Guide The Theory and Practice of Other Emptiness Taught Through Milarepa’s Songs

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Tony Duff (Author of Gampopa Teaches Essence Mahamudra Volume I)

In the Yogini tantras in particular, women and female yoginis are given high status as the embodiment of female deities such as the wild and nude Vajrayogini. Candamaharosana Tantra viii—30 [57]. In India, there is evidence to show that women participated in tantric practice alongside men and were also teachers, adepts and authors of tantric texts.

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Practitioners of the Vajrayana need to abide by various tantric vows or samaya of behaviour. The special tantric vows vary depending on the specific mandala practice for which the initiation is received, and also depending on the level of initiation.

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Ngagpas of the Nyingma school keep a special non-celibate ordination. A tantric guru , or teacher, is expected to keep his or her samaya vows in the same way as his students. Proper conduct is considered especially necessary for a qualified Vajrayana guru. For example, the Ornament for the Essence of Manjushrikirti states: [59].

Theory and Practice of Other Emptiness Taught Through Milarepa's Songs

Those who worship them go to hell and so on as a result. While Vajrayana includes all of the traditional practices used in Mahayana Buddhism such as samatha and vipassana meditation and the paramitas , it also includes a number of unique practices or "skillful means" upaya which are seen as more advanced and effective.

Song to a Pigeon Goddess Girl, poem by MIlarepa

Vajrayana is a system of lineages , whereby those who successfully receive an empowerment or sometimes called initiation permission to practice are seen to share in the mindstream of the realisation of a particular skillful means of the vajra Master. Vajrayana teaches that these techniques provide an accelerated path to enlightenment which is faster than other paths. A central feature of tantric practice is the use of mantras , seed syllables bijas , words or a collection of syllables understood to have special powers and hence is a 'performative utterance' used for a variety of ritual ends.

Mantras are usually associated with specific deities or Buddhas , and are seen as their manifestations in sonic form. They are traditionally believed to have spiritual power, which can lead to enlightenment as well as supramundane abilities siddhis. Mantras are central to the practice of Buddhist tantra. They are taught in the context of an initiation ceremony by tantric gurus or acharyas to the tantric initiate, who also makes a formal commitment samaya to recite them and also not to disclose them to the uninitiated. After the deity has been established, heart mantras are visualized as part of the contemplation in different points of the deity's body.

According to Alex Wayman, Buddhist esotericism is centered on what is known as "the three mysteries" or "secrets": the tantric adept affiliates his body, speech, and mind with the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha through mudra , mantras and samadhi respectively.

A key element of this practice involves the dissolution of the profane world and identification with a sacred reality. In the Highest Yoga Tantras and in the Inner Tantras this is usually done in two stages, the generation stage utpattikrama and the completion stage nispannakrama. In the generation stage, one dissolves oneself in emptiness and meditates on the divinity, resulting in identification with this divinity. In the completion stage, the visualization of and identification with the deity is dissolved in the realization of luminous emptiness.

Ratnakarasanti describes the generation stage cultivation practice thus:. This dissolution into emptiness is then followed by the visualization of the deity and re-emergence of the yogi as the deity. During the process of deity visualization, the deity is to be imaged as not solid or tangible, as "empty yet apparent", with the character of a mirage or a rainbow.

Following mastery of the "generation stage", one practices the "perfection stage". The tantric commentator Buddhaguhya , in his commentary on the Mahavairocana Tantra , outlines the "perfection stage" practices thus:. First you should actualize all the four branches of recitation for a while as before, and then analyze the manifestation of the created parikalpita colour, shape, and so on, of your tutelary deity who is identical to yourself, breaking them down into atoms. Or it is also acceptable to do this by way of the reasoning that is unborn and unarising from the very beginning, or similarly by way of the technique of drawing-in the vital energy prana through the yoga of turning your mind inside, or by way of not focusing on its appearance [as colour and shape].

In accordance with that realization, you should then actualize the mind which is just self-aware, free from the body image of your tutelary deity and without appearance [as subject and object], and mentally recite your vidya mantra as appropriate. As noted by David Germano , the practices which are associated with the "perfection stage" actually cover two distinct rubrics, "an earlier body of practice focused on the absence of images and a later system of techniques focused on the human body as a directly sensed reality.

The first aspect indicates form-less types of contemplation directly on the ultimate nature of one's mind utterly devoid of any fabricated or spontaneous visual images. Often discussed as the dissolution of visual images back into the visionary, one could explain them as a felt experience of being grounded in the body, guided by the felt gravity of the body's presence without any cathexis to external images.

They can also be understood in part as attempts to formally incorporate the non-esoteric styles of meditation on emptiness that were increasingly normative in orthodox monastic environments into Tantric practice and ideology The second rubric of perfection phase contemplation signifies internal meditations on a subtle or imaginal body image through visualizing its triune elements known as "the channels, winds, and nuclei" rtsa rlung thig le. This is in contrast to focusing on external visualizations of deities in front of oneself, or as one's self, or even internal visualizations of constellations of such deities as a "body mandala.

Correspondingly, they mark a move towards felt tactile sensations especially sexual bliss and the sensation of warmth rather than exclusive reliance on our capacity for vision. In this way it marks a movement toward embodiment and processes internal to our body, with sexuality involving intensely tactile felt presences in contrast to vision, the coolest and most metaphysical of our senses.

The practices associated with the completion stage which make use energetic systems of human psycho-physiology composed of "energy channels" Skt. These subtle body energies are seen as "mounts" for consciousness, the physical component of awareness.


They are said to converge at certain points along the spinal column called chakras. Another form of Vajrayana practice are certain meditative techniques associated with Mahamudra and Dzogchen often termed "formless practices". These techniques do not rely on deity visualization per se but on direct pointing-out instruction from a master and are often seen as the most advanced forms.

In Tibetan Buddhism , advanced practices like deity yoga and the formless practices are usually preceded by or coupled with "preliminary practices" called ngondro which includes prostrations and recitations of the syllable mantra. Another distinctive feature of Tantric Buddhism is its unique rituals , which are used as a substitute or alternative for the earlier abstract meditations. An important element in some of these rituals particularly initiations and tantric feasts seems to have been the practice of ritual sex or sexual yoga karmamudra , "desire seal", also referred to as "consort observance", vidyavrata, and euphemistically as " puja " , as well as the sacramental ingestion of "power substances" such as the mingled sexual fluids and uterine blood often performed by licking these substances off the vulva , a practice termed yonipuja.

The Cakrasamvara tantra commentator Kambala, writing about this practice, states:. The seats are well-known on earth to be spots within the lotus mandala; by abiding within it there is great bliss, the royal nature of nondual joy. Therefore the lotus seat is supreme: filled with a mixture of semen and uterine blood, one should especially kiss it, and lolling with the tongue take it up. Unite the vajra and lotus, with the rapture of drinking [this] liquor. According to David Gray, these sexual practices probably originated in a non-monastic context, but were later adopted by monastic establishments such as Nalanda and Vikramashila.

Likewise, the drinking of sexual fluids was also reinterpreted by later commentators to refer subtle body anatomy of the perfection stage practices. The Vajrayana uses a rich variety of symbols, terms and images which have multiple meanings according to a complex system of analogical thinking. The Sanskrit term " vajra " denoted a thunderbolt like legendary weapon and divine attribute that was made from an adamantine , or an indestructible substance which could therefore pierce and penetrate any obstacle or obfuscation.

It is the weapon of choice of Indra , the King of the Devas. As a secondary meaning, "vajra" symbolizes the ultimate nature of things which is described in the tantras as translucent, pure and radiant, but also indestructible and indivisible. It is also symbolic of the power of tantric methods to achieve its goals. The vajra is often traditionally employed in tantric rituals in combination with the bell or ghanta ; symbolically, the vajra may represent method as well as great bliss and the bell stands for wisdom , specifically the wisdom realizing emptiness.

Representations of the deity, such as statues murti , paintings thangka , or mandala , are often employed as an aid to visualization , in Deity yoga. Mandalas are symbolic depictions of the sacred space of the awakened Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as well as of the inner workings of the human person.

The explanatory tantra of the Guhyasamaja tantra , the Vajramala , states: "The body becomes a palace, the hallowed basis of all the Buddhas. Mandalas are also sacred enclosures, sacred architecture that house and contain the uncontainable essence of a central deity or yidam and their retinue.

In the book The World of Tibetan Buddhism , the Dalai Lama describes mandalas thus: "This is the celestial mansion, the pure residence of the deity. All ritual in Vajrayana practice can be seen as aiding in this process of visualization and identification.


The practitioner can use various hand implements such as a vajra , bell, hand-drum damaru or a ritual dagger phurba , but also ritual hand gestures mudras can be made, special chanting techniques can be used, and in elaborate offering rituals or initiations, many more ritual implements and tools are used, each with an elaborate symbolic meaning to create a special environment for practice.

Vajrayana has thus become a major inspiration in traditional Tibetan art. There is an extended body of texts associated with Buddhist Tantra, including the "tantras" themselves, tantric commentaries and shastras , sadhanas liturgical texts , ritual manuals Jp. According to Harunaga Isaacson,. Though we do not know precisely at present just how many Indian tantric Buddhist texts survive today in the language in which they were written, their number is certainly over one thousand five hundred; I suspect indeed over two thousand. A large part of this body of texts has also been translated into Tibetan, and a smaller part into Chinese.

Aside from these, there are perhaps another two thousand or more works that are known today only from such translations. We can be certain as well that many others are lost to us forever, in whatever form.

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