Six Yogas of Naropa: The Generation Stage

Required Initiations

The text continues with the actual subject matter, which is divided into the discussion of the generation stage and the complete stage. These are the ways to meditate so as to build up these various practices as beneficial habits of the mind. For these six yogas of Naropa, it is necessary to receive an initiation in the highest class of tantra, the anuttarayoga tantra class, such as one of the different systems of Chakrasamvara (Heruka) – from the Luipa, Nagpopa or Drilbupa traditions – or Hevajra or Vajrayogini. However, if we have received Kalachakra, that would also be sufficient. I gave the initiation into Vajrabhairava, or Yamantaka, and followed that with the initiation into Vajrayogini, for which the previous initiation is required. Without such an initiation, it is forbidden to teach these practices and, likewise, forbidden for someone to listen to and study them.

The Generation and Complete Stages 

After having received the initiations, we must train first in the generation stage and then the complete stage practices. There are some people who say that it is not necessary to do the generation stage practices and that it is possible to move right into the complete stage practices from the start. They say that the generation stage practices are only needed to be able to gain common, worldly types of actual attainments and are not necessary for gaining the supreme actual attainment. However, this is incorrect. 

It is possible that there are certain individuals who, in previous lifetimes, have reached total mastery of both the gross and subtle generation stages and therefore, in this lifetime, are ready to just be able to see and look at these complete stage practices and then gain realizations. It is possible that such individuals exist. But that is extremely rare.

The classification into a generation stage and a complete stage is unique to the highest class of tantra. It is found only in anuttarayoga. It is not found in the three lower classes of tantra: the kriya, or ritual deity practices; the charya or behavioral deity practices: or the yoga tantra, the integrated deity practices. It is only in the peerlessly integrated deity practices of anuttarayoga that we find both the generation and complete stages.

To do a proper generation stage practice in the anuttarayoga system, we need to be involved with a deity system that has at least five Buddha-figure deities within it. If we say, “Well, the single deity Yamantaka is only one deity, what about that?” Then, we should realize that the implements in his hands and underneath his feet are all actually deities. Therefore, the presentation includes 49 deities of Vajrabhairava from the implements. Likewise, for Vajrayogini there are 37 deities in the body mandala. For the five-deity Drilbupa tradition of Heruka Chakrasamvara, there are five deities.

When actually engaging in these anuttarayoga practices, the main thing we are working to achieve is to eliminate having to experience death, the intermediate state or bardo, and birth all occurring under the influence of compulsive behavior, or karma, and disturbing emotions and attitudes. This is what we want to get rid of and this is what the practices are aimed at. The various paths of the mind that we develop on the complete stage are what will actually eliminate these. What will act as the cause that will ripen into our ability to achieve success in the complete stage are all the generation stage practices. 

Taking Death as a Path for Actualizing a Dharmakaya

We may wonder how to meditate on the generation stage in a manner that will ripen into our ability to gain success on the complete stage? First of all, there are the practices of taking death as the pathway for actualizing a Dharmakaya, an omniscient Corpus Encompassing Everything. This means emulating the ordinary type of death as it would occur under the force of karma and disturbing emotions as the pathway for being able to actualize a Dharmakaya. To work with ordinary death as the basis to be purified and to learn how to purify it, we would have to understand how the process of death actually occurs. 

What needs to be purified is death occurring under the influence of karma and disturbing emotions. It is on the complete stage that we will actually purify this kind of death with the achievement of the facsimile clear light (dpe’i ‘od-gsal) and the actual clear light (don-gyi ‘od-gsal) consciousnesses. This is what will actually purify and get rid of this basis to be purified. When it is accomplished, we achieve the enlightening mind of a Buddha, a Dharmakaya. However, to do the meditations in the generation stage that take death under the influence of karma and disturbing emotions as the pathway for purifying and achieving a Dharmakaya, we meditate on all the appearances and the experiences that occur analogous to what happens at death. It is like a rehearsal, imagining all the various appearances of things that occur similar to the time of death. 

There is a great deal of suffering and unhappiness that occurs at the time of death. Whether we want to hear about this or not, it is just a matter of time until this happens to each and every one of us. Forgetting about it and pretending it does not exist doesn’t change this fact. To think that we can actually make it go away, although that would be very nice, in fact, doesn’t work. Death is going to happen in any case. If we think about it now and prepare, it is possible to get rid of a death occurring under the influence of the compelling impulses of karma and disturbing emotions. Think how awful all the suffering is that we experience at the time of death when we die under the influence of these compelling impulses and disturbing emotions. Think about how we are not the only one to die like this, but how everyone else has to experience all the same sufferings and horrors of dying.

As was mentioned before, when practicing guru-yoga, we imagine all the lineage masters and our spiritual master in front of us and make a sincere request to be able to rid ourselves of this repeating cycle of compelling, disturbing death. Then, we imagine that we receive inspiration and that the spiritual masters dissolve into us. In the sadhana, the process we follow at the end of the request to the lineage masters when they dissolve into us and the process we follow when the field of merit dissolves into us are also, basically the same in terms of taking death as a pathway for Dharmakaya.

In the middle of the Yamantaka sadhana, when we say, “Om svabhava…” that is when we have the actual taking of death as the pathway for actualizing Dharmakaya. It is done by imagining the entire environment and all beings around us dissolving into light and all that light dissolving into us. We imagine that it is just the appearance of the environment and the beings within it all around us that have ceased. We have not destroyed and made the environment nonexistent. It is just that the gross appearance of this can no longer arise in our mind. We have a certain feeling in our minds, an appearance like a mirage, which would be like, in a sandy desert where there is no water, having a feeling that in the far distance there is a body of water. We feel that way, that there is that type of appearance that we see in our minds.

Dissolution in Sadhana Generation Stage Practices

All this occurs in the sadhanas. Whether we are doing the practice of Vajrayogini, Chakrasamvara, or Yamantaka, it is pretty much the same. First, we dissolve from the bottom of our feet up and the top of our head down into the seed syllable at our heart, the syllable HUM in the case of Yamantaka. With this, we perceive a series of visions, beginning with this mirage-like vision. The vision that follows that is a vision of everything being like smoke. Following that there is a vision of sparks all around us. These come successively until the seed syllable, HUM, starts to dissolve. The “U” vowel underneath the syllable as it is written in Tibetan dissolves into the main body of the syllable pronounced “HA.”  

To summarize, the vision that follows smoke is the sign of seeing sparks in the air. The next vision is seeing a light down at the bottom of a deep well. This appears when the main body of the syllable that is left after the “U” has dissolved into the “HA,” and that dissolves into the top of the syllable as it is written in Tibetan. 

Next, the top of the consonant dissolves into the crescent moon on top of the letter. When it does that, then we get the experience of a white appearance, of everything being just white. At that time, we feel that the appearance of the light at the end of the deep well has ceased. We can sense that, “Now I am having the white appearance and next I am going to have the red appearance.”

The crescent moon at the top of the syllable dissolves into the dot on top. At that point, the white appearance has ceased, we experience the red appearance, and we imagine that the black appearance will be following. 

Then, the dot which is what we are left with at the time of the red appearance dissolves into a tiny squiggle on the top of that dot. At that time, we experience a total blackness of the black appearance, and we imagine that the red appearance has ceased. We sense, “Now I am experiencing the black appearance and next I will experience the clear light, a vision of what the sky looks like in the spring when there is no moon and no sun, when the sky is just at the very first point of starting to become light. This clear-light vision will be coming next.” 

When the squiggle itself finally disappears and nothing is left, at that point we have a vision of the clear light as explained before. The darkness has disappeared, and we are left with just this very pure clear light. While in this state, in which we have a vacuity or absence, it is the absence of all appearances. In this state of bareness or absence, we should not think it is a bareness of nothing existing whatsoever; instead, it is a bareness in which what is absent is the self-established existence or inherent existence of everything that exists. That is what is absent. 

We need, then, to have these four all together: 

  • First, this feeling of a total vacuity or absence of all appearances 
  • Second, the realization that this is an absence of all self-established existence 
  • Third, a feeling that the consciousness that takes this as an object is deep awareness, which is extremely blissful
  • Fourth, the feeling that this is actually the resultant state, the Jnana Dharmakaya, a Corpus of Deep Awareness Encompassing Everything that is on the resultant level of the mental continuum of ourselves as Yamantaka. We hold the pride and dignity of feeling this and, in fact, we hold the pride and dignity of all four of these things all together.

That is what is known as “taking death as the pathway for actualizing a Dharmakaya.” The way in which we set about engaging in this process is first to think, “I must get rid of and eliminate from myself and everyone else the ordinary death that occurs under the influence of karma and disturbing emotions. I have to get rid of that.” The second thought is, “In order to do that, I have to realize and make manifest the paths of clear light on the complete stage, which will actually get rid of that.” The third thought is, “By doing so, I must achieve on the resultant level a Dharmakaya of a Buddha.” With these thoughts, we then engage in the steps of this process as described in order to accomplish all of that.

If we do not have the aim of doing all this in order to benefit all living beings, then even if we do all these practices and meditate correctly on voidness, we will merely be able to gain liberation. We will not be able to gain the enlightened state of a Buddha.

When Atisha was in Tibet, someone came from India. Atisha asked, “What is the news from India?” The news was that there was one practitioner, a yogi, who practiced the tantric system of the Buddha-figure deity called Hevajra, and he had achieved the Hinayana state of realization of a resultant stream-enterer. Now, of course, to gain this resultant level of stream-enterer, one has to have non-conceptual straightforward cognition of voidness. One has become an arya, a highly realized being, a very great attainment. Atisha said that it was very good that this person had achieved the state of an arya being; it was good that on the basis of tantra he at least did not fall to a hell from having done the practices. That is good. This is analogous to someone studying to become the highest official of the land, a king, and that person merely accomplishes becoming a medium-level government official. It is very good that at least this person has not remained a nobody, but he did not become a king. So, in terms of that example, at least he achieved the state of an arya; he did not fall to a hell rebirth.

Therefore, we should do this practice with the aim in mind of being able to benefit and help all beings. Then, it will actually act as a cause for being able to achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha. 

Different Procedures in Different Sadhanas

In terms of the various procedures for taking death as a pathway for actualizing a Dharmakaya, there are different procedures in each of the different sadhanas of the different meditational deities. For instance, when we are doing the practice of Vajrayogini, we imagine that our spiritual master dissolves into us and into the syllable BAM at our heart. The BAM becomes enormous and then again it becomes very small and the various parts of that syllable dissolve one into another. Eventually, we get down to the small squiggle on top of the dot. This squiggle consists of three coils or swirls. As each of these swirls dissolves into the next, we get the white appearance, the red appearance, and the black appearance successively until we achieve the clear light. When I was explaining it previously, for the Yamantaka sadhana practice, at the time when the squiggle dissolved, that is the time of the black appearance. We should not get confused because, in each sadhana, the procedures are slightly different; however, the endpoint and the purpose of all this happening is the same.

Regardless, at the end of this dissolution process, when we have the feeling of having gained a state of a Dharmakaya, we should feel that this is not enough. This is because only the Buddhas themselves can be aware of such a Corpus of Deep Awareness Encompassing Everything; only the Buddhas themselves can perceive it in each other. In order to actually accomplish the purposes of others, we must actually appear in some sort of manifest form that others can see. Even the highly realized bodhisattvas, the arya bodhisattvas, cannot see this Dharmakaya, let alone, ordinary beings with limited minds.

Taking Bardo as a Path for Actualizing a Sambhogakaya 

We should feel that, in order to accomplish the purposes and needs of all beings, we have to manifest in a Corpus of Forms, Form Bodies, that others can see. This is how we go into the following practices. Having done the practices for purifying death that would occur under the influence of karma and disturbing emotions, the next thing is the taking of the bardo or intermediate state between death and rebirth as a pathway for practice. This bardo state is also under the influence of the compelling impulses of karma and disturbing emotions. 

The actual path of mind that will purify this is on the complete stage with the accomplishment of the unpurified and purified illusory bodies. This is what we have to make manifest and actualize so that on a resultant level we will achieve the Sambhogakaya of a Buddha, a Corpus of Bodies of Full Use. It is the feeling that we must accomplish all of this that propels us into the next part of the practice.

To get rid of experiencing a bardo existence under the influence of karma and disturbing emotions, first, we have to know just how the bardo works and what happens. The form that we take in the bardo can be any form. For example, it can be the stump of a tree that has been burned and is walking around. We can arise in such a form in the intermediate state. If someone has taken that appearance in the bardo, that is an indication that they are going to be reborn in one of the most terrible states of rebirth. There is nothing that being can do; however, it is possible to change the fate of that person with various rituals and actions that can be done by the living for the benefit of that being. 

Except for beings with very high states of realizations, only other beings in the intermediate state are capable of seeing each other in their condition. Ordinary people cannot. The complete stage is the path that can purify away the bardo occurring under the force of karma and disturbing emotions and is the path for achieving the unpurified and purified illusory bodies. In the same fashion, just as only the beings in the intermediate state can see each other, similarly, only various persons appearing with illusory bodies can see each other. The resultant level is also similar in that only arya bodhisattvas and above can see a Sambhogakaya. The Buddhas can see them, but ordinary beings cannot. 

Arising as a Sambhogakaya in Sadhana Practice

If we are following the sadhana of Yamantaka, we reach a point where, from a syllable AH, there comes a moon disc. It goes on from there. We generate, in stagesmm various symbolic representations of the body, speech, and mind and so forth until we arise as Manjushri. At this point, we set the actual dignity and pride of having a Sambhogakaya of a Buddha. 

If we are doing the practice of Vajrayogini, we appear in the sky as a red syllable BAM and we hold the pride of this appearance as a resultant Sambhogakaya. In the practices of Heruka Chakrasamvara, we hold the pride of the Sambhogakaya in terms of being a small drop. In Guhyasamaja practice, we do the same with taking on the appearance of Akshobhya. Each of the various deity practices has its own special method of doing this. We should learn and study about whichever practices we are engaged with.

Taking Birth as a Path for Actualizing a Nirmanakaya

Then feel, “In order to benefit all beings, I have to appear in a form that everyone can see. It is not sufficient just to be in the form of a Sambhogakaya because only arya bodhisattvas and Buddhas can see me.” Therefore, we set a strong intention to be able to manifest in a Corpus of Emanation Bodies, a Nirmanakaya, so that everyone can meet with us, and we can work for the sake of all. For this, the basis to be purified is taking birth under the influence of karma and disturbing emotions. The paths that will purify this are the paths called the unpurified and purified Emanation Bodies on the complete stage. The resultant level to be obtained is the Nirmanakaya of a Buddha.

We are thus propelled into the next stages of the practice by this strong thought to take a manifest form to be able to benefit everyone. If we are following the procedures of Yamantaka, from the seed syllable we generate a sun at our heart and then go through the five visualizations called the “five precursors to enlightenment” (mngon-byang lnga). Like this, we arise in the full form of the deity Yamantaka. 

In the case of Vajrayogini, the procedure is to arise as the syllable BAM to purify the bardo state and take it as a path for actualizing a Sambhogakaya. Then, the BAM dissolves into the syllables and moon disc beneath it. This represents taking birth as the Nirmanakaya. This is similar to the consciousness of the bardo being entering the joined sperm and egg of the parents. 

In Yamantaka, the procedure is generating Vajrabhairava through the successive visualizations, starting with the sun disc at our heart as Manjushri. In Guhyasamaja, the procedure is having the Akshobhya, whose form we have taken for Sambhogakaya, enter into the resultant Nirmanakaya, Vajrasattva. In each deity practice, there is a slightly different procedure that is followed. 

In general, however, in all of them there is something representing the consciousness of the parents. Just as on the basis level when we go through the stages of the development of the fetus in the womb, the fetus passes through five distinct stages of development. It is first like jelly. Then, it is like yogurt and so on. Likewise, there is the generation of the Nirmanakaya, a form that purifies birth, also through a five-stage process.

In the Yamantaka sadhana, there is the moon, sun, and vajra with its syllable all transforming into the form of the actual Buddha-figure deity. The last of the precursor visualizations is the generation of the complete body when we arise as the full Vajrabhairava. At that point, we hold the pride of being an actual Nirmanakaya Vajrabhairava, accomplished in an analogous manner to the procedures of dying, taking an intermediate state or bardo and taking rebirth. Once we have arisen in this form, we enjoy the offerings and the praises sung to us. All of these are in analogy to what happens once we have already become a Buddha – how, as a Buddha we enjoy the offerings and receive praises sung by various gods and goddesses. This part of the sadhana is not in analogy with any basis to be purified.

We need to train ourselves very well to hold the pride of actually being the Buddha-figure deity, to feel, “I actually am this deity.” Likewise, we need to practice visualizing clearly the pure appearance of ourselves as the Buddha-figure deity with all its features, the various implements that it is holding, and so on. 

Avoiding the Two Extremes in Sadhana Practice

When we are visualizing and imagining all these various deities and the palace around us and so on, when we start to feel that these things are taking on true existence, self-established from their own side, we need to put more emphasis on the profound side. We need to emphasize that all these things lack self-established existence and stay aware of their voidness, their total absence of these impossible ways of existing. These things do not exist inherently, self-established from their own sides.

If we fall to the other extreme, the position of nihilism, when thinking about voidness so that we imagine that nothing exists whatsoever, we should put more emphasis on the broad and extensive aspect of the path – seeing a pure appearance of everything, the deities, the palace, and so on. In this way, we draw ourselves back from the side of nihilism. 

The Need to Develop a Joined Pair of Shamatha and Vipashyana

At this point, we need to develop the joined pair of a stilled and settled state of mind of shamatha and an exceptionally perceptive state of mind of vipashyana. If we have already achieved this joined pair, it is not necessary to go further in that direction here. However, if we have not yet achieved it, we need to practice all the methods to achieve such an absorbed concentration by following the instructions found in Maitreya’s Madhyantavibhanga, Differentiating the Middle from the Extremes (dBu-mtha’ rnam-‘byed). In this text, we find the application of the six powers, the four types of attention, and so forth. We work with these by concentrating on ourselves as the central and surrounding deities of the mandala, as well as the immeasurably magnificent palace we are in.

Since we are training to achieve simultaneously, together in one state of mind, the profound awareness of voidness as well as the very extensive appearance of everything in the form of the Buddha-figure deity and so on, we are simultaneously building up with such practice the two types of bountiful stores, the networks of deep awareness and positive potential. This is an extremely quick path because it builds up both of these networks at once by practicing simultaneously being aware of the profound level of the reality of what is going on and being aware of the extensive appearance of everything.

Mantra Recitation

If we get tired of doing all that, then at this point we recite the mantras. It is important before we reach that point to meditate very carefully on all these previously mentioned things and build them up as beneficial habits of the mind. There are many different visualizations that we can do while reciting mantras. Eventually, we will need to practice four sessions each day of this generation stage. We continue to do this until we achieve mastery of the gross level of the generation stage through this intensive practice.

Gross and Subtle Mastery of the Generation Stage

The indication that we have achieved proficiency and mastery of the gross generation stage is if we can visualize for one-sixth of a 24-hour period, or four hours, the entire mandala with all the deities in it and the entire palace perfectly with complete clarity and without any mental wandering. Then, we have achieved mastery of the gross level of the generation stage. When we reach the point where we can visualize the entire mandala, the deities and the palace completely, all inside a tiny drop the size of a sesame seed at the tip of our nose and when we can do that with such perfect clarity that we can see the difference between the white and black of the eyes of all the deities for one-sixth of a 24-hour period, that is, for four hours, then we have reached the stage of mastery or proficiency of the subtle generation stage.

It is quite difficult and rare for someone to reach this point of complete proficiency of both the gross and subtle generation stages before beginning the complete stage practices. Therefore, it was the custom of the great translator Marpa that if we are doing four sessions a day of intensive practice, that at the end of one of the sessions, for instance, the evening session, we can do certain complete stage practices in order to set up the instincts to later on be able to actually do these complete stage practices properly. 

Tsongkhapa referred to this practice of Marpa and said that it was very good. However, when practicing like this, we must be extremely careful not to feel proud or arrogant and feel we are actually doing the complete stage practices. We are not. We are simply doing something like that to set up instincts to be able to actually do the complete stage properly when we reach that level.

Abbreviated Practice at the Beginning of the Sadhana

When we say at the beginning of the sadhana, “I instantaneously arise as Heruka,” we do an abbreviated practice of taking the three periods – death, bardo and rebirth – as paths for realizing the three Buddha Bodies.

First, we set the intention to be able to benefit all limited beings. To be of such benefit, we have to rid ourselves of the type of death that we and all others experience under the influence of the compelling impulses of karma and disturbing emotions. To do so, we need to make manifest the paths of the mind that will purify ordinary death, namely the clear light on the complete stage so as to attain a resultant Dharmakaya of a Buddha. For that purpose, at this point, we meditate on voidness right before we instantaneously arise as the Buddha-figure deity at the beginning of the sadhana. This is the abbreviated practice for taking death as the pathway for actualizing Dharmakaya.

Think that, if we were to remain in the state of a Dharmakaya, we would be unable to actually fulfill all the purposes of others; therefore, we must manifest in a Form Body, specifically of a Sambhogakaya. To do that, we should think, “I must overcome and rid myself of the ordinary type of bardo, the intermediate state that would occur under the force of karma and disturbing emotions. As a substitute for that, I will arise in an appearance here at the beginning of the sadhana.”

In terms of doing a Heruka sadhana, we arise in the form of a vertical shaft of blue light the length of our forearm. Our mind is appearing in this visible form of a shaft of blue light, and we hold the pride of that form. Then, we think, “If I merely remain in this form, this won’t be of benefit to everyone. I must manifest in a form that everyone can see. I must manifest in the form of a Nirmanakaya to be able to help everyone. I must overcome ordinary rebirth that would occur under the force of compelling karma and disturbing emotions. To do that, I must make manifest the path on the complete stage of the unpurified and purified emanation bodies in order to achieve a resultant Emanation Body of a Buddha. With these thoughts, we then transform our appearance. 

It doesn’t matter which particular sadhana practice we are doing; let us say in terms of Heruka, we then transform from a shaft of blue light into a simple Heruka with one face and two arms, standing on a variegated lotus and moon disc. It can be this or whatever is involved in the particular practice we are doing. Hold the pride of being this emanation body after chanting, “Instantaneously, I arise as Heruka,” or, “I arise in an instant as Vajrabhairava,” depending on the sadhana we are doing. 

Traditional Monastic Preparation for Tantric Studies

When this part of the practice is done in the Lower Tantric College, Gyume, in the assembly hall with all the monks, they chant “instantaneously…” in a very slow manner, in the amount of time needed, for example, to circumambulate the great hall in which they are sitting. I was a resident and member of the Lower Tantric College for nine years. As I have explained, it was only there that we began to engage in tantra. Before that, we trained in one of the three major monasteries for 20 to 30 years and then attended the tantric colleges to enter into the study and practice of tantra. 

There were various masters who had great realizations and who acted in an unusual manner. I myself met with six or seven persons of such a high level. When I was eight or nine years old, I met someone from the tantric college who had extremely high realizations. This person had the power and ability, using a vajra and a cloth tied to the end of the vajra, to take his vajra and toss it in the air when there was a violent wind and thus make the wind immediately die down. This was something I saw; these things actually exist, and I saw them with my own eyes. It is something that is possible to do. At that time, since I was a small child and very impressionable, I thought to try to do the same thing. I tied a piece of cloth onto a vajra and waved it in the wind, but nothing happened.

Concluding Comments

This is the practice of the generation stage that we do through all these procedures that have been described. If we emphasize and practice the development of bodhichitta, and we gain realization of voidness then, on the basis of these, we can gain all the various realizations and abilities to be able to actually benefit ourselves and others. This is the way to approach the practice, having such a firm foundation. If we develop actual mastery and proficiency in the gross and subtle generation stage, as described, we can achieve such great realizations, powers, and abilities as these. If we go on to the complete stage, we can achieve powers and abilities that are even greater.