Ati Yoga Teaching Retreat – Day Two

Day 2 morningPart 2

Part two of day two of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s Ati Yoga Teaching at Dzamling Gar, December 29, 2017. Part one of day two was published in the last issue of The Mirror, no. 145.

In the Mahayana tradition they believe that all sentient beings have Buddha seed, or Buddha nature. Thus if a person has the fortunate possibility to follow Buddha’s teaching they can also have the realization of the Buddha because of this Buddha nature. This is Sutra teaching.

Vajrayana does not say that we only have Buddha nature. More than that we have what is called the potentiality of the Vajra. When we think about vajra, the ritual instrument comes to mind, but this is just a symbol of the Vajra. The real Vajra is our real nature, just as we say in Dzogchen teaching that Dzogchen is our real nature. How is the nature of the Vajra explained? Some tantras state that it has seven qualities that are unchangeable such as it is uncuttable, it is indestructible, and so on. Its real nature is always how it is. This potentiality of the Vajra is something more than Buddha nature. The real nature of the Vajra can manifest in a pure dimension.

Vajrayana also has particular methods. To receive that kind of teaching first we need to receive initiation, then instruction. We can become expert in what the Vajra means and can have that realization. It is very different from Sutra.

In Sutra we have Mahayana and Hinayana. In Hinayana they do not accept that all sentient beings have Buddha nature. They believe that while some beings exist that have Buddha nature there are also many that do not. These are called rigchadpai semcan (rigs chad pa sems can), which means that this family does not have Buddha nature, and Mahayana and Hinayana have many discussions about that. In particular an important text called chamcho denga (byams chos de lnga), considered to be a teaching of the Maitreya Buddha, contains another outstanding text called Gyud Lama (rgyud bla ma) which explains that in Mahayana all sentient beings have Buddha nature. It also explains why Hinayana does not accept this.

At the time of the Buddha his teaching was very widespread. There were also currents of the traditional Indian religion and people would come to have discussions with the Buddhists. Many people were interested in the Buddha’s teaching and became his students. But even though they were Buddha’s students they were strongly attached to the Indian tradition. For example they gave a lot of importance to the principle of immortality, stability, and wanted to maintain this concept. However, the Buddha’s teaching affirms that we are in samsara due to following dualism, which is related to the mind, to thinking and judging. Another aspect of dualism is the person or subject who is observing and what is observed as an object, zungwa (bzung ba) and dzinpa (‘dzin pa), the duality of subject and object. Although Buddha explained that everything is emptiness, everything is unreal, Hinayana emphasizes that [aspects of] both subject and object never dissolve into emptiness, while Mahayana affirms the “non-ego of the subject” and the “non-ego of dharmas” or material things. Hinayana continued to maintain this aspect of their tradition and developed in that way, not understanding or accepting the teaching of the Buddha.

Later on Vajrayana teaching developed as well as Dzogchen teaching and the Anuyoga tradition, the essence of all teachings. Anuyoga is related to the Vajrayana teaching although the characteristics of applying the methods are different. In Sutra teaching the method is called “the path of renunciation”. When we understand that something is negative and has no value, we renounce it. For instance, if our clothes are old we throw them away and buy new clothes. It is the idea of change. It is the same principle of change when we receive Hinayana vows: yesterday I was living an ordinary life in samsara, I have renounced that and today I am different, I am a monk or a nun. My physical appearance has also changed: before I had long hair but now it has been shaved. Previously I wore ordinary clothes while now I wear monk’s robes.

Then when you receive a vow you receive a name. Many Westerners ask to receive a dharma name. This idea is influenced by the Hinayana principle of changing: yesterday I was Maria, today I received a vow and have become Tara. You feel that you have changed, that you are not like before. When you meet your friends you ask them to call you Tara, that you are no longer Maria. The idea is that something related to attitude, to the condition of body, speech, and mind has changed, although actually nothing has changed. Maria will always be Maria. However our idea is that something has changed. This is characteristic of the Hinayana system.

Some people want to have a dharma name although they may not know that it is related to the Hinayana system. When I ask a person if he or she has no name, they reply that they do have a name, Maria. Then I tell them that this is their dharma name. It becomes a dharma name if you are a dharma practitioner. You must understand that a name does not change anything.

In my area, Derge in Tibet, when I was small people would slaughter animals in the 9th month at the beginning of the winter. Tibetans do not kill animals themselves, they ask a particular person to come and slaughter them. Although that person does this job for a living it doesn’t mean he does not have the same convictions as other Tibetans. When they have killed many animals they invite some teachers and do pujas and purification. My family would invite a person called Ake Sangye – Ake was his family name, Sangye means Buddha – but even though his name was Buddha he would kill all the animals. When he would arrive at our home then I knew that he would kill some yak and some sheep and I would be really angry with him. So you see that even though a person may change his name, the substance does not change.

On a higher level the characteristic of the Vajrayana teaching is “the path of transformation” which is not like the path of Sutra. We can transform everything when we understand this method. For example our condition consists of five emotions that can be transformed into five wisdoms even though our nature does not change at all. We cannot learn this in an ordinary way by judging or thinking but by receiving initiation. In Sutra teaching initiations do not exist because Sutra has vows and training, but in Vajrayana even the lower tantras start with transformation because they recognize that we have the quality of the Vajra since the beginning.

Vajrayana consists of lower tantras and higher tantras. The lower tantras give a lot of importance to purification and mantra recitation, and initiation is not the same as in the higher tantras. The Dzogchen teaching explains that there are three series of lower tantras: Kriya, Upaya, and Yoga. Among these three the most important and developed is Yogatantra, but even in Yogatantra there is no direct transformation. For that reason for if we do a lower tantra puja, alcohol and meat are never allowed. On the other hand in higher tantras they are indispensable because practitioners have more capacity to understand the real sense.

When we receive initiation we have the potentiality that we have received. What does potentiality mean in the Vajrayana system? To give an example, a young prince or princess will always be part of the royal family so when they are older they will become king or queen. If you are not a member of the royal family but just an ordinary person you need to change your life to become king. In a similar way Sutra teaching is ignorant of our real nature of the potentiality of the Vajra, while all Vajrayana traditions, even lower, understand that we have that quality of the Vajra. With this knowledge we are just like a prince and princess and can also become king and queen in this life. To empower that we have initiation just like the coronation when the prince becomes king. After that we can apply that method and transform. 

Vajrayana has two systems of transformation: gradual and non-gradual. Gradual transformation is called Anuttaratantra or higher tantra and was developed in all the Tibetan traditions. However in the Nyingmapa tradition Guru Padmasambhava also transmitted the non-gradual way of transformation. This non-gradual teaching was not very diffused in India at that time unlike the Anuttaratantra, which was known everywhere. There were practitioners and teachers and translators who translated those teachings. When Guru Padmasambhava first gave teachings in Tibet he, too, taught the gradual path of Vajrayana teaching. But he also taught the non-gradual way.

In India Guru Padmasambhava was an eminent scholar and highly realized being who discovered a teaching called Anuyoga. Anu means always superior, yoga means possessing that knowledge. In all these teachings the most essential concept is how the Base is explained. The Base refers to the consideration of the real nature or condition of sentient beings. For instance Buddhist Sutra says that all sentient beings have Buddha nature, while Vajrayana states that all sentient beings have the nature of the Vajra. However Dzogchen teaching maintains that we have that perfected state called Dzogchen since the beginning. With that perfected state there is no need to add, or multiply, or develop anything. Anuyoga explains the Base of all sentient beings just as it is explained in the Dzogchen teaching. Since the beginning all sentient beings have the perfected nature of the three primordial wisdoms, that is, essence, nature and energy, or ngowo, rangzhin, and thugje. When we are in that state it is also called realization.

But even though Guru Padmasambhava discovered that Anuyoga is an elevated teaching, it is not like Dzogchen. Dzogchen is “the path of self-liberation”. What is the difference between self-liberation and other paths? In “the path of renunciation” we renounce something and if there are problems we know what the antidote is. In Vajrayana problems are related to one of the three root emotions of attachment, anger and ignorance. We transform that aspect into a divinity and its dimension into a mandala. Although there are hundreds of different ways that divinities can manifest they are always peaceful, or joyful, or wrathful forms. In the Vajrayana system we don’t need any antidote.

Anuyoga uses the method of transformation to get into this perfected state, but not gradually developing the transformation in Anuttaratantra style because it is perfected since the beginning and there is no need to construct anything. Most important is that receiving initiation related to the instructions is a secondary cause for manifestation. When we receive instructions we know how to transform into that form instantly.

The practices we do in the Dzogchen Community are related to the Anuyoga system not because we refuse Anuttaratantra but because transformation in Anuyoga is easier. For practices such as Simhamukha or Guru Tragphur we only need to sound a seed syllable and the manifestation appears immediately. Some people have received Kalachakra or Yamantaka initiations from important teachers like the Dalai Lama and like to do these practices. They use gradual transformation with a book called a sadhana, reading the Refuge and Bodhichitta at the beginning and then gradually transforming and constructing all the visualization. When they succeed in doing the development stage they can start the accomplishment stage, integrating with their existence.

The development stage is more about creating a sort of fantasy. You close your eyes and think that your dimension is just like the mandala. You construct your manifestation of Yamantaka or Kalachakra in the same way and keeping that presence you feel it in that moment. Your existence, your energy and body, speech, mind, everything is present there. Then within the figure of Kalachakra or Yamantaka you visualize the central channels, roma and kyangma, and then the chakras one by one. All of these are related to our energy, the prana energy and the energy of the five elements and so on, something alive that we have. Now you integrate this energy and all the functions of your physical body into that development stage. In the end you realize that and don’t need much effort. This is one of the final goals of Vajrayana practice. Now you are going in the direction of contemplation. You understand that the development and accomplishment stages are not just two ideas as in dualistic vision. Everything is in that state which in Vajrayana teaching is called the state of Mahamudra.

What does Mahamudra mean? Maha means total, all our considerations of subject and object, mudra means symbol. When we make some movements with our hands we call them mudras. For example if we do Guruyoga in formal Vajrayana style, we do a mudra that is like a vajra with three points. We consider that the three points represent the states of our body, speech, and mind. In any kind of Vajrayana teaching the mandala, the form of the divinity, and so on are all symbols that help us understand what they represent. Mahamudra means that everything totally enters this symbol and does not remain in the dualistic concept of the development and accomplishment stages. This is the real meaning of Mahamudra.

Sakya Pandita gave a very clear explanation about this in Peking, China, in reply to a yogi’s question about Mahamudra. Maybe in that period there was no Mahamudra as presented today in the Kagyupa tradition. In this tradition Mahamudra is a little different and is not considered only the final goal of Vajrayana. This method was developed by Gampopa, the foremost student of Milarepa, who was considered by the Kagyupa to be an accomplished scholar as well as a highly realized being. He was also very expert in Dzogchen teaching, Dzogchen semde. Dzogchen semde explains the four contemplations, naljor nampa zhi in four levels: nepa, miyowa, nyamnyid, and lhundrub. Gampopa presented the four yogas of Mahamudra with a similar method: tsechig, trödral, rochig, and gomme. First is tsechig meaning one-pointed state, similar to shine practice. Then Dzogchen teaching has miyowa meaning no movement. There is no movement because it is integrated in our contemplation. In the state of contemplation, miyowa means that there is no movement of objects and you can understand subject and object and their differences and so on. In the state of contemplation called nyamnyid in the real sense there is no difference being in the state of contemplation. Gampopa explained trödral in the same way as miyowa. Trödral is the final goal of the Sutra in Mahayana.

There is a very famous Uma Madhyamaka teaching of Nagarjuna that says that nothing can be confirmed because any kind of confirmation comes from mind. This makes us understand that we should go beyond mind. This is the most important concept in Mahayana called trödral.

Then on the third level what Dzogchen teaching calls nyamnyid, non-dual, Gampopa called rochig, or same flavor. The essence is the same; there is no difference. At the end the fourth level in Dzogchen is lhundrub, the quality of self-perfection. We discover that and we are in that state. Gampopa called the fourth level gomme, meaning no meditation, beyond any kind of effort. So we can understand that that system of Mahamudra is related to the Vajrayana teaching.

Gampopa’s explanation does not say it is indispensable to receive initiation, but also does not say that it is not, because he knew that if we want to go beyond our concepts relatively we cannot; we always have to learn from a person, a teacher, who has this experience. The teacher uses a particular method and with that method we learn and get in that state. In the Vajrayana tradition this is called initiation; it is difficult to go beyond without receiving initiation.

Even though these two methods [the Four Contemplations and Gampopa’s Four Yogas of Mahamudra] such as the one-pointed state, relaxing in that state, and so on, do not perfectly correspond, we can understand the basics. For that reason Gampopa’s teaching of Mahamudra was developed very much in all of the Kagyupa traditions. When we consider Mahamudra we should distinguish these two methods.

Mahamudra is the final goal of all schools. However in the Kagyupa traditions Gampopa’s method is very special. If Dzogchen practitioners really know Dzogchen teaching they can understand very well how Gampopa’s Mahamudra is explained.

Transcribed by Anna Rose
Edited by L. Granger
Tibetan language with the kind assistance of Elio Guarisco

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