InTANTRIC POETRYby Erik Pema Kunsang How often haven’t you heard that we only live once, that everything ends at death, “now he has found peace, his trouble is over”? The culture we live in is dominated by these ideas, that we are just this human body, and when it ends we are no more. There is however an entirely different perspective, presented by the buddhas in the tantric texts: This present mind that knows and feels lives in the body, but is not of the body. It is unlike any other thing we know in life, because mind is neither something nor nothing. Think about it! How can mind disappear, when it’s not a thing? The song presented here comes from an extraordinary master, who lived in the Himalayas and his name was Longchenpa, Vast Expanse. Not only was he an expert in the tantric teachings, that cover everything, from the timeless past through conception into the present life, how the pristine nature is present within us, whether we know it or not, and especially how to be liberated while dying or in the period that follows death. Longchenpa was also enlightened about these topics, life and death, from within his own experience. His song has been chanted for centuries by meditators as a reminder for awakening to total freedom during the experiences we go through at the end of this life. My guru Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, was very fond of this particular poetry and often added it into a ceremony, performed for the living and the dead. Some of the words may be unfamiliar or even impossible to understand at present; they need to be unpacked like a present by a tantric teacher. Over the years, I have noticed how deeper and deeper levels of meaning come to life and I’m sure that you will notice the same. Longchenpa’s mind lives on, also through these words. Om ah hung Please pay heed, o conquerors of all directions and all times. By the goodness gathered in the threefold times, and what I now possess, From the time without beginning up until this very day, May enlightenment be reached by me and everyone without exception. In every incarnation, while this is not attained, May we see the basic essence, Great Perfection’s deepest path, Dharmata directly, the increase of visions, and the culmination, May the body made of matter then dissolve into a mass of light. May we not be faced with anguish at the interrupted life, May the gurus and the yidams, all the dakas and dakinis, Appear in actuality, right before our very eyes, Grant empowerment, predictions and then guide us to the realms divine. Since everything conditioned does not last, our death will surely come, The breathing stops, the mind and body go their separate ways. May we not become bewildered, start to cling, or be attached, But remain in dharmakaya’s natural and continuous state. When the time has come to shed this body, this material illusion, The perceptions and the skandhas, gross and subtle thoughts, all cease. Just when mind and body part, may we all be liberated, Unbewildered, into all-pervasive vastness, timeless space. Then, one into another, untrue elements dissolve, A lucid state, unmixed and pure, with lights of the five colors, Without creating concepts, may the vajra chains in colors five, Be undivided, unified, perfected in dharmata’s realm. When wrathful demons as enormous hungs and other forms, When billion universes fill with roaring sounds of hung, May we recognize the vital point: the hung sound is an empty knowing And realize that every empty sound is like an echo. When hordes of Yama’s executioners surround us, Attack, slay, kill, escape, give chase—may all this panic naturally dissolve. Freed from illusory displays of being struck with fear and terror, May we know them to be forms of yidams, both the peaceful and the wild. When the hordes of wrathful herukas come swarming forth From the Blazing Blissful Palace in the mansion of the skull, May we not behold them as the forms of dreadful demons, But instead gain insight of the heart essence’s pithy meaning. When the multitude of peaceful buddhas dissolve back in basic space From the Palace of the Jewel Dome that is within the heart, The moment the displays transpose and manifest as forms of light, May awareness then dissolve into the brilliant expanse. When the wheel of channels at the throat becomes unfastened With thousand roaring thunder claps of terrifying laughter, May we recognize the peaceful-wrathful song of ah and hung And free it as the nonarising sound of empty knowing. When red and white, the means and knowledge, are converging at the heart From Bliss Sustaining Palace in the secret center, Untainted, may this natural state of blissful emptiness Cause winds and mind to be absorbed within the central channel. Then as we remain within dharmata’s bardo state, May consciousness not stray into oblivion, But realizing vast and timeless purity, the natural liberation, May we settle in the ‘other-empty’ state where phenomena dissolve. When seeing the reality of dharmata directly, May conceptual remedies, fixated mindfulness, be freed, And realizing timeless purity, the nature of phenomena exhausted, May we stay in nonconceptual states devoid of constructs. When the dome of fivefold wisdoms opens up its doors From the palace of five-colored, interwoven rainbows, And the realm is filled with deities and spheres, May we meet the fivefold kayas and five wisdoms. When we meet the fivefold kayas and five wisdoms In the incandescent palace that is the empty bindu’s lamp, May we, freed from doubt, that vacillating dualistic feeling, Fully merge into Samantabhadra’s timeless state. Having met the fourfold lamps, mind’s essence, face to face, In the incandescent palace that is the empty bindu’s lamp, May we reach spontaneous presence with a perfect steadiness And transpose to space and rigpa’s sphere of vastness. May the luminous and empty lamp of dharmakaya shine. May the dharmakaya emptiness of knowing be attained. May sambhogakaya’s ceaseless dual vision be attained. May nirmanakaya’s perfect natural knowing be attained. Having reached the triple kayas, may we work for others’ good. This completes the aspiration for the bardo of dying and dharmata that liberates through hearing, written by Kunkhyen Longchen Rabjam. Source: Longchenpa’s Bardo Aspiration that is a Pointing-out Instruction (bar do’i smon lam ngo sprod bzhugs so), from Longchen Rabjam’s Collected Writings. Translated by Erik Pema Kunsang.
SINGABLE 21 PRAISES TO ARYA TARA
The Buddha Shakyamuni sang these twenty-one verses spontaneously. They are considered to be of tantric nature, each verse has four levels of meaning: literal, general, hidden and ultimate. Our normal reality in each moments contains same infinite vastness and depth and this tantra helps understanding it. There are many books in English that open up for this depth of meaning, not only by explaining the nature of this wonderful female buddha, but also by helping us to connect with the nature of our minds.Tara made the promise that whoever sings her praise with her name mantra, even if it be only the first verse, will be touched by the light ray of love and compassion, feel an immediate relief from fear and worry, gradually undo what burdens the heart and ultimately be at one with her level of realization, true freedom and enlightenment. It’s a great joy to disconnect part of the intellectual mind and instead glide on the gentle wind of melody. Previously it has been sung in Sanskrit and Tibetan to free the meditator’s mind while singing. Now we can chant it in English in this singable version performed beautifully by Sascha and Rodrigo. OM Homage to Tara, the noble and sublime. Homage to TARA, the swift and courageous, You drive away all our fears with TUTARA, Savioress fulfilling all aims with the TURE, With syllables SOHA we offer you homage. Homage to Tara, the swift and courageous, Gaze is as quick as flashes of lightning, From Lord of Triloka, his face like a lotus, You rose on a billionfold blossoming stamens. Homage to you with a face that resembles A meeting of one hundred full moons in autumn, And who with the brightness of stars by the thousands Shine in a vast perfect light of resplendence. Homage to you, the golden-hued lady, Whose hand is adorned by a blue lotus flower. Your scope of activity is giving, exertion, Fortitude, peace, tolerance, meditation. Homage to you, the victorious, boundless, From the tathagatas’ crown emanated. Those who obtained every transcendent virtue, Offspring of victors, rely on your guidance. Homage to you filling Realms of Desire, Its aspect and space with the HUNG and TUTTARA. Sevenfold worlds under feet you can trample; You bring all and everything under your power. Homage to you who is worshipped by Indra, Agni, Marut, Vishveshvara and Brahma. All the vetalas, bhutas, gandharvas, As well as the yakshas, give praise in your presence. Homage to you, who by TRAT and the PHAT sounds, Crush every magical wheel, evil forces. Right leg extended and left bent, you trample, Within whirling flames you are blazing intensely. Homage to you, the swift, terrifying, Who conquers the most tenacious of maras. Knitting the brow on your lotus-like features, You slay every foe without an exception. Homage to you, with your fingers in mudra Adorning your heart to show the Three Jewels. Your masses of light are beautiful, swirling, Connecting with every direction, in circles. Homage to you, from your crown manifesting Joyous, majestic, brilliant garlands. With the great clangor of laughter TUTARE, Demons and worlds are in your domination. Homage to you with the magnetize-powers, Who gather protectors of earth in assembly. With syllable HUNG and your brow which is frowning, You liberate every poor, destitute being. Homage to you, with the crescent, a moon-crown, While your adornments so brilliantly sparkle, And Amitabha is placed in your topknot, Ceaselessly, vast rays of light radiating. Homage to you, seated in flaming garlands, Engulfed in a fire like the end of the kalpa. Right leg extended and left bent, defeating Enemy hordes with your joy-bringing, swirling. Homage to you, with your palms you are striking The earth while using your feet to be stamping. Regally frowning, with the hung letter, You shatter the sevenfold layers of lokas. Homage to you, blissful, virtuous and peaceful, Enjoy the domain of the tranquil nirvana. Fully possessing the om and the soha, You overcome even the greatest of evils. Homage to you, who encircled by joyous, Utterly smashes the forms of opponents. Clearing away with the HUNG of awareness, Arranged is the mantra by tenfold of letters. Homage to you, with feet stamping TURE, Fully presenting the form of the HUNG-seed, You cause the three worlds to all be atremble, Including Mount Meru, Mandhara and Vindhya. Homage to you in whose hands is a deer-marked, Shaped like the devas’ ocean of nectar. Sound of the PHAT and the twice uttered TARA, Without an exception, dispels every poison. Homage to you, who is asked for your guidance By rulers of devas, by gods and kinnaras. Your armor of joy, a radiant brightness, Removes every nightmare and calms every quarrel. Homage to you, whose two eyes are shining, With brilliant light like the sun and the full moon. By TUTTARA and with the twice chanted HARA, You clear away even infectious diseases. Homage to you who can calm down completely, Through the array of the threefold thatness. Crowds of vetalas, bhutas, and yakshas Suppressed with the TURE, sublime mother Tara. Together with this, the root mantra in praise form, These were the twenty-one verses of homage. Translated by Erik Pema Kunsang.
THE PRINCIPLE OF VIBRATION & SOUND IN BUDDHIST TANTRA
In tantric Buddhism we find the principle of vibration or sound expressed in the inner practices of transformation where we imagine and develop a mandala, or a pure vision of the dimension of a particular deity or enlightened being. It’s a facsimile of the dimension of a deity, a spontaneous effulgent radiance of reality, in order to transform our limited dualistic vision of reality into the total vision of enlightenment and realize the qualities of enlightened wisdom through that particular deity.The tantric deities are symbols and personifications of enlightened mind and not deities or god-like beings still grasping at a self-nature, as such beings, although considered as deities are still bound by ignorance of the true primordial nature of reality. While in the Dzogchen path to self-realization we jump directly into the nature of pure being and integrate all dualistic experiences in that state. In other words, we identify with the lucid mirror-like expanse of mind and experience our reflections non-dualistically. In the Buddhist higher path of tantric transformation, we use precise symbols in the form of deities, equivalent to the mirror’s reflections, to discover and abide in the nature of the potentiality of pure being which is reflecting, equivalent to the mirror’s lucid surface potentiality.
In tantric transformation we also use sounds in the form of different Sanskrit syllables which represent the energy of that particular deity in order to help feeling the creative visualization. The tantric practitioner employs mantras, or strings of Sanskrit syllables, which are the natural vibration or energy of pure being manifested by that particular deity, in order to integrate or transform our limited periscopic vision into the total vision of reality. Ultimately the deity serves a symbol which allows the practitioner to integrate three aspects of body, speech and dualistic mind into the total and nondual nature of enlightened wisdom, the nature of mind beyond the dualistic distinctions of one and many. On a more relative level, using tantric transformation and specific mantras we are also capable of actualizing specific relative actions or qualities for the benefit of self and others, for example the development of specific qualities like healing, intelligence, purification of negative karma, increasing wealth and prosperity, magnetizing beings, eliminating obstacles through fierce activities and protecting the mind from negative influences and destructive emotions. These actions or qualities, however, are not developed anew with the practice, but simply revealed as inherent qualities of the primordial base, our nature. Moreover, these activities are considered magical actions as they manipulate reality at will, but to be able to actualize them we need to have developed a firm realization of oneself as a deity, a symbol of the power intrinsic to pure being. In a nutshell, to act like a deity we need to really to feel like a deity. Since reality evolves from all-pervading awareness into personal perception, we use the symbol of the deity as a magnifying glass in order to use the power intrinsic to pure being and set free from the bonds of ordinary causality as a temporary accomplishment, and finally realize the ultimate accomplishment of awakening into the state of the deity as the expanse of pure being itself. The shared public reality manifested into one’s perception by the workings of ordinary karma, cause and effect, is to the tantric practitioner an illusory reality, just as true and just as false as the reality he or she can evoke from the potentiality of pure being. It must be noted that, in general, certain mantras associated with the primordial natural vibration or sound of the deity, also have an independent power outside the tantric transformation framework, and can be used and directed by a practitioner who has the capacity to do so. The Buddhist tantric system or vehicle leading to enlightenment is sometimes also called the resultant vehicle, as opposed to the causal vehicle of the Sutra system, because the path is no longer based on establishing causes, but by identifying directly with the fruition or effect, the fundamentally pure nature of mind and its qualities and activities, through the use of symbols of enlightened deities. Buddhist tantric transformation, despite being widely applied nowadays, is not as easy as it seems. This is because of the natural tendency of dualistic mind to grasp at forms and sounds in dualistic terms of a separate subject and object. By considering these deities, which are visionary manifestations of the pure effulgent radiance of the potentiality of pure being beyond space and time, as self-existent beings separate from each other and from ourself, instead of individual symbols of the wisdom of enlightenment, and by considering their relative activities in terms of subject and object, we risk reinforcing the mind dualistic tendencies instead of transforming or dissolving them. Do not harm others Practice virtue and benefit others Tame your own mind This is the teaching of the Buddha
PADMASAMBHAVA’S FOUR TEACHINGS TO THE DAKINI
InTRUE BOOKS by Erik Pema Kunsang Padmasambhava, the great Indian master who is regarded as a second buddha, went to Tibet where he established the teachings of Vajrayana. The book Dakini Teachings contains his replies to questions from Yeshe Tsogyal, his foremost and female disciple in Tibet. She wrote down many of their conversations and preserved them for future generations. While translating these replies, I was often moved to tears from being saturated by his blessings and inspiration. I have always loved Padmasambhava; he is my transcendental hero. In this book you can actually “listen in” on Padmasambhava’s Dharma talk. The translation may not be perfect in scholarship and literary eloquence, but I believe that the link between his blessings and the reader’s openness and sincerity will make up for these shortcomings. Reading Dakini Teachings will then be close to being in his presence. May these teachings touch your heart and be a continual source of inspiration.
Master Padma said: “You must make sure your Dharma practice becomes the real Dharma. You must make sure your Dharma becomes the real path. You must make sure your path can clarify confusion. You must make sure your confusion dawns as wisdom.” “What does that mean?” the lady Yeshe Tsogyal asked. When you have understanding free from accepting and rejecting after knowing how to condense all the teachings into a single vehicle, then your Dharma practice becomes the real Dharma. When in any practice you do you possess refuge and bodhichitta, and have unified the stages of development and completion, and means and knowledge, then your Dharma becomes the real path. When you combine the path with the view, meditation, action and fruition, then your path clarifies confusion. When you exert yourself in practice having fully resolved the view and meditation, then your confusion can dawn as wisdom. In any case, no matter what practice you do, failing to unify development and completion, view and conduct, and means and knowledge, will be like trying to walk on just one leg.”
Since these four instructions were also the main teaching around which my guru Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche magically spun all his teachings, I will try to explain them a little here on this day, which is close to his anniversary. Tulku Urgyen usually began with chanting the Four Dharmas of Gampopa, mentioning that both Padmasambhava and Longchenpa used the exact same structure for outlining and summarizing the entire path, from where one is at present until true and complete enlightenment:
Bless us so our minds may turn towards the Dharma. Bless us so our Dharma may become the path. Bless us so our path may clear away confusion. Bless us so confusion dawns as wakefulness.
These four sentences, phrased as a prayer, let us connect with the meaning of the four mind-changings, ngondro, sadhana practice, as well as Mahamudra and Dzogchen. There is no high or low; whatever helps us to overcome a hindrance and move forward is a true teachings.
“When you have understanding free from accepting and rejecting, after knowing how to condense all the teachings into a single vehicle, then your Dharma practice becomes the real Dharma.” The single vehicle is the understanding that all teachings are personal advice on how to soften rigid mind-habits, letting go of pointless aims, and then settling into a gentle presence that is both calm and kind. Our attention simply remains for a while in this way, at ease in itself with nothing that needs to be held or cast away. This aware steadiness is often called shamatha, being calm, and it is the basis for all higher or deeper states of authentic insight. This present state of mind is now the real Dharma in the sense that negative emotions are gone, for a while, worries have evaporated, the pressure of stress is relieved, and the inner smile of ease begins to show on your face. This way of being is thoroughly good and wholesome and from it all noble qualities can begin to grow forth. This is the most eminent form of mindfulness.
“When in any practice you do you possess refuge and bodhichitta, and have unified the stages of development and completion, and means and knowledge, then your Dharma becomes the real path.” In addition to training in meditation as a mindful presence that is both calm and gentle, we can now enter the path of the buddhas by taking refuge in the state of complete realization, in the methods and insights that reveal it, and in fellow meditators who are already stable. These are known as Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. As we mature, the gentle calm deepens into compassion and, combined with our will to free everyone, becomes the attitude of a bodhisattva, the most beautiful attitude possible: the heroic will-power to take responsibility for each and every sentient beings and assist in their freedom and enlightenment.
Meditation practice is now a thousand times more effective than simply sitting. Rather than aiming at mental calm and personal peace, each moment turns into a tremendous boost towards enlightenment and total freedom. We alternate between focusing our will in the most noble way and letting go into space-like equanimity, without following thoughts about past, present and future This way of alternating, again and again, is a very pragmatic way of combining methods with insight, known as uniting means and knowledge. By thinking of someone in a calm, kind or respectful way and alternating that with letting go into non-doing, again and again, we also combine the two aspects known as development and completion.
“When you combine the path with the view, meditation, action and fruition, then your path clarifies confusion.” Now the time has come to connect with more than a general Dharma teacher. To go deeper in an authentic way, an experienced vajra master is necessary to introduce us to the perspective of what we are, basically. We are a mind in a human body with a voice and tremendous potential and abilities. We are introduced to authentic being through an empowerment, without the distorted beliefs of habit-thought. We are taught how to train in such an authentic way of being, also known as sadhana practice, and to make use of that during various activities. This deep way of meditation training matures into wonderful and liberating results, in dreams and in the waking state, and can even be felt by other people.
“When you exert yourself in practice having fully resolved the view and meditation, then your confusion can dawn as wisdom.” The distorted ways of thinking begin to melt away, giving room to a fresh and open state of mind that is similar to a cloudless sky. We have now become more clear about how to sustain that freshness and openness in all types of situations. At some point our practice is no longer an imitation of equanimity, but becomes self-sustaining and totally free, while noble qualities manifest like a the effortless flow of a large river. That is known as confusion having dawned as wisdom. Again, it is so precious to unify conceptual practice with a thought-free gentle presence. First by alternating, then by combining, and finally while knowing that all thoughts are the play of the single mind.
Triple Excellence contains three distinct views: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. The special approach it takes is to combine or interweave all three into a seamless single path that one person can follow. This small text begins in a simple way, with how to deal with life as a human being and goes all the way to how to attain true and complete enlightenment in a single lifetime. The first level of the teachings here deals with being human. This means understanding that we have a precious opportunity right now in this life, and that it does matter how we behave: there are consequences to our actions. We are shown how to find the true spiritual path that leads us in the right direction.
The second level of teachings provides methods for reducing and dissolving our selfishness. It offers advice on how to genuinely work for others and gain mental stability and insight. In this teaching, insight is the core of Tara practice. Here it is called ‘the ultimate Tara of transcendent knowledge.’ Once we have stability and insight—often called shamatha and vipashyana—we as practitioners can then embrace Vajrayana, the third level, with skillful means that quickly dissolve habitual tendencies and delusions. Practitioners can awaken to buddhahood through sadhana practice based on Tara. Padmasambhava explains that there are untold numbers of Tara tantras. The ultimate source of these infinite Tara tantras, practices and teachings is the female dharmakaya buddha Samantabhadri. Vajra Yogini, among whose countless emanations at the nirmanakaya level is Tara, spread them into limitless realms. For our particular age, in recent times, all these tantras were condensed into three levels. The first, the extensive form, with an amazing number of teachings and rituals, was supposed to be revealed by the illustrious 19th-century master Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Unfortunately, due to a lack of auspicious coincidences, he never wrote down the instructions. He only retrieved the statue itself, which he recovered from a sacred location in the Zabbu valley of Shang in central Tibet and brought back to Kham.