male. How can I imagine that I’m Vajrayogini or Tara, a female figure?” And especially in terms of couples in union, “Well, which side am I?” Because of the gender issue, women may feel uncomfortable being the male main figure and so, “Am I supposed to be the consort, or what am I supposed to be?” Or, “The consort is the wrong gender,” or whatever. This is, of course, problematic for many people.
It is true that many points in the practices, such as “within my body, there is this or that Buddha-figure,” seem to be from the perspective of the central figure, but nevertheless, we’re an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the whole thing. Being based on the whole thing, we are both members of the couple. It’s not that we’re one member of the couple and the partner is somebody else. It’s not like that. We’re both. So as an imputation phenomenon on both, the gender issue is not such a central one. Also, in terms of a mental continuum, the mental continuum does not have an innate gender. Depending on karmic factors, our body may be one gender in a certain lifetime and another gender in another lifetime.
Our mental continuum doesn’t have an innate species either. We’re different species in each lifetime and, similarly, different nationalities, and so on. It really requires a bit of an understanding of voidness, since it’s a delicate issue and one that really tends to bother a lot of people in their practice.
There are also some practices where it says that we keep the body of the figure, but in certain parts of the practice that involve visualization of the sexual organs, if the particular sexual organs seem uncomfortable, we can switch them. It’s not absolutely essential in terms of maintaining – for that particular part of the practice – the gender sign that normally goes with that figure. There are many ways of working with these figures, depending on our own level of sophistication and understanding of voidness.
If we have a fairly stable understanding of voidness, the gender issue is no longer an issue, particularly in terms of being the couple, and it’s not so weird in terms of this idea, this self-image of being a couple. If, in actual life, we are a member of a couple, we know what it feels like to think of ourselves as a couple.
We’re trying to visualize ourselves all day long in the form of these Buddha-figures, but it’s not that, “Well, I’m walking around and there’s this consort sort of hanging on me, and I have to be careful when I bend over, because my consort may fall off.” It’s not like that, but rather, as Serkong Rinpoche used to say, we’re wearing clothes all day long and it’s not that we are conscious of the clothes, but they’re there. Unless we are terribly vain, it’s just sort of part of us. Similarly, the partner is part of us, and we are the couple.
Also, in working with the visualizations of ourselves as Buddha-figures, we need to keep in mind that the Buddha-figure isn’t a statue that’s frozen, and we just sort of raise a little bit above the ground and hover there and move like a plastic action figure without actually moving our arms or legs, or we never sit down, if it’s a standing figure. It’s not like that at all. These Buddha-figures are living holograms, as it were, from the holodeck of our spaceship. We can move, we can sit, and we can even do other practices.
I remember one disciple, who was visualizing himself as Yamantaka all day long, or at least trying to do that, asking Serkong Rinpoche, “What do you do when you do OM MANI PADME HUM type of practice?” He was feeling a little bit uncomfortable, and Serkong Rinpoche said, “Can’t Yamantaka recite OM MANI PADME HUM?” Of course, we can do any type of practice in any type of form, or we can change forms because a Buddha can manifest in many forms. So, Yamantaka can manifest in the form of Chenrezig. Therefore, it’s important, when working with these Buddha-figures, not to be too tight with them; they represent the living Buddha that we will become.
So, we imagine that now we have this pure appearance and this pure environment around us. We visualize them, and remember, visualization is done with mental consciousness, not with sensory consciousness. That’s why, when we do visualizations in Tibetan Buddhist practice, it’s always recommended that we keep our eyes open. There are many reasons, actually, for keeping the eyes open. One of them is that it helps with Mahayana motivation. If we close our eyes, then it’s like shutting out the world, “Don’t bug me, don’t bother me, I’m meditating,” and then we don’t really want to come out of meditation and deal with all the stuff that’s around us; we don’t want to open our eyes. Whereas if we meditate with our eyes open, sort of just looking down, loosely focused, that maintains a connection with the world, with people, so it’s a little bit more conducive for love and compassion.
In any case, when we do visualization, even with trying to gain shamatha – a stilled and settled mind with perfect concentration – and we visualize a Buddha-figure, like Buddha Shakyamuni, in front of us at eye level, it’s not that our eyes are looking at it. Our eyes are looking down at the floor, and we’re visualizing the Buddha up there. It’s not so difficult to do. If you put your hand out in front of you – please try it – put your hand out in front of you at eye level and look down at the floor. Now, while looking down at the floor, you can be aware of your hand, can’t you? Even if you move your hand away, you can be aware of that space where it was. It’s not so difficult as it might seem.
As I was saying, visualization is done with mental consciousness, not with eye consciousness. When we are visualizing ourselves as a Buddha-figure and the environment around us as a mandala, trying to do that all day long, it is very difficult to remain mindful of this. “Mindfulness” is like the mental glue to prevent our attention from leaving the visualization. However, we shouldn’t think that visualizing this is going to debilitate us because it doesn’t interfere with our sense consciousness or our eye consciousness. It’s not that we can’t see a car coming on the street, because everything is this perfect mandala, and so it’s dangerous to cross the street. With our eyes, we’re able to see the ordinary appearance of things. With our minds, though, we conceive of the mandala, these forms of the Buddha-figures, and the pure environment. That fits in quite nicely with the inseparable samsara and nirvana approach in Sakya, that the two appearances coexist, in a sense, and are equally valid.
We work like that, with a pure body and a pure environment.
Purified Experience of Joy
Then there’s the experience of purified joy. Normally, our experience of joy is mixed with confusion, the solid “me,” and grasping for the truly established existence of the joy and what’s giving us the joy and the pleasure, and these sorts of things. What we want to do is to be able to experience joy in a non-disturbing way, not mixed with confusion. The mind of a Buddha is joyful, but that’s not the joy of physical pleasure. It’s not talking about that joy, but it’s the natural joy of being free of mental obscurations, these various obscurations that we were talking about, sort of like the relief, the joy of relief, of being free of tight shoes at the end of the day.
Since the mind is naturally free of these obscurations – they’re just fleeting stains that we can achieve a true stopping of – then that joy is the natural state of the mind from the point of view of our mental activity. We want to try to experience now, similar to the result, this type of joy or happiness. We do this in tantra by making offerings. There are lots and lots of making of offerings in all the sadhana practices and, when making them, we imagine that we’re able to bring joy and happiness to others, as a Buddha is able to do.
That’s really good for low self-esteem if we suffer from that. We imagine that we’re able to actually please the Buddhas – it’s not that there’s this authority figure always saying, “You’re not good enough” – but we’re able to actually please them, by giving them something really nice for their various senses.
We make offerings not only to the Buddhas, but also to all sentient beings, bringing them joy and happiness as well. One of the things that is unique in the Gelug tradition, and Tsongkhapa, is that we also make offerings to ourselves as part of the practices, and we try to imagine enjoying them free from all confusion – worrying that the food is going to make us fat, or that the flowers are going to make us sneeze because of allergies. They’re purified of all these potentially disturbing factors.
There are many, many different levels of offering that we make. We make these outer offerings of sense objects in all the classes of tantra, and when we speak about inner, secret or hidden, and thusness offerings, they are exclusive to the highest class of tantra. Those are deeper and deeper levels of things that we offer and are able to enjoy without confusion. That’s the third purity that we practice, pure body, pure environment, and pure joy.
Pure actions, similar to the other three purities, are done within the context of the understanding of voidness and bodhichitta. What we imagine that we’re able to do is to exert an “enlightening influence” on everyone around us – the term for a Buddha-activity, which is sometimes just called “Buddha-activity.” I prefer an “enlightening influence,” because a Buddha acts effortlessly in a spontaneous way, without having to plan it, and doesn’t actually do anything. Just the way that a Buddha is exerts an enlightening influence on everyone around.
There are four types of enlightening influence. The first is usually called “pacifying,” that’s to quiet down others, to calm them down. Just being in the presence of a Buddha – and we can see this with some of the great lamas – calms us down. There was this great lama in India who has passed away, Rato Rinpoche, who was known as the Baby Lama when I was there. People, whose babies were constantly crying and were really difficult to calm down, would bring them to the presence of this lama, and just being in his presence, they would calm down.
He really was quite amazing. I saw him once in Bodhgaya where you have a ruthless crowd of beggars around you, demanding money, and really clawing at you. He would come with a little bag of coins, and he had this ability to just say, “Line up, and I’ll give a coin to each of you.” They would all calm down, and they would line up. I never saw anybody else able to control these types of people and calm them down.
That’s one aspect that we have, that we’re able to calm others down, quiet them down, which doesn’t mean to put them to sleep because we’re so boring, but to be able to calm them down if they’re nervous and upset, a wonderful quality to have and to have that influence on others.
The second type of enlightening influence is called “increase.” That means to “stimulate,” where we have a stimulating influence on others. When somebody is in the presence of a Buddha, their minds are clearer, their energy is stronger. They’re able to do many things that normally they’re unable to do, and all their various good qualities increase in strength, they’re stimulated. Also, we could imagine that we have that stimulating influence on everyone around and that we can bring out all their good qualities.
I remember experiences where I would go to the old Ling Rinpoche, the Senior Tutor of His Holiness, before I could understand very much Tibetan, but with him, I could understand almost everything that he said. It was just so stimulating being in his presence that it really made my mind much clearer and much more alert. It wasn’t even that he had to do anything. It was almost like his energy was like that. This is what we’re talking about with this Buddha-activity, this enlightening influence.
The third type of activity is called “power,” which is to be able, in a sense, to get everything organized and under control, so that everything around us becomes more powerful, in a sense. When things are disorganized and out of control, whether it’s people or things around us, then just by our way of being, everybody comes together. It’s not that everybody comes under our power for devious means, or because we’re a control freak, or anything like that. But again, with an understanding of voidness, not an ego-trip or anything like that, we’re just able to get everything around us organized, working together, and under control. It’s almost like natural leadership qualities, to be able to work with a group and everything can come together cohesively just by our charismatic way of being.
Another example of this powerful type of Buddha-activity was with His Holiness. I remember at Rikon in Switzerland, at the time of the Kalachakra initiation there in 1985, people wanted to take the one-day precepts, the one-day vows, and His Holiness said, “Well, that’s very good, so everybody come here at four o’clock tomorrow morning.” It wasn’t easy to get there at four o’clock in the morning, but about three-quarters of the people showed up at four.
If we were to say, “Everybody come here tomorrow morning at four o’clock,” nobody would show up. To have that influence to be able to bring everybody together to do something positivr at four o’clock in the morning, he didn’t even have to do anything. He just said, “OK, tomorrow morning we’ll meet at four o’clock,” and three-quarters of the people came.
The fourth type of Buddha-activity is sometimes translated as “wrathful,” which is not the greatest word, but “forceful.” It entails a very strong, forceful energy to get rid of dangerous situations, when it’s necessary, just by our way of being, “Cut it out.” Once I was in a temple in South India attending a set of empowerments His Holiness was giving when a swarm of hornets flew inside. His Holiness stopped the ritual stared at them and almost like sending out some energy, “Cut it out,” forcefully made them turn around and go out of the temple. I saw that with my own eyes.
These examples are not so far-fetched, we can see some examples, at least I’ve seen some examples in my experience with the great lamas. So, we imagine that we are able to exert these four types of enlightening influence on others. We do this in the sadhana practices when, while imagining ourselves as a Buddha-figure within the context of the understanding of voidness and reciting the mantra, we imagine radiating out lights that exert these types of influences on everyone around us.
In a tantric sadhana, we’re really doing something like a dress rehearsal for being a Buddha, Our mind has all the various good qualities – the correct understanding of voidness, bodhichitta and compassion – as represented by the multiple arms and so on with our body being that of a Buddha-figure in a mandala palace, reciting mantras, and engaging in Buddha- the activities by emanating all these lights, and we have all that going at the same time. This is the significance of the word “tantra” meaning the warp of a loom, on which we weave together all these various aspects and try to do them all at the same time, which is what we will be doing as a Buddha.
So, by practicing now similar to the resultant state that we want to achieve, it acts like doing a dress rehearsal for a theater performance. It acts as the much more efficient cause for being able to achieve that resultant state than by following merely the sutra methods alone. Our practice is not a lie because it’s done within the context of the understanding of voidness and bodhichitta and within the context of “me” as an imputation phenomenon on the basis of these Buddha-nature factors that will allow our future attainment of enlightenment. We know that we’re not there yet. It’s not that we’re taking it literally, concretely true that “I actually am an enlightened being, and I can do all of this.” It’s important then that it not be a self-deceptive process; otherwise, it can become no different from a crazy person thinking that they’re Cleopatra or Napoleon, and it’s not that.
Another aspect of working with these Buddha-figures is the self-image aspect, not only in a graphic sense but also in a sense of our usual meaning of “self-image,” the personality aspects. Each of these Buddha-figures represents the full enlightenment of Buddhahood with all its qualities, but within that general context, each of them has one special feature that it particularly represents.
For instance, Chenrezig, Avalokiteshvara, represents compassion, Manjushri represents wisdom or clarity of mind, these sorts of things. That is also very helpful when we need to try to be more compassionate, to work with the self-image of being Chenrezig, “Yes, I do have this love, this compassion; I am adequate to be able to help others.” Or Manjushri, when we’re feeling pretty dumb, to have this image that, “No, I do have clarity of mind. I am able to understand.” It gives us self-confidence.
Or Kalachakra is a network of 722 figures and very complex. There are figures for each of the days of the week of the year, and each of the bones in the body, and each of the astrology signs, and planets, and all these sorts of things, tons and tons of figures, and we’re an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the whole thing. So, that’s the self-image of being able to handle whatever comes in the cycles of time, any diversity, any sort of astrological configuration, anything that happens during the year.
That’s very helpful when more work gets piled on our desk in the office, “Well, no problem, that’s just another cluster of deities over there, on the third level of my mandala, down in that corner.” We can handle it, no problem. We can handle anything that the cycles bring us. That feeling of being able to handle the full complexity of life is a very helpful self-image, especially when we get into the negative self-image of, “It’s too much. I can’t take it.” So, we work like that with these yidams.
Those are the four types of purities, or purifications, and that’s this first feature that establishes tantra as more efficient and faster than sutra – it’s because it’s closer to the resultant stage. Think about that for a moment.