The Correct Attitude of a Vajrayana Practitioner
by HH Kunzig Shamarpa Rinpoche
The Vajrayana tradition is a quick path to liberation. Vajra symbolizes power which means Vajrayana is very effective. Many people have the wrong perception towards Vajrayana, assuming that it is no difference from the application of magical curse or psychic power. In actual fact, "YANA" is a quest for liberation of the mind and practicing magic and psychic power will not lead us to liberation. If we practice Vajrayana with this wrong view, we are sure to accumulate very bad karma. It is true that in Vajrayana there are a lot of mantra-reciting tantras, but these definitely are not magic or psychic. We must understand this uniqueness of the Vajrayana tradition.
The first criterion in practicing Vajrayana is to start with Hinayana. Hinayana contains the basic teachings of the Buddha and these teachings are not repeated in the Mahayana or Vajrayana. Therefore, the practitioners of the Mahayana of Vajrayana must begin from the basic teachings of Hinayana.
What are Buddha's basic teachings?
The most important ones are meditation and vinaya or discipline and practitioners of the Mahayana or Vajrayana must learn these through Hinayana.
The practice of meditation has two levels and the first is the "samatha" meditation which trains our mind to be calm, peaceful and stable. In the Hinayana teachings, the Buddha emphasized a lot on the practice and techniques of samatha meditation. Mahayana or Vajrayana practitioners should acquire such foundation.
Vinaya is self-discipline. In short, it is to refrain from the 10 unvirtuous acts. These 10 unvirtuous acts include all the bad karma that arise from ego-clinging. The opposite of the 10 unvirtuous acts is the 10 virtuous acts. These virtuous acts are the root of old merits. I am not going to elaborate on them here and those who are not clear of the 10 virtuous acts can refer to the sutra.
At the same time, we must understand that the human body is difficult to obtain and is very precious. This precious human body is a tool to liberation but it is very vulnerable and short-lived. In this world, there are a lot of dangers which can easily destroy such bodies. We do not know at all of our karmic force and how long we are going to live.
The reason for rebirth in samsara is ego-clinging.
All emotions arising from ego-clinging will not be virtuous and with such self-centred ego, there is no way to perform virtues. All the karmic activities will not be virtuous and each of these bad karmic causes will lead to rebirth in lower realms for ten thousands of times. If you can contemplate on this fact, then you will be able to realize how precious the human body is. In the innumerable times of rebirths, the chance of being reborn in the human realm is one to ten millions. Therefore, now that you possess the precious human body, please do not waste it. You must make use of this precious human body to practice. Unless you are already enlightened or else there is no way to be completely liberated.
The above is the first requirement of the basic practice. Next, to be a Vajrayana practitioner the second requirement is to be equipped with great compassion. That is to say, in order to practice Vajrayana, one must be a Bodhisattva. Bodhisattva means a person with bodhicitta and compassion.
Bodhicitta is the seed for Buddhahood and a Bodhisattva must have Bodhicitta and Compassion towards all sentient beings, without the slightest selfishness.
Once you have generated bodhicitta, any merits performed will be transformed limitlessly and can lead to liberation and Buddhahood. Contrary to this, if you do not generate bodhicitta, all merits performed will be limited. Only merits done with bodhicitta can guarantee enlightenment or Buddhahood.
Besides practicing the Bodhisattva path, Vajrayana practitioners also use certain special skillful means in their practice, such as visualization of deites, etc.
In the Vajrayana tradition, the Kalacakra is said to be the highest tantric practice. Kalacakra has a profound meaning and the characteristics of the Kalacakra deity is also very special. It has many faces, many hands and many legs and these represent many meanings of the practice. Another example is the four arm Chenrezig with its white body which symbolizes purity and compassion, lotus flower and crystal rosary held in the hands symbolize compassion and wisdom, and the ornaments worn on the body represent the various qualities of realization.
The deity or yidam can manifest in the form of Sambhogakaya or Nirmanakaya. These manifestations stem from the primordial awareness, that is Dharmakaya. For example whether Chenrezig is perceived as manifestation in the form of a Sambhogakaya or Nirmanakaya depends on the level of practice and capacity of the practitioner.
When you are doing the yidam practice, do not think that you are inviting the deity to you. For example in the practice of Chenrezig, it is not really that Chenrezig will appear in front of you. Certain people think that yidam practice is to invite the deity to come forth or to enter their bodies. These are wrong views. Further, to clear ego-clinging, we must focus our attention on another thing beside the 3 posions, ie. Visualizing a seed syllable. For instance the syllable "HRIH" which contains the blessing of the samadhi of Chenrezig which can transform into the image of Chenrezig. Now with our ordinary bodies we visualize this seed syllable and through this seed syllable, we transform into Chenrezig. This will clear our thoughts and habitual tendencies. From this we will know that yidam practice has a lot of benefits.
- Firstly, it contains samatha meditation because you have to do a lot of visualizations.
- Secondly, yidam practice can clear bad karma and habitual tendencies
- Thirdly we can attain the Dharmakaya or Sambho-gakaya state.
The heart mantra of Chenrezig
Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hung
arises from the samadhi of Chenrezig and by reciting this mantra can help us to increase our concentration and eliminate bad karma of speech. Also, visualization of the deity is not in solid form. Its nature is emptiness, Dharmakaya and its manifestation is the Nirmanakaya.
In the completion stage of yidam practice, we have to visualize Chenrezig dissolving into light and enter into the nature of our mind. At this moment, the power of our meditation dissolves into the natural state of mind. In the sutra, this is called Prajna Paramita.
The visualization of the seed syllable "HRIH" is to clear our habitual tendencies.
Usually, when beings are reborn into human realm, the consciousness will first cling to a body and then enter the womb. Of course with the present technology it is not able to detect the conception of consciousness in the womb. What we can see is only the gradual process of growing. The conception of consciousness is caused by greed and attachment and these are very hard to get rid of. It needs the natural transformation of the mind. Therefore, we visualize our mind and dissolves into "HIRI", which will transform the bodies of sentient beings into the bodies of Chenrezig.
The concept of yidam dissolving into light entering emptiness can change the habitual tendency of death. Usually when sentient beings die, they must enter the bardo stage. By this practice and visualization, it can clear the tendency and enter the state of Dharmakaya.
These are the practices of Vajrayana but most importantly, they require meditation as the basic. The methods of meditation are mostly found in esoteric sutras. If you are practicing Vajrayana and lack of this basic, whatever you practice will go wrong. You will be unable to visualize the empty state of a yidam and you will visualize the yidam's body as a solid form. When you recite the mantra, you will neglect its essence. Therefore, without the basic of esoteric teachings, all practices serve no purpose.
To be a practitioner of Vajrayana, we need to have a thorough understanding of its practice and also the complete bodhisattva vows. Vajrayana should not be taught openly to people who have not taken the bodhisattva vows as it is the teachings of the bodhisattvas. Therefore, only bodhisattvas are eligible to pracitice. However, the practice if Chenrezig consists of exceptionally great compassion and can be taught openly.
Universal love and compassion are the very foundation of every bodhisattva's spirituality yet nowhere are they more evident than in Chenrezig. In many ways, he is the archetypal expression of compassion, which is the sine qua non for attaining enlightenment. He occurs throughout mahayana Buddhism, either as a specific being or, more commonly, as an archetypal bodhisattva who is the quintessential expression of every Buddha's love.
The legend of Chenrezig as a specific being
Whether it be plain fact or apocryphal legend, the story of Chenrezig as a specific being is also the tale of compassion as it develops in the mind. Compassion is first born through a sincere wish for enlightenment and a vision of life's meaning which puts others first. The initially heroic approach towards helping others mellows and deepens as the infinite vastness of the task unfolds and the underlying nature of samsara becomes clear. One also comes to recognise the diabolical skill of ignorance in eluding the truth and thwarting attempts at its destruction. This forces one to learn how to tackle it from many angles simultaneously. After long experience of the battle between good and evil, one finds a need to draw closer to the real heart of the problem and to befriend and understand it rather than attacking it. For this, one must learn how to mobilise both the masculine and feminine aspects of mind's innate loving compassion, and be both dynamic yet responsive in one's dealings with the myriad manifestations of mind. These steps are all reflected in the traditional story:
"Countless ages ago, a thousand young men vowed to become Buddhas, each offering up a different resolution. One resolved to become Gautama Buddha, in what was a far distant time in the future and which has now become our era. Another, Chenrezig, resolved not to become enlightened until all the others had succeeded, promising to assist them all in their task and to be the servant of any being wishing to attain enlightenment, anywhere in the universe. He would both teach them and put questions on their behalf to the Buddhas, as humans often find it difficult to formulate their enquiries clearly.
Feeling great compassion for all beings, he made many journeys into their various domains of existence, from the highest realms of the gods to the most pitiful hells. The more he saw of the confusion and suffering that predominated everywhere, the more he longed to be of help. He prayed to the Buddhas, May I help all beings. Should I ever tire of this great work, may my body be shattered into a thousand pieces.Subsequently he visited the worst hell (avici hell) and liberated as many beings as were receptive to his teachings. Progressively he worked his way up through the worlds until he reached the deva realms. Surveying the universe, he saw that although he had released thousands from the sufferings of the three lower realms - animals, spirits and hell-beings - thousands more new entrants were pouring in to take their place. Distressed by this and despondent, his resolve waned and he flew into a thousand pieces, like the seeds of a pomegranate. He cried out to all the Buddhas who, like a fall of snowflakes, came to his rescue and made him whole again through their beneficent influence. Thereafter, he had a thousand arms and nine heads, to which Amitabha Buddha added a special head along with the blessing of his higher wisdom. Then Bodhisattva Vajrapani added a wrathful head symbolising the special powers of all the Buddhas. This is why Chenrezig is sometimes depicted with a thousand arms and eleven heads.
In his new form, Chenrezig became even more powerful than before but he was still moved to tears by the manifold sufferings of samsara. Again he took a solemn vow before all the Buddhas, May I not attain enlightenment until every last being has been liberated. At one time, his tears of compassion fell to the ground and caused two lotuses to spring up. From each of these emerged a form of the female Bodhisattva Tara, one white and the other green. Tara (dölma in Tibetan) means the Saviouress, the One Who Carries Across the Ocean of Samsara. The two Taras pledged to be Chenrezig's sisters in dharma and to help him bring beings to enlightenment."
The mahayana scriptures also recount that Chenrezig offered his mantra Om mani padme hung to the Buddha, who advised him to use it a a very special means for liberating beings. The Enlightened One blessed the mantra, pronouncing that it embodied the compassion of all the Buddhas combined. At that time the gods rained flowers on the worlds, the earth quaked with soft rumblings and the air was filled with the sound of celestial beings chanting the mantra.
Chenrezig - the guiding light of Tibet
It is not unusual for one buddha, or even bodhisattva, to be placed centre stage by a particular sect, as is the case, for instance, with Buddha Amitabha in the teachings of the Japanese Pure Land school. But the fact that a whole nation - possessing the greatest diversity of Buddhism found anywhere on Earth - considers itself to be guided and protected by Chenrezig is a tribute to him indeed.
The early kings who brought Buddhism to Tibet are believed by Tibetans to have been emanations of Chenrezig and Mañjushri. Since then, some of the greatest reincarnate lamas, such as the seventeen generations of Karmapas and, more latterly, the fourteen Dalai Lamas, are also considered to be his emanations. More strikingly, almost every Buddhist in Tibet recited Chenrezig's mantra om mani padme hung on a daily basis, to such an large extent that a popular saying recounts that Tibetan children pick up the mani mantra before learning to say mama or papa.
Chenrezig the cosmic bodhisattva
Mahayana Buddhism offers a wealth of techniques for transmuting the negative into the positive. At the heart of them all is compassion. Chenrezig the bodhisattva is the symbolic expression of all these forms of compassion in action. As the Discourse on Chenrezig's Realisation says:
Were one thing and one thing alone to represent every enlightened quality, as though it were in the palm of one's hand, what would it be? Great compassion.
The light of compassion shines wisely and with timeliness. It illuminates things appropriate to a particular disciple. It shows the family person how to bring peace, wisdom and harmony into the household. It shows the solitary meditator how to relate lovingly yet firmly to the complexities of his or her own mind. It shows the ruler how to govern and the afflicted how to cope with their suffering. Some of the techniques of compassion are superficial and remedial. Others are extremely profound and radical. Of the more profound techniques, Chenrezig is particularly associated with the use of the power of sound as a gateway to liberation.
The Suramgama Sutra tells how, in ages long gone by, the bodhisattva followed a certain Buddha Avalokitesvara, from whom he took his name, who instructed him to focus his meditation on the faculty of hearing. By analysing what at first seemed to be two things - external sound and the inner faculty of hearing - the bodhisattva soon recognised their inseparability; their non-duality. Neither could be found to have existence on its own and hence each was devoid of existence. By then pursuing this voidness, with direct awareness rather than intellectual analysis, the bodhisattva understood the whole question of consciousness and attained successive degrees of enlightenment, thereby acquiring extraordinary powers to help others. We find these powers, which are embodied in his mantra om mani padme hung, also mentioned in the Lotus Sutra. They enable him to manifest to anyone, in forms having direct relevance to their needs. He appears as the Buddha to teach bodhisattvas, as a disciplined monk to those seeking the Four Noble Truths, as a mighty dharma warrior to those wishing to protect the weak, as a wise civil elder to those wanting to learn government, as a nun to women weary of their worldly lot, as a powerful Brahmin to those wishing to master natural energies and so on and so forth.
Praying to Chenrezig, reciting the mani mantra and practising profound meditation on the nature of sound is believed to save people in dire situations, such as shipwrecks, fires and armed attacks. Some hold that reciting a million such mantras can enable the blind to see. Sometimes such claims are meant to be taken at face value but fuller explanations show them to be more reasonable, since they work over a period of lives. The general theme of such explanations is that misfortunes are caused by bad karma and that such karma is more often than not habitual, and therefore likely to produce the same misfortune in future lives. Meditation on Chenrezig and his mantra not only radically ruptures these negative habits but also opens the inner floodgates of compassion, spontaneously giving rise to their opposites, replacing aggression with love and tolerance and so forth.
Chenrezig takes on many forms in the tantras, having one, three, five, seven, nine, eleven and so on up to 84,000 faces, with two, four, six, eight, ten twelve and so on up to 84,000 arms. Some of his forms are gentle, kind and merciful. Others show the wrathful face of compassion. The extraordinary quality of the most common form - that with one face and four arms - is to be the only tantric practice which bears no element of risk and which can be practised by anyone and everyone. In general, mahayana Buddhists believe the grace of Chenrezig to be so powerful that even one sincere recitation of his mantra or one open-hearted look at his kind face is enough to sow a seed of future illumination in the mind.
Also widely practised is the eleven faced, one-thousand-armed form associated with the two-day uposita fasting ritual, known as nyungné by Tibetans. Involving an austere first day and total abstention from food or drink during the second day, this ritual is one of continuous prayer, humility and generation of compassion. It is aimed at helping wretched ghosts and spirits and, in the process, eliminating some of the participants' bad karma, caused through greed and avarice. More wrathful than this form is the red standing form of Chenrezig known as 'He who shakes the very foundations of existence'.