Generation Stage in Buddhist Tantra
To begin with, it is important to know that when you receive Dharma teachings, three types of motivation are possible. You might have a virtuous, positive intention, a negative intention, or a neutral intention that is neither positive nor negative, but merely dull and thoughtless.
You must eliminate negative and neutral intentions, which is done by recognizing them. You cannot do away with negativity until you recognize it, can you? Any kind of worldly intention is negative. All worldly intentions, such as hearing the teachings to obtain non-spiritual benefits, are considered negative. However negativities are expressed-through body, speech or mind-they should be eliminated.
All negativities are supported by the ten non-virtues. Of these ten non-virtues three relate to the body, four to speech, and three to the mind. The three that relate to the body are killing, stealing and adultery. The four corresponding to speech are lying, harsh speech, slander and gossip (idle words). The three of the mind are craving, ill will and incorrect view. If you don't know how these non-virtues are accrued, you should study the teachings on cause and result.
A neutral intention is a state of dullness or lack of awareness which is devoid of positive intention. This is not necessarily a negative state, however. You just attend the teachings in a stupid state, following the way a dog follows its master, or perhaps the way that a small child follows its mother. With this attitude, you don't really get anything out of what you are pursuing because you have no real intention or motivating force to begin with. Cultivating a positive motivation is a basic requirement to receive the teachings purely.
According to the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, which is known as the greater spiritual pursuit, a positive motivation is the twofold intention to benefit oneself and others. This can also be expressed as having a single intention to cultivate the ten virtues, to perform all other virtuous deeds, and to achieve enlightenment, the level of ultimate realization, for the sake of benefiting oneself and others.
We call ourselves Mahayanists or practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism. Beyond that, we call ourselves dzogchen practitioners, or practitioners of atiyoga. Whatever we claim to be, whether Hinayanist, Mahayanist or dzogchen atiyoga practitioners, the main thing to remember is to develop and maintain the intention to hear and practice the teachings for the sake of oneself and all other beings.
Ngondro, the preliminary practices that many of you perform on a daily basis, should not be thought of as mere "preliminaries." These practices begin with the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind towards the spiritual path. These contemplations embody the essence of the Hinayana tradition of Buddhism, which is known as the lesser spiritual pursuit. The practices of refuge, bodhicitta, Vajrasattva, and mandala relate to Mahayana Buddhism, the greater pursuit, and the guruyoga practice relates to Vajrayana. All nine vehicles of Buddhism can be reduced to these three yanas, which are all practiced within the ngondro. The ngondro is a very profound practice that activates all three vehicles simultaneously. Because the three vehicles are all related, perhaps you can see the importance of contemplating the Four Thoughts and of cultivating compassion before you engage in Vajrayana techniques.
When Shakyamuni Buddha first gave teachings in this world of samsara, the very first thing he explained was that cyclic existence is a place of natural suffering. The realm of cyclic existence is by nature a place of suffering, turmoil and delusion. It is therefore essential that, before hearing the teachings and beginning any practice, you contemplate the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind. Just as the Buddha chose to present these teachings before any others, similarly this is the first step in your own study of Dharma.
After considering the truth of suffering, proceed to cultivate an awareness that all other living creatures in the realms of samsara are in a state of delusion, just like yourself. All living creatures have, over the course of countless past lifetimes, been your own kind and loving parents, changing roles like players in a drama. All of these beings have brought you into the world at some time or another, and all of them, without exception, desire happiness and fulfillment. No one in this world of desire lacks the impulse toward happiness. They desire happiness; yet all the while, they create the causes for more suffering. What they desire and their actions of body, speech and mind are in direct opposition, but this irony remains unnoticed. In this way, like blind people, beings in samsara remain in bewilderment.
Now you are people who could be said to have vision and understanding. Further, your sense fields are fully endowed; you are not blind, deaf or mute. You possess and can realize the potential of a very valuable situation. You are able to realize and seize the opportunity to improve your condition. To make the best use of this favorable situation, you must contemplate the truth of suffering, cultivate compassion and engage in Dharma practices.
This teaching is about kye rim, "generation stage" tantric techniques. "Tantra" refers to Vajrayana Buddhism. There are two levels of tantric practice: outer and inner. These teachings are the inner level of tantric practice. It is very important to know the differences between these two levels. Some information is necessary before delving into this material; therefore, we will consider these two levels of tantric practices in brief detail.
The three outer tantras are kriya, upa (carya) and yoga tantra. The inner tantras begin with the mahayoga. There are major differences in the outer and inner tantras concerning view, practice, conduct, results and even the times during which a person practices. All of the tantras are in agreement, however, regarding initiation or empowerment: no tantric practice is to be done until the disciple has received initiation. Vajrayana can never be practiced without the perfect empowerment from a qualified master who holds the tradition of the lineage. This applies equally to kriya, upa (carya), yoga and mahayoga tantra. In both the outer and inner tantras four empowerments are given at the time of initiation. These four empowerments make it possible to practice the tantras.
The outer tantras are said to be difficult because results and realizations are achieved only through arduous perseverance. The inner tantras are said to be less difficult because results may be achieved in a much shorter time period, implying less difficulty. Further, the outer tantras require practitioners to perform many particularized activities, while the inner tantras, relatively speaking, are less concerned with contrived activities.
The outer tantras contain both kye rim and dzog rim-generation and completion stage practices. They are performed separately, and the generation stage is a prerequisite to the completion stage. This separation of kye rim and dzog rim is found only in outer tantra. The inner tantras combine kye rim, the generation stage involving characteristics and activities, with dzog rim, the completion stage which is void of symbolism, elaboration and activities. They are indivisibly joined and performed simultaneously.
The outer and inner tantras also take different approaches to personal conduct. Outer tantra practitioners maintain scrupulous personal cleanliness and purity of appearance, cleaning themselves several times a day and keeping a very clean external appearance. Inner tantra practitioners experience everything equally. This does not mean that they are dirty or crazy, but that they realize the equal nature in each situation without needing to constantly distinguish between good and bad.
Outer tantra practitioners are vegetarians, eating only the three white and the three sweet substances. They drink from beautiful cups studded with precious gems. Inner tantra practitioners may wear animal skins for clothing, such as human, tiger and elephant. Kriya tantra practitioners bathe in a ritual fashion three times a day and also put on clean clothes three times a day. This kind of conduct is prescribed for all three outer tantras. True inner tantra practitioners may never change their clothes. From the external point of view, such a practitioner may appear as a beggar or peasant.
In addition, there are big differences in the levels of realization achieved in the outer and inner tantras. Relatively speaking, it takes a long time to obtain results from practicing the outer tantras. In general, it takes sixteen lifetimes for a kriya yogi to achieve enlightenment, and on the path of yoga tantra it takes three successive lifetimes. To achieve enlightenment within these time frames one must practice very, very well-perfectly and continually, not just occasionally, dabbling in practice.
By contrast, inner tantra practitioners may achieve the highest realization, full awakening, in one body and one lifetime. This result may even be obtained in half a lifetime, at the moment of death, or in the bardo.
The mandalas of the outer and inner tantras are also distinguished by their different characteristics. Deities that are visualized as solitary figures belong to the outer tantric class. Deities that are visualized in union, yab yum, characterize the inner tantric class. Deities that wear flowing silk scarves, skirts and beautiful jeweled ornaments belong to the outer tantric class. Deities that wear rosaries made of human skulls, bone ornaments and skin garments belong to the inner tantric class.
Outer and inner tantra practitioners practice in different specific environments. Outer tantra practitioners go to solitary, isolated places, like forests far away from anyone or to the peak of Mt. Meru. Inner tantra practitioners practice anywhere-in cemeteries or in the middle of the busiest city. It does not matter where they practice.
The three inner tantras are maha, anu and atiyoga. The main focus of mahayoga is kye rim. Anuyoga works with the aspect of transmission and movement as well as with the dissolution of characteristics. Dzogchen atiyoga unites the two.
If we look at the three inner tantras by way of foundation, path and result, mahayoga is the cause for anuyoga, and anuyoga is the result of mahayoga. Likewise, anuyoga is the cause of atiyoga and atiyoga is the result of anuyoga. We could also say that both maha and anu are the cause and ati is the result.
What is the nature and result of atiyoga? It is realization of the tathagatagarbha, the innate buddha nature that we all possess. Of the three kayas, the Dharmakaya is the result of atiyoga. Each inner tantric path results in the practitioner's realization of one of the three kayas.
This is a teaching about mahayoga, the inner tantric approach to the generation stage-kye rim. The whole point of receiving and practicing the teachings is to understand your buddha nature, which is the very essence of your being. This understanding comes through practice. If we lacked the buddha nature, what would be the point of the practices? Why would we practice these complicated techniques, and learn the symbolism, if the buddha nature was not already within us, waiting to be revealed? It would be ridiculous to practice if our true nature were not what it is. It would be like pressing a rock to get oil. The effort would be fruitless.
Yet, we must make efforts to realize our buddha nature, even though we all possess it. Just as you would not know that butter is the essence of milk unless you churned the milk-and not just a few churns will do; you really must churn with effort-in the same way, you must practice with effort and diligence to understand your own true nature. Nevertheless, you must remember that practice only reveals what is already present. If you churn water hoping to get butter, it will not happen, will it? We undergo the hardships of the spiritual path because our essence is already Buddha. It is already perfectly realized. If it were not, practice would be pointless. The process is like refining ore that you know has gold in it. You work long and hard to extract the gold from the rock, but if you knew the rock had no gold in it, why would you try to extract it?
Samantabhadra (Tib. Kuntuzangpo), the primordial Buddha, and Buddha Shakyamuni both said that the tathagatagarbha, the buddha essence, is intrinsically present in all animate beings. It is not that some have it and some do not. Every creature that lives has the buddha essence.
If this is so, is there any difference between buddhas and sentient beings? There is one difference, but it is not in their true nature. Every being is Buddha. Buddhas, however, have applied the methods and realized their true nature. They have become buddhas by purifying all their obscurations and karmic afflictions. They have removed all negative habits through joyous effort (Tib. brtson 'grus, pronounced "tsondru") and by applying different techniques and practices. Although sentient beings desire happiness and the state of freedom and bliss, they continue accumulating negative causes, obscurations and karmic afflictions. They just sink deeper into ignorance which is the lack of awareness of their true nature. That is the only difference between buddhas and sentient beings.
This situation is analogous to the way we perceive the sun in the sky. We know it is daytime when the sun is in the sky, yet we cannot always see the sun directly-often it is covered by clouds. We cannot see the buddha nature within us when it is covered by the thick clouds of obscurations. What removes the clouds from the face of the sun? The wind. The techniques and practices of maha, anu and atiyoga are like the wind which removes the clouds that obscure the buddha nature. If there were no sun to start with, why would we want to remove the clouds?
When you practice these kye rim practices, it is extremely important to know that there is a result and what the result is.