The Inner Tantras According to the Nyingma School
Related to Developmental Psychology:
In the Nyingma School we have a different stratification of inner Tantra. Inner Tantra is divided into Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga. With Mahayoga one has the style in which the yidam starts off being external in our visualisation, and then we merge with the yidam. In terms of our psychological evolution, we are looking at an age in which we are capable of being adult for certain phases of our experience. When we need to rely on our parent’s experience, they are the parent. When we have our own experience of life, we can go off on our own. When we run into trouble, we may care to ask the parent again. In terms of being a practitioner, this is a relationship with the teacher in which we understand the teachings; we do not need to always be asking the nature of the teachings. There comes a point when we can work the teachings out for ourselves – we can answer our own questions.
One comes to realise that Dharma, as-it-is, is not a mystery. If one has a question, one can look at that question and say: ‘Well, what is the emptiness and form here? …I can understand how this works.’ We know that there is a methodology of view that we can apply. It is actually occurring to me to ask myself the right questions and to find the right answers for myself. One might check that with the teacher and say: ‘I was thinking about this… and it occurred to me this…’ One gives one’s reflections to the teacher; and the teacher might say: ‘Yes; that is how it is.’ This is much like the style of Mahayoga relationship, where one is not continually asking the teacher what shade of toilet paper to use; one is aware that it does not matter what the shade is. In Mahayoga the teacher is external; but one becomes the teacher also, in one’s relationship with the teaching. This is a level of adult experience – it is not complete, but it is a stage where we can actually cultivate our own intelligence in terms of having a Dharma intelligence. Dharma has started to make sense. The patterns start to mesh with each other; and where they do not mesh, then we can ask the teacher about that.
Then we have Anuyoga. Characteristically, one would characterize Mahayoga as more ritualistically inclined, more concerned with yidam practice; and Anuyoga as more yogically inclined and concerned with practices of Tsa rLung. Tsa is the nadis, or the spatial nerves; rLung is prana, or the spatial wind/air. They come in three – there are thig-le, rLung and Tsa; but usually when one speaks of the exercises themselves, one talks about Tsa rLung practices. However, there are Tsa rLung practices within Mahayoga and there are yidam practices within Anuyoga – so it is not such a clear distinction. For our purposes, we will look at the style of yidam practice that exists in Anuyoga – and that is that one arises spontaneously as the yidam. The yidam is not external first, and then later we merge with the yidam; we simply spontaneously arise as the yidam.
Q: In the story that was told earlier of someone who was told not to do yidam practice and he couldn’t; why was that? Is it that you become so integrated with that practice that you cannot not do it?
R: Sure. There is this spontaneous arising – that you are the yidam; there is no problem there. This is the stage of adulthood where one assumes complete responsibility: ‘I am out on my own. I have to live this teaching. If my teacher dies, as my parent dies, I have to go on being an adult.’ Wherever one is, one’s teacher is always there; because one has a sense of how one’s teacher will respond. So one’s teacher is dead… I have often heard Lamas say this: ‘Ah! I know what my teacher would say here in terms of how I should approach this situation. I know what his or her view should be; I am familiar with that way of thinking.’ One sometimes finds oneself becoming one’s teacher, in terms of one’s own responses to others. One’s teacher comes through one’s own speech – not in an imitative way – one should make a distinct difference here.
There is a style of hero-worship around the teacher where people imitate the teacher. This is not what is being spoken of here. This is where the language of the teacher – not in terms of words or terminology, but in terms of real knowledge – becomes integral. With Atiyoga the concept disappears completely, in terms of the teacher being different in any way. I commented earlier that ‘the lower the Tantra the higher the throne’. In terms of Atiyoga, the teacher dresses the same way, eats in the same place, helps shear the yak or whatever. You will find in terms of a yogic encampment, where the teacher was coming from the Dzogchen perspective, he or she would simply be doing work around the place along with everybody else. One would not specifically know who the teacher was sometimes, until a teaching was being given; and then he or she would maybe put on a shawl begin to talk.
This requires an immense degree of adulthood on the part of the students, because the teacher looks no different. This is where the model breaks down in terms of developmental psychology – one can only stretch this analogy so far. Usually what happens with parents and children is that parents remain parents until they become incontinent; then the child flips into being parent. It seems one of the hardest things for human beings to do, to spend a period of time being friends with their own child. Sometimes it is a problem on the part of the parent, because they want to hang onto parenthood; sometimes it is a problem with the child, who will not allow their parent to be a friend. This is just an aside, by the way; but it is an interesting one. I remember being out for dinner with a couple once, twenty-five years older than me. Whilst we were having dinner, the phone went; and the lady answered. And it was her daughter on the other end. We could not help overhearing the conversation. Her daughter was shocked that her mother was a bit tipsy. She said something like: "Mother! You are drunk!" She answered: "So what if I am? What’s it to you, anyway?" When she returned, she said: "She really wants me to be ‘mother’; and so if I’m not being mother, it can be a problem sometimes." Interesting.
Here we have not exactly got the situation where teacher and students are friends as such, where there is some kind of artificial equality – where they are ‘sharing’ with each other in some way. But they are capable of having ordinary human conversation. This is where the student has some integrity as a person – some experience of practice. That I am no longer a ‘stupid’ person; I am no longer a person who is continually lousing up all the time. I am not always having to ask the answers for everything; but I am acutely aware of my teacher manifesting in a way that is imperceptible. This teacher holds no projections anymore, apart from the reality of his or her realisation. The realisation is not expressed through any particular means that is recognisable apart from itself. Maybe this teacher would not even appear like a teacher – especially for people who are used to a teacher having a costume, speaking in a particular way. Here the teacher enters into what is called ‘secret activity’. This is very much Dzogchen style – where any activity could be engaged in, and any expression is teaching.
Here it is a question of greater subtlety of connection. With a greater subtlety of connection, there is a wider dispersal of appreciation. In Anuyoga – this spontaneous arising as the awareness being – one has the whole field of interaction, of being the yidam in everyday circumstances. This is the meaning of vajra pride – one carries that sense of being the yidam into every situation. Every situation is infused with the quality-field of the yidam. Compassion or bodhicitta is manifested through vajra pride and through Pure Vision in terms of relationship with all beings in all circumstances. That is infused with the energy of one’s relationship with one’s own Lama.
From an Anuyoga perspective, teachings such as the khandro/pawo Nyida mélong – the teaching about being in romantic relationship – involve manifestation of bodhicitta, in terms of taking one’s partner as one’s teacher. This is a teaching that combines the views of Anu and Ati yoga. Within the body of Tantra there are different styles of practice, some of which cross between the yanas – perhaps there will be the practice of one yana with the view of another. In fact, Upa or Carya yoga of the outer Tantras is like this – it is the view of Yogatantra with the practice of Kriyatantra.
This is a view of the nine yanas in terms of experience, in terms of bodhicitta/compassion. One can see compassion manifesting at every level of this process in terms of what the teacher is for the student – in terms of how the student functions; in terms of connection; in terms of appreciation – how this quality becomes increasingly subtle. At the level of Atiyoga the word bodhicitta means the nondual state.
Q: I have a question about how yidam practice fits into maha or Anu yoga. When you have received transmission from the Lama, and you practice being the yidam in everyday life, and you also see the Lama as the yidam – how does that fit into Maha or Anu?
R: You find the practice of Lama’i Naljor or Guru Yoga in all the Tantras.
Q: More blatantly expressed in the outer Tantras, like the Lama is god?
R: Yes, much. The lower the Tantra, the more elaborate the practice; because not only does there have to be a yidam, but the yidam has to exist in a pure realm within the mandala. You do not see the Lama much outside the shrine room of the gompa; and the shrine room is a perfect environment – everything is crisply painted, perfectly arranged. Then if the Lama goes out, there is a horse with a wonderful saddle and there are canopies; those things are there to encourage us in a sense of preciousness. Then—at the level of Atiyoga—that completely disappears.
Q: It seems that in Atiyoga, it is totally formless; like the yidam…
R: There is no yidam in Atiyoga; the yidam there is the experience of rigpa itself. Teachers who may teach at a high level may play with the yanas, in terms of adopting the styles of different yanas at different times – shifting between being ordinary to being regal. You can find this in a lot of Nyingma sadhana, where the practice shifts between Kriyatantra and Anuyoga styles: One is making elaborate offerings to the yidam, and suddenly one is merging with the yidam, and then that dissolves; then one spontaneously arises. You think: ‘Hang on! I was just making offerings to this being.’ Nyingma sadhana typically moves, changing throughout the yanas. Teachers who adopt that style can manifest anything, from being the queen or king to being the person who is milking the dri next to you; and then back again. That is one style of working.
Q: In most Lama’i Naljors that I’m familiar with, the Lama’s actual physical presence isn’t primarily used. They’re always in another physical/visual form. Why is that?
R: It is only with important Lamas, such as the Karmapas, that you actually visualise the Lama. You will find yidam forms of Karma (Pakshi) as Tröllö (Pakshi) – as Dorje Tröllö, wearing a black hat. Lamas of great realisation are treated in this way. The other style is that one visualises the Lama in pure form/yidam form. This would be an injunction that one received from the Lama him or herself – that this is possible.
Q: It seems a possible way of tapping into devotion.
R: Yes, but one has to have a high realisation oneself, as well as the Lama, in order to do that; because unless one is at that stage of adulthood, it could become confusing. And then you would have to be working with a Lama who had some realisation, rather than somebody like me, for example. There, you are far better off visualising Padmasambhava, Yeshé Tsogyel, Ma-gÇig Labdrön – because there is some benefit in doing that.
We can look at how the phases of the inner Tantras are expressed in the Lama’i Naljor text, in terms of guiding visualisation. The first three lines are:
Om ma-chig ma-la; sol-wa dep A’a ma-chig ma-la; sol-wa dep Hung ma-chig ma-la; sol-wa dep
This is the level of practice at the phase of Mahayoga, because Ma-gÇig Labdrön exists externally. One visualises the Om A’a and Hung at her forehead, throat and heart.
Kar-po Om-gyi; jing-gyi lob Mar-po A’a-gyi; jing-gyi lob Ngön-po Hung-gyi; jing-gyi lob
You are making the connection here in the second three lines.
Ku-sung thug-gyi jing-chen phob
One is merging with Ma-gÇig Labdrön, becoming Ma-gÇig Labdrön. This is the culmination of Mahayoga.
Ma yum-chen go-pang tob-par shog
In this last line, one becomes Ma-gÇig Labdrön – this is Anuyoga. What follows is the exclamation ‘Phat!’ which explodes the visualisation. This is the Atiyoga point within this practice. This is our particular practice of Lama’i Naljor. We practice this for various reasons: It is a nice, short practice of Lama’i Naljor, easy to remember. It also exists in practically all the Nyingma lineages and in the Kagyü lineages of gCod. I received transmission of this from various Lamas – you will find it in Dudjom gTér – but I received this, with its particular tune, from Kyabjé Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche, who in a previous life was the son of Ma-gÇig Labdrön. It was he who requested her to write a Lama’i Naljor that was short and simple that he could practice. When he gave me this transmission, he told me that he could still hear her voice; so it is nice to have that particular tune. Unfortunately you have to have it from me, rather than from him. There is a synthesis of the three inner Tantras in this practice, moving from phase to phase of Ma-gÇig Labdrön being external, taking transmission, merging with Ma-gÇig Labdrön, and spontaneously arising in that form.
The idea of repeating it three times is not simply from a devotional viewpoint that three times is better than two. It is always said that: ‘A stone is worn away in a waterfall by new water all the time.’ It is not the same water; there is always new water. The repetition and continually changing form in one’s relationship with the yidam keeps this idea of form-as-movement. It is not static. Within the sadhanas there is always this change that is happening; one is never allowed to fixate on anything for long. The visualisation is there – it is no sooner there than it is changing – its mandala is evolving, or many different things are happening.
Q: You mentioned one time that Lama’i Naljor is the heart of both Tantra and Dzogchen. Could you talk a little bit about Lama’i Naljor from the Dzogchen?
R: A. (laughter)
Q: Essentialised – the seed syllable, then.
R: Yes. That is why we sing A’a after everything, even after Long Life Wish-Path. It is always Lama’i Naljor.