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Correlating Yoga to the Stages

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Correlating Yoga to the Stages

One way of viewing tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana is to see the various practices as organized into four categories or 4 classes of yoga. These kinds of practices are considered to correspond to 10 steps on the road to enlightenment called, in Sanskrit, bhumis.

Various schools do this in slightly different ways. For instance, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche describes two such systems in his commentary on Ngeton Gyamtso, the 9th Karmapa's Ocean of Certainty. This is discussed by Thrangu Rinpoche as the Ocean of Definitive Meaning.

The Dagpo Kagyu tradition matches Mahamudra in 5 Paths to the 10 bhumis. In that system, the 5 Paths are that of:

    1. Accumulation
    2. Juncture
    3. Seeing
    4. Meditation
    5. No-More-Meditation

The objective, or Buddhahood, is considered to have been achieved at the end of the No-More-Meditation stage.

A beginner is said to be "Entering the Stream." Most practitioners are working at the Accumulation or rarely, the Juncture stage. Those who have generated bodhicitta as an aspiration may even have undertaken it in action, but chances are, are still pre-bhumi.

The Bhumi of the Joyous is reached only when we have gotten a direct (i.e., not merely by means of intellect, logic or inference) glimpse of shunyata (Emptiness.)

Each path is further subdivided into smaller or shorter stages. For example, the Path of Juncture comprises stages called Heat, Peak, Forbearance and Supreme Mundane Dharma.

There are definite criteria that indicate the student's accomplishment on, or of, the way.


HH Drikung Kyabgon, in The Practice of Mahamudra, responds to a question concerning the relation of these stages to the bodhisattva's levels of realization:

    "These are somewhat different ways of looking at the same process.
    First of all, the fivefold Mahamudra does not relate directly to the ten
    bodhisattva bhumis.

There is no need to look for that. Mahamudra is really talking about something a bit different, it's approaching it from the point of view of practice. What relates more closely to the bodhisattva bhumis is what was just discussed -- the four levels of yogic attainment.

These do relate more directly to the ten bodhisattva bhumis, and, in fact, one great teacher of the Drukpa Kagyu wrote a text which includes a discussion relating those two systems.

    Without going into a great amount of detail, we could say that the first level of yogic attainment, that of one-pointed concentration, wherein the direct realization of the nature of mind first begins to dawn, corresponds to the first bodhisattva bhumi where ultimate reality is first glimpsed. However, you have the three levels of that first stage of yogic realization, that of the lesser, the middle, and greater practitioner.

    Technically, the first bodhisattva bhumi would correspond only to the level of the highest practitioner of the first level of yogic realization. Only at that level is reality actually glimpsed.

So the lesser and the middle level practitioner of the first stage of yogic realization would correspond to the Path of Preparation levels called "heat" and the level called "summit," respectively.

These are the second to the highest and the highest levels of the Path of Preparation. This precedes the Dharshana-marga, the Path of Seeing.

    The Path of Seeing is distinguished by the first glimpse of ultimate reality, the non-conceptual direct perception of emptiness, which is what is gained on the first level of yogic realization by the highest level of practitioner.

So, what we have is the first of the bodhisattva bhumis corresponding to the highest level of practice of the first stage of yogic realization.

    From there you can go up through the bhumis, starting with the lowest level of practice of the second stage of realization, that of freedom from projection; this would be the second bodhisattva bhumi.

The middle level of practice at that state would be the third, and the highest level of practice at that stage is the fourth.

Then, the three stages of yogic realization of one taste correspond to the fifth, sixth, and seventh.

Then finally, the three levels of practice at the highest level of realization correspond to the last three, the eighth, ninth, and tenth bodhisattva bhumis. Once one has attained the eighth bodhisattva bhumi, this is considered to be the enlightenment of the Buddha, but it has to be filled out in the ninth and finally, in the tenth stage."


      The 10 Bhumis.

A Review

The First Bhumi, Joyous, corresponds to the Path of Seeing and all the rest cover the Path of Meditation, except for the final one, the Tenth Bhumi called Dharma Clouds which is the stage of No-More-Meditation.

The Six common Paramitas are each related in sequence during the accomplishment of the first six bhumis, and a further 4 less well-known are emphasized in the last 4 stages.

The Seventh bhumi, Gone Afar, is an important milestone since at that juncture there is no way that a bodhisattva will fall back.

The great mahasattvas Chenrezig, Manjushri and Maitreya are believed to have attained this level.

Some view the bhumis as "places," for Maitreya is said to be dwelling there while awaiting to manifest as the future Buddha.


The 4 Yogas of Mahamudra correspond to 4 stages that practitioners can pass through on the way to "Fruition" or the ultimate attainment which is Buddhahood.

They are:

1. One-Pointedness
2. Simplicity
3. One-Taste
4. Non-Meditation

These have been further divided into lesser, medium and greater by the masters of Mahamudra who use various criteria to evaluate the student's progress.

Dakpo Kagyu: Master Gotsangpa, a Drukpa founder, sees the stages as:

    Lesser One-Pointedness: Path of Accumulation (pre-bhumi)
    Medium One-Pointedness: Heat and Peak of Juncture (pre-bhumi)
    Greater One-Pointedness: Forbearance and Supreme Juncture (still pre-bhumi)

    Lesser Simplicity: First bhumi
    Medium Simplicity: Second through Fifth
    Greater Simplicity: Sixth bhumi

    Lesser One-Taste: Seventh bhumi
    Medium One-Taste: Eighth bhumi
    Greater One-Taste: Ninth bhumi (to immediate attainment of Tenth)

    Lesser Non-Meditation: Tenth bhumi
    Medium Non-Meditation: End of Tenth
    Greater Non-Meditation: Buddhahood

Karma Kagyu:

The Ninth Gyalwa Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje, having surveyed Gotsangpa's scheme and many others, presents:

    Lesser One-Pointedness: Path of Accumulation (pre-bhumi)
    Medium One-Pointedness: Heat and Peak of Juncture (pre-bhumi)
    Greater One-Pointedness: Forbearance & Supreme Juncture (still pre-bhumi)

    Lesser Simplicity: First Bhumi
    Medium Simplicity: Second through Fifth Bhumis
    Greater Simplicity: Sixth Bhumi

    Lesser One-Taste: Seventh Bhumi
    Medium One-Taste: Eighth Bhumi
    Greater One-Taste: Ninth Bhumi

    Lesser Non-Meditation: Beginning of Tenth Bhumi
    Medium Non-Meditation: End of Tenth Bhumi
    Greater Non-Meditation: Buddhahood

Tsele Natshok Rangdrol in Lamp of Mahamudra summarizes them as:

    Lesser Simplicity: First to Third Bhumis
    Medium Simplicity: Fourth through Fifth Bhumis
    Greater Simplicity: Sixth Bhumi

    Lesser One-Taste: Seventh Bhumi
    Medium One-Taste: Eighth Bhumi
    Greater One-Taste: Ninth Bhumi

    Lesser Non-Meditation: Beginning of Tenth Bhumi
    Medium Non-Meditation: End of Tenth Bhumi
    Greater Non-Meditation: Buddhahood

"It is important to understand that the qualities and attributes of these Paths and Bhumis and so on are for us to aspire to and be mindful of. To truly do that, it takes more than looking at charts like these, [we need to] really listen to the transmission of the Mahamudra masters."