Using Blissful Awareness as the Cognizer of Emptiness

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We were discussing the various methods used in Buddhism to strengthen the evolving Buddha-nature factor that we identified within the network of good qualities, namely our innate joy, our ability to experience things with happiness. As you recall, in order to strengthen such networks, we need not only to strengthen the factors that are there innately, but also to remove the fleeting stains that prevent these factors from functioning fully.

This process of strengthening and purifying can occur through many different mechanisms. As we have seen, sometimes the removal of the stains is equivalent to the strengthening of the good qualities or of the positive force coming from the constructive actions in which we use those qualities. For instance, the elimination of mental wandering and dullness is equivalent to the attainment of a fully concentrated mind. It is not that first we eliminate these hindrances and then we attain perfect concentration. Similarly, restraining from destructive behavior is in fact a constructive action. In other cases, strengthening the good quality, let’s say love, will then bring about the purification or removal of hatred. In yet other cases, the understanding of voidness will bring about the elimination of confusion because they are the exact opposites. Like this, there are many mechanisms that are involved.

We spoke about various ways of strengthening or increasing our innate joy and I would like to go over that list again, just to summarize the cause of suffering that each one eliminates.

  • Acting constructively with our body, speech, and mind goes hand in hand with eliminating destructive behavior, speech, and thought
  • Generating and strengthening love goes together with eliminating anger and hatred
  • Rejoicing in the constructive actions and good qualities of ours and others goes together with eliminating regret and jealousy
  • Developing an attitude of cherishing others goes with eliminating the self-cherishing attitude
  • Attaining the joy of having a quiet mind goes together with eliminating verbal thought
  • Gaining the exhilarating joy of the sense of fitness that comes with the attainment of a stilled and settled state of mind – shamatha – goes together with eliminating mental wandering, flightiness of mind, and mental dullness
  • Gaining the exhilarating joy of the sense of fitness that comes with the attainment of an exceptionally perceptive state of mind – vipashyana – goes together with the eliminating of the inability to perceive deeply what is going on and how everything fits together and exists
  • Gaining the four levels of joy within the central channel goes together with eliminating the blockages preventing the flow of the subtle creative energy drops within the central channel
  • Gaining the joy of having the energy-winds enter, abide, and dissolve in the central energy channel goes with eliminating their flow in the other channels, causing physical and mental nervousness and tension and wild, uncontrolled conceptual thoughts
  • Gaining the untainted happiness of being rid of the disturbing emotions and attitudes goes together with being rid of confusion
  • Attaining the bliss of being rid of deceptive appearance-making goes together with eliminating the mind ever departing from blissful clear light awareness of voidness. This means eliminating ever generating again the unconscious, most subtle appearance-making conceptual minds and the subtle energy-winds that accompany them. The elimination of that ever happening again goes together with the elimination of the constant habits of confusion.

In gaining all of these different levels of happiness and joy, we are strengthening the evolving Buddha-nature factor of innate joy that is part of our network of good qualities. We can then apply ever stronger levels of happiness to further methods for building up the networks of positive force and deep awareness. We never work on strengthening happiness all by itself, just for the sake of becoming happier. Rather, we strengthen our happiness always within the context of working with other factors and elements within our entire system of networks of good qualities, positive force, and deep awareness. And we do all of this with a bodhichitta aim as our motivation. We want to get all of these networks and potentials to reach a critical mass so that the networks can function on their highest quantum level as the Bodies of a Buddha and, in this way, we can be of best benefit to everyone.

Motivation and Dedication of Positive Force

In order for our strengthened levels of innate joy to help our system of networks of evolving Buddha-nature factors to function on higher quantum levels, it is not sufficient just to have the proper motivation before engaging in practices that will enhance our happiness. Just as it is essential to accompany these practices with a proper motivation beforehand, we also need to follow them with a proper dedication afterwards. After we have finished engaging in a constructive action that will strengthen our happiness, we need to consciously direct the positive force built up by that experience toward strengthening our network of positive force for the sake of reaching enlightenment and benefiting others. We need to make this type of dedication even when we just normally experience ordinary happiness in everyday life. We can transform that experience into something positive and constructive with the properly motivated dedication.

To dedicate positive force, we may think, “May this experience make a deep impression on me so that the positive force from it strengthens my innate potential for experiencing joy. Due to that, may I experience more and more joy that I can use as a pathway of mind for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.” The experience of happiness or of practices to strengthen our happiness is going to make an impression on our mental continuums anyway, but it is normally not going to make a very significant impression. If we make this dedication of positive force in a very conscious way, then that impression becomes much deeper and also we are directing the impression for the positive aim of reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.

The mechanism for this strengthening is described very clearly in the teachings on karma. An action that has a very strong motivation – whether a positive one or a negative one – is going to bear a much stronger result than an action that is done with a weak motivation. The strongest positive motivation is a bodhichitta aim. So if we use that as the motivation, “May the positive force of this experience make a strong impression on me so that I can reach enlightenment quickly to be able to benefit everyone,” then by the laws of karma, as a result of that strong motivation, the positive force from the action will be much stronger. So the impression will be much stronger and the result will be much stronger. The same is true with a similar dedication of the positive force afterwards. We need to understand the whole process of setting a motivation before acting and dedicating the positive force afterwards within the context of the teachings on karma. It is not as though these are some weird exotic ritualistic acts that have nothing to do with the more logical teachings of Buddhism. That is important, bring everything down to earth.

Combining the Strengthening of Innate Joy with a Correct Understanding of Voidness

When we dedicate the positive force from experiences and constructive actions that will strengthen the evolving Buddha-nature factor of our innate joy, we need to ensure that this positive force does not simply ripen into our experiencing more intense levels of tainted samsaric happiness. Even dedicating that positive force so that the happiness that ripens from it will be able to help us reach enlightenment for the benefit of all is not enough. We need to accompany our constructive actions and experiences of happiness with some level of correct understanding of voidness.

Tainted samsaric happiness comes from constructive behavior done while making a big deal out of ourselves and what we are doing. Either consciously or unconsciously we may think, “I’m so good; what I’m doing is so wonderful.” Such thoughts cause the positive force from the constructive action to ripen into the experience of tainted samsaric happiness – happiness mixed with confusion.

When we mix love with confusion, we may have the feeling, “I am such a loving person” and we may expect the other person to love us back in return. Or if we mix rejoicing with confusion, then when we rejoice, we may put the other person up on a pedestal and feel, “You are so wonderful and I am so terrible down here.” If we mix confusion with developing an attitude of cherishing others, we may think, “I’m such a saint; I’m such a great bodhisattva working for others.” Or we may develop a martyr complex, thinking, “I will suffer for the sake of poor miserable you.”

As for attaining the joy of a quiet mind, the purpose is not just to become like a cow and not think anything. To aim for a quiet mind for such a purpose is really confusion. Then, if we mix confusion with the exhilarating joy that comes with the sense of fitness from attaining shamatha, we may become “blissed-out,” which means we become completely spaced out in bliss and don’t want to come down. This is similar to what happens when people get high on recreational drugs – they become “blissed-out.” They are so spaced out from them, they don’t want to come back down to ordinary life. That is not what we are aiming for. There is a big danger of getting high from meditation. It’s a real danger. Also, if we mix confusion with the exhilarating joy that comes with the sense of fitness from attaining vipashyana, we may become very egocentric and arrogant, thinking, “How clever I am. My mind is so fantastic, it can understand anything.”

So, what we want to do is to combine all these causes for strengthening our innate joy with an understanding of voidness. Then these practices will start to bring us untainted happiness – happiness that is not mixed with confusion. For instance, we don’t want to experience the four levels of joy within our central channel or get the winds into the central channel as ends in themselves. Anybody sufficiently trained in sophisticated forms of yoga can do that and then think, “How great I am!” These are just yogic manipulations of our subtle energy-winds. We need to combine these yogic practices with the understanding of voidness so that generating the intense levels of joy that come from them becomes a method for reaching liberation and enlightenment.

The same is true regarding dissolving all the subtle energy-winds involved with disturbing emotions, confusion, conceptual thought, and subtle appearance-making so that we reach the level of clear light mind. This happens automatically at death any way. We want to reach this subtlest level of mind in meditation so that we can generate it into a blissful awareness focused non-conceptually on voidness and, through that, gain liberation and enlightenment more quickly. This is what we are aiming to do in all these Buddhist practices for strengthening our innate joy. We want to strengthen happiness and eliminate the causes for unhappiness, by undertaking this with a bodhichitta motivation and dedication, and through a correct understanding of voidness.

Combining Voidness and Bliss in Practice

How do we do this in practice? We can work on these method and wisdom sides one by one or by putting a few of their components together, as we do in sutra, or we can do this on a tantra level in which, as you recall, we do many, many things simultaneously. That is why tantra is very advanced: we have to have trained first, at least a little bit, in all of the aspects of Dharma practice that we want to combine, before we can possibly do them all at the same time.

In tantra in general, we practice a method that is similar to the result – namely imagining ourselves in the form of a Buddha-figure – so that we can achieve the resultant stage more quickly. The additional method that we use specifically in the highest class of tantra, anuttarayoga tantra, is blissful awareness. We combine that with a deep awareness of voidness, by making it a blissful awareness of voidness; and this is similar to what we have on the resultant stage, the blissful deep awareness of voidness as a Buddha. You will recall that according to the Kalachakra formulation, a Buddha’s Dharmakaya, referring to a Buddha’s Enlightening Mind, has two aspects. The Deep Awareness Dharmakaya is a Buddha’s omniscient, all-loving deep awareness simultaneously of the conventional and deepest truths about everything; and the Body of Essential Nature is the blissful awareness aspect of that omniscient mind.

Although inseparable voidness and bliss is most often discussed in anuttarayoga tantra, we can also use it as a way of describing tantra in general. So-called “vajra expressions” found in anuttarayoga texts can be understood on many different levels, and one of these levels is with a “general shared meaning” that applies in common to all four classes of tantra. Each of the four classes, then, can be described as employing increasingly more intense levels of bliss. The general shared meaning may even apply to the sutra level of practice as well.

[See: Explaining Vajra Expressions: 6 Alternatives & 4 Modes]

Generating Blissful Awareness of Voidness in the Context of Making Offerings

What type of practice can we use now for working with this method of combining voidness and bliss? The main practice is making offerings. It is very important to understand this. Making offerings plays an important role in both sutra and tantra practice. Making offerings is the second limb of the seven-limb prayer, which is practiced in common in both sutra and tantra as a preliminary for building up positive force and cleansing away negative force.

In Engaging in Bodhisattva BehaviorBodhicharyavatara – Shantideva elaborates beautifully on the various objects that we may offer to the Buddhas as part of this seven-limb prayer. These include both actual and visualized objects, and both those that we own and those in the public domain. We offer them with a happy state of mind and imagine that the Buddhas enjoy and happily accept them for our sake. Optimally, we make these offerings not only with a happy state of mind, but also with some understanding of the voidness of ourselves, the act of offering, the objects we offer, and the Buddhas to whom we offer them.

[See: Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, Chapter 2]

Also practiced in common in both sutra and tantra is the offering of water to drink, water to wash one’s feet, and then sometimes also water for showering, and water to rinse the mouth. These are called in Sanskrit: argham, padyam, prokshanam, and anchamanam. We follow this with offering flowers, cologne water, candles or butter lamps, incense, food, and music. In Sanskrit, these are pushpe, dhupe, aloke, gandhe, naividya, and shabda. We offer all these things to the Buddhas when we invite them to our place of meditation or study. This offering follows the customs of ancient India when householders would invite Buddha and his monks to their homes for a teaching. Since the honored guests would have arrived on foot, barefoot and in the hot sun, they would first offer them water to drink, then water to wash off their hot, dusty feet. Next, they would offer them a cool shower and, before sitting down to a meal prior to the teaching, water to rinse out their mouths. At the table, they would arrange beautiful flowers. Then they would give the guests a refreshment towel moistened with cologne water. On the table would be lit candles and the room would have the fragrant smoke of incense burning. They would then serve a delicious meal, with soft music in the background.

Following this custom as a preliminary in both sutra and tantra practice, we invite the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to be present during our meditation and study sessions. We then offer them all these above objects. We offer them with a happy state of mind, imagining that our honored guests are made comfortable and happy by them, and we bear in mind the voidness of everything involved in this.

Likewise, as a preliminary for both sutra and tantra practice, we offer the above objects in the manner of the offerings of absorbed concentration – the offerings of samadhi. This entails offering various aspects of our practice by imagining them in the form of the above offering objects. We offer them to please the Buddhas and bodhisattvas by our practice, despite the fact that the Buddhas and bodhisattvas have the same love and compassion for everyone, regardless of whether people practice or not. In addition, we offer these aspects of our practice to all limited beings as resources for us to help them achieve the happiness of liberation and enlightenment.

So, we offer all the reading and study we have done and imagine that this takes the form of the water offerings. We offer all the knowledge we have gained from that reading and study in the form of flowers, the discipline to apply this knowledge in the form of incense, and the insight gained from that disciplined practice in the form of candlelight. The firm conviction in the Dharma that we gain from that insight, we offer in the form of cologne water, our concentration in the form of food, and our abilities to teach and explain the Dharma in the form of music. Again, we make these offering with a happy state of mind, imagining that we bring happiness to everyone, and with some understanding of the voidness of everything and everyone involved.

Outer Offerings

In tantra practice itself, there are four types of offerings that we make: outer offerings, inner offerings, enigmatic offerings, and offerings of the very nature of reality. Alternative names for these four are external offerings, internal offerings, secret or hidden offerings, and thusness offerings. All four classes of tantra have the making of outer offerings. The other three types of offerings are made only in anuttarayoga tantra.

Outer offerings include the offerings we just mentioned of any type of beautiful external object in general and, specifically, the waters, flowers, incense, and so on. Some tantra systems add several more such objects, such as different forms of musical entertainment. In tantra, we also make outer offerings of objects that specifically bring pleasure to each of the senses: beautiful sights, sounds, fragrances, tastes, and physical sensations. And of course we need to make these offerings of desirable sense objects with an understanding of voidness, so that we do not accompany our act of making offerings with disturbing emotions such as longing desire and attachment. However, because we are offering objects that we like and which ordinarily bring us happiness, we are in a happy state of mind when we offer them. In anuttarayoga tantra, we even imagine that we make these offerings of desirable objects to ourselves as Buddha-figures and that we enjoy them with untainted pure happiness.

Making these types of outer offerings is also going to strengthen our happiness in the sense that it is a constructive action that will ripen into our future experience of happiness. The constructive action is being generous and that reinforces our practice of generosity with actual people in everyday life. Making these offerings also strengthens our love, because we are doing this with love: we want to give pleasure and happiness to the other person, whether it is to the Buddhas or to limited beings. Also, we try to make the offerings with a mind that is fully concentrated, so that we experience the joy of a stilled and settled mind of shamatha, and with a mind that is exceptionally perceptive, so that we see the reality of everything that is going on in this process. In making the offerings, we also rejoice in the happiness that we bring to others and to ourselves. When we experience happiness and pleasure now while making the offerings, we do so with an understanding of voidness, so that the experience is not so disturbing and goes in the direction of experiencing untainted bliss. In this way, the practice resembles the result we are wishing to attain through it. Finally, we crown the whole process with a dedication to enlightenment for the benefit of all.

We can see, like this, how in making not only outer offerings, but all four types of offerings in this way, we are strengthening our innate joy in a manner that is not mixed with confusion. Also, we are strengthening it in a multi-dimensional manner by combining so many aspects of Dharma practice at once. I think you can start to see what an extraordinary practice making offerings is when it is done consciously and we know what we are doing with it.

What would the feeling of joy that is unmixed with confusion be like?

It is joy that is not mixed with a grasping for true existence – of me, of the actual joy itself, of the object that is producing the joy, of the object that we are offering the joy to, and so on, that none of them have true existence, or inherent existence. So there is nothing in them that makes it inherently what it is, that there is something inside the sensation that makes it desirable and joyous by its own power.

On a mundane level, a samsaric level, a feeling of joy or happiness is the ripening of positive karma. That’s what it is, where it’s coming from. It’s arising from causes. It’s how one experiences the ripening, the result of positive karma, of being constructive. On a nirvanic level it’s the experience of that state of separation from disturbing emotions – and what we try to do, of course, is to experience that without this ego-grasping, “Me, and I want it, and I want it to last forever,” and not let go. Or in terms of giving to someone else, “Oh, it’s not going to be good enough, it’s not going to satisfy them, they’re not going to like it,” or “They’re going to like it too much and then make too much demands on me,” all these ego-concerns about it – it’s just pure joy. Not easy, for many of us – not easy at all.

The Three Gateways to Liberation

The understanding of voidness that we combine with our making and enjoying the offerings and with the joy we experience from making them is usually formulated in terms of the “three gateways to liberation,” sometimes translated as the “three doors to liberation.”

  • First is the voidness of us as the persons who are making the offering. We are devoid of existing as either totally identical with or completely different and independently from the aggregates factors of our body and mind.
  • Second is the voidness of the causes for the offering, which refers mainly to the voidness of the various aspects of our motivation and the process of causality. The motivating factors would include compassion, love, the wish to bring happiness and joy to others, and the bodhichitta aim to attain enlightenment by means of this, so as to be best able to help others. The causes do not exist as entities by themselves, totally separate and independent of their result. Nor do they exist as identical with the result, in the sense of being an unmanifest state of the result. We might misconceive our Buddha-nature factors, like innate joy, to exist in this impossible manner. On the simplest level, we don’t make a big deal out of our motivation as the causal factor involved in making offerings. We don’t think, “Oh, I have so much love, I want to bring you happiness.” Also, we realize that results do not arise from one cause or from irrelevant causes or from no cause at all, but arise dependently on many causes and conditions.
  • Third is the voidness of the result, namely the voidness of the enlightenment or the various Buddha-Bodies that we are aiming to achieve through the practice. It is not that the result is already truly existent at the time of the cause, nor is it totally nonexistent at the time of the cause. In the simplest terms, we don’t make a big deal out of the result. It is not that enlightenment is such a fantastic thing, and it is up there and I am going to get it. We don’t make a big deal of what we are aiming for.

Sometimes a fourth gateway to liberation is specified:

  • This is the voidness of what are known as the “three circles.” This refers to the voidness of (1) us as the persons making the offering, (2) other persons as the recipients of our offerings, and (3) the items that are the objects being offered. Sometimes the third of the three circles is specified as the action of making offerings. All of these “circles” of the offering are devoid of existing independently of each other. Their existence as the one making offerings, the one receiving offerings, the objects being offered, and the action of making offerings can only be established dependently on each other. They do not exist as such on their own, by their own power.

Combining our practice of making offerings with an understanding of voidness is especially essential when making offerings to our spiritual mentor – whether in person or in our meditations. Many Dharma students get hung up on wanting to please their teachers and make them happy so that their teachers will like and love them. All these sorts of immature attitudes are cleared away with an understanding of voidness. We don’t make a big deal out of what we are actually doing in making the offerings or out of what we are offering, like when thinking, “Oh, these are such fantastic flowers – they were so expensive!” We don’t make a grand show of offering something when we offer anything in person. The best offering is one that is made anonymously and quietly.

Another important point to remember about combining an understanding of voidness with our making of offerings is that we especially need to focus on the voidness of the happiness and joy that we feel throughout the whole process of making the offerings. Otherwise, we run the risk of becoming “blissed out” – just completely lost in the bliss of making the offerings. It is very important not to get lost in bliss.

Offering Objects That Bring Us Joy

Another reason why strengthening our innate joy through making offerings is an extremely effective method is because we are actually offering objects that bring us joy. If we just try in general tantra to imagine that we have a joyful mind and then focus on the voidness of that joyful mind, that’s pretty difficult. It’s difficult to generate joy just out of our imagination. We need a focal object as a condition for generating joy.

Remember earlier in our discussion we spoke about how there are certain focal objects that act as conditions for us to experience happiness, like good music, food, nice friends, and so on. We don’t necessarily experience these things with happiness all the time, but often we do. And so it’s because they often will act as conditions for us to experience happiness that we use them in tantra with this whole package of being generous, love, concentration, rejoicing, the understanding of voidness, and so on. What we are focusing on is something that acts as a condition for us to feel joy in order for some feeling of joy to get started. Everybody will have different tastes as to what forms of things they find the most beautiful. Regardless of which form we choose, we imagine, when making offerings, the most beautiful flowers, the most beautiful music, the most beautiful incense, the most beautiful type of light, the most beautiful delicious food, and so on. Just thinking about such objects acts as a condition for us to feel joyous, because they are so beautiful and we like them so much.

In addition, we don’t imagine offering just the objects themselves in tantra practice, but rather we imagine so-called “offering goddesses” making the offerings. We could have the most delicious meal, but if we heat it up in a Tupperware tub in the microwave and eat it out of the plastic container while standing in a noisy crowd, it probably will not give us as much pleasure as if a beautiful waitress or waiter served it to us in a very elegant setting. It’s the same food, but our level of enjoyment of it is quite different, isn’t it? Also if we offered our most honored guests this food out of a plastic Tupperware container heated in the microwave, neither we nor our guests would derive great pleasure from the meal. We want to serve the food in the most attractive way as possible.

By the way, the classical texts speak only of offering goddesses, but that is just describing the process from one point of view. It can also be handsome offering gods. It doesn’t make any difference. The point is we imagine very attractive waitresses and waiters that are not only beautiful looking, but also speak pleasantly, smell nicely, and so on. When we offer desirable sense objects, we also imagine that the offering goddesses and gods themselves are beautiful and desirable to all the senses. This is what we imagine and it acts as a condition for starting to feel some level of joy. We then intensify that joy by making the offering with love, wishing to bring the other person pleasure, and with concentration, exceptional perception of what is going on, an understanding of voidness, and so on.

Here, we are using focal objects that we usually like – in this example, the food or the waitress or waiter. We usually feel happy when we see them or when we taste that food. But, even stronger than just making us happy, they “turn us on.” For those of you not familiar with the English phrase, to be “turned on” is an expression that describes what happens to us when we see a beautiful person who excites us sexually. But not only that, we can also be turned on in a nonsexual manner, like when we see a fantastic dish on the table and we become excited and would really like to have some. It’s a pleasurable excitement of our energy. If we want to describe this phenomenon from a tantra point of view, when we perceive these objects it strengthens the intensity of our energy-winds. The energy-winds get excited to a higher level of vibration, which we experience with pleasure. It is not as though it is an excitement of energy that we experience with fear. Both pleasure and fear are excitements of energy, but here we are talking about an excitement of our energy that is pleasurable. Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the example of people who experience pleasure at the adrenalin rush they get while engaging in high-risk, extreme sports, like bungee-jumping.

Purifying the Offering Objects

As we discussed earlier, objects that might normally turn us on don’t always turn us on, and even if they do, they can turn us on in a way that is disturbing. Because of that, before we make the offerings in tantra, we go through a four-step process in order to get rid of or avoid the danger that we are going to experience the pleasure in a disturbing way. We want to avoid that these objects will merely cause us disturbance or will not turn us on.

  • First, we need to do what is called “chasing away interferences.” Interferences would be, for instance, thoughts of the negative qualities of the objects, such as: “I’m allergic to flowers; they are going to make me sneeze,” or “I am on a diet and this food is going to make me fat,” or, if we are using an actual person as our model for the beautiful offering goddesses or gods, “Their nose is too big and they snore.” We want to chase away these interferences that would prevent us from being turned on by these objects. But, although we don’t dwell on the negative things, we don’t deny them either. This is symbolized by imagining that we emanate forceful figures that chase away the demons or interfering forces around these objects. It is not that we are destroying these demons; we are just chasing them away. We are not going to dwell on any thoughts about negative qualities.
  • The second step is to purify the objects. First, we dissolve the ordinary appearance of them – the appearance of them with faults, like the flowers are fading a little or the leaves aren’t so nice. We want to get rid of that type of appearance. Or we dissolve the ordinary appearance of the model for our offering goddesses or gods, like their nose being too big or their being too skinny or too fat – such types of things. We want to dissolve any type of appearance that would interfere with our getting pleasurably excited or turned on by the object in a non-disturbing way. But, in addition to getting rid of the ordinary level of appearance of these things as having faults, we also get rid of the deeper level of appearance of them as existing in impossible ways, such as the food being inherently delicious from its own side or the offering goddesses or gods being inherently gorgeous from their own sides. In other words, we purify this level of ordinary appearance by remembering the voidness of the objects.
  • Thirdly, we transform the objects by switching quantum levels. We switch to a pure quantum level of appearance of the objects and of the offering goddesses and gods. The pure appearance is exclusively with good qualities and in a divine appearance as actual nectar, ambrosia, heavenly music, divine offering goddesses or gods, and so on. In some anuttarayoga tantra systems of forceful Buddha-figures, the pure quantum level of appearance of these offerings is likewise forceful. The various offering objects are made from parts of the bodies of interfering demons. For instance, the light is from lamps that burn the demons’ body fat. These are perhaps examples of using the type of pleasure that may accompany an adrenaline rush. But whether the pure appearances are gentle or forceful, the appearances are not as if solidly existent, establishing their own existence by their own powers, somewhere out there. And they never incite any disturbing emotions or attitudes, such as greed, attachment, lust, or fear.
  • The fourth thing that we do in this purification procedure is to increase the objects so that there is never any worry that they are going to run out. For example, if we are afraid that we won’t have enough food to serve everybody or that there is not going to be enough left over for me to eat, we tend to be stingy. We don’t serve a generous portion to everyone and we are afraid of giving too much. To avoid this, we imagine that each object we offer is multiplied infinitely: we have an unlimited supply of flowers, food, candles, and all these sorts of things. There won’t be any problem of anything running out, so we can relax. In this way, we are able to make the offerings without any stinginess and because of that, we feel much more pleasure at giving the offerings. Also, we imagine that we have an infinite corps of fantastically beautiful waitresses and waiters, so it doesn’t matter how many people come to our offering, there will always be enough waitresses and waiters to serve them. We don’t have to worry, “Oh no, too many people have come to my banquet and I only have one waitress to serve everybody!”

When making offerings in our tantra practices, then, we follow this fourfold procedure before making them, so that the objects can pleasurably excite us and turn us on, and we can then feel joyous without any worries or disturbing emotions, without any confusion, without dwelling on negative associations, and these sorts of things. Then we make the offerings with a joyous state of mind and intensify that joy with the feelings of immense generosity and love that we have. We sincerely feel, “May the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and all limited beings enjoy these offerings,” and we rejoice that they do enjoy them. And afterwards, we dedicate the positive force from this for reaching enlightenment so that we will really be able to benefit others in the fullest way possible. In addition, we accompany all this with concentration and an understanding of the reality of ourselves, the offering objects, the offering goddesses and gods who serve them, the recipients, and our act of giving. When we can combine all of these aspects when making offerings, we are then able to make them with a state of mind that is joyously turned-on, but not in an upsetting way that is mixed with confusion. This is quite important for strengthening our evolving Buddha-nature factor of innate joy so that we can use it as a pathway mind for focusing on voidness and reaching enlightenment.

Everyday Application of This Fourfold Purification Procedure

Not only can we follow this fourfold purification procedure when making offerings as part of our tantra practice, but I think this procedure also gives us some very excellent guidelines that we can apply on a practical day-to-day level. For example, if we want to enjoy being with our friend in a non-disturbing way – especially when being with our friend pleasurably excites us or turns us on in one way or another – it is important first of all to chase away any negative thoughts and complaints about the person, such as, “You didn’t return my call,” “You’re always late,” and so on. We are not denying these things, but that is not going to help in our actual meeting with the person – unless we have to resolve some problems; that’s something else.

Then, if their ordinary appearance is something that tends to upset or disappoint us – like if the person is our marriage partner and they are not as young as they used to be; they’ve become fat; their hair has turned gray; their face has become wrinkled, and so on – then it is important to dissolve that appearance. And dissolve as well the belief that they are now an inherently old, fat, and not-so-attractive-looking person anymore. Then we see the beauty in them, which underlies the surface of the skin. It is not that we deny their ordinary appearance, but we acknowledge that there is a deeper quantum level in which we can see the real beauty of this person regardless of their external appearance.

Even though there is the fact of impermanence and inevitably we will part, for the moment we think that the time that we have together will never run out and so we don’t become anxious and tense. We can just relax and really enjoy being with the person. That doesn’t mean that we can waste time because we have all the time in the world. But we don’t have to be anxious, thinking, “Don’t abandon me; don’t ever leave me; when will I ever see you again,” and these sorts of worries. We can just enjoy the pleasure of being with this person and being turned-on in a non-disturbing way with the understanding of voidness. This means not making a big deal out of me and out of you and out of our interaction. The relationship is also mixed with being generous, loving, and rejoicing in the other’s pleasure, and with being alert and sensitive to the other person’s moods and needs, and dedicating to enlightenment whatever pleasurable experience that we have. Of course, the best is when this way of interacting is mutual and not just one-sided. But even if our friend is unable or unwilling to interact like this, it is beneficial to follow this procedure even just by ourselves.

This is very practical advice that is suggested by these teachings concerning making offerings and strengthening our innate joy in a non-disturbing manner. It is not that we practice these Buddhist methods just in some meditative ritual, and that’s all.

Transforming the Pleasure Experienced When Feeling Desire

Once we become accustomed to experiencing happiness and pleasure in a relatively non-disturbing manner by applying our understanding of voidness to it, we can transform other everyday experiences into methods for strengthening our innate joy. When we go about our ordinary day-to-day lives, most of us see other people on the street, in a store, or whatever, whom we find attractive and who turn us on to some degree or another. Seeing this person whom we find beautiful excites our energy in a pleasurable way. Now, we could become quite disturbed by this if we experience this pleasure with longing desire, thinking, “I have to have this person” and we project all sorts of sexual fantasies onto the person. Or we might not necessarily be sexually attracted to the person, but feel sorry for ourselves and wish that we could look as young and beautiful as this one does.

In such cases, we can chase away these interfering disturbing emotions and thoughts, apply our understanding of voidness, transform the appearance into a pure one, and increase it so that we lose any anxiety about not seeing enough of the person. If we can do this successfully, we can then experience seeing the beauty of the person with pure joy; we enjoy the sight fully, without greed, desire, attachment, or envy. Our energy becomes uplifted in a pleasurable manner. We can then make an offering of that happiness to the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and all limited beings, with the wish that everyone be able to enjoy the beauty and pleasures of a pure Buddha-realm. We can make a similar transformation of our worldly pleasure when we listen to beautiful music, see a delicious cake in the bakery window, eat a delicious meal, receive an expert massage, and so on.

Inner Offerings

In addition to outer offerings, in anuttarayoga tantra we also make inner offerings, enigmatic offerings, and offerings of the very nature of reality. Let’s look at them only briefly.

With an inner offering, we offer objects that are inside our bodies. They are represented by what are normally considered dirty substances, such as urine, feces, blood, and the flesh of various animals including humans. The inner items that these substances represent are the five aggregate factors that make up each moment of our experience and the five physical elements that make up our body. In the Kalachakra system, the inner items they represent are the ten types of energy- winds in the body. We follow the same fourfold procedure for purification of the substances and what they represent as we do with the outer offerings: we chase away interferences, purify into voidness, transform them into nectars, and increase them.

Basically, what we want to accomplish by making an inner offering is to cleanse away all the shortcomings and faults of our body and what is inside it, and all the disturbing attitudes we might have about them – whether attachment or repulsion. We want to do this so that we can offer them to enlightenment, in the sense of using them without disturbing emotions or attitudes in order to experience intensified joy. More specifically, we want to be able to offer the energy-winds into the central energy channel through such practices as tummo, the inner flame. The sequence of visualizations that we use in the fourfold purification process represents the stages of the practice of tummo. Practicing these visualizations acts as a cause that will ripen into our success with tummo when we reach the complete stage of anuttarayoga tantra practice.

Enigmatic Offerings

Next we have the enigmatic offerings, or the secret, hidden offerings. They are enigmatic because they are difficult for uninitiated persons to understand correctly. Because of that, they need to be kept hidden or private. This offering is an offering of the bliss of being in union with a partner, which we imagine experiencing in conjunction with all the constructive states of mind that we have been discussing: love, compassion, bodhichitta, generosity, and a quiet fully concentrated mind – both stilled and settled and exceptionally perceptive, Most important is a correct understanding of voidness, with the purification and transformation of the ordinary appearances of everything involved. The enigmatic offering is certainly not the offering of the bliss from any kind of ordinary sexual union and has nothing to do with orgasm.

Although enigmatic offerings are made only in anuttarayoga tantra, often the bliss of union with a partner is used to illustrate the increasing levels of intensity of bliss in the four classes of tantra. These four levels can perhaps give us a better idea of what we imagine when we make an enigmatic offering, but again I must emphasize the need for doing this with an understanding of voidness. Although we may use desire to initiate the process of making an enigmatic offering, we quickly remove any disturbing emotions or attitudes by applying our understanding of voidness.

  • If we are with somebody who really turns us on sexually and we look at each other lovingly in the eyes, it turns us on more.
  • Then, if we smile at each other, the energy and joy become more intense.
  • If we hold hands or hug, our turned-on energy and joy are even more intense.
  • And if we are in union in a sexual embrace, our energy and joy would be the most elevated. But remember, we experience this with a quiet, serenely stilled and settled and exceptional perceptive state of mind, with love, generosity, and so on.

It’s clear, then, that we are not talking about anything even remotely resembling ordinary sex. With the enigmatic offering, then, through very specific visualizations we imagine our heart melting – which would be the closest analogy in our Western way of speaking about the bliss of being sexually turned on – and then we imagine experiencing in our central channel the four joys that we discussed before. Each joy is with progressively more intense bliss, but always with an understanding of voidness. The aim of increasing the intensity of our bliss is to get the energy-winds, once they are flowing in the central channel, to dissolve into the clear light mind. In a sense, then, with this offering we are offering the energy-winds in the central channel to the clear light mind. When we are actually able to accomplish that with complete stage practice, we will experience an even greater level of bliss – the bliss of being free of the disturbing emotions and attitudes forever. So, that’s the enigmatic offering, involving intensification of our blissful awareness of voidness through imagining being in union.

Offerings of the Very Nature of Reality

Fourth is the offering of the very nature of reality. On the last step of the procedure of making the enigmatic offering, we imagine having total absorption on voidness with a blissful clear light mind, but with no appearance of the conventional truth of ourselves as the Buddha-figure couple in union. With the offering of the very nature of reality, we imagine that in this state of blissful clear light awareness of voidness, our clear light minds focus simultaneously on the two truths of ourselves during this experience – on our pure appearance, devoid of any impossible way of existing, and on the voidness of our appearance and of all phenomena. So, in a sense, we are offering our clear light awareness of the two truths to our enlightenment. With enlightenment, we have blissful clear light awareness of the two truths uninterruptedly, forever.

When we make inner, enigmatic, and very-nature-of-reality offerings on the generation stage in anuttarayoga tantra, we merely visualize or imagine all these offerings and all these things happening. But, on the complete stage, we are actually able to get all of this to happen through actually dissolving the energy-winds in our central channel, accessing our clear light mind, and so on. Making these offerings in our imaginations with generation stage practice acts as a cause for success on the complete stage with what the offerings represent.

Concluding Summary

There are a number of other methods for intensifying our evolving Buddha-nature factor of innate joy. These include making mandala offerings of the entire universe and imagining our visualized spiritual teacher dissolving into us and merging so that our physical, verbal, and mental good qualities become inseparable with his or hers. But, there is no time to go into these.

So, this is the basic material that I wished to present this weekend. You can see that this topic of the place of happiness in Buddhism is very profound and far-reaching. Learning about this topic gives us a nice integrated picture of so many factors within our sutra and tantra practice. It also indicates the way of traveling through this combined path of sutra and tantra from the point of view of increasingly intensifying our innate joy and using this as a method for strengthening our systems of enlightenment-building networks.

But please bear in mind, the process of strengthening and purifying these networks is never linear: it is never that you just work on one factor. We could equally describe the whole process in terms of strengthening another factor like, for instance, our understanding of voidness. In fact, each of these descriptions of the Buddhist path is equally valid. Each is describing the whole process from just one or another point of view. But, in fact, progress is an organic process that entails the whole thing.

Even though we have been describing some very profound and advanced practices, we have also seen that they suggest applications in our daily life, which are extremely practical and helpful. After all, the intention of Buddhist practice, both sutra and tantra, is for it to be practical. Remember we spoke about how the words of the tantras can be understood on many levels and these words have all these meanings equally validly. One of these levels is called the “general shared level” which is the level of applicability to practitioners on more elementary stages. So if we understand the intent of the teachings, particularly the teachings here in the context of happiness, and if we always try to apply them without confusion, they can bring benefit to us and to others on many stages of the path.

Thank you.