When the very Venerable Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche came to visit the retreat center, he asked me: ‘What would you like to do after the retreat?’ I replied: ‘I have two ideas. One is to establish a Buddhist elementary school, the other is to do a life-time retreat.’
Rinpoche then told me: ‘Generally speaking, it would be better to do a life-time retreat, but during this generation it is actually more important to establish and enable the study of Buddhist texts. So, you should go ahead and build your school.’
That’s how in 1990 I began to organize the elementary school. However, financial hardships kept surging towards me like endless waves. I kept trying and striving for support and finally, in 2001, eleven years had passed by.
“I was born in 1951, in a remote valley in the Himalaya region of Nepal. In this realm of snow, I spent my first 16 years like an ignorant being and never received any Buddhist or even conventional education. When the idea of becoming a monk first came up in my mind, my parents were not ready for that, because they only had one son, me, and a daughter, my sister.
It was very difficult to get them to agree to my wish. My mother passed away when I was 16. Then something good happened when I was 17. My father took my sister and me on a pilgrimage trip through Nepal, and the XVIth Karmapa was there! It was such a great fortune! Although my father still didn’t agree to my becoming a monk, I was determined to fulfill my wish and gain control over my own life.
“Becoming a monk doesn’t mean being supported from then on. I had to support myself - there was no one there to help me. Beside the financial hardships, I could only go to the classes as an auditor. At that time I had to help with serving tea or working in the kitchen in order to get the chance to receive an education. When I reached the age of 40, I finally finished my retreat. On this path of practice, as an ordinary monk with a heartfelt wish to benefit all sentient beings, I finally, step-by-step, carved out this path of education for the Karma Lekshey Ling Institute.”
In Buddhism, it is understood that every living being wants to be happy and nobody likes to be unhappy or suffer. Even though everyone wants to be happy and free from suffering, they are not aware of the causes and conditions to achieve true happiness and freedom from anguish and woe. There are various methods to achieve this goal. But it is necessary to know which causes need to be established in order to be free from birth in lower states of existence and to be born in favorable conditions so that one can lead a meaningful life.
Buddha Shakyamuni appeared in the world in order to show us how to be free from birth in the lower realms that are marked by suffering and how to attain birth in higher realms that are marked by happiness and joy. Since everyone has a different predisposition and varying inclinations, Lord Buddha presented a vast array of Dharma instructions to meet the manifold capabilities and needs of followers who wished to lead a worthy life and mature spiritually.
Lord Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma three times. He first taught the Hinayana and then the Mahayana so that followers are able to learn to become free from suffering and attain lasting happiness and joy.
There are the Tantras for individuals with less keen awareness, which are the Kriya Tantra and the Charya Tantra; then there are Yoga Tantra and Anuttara Yoga Tantra for individuals able to engage in practices that address deeper awareness.
1) & 2) Kriya and Charya Tantra (the Sanskrit terms that were translated into Tibetan as spyöd-rgyüd and bya-rgyüd respectively) emphasize outer purification of body and speech and of disturbing emotions.
Practitioners learn to become less involved with worldly activities and concentrate on attaining inner tranquillity in order to be able to roughly experience emptiness, which is the purpose of practice.
4) The fourth Tanta, Anuttara Yoga Tanta (bla-med-rnäl-‘byor-rgyüd) is supreme. Very advanced meditators of Anuttara Yoga focus their attention on merging Bodhicitta and primordial wisdom-awareness until they become indivisibly united in their mind-stream.
They concentrate their attention on outer practices through ritual cleansing to purify their body and on recitation of mantras to purify their speech, which correspond to practicing the first Tantra, Kriya Yoga.
2) There are other individuals in society who belong to the warrior or royal Ksatryia caste (rgyäl-rigs in Tibetan). They concentrate their attention on spreading the Dharma by speaking about it to others with their speech or by painting Thankas with their hands for others to see, which corresponds to practicing the second Tantra, Charya Tantra.
3) Those individuals who are said to belong to the Vaisya caste (rje’u-rigs) are traditionally seen as merchants or tradesmen. Although lower in status according to the caste system, they are so advanced that they need not engage in many outer rituals anymore and can abide within the nature of the mind without exerting much effort, the reason they belong to the Buddha family. Their practice corresponds to Yoga Tantra.
4) Individuals belonging to the Sudra caste (dmangs-rigs) are those who usually work as servants or laborors. They are those persons who are seen to belong to the lowest category in the traditional caste system, but as practitioners they do not engage in any outer rituals anymore.
Seeing that there are four types of practitioners, the Buddha taught the four Tantras - the Kriya, Charya, Yoga, and Anuttara Yoga Tantras. Where can we start practicing? Lord Buddha offered three stages of teachings to students who wish to begin practicing.
A student of Buddhadharma first needs to receive instructions from a qualified teacher in order to learn the correct view. It is necessary to receive the teachings on karma and interdependent origination, for example.
1) The View
There are two types of proponents of tenets (grub-mtha’-smra-ba-gnyis), Buddhist and non-Buddhist, for example, Hinduism. In Buddhism, the correct view is classified according to four philosophical schools (grub-mtha '-smra-ba-bzhi) that formulate the Buddha’s doctrine in sequence while remaining related with each other.
Whichever school a devotee respects and follows, everyone has the possibility to gain certainty in that specific philosophical school of thought and understand its uncontroversial and indisputable tenets.
Adherents of Sautrantika take their studies a step further than Vaibashikas, but both are Hinayana adherents. Followers of Chittamatra and Madhayamaka refine the view even more; both are Mahayana practitioners.
The process of refining the view more and more subtly eventually leads to Vajrayana, a term synonymous with Tantrayana and Mantrayana, in which case accomplished practitioners realize the view completely.
It is utterly important to study and learn the view of each Buddhist school in the order in which they are presented, because it is rather hard - if not impossible - for anyone to begin at the end.
One needs to learn und understand the fundamental teachings well in order to progress in stages and reliably. Having done so, it is possible to practice Tantrayana.
By becoming more and more accustomed to the teachings on emptiness that are presented in each school and deepening one’s view until it becomes a personal experience, one is able to integrate the view in one’s life, which is connotation of the term sgom-pa.
Anuttara Yoga practitioners become even more accustomed to realizing the essence and to not dividing the deity they visualize during the meditation session into an outer apprehension and an inner apprehending mind after formal practice.
They focus their mind on qualities that the specific meditation deity represents and symbolizes, thus developing and establishing values in their lives. It is necessary to progress through stages, step-by-step, in order to realize and manifest qualities in all walks of life that are, as it is, always and already present in one’s own mind.
Rather, a practitioner of Yoga Tantra realizes the essence of a meditation deity, which is the nonduality – gnyis-su-med-pa - of an apprehender and an apprehension, usually experienced as “self” in opposition to “world.”
In response to a question that was placed by a participant, the biggest difference between Yoga Tantra and Anuttara Yoga Tantra is the empowerment a disciple receives, the ritual a disciple engages in during practice, and the way a student practices.
I have discussed the first two points of the three stages of practice, the view, and becoming accustomed to the view through meditation, and now want to speak about the third point, which is the actual practice.
3) The Actual Practice
How do they practice Charya Tantra? They engage in practices to purify body, speech, and mind; therefore Charya Tantra is not only what is referred to as an outer Tantra, because the mind is slowly purified too.
In order to become free of suffering and attain lasting happiness and peace, all three stages of practice need to be completed and perfected. Students need to learn the teachings, become accustomed to the teachings by contemplating them deeply, and integrate them through meditation practice in order to flawlessly manifest qualities of being. Having done so, a Vajrayana practitioner never separates from a meditation deity but experiences and manifests the indivisibility of the outer and inner deity.
Even though practitioners focus their minds upon deities who symbolize qualities of being during meditation, every stage of Tantra entails more and more subtle practices that enable students to realize the undivided state, and no Tantra is the same, i.e., the practices seem to be the same but aren’t. Seen ultimately, though, there are no divisions.
There are many methods of practice so that a follower can realize ultimate reality. There are many methods to attain enlightenment; one can practice Sutrayana according to one’s abilities or one can practice Tantrayana in reliance upon the four Tantras.
Even though a specific practice is fitting for one person, this does not mean it is fitting for everyone. An adept needs to choose the practice that helps him and her progress and mature the most – then he and she will attain the ultimate result, which is enlightenment.
There are many non-Buddhist practices that benefit living beings. There are also big differences in Buddhist practices. Some individuals have a stronger inclination to concentrate on the Sutras and should do so.
Others have more confidence in Tantra and should do so. Whether one practices Sutra or Tantra, it is important to bring one’s motivation and wishes to fruition. Failing to accomplish one’s aims, no practice can be considered helpful or beneficial.
Marpa Lotsawa, the Great Translator, travelled to India several times, received instructions from his famous teacher Naropa, and brought Anuttara Yoga Tantra to Tibet. In the Kagyüpa Tradition, he is revered as the great teacher of highest Tantra in Tibet.
Marpa Lotsawa passed the teachings on to his most eminent pupil, Jetsün Milarepa, who practiced in solitude, achieved highest realizations, and therefore became renowned as the Great Mahasiddha Milarepa.
Lhaje Gampopa brought the instructions of Sutrayana and Tantrayana together and unified them into what has become known as Mahamudra; he passed the Mahamudra instructions on to his most worthy disciple, Düsum Khyenpa, who became the First Gyalwa Karmapa. Ever since then, the Karma Kagyü Lineage emphasizes the practices of both Sutrayana and Tantrayana and is flourishing worldwide.
Thank you very much.
May I and all living beings without exception
swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.
Presented at the Kamalashila Institute in Germany, 2005. Translated into German by Anneke Bouwman, into English and edited by Gaby Hollmann. Photo of Chöje Lama courtesy of Anneke with sincere gratitude for her kind help.