1.4 Detailed explanation
The text is now going through the same Five Actual Enlightening Factors already discussed, but in more details and in a slightly different way, more according to the approach of the Nyingma school:
Briefly, the way in which the rituals purify is as follows:
Meditation on the Absorption of Suchness purifies the previous death experience.
All-arising Absorption purifies the mental body of the intermediate existence.
Absorption of the Cause, meditation on the lotus, sun and moon seat,
purifies the physical base, the parents’ sperm and ovum, white and red.
Meditation on the seed syllable purifies the entering consciousness.
The transformation into implements and again the meditation on the seed syllables purifies the foetal stages of round, oval, oblong, and so on.
Almost all creation or visualisations are actually done within these three samadhis or three absorptions, as it is translated here: the ‘Absorption of Suchness’ (de bzhin nyid kyi ting nge ’dzin), the ‘All-arising Absorption’ (kun nas snang ba’i ting nge ’dzin), and the ‘Absorption of the Cause’ (rgyu ba’i ting nge ’dzin).
The first one, ‘Absorption of Suchness’ or ‘Meditation of Suchness’, is letting our mind be in its own nature, in the emptiness. That is the meditation of the ultimate nature, Mahamudra, Dzogchen, or whatever we call it. It is the most important. Unless this basis is present, the other absorptions will be incomplete. We talk about two different stages, first the Creation stage, then the Completion stage, but actually they have to go together. As Milarepa said, “One should not see Creation as ‘down there’ and lose it. One should not see the Mahamudra as ‘up there’ and lose it.” The visualisations are a created product. They are only a method, exercises that have certain effects on us if we can do them properly, but they are not the ultimate or the main thing. The ultimate is the Completion stage and it has to be brought into the Creation stage, which is why we first remind ourselves of this natural state and let our mind be in it - or in whatever we understand of it. And if we don’t understand anything, then we just think that everything dissolves and in this void we start to visualise.
The second is the ‘All Arising Absorption’, which is actually compassion. Compassion naturally arises out of the understanding of the nature of everything. Compassion and wisdom are interdependent. Sometimes people misunderstand what Buddhist mean by compassion, which is not necessarily pitying people, not necessarily feeling bad ourselves because other beings are suffering. From our point of view, compassion is wishing well to everybody, it’s a general attitude devoid of any negative feelings against anything, devoid of any clinging, of any self-grasping. Whatever kind of compassion we can manage to feel, we let it arise and that is the ‘All arising Absorption’. The basis of the whole Creation stage is therefore Emptiness and Compassion, or Wisdom and Compassion. They are the main elements to develop in any kind of practice, and therefore here too, in the Creation stage, we start with them.
The third is the ‘Absorption of the Cause’. The meditation on the lotus, the sun and the moon ‘purifies the physical base, the parents’ sperm and ovum, white and red’. And then comes the seed syllable, as the embodiment of Wisdom and Compassion, which purifies the ‘entering consciousness’. These three stages are very much common to all traditions but the last one, the seed syllable, varies from text to text, from sadhana to sadhana. In some sadhanas, the seed syllable (HUNG, HRI or other letters) comes first and then it transforms stage by stage, first into the seed symbol, then it radiates lights and then more lights. These correspond to the different foetal stages, which are called in Buddhist terminology round, oval and oblong. The first aspect in which the foetus appears is, if we translate it from the Tibetan, something like yoghourt. Then is takes a somewhat more consistent form. Afterwards, it becomes round, then oval, etc.
The fully complete form purifies the birth of the developed body.
When the seed syllable or symbol finally transforms into the full body of the deity, that purifies the actual birth of the baby, as we have already discussed previously. Then:
The blessing of the three places purifies the habitual patterns of the body, speech, and mind.
Usually we have these three letters in all the visualisations, a white OM at the forehead of the deity, a red AH at the throat and a blue HUNG in the heart chakra. These three letters and their three corresponding colours or lights purify the impure habitual patterns of the body, speech and mind and transform them into the pure enlightened experience of an enlightened being.
This manner of the Five Enlightening Factors purifying womb birth can be applied in a similar way to the others.
So this is an example, and it can be applied to the other types of birth as well.
In some of the Highest Yoga tantras of Secret Mantra,
the “cause vajra holder” corresponds to the clear light of the death experience,
the “result vajra holder” to achieving the intermediate existence,
and the emanation from the organs in union corresponds to the habitual pattern of sperm, ovum, and vital wind combining, and purifies the physical basis of existence.
This relates to the Maha-tantras and Anuttarayoga-tantra, Maha-tantra and Anuyoga in Dzogchen, where we find what is called the ‘cause vajra holder’ and the ‘result vajra holder’ practices. This is a very complicated thing and I don’t know whether it’s really necessary to explain it in detail. I think it’s just mentioned here to indicate that it exists, but it is not elaborated upon because it takes a long time to explain and it has to be presented from many different angles, otherwise one can’t really understand it. The ‘cause vajra holder’ actually refers to the clear light and it is to work on the experience of death. The ‘result vajra holder’ refers more to compassion, and also to the experiences of the Four Blisses, related to working on the channels and the energies. I think we don’t have to go deeper into this.
The sequential absorption of the three letters purifies the three stages of experience: appearance, increase, and attainment;
This is very important. We work here in three ways on our concept of self, our self-identification as a solid entity. When we generate ourselves as the deity, there are three stages. The first stage is the samayasattva, the commitment being or damtsik sempa, which is the visualisation of ourselves as the deity. The second stage is the jnanasattva, the wisdom being, or yeshe sempa, the deity who appears in front of us. Having visualised ourselves as the deity, light radiates from our heart to all the directions throughout space, and that light invites the presence of the ‘real’ deity or enlightened being we are visualising. It is our own truly enlightened nature that is brought back in the space above us. As long as we are not realized, our mind functions in a dual way and we feel ‘I am me, and the deity, the completely enlightened being is somewhere else’. Therefore we invite the actual presence of this enlightened being and we receive his blessings. Afterwards he enters into our body and becomes one with us. He remains in our heart where he appears in the form of the guru or sometimes in the form of a deity, the head of a certain Buddha family or in whatever form we want. Different sadhanas mention different deities. This deity within us is what we call the wisdom being. The third stage is to visualise a very small seed syllable at the heart centre of the wisdom being. This is the samadhisattva or meditation being, the ting nge ‘dzin sem pa. Finally we visualise all three sattvas or beings as one, or in one, in order to work on our tendency to hold on strongly to, or identify, everything as one thing. It is also mentioned here – also this is not frequently done - that we visualize the three letters Om, Ah and Hung respectively at the head, throat and heart chakras of the samadhisattva.
After that there is the dissolution part. We dissolve or try to dissolve this three in one and one in three that we have just visualised. We dissolve from the outside inwards, so that the whole universe dissolves into the samayasattva, this ‘commitment being’ dissolves into the jnanasattva, and this ‘wisdom being’ dissolves into the samadhisattva. Then in this meditation being, the white Om dissolves into the red Ah, the red Ah dissolves into the blue Hung and then the Hung itself very slowly dissolves from below, up into the moon, then into the dot, and the dot into the bindu or nada – which is like a very tiny dot of light, sometimes described as the size of one eighth of a horses’ hair - and then it completely disappears. We let our mind rest in what is called the Clear Light, the natural great peace.
We thus exercise in concentrating or focusing our mind alternately on very big and very small thing. These exercises help us develop a greater control of our mind. The main objective of the shamatha meditation is actually to gain full control of our mind. If we want our mind to contemplate a big thing, we can see that big thing and not get distracted. If we want our mind to look at a small thing, we can see that small thing and just concentrate there, without our thoughts going all over the place. There is also a very important aspect which is clarity and liveliness. Apart from being easily distracted, our mind can also be very dull. This is why we work on our mind with these exercises in an interesting way. The Vajrayana approach is supposed to be interesting because we can practise in many ways, according to our needs. We can work with many methods, not just one. Sometimes we can visualise with more details, sometimes less. Sometimes we can focus on the colours, sometimes on lights, sometimes on forms, sometimes on sounds, sometimes on feelings. What matters is that it always remains manageable. We should be able to keep our mind wherever we want it to be. This means we have more power, more control over our mind and therefore we can work more easily with it. We are no longer the slaves of our emotions and whims. That’s the purpose of these different exercises.
The sequential absorption of the three letters purifies the three stages of experience: appearance, increase, and attainment;
Here the text talks about the three stages of experience: appearance, increase, and attainment, in Tibetan snang mched thob gsum. It is a very important terminology in Tibetan Buddhism where it appears everywhere. You will find it very often in the Bardo teachings, the teachings on the subtle body (tsa, lung, tigle), as well as in the Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings. Snang in Tibetan means ‘appearance’. Mched is translated as ‘increase’, but it is more like when a fire burns, when the flames ‘spread’ and ‘expand’. And thobpa is ‘to get, to arrive at’. Of course, ‘appearance, increase and attainment’ is a literal translation that doesn’t make any sense, it’s just the terminology but what these words really mean is very complex and difficult to explain. Almost all of our experiences can be defined within these three. For instance, the appearance is anything, all the things that appear to us in our experience. These terms refer solely to our inner experience; appearance has nothing to do with outer objects. Whether there is something out there or not doesn’t matter in this context. And the second one, mchedpa is rather like what comes next: we grasp at, we hook on to what has appeared, that’s mchedpa. There is an appearance and we hold on to it. And then thobpa corresponds to all the different subtle mental activities that ensue, like ‘This is, and this is not, this is bad, this is good, etc.’ These three can be defined at many different levels of subtlety. All our mental activities can be said to take place within these three stages of experience, and this is something to work on in many different ways. When we can purify these three stages, we can attain or realize the ‘natural great peace’. At the time of our death also, these three stages dissolve and therefore we exercise on dissolving them again and again as a way of loosening our grasping. There is much to be said about the dissolution of these three stages, but for the moment, we will only say that much. It is also mentioned that it is important to visualise the letters OM AH HUNG and their dissolution, which is also working on these three stages.
And the vital drops purify the white and red appearances, and so on—
there is much more, but just knowing this much illuminates the rest.
Maybe you have not heard about this kind of practice so far, but there are practices where we visualise the white dot at our fontanel and the red dot in our navel chakra.
This is to purify the father’s and mother’s essences.
There are many other practices, but it says here that what has been presented so far more or less includes them all. Of course, this is a very short and concise text and it is a very vast and complex subject. We could go on and on elaborating on the subject, but this is just for us to know a little more about how things work and to understand what is what, why we are visualising all these things. We are not just imagining some strange forms without any purpose and these explanations bring more meaning to our practice.
1.5 The different kinds of purification and how they are done
The entrance of the wisdom beings purifies skilled activities and trainings.
Sealing with the empowerments purifies inheritance of one’s birthright.
The homage, confession, offerings, and praise purify the enjoyment of sense objects.
Recitations of the mantra purifies irrelevant speech.
The dissolution phase purifies the death experience of that life, and the reappearance in the deity’s form purifies the intermediate existence.
Without going further, this summarises it.
This refers to the whole sadhana. When we do the sadhana practice of any deity, there is a self-visualisation (we visualise ourselves as the deity) and we have just briefly described the factors involved in this process and why we do it. The ‘entrance of the wisdom beings’ refers to the moment when the jnanasattva or wisdom being whom we have invited in front of us enters into our self-visualisation and becomes one with us That ‘purifies skilled activities and trainings’.
The commentary gives many explanations on this. It talks about how rtsa, lung and thig le are purified. I wonder whether I should go through the commentary or not. It’s a little complicated. The problem is that if I go too much into these details, it will make things more complicated and more confusing instead of clarifying it, and then I think it doesn’t help. Although it may be an important part, I don’t know how much it would help at the moment.
As I nevertheless need to say something about this, I think it may be enough to say that what we call wisdom, the actual Buddha-nature or the true-nature, is already there in us. As you all know by now, from the Vajrayana point of view, we are not working to purify something that is completely impure but to realize the purity that is already present. When I say that I have Buddha-nature, it doesn’t mean that ‘I’ really possess something that is called the Buddha-nature. Sometimes yes, you can tell yourself ‘I have Buddha-nature’, just in order to feel good enough, to feel that you are not useless or totally condemned, or just a nobody with no abilities, capacities or potentialities. To get rid of that kind of feeling, you can remind yourself that you ‘have Buddha-nature’. But the Buddha-nature is not something ‘there’: it is the nature of everything. We have to understand what we are, what things are, and if we understand that, we are enlightened. So therefore we have Buddha-nature and that Buddha-nature is always there; it doesn't need to come from anywhere else. At the moment we have this strong sense of not being adequate enough, not having full capacity and power. According to the Vajrayana, all our impure perceptions arise because of the uncontrolled, one could say un-purified state of our tsa, lung and tigle (rtsa, lung, thig le). Therefore, in order to get rid of that, we invite the wisdom being or the wisdom to fuse with us. And this purifies our tsa, lung and tigle. Tsa are the channels, lung is the wind, and tigle is the essence. These are neither easy to describe, nor easy to understand. The commentary says, “The wisdom deity is naturally present in our channels, in our essence and in our inner being, but because we don’t understand it, because we can’t see it, therefore it is blown by the wind of karma.” ‘Wind’ is the literal translation of lung and itis what you might call an energy. The channels, winds and essences that constitute our subtle energy body are naturally pure but as we don’t understand it, the way we are conditioned to use them has to be purified. The whole of our impure perceptions arise because of our uncontrolled, deluded way of using these tsa, lung and tigle. In Vajrayana, we talk of five major and five minor lungs in our body. These energies are what our body is made of. These forces make things happen. When impure, the lung becomes the karmic energy or las kyi rlung and, driven by this karmic wind, the mind becomes the deluded mind, the five mind poisons or negative emotions arise, which reflect outwards as the six samsaric realms. First, when the wind of the earth blows, ignorance comes up and that becomes the ground. Then the wind of the air element creates our attachment. The wind of the fire element brings up hatred, aversion and jealousy. The wind of the water element brings clinging and miserliness, and then on top of that, the wind of the space element brings up arrogance and pride. That’s how our samsaric consciousness takes shape and then becomes solid. When we can understand the nature of these energies and purify tsa, lung and tigle, then the pure channels, winds and essences appear as the mandala of the deity. The fusion with the jnanasattva, the wisdom being is therefore a method to work on this. There are of course other ways to work separately on these channels and winds like those we find in Atiyoga, but this aspect of the creation stage is also meant to work on this.
Sealing with the empowerments purifies inheritance of one’s birthright.
Empowerments are a very important part of the Vajrayana practice. We enter into the Vajrayana with empowerments and prior to beginning any deity practice, there is an empowerment. But this is not what we talk about here. Within any deity practice, we visualize receiving the empowerments. We receive empowerments again and again in order to reconfirm that we have the potential of enlightenment within us. Although we basically have this wisdom, this Buddha-nature, within us, still it has to come out. We need to work on it again and again. When we visualise that we receive the empowerments, we actually reconfirm our own birthright. We naturally have the birthright to be enlightened beings, but to ensure it we receive the empowerments and then feel more and more purified until we become totally enlightened. That is the meaning of the empowerments within the visualisation.
The homage, confession, offerings, and praise purify the enjoyments of sense objects.
After we have visualised ourselves as the deity, we do the homage, the confession, offerings and praises. Sometimes they are addressed to the deity in front of us, sometimes to ourselves as the deity. These purify our clinging to the enjoyment through the six senses, our attachment to the six objects of the senses, which are form, sound, smell, taste, feeling and phenomena.
Recitation of the mantra purifies irrelevant speech.
The dissolution phase purifies the death experience of that life, and the reappearance in the deity’s form purifies the intermediate existence.
Without going further, this summarises it.
I think this is easy to understand and doesn’t need further explanation.
This was the fifth point : what kind of purifications are done and how they are done.
1.6 General framework of practice : refuge, bodhicitta & dedication
The initial going for refuge and generation of the intention of enlightenment, and the concluding dedication and aspiration
are indispensable in the Great Vehicle approach.
This is a general remark for any Vajrayana or Mahayana practice. Whatever our practice, we have to start with the refuge and the generation of bodhicitta (the generation of the intention to actualize enlightenment), and we have to end with the concluding dedication. These three elements are indispensable for all Mahayana practices, Mahayana including the Vajrayana too. Creation and completion are just methods that cannot work without the basis. A method has to be applied on some basis. The refuge, as you know, gives us the direction. We have to have a direction if we want to get somewhere. As to the bodhicitta, it is our motivation or purpose. It is said that unless bodhicitta is there, practices, including Vajrayana practices, become useless and irrelevant because they don’t really lead to enlightenment. Therefore it is always said that we should check whether our compassion is growing or diminishing to assess whether our practice is going in the right direction or not. Greater compassion means that our practice is going in the right direction. If our compassion diminishes, then it’s not going in the right direction. Vajrayana practices are very powerful but, whether they really become Dharma practices or not, depends on whether we have the right intention or not. That’s why bodhicitta is so important.
A story illustrates this point. I know many of you may already have heard it because I like this story very much. There was once a lama who was doing a retreat in a cave. He was a very good lama. One day, an evil spirit came and disturbed him. His first thought was to visualise himself as a wrathful deity and say mantras to vanquish this evil spirit. He visualised himself as a very wrathful deity and recited powerful mantras. But the evil spirit then became a stronger deity and in turn recited powerful mantras. The lama became the most wrathful deity and recited the most powerful mantra, but the evil spirit also became a most powerful deity and said the most powerful mantra to him. Then the lama thought, “Oh, what a pity. This evil spirit must have been a tantric practitioner who went wrong.” Being a good lama, he naturally felt compassion. “What a waste, what a pity! This being who must have practised Vajrayana so long, done so many visualisations, recited so many hundreds of thousands of mantras, has now become an evil spirit.” As soon as he generated this compassion, the evil spirit slowly melt down and before he completely disappeared, he said in a very sad and low voice, “That, I didn’t have.” He had lacked compassion and had therefore become an evil spirit.
Then at the end, we dedicate the positive result of our practice for all sentient beings. We pray that it will be purposeful for ourselves and others. This will protect the benefits of our practice from being destroyed by any future negative emotions.
Consecration of offerings, feast gatherings, and so on are additional ways through which you can effortlessly complete the two accumulations.
The two accumulations are the accumulation of merit and the accumulation of wisdom. They are important aspects of the Buddhist practice. Accumulating merit means developing our positive qualities and accumulating wisdom means seeing our true nature. If we know how, both can be done within this kind of practice. The consecration of offerings, making offerings, is part of the accumulation of merit. This accumulation of merit will help us place our mind in its natural state and see the empty, interdependent nature of everything, which is accumulating wisdom.
In the Vajrayana, we make what we call limitless ‘mind-created offerings’. Everything in the Vajrayana is done in a very grand way and therefore we create limitless offerings with our mind. It is sometimes called Samantabhadra’s way of offering. It is done in this way. For instance, we imagine that five coloured lights radiate from our heart and on theirs rays, there are five deities bringing five different offerings. Then again, from the hearts of each deity radiate five coloured lights and so on and so forth, until it multiplies to the end of space. This is just one example, but every offering, everything we do in a Vajrayana practice takes an infinite quality. We exercise on developing the limitless capacity of our mind.
Feast gatherings or tsok in Tibetan are a special Vajrayana practice. In the Theravada, the monks and nuns meet every fifteen days, on the full moon and the new moon, to confess their downfalls to each other and then purify them. In the Mahayana, we can do it whenever we like, although there is also something similar. In the Vajrayana, we have this tsok purification. All the practitioners gather and do the practice together to purify their faults. The confession of any breaches in our commitments is always a part of the tsok offering. Whatever we have done, any problems we have had with our vajra brothers and sisters, we disclose them and we forgive each other. Then we make a feast: that’s the tsok. Dohas, songs of experience, can be sung and vajra dances can be performed by anyone who has any real experience. It’s a sort of purification. We bring whatever we have to the tsok, not only nice and pure things but also meat and alcohol, which are not usually allowed in Buddhist circles, and we all partake of a little bit of everything that has been offered in a spirit of ‘one taste’. This is to get rid of our concepts of pure and impure, to develop the understanding that everything is pure, to see the pure side of everything. The real purification is to get rid deep down, right at the bottom of ourselves, of the sense of pure and impure. We are purified because there is no longer anything we consider as impure. That’s of course at a higher level. This is the understanding of the tsok.
We see how many different aspects are included in a Vajrayana practice. The modern way is to separate each aspect of a whole, take one small part, make it very elaborate and completely concentrate on it in a very specialised way. This serves certain purposes but we lose sight of the whole picture. There is no beginning and no end, we are just somewhere in the middle. Each aspect becomes segregated, isolated, and this is causing confusion. On the contrary, in the Vajrayana it is always the totality which is important. Each practice is connected to the whole thing. We never lose sight of the global perspective.
1.7 The resultant purification
The basis of purification, which is this very buddha nature,
abides as the Body with its clear and complete vajra signs and marks.
A similar form is used as the path and leads to the fruition of purification: that very divine form that existed as the basis.
At the time of ultimate fruition of actual freedom,
this is called “obtaining the state of Vajradhara”.
This summarizes the Ground, Path and Fruition. The basis of purification is the Buddha nature, which is actually present right from the beginning. There’s nothing to be gained or obtained, it’s already there. The path is the set of different methods used to bring out our Buddha nature. It is what we call in Vajrayana ‘using the fruit as the result’, using the experience of a fully enlightened being, such as Chenrezig or Tara. This is what is meant by ‘similar form is used as the path’. We visualize ourselves as a Buddha and feel like an enlightened being right from the beginning. That leads to the purification, to the actual freedom from the defilements when, through this way of practising, our Buddha nature becomes completely clear. That is what is called ‘obtaining the state of Vajradhara.’ We have already discussed the meaning of Vajradhara, who is sometimes called the Primordial Buddha. So, ‘obtaining the state of Vajradhara’ means that we realise our primordial nature, the Buddha that we have always been. We don’t become a ‘new Buddha’, we attain the state of the Primordial Buddha that has always been our very nature. That’s the result.
1.8 The three necessary qualities for practice : Clarity
We have gone through the first seven points, and now we come to the three points that, as far as the visualisation or creation is concerned are most important: the clarity, the purity, and what we call the pride. They are first introduced in a general way:
Whether one meditates on an elaborate or concise version of creation stage, there are three main points.
The clarity of form purifies attachment to the appearing object, recollecting the purity frees one from clinging to corporeality, and maintaining pride vanquishes clinging to ordinary self.
Clarity of form purifies the attachment to the appearing object. It means that when we can clearly visualise ourselves as the deity, then it lessens our attachment to our karmic body and to all the karmic components of our environment. We develop a pure vision of ourselves and our environment.
Then recollecting the purity frees one from clinging to corporeality. Purity means that when we visualise ourselves as a deity, we are aware that this deity is a symbolic being. We understand the symbolism of each part of the deity that we visualise. This frees us from clinging to the corporeality, to the solidity of our body.
Then maintaining pride vanquishes clinging to ordinary self. We will talk about this pride of the deity later, but this liberates us from clinging to our ordinary limited ego.
Now the text elaborates on each of these points:
As to the first, initially visualise each individual part, such as the head, hands, feet, and so on,
and when somewhat used to that, meditate clearly on the entire form.
Many people find it very difficult to visualise. It is therefore sometimes easier to first think of one part, like the head, the face, an eye, a hand, a feet or whatever - it doesn’t matter, whichever comes easiest to your mind, even a lotus flower or an object - and just concentrate on it. When that particular thing is clear in your mind, it means your mind is less distracted, less tumultuous, less confused. If your mind is able to concentrate on an object, it has become clear and you are now capable of meditating on the entire form.
When meditation is not stable and thoughts come and go,
focus your awareness on an implement such as the vajra in the hand.
It is usually said that when our mind becomes distracted and is unable to concentrate, then the best is to focus on a small object. It is advised here to focus on one thing like for instance a vajra or the heart syllable, or even a very, very small part of the heart syllable. The smaller it is, the more concentrated we can be.
If you are languishing, focus on the crossed legs, and if sinking,
focus on something like a jewel in deity’s crown.
These are some of the methods that we can use in order to bring out the clarity of our mind in the meditation. There are two main problems we encounter in meditation: either the mind becomes too distracted and wild, or it becomes too dull and sleepy. There are many different instructions on how to deal with it, but this is the main one, especially in the Vajrayana. The general idea is that when our mind becomes distracted and wild, running all over the place, we bring it back. We somehow pull it down by letting our mind dwell more on a lower part of our body, like on how we are sitting, the vajra posture, or on a point below the navel, and then we relax. That makes our mind calmer, more stable and grounded. And then, when our mind becomes sleepy or dull, it is recommended to look up, high into the sky, eyes wide open and then concentrate more on the top of our head or even higher. This makes our mind more awake. It is also said that to counter distraction, we should look down and relax whereas in order to counter dullness, we should look up and concentrate more, be more focused. Sometimes we can even visualise something about to fall down, which brings some alertness to our meditation.
Then if there aren’t so many active thoughts but the form is unclear and murky,
set before you a picture or statue
that is well made and appropriately painted,
and without thinking, look at it for a long time.
Then immediately generate your own body in that image.
This will enhance the former meditation.
This is easy to understand and requires no particular explanations.
1.9 Recollecting the purities
The ninth point is to recollect the purities, or the meaning, the symbolism of the form of the deity. But here the authors warns:
You may recollect the appropriate purities,
but this mental exercise might just add to discursive thoughts.
For the beginner it will become the cause of unclear, scattered meditation.
To recollect the purity means that we remember for instance that ‘one face’ symbolizes that everything is one, a unity in the dharmadatu., or that the four arms of Chenrezig refer to the four limitless (loving kindness, compassion, rejoicing and equanimity). Every aspect of the visualisation is a symbol with some meaning. However, this is good to know but maybe not too good to think about too often when we practise. In Vajrayana, meditations and visualizations are more experiential. Starting to think, ‘it’s like this, like that’, may create more discursive thoughts, which is not useful in the actual experience of the meditation where we try to avoid falling into too many thoughts and concepts.
It is better to meditate on the deity’s form as empty and light, like a rainbow,
and to know that the one who is doing that is one’s own mind.
Instead of thinking too much about what each symbol means, we just meditate, we just let our mind be in the clarity of the deity. It appears very clearly but has no solidity, no substance. It is empty and light like a rainbow. This deity is created by our own mind, there is nothing else. Everything is created by our mind, and,
Mind itself is intrinsically free of a basis, is emptiness,
and the demonstration of its special qualities
is the arising of forms of faces, hands, and ornaments.
Mind itself doesn’t have an independent existence. It’s as flowing, as interdependent, as empty as anything else. Its nature is emptiness but it is always manifesting, and it can manifest as anything, as everything: as our body, as the six samsaric realms, as pure realms, as sentient beings or as Buddhas. These manifestations, empty in nature but very clear in appearance, come and go in an interdependent continuum.
1.10 The stability of the pride
Do not meditate on pride; cut through the root of ego-clinging.
When ego-clinging is destroyed, wherever one’s mind focuses, its essence arises vividly.
Sometimes people think that to have ‘the pride of the deity’ means feeling superior and thinking, “I am the deity! I am the deity! Now I am the deity!” Sometimes we can start with a little bit of that kind of pride, because right now we don’t know any better and there’s no other way, that is OK, but that is not really what is meant when one talks about the pride of the deity.
To say that ‘I am the deity’ is actually the same as saying that ‘I am Ringu Tulku’, whereas the pride of the deity is in fact what cuts through the root of ego-clinging. When we visualise ourselves as the deity, we let clarity just be, without ego-clinging, without saying “I am this.” or “I am that.” We just completely remain without clinging. This is more easily said than done, but the pride of the deity is not saying “I am the deity”, it is rather the clarity of the deity without any grasping of a separate ego.
When we can let ourselves be like that, then the mind becomes very supple, very manageable, anything can arise, anything can be. This is a very important point, but it’s not easy to understand. Maybe it is not too difficult to understand, but it is very difficult to experience. Anyway, for the moment we just have to understand. The text says that we need to destroy our ego-clinging. Therefore we let the clarity of the deity appear, without holding on to it. We just let it be in a completely natural state. When we can do that, then we are in the essence or the nature of the mind, because the nature of the deity is actually the nature, the true nature, the ultimate nature of the mind. When it vividly arises and we can just be in it without clinging, it means that we can see the true nature of our mind. That is the wisdom that we are looking for, what we are trying to generate. That is the real pride of the deity.
In this way, by meditation on the creation stage with effort,
while actually meditating, the impact of “real” appearances will be diminished,
and without meditating, the deity arises.
This is the lesser experience of luminous appearance.
When we train diligently in the creation stage, again and again, then it should help us lessen our strong samsaric grasping at everything as very real, very solid, as good or bad, and our way of reacting with aversion and attachment.
We can distinguish three levels of attainment in this meditation. When our meditation becomes more stable, we reach an advanced stage when the meditation and the deity arise in our mind without any effort, without making any effort to meditate. That is what is called the ‘lesser experience of luminous appearance’, ‘lesser luminous appearance’, gsal snang in Tibetan. It’s the first of the three levels or stages of achievement of this luminous appearance, and also the first of what we call the four levels of vidyadharas. Vidyadharas, or rig ‘dzin in Tibetan are the ‘knowledge-holders’. The first level of the vidyadhara is the full ripening and corresponds to this the lesser luminous appearance, when the deity appears in our mind without any conscious effort on our part. It is an experience of the ‘real’ presence of the deity, not just its form.
When all deluded appearances, regardless of meditating or not,
arise as the deity and divine palace, it is intermediate luminous appearance.
When everything, all deluded appearances, naturally arise in a pure form as deities and divine palaces, then we have reached the second stage of attainment, which is called ‘intermediate luminous appearance’.
When you meditate on the deity and form and formless beings see you as that deity,
it is the great luminous appearance called a maturation knowledge-holder in the Ancient tradition.
When we not only see ourselves and everything as pure appearances but others can also see us as the deity, that means we have reached the great luminous appearance, which corresponds to the level of maturation knowledge-holder in the Nyingma tradition. So that was the tenth point, the pride of the deity.
1.11 The essence of the creation stage
The clear form of the deity is the luminous appearance of your own mind,
and the unclear, dissatisfying experience is also your mind!
So also, mind is the one who desires clarity and tries again,
and mind is the wisdom deity and guru.
Everything is mind’s appearance, and yet mind itself is uncontrived.
The beauty of this ultimate essential point of the approach of the two stages
is that no matter which of the many creation stages you do,
if you apply clear awareness and mindfulness that is merely undistracted,
when the meditation is clear, it arises as clarity-emptiness and when obscure, as obscurity-emptiness!
This is the real meaning of what we call the creation visualisation. If we meditate and have a very clear vision, a great clarity of the deity, we have to understand that it is our mind: there is nothing else apart from the clarity of the mind. When our mind is unclear, when our visualisation has no clarity, that is also our mind. Whether there is clarity or no clarity, it makes no difference, both are the same mind. And when we feel dissatisfied, when we judge as bad the lack of clarity of our visualisation, that is also just our mind. And when we meditate repeatedly in an effort to make our visualisation clear, again it is nothing but our mind. All these manifestations have the same nature, there’s no difference. The commitment being, the wisdom being, the guru, the deity, nirvana, samsara, the path, every single experience we have – all these are just appearances within our mind.
So what we have to do is just to let that busy mind be, let it rest, without any contriving, in its natural state. When our mind is clear then it’s the clarity-emptiness, when it is unclear it is unclear-emptiness. This is the main point, the essential point of both the creation and completion stages. Whatever kind of creation or visualisation we are doing, we just let our mind be within that clarity, with a little bit of mindfulness, of awareness, without any distraction, and that’s enough. Whatever happens, it’s OK.
I think this is a very important point because, when we do these meditations, we can’t do them perfectly and then we become very agitated and upset. We start to struggle with ourselves. Of course, it’s better if our visualisation is clear, but fighting with our mind is not the way. The way is to relax, to let be, with as little contrivance as possible. Our mind can become dissatisfied, depressed, sad, afraid, but if we can really let it be within that negative state of mind, then there is no more dissatisfaction, no more negative perception. Therefore – and that is the main thing - clarity is not necessarily to make too much effort. Too much wanting our meditation to be clear is in itself a problem. The right method is to let whatever arises just be. That’s the essence of the creation stage.
In the Vajrayana tradition and in Buddhism as a whole, we often start with very difficult and complex things but in the end, we come to something completely uncomplicated. This is because we are very complicated. If we received from the start the instruction to remain in a simple state, nobody would be able to do that. We have to learn how to be simple through first going through all the complicated processes and then we come to understand that all these things are not really necessary. Only at the end are we ready to understand. This is why the teachings of Mahamudra and Dzogchen are not given from the start. They are very simple, the most simple thing, but if one gives them from the start, nobody hears, nobody wants to hear and therefore it is useless. This is because we all expect strange and surprising things. We all want something special. So, we have to go through the preliminaries and lots of pomp, and only in the end comes the moment when the guru announces: ‘Now I am going to give you the Mahamudra!”
This conclude the section on the Creation Phase. Like all of Kongtrul’s writings, it is written in a very compact style. Jamgon Kongtrul was a very prolific writer who wrote more than a hundred volumes. One would assume that he wrote in very great detail but this was not the case: all his writings are very compact and he put six or seven things in just one line, which makes his texts very difficult to translate.
Do these two stages of creation and completion apply to all the four classes of tantra, or only to the highest?
They apply to all classes of tantra.
Are there other texts that give more details about all these processes?
Countless texts, actually too many.
Are they available and can you find them easily?
Yes. You can find some in Samye Dzong. There are now many translations coming up, I think. The translations are becoming better and better. Earlier translations were horrible, but now they’re becoming a little better.
Why should human beings who are born from a womb meditate on these four creation sequences related to the four types of birth? Is it because of the possibility of future rebirths from an egg or something?
It is said here that we are mainly working on our experience of birth and death. It’s working for the future, of course, because the past is something that is gone and we cannot work on something that is gone and will not come back. Nevertheless, what we are now has been shaped by our past. Our past experiences count because they have made us what we are now. Therefore, if I have a problem, like for instance naturally being a very lazy or a very angry person, that’s the effect of certain factors in my past. But I cannot go back to the past; I can only work on my present experience and change my way of being, which will in turn affect my future.
Here we work on our experience of change, on our way of reacting to changes. If I suddenly were to disappear, to die, how would I feel? If I change, transform and go through many birth experiences, how do I react? That’s where we train. When we go through these different stages, we understand why we are doing it but we are not thinking too much either. We are just going through the changes and experiencing them in a nice way. That training should be able to help us. That’s all.
If we have previously gone through certain experiences in a training environment, then it’s easier to react when we actually encounter the same situation in our life. For instance, in order to become a pilot we first train in a flight simulator before actually sitting in the airplane. When we already have some prior experience, we are not as unfamiliar and as frightened as if we had no experience at all. So that’s the main understanding. This text here just gives us an overview of the practice, so that we gain some understanding of where we are working at, why these things have to be done.
But working only on one type of birth does not mean that we are not working on the others. That’s not the case. Moreover these stages not only work on the four births but also work on many other things. The main speciality of the Vajrayana is to have many methods. The Vajrayana is said to have four specificities, of which three have already been mentioned previously in this text. First, everything is fully exposed, there is nothing hidden on any point as it is the case at the Hinayana and Mahayana levels, where many things are not fully revealed. The second specificity is that it has very many methods. The third is that it’s not difficult. There’s not too much hard work, too much austerity or penance. It’s all about using skilful means. The fourth is that it is for people who have to have a very high level of not so much intelligence as an openness and capacity to work and make good use of the methods.
The stages of visualisation that we have just explained are used in order to work on the experience of birth and death, but they have many other methods attached to them as well, one of the main ones being for instance to work on our identification process. If I identify with my body and see myself as Ringu Tulku, then I attach to it all my experiences of the past. I am this poor Tibetan refugee who has been driven out of his homeland by the Chinese and who has gone through many painful situations. However, when I visualise myself as Chenrezig, I no longer can identify all the negative experiences of Ringu Tulku with Chenrezig, even if that form is my own projection – but then ‘Ringu Tulku’ is also my own projection. This actually purifies my habitual tendencies. That’s one example, and there are many others, like the aspect of the solidity of the visualisation. Without doing anything specifically, I transform simultaneously many aspects in me and in my experience.
Among these many methods, the main is what we call the Four Empowerments of clarity, emptiness, joy or great bliss, and finally thatness or the suchness of the true nature. The first is clarity. When we visualise, clarity is important because if, for instance, I don’t visualise Chenrezig clearly, how can I identify with him? The reason why I cannot visualise myself as Chenrezig is because I identify too much with Ringu Tulku. “Of course I am Ringu Tulku! How can I be Chenrezig? It’s just rubbish. It’s just crazy lamas talking about impossible things. How could I be Chenrezig? It’s no use. It can’t be.” But if I don’t think like this, if I don’t resist, I just become Chenrezig in a way, in my own way, whatever that may be, not necessarily exactly as it is drawn, but in my experience. And that should be clear. But clarity is not necessarily my vision of Chenrezig, it can be the clarity of my mind, my natural image. I can have a very clear mental image which can become a point of the clarity of my mind (?).
So there must be clarity, but just clarity is not enough: it has to be combined with what we call emptiness. That means that I understand that this clear image, whether it is my body or the image of Chenrezig, has no real substance. It has clarity, but it is still an image. Understanding the emptiness, the interdependence and selflessness, is the second one.
The combination of clarity and emptiness together brings what we call bliss, the joy. Everything is appearing but at the same time it doesn’t have too much substance or too much reality, rather like a dream image, and therefore there’s no need for fear or attachment. It’s like in a dream. If we have a dream and we know that it is a dream, then even if we are chased by a tiger, it’s OK. We know it’s just a dream, so we can play with the situation. We can fly or do whatever we like because we know it’s not real. That understanding brings joy. There is no way that we can be stressed or depressed and therefore there is this joy. That’s the third.
When we understand that and let our mind remain in this unbounded nature of complete freedom, complete naturalness, then it brings the Mahamudra experience, or whatever we call it. That’s the fourth.
When these four stages are there, then it’s a perfect visualisation.
You mentioned the relation between the different elemental types of winds and the five poisons. When one is angry for instance, one actually feels some warmth, like one’s face becomes hotter. Or like laziness and dullness, one feels more heavy, which seems to be related to the earth. Are the different sensations that one experiences with different emotions due to the activation of these different karmic winds?
They must be interrelated. Things are always interrelated. Because of the basic ignorance, the basic misunderstanding, we all have what we call a ‘karmic body’ with all its experiences and subtle negative emotions that become grosser and stronger. Therefore it is very interlinked. That’s why it is so difficult to get rid of these mind poisons, because one is hiding behind another, one is wrapped in another and they form very strong habitual patterns. The mind and body are so interrelated. It’s not just a mental thing. It’s much stronger than that.
Can one also do these practices of purification for the benefit of others, in order to purify others, or is it only a process of purifying oneself.
The first objective is to purify ourselves because we are working here on our experiences. But if we are able to purify ourselves, then it is said that in the process we purify others too. This is a little complicated to understand, but if you have completely purified yourself, you have purified others as well because, from your point of view, others are also pure. Perceiving things as pure or impure depends on our own experience. We might also say that in the process of purifying ourselves, we create what is called a ‘Buddha realm’, which actually creates the conditions to purify others.
Actually purifying others is quite difficult. If it were possible, then all of us would already have been purified a long time ago because the Buddhas of the past would have made it happen. But of course it is possible to do things for others in spite of their own karma.
Have you heard the story about Luchensay? Luchensay was a very powerful lama in Tibet but he never acted like one. He used to wear bandit’s clothes, take rifles, go hunting and do things which lamas shouldn’t do. However he was a very realised lama. One day some of the monks in Dzogchen Monastery decided to test him out. Two of them went out in the mountain while the lama was hunting, and one monk lay down and pretended to be dead. The other one went to the lama, who was smoking his pipe - which a lama shouldn’t do - and cried, “Please do something. My companion has just died. Please do a phowa.” So the lama went to where the monk was lying and, instead of doing a phowa, he just tapped out the ashes of his pipe onto his head, three times, tap, tap, tap, and went away. The monk laughed and said to his friend, “You see, that’s how he is, he doesn’t know anything at all. Wake up.” But the friend didn’t move. The monk shook him, pushed him and tried to wake him up - to no use: he was dead. Then the monk ran after the lama and begged, “Please, please, we are very sorry, we were just testing you, we didn’t know that you were really so powerful, what we did was so wrong. Please bring him back.” The lama went back to the dead monk, still smoking his pipe, and again tapped his pipe three times, tap, tap, tap, over the head of the monk, who woke up and shouted reproachfully at his friend, “Why did you bring me back? I was in such a lovely place!”
So, sometimes these things can happen. But it’s not possible for someone to totally liberate and purify someone else, otherwise there would be no need for us to do anything anymore: we would already have been liberated by the Buddhas of the past. But what we can do is to create positive conditions and give teachings for instance.
Could you give a definition of ‘tantra’.
‘-Tra’ means crossing, to cross, to liberate, but when you say ‘tan-tra’ it means a continuum, dju in Tibetan,
something that is like a method, a stream through which you cross over to enlightenment. It’s something like that.
Why a stream, a continuum?
The word continuum is used because it’s the same continuum of the person. There is nothing which is finished. We have talked about this earlier: the ground, the path and the fruit of purification are not different, they are just one and the same thing. It’s something like that.
Could you explain a little more how this second luminous appearance of seeing everything as the deity and the palace actually happens?
If you don’t see anything impure anywhere, you see everything as the deity. ‘Deity’ is just a name for this experience of going beyond pure and impure, good and bad, samsara and nirvana. Sometimes it is said that we should go beyond samsara and nirvana, that there’s no samsara, no nirvana, because samsara is a way of seeing, of perceving, and nirvana is another way of perceiving. Both are just perceptions, so when we understand clearly that there’s nothing called samsara then neither can there be anything called nirvana. It’s not a question of realizing that there is no samsara and then discovering nirvana, and saying, ‘I have got it. I have got it.” It’s not like that. There’s no samsara, there’s never been any samsara, so there’s no nirvana either. Therefore there is nothing impure. When we have that understanding, I think it doesn’t really matter what appears, even if it is an ugly stone wall, we see it as the palace of the deity.
People have different ways of seeing. In the West, people build stone walls and the more uneven, the better for them. Whereas for people in Asia, the more uneven, the worse it is. I no longer have that problem, but when the Tibetans come to the West and are taken out for sight-seeing, they really can’t appreciate the Westerners’ love and admirations for their old buildings. For Tibetans, they are just uninteresting ruins. But there is something even worse than ruins, and that’s the cemeteries. ‘Let’s go for a sight-seeing to this nice cemetery.’ This is very Western. I have been taken to many cemeteries for sight-seeing. But I must admit some are nice and have been very well kept, with nice gardens.
Anyway, that’s not the point. When we reach that stage, there is no more samsara and whatever happens, whatever comes, we have no aversion, no fear and so we have liberated ourselves in a way, because there’s nothing to fall down into.
Sometimes when I practise visualisation, different images seem to overlap. For instance, I practise Green Tara and somehow an image of a waterfall spontaneously appears in my mind. For me, it is easy to visualise Green Tara in front of a waterfall rather than in front of the usual mountains or things that appear in thangkas. And when I go to that particular waterfall, which is a real place, then it is very easy to imagine Green Tara there. I wonder whether this is an obstacle or whether it’s OK because it helps me to visualise.
I think it’s OK. Actually, it is very important that one should be able to use whatever comes into our experience. That’s one of the main things in Vajrayana, to be able to use and integrate whatever naturally appears into our training as a practice. So, why not?
Do I understand it correctly that this also means that it is not so important or necessary to see all the details of the visualisation of the deity exactly as it is represented in the images, like when people say that even the way the dress of the deity is falls is very precise. Is it just a matter of having a clear vision and that’s enough?
What is depicted in the thangka is what the painter imagines. So it’s just a thangka painter’s thing and is not that important, especially the background. I mean, a thangka’s background can be very ugly, so that is completely insignificant. You should pay more attention to the description of the deity. But I don’t think it has absolutely to be as described. When people see a thangka of a deity, they say, “Oh, it’s Tibetan, so I am doing this Tibetan visualisation.” But thangkas are of course painted by Tibetans, so they can’t be anything but Tibetan, and a Tibetan thangka painter hasn’t seen anything else. But you don’t necessarily have to visualise a Tibetan image. It may be different. I think that is not really important.
What do you mean when you say that the appearance of the deity doesn’t matter too much? Does it mean that if it has three heads it can have two instead?
No, what I am saying is that, contrary to what some Westerners think, the appearance of the deity doesn’t have much to do with the local culture, because in Tibet or India, nobody has three heads. There are no green ladies in India or Tibet, but you are asked to visualise a green lady. So you can visualise a green lady, but not necessarily Indian or Tibetan. These are symbolic elements. Paintings are done in order to help us visualise more clearly. Nice paintings may give you some inspiration. You should certainly not use ugly paintings. It is also said that, when you visualise deities, it shouldn’t be static like a statue: it has to be alive and it can move a little bit.
I understand that all these Vajrayana methods are mainly a kind of training so that at the time of the bardo, after death, we will be able to reach enlightenment when these experiences of lights, sounds and visions come, rather than achieving it in this life through the practice itself. Is that correct?
That’s indeed also the purpose of these practices. In the bardo, we see many colours and experience various things. If we can see that they are a reflection or a projection of our own mind, we can be liberated. If we are used to do that as a training in this life, then we can see it more quickly and easily in the bardo. But it is also said to be not impossible to have these kinds of realisations in this life.
I am wondering how useful all these practices can be for a western type of life, which is a very busy type of life, full of stimuli of all kinds. We all have our own films in our mind, so many things going on, that adding even more things doesn’t seem quite advisable. We may have two phone calls at the same time, then we switch on the television and there are all these images, do we really have to add all these extra images on top of that? Do we have to learn Tibetan to recite the sadhanas, which is getting into more complication? I wonder whether it wouldn’t be easier for a Westerner to just basically learn how to calm one’s mind, how to concentrate and be mindful in one’s daily activities. When I heard your nickname, ‘Lazy Lama’, for me it was a kind of revelation: let’s just relax, that’s the main thing.
I think so. There are many different ways, there are many different methods, and each one has its own purpose, its own effects and its own use. Therefore you cannot say that this kind of visualisation is not useful in the busy modern life. Busy modern life has nothing to do exclusively with the West. That kind of life has now become universal. Actually the East is now more active and busy than here. But it is true that you need some time and some particular conditions for doing these kinds of practices. Therefore it may not be practical for some people to do them. But we can also look at it from a different angle. You have to see the essence of the practices, because they are in a way designed precisely to work on this busy-ness. In the creation stage, you are doing lots of things and lots of things are happening. That’s where you are actually working on that busy-ness, transforming it into something pure and meaningful. It is the clarity of your mind appearing as the deity. But then of course, letting the mind calm down is also very good.
There is also one important element: whatever practices you are doing, you have to know, to understand how to liberate yourself, that’s the most important part. Even when you are going through the creation stage, the most important part of any Vajrayana practice is actually the completion stage. It’s not enough to just calm your mind down a little. Of course it’s important to calm it down and find some peace, but that’s not enough. You have to know how to liberate yourself, and when you know that, then it no longer matters whether you are busy or not. It’s not a matter of busy-ness or not busy-ness, it’s a matter of understanding and how to integrate it in your daily life. The main technique of the Vajrayana is to be able to apply the teachings, the practices, in whatever situation of life you are. It’s also the main strength of the Vajrayana. Most of the 84 Siddhas, were farmers, woodcutters, cobblers, arrow makers, kings, ministers, brewers, oil makers, etc. They led very busy lives. Not many of them were just meditating in caves. Most of them were very busy all the time - maybe not as busy as now because they didn’t have television, but in many ways very busy. So the main thing is to learn how to liberate yourself in whatever you are doing, that’s the real essence of the Vajrayana teachings.
And I would add that the lazy lama is not a good example. It’s a bad example. Don’t be lazy, otherwise you will become like me!
2. The Completion Stage
2.1 The difference between creation and completion
The completion stage is actually the most important part, although when we do a Vajrayana practice like a sadhana, the text of the sadhana mostly covers the creation part. A sadhana is basically an instruction on how to do the creation stage, and we will only find maybe one or two lines about the completion stage. That doesn’t mean that the completion stage is not important, but that we have to learn it from somewhere else. What is really taught in most of the tantras is the completion stage, therefore that is what we have to learn. There are no different completion stages or meditations related to different sadhanas. There’s nothing called a completion stage sadhana of Chenrezig that would be different from a completion stage sadhana of Tara or Chakrasamvara. It’s not like that, it’s just one and the same thing. That’s why the different sadhanas do not need a special completion stage instruction. Instructions are just the same for all.
In general, creation stage is a contrivance, but the path of contrivance leads to the authentic natural state.
This is a definition of creation and completion. The creation stage, with its different visualisations and the many ways and methods of doing things, is all contrived by the mind. It is not something ultimately true or a very natural state, but it is something artificially made up, manufactured or created by our minds. It is a contrivance, but the path of contrivance leads to the authentic natural state. It helps us in a certain way. It is a path. If we know how to do it and if we can do it properly, then it’s a very useful and efficient tool that slowly leads to the authentic natural state.
With the mental conviction of the lack of reality in the root or ground
of deluded grasping to deluded appearance,
resting in a pristine state is completion stage itself, the actual natural state.
The first stage us the provisional meaning and the latter the definitive meaning.
There’s a problem here with the translation, I think that the first sentence should rather be translated as ‘With the mental conviction in the lack of reality and ground of the deluded grasping or deluded appearance’. It means that we understand, with or without the practice of the creation stage, that the deluded appearances and deluded grasping are something without any ground, without any reality, anything substantial. It doesn’t mean that we have the mental conviction of the lack of reality of the root or ground of deluded grasping and deluded appearance. When we find out that all these appearances, all this grasping, all the different kinds of pure and impure activities going on in our mind, are without reality, then that is the View. First, we understand through the View, and then we let ourselves completely be in the meditative state. This meditation of the pristine state, resting in a pristine state, that’s the meditation of the completion stage. The completion stage is to be able to let our mind be or rest in the natural state. Finding the natural state is actually, in a way, finding how unreal, ungraspable and ungrounded the deluded state of appearance is. That’s the ultimate understanding, the ultimate truth, the actual natural state.
The creation practices are provisional truths, which means that, although they are not completely, ultimately true, they are leading to the actual understanding, the actual truth and the real liberation. The completion stage is the definitive meaning, the ultimate truth, the real understanding, the end. So, when somebody asks whether it wouldn’t be better to just sit and rest in a totally natural state without going through all these different elaborate visualizations of the creation stage, we could answer that indeed, that’s the best. If we can do that properly then there is no need of creation.
2.2. What is the completion stage?
It is said that if you understand mind, knowing this one thing illuminates everything. But if you don’t understand mind, knowing everything obscures the one thing.
The completion stage is recognising, realising or directly understanding the nature of our mind. When we discussed the two truths, we saw that in the Madhyamika we proceed first with a general analytical investigation of the phenomena, and then we look at the mind. But in the Vajrayana and other meditative practices, we don’t look too much out at the world, we look directly at the mind. And if we can see the nature of our mind, that is actually the same as the nature of everything. To see the true nature of our mind and of all phenomena is the completion stage. It is also the same as the wisdom that we talked about earlier. In the beginning we talked about why we react in the samsaric way, with aversion, attachment, fear and all these things. We identified ignorance, our inability to see ourselves, to see things as they really are as the cause of this problem. Wisdom puts an end to this ignorance.
If we directly see the reality or the true nature of our mind, we know everything. If we don’t, then even if we have a complete mastery of all human fields of knowledge; it amounts to knowing nothing because it doesn’t help us in any way to liberate ourselves. Therefore, the most important thing is to know ‘this one, which liberates everything’.
The great master Noble Nagarjuna said it this way:
“Where there is appropriate understanding of emptiness, all things are appropriate, and if there is no appropriate understanding of emptiness, nothing is.”
Here too there is a problem of translation. It’s not ‘there is appropriate understanding of emptiness’; it’s not about appropriate understanding of emptiness. It says that if there is emptiness, then everything is possible; without emptiness, nothing is possible. This is Nagarjuna’s logic. One might wonder how things can be empty in their nature, when everything seems so very much there: things arise, grow, remain, diminish, then something else comes up - so how can there be emptiness? Nagarjuna answers that the existence of all these things is possible precisely because their nature is emptiness. If their nature was not emptiness, nothing would be possible. That’s Nagarjuna’s philosophy. If the nature of everything was not empty, things would be solid and real, and a solid reality cannot change. Things would have to be independent. To say that something is ‘really real’, means that it is independent, there on its own and therefore it cannot be affected by other things. If that were the case, then chemistry would not be possible, nothing could be created, nothing could happen. However, we see everything happening, many things coming together and creating something different. There’s no limitation of the possibilities: the world, the universe, all its contents, everything is so vivid, so magnificent, so abundant and varied, so much interrelated, interconnected. The reason why it is at all possible is because the nature of everything is emptiness. Nothing has a real ultimate existence. There is no solid, independent, self-existing thing, therefore when things come together, something else is created and everything can happen. That logic, that view, applies to everything including each one of us, including our mind. It has to be understood that everything appears and at the same time is empty in its nature. If we understand this, then we understand the nature of our mind. But, once again, this has to be understood from our actual experience. To believe in it on somebody else’s authority or to understand it at an intellectual level is not the way. That’s why, when we try to practise these things, we have to look at ourselves, investigate ourselves, examine on our own, and try to find the nature of our being. That’s why even at the Mahamudra level we have to examine and try to find out where everything, including the mind, comes from, where it goes, where it remains. Finding out doesn’t necessarily mean finding out ‘something’. Maybe there’s nothing to find out, but that too is a discovery. So, through this in-depth investigation, we gain an experiential understanding, which is the View. And when this understanding grows, then we let our mind be in that state of realisation or experience. That’s the meditation. To progress in the meditation on the nature of mind, or whatever we call it, to gain more and more clarity, that is the completion stage practice.
As the completion stage practice becomes clearer, the other methods, including the creation stage, become stronger, more vivid and powerful. As long as we have no experience of the completion stage, to think, “everything is pure, everything is a deity,” and to visualize accordingly is very artificial. But when we truly understand more of the nature of our mind, then those creations are no longer less real or more imaginary than anything else. Everything is very much created and imaginary and therefore the creation of a pure state, of the deity and its pure realm, becomes as real or unreal as everything else. Nothing is that real anyway. Therefore creation and completion are very complementary, and through their combined use our practice becomes very strong and effective. If the completion stage aspect is not part of our practice, then the creation stage itself is almost useless. I dare not say that it’s completely useless, but it’s almost useless. Maybe there is some use - I hope there is some - but it certainly doesn’t bring the real liberation. But if the completion stage is there, then it really brings liberation.
All of the various designations, such as Great Seal, Great Perfection, Middle Path, unembellished ultimate,
enlightened intention of the victorious ones, intrinsic nature,
perfection of wisdom, view, meditation and action, and so on,
indicate that the mind itself and the true nature of objects have no true reality whatsoever and are beyond intellect and inexpressible.
This one point could well be the synopsis of all teachings.
The Great Seal is the Mahamudra, the ultimate teaching of the Kagyu school. The Great Perfection is the Dzogchen, the ultimate teaching of the Nyingma school. The Middle Path is the Uma, Madhyamika or Nagarjuna’s Middle Path. ‘Unembellished’ is another translation of tödal (spros bral), which is translated in many different ways, sometimes as ‘simplicity’, ‘un-elaborate’. It means ‘beyond any extreme’ and here it is translated as ‘unembellished’. And the ‘ultimate’ means the ultimate reality, truth or nature, which also mean the same thing in Buddhist terminologies. The ‘enlightened intention of the victorious ones’ may not be a really good translation. Victorious ones is the literal translation of djina or gyalwa (rgyal ba) in Tibetan, which is another name for Buddhas. Here it is not the ‘intention’, but the mind, the mind of the Buddha, the Buddha’s consciousness. Intrinsic nature, perfection of wisdom is the prajnaparamita, the wisdom that is beyond or the ‘transcendental wisdom’ as it is sometimes called. And then also, view, meditation and action are the ultimate stage. All these are just different names for the same thing, for the completion stage. It all comes to seeing the true nature of ourselves and all phenomena, to be able to be in that understanding of emptiness and clarity, or whatever you call it: that’s it.
Generally it is said that the completion stage has two levels, the elaborate and the un-elaborate completion stage practices. The elaborate completion stage has practices like the Six Yogas of Naropa, in which one is working on the channels, winds, bindus and subtle energies. There are also other practices, like the Clear Light and bardo practices, which are usually described as the elaborate completion stage practices. The Mahamudra and the practices listed here are called the unelaborated, the real completion stage.
And then it says that these designations ‘indicate that mind itself and the true nature of objects have no true reality whatsoever.’ All these are giving the true nature of the mind and nothing else. So, the nature of mind and of all things is not established in any way, one can’t find it anywhere, one can’t define it as ‘it’s this way or that way’. The Tibetan ‘chir yang ma drup’ is translated here as have no true reality whatsoever, which is not wrong, but it doesn’t have the same ring as when you say it in Tibetan, where ‘drup’ means ‘to happen, establish, accomplish’. It doesn’t establish or accomplish or happen in any way, which means that whatever way one looks, one can’t find anything. It cannot be established in any way although it appears in every way. It means here that it doesn’t have any reality on its own but we can experience it because that’s the way it is.
So that is the main teaching, the culmination point, the true nature, the ultimate reality. Only through meditation can we understand and experience it. Although we can experience it, it is not something that we can intellectually express and hold on to. We can of course talk about it, but whatever we say, it won’t be completely accurate because it is not an intellectual thing. That doesn’t mean that we can’t approach it intellectually, but we can’t accurately express it, because in order to understand something through the intellect we have to grasp it, to label it and put it into a category, make a picture or a description of it. This is not experiencing it. Making a description of something and experiencing it are totally different. The ultimate reality is something we need to experience by not doing something but by letting it arise. The more we can just be, the more we can open up and be natural, the more chance we have to experience this. All these things go back to being completely natural and it is therefore said again and again that ‘un-contrived’ is the key word in understanding this. ‘Contrived’ is something that we try to make up. Un-contrived is not making anything up, just being completely, truly natural. Not the natural that is habitually natural. We have two ways of being natural. One is natural in the habitual way, indulging in whatever we want to do, like shouting if we feel like shouting, sleeping if we want to sleep, eating if we feel hungry. That’s the habitually natural, but it’s not the ‘natural’ that we are talking about here, which is, we could say, more natural than that: it’s the really intrinsic, pristine, primordial naturalness, completely without any contriving, without any making up. So, if within that kind of complete naturalness, we then look a little bit back at ourselves, we may get a chance of seeing this true nature. This is the main understanding of the completion stage.
All the completion stage practices and meditations lead to that state. The more we can bring that up, the more we understand the completion stage and this is where the liberation takes place. When we see our true nature is when we can get rid of our fear and all our other samsaric ways of reacting. So that is the main point.
You said at the beginning that the completion stage is only one or two lines and that we have to learn from somebody else the instruction on how to do it. Does that mean we need a special teacher to give us secret teachings?
No, no. In the sadhanas, the completion phase is only mentioned very briefly, if at all. ‘Sadhana’ means a practice book. The sadhanas of for instance Chenrezig, Tara or Chakrasamvara are practice books explaining mostly how to practise the creation stage, how to visualize, make offerings and all different kinds of things. But you won’t find much about the completion stage in it. You will just find one ‘instruction’, usually at the end, saying: ‘now do the completion stage meditation’ or ‘dissolve’ or something like that, which means that you can’t learn how to do the completion stage from the text of the sadhana itself. You have to learn it in other ways, like through the Mahamudra teachings for instance. All the teachings on emptiness, those leading to the View, to different levels of the View, explaining how to try and see the true nature of things, are actually related to it. Especially the Mahamudra, Dzogchen and all the Middle Path teachings, like Nagarjuna’s, are all actually completion stage teachings.
You say that we need to cultivate or maintain this natural state of mind in order to discover its true nature. Usually when I meditate, I apply the breathing meditation methods of concentration that I have learned because otherwise I don’t know exactly how to maintain my mind in a meditative state. I assume that one day, maybe, through practice, I will be able to just rest my mind in its natural state without having to use these tools. Is that right?
When we first learn how to meditate, we use tools like focusing on breathing in order to try to calm our mind down. That’s the shine meditation. I think we talked about this earlier, shine meditation is just to calm down. It is very important but it’s not liberating. Therefore, when our mind has calmed down then we need to develop lhaktong, the insight. It is not an intellectual thing but a more experiential view. That’s what we need. We may call it lhaktong, Mahamudra or whatever. Meditating, letting the mind calm down and trying to be more natural, that is also, of course, leading to insight. But just being calm and relaxed is not enough. Therefore the next step is to receive instructions on that, and then it will become Mahamudra.
Does the experience of seeing the nature of one’s mind happen spontaneously, by itself, when one is just resting one’s mind? Is it like a kind of flash or something like that? Sometimes I have these kind of flashes, so I wonder whether it is this or not.
It may be, or it may not be. Anything is possible. Generally, we first try to practice shine and calm the mind down. Then, when the mind has calmed down, we try to look at the mind and generate the insight of lhaktong. We let it slowly grow like that. But not everybody has necessarily to do it in that order. Some people directly receive the introduction to the nature of the mind without first having to practice shine. And some people can get it whereas some people cannot get it. Sometimes different kinds of experiences, what we call the ‘glimpses’ of complete naturalness, or experiences of very high or deep levels of realisation can happen. They can happen to anybody, while meditating or not, in some different states also, due to certain other factors. These glimpses are OK, they are important and very good, but at the same time, they are not a great achievement because they go away and don’t come back. Then there is the risk of grasping at these experiences, of getting attached to them and wanting them back once they’re gone. And then it becomes an obstacle: you can’t meditate properly because you are just looking forward to the experience and wondering why it doesn’t come back. You should not give too much importance to these experiences. You have to go on working as if nothing had happened, just being natural and meditating according to the instructions. That’s the understanding. These flashes or glimpses can happen at any time, but they don’t mean too much.
When we practise the sadhanas as a group, the completion stage is very short. It could last a couple of seconds only. When we practise on our own, is there a limit to how long this stage should be? Should it last until or after the first thought arises?
As it is said in this text also, the completion stage is not only done at the end, it is done alternately and especially while we are reciting the mantra. During the mantra recitation, your mind is focused on the mantra and that is the shine aspect, allowing your mind to become calm and clear. When you are tired of that, you just let your mind rest in the meditative state, and that is the lhaktong part of it. It is recommended to alternate both.
The dissolution stage can be short but it can also be long. You can do it again and again if you like.
Rinpoche, what about saying the sadhanas in English or Tibetan?
I don’t think it is a question of a translated sadhana becoming cut off from the blessings of the lineage. I think basically there is nothing wrong with doing it in English. Tibetans did it in Tibetan, Japanese did it in Japanese and Chinese did it in Chinese. Of course, the translation has to be good and this is probably why most lamas do not want the practices to be done in translated languages so far. Except for Chogyam Trungpa in America, who forbade any Tibetan texts to be taken in retreat. You have to understand your practice and if you don’t know what the text means, then it becomes very frustrating. I think most lamas are not satisfied yet with the translations. The first translations were done in the academic world and they were just going word by word through the text with a dictionary, without ever having received any teaching! The result was most terrible. The more recent translations are much better. But although they are getting better every year, they are not perfect yet. If they are taken as perfect while they are not, the people may wonder, is this all? People who have a real understanding and first hand experience still have to come up and translate the texts in a more accurate way. Maybe it is too early to get Buddhism established right now. These texts were composed by very realised beings and many of the teachings are very poetic and inspiring in their own way. When I read them in Tibetan, they are like a poem, very inspiring. When translated into English, it becomes totally different: the poetry and inspiration are gone. The rough meaning is there but it is completely flat, it has no inspiration. That’s why I’m always saying texts should be retranslated. They have to be transformed, rewritten in a way that mixes deep understanding, experience and inspiration. I am looking for some poets. The study of the Tibetan language should also be encouraged. And, of course, a very good English is absolutely necessary.
© Dr. Ringu Tulku