Tantra: The Four Purities


Tantra is more efficient than sutra for four different points, if we’d like to analyze it – 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 which is common to all four classes of tantra.

The four classes of tantra are not practiced in the manner that we have, for instance, the lam-rim. They don’t present a graded path, where you 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 one works 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 and there, there’s also a great deal 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, and the channels, and the winds, and working with them in order to dissolve these 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 nonconceptual cognition of voidness as a true path, which will bring about a true stopping of the first two noble truths, the suffering and its causes. Or we can look at it in terms of a true stopping of the two obscurations, the ones preventing liberation and the ones preventing omniscience, or enlightenment.

That clear light level of mental activity is the most efficient level for doing it, 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 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 one is practicing 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, one needs to switch to anuttarayoga tantra. Whether that happens sort of automatically or one has to do certain practices and so on, 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 really achieve a non-conceptual cognition of voidness.

General Tantra Theory

So, let’s look at these four points why tantra is more efficient than sutra, first of all in terms of general tantra. General tantra would be something which 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 a Buddha and the type of cognition of a Buddha. That corresponds, of course, to our discussion of mental activity. Remember, the body would be equivalent to the appearance-making and the mind would be equivalent to the cognizing aspect of mental activity. We also saw that mental activity can be described from the point of view of a way of being aware of something, but it can also be described from the point of view of the subtlest energy that is underlying that. It would be from that subtlest energy that one actually gets a physical type of body together with that appearance-making, which would, in a sense, give it a shape.

It’s on that basis that we want to achieve a body and mind of a Buddha, and we have the basic working materials for that in terms of Buddha-nature; but it’s obscured and that can give rise to our samsaric type of body and mind. The samsaric mind is not only one that is obscured by disturbing emotions – that first set of grasping for true existence, that first set of obscurations – but it is also limited, because of the appearance-making of true existence, which is those obscurations that prevent omniscience.

Because of that appearance-making of true existence, our minds are limited, our bodies are limited, even if we were to get rid of the disturbing emotions. That’s like what we were talking about of periscope perception, that we are like submarines, cognizing the world through periscopes, and so we are very limited. 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, all the different effects of what’s going to follow from our actions. And we feel as though we’re a solid me inside the submarine, which is a very distorted perception – although 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 as well, get out of that type of submarine periscope perception. So, that basic mental activity and the energy underlying it – the appearance-making and the cognizing – can give rise to that type of samsaric body and mind, limited, and with disturbing emotions, and all the various karmic influences on the physical body, so it runs down, and gets old, and gets sick, and dies, and all that sort of stuff. 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 Buddha-nature.

So how do we do this? What’s the most efficient way of doing this? We’ve spoken about this in general before, but here we can look a little bit more specifically and in more detail. In sutra, we work with the two enlightenment-building networks, the network of positive force from doing constructive things – it’s usually called the collection of merit – and the network of deep awareness, deep awareness of voidness – that’s mostly in the Gelug school, but in the other schools, you can also speak in terms of the five types of deep awareness – mirror-like and so on – working with those within the context of an understanding of voidness… those two networks.

In other words, we build up more and more experience, extend it and so on and it strengthens the positive force. It sort of interacts and networks together. The same thing with the deep awareness, those individual moments of deep awareness that we have will, in a sense, network together in terms of their legacies and build up more and more strength. That’s what we’re doing and they need to be conceived with bodhichitta, carried out with bodhichitta, and dedicated with bodhichitta, in order for them to become enlightenment-building networks, and not just samsaric-building networks.

Tantra Practice Resembles the Result: The Four Purities

When we do this with the sutra methods, then 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 type of appearance of a Buddha with the thirty-two major and eighty minor physical characteristic features and each of these features is going to, in a sense, indicate 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, a bodhisattva cares 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.

So the practice doesn’t quite resemble the result so closely. They resemble them more by some type of analogy. The cause is not so similar to the result, so it takes quite a lot of time for the cause to bring about the result, whereas in tantra what we do is, we imagine that we are already at that stage of the result. And so we practice now in our imaginations that we are a fully enlightened being, that we have this purified state of these Buddha-nature factors.

We work with four aspects. The first is, we imagine we have

  • a purified body, which would include speech
  • a purified environment – both of those are speaking about the appearance, appearance-making
  • a purified experience of joy – that would be for the mind, sort of the cognizing aspect
  • a purified way of acting or actions. These are called the four purities, or purified aspects, the way that we act being the last one.

This is again in terms of bodhichitta. We’re thinking of our future attainment of enlightenment, we’re aiming for that as the resultant state of tantra, and so that is a valid basis for labeling “me.” As we discussed yesterday, the conventional “me” is a way of integrating – in a sense, in almost a mathematical sense – that whole series of moments over time of our mental continuum, beginningless all the way up to enlightenment. All of that is a valid basis for labeling “me,” like the first integral that integrates a series of dots into a line. A line is actually a construct based on dots – the same thing in terms of the conventional “me” as an abstraction connecting the dots, as it were, of each moment of the mental continuum. And so that future point, at which we’re going to be enlightened, is a valid basis for labeling “me,” just as is any other point in that mental continuum.

Purified Body

That’s what we’re working with here. We imagine that our bodies are 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” for “damtsig” is a close bond – we want to make a close bond for our minds by having our mental activity give rise to this appearance of a Buddha-figure. By making a close connection with that, a close bond, familiarizing ourselves over and over again, then that acts as a cause for actually having our energy manifest, in conjunction with mental activity, and give rise to ourselves in that form.

We practice now in terms of that in our imaginations. It’s like working with an internal hologram from our imaginations. That type of mental activity would act as a cause for being able to have, in a sense, the mental activity project, or make an external hologram, in which we actually appear like that in the world.

We work like that with a purified body and likewise with speech in the sense of working with mantras. We imagine that our speech is in the form of mantras. We recite mantras and the mantras in a sense are a shaping of the energy. We always say that the word “mantra” means something to protect the mind, protecting the mind from grasping for true existence, for being discordant in a sense, because the mind can wander all over the place with internal chatter. So 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, 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 a structured way. So in that sense it protects the mind.

But on a more subtle level, what it does, is it shapes the breath, which shapes the energy, because breath and energy are intimately connected – it’s the same word in Tibetan or Sanskrit (rlung, Skt. prana) – and it’s very important to give some shape to that. Also, when we talk about speech, that is referring to communication, that’s referring to responsiveness, if we look at it from a Nyingma point of view. In other words, we have the basic 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. We also imagine that that speech is able to communicate to everybody in their own language. Everybody is able to understand what we say; we’re able to communicate to everybody perfectly.

So we work with a figure, we work with also saying mantras and all of that’s within the context of the understanding of voidness. That’s the first aspect, the purified body that’s similar to the result.

Purified Environment

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, that’s the most common aspect that we encounter – although sometimes you 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 – but that 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 you know how to read it, you can see how the various segments and divisions of the walls are laid down, and you can see how the gates work, and the entrance halls, and all these sort of things, and it indicates some of the measurements and proportions. And what one wants to visualize is never a two-dimensional mandala, but one always visualizes or imagines that one is inside a palace. And the palace is a very complex architectural structure, and each of the features of that has many different levels of meaning, just as all the different arms and faces and legs of the Buddha-figure have many different levels of representation. So again, it helps us as a method for keeping all the insights 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 we are all of them. It’s not just that we’re a central figure in a mandala, but we are all the figures of the mandala, whether it’s a couple, whether it’s 722 figures as in the Kalachakra mandala. Not only are we all the figures in this mandala pure environment, but we’re the building as well, we’re the whole thing.

That becomes very interesting, if you think about it. If we look on a samsaric level – and here Kalachakra actually is very helpful for seeing the external, internal, and alternative levels of meaning, alternative being the nirvanic level – in 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 covering it a whole system of skin – and we’re the whole thing. It’s not just that we’re the liver, or the heart, or something like that. It’s a network of all these different systems and features.

Similarly, each of those various features is represented by a deity. In these systems we talk about the aggregates being each figure, one figure for each aggregate, one figure for each of the elements, and one for each of the cognitive sensors – for the photosensitive cells of the eyes, and the sound-sensitive of the ears, and so on – and the various cognitive representations of sense objects, the sights we see, and the sounds we hear, and so on. All of those are represented by Buddha-figures and likewise the building. Just as we have a skin, we also have a building. Similarly, different features of the building can represent different things; so it’s not so weird to imagine that we are this cluster of figures.

Working like this, and even if we’re working just with a central couple, it’s important to have this within the context of understanding voidness, because very often people have difficulties with these practices because of 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, people will feel uncomfortable being the 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 of description in the practices seem to be aimed at this whole thing of “Within my body, this or that,” from the perspective of the central figure, but we’re the whole thing. Being 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 both, then the gender issue is not such a central one. Also, in terms of a mental continuum, then the mental continuum does not have an innate gender. Depending on the karma in one lifetime it’s one gender, and in one lifetime it’s another gender.

It doesn’t have an innate species. We’re different species in each lifetime, so similarly we were different genders and different nationalities and so on. It really requires a bit of an understanding of voidness. But it’s a delicate issue and one that really tends to bother a lot of people in their practice. There are also various types of practices where it says that one keeps the body of the figure, but in certain aspects of the practice, which involve visualization of the sexual organs, if the particular sexual organs seem uncomfortable, one can switch them. So it’s not so absolutely essential in terms of maintaining – for that particular part of the practice – the gender sign that normally goes with that figure. So 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 we are in actual life a member of a couple, we know what it feels like to be a couple. We’re trying to visualize ourselves all day long in the form of these Buddha-figures, and 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, most of us, 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, we are the couple.

Also, in working with the visualizations of ourselves as Buddha-figures, also one has to keep in mind that the Buddha-figure isn’t a statue that’s frozen, and you just sort of raise a little bit above the ground, and hover there, and move without actually moving your arms or legs, or you never sit down, if it’s a standing figure. It’s not like that at all. These 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 person asking Serkong Rinpoche – he this disciple was visualizing himself as Yamantaka all day long, or trying to – and then, “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 – it’s a living type of process.

We imagine that now we have this appearance and this environment around us. In visualization as well, what one needs to realize is that the visualization is with mental consciousness. That’s why, when we do visualizations in Tibetan Buddhist practice, it’s always recommended that we keep our eyes open. I mean, there are many reasons for keeping the eyes open. One of them is that it helps with Mahayana motivation. If you close your eyes, then it’s like shutting out the world, “Don’t bug me, don’t bother me, I’m meditating,” and then you don’t really want to come out of it and then deal with all the stuff that’s around us. You don’t want to open your 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 – stilled and settled mind with perfect concentration – and you visualize a Buddha-figure, like Buddha Shakyamuni, in front of you at eye level, it’s not that your eyes are looking at it. Your eyes are looking down at the floor, and you’re visualizing 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 height, 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. So it’s not so difficult as it might seem.

As I was saying, visualization is done with mental consciousness, not with the eye consciousness. And so when we are visualizing ourselves as a Buddha-figure and the environment around us as a mandala, trying to do that all day long, this is very difficult to be mindful of – mindful meaning the mental glue to hold our attention. But we shouldn’t think that that’s 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 it the mandala, and these forms of the Buddha-figure, and the pure environment. That fits in quite nicely with this inseparable samsara and nirvana approach in Sakya, that the two appearances coexist, in a sense, and are equally valid.

So we work like that, with a pure body, pure environment.

Purified Experience of Joy

And then there’s the experience of pure joy, purified joy. Normally, our experience of joy is mixed with confusion, the solid me, and grasping for true existence of the joy and what’s giving us the joy and the pleasure, and these sort of things. What we want to do is to be able to experience joy in an nondisturbing 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 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, and they’re just fleeting stains that you can achieve a true stopping of, then that joy is the natural state of the mind, from that 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 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, of the various senses, and there are many, many different levels of offering that we do.

Also we are able to bring happiness to others in terms of making these offerings to all sentient beings. This is practice not only in generosity, but being able to give joy to others, and one of the things that is unique in the Gelug tradition, and Tsongkhapa, is that we also imagine ourselves enjoying the offerings. We 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 away from all these potentially disturbing factors.

We do these outer offerings in terms of sense objects in all the classes of tantra, and when we speak about inner, and secret or hidden, and thusness offerings, that’s exclusive to the highest class of tantra, and those are going on 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.

Purified Actions

Pure actions, similar to all the rest of them, are done within the context of the understanding of voidness. 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 in a spontaneous way, without having to plan it, and doesn’t actually do anything. Just the way that a Buddha is is going to exert 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 who has passed away, Rato Rinpoche he was called, in India, who was known as the Baby Lama when I was there. And people whose babies were constantly crying and it was really difficult to calm them down, they’d 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 Bodh Gaya where you have a ruthless crowd of beggars around everybody, and demanding money, and really clawing at you, and 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.” And they would all calm down and they would line up. I never saw anybody else able to control these type of people and calm them. 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, to have that influence on others.

Then the second type of enlightening influence is called “increase,” usually. That means to “stimulate,” when we have a stimulating influence on others. When somebody is in the presence of a Buddha, then their minds are more clear, their energy is stronger. They’re able to do things, and all their various qualities increase, they’re stimulated. Also we could imagine that we have that stimulating influence on everyone around, 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 the mind much more clear and much more alert. It wasn’t even that you 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,” usually, which is to be able, in a sense, to get everything organized and under control, so that everything around you becomes more powerful, in a sense. When things are very disorganized and out of control, whether it’s people or things around you, then just by your way of being everybody comes together. It’s not that everybody comes under my power for devious means, or being 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 internally organized and working together and everything around us under control. It’s almost like natural leadership qualities, to be able to work with a group and everything can come together cohesively – and just by your way of being, a charismatic way of being.

The fourth type of Buddha-activity is sometimes translated as “wrathful,” which is not the greatest word, but “forceful,” a very strong, forceful energy to get rid of dangerous situations, when it’s necessary. Sort of, just by your way of being, cut it out, like I was explaining this example of the swarm of hornets flying into the temple, and his Holiness just sort of almost like sending out some energy, “Cut it out,” forcefully made them turn around and go out of the temple.

Or an example of this powerful type of Buddha-activity – 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, one-day vows, and his Holiness said, “Well, that’s very good, so everybody come here at four o’clock in the morning.” And it wasn’t easy to get there at four o’clock in the morning, and about three quarters of the people came at four o’clock in the morning. 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 powerfully together, like come together 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 everybody came, three quarters of them.

So these are not so far-fetched. We can see some examples, at least I’ve seen some examples in my experience with the great lamas. And so we imagine that we are able to exert these four types of enlightening influence on others. That is done in the sadhana practices when we are imagining ourselves as a Buddha-figure within the context of the understanding of voidness, and reciting mantra, and imagining lights going out, and exerting these type of influences on everyone around us.

We’re really doing something like a dress rehearsal of being a Buddha, the mind having all the various – voidness, and bodhichitta, and compassion – we’re trying to have all these things as represented by the arms and so on, and being this Buddha-figure, and the mantra, and the activities, and all the lights, and all of that, at the same time. This is what I was referring to when we were talking about the warp of a loom, on which you 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. By practicing now similar to the resultant state that we want to achieve, that 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.

And it’s not a lie, because it’s done within the context of the understanding of voidness, within the context of labeling “me” on these Buddha-nature factors that will allow it, and on our future attainment of enlightenment as a valid basis for labeling. And 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 is going to represent the full enlightenment of Buddhahood with all its qualities, but within that general context then each of them is going to have one special feature that it particularly represents.

For instance, Chenrezig, Avalokiteshvara, being compassion, Manjushri being wisdom or clarity of mind, these sort 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 we’re feeling pretty dumb, to have this image that, “No, I do have clarity of mind. I am able to understand.” It helps give us self-confidence.

Or Kalachakra is a network of seven hundred and twenty-two 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 sort of things, tons and tons of figures – and we’re 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. So 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 is faster that sutra, because it’s closer to the resultant stage. Think about that for a moment.