Articles by alphabetic order
 Ā Ī Ñ Ś Ū Ö Ō
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

Systems of Buddhist Tantra

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
(Redirected from Essential meaning)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Yamantaka (Vajrabhairava) Yab-Yum with Dharmapalas.jpg

Systems of Buddhist Tantra

The Indestructible Way of Secret Mantra

Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé

under the direction of Venerable Bokar Rinpoché

translated by Elio Guarisco and Ingrid McLeod,

ões bya mtha yas pai rgya mtsho. English. Selections]




The translation group Dragyur Dzamling Kunkhyab founded by Venerable Kalu Rinpoché has recently completed the translation into English of the fourth chapter of Book Six of the Encompassment of All Knowledge (Shes bya kun khyab), a major treatise authored by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé. This particular chapter presents the complete system of the indestructible way (vajrayåna) of secret mantra. The publication of this work is greatly needed and will be very helpful to all who are currently studying or doing research in the Tibetan traditions of Buddhism.

Buddha, the teacher, taught innumerable spiritual methods to guide sentient beings on the path to freedom. Fortunate ones with acute intelligence practice the heart of these teachings, the indestructible way of secret mantra. T his way has many special qualities. It is superior to the path of the sutras, includes many methods of practice, does not involve hardships, and is clear, direct, and enjoyable.

T his book brings together, in their depth and breadth, the essential points of the four sets of tantra comprised by the indestructible way of secret mantra. It describes the classification of practices, the initiations that provide entry, the vows and commitments, the two phases of practice, the forms of conduct, and the standard and special attainments.

First, by appreciating and understanding just what is contained here, you will, so to speak, have an eye that sees the profound significance of the tantras of secret mantra. Then, you will be inspired by faith and appreciation for the indestructible way. Through study you come to understand the nature of being. Through reflection you find conviction in that understanding. Through meditation, you initially cultivate a similitude of that understanding, and finally, by joining direct understanding and cultivation, you have actual experience of how things are. You then traverse the paths and levels to attain the awakened state of Vajradhara.

This is why this translation is both necessary and worthwhile. Everyone interested in these matters should study and practice what is in it. Through the virtuous activities of those who translated the text and those who provided financial support, may all beings together attain the awakened state of Vajradhara.



Systems of Buddhist Tantra: The Indestructible Way of Secret Mantra is a section of The Infinite Ocean of Knowledge (Shes bya mtha’ yas pa’i rgya mtsho]]) and its root verses, The Encompassment of All Knowledge (Shes bya kun khyab).

T he author of this treatise is Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé (Kong sprul Blo gros mtha’ yas, 1813–1899), an outstanding teacher and scholar who played a vital role in the revitalization and preservation of the Buddhist teachings in eastern Tibet in the nineteenth century. T he major works of Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé comprise massive collections of the practices, principles, empowerments, and so forth, of the different Tibetan traditions, as well as his own writings. T hese are referred to as the Five Great Treasuries ([[mDzod [chen lnga]]). T he first to be produced was The Encompassment of All Knowledge, which was followed by The Treasury of Mantra of the Kagyu School, The Treasury of Key Instructions, The Treasury of Precious Treasure Teachings, and The Treasury of Vast Teachings. Because of the unequalled scholarship shown in these works, Kongtrul came to be called Jamgön (’Jam mgon), Gentle Protector, which is an epithet of Manjushri, the bodhisattva who symbolizes higher wisdom.

Kongtrul’s huge literary output gives the impression that his primary focus was compilation and writing. This was not the case; most of his life was spent meditating and teaching. H e composed the verses of The Encompassment of All Knowledge, for instance, between periods of meditation while he was living in seclusion at his hermitage, Kunzang D echen Ösel Ling, in eastern Tibet. Kongtrul wrote this work in response to a request by Ngedön Tenpa Rabgyé, the first Dazang incarnation, who asked that he produce a treatise on the three systems of Buddhist ethics: the vows of personal liberation in the individual way (h¦nay›na), the commitments of the bodhisattva in the universal way (mah›y›na), and the pledges (samaya) of the awareness-holder in the indestructible way (vajrayana). Kongtrul decided to write a book that not only set out the three ethics but also contained a full presentation of all aspects of the Buddhist path from the perspectives of these three systems. Indeed, The Encompassment of All Knowledge touches on all fields of spiritual knowledge as well as the related secular sciences known at the time of its composition.

Kongtrul presented the finished manuscript of Encompassment to Jamyang Kyentsé Wangpo (1820–1892), another outstanding figure in the revival of the teachings in eastern Tibet, who, highly impressed, declared the work to be “a treasury of knowledge . . . the first of your five treasuries.” Kyentsé urged him to write a commentary on it. In 1863, Kongtrul composed a three-volume commentary on these root verses, entitled The Infinite Ocean of Knowledge, completing it in less than four months. T he work was revised a year later with the help of Trashi Özer, the abbot of Palpung Monastery.

The Encompassment of All Knowledge, together with its commentary The Infinite Ocean of Knowledge, has come to be known as The Treasury of Knowledge. In Tibetan religious literature, the work stands out as a unique masterpiece embodying the entirety of the theories and methods of implementation of the Buddhist doctrine as it was preserved in Tibet. It comprises ten books: the first book concerns the sphere of activity of the Buddha; the second, Buddha, the Teacher; the third, the nature of his teachings; the fourth, the spread of the teachings; the fifth, training in ethics; the sixth, study of tenets; the seventh, training in wisdom; the eighth, training in meditation; the ninth, the stages and paths of spiritual development; and the tenth, the result. Each book contains four chapters in order to treat all aspects of the subjects from the perspectives of the different traditions. The encyclopedic presentation of this Treasury, summarizing a broad range of history, views, traditions, and practices in an orderly and insightful fashion, reveals an author with an exceptionally broad intellect and deep experiential understanding.

Book Six of The Infinite Ocean of Knowledge presents the theoretical bases of practice. Systems of Buddhist Tantra: The Indestructible Way of Secret Mantra is the translation of the fourth chapter, which concerns the tradition of the indestructible way. As this single chapter is of considerable length, the translation has been divided into twenty short chapters, with chapter titles given by the translators.

The indestructible way of secret mantra (gsang sngags rdo rje theg pa) refers to the tantric path, the essence of which is the indestructible union of wisdom (understanding of emptiness) and method (immutable great bliss). T he distinctive feature of this path lies in the special skill in method and wisdom used to manifest innate pristine awareness, the primordial ground of being.

In this work, the author sets forth the various systems that constitute this way, those of both the ancient tantra tradition and the new tradition. Kongtrul begins with an overview of tantra, its placement in the Buddhist collections of teachings, and reasons for its superiority over other paths. H e then presents the four sets of tantra of the new tradition—action tantra, conduct tantra, [[yoga

tantra]], and highest yoga tantra—differentiating them in terms of their natures, views, ways of entry, methods of meditation, forms of conduct, and results. The work concludes with an exposition of the ninefold way of the ancient tradition, culminating in atiyoga: knowing all things to be the pristine awareness of pure and total presence.

While Systems of Buddhist Tantra presents in detail the underlying principles of the various systems of tantra, with particular emphasis on the highest yoga tantra of the new schools, it does not reveal esoteric instructions for practice, which are the domain of oral transmissions and specialized manuals. Moreover, it does not include the historical origins and developments of the tantric systems, which Kongtrul treats in depth in other parts of his treasury. What follows now is an introduction to the nature of the tantric path, touching on some of the major themes treated in this important section of The Infinite Ocean of Knowledge.


To those who would embark on a quest for awakening, the Tibetan traditions of Buddhism offer three markedly different and seemingly incompatible sequences of practices: the individual way (h¦nay›na); the universal way (mahayana); and the tantric way or secret mantra way (mantrayana). While finding its foundation in the idealism (vijì›nav›da) and centrism (madhyamika) trends of thought, the tantric way undoubtedly sprang from the irresistible drive to know the nature of experience directly, unmediated by cognitive interpretation or emotional confusion. Consequently, it relies on an awareness that is an expression of the inner clarity present in our very being and not on knowledge derived from rational, philosophical, or conceptual processes.

Tantra consists of a skillful blending of three different types of practice: power methods, energy transformation methods, and intrinsic awareness methods. These methods came from a variety of sources and gradually formed into identifiable esoteric transmissions. Some practices were designed to break down social and cultural conditioning and others were developed to utilize basic energies in the body (including sexual energy) to enhance practice.

Etymologically, the word tantra is derived from the term for woof or weft, the thread that runs continuously through the fabric in traditional weaving methods. In Tibetan, the word means “continuum.” Both these meanings refer to the fundamental tantric perspective that the awareness that is the essence of being is always present, because it is not a thing, is not created, destroyed or subject to variation.

Although the terms tantra and mantra are often used interchangeably, they do have distinct meanings. Mantra denotes the pristine awareness of reality, the essence of which is emptiness and bliss, while tantra refers to the systems of implementation of such awareness for the sake of performing rituals and specific activities. T he term mantra also serves as an abbreviation for “secret mantra” (guhyamantra), where mantra signifies “that which protects the mind” from dissipation due to ordinary perceptions and

attachment to them. Mantras are commonly understood as incantations comprising series of syllables or words to be recited or visualized. Although this meaning may well have been the origin of the expression “secret mantra,” this represents only one of its minor aspects. Even the lower tantras, which stress the need for ritual activity, clearly state that, as means to gain realization, mantra recitation is secondary to formless contemplation. Mantra is called “secret” not to suggest the secretiveness of cults but because the path of mantra must be practiced in secret in order to be successful and withheld from unfit receptacles who could misuse it.

T he term tantra is also used to refer to the essential meaning of mantra, as well as the entirety of the way of secret mantra. T he first distinction to be made with respect to tantra is between tantra as the meaning, or content itself, and tantra as words or scriptures, the means for its transmission. T he Continuation of the Guhyasamaja provides an encapsulation of tantra in terms of the meaning and its different aspects:

Tantra denotes continuousness.
It is composed of three aspects:
Ground, nature, and inalienableness.
When distinguished in this way,
The nature aspect is the cause;
The ground aspect refers to the method; And inalienableness, the result.
These three contain tantra’s meaning.

Tantra as contentiousness, or continuum (rgyud ), refers to the uninterrupted presence of the original nature, or state of being, of each individual. In Buddhist scriptures, this original nature is principally referred to as “mind” (sems), as in “ever-perfect mind” (kun tu bzang po’i sems) or “mind nature” (sems nyid ). In this context, “mind” does not mean object-bound experience but instead the ever-perfect and intrinsic awareness that has no beginning or end. Since it is free from the dichotomy of knower and known, this mind is no different from the reality it perceives. Reality is a “continuum” in the sense that its nature does not change into something else and cannot be fragmented into parts. Regardless of the degree of evolution or debasement of an individual, that reality or ever-perfect mind remains unaltered as the very essence or nucleus of one’s being. From the state of an ordinary individual, the beginning, so to speak, up to the end of awakening, such reality is unceasingly present. Hence, there is no ultimate distinction between an ordinary being and an awakened one.

Tantra, or continuum, although not subject to modification or partition, may be considered from the perspectives of non-recognition (conditioned existence), semi-recognition (the path), and total recognition (awakening) of original being. Based on these three phases, tantra is set forth in terms of its three aspects: actuality, process, and result.

C ontinuum as actuality (rang bzhin), though deemed causal (rgyu), does not mean the presence of the original state of being as a mere potential to be actualized in the future. Actuality points to the full presence of original being, even when it is not recognized. Lack of recognition is like a veil or cloud of unawareness which, however thick, does not pollute the very nature of one’s original state. As explained by the T hird Karmapa Rangjung Dorjé, actuality means “an awakened being attended by stains.” Although accompanied by impurity, the being remains the same, just as a gold statue wrapped in rags is still a gold statue. “C ausal” indicates that it is the fundamental element which when recognized is reaffirmed in its nature of enlightenment. Actuality is not defined as an absolute and static emptiness. Its power of manifestation or “radiance” (mdangs), owing to unawareness of its nature and to emotional patterns related to unawareness, becomes the basis for the particular appearances or visions that seem to bind one. When the veils of unawareness and emotional patterns lessen to some extent, there arise pure visions and contemplative experiences reflecting the essential purity of the actuality. When unawareness and emotional patterns are fully recognized as the mere play of the manifesting power of reality, the entire breadth of the potential of one’s being unfolds.

Continuum as process, or method (thabs), refers to all of the various means by which one may recognize one’s original nature or being. T hese means are not restricted to those found in Buddhist traditions. In the highest forms of tantra, continuum as a process is primarily represented in the phase of generation (bskyed rim, utpatti krama) and phase of completion (rdzogs rim, niøpanna krama) and their ancillary aspects. T his process, in being the cooperative condition for coming to know one’s original state of being, is likened to manure spread over a field in order to nurture the growth of seeds.

However, unlike the example, the very essence of the process does not involve external intervention but is simply original being recognizing itself. T his process in tantra reflects, and is the exercise of, freedom and awakening, not in the sense of a goal attained but as a way of existing that manifests directly in every situation of life. T he continuum aspect of the method or process exists in the relationship between the process and the original state of being, in the interdependent connections between the various aspects of the process, in the uninterrupted lineage of transmission of esoteric instructions, and in the contemplations and ensuing experiences.

In the ultimate sense, the actuality continuum, or causal continuum, does not denote a cause or seed that produces an effect since it already represents the fullest result. T he process continuum does not refer to an outer agent but instead to an unfolding of what is already present. Likewise, the continuum as result, that of “inalienableness” (mi ’phrogs pa), does not mean the result of a pursuit or the attainment of a goal but the primordial condition itself. It is inalienable in that it has always been the authentic mode of being, never alienated by the split that occurs when one’s true nature is not recognized. It remains unmodified by the duality of conditioned existence and perfect peace, even when one is immersed in the seemingly real troubles of life. T he reality represented by tantra is known as the “authentic condition” (gnas lugs), which comprises that of both the inner and the outer, one’s mind and body and the totality of one’s world. H owever, this authentic condition primarily refers to the luminous clarity (’od gsal ) of one’s mind, or pristine awareness, which all of the various tantric systems seek to manifest by way of their different methods.


T he tantric systems incorporate all aspects of the Buddhist teachings, which, over the course of time, have served as their doctrinal bases. In particular, one central theory, which underlies every Buddhist approach, seems to be reflected in all the essential principles constituting the views and practices of tantra: that there exists an “element” (khams, dh›tu) that enables an ordinary person to become a sublime being. T hat element is not the illusory and unreal self, the existence of which is negated on all levels of Buddhist philosophy. H ow then is it posited? T he idea of such an “element” can be found in the more ancient form of Buddhism. In that context, as expressed by the analysts (vaibh›øikas), and reflecting the character of a personal pursuit of liberation, it is known as “exalted affinity” (’phags pa’i rigs, ›rya gotra). It is defined as detachment from conditioned existence and worldly possessions and characterized as a state of contentment and having few desires.

From this basic formulation, the theory regarding this element has undergone a process of modification and refinement. For example, in the traditionalist (sautr›ntika) view, which represents a slightly more sophisticated philosophical trend than that of the analysts, the element is understood as not simply detachment but as a “seed,” an aspect of the mind capable of growing into supreme wisdom.

Around the time of the Third Buddhist Council, which took place two hundred and thirty-six years after the demise of the Buddha, the majority of the monastic community was turning attention to the needs and interests of the laity and trying to increase the chances for ordinary people to enter the path to freedom. This movement was accompanied by doctrinal transformations as a result of which the arhat or “saint” as the model for followers lost its pre-eminence. A new model emerged, that of the bodhisattva, who is willing to mingle with ordinary beings while working for their welfare and who, at the end of his or her spiritual career, achieves the goal of full awakening. Since the path of the bodhisattva leads the practitioner to the state of a buddha, or a “transcendent one” (tathagata), the element capable of turning into that state came to be known in the universal way tradition as the “essence of the transcendent ones” (tathagatagarbha) or “essence of enlightenment,” also referred to simply as buddha nature.

T he two main philosophical trends within the universal way, that of the experientialists (yog›c›ra) and that of the centrists (madhyamika), view such an element in ways that accord with their own basic tenets. T he former asserts the element to be a potential present in the continuum of mind since time without beginning, capable of developing into the entire range of qualities of an awakened being. T he latter asserts that it is the very nature of the mind (and of all phenomena) at the stage when mind is still attended by the stains of emotional patterns and limitations with regard to knowledge. However defined, the essence of enlightenment corresponds to what in tantra is called “actuality” or the “causal continuum” (rgyu’i rgyud, hetu tantra), the original ground of being to be recognized as enlightenment itself. T hus, when we consider the above three aspects of tantra, it becomes apparent that tantra is based primarily on the theory of the essence of enlightenment or tathagatagarbha. Although ancient practices of pre-Buddhist origin were absorbed into the Buddhist tantric systems, it is this theory of Buddhist origin—the essence of enlightenment—that may be said to be the fundamental basis, or core teaching, from which tantra developed.


T he essence of enlightenment (bde bar gshegs pa’i snying po, tathagatagarbha) is taught in the Shrimala and a number of other universal way sutras, yet scholars seem to have struggled to define precisely its real nature. Some consider the essence to be an actual buddha, while others conceive of it as a potential that can evolve into the awakened state. This essence has been the subject of extensive philosophical speculation in ancient Tibet, the effect of which is still felt in present-day Tibetan schools.

In his commentary on Maitreya’s Jewel Affinity (Ratnagotravibhaga),

Kongtrul defines the element or essence, also known as affinity (rigs, gotra), as an unpolluted factor on the basis of which an individual can rediscover the ground of being. Referred to in the scriptures by various terms, such as ineffable emptiness, mind nature of luminous clarity, and ground-of-all consciousness, “element” does not carry the meaning of “cause” but instead denotes a “nucleus” that is hidden by obscurations. Kongtrul points out that the Tibetan term snying po (essence) is used to translate a number of Sanskrit terms, such as garbha, in which case the term indicates that the element is like a kernel inside a husk; hridaya, meaning essence in the sense of supreme, indicating that the element is the supreme phenomenon, the very reality of all phenomena; and sara, robust or firm, pointing to the unchangeable and indivisible nature of such reality.

The essence of enlightenment is thus equated with the very reality that pervades both the animate and inanimate world. H ow such an essence is understood would obviously depend on how reality is defined in a particular system. Within the different philosophical trends of Tibetan Buddhism (all of which claim to represent the centrist view), we can distinguish two main approaches: one considers reality to be emptiness as an absolute negation; the other, emptiness as an affirmative negation, that is to say, an emptiness that is not simply emptiness but luminosity or potency as well. It is this second view that most accords with how the essence of enlightenment is understood in the tantras.

Luminosity, which is of the same nature as emptiness, means the luminous clarity of the mind of every sentient being. Each being thus embodies the reality of the totality of the universe and stands at the center of the universe as its nature or “creator.” Luminous clarity is the principal feature of the essence of enlightenment and in the tantras is spoken of as actuality or the causal continuum characterized by bliss.

The uninterrupted presence of the causal continuum encompasses the three dimensions of awakening: empty like the sky, it is the reality dimension (dharmak›ya); luminous like the sun and moon, it is the enjoyment dimension (sambhogakaya); and manifesting unimpededly in every form, it is the manifest dimension of awakening (nirmanakaya). In this way, the essence of enlightenment is not simply a seed or potential that can develop into the state of awakening but is the state of awakening itself. T his is taught in all tantras with definitiveness. T he chapter called “Pristine Awareness” in the Kalachakra Tantra, for instance, states: All beings are buddhas. Another supreme buddha does not exist in this universe. And the Hevajra states:

Sentient beings are actually buddhas But are obscured by adventitious stains.

When these are cleared away, they awaken.

If beings are already enlightened, why do they still suffer the misery of conditioned existence? Saraha’s Doha states:

T he natural condition is not seen by the childish.

Due to deception, the childish are swindled.

T he point of tantric practice is to overcome habitual emotional patterns and, in particular, coemergent unawareness of the essence of enlightenment. When the adventitious stains that cloud one’s nature are removed by means of the path, the essence reveals itself as the real buddha, and one reawakens into one’s state of primordial enlightenment.

As long as the state of enlightenment is not recognized, beings continue to experience illusory birth and death, along with the happiness and suffering inherent in conditioned existence. H owever, whatever the experience, the essence of enlightenment remains unpolluted, unobscured, and unmodified, just as sunlight maintains its nature of light regardless of the type of object it strikes. T he essence is not conditioned by any form of embodied life, whether fortunate or miserable, nor is it conditioned by any act, good or evil, or by knowledge or lack of knowledge. Although the essence is attended by impurity, its nature, like gold embedded in ore, remains always pure, untouched by emotional afflictions and conceptions.


In the writings of ancient masters of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, with which Kongtrul was affiliated, certain technical terms with very different meanings were often used interchangeably. For example, the word mind (sems), normally denoting object-bound dualistic experience, is also used to refer to mind nature (sems nyid ), or mind’s real condition. Likewise, in this section of The Infinite Ocean of Knowledge the essence of enlightenment (or causal continuum) is called the “ground-of-all consciousness” (kun gzhi rnam shes, ›layavijì›na). T his seemingly free use of terms is not an indication of scholastic laxity but actually reflects the characteristic views of this school . An apparent equation of the essence of enlightenment with the ground of-all consciousness is found in sutras such as the Descent to Lanka (Laºk›vat›ra) and the Gandavyuhasutra, as well as in Ashvaghosha’s Awakening of Faith and other commentaries. In the Infinite Ocean, Kongtrul notes that the ground-of-all consciousness is known in the individualist system by particular terms such as “substratum consciousness” (rtsa ba’i rnam shes, málavijì›na), “the aggregate that lasts as long as cyclic existence” (’khor ba ji srid pa’i phung po), and “branch of existence” (srid pa’i yan lag). Both centrist and idealist philosophies speak of the “eightfold group of consciousnesses” (rnam shes tshogs brgyad ), which, as stated in the Gandavyuhasutra, comprises the mind or ground-of-all consciousness, the subjective mind of an afflicted nature, and the six consciousnesses that apprehend objects. T he subjective mind (yid ) is an ever-present conceited mental state that carries the sense of “I” and is therefore known as afflicted mind (nyon mongs can gyi yid ). The six sense consciousnesses (including consciousness of mind) are aspects of the mind that focus on details of objects and are therefore known as “six active consciousnesses” (’jug pa’i rnam shes tshogs drug).

T he ground-of-all consciousness (kun gzhi rnam shes) is a mind, amounting to an accumulation of karmic traces, that leads to embodied existence. It focuses on a variety of objects but cognizes only their presence, not the details. Although itself neutral, the ground-of-all consciousness is capable of storing all of the traces or habitual tendencies of virtuous and nonvirtuous actions. Unlike other aspects of the mind, the ground-of-all consciousness is steady and persists throughout all mental states, even deep sleep. At death, it is projected by the force of its inherent karmic traces into a new existence.

Two aspects of the ground-of-all consciousness are distinguished: the potential and the fruitional. T he potential aspect consists in karmic traces. The fruitional aspect consists in the ground-of-all consciousness that is the result of karmic traces. According to the universalists, after the “diamondlike meditative absorption” which leads directly into awakening, the groundof-all consciousness in its fruitional aspect transforms into mirror-like pristine awareness (me long ye shes, ›darŸajì›na). T he ground-of-all consciousness is so named because it serves as the ground for both cyclic existence (saôs›ra) and perfect peace (nirvana). However, as explained by Kongtrul, it does not denote a single, permanent creator of the universe as postulated by the Hindus. Instead, the ground-of-all consciousness is said to be intrinsic to every sentient being and of a momentary nature.

Asanga, the fourth-century Indian scholar considered by many to be the pioneer of experientialist philosophy (in which the ground-of-all consciousness constitutes a central tenet), equates this consciousness with mind (citta) and includes it in the impermanent aggregate of consciousness (vijìna-skandha).1 Does this implicitly negate the ground-of-all consciousness as the essence of enlightenment and the ground of all? Indeed, this would seem to be the case. H owever, in The Infinite Ocean of Knowledge, Kongtrul cites a verse from the Phenomenology Scripture (Abhidharmasátra, mNgon pa’i mdo), a text no longer extant, when discussing the ground-ofall consciousness as commonly understood in experientialist philosophy and when defining the essence of enlightenment (chapter eight of this book). T his verse, found in the Discourse That Teaches the Essence of Enlightenment (sNying po bstan pa’i mdo) and cited in Asanga’s commentary on it, states:

T he dimension with no beginning in time Is the abode of all phenomena. Owing to its being, cyclic life And perfect peace are experienced. Since this verse is cited in both contexts, one must assume that Kongtrul somehow equates the essence of enlightenment with the ground-of-all consciousness. Given the contradictory definitions of these two, what are the reasons for taking them to be synonymous?

The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorjé, considered to be the source of the view underlying the Kagyu style of presentation of tantra, states that the root of all types of pristine awareness is the ground-of-all pristine awareness; and the root of all types of consciousness, the ground-of-all consciousness. T he inseparability of these two is called “ordinary awareness” (tha mal gyi shes pa). Because ordinary awareness serves as the fundamental element for awakening, it is referred to as the “essence of enlightenment.” H ere, the expression “ordinary awareness” denotes the ordinary state of consciousness, a blend of two aspects: the primordial aspect called pristine awareness (ye shes, jì›na); and the aspect of object bound experience called consciousness (rnam shes, vijna), in this case, the ground-of-all consciousness, the “mother” of all object-bound experiences. Recognized for what it is, ordinary awareness is the pristine awareness of intrinsic awareness, a state that is known in and by itself. Unrecognized, it is unawareness. T he “distance” between recognition and non-recognition is inconceivably minute, with only a hair’s breadth of space separating them.

Thus, the essence of enlightenment, or causal continuum, exists as inseparable from the ground-of-all consciousness, like water mixed with milk. In this sense, the two are equated, but are not considered identical. T his paradox highlights the character of the original ground of being as open to two different possibilities: when unrecognized, it possesses the faults of conditioned existence; once recognized, it reveals the qualities of the fruition. T he character of the original ground of being is endowed with the potential for all manifestation. All manifestation has the character of the ground. It can only be recognized as it manifests embodied in the individual, whose principal modes of existence are body, speech, and mind. Unrecognized, or unpurified, body, speech, and mind are reflections of illusion; recognized, they are the three dimensions of awakening.


Method (thabs, up›ya) and wisdom (shes rab, prajna), key principles in both sutra and tantra, have particular meanings depending on the system. T he immediate sense conveyed by “method” is the way to carry out an action, and by “wisdom,” the intelligence to recognize the appropriateness of the action in any given situation. Related to those meanings, method denotes activation of one’s energy, and wisdom, the knowledge of reality gained from that activation of energy. In most systems of sutra and tantra, wisdom can arise only when sufficient energy of merit has made one’s mind receptive to such wisdom and capable of sustaining it.

In the universal way, the two principles are contained in the six “means of transcendence” (p›ramit›), namely, generosity, ethics, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom. Method comprises the first four, and wisdom, the last two. Without wisdom, the other means of transcendence are “blind,” said Shantideva, meaning that they cannot lead to awakening. Why? Because wisdom provides the understanding that phenomena have no intrinsic nature and exist only as illusions. When permeated by this knowledge, generosity and the other means are free of adherence to the reality of their referents. Without wisdom, generosity, ethics, and so forth would fetter rather than liberate the individual. Wisdom alone would also fetter a person because he or she would not have the impetus to work for others’ freedom and would therefore lack the basis for the attainment of awakening. Accordingly, Atisha said: Method divorced from wisdom Or wisdom without method

Is bondage: this has been taught . Thus, their union should not be neglected.

Moreover, both method and wisdom are necessary because, reflecting the psychophysical make-up of the person, awakening exists on two planes, that of the body, called the physical dimension (rupakaya) and that of the mind, the reality dimension (dharmak›ya). T he concordant causes for the achievement of the two planes are, respectively, the merit accrued by the first four means of transcendence, and wisdom accrued by the last two.

Method in the context of the universal way is primarily the mind of awakening (bodhicitta), and wisdom, the understanding of emptiness (Sunyata ). On a relative level, the mind of awakening means the desire to awaken for the sake of others. On an ultimate level, the mind of awakening is the concept-free knowing of reality or emptiness, endowed with the essence of compassion. T his is the point in the bodhisattva’s path where method and wisdom begin to merge.

Although method and wisdom are often described as two wings needed on the course to freedom, the notion of two different elements implies a duality. Every path to realization, even the fundamental one, tries to overcome such duality by explaining ways to unify these two principles into a single reality. It might well be said that the higher the system, the more refined is its application of method and wisdom in a unified way.

All of these points concerning method and wisdom in the universal way apply to tantra as well. Furthermore, as shown in the rich imagery of the tantras, these two principles, while still retaining their meanings as understood in the lower ways, take on a variety of special meanings.

From the common perspectives of the lower and highest tantras, method generally stands for relative truth (kun rdzob bden pa, saôv¸t¦ satya), and wisdom, ultimate truth (don dam bden pa, param›rtha satya). In contrast to non-tantric systems, where relative truth is taken to mean the worlds of suffering produced by negative emotions and the actions motivated by them, in the context of tantra, relative truth means all appearances imagined as a divine world with divine residents. To imagine the world in that way through

symbolic creation of deities and mandalas activates the practitioner’s innate pure energy. In order not to attribute inherent existence to that pure vision requires the wisdom of recognizing this vision as fundamentally unreal. T his wisdom can be gained by applying a subtle “deconstructive” analysis but in the uncommon way of the tantras is more often achieved by entering the nonconceptual or natural state, which is devoid of the constructs of imagination. In this way, the practitioner realizes the simultaneity of appearances (snang ba) and emptiness (stong pa). T he two yogic applications of the method of creation and wisdom of deconstruction in the lower tantras are called yoga with signs (nimitta yoga) and yoga without signs (animitta yoga), respectively, and in highest yoga tantra, phase of generation (utpatti krama) and phase of completion (niøpanna krama).

Highest yoga tantra, as its name yoga, or union (rnal ’byor, yoga), denotes, is characterized by the application of method and wisdom as an inseparable union. T his is symbolized by tantric deities of this system depicted in sexual union. In this imagery, the male is method; the female, wisdom. In addition to their general meanings as explained above, in this context, the meaning of method is bliss (bde ba, sukha) produced by way of special meditations or union with a qualified consort; and that of wisdom, the understanding of innate reality, distinguished as being the very consciousness of that bliss. For the sake of training, method and wisdom are applied, in a sense, distinctly: first, bliss is generated and then united with the understanding of the innate. In fact, wisdom is already inherent in the nature of method since knowledge of the innate is of the nature of bliss. Moreover, in the phase of completion, the realization of luminous clarity (’od gsal, prabh›svara) is wisdom, and the ensuing illusory body (sgyu lus, m›y›deha) of the deity actually manifesting is method.

Thus, it is evident that the dual principles of method and wisdom are represented in different pairs of attributes—male and female, relative and ultimate truth, yoga with signs and without signs, phase of generation and phase of completion, appearance and emptiness, bliss and emptiness, and illusory body and luminous clarity. In fact, all aspects comprised by tantra can be distinguished according to these principles. From this, one understands that the meaning of method and wisdom cannot be restricted to simply the literal meaning of the two words.

In the inner tantras of the ancient tradition, particularly anuyoga and atiyoga, we find a progressively finer gap between method and wisdom, but it is in atiyoga, or the “great perfection” (rdzogs chen), that the duality of method and wisdom that characterizes the lower paths is totally transcended. Practice of atiyoga does not involve distinctions in method and wisdom or levels of application since, according to the view of atiyoga, all that exists is simply a single reality, one’s own authentic condition, primordial awakening, with no differentiation between relative and ultimate truths. T his point is made clear in the Total Space of Vajrasattva (rDo rje sems dpa’ nam mkha’ che), a text of the mind division of atiyoga:

A path to purity that proceeds from level to level Does not agree with the teaching of no action.

If there were truly paths to travel, one would never Reach one’s goal, just as there is no limit to space. and:

The bliss of the intrinsically perfect state Is found only in instantaneous presence

Illuminated by the power of matchless wisdom. Reality does not come from anything else.


Samsara, or cyclic existence (’khor ba), and nirvana, or perfect peace (myang ’das), have gradually taken on the superficial meanings of “place of problems” and “place of ecstasy.” What is defined as samsara in fundamental Buddhism is not a physical place, but the state of the body and mind of a person conditioned by habitual tendencies. T his conditioned state entails being subject to suffering such as that of birth, sickness, old age, and death. The illusory environment where this suffering is experienced is the outcome of the shared habitual tendencies and karmic traces of its inhabitants. Nirvana is the transcendence of such suffering, attained by applying a path that overcomes the emotions and purifies their habitual patterns. T his perspective on samsara and nirvana is in contrast to that of certain Hindu schools that consider samsara and nirvana as opposite poles, where samsara ceases only with nirvana’s negation of it; in that view, the two cannot exist together, as one is effectively the negation of the other.

In the universal way, beings and their worlds are seen in the light of their absence of true existence, or emptiness. T his emptiness is not an entity to be found outside phenomena themselves. For this reason, the famous sutra The Heart of Wisdom states:

Form is empty; emptiness is also form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness.

In this view, it is not difficult to see a shift, though only theoretical, from the basic understanding of samsara and nirvana. H ere, form, or samsara, and emptiness, nirvana, are not mutually exclusive but complementary. Nirvana is achieved not by negating samsara but by understanding its real nature. For that reason, in the literature of transcendent wisdom (shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa, prajnaparamita), emptiness is also called “natural nirvana” (rang bzhin gyis myang ’das). A nirvana that is something other than the ultimate nature of samsara does not exist. H owever, at the stage of treading the path to awakening, nirvana and samsara remain for the bodhisattva very different.

It is only in tantra that the theoretical assertion that samsara and nirvana are an essential identity bears important practical implications. T he person and the environment are already nirvana. H owever, they appear as samsara because one’s own true condition is not recognized. To rediscover the awakened condition of one’s inner and outer dimensions, one familiarizes with the identity of samsara and nirvana, not only in their natures but also in their aspects.

The practitioner actualizes the identity of samsara and nirvana by realizing that the aggregates (of forms, feelings, discriminations, compositional factors, and consciousnesses) are the buddhas of the five families (Vairochana, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, Amoghasiddhi, and Akshobhya) and the elemental properties (earth, water, fire, wind, and space) are their consorts (Lochana, Mamaki, Pandara, Tara, and Dhatvishvari). T he sense consciousnesses, sense powers, and all other faculties and their activities, and so forth, are understood to be the natures of enlightened deities. Body, speech, and mind are seen as the great mandala of divine energy, the very nature that pervades all existence.


As pointed out in Kongtrul’s Topical Commentary on the Hevajra Tantra, the word “innate” (lhan skyes, sahaja) has different meanings when distinguished in terms of the ground, path, and result. At the time of the ground, the innate refers to original pure and perfect mind (bodhicitta) which is beyond the grasp of the conceptual mind, the “lord” pervading the totality of cyclic existence and perfect peace, the ground or essence of all. T his meaning is indicated in the following words from the tantras:

From “me,” all beings arise. and:

T hat is the life-force of all creatures.

At the time of the path, from a general perspective, the innate refers to the view that understands the absence of intrinsic nature of phenomena, which are beyond arising, abiding, and cessation, to be the inseparability of emptiness and luminous clarity. In this specific tantric context, the innate denotes the experience of bliss that occurs when winds dissolve in the central channel brought about by such practices as inner heat or union with a consort.

At the time of the result, the innate is that very innate of the ground, which, through the strength of being contemplated on the path, becomes the great innate free from obscurations and endowed with the two purities (dag pa gnyis ldan), intrinsic purity and purity from adventitious stains. From another perspective, but still pointing to the same reality, the innate means both the natural condition (rang bzhin lhan skyes) of everything and the innate as bliss from the melting of vital essence (zhu bde lhan skyes). Both of these types of innate are known as bliss (bde ba, sukha). The natural condition of everything encompasses the innate of the ground, path, and result. It is the very nature of the animate and inanimate. The innate as bliss arising from the melting of vital essence relates specifically to the path.

How is the innate as bliss manifested in the path? During ordinary sexual union, the male and female experience physical and mental pleasure produced by the melting and release of vital essence. This is common sexual bliss. In tantra, this experience of bliss itself is used as the basis of a special technique: the practitioner causes the melted vital essence to flow throughout all channels of the body, producing physical and mental bliss. With bliss serving as the secondary condition and the practitioner’s familiarity with the innate pristine awareness nature of the mind as the primary cause, winds and mind dissolve in the central channel. T hus stimulated, the vital essence present in the central channel melts and conceptions cease, allowing to manifest limpid, nonconceptual, pristine awareness, accompanied by the experience of the indivisibility of bliss and emptiness.

When innate bliss is still attended by the dualistic impression of emptiness as the object and bliss as the subject, it is known as example innate bliss (dpe’i lhan skyes kyi bde ba). When it is nonconceptual pristine awareness of the very nature of reality, resembling a clear sky, free from even the most subtle subject-object duality, it is known as real or actual innate bliss (don gyi lhan skyes kyi bde ba).

The same kind of distinction is drawn between actual luminous clarity (don gyi ’od gsal ) and example luminous clarity (dpe’i ’od gsal). In the experiential process, and according to the phases in which the innate is manifested through tantric methods, the innate as bliss is understood as the pristine awareness of the four joys.

Being emptiness beyond any definition, how can the innate natural condition of everything be called bliss? It is known as bliss for a number of reasons: the innate is free from the concepts of arising, abiding, and ceasing; it does not abide in either cyclic existence or perfect peace; it is free from adherence to self and others; it is the pristine awareness of one’s intrinsic awareness, an awareness that cognizes its own nature; it pervades everything; and it is always of the nature of bliss, whatever the circumstances. Furthermore, the innate reality that derives from the melting of vital essence is spoken of as “great bliss” because it is totally free from all suffering and adherence to subject-object duality (gzung ’dzin). It is not the tainted pleasure experienced by ordinary persons but is manifested by “striking the crucial points of the body” (lus kyi gnad du bsnun pa) through the method of inner heat (gtum mo, caòç›l¦) or in union with a consort. This indicates that this reality is found within the “temple” of one’s body. Accordingly, the tantras state:

This is the great pristine awareness Which abides in the bodies of all.

All highest yoga tantras, with different degrees of emphasis, teach that reliance on the method of union with a qualified consort is an indispensable step in the path to realization. In systems that present instructions not dependent on the tantric way of transformation, such as Gampopa’s great seal (phyag rgya chen po, mah›mudr›) approach and the great perfection (rdzogs chen), that method (which certainly involves risks) is considered helpful but not absolutely necessary or superior to other methods since the reality of the innate is penetrated directly without the preliminary step of experience of the example bliss.


Bodhichitta (byang chub sems, bodhicitta), a term used in both the sutras and tantras, carries several distinct but related meanings. In the context of the way of the bodhisattva, where bodhichitta represents the central principle, bodhi means awakening, and chitta, mind or spirit, and the term is therefore translated as “mind of awakening” in the sense of mind directed toward enlightenment. As pointed out in the transcendent wisdom discourses, bodhichitta can be relative or ultimate depending on its focus.

The relative awakening mind focuses on sentient beings and is defined as the altruistic resolve to awaken and the actual venturing toward that goal. It springs from love and compassion and serves as the entrance to the universal way. Ultimate awakening mind consists in the direct and nonconceptual understanding of reality born from contemplation and gained at the first stage of awakening of the bodhisattva. Bodhichitta, in its twofold aspect, serves as the seed or potential that blossoms into the awakened state.

In the tantras as well, bodhichitta is understood on both relative and ultimate levels. On the relative level, the term is used not only to denote awakening mind as understood in the universal way, but also to refer to seminal essence, the seed or support of great bliss. Ultimate bodhichitta, or ultimate awakening mind, means nonconceptual understanding of reality as well as great bliss born from seminal essence. This is clearly stated in the Hevajra Tantra: T he relative jasmine-flower-like seminal essence Is the embodiment of bliss, the ultimate.

To symbolize the main deity, the indivisible single reality, and the way bliss arises, relative bodhichitta is referred to as semen (khu ba, Ÿukra), its masculine and obvious form. Since it serves as the seed of great bliss, it is also termed vital essence (thig le, tilaka). When pointing out its energetic function, it is called “constituent” (khams, dh›tu), “constituent of bodhichitta” (khams byang chub kyi sems), or simply “bodhichitta.” In order to differentiate it from contexts in which the innate and other elements are called vital essence, relative bodhichitta is defined as the “inner substantial vital essence” (nang gi rdzas kyi thig le), meaning that it is contained in the body.

When reality is understood in terms of method and wisdom, in either the nirvanic manifestation as the male and female deity or the samsaric manifestation of subject-object duality, relative bodhichitta is distinguished according to its two aspects of the masculine and the feminine. These are called, respectively, white vital essence and red vital essence (thig le dkar dmar); white component (dkar cha) and red component (dmar cha); or lunar constituent (zla ba’i khams) and solar constituent (nyi ma’i khams). Because these are pairs originating from one single reality, the term “semen” (khu ba, Ÿukra) in some contexts refers to both white and red essences.

According to tantra, in an embodied existence, the white vital essence originates from the semen (khu ba) of the father, and the red vital essence, from the ovum (khrag) of the mother, which have merged at the time of sexual intercourse to form the physical basis for the consciousness of the intermediate being conceived in their midst. Throughout fetal development, these essences remain at the navel, the energy-center from where the body develops. At birth, they separate; the white settles at the head, and the red, four fingers below the navel. These are the original vital essences, representing method (great bliss) and wisdom (emptiness), respectively. T hey always remain at those physical places as supports for life, until death disrupts them.

T he sub-product of the original white vital essence moves downwards through the net of channels of the left side of the body, while the subproduct of the original red vital essence, which has the nature of blood, moves upward through the net of channels of the right side of the body. These nourish the psychophysical complex, maintaining strength and wellbeing. Their residues are expelled in coarse forms through the pores of the skin and other orifices.

It is evident that such a description is a blend of coarse and subtle physiology. In fact, although the vital essences are said to be the sub-products of the original ones, at the same time, they are said to be a result of the sevenfold process of regeneration of the body spoken of in Ayurveda and Tibetan medicine, which begins with the ingestion of food. In this process, the nutrient of food turns into blood, blood turns into flesh, flesh into fat, fat into bones, bones into marrow, and marrow into reproductive fluid. A part of the reproductive fluid flows to the heart from where, through the various channels, it reaches all parts of the body, providing them with necessary sustenance. Another part becomes semen in men and ovum in women.

In this context, the tantras speak of “semen” (khu ba, Ÿukra) and “blood” (khrag, rakta). Some have taken “blood” to mean menstrual blood. However, the coarse form of what the tantras call “blood,” unlike menstrual blood, must have reproductive functions just like its male counterpart, semen.

Therefore, “blood” should be understood as ovum. T he subtle forms referred to by the term “blood” consist in the original and derivative red vital essences mentioned above. T he subtle vital essences are present in both males and females, but the white is predominant in the male; the red, in the female. T hey pervade and abide in all parts of the body, the white being mainly in the channel-wheel (cakra) of the head; the red, mainly in the channel-wheel of the genitals and that of the navel.

T he great Tibetan yogin Gyalwa Yang-gönpa (1213-1258), who is said to have had a vision of the secret functioning and structure of the body, explains that these vital essences are subject to daily, monthly, yearly, and life cycles (’phel ’grib). These cycles influence, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively, the physical functions and emotional reactivity of humans. The cycles that most clearly represent the patterns of vital essences are the daily, monthly, and yearly cycles since these correspond to the movements of the sun and moon.

Corresponding to the cycle of a day, determined by the rising and setting of the sun, the red vital essence increases with the rising of the sun and decreases with its setting. T he opposite is true for the white vital essence.

Corresponding to the cycle of a month, determined by the waxing and waning phases of the moon, the white vital essence increases from the first to the fifteenth of the lunar month and then decreases from the sixteenth to the thirtieth, while the red vital essence decreases from the first to the fifteenth and increases during the waning phase of the moon. In this cycle, the past aspect, when the essence has fully completed its function and has become residual, is said to be the “dissolved” vital essence. The present aspect, the refined essence (principally the white aspect) currently performing its function, is the “engaged.” T he future aspect, the cause or root of both the refined and the residual, is the “dominant” vital essence.

Corresponding to the cycle of a year, determined by what appears as the movement of the sun toward the north for six months and toward the south for six months, the white vital essence increases for six months beginning from the summer solstice and then decreases as the red vital essence increases for six months beginning from the winter solstice. Although both cycles are necessary and complementary, generally speaking the cycle of increase of the white vital essence is one of growth and therefore has a positive influence on the human body and mind complex, while the cycle of increase of the red vital essence is one of decline and has a detrimental influence, with body and mind susceptible to obstacles.

Vital essences are also distinguished as the vital essences of body (lus, k›ya), speech (ngag, v›k), mind (sems, citta), and pristine awareness (ye shes, jì›na), each of which has its particular location in the body, principally the head, throat, heart, and navel. Imprints that are the source of emotional and cognitive obscurations, accumulated since beginningless time, are present within these essences as a subtle union of wind and mind. T hus, in the ordinary state of unawareness, these four types of vital essences give rise to the four states of an individual: the waking or ordinary state (tha mal ), deep sleep (gnyid mthug), dream (rmi lam), and sexual union (snyoms ’jug), respectively, together with the deceptions that are related to these states.

In order to purify the four vital essences, the practitioner trains in four methods, involving the generation of various forms, the creation of sounds, nonconceptual contemplation, and use of sexual bliss. At the time of the path, the experiences from these methods arise as the vision of empty forms (stong gzugs), invincible sound (gzhom med sgra), nonconceptual consciousness (mi rtog pa’i shes pa), and immutable bliss (mi ’gyur ba’i bde ba), respectively. As the [[Wikipedia:Absolute

(philosophy)|ultimate]] effects of these methods, the waking state transforms into the various manifestations of awakening (nirm›òak›ya); the dream state transforms into the enjoyment dimension (sambhogakaya), inclusive of all awakened bodies and voices; sleep transforms into the nonconceptual dimension of reality (dharmak›ya), awakened mind, free from all limitations imposed by mental constructs; and sexual bliss transforms into the dimension of great immutable bliss (mah›sukhak›ya). These vital essences are thus possessed of a double potency: unpurified, they bind one to illusion; purified, they grant freedom from illusion. T his system of purification of vital essences and the four states is expounded in the Kalachakra tantra.

T here are, moreover, other means to purify the four vital essences according to the various tantras. These include esoteric instructions on the yoga of illusory body (sgyu lus, m›y›deha) to purify the waking state; the yoga of luminous clarity (’od gsal gyi rnal ’byor, prabh›svara yoga) to purify sleep; dream yoga (rmi lam gyi rnal ’byor, svapna yoga]]) to purify dream; and inner heat (gtum mo, caòçal¦) to purify the experience of orgasm. Alternatively, purification is effected by means of the four seals (phyag rgya, mudra): the doctrine seal (chos kyi phyag rgya, dharmamudra), great seal (phyag rgya chen po, mah›mudr›), pristine awareness seal (ye shes phyag rgya, janamudra), and action seal (las kyi phyag rgya, karmamudra), respectively.

Central to all tantric methods is the experience of the “four joys” (dga’ ba, ›nanda). In the course of practice, the white vital essence situated at the head is intentionally melted in order to experience bliss. T his process involves activating the energy of the red vital essence at the navel and causing it to blaze using breath control techniques and other means. Given the light nature of the elemental property of which it is composed (i.e., fire), the heat energy of the red essence moves upward, warming the cold nature of the white essence.

The white essence melts and drips, a process in which the vital essence becomes increasingly fluid as it reaches the reproductive organs. Given the heavy nature of the elemental properties of which the white essence is composed (i.e., earth and water), this vital essence moves downward. Since the original vital essences remain at the head and below the navel until death, the blaze of the red essence and the dripping of the white must refer to an acceleration of the energetic process mentioned above, in which the sub-products of these ascend and descend in the body.

T he descent of the white vital essence is marked by four main stages of experience known as “joys.” Each of the four joys arises in turn as molten white vital essence reaches the channel-wheels (rtsa ’khor, cakra), or centers of energy, along the central channel. Since the tantras differ in their enumerations of channel-wheels, some asserting four, others six, the points in the descent of vital essence where the joys occur are posited differently.

According to the Kalachakra system, as the stream of white “nectar” from the upper part of the head reaches the throat, there occurs the initial joy (dang po’i dga’ ba, pratham›nanda). As it reaches the heart, there arises the supreme joy (mchog dga’, param›nanda). As it reaches the navel, there occurs the special joy (khyad dga’, viram›nanda). As it reaches the tip of the penis, there occurs the innate joy (lhan cig skyes pa’i dga’ ba, sahaj›nanda). In tantras such as the H evajra that postulate four channel-wheels, this last joy occurs at the navel.

T he initial joy is a slight experience of bliss. Supreme joy is that first joy increased so that it overcomes the coarse levels of the conceptual mind. T he special joy, which in the H evajra is known as joy of separation (dga’ bral), is the experience of bliss and emptiness becoming inseparable. As a result of this, attachment to the joy ceases and the limitation of passion is overcome. T he innate joy is the nondeceptive, concept-free realization of the indivisibility of bliss and emptiness.

Innate bliss is the very nature of ordinary consciousness but remains hidden until discovered through those powerful experiences. In order to recognize this nature and stabilize one’s awareness of it, it is necessary for the tantric practitioner to withhold semen, the base of bliss. For this reason, great emphasis is placed on relative bodhichitta in the tantric path of transformation, and several pledges are concerned with not allowing it to be released.2


The tantras assert that all phenomena are the very essence of the deity (lha, deva), and have always been since beginningless time. What is meant here is the “real” deity, pristine awareness (ye shes, jnana) permeated by bliss, the mind nature of every individual. T he dimension (sku, kaya) of such awareness is its innate glow (rang mdangs). In the mother tantras, the glow of pristine awareness is said to be present as two very subtle aspects known metaphorically as white semen (khu ba, Ÿukra) and red essence or “blood” (rdul, rajas).

It is on the basis of these two aspects that bliss arises. Coemergent with bliss is non-recognition of it as pristine awareness. When the pristine awareness of bliss is not recognized, the two subtle aspects of its glow take on coarser aspects. T he red aspect transforms into the appearances of cyclic existence; and the white, into the perceiver, or mind apprehending them: this constitutes the duality of subject and object.

In describing the two aspects and the state of non-recognition, tantras use the terminology of the three qualities (yon tan, guòa) of the “universal substance” (spyi gtso bo, prak¸t¦) postulated in the H indu samkhya philosophy, from which all knowables arise as transformations (rnam ’gyur) of the three. Accordingly, the red aspect is called motility (or creativity) (rdul, rajas); the white aspect, buoyancy (or lightness) (snying stobs, sattva); and non-recognition, darkness (or immobility) (mun pa, tamas). In the impure state of non-recognition of pristine awareness, these three qualities manifest as the body, speech, and mind of an ordinary individual. In the pure state of awakening, they manifest as the body (sku), speech (gsung), and mind (thugs) of a buddha.

In the world of light postulated by the father tantra, deviation from one’s ground of being and entering into duality occurs owing to a shift from subtle light, which is the primordial nature of mind known as total empty (thams cad stong pa) or luminous clarity (’od gsal, prabhasvara). The shift manifests as three coarser phases of light, namely culmination of light (snang ba thob pa, ›lokapalabdi), increase of light (snang ba mched pa, ›lok›bh›sa), and light (snang ba, ›loka). Alternative designations for the three lights are great empty (stong pa chen po, mah›Ÿánya), very empty (shin tu stong pa, atiŸánya), and empty (stong pa, Ÿánya).

T he three lights, which manifest as black, red, and white radiances, respectively, are known collectively as consciousness (rnam par shes pa, vijì›na). Specifically, the black radiance is associated with ignorance (ma rig pa, avidya), the red, with compositional factors (’du byed, samskara), and the white, with consciousness (rnam shes, vijnana), which in the sutra tradition form the first three links of dependent origination from which arise names and forms (ming gzugs, n›ma-rápa), the psychophysical aggregates of the person which represent the phenomenal world. In the idealist terminology used by some commentators on the tantras and adhered to by Kongtrul, these three are posited as the ground-of-all consciousness (kun gzhi rnam shes), afflicted subjective mind (nyon yid ), and sense consciousnesses (dbang shes).

T hus, from the lights arise the apprehender and the apprehended, along with the conceptions and coarse elements, the principal of which is called “wind” (rlung, v›yu). According to tantra, this last, wind, is the actual element that instigates the creation of everything. Whenever the three phases of light occur in order of progressive coarseness (i.e., culmination of light, increase of light, and light), conditioned involvement in the duality of subject and object takes place. According to the tradition of oral esoteric instructions, these three lights occur whenever there is the appearance of an object.

Similar to the path to liberation through reversal of the twelve links of dependent origination as explained in the sutras, the occurrence of the three lights in the reverse order (light, increase of light, and culmination of light) leads to the luminous clarity of reality. T his process can occur naturally, as at the time of death, when all the psychophysical constituents of the person dissolve, or can be induced through tantric methods as described briefly above. Whether the arising of the fourth light, luminous clarity, becomes a liberating experience or not depends on the practitioner’s ability first to recognize and then to abide uninterruptedly in it.

A being who is subject to confusion enters embodied existence in one of the three realms. In terms of tantric practice, the best of births is as a human. T he human body is known in tantra as the “vajra body” (rdo rje lus, vajradeha), or indestructible body. In the view of Marpa, a forefather of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, it is so named because it is a body of bliss and emptiness. Moreover, its birth is that of a truly awakened being, occurring through the five awakenings, namely, semen, ovum, consciousness of the intermediate being, merging of these, and formation of the human body. These correspond to the five awakenings through which the deity is created in the phase of generation, as well as the five awakenings of the phase of completion, and the five awakenings that precede the moment of awakening for every individual who becomes a buddha. T hus, the being is already awakened at birth in having been born from the five awakenings.

According to other masters, the human body is indestructible because its components, the aggregates and so forth, are indivisible from the those of enlightenment. It is also called the “vajra body endowed with six constituents,” the six being the four elemental properties of earth, water, fire, wind, plus the white vital essence (pristine awareness) and red vital essence (emptiness).

The indestructible body is composed of the triad of channels (rtsa, n›ç¦), winds (rlung, v›yu), and vital essences (thig le, bindu), which represents body, speech, and mind, the three categories under which all existence is subsumed. T he channels, the very nature of the body, are the stable components of the indestructible body, likened to a house; the vital essences, the support for the mind, as elements situated within the channels, are likened to riches (contained in the house); and the winds, the moving elements, are likened to the owners of the riches.

T here are three main channels, the left, right, and central channels, whose functions are of primary importance and whose positions within the body reflect the principles of method, wisdom, and nonduality. T hey are generally described as extending from the lower part of the body to the head and then bending toward the nostrils and the point between the eyebrows. T he positions of their lower and upper extremities are explained differently depending on the tantra.

T he left channel, in Sanskrit lalan› (rkyang ma), originates from the power of the white aspect of the glow of pristine awareness. It creates the illusion of an apprehender. Lalana is also called “wisdom” (shes rab, prajì›) because it causes the lunar wind (zla ba’i rlung) to flow from the left nostril. Its lower extremity controls emission and retention of urine. Fourteen channels branch off from the lalana, spreading throughout the left side of the body.

T he right channel, in Sanskrit rasana (ro ma), originates from the power of the red aspect of the glow of pristine awareness. It creates the illusion of an objective world, the apprehended. Rasana is also called “method” (thabs, up›ya) because it causes the solar wind (nyi ma’i rlung) to flow from the right nostril. Its lower extremity controls emission and retention of feces. Ten channels branch off from the rasana, spreading throughout the right side of the body.

T he central channel, in Sanskrit madhyama (rtsa dbu ma), also referred to as avadhuti, originates from the power of wind. It is known as “central,” or “all-abandoning” (kun spangs ma), because it has rejected the “extremes” of both the lunar and solar winds, and because when the winds that flow in the right and left channels enter and dissolve in the central channel, the concepts of subject and object are overcome. Five channels branch off from the central channel at the heart area to reach the senses and control their functions. Its lower extremity, known as “conch-shell” (dung can ma, Ÿaºkin¦), controls the emission and retention of semen.

The thirty-two channels (including the three principal channels) are the major pathways for the winds and vital essences and correspond to the thirty two outer sacred places spoken of in tantra. Altogether, the channels of the body are said to number 72,000, equal to the number of rivers of the Indian subcontinent, or millions when the very fine ones are counted.

According to the Hevajra system, at the places where these three channels meet, namely, navel, heart, throat, and head, there originate the “petals” or spokes of the four chakras or “wheels.” The yellow channel-wheel at the navel, comprising sixty-four channels, is known as the “channel-wheel of emanation” (sprul ba’i ’kho lo, nirm›òacakra) because the formation of the body in the womb begins there. It is called “wheel” because by generating the inner heat at the navel, deception related to the waking state is “crushed” as if under a wheel.

T he blue channel-wheel at the heart, comprising eight channels, is known as the “channel-wheel of phenomena” (chos kyi ’khor lo, dharmacakra) because it serves as the base for the mind of the reality dimension of awakening. It is called “wheel” because by contemplating luminous clarity at the heart, deception related to deep sleep is crushed. T he red channel-wheel at the throat, comprising sixteen channels, is known as the “channel-wheel of enjoyment” (longs spyod kyi ’khor lo, sambhogacakra) because it serves as the base for the experience of tastes. It is called “wheel” because through dream yoga connected to that place, the deception of dreams is crushed.

The white channel-wheel at the head, comprising thirty-two channels, is called “channel-wheel of great bliss” (bde chen gyi ’khor lo, mah›sukhacakra) because it serves as the base for the experience of great bliss. It is called “wheel” because by stabilizing the vital essence at the head, deception associated with orgasm is crushed.

T here are various assertions concerning these channels. In his Oral Transmission of the Ancestors (Mes po zhal lung), a commentary on the Four Medical Tantras (gSo rig rgyud bzhi), the outstanding Zurkar Lodrö Gyalpo

(1509-1585), with the twofold expertise of a mystic and doctor of Tibetan medicine, seems to suggest that the left channel corresponds to the spinal column, which in Tibetan medicine is known as “white channel of life” (srog rtsa dkar po); the right channel, to the vena cava, or “red channel of life” (srog rtsa dmar po); and the central channel, to the aorta or “black channel of life” (srog rtsa nag po). These channels are indeed closely connected to the vascular and nervous systems, as well as to other components of the psychophysical complex. Therefore, meditating on the channels can induce special experiences determined by subtle changes in body and mind. However, these three channels do not physically exist in the body; they are visualized in various ways in the course of different tantric practices and for different purposes.

The indivisible nature of mind is said to possess a “mobile quality.” This mobile quality is described as currents of energy which flow through the channels of various parts of the body, presiding over physical as well as mental functions, and pass through the nostrils as breathing. Such currents of energy, called “winds” (rlung, vayu), serve as the bridge between body and mind.

T he winds are a blend of two types of energy, one associated with emotionality, called karmic or conditioned wind (las kyi rlung), and the other related to the original state of the individual, called pristine awareness wind (ye shes kyi rlung). D istinguished in terms of the three principles, darkness (tamas), motility (rajas), and buoyancy (sattva), winds are of three types: wind of Rahu, solar wind, and lunar wind. Moreover, the winds are differentiated as the five root winds (rtsa ba’i rlung), the natures of the five elements, and five branch winds (yan lag gi rlung), produced through the five elemental transformations. The winds of the five elements, or five mandalas, flow back and forth through the right and left nostrils in the order of generation of the elements and of birth (first space, then wind, fire, water, earth) and in the order of dissolution of the elements and of death (first earth, then water, and so on), respectively. In one day, they are exhaled and inhaled 21,600 times, divided between the two nostrils, a time corresponding to eight periods or watches (thun). The outward movement of these energy currents as the breath diminishes the strength of the wind associated with pristine awareness. Therefore, when outward movement increases, there occur signs of death. If the winds are held inside, pristine awareness wind is strengthened. Hence, many extraordinary powers such as longevity are gained through breath control techniques for “holding the winds” in the central channel.

The third element in the triad of channels, winds, and vital essences has been introduced previously as relative bodhichitta. All channels, winds, and vital essences manifest from pristine awareness, the nature of mind. Essentially beyond the duality of subject and object, they represent the authentic condition of the body. Therefore, through contemplations that strike their crucial points (as mentioned above), much in the same way a doctor striking with his small rubber hammer the right point on the knee causes a reflex reaction in the leg, one can manifest the pristine awareness of intrinsic awareness (rang rig pa’i ye shes), an awareness that cognizes its own nature, one’s primordial condition, the same reality from which arise the channels, winds, and vital essences.


In Systems of Buddhist Tantra: The Indestructible Way of Secret Mantra,

Kongtrul begins (in chapter one of the translation) by providing different perspectives on the placement of secret mantra in the Buddhist collections of teachings. H e refers to different tantras and to the commentaries of eminent Indian and Tibetan scholars, some of whom assign the tantras to the three collections (sde snod gsum, tripiîaka), and others, to a fourth collection known as the “awareness-holder collections” ([[rig pa ’dzin pa’i sde sno, vidyadhara-piîaka). Following that, taking a somewhat epistemological approach, Kongtrul defines the nature of tantra and mantra and presents reasons for tantra’s superiority over other paths by noting the characteristics that distinguish tantra from the common teachings of the individual and universal ways. Next (chapter two), citing numerous passages from different tantras as well as the assertions of Indian and Tibetan scholars, the author sets forth the various ways in which tantra is formally classified. From his discussion, it becomes evident that while in the Tibetan tradition tantra came to be rigidly structured into four sets (in the new schools) and six sets (in the ancient school), it originally comprised many interrelated practices and observances, with no strictly defined borders separating them.

Kongtrul then explains the rationale for the division of tantra into four sets, namely, action (bya ba, kriya), conduct (spyod pa, carya), yoga (rnal ’byor, yoga), and highest yoga (rnal ’byor bla med, anuttarayoga) tantras. This classification is generally accepted by the new schools and represents the main body of tantras translated into Tibetan and included in the collection called the Kangyur (bKa’ ’gyur). Some of the reasons for the fourfold division of the tantras are closely related to their views and modes of practice. Another reason stems from the correlations between the four divisions and the four views (a standard categorization of philosophical trends made in later Indian Buddhism), namely, the analyst, traditionist, experientialist, and centrist views.

In the following sections (chapters three, four, and five), starting in each case with a concise citation from the Compendium on the Indestructible Pristine Awareness Tantra (Jì›nasamuccaya), an exegetical tantra of Guhyasamaja, Kongtrul discusses the three lower tantras—action, conduct, and yoga— explaining their names, standards for initiation, views, styles of practice, and so forth.

Action tantra, where action means ritual activities, emphasizes outer conduct, with special prescriptions for ceremonial modes of ablution, cleanliness, eating and drinking, clothing, and so forth. Such observances are based on the notion of inferiority to the deity, who is regarded as perfection and existent outside of oneself, and stem from ignorance or fear of the profound truth that everything is devoid of inherent nature.T hey also reflect obligations to one’s social group and to a conventionally proper lifestyle. To overcome the separation between the ordinary human condition and the divine, one conforms to a way of purity in attire and behavior and visualizes the deity in front of oneself while recollecting the emptiness of one’s own self. This is done until a vivid experience of the indivisibility of oneself and the deity arises.

Conduct tantra, where conduct encompasses both outer ritual activity and inner contemplation, involves training in a vast range of deeds while entering the inner reality that presents itself in visual and audible divine representations. T he notion here is that of being close to the state of a perfect divine being, a state not yet fully realized. This limited view is overcome by visualizing the deity outside of oneself and, as a reflection of that, visualizing oneself as the deity, understanding that form to be the appearance aspect of emptiness.

Yoga tantra, where yoga refers to the inner union of method and wisdom, or, from another perspective, the inseparable union of the relative divine form and its ultimate empty nature, emphasizes contemplation of inner reality. In this system, the practitioner places himself in the center of a network of subjective relationships with this reality, which appears in a variety of divine features. T he practitioner and the deity are viewed as absolutely equal. Method and wisdom are applied inseparably in contemplations on the indivisibility of one’s body, speech, mind, and activities and those of the deity. T hese contemplations are known as the four seals (as understood in that system)—the great seal (mahamudra), the pledge seal (samayamudra), the seal of the doctrine (dharmamudra), and the action seal (karmamudra)—and are to be applied with the understanding of essential reality. In contrast to his extremely concise treatment of the lower tantras,

Kongtrul provides a detailed exposition of the system of highest yoga tantra (beginning with chapter six). Citing the Compendium on the Indestructible Pristine Awareness Tantra, Kongtrul first defines the essence of highest yoga tantra. T hen, in order to elucidate the meaning of the tantra, he introduces the subject of the three continuums, namely, the continuum of cause (rgyu, hetu), the continuum of method (thabs, upaya), and the continuum of result (’bras bu, phala). T his threefold format stems from the Guhyasamaja but is by no means to be understood as exclusive to that tantra. Instead, it is one that encompasses all of the content of the highest tantras in general.

T he next large section (chapters seven to ten) treats the causal continuum, understood principally as the luminous clarity nature of the mind of each individual. First is given a rather general explanation said to derive from Shantigupta, one of the latest great adepts of India, whose disciple Buddhaguptanata was a master of the Tibetan Taranata. Kongtrul then begins an extensive exposition of the subject based on the view of Naropa.

T he causal continuum, or luminous clarity, can be said to be the reality that is neither outer nor inner but includes all that manifests as pure and impure phenomena. Since this reality presents itself as the body and mind and is discovered by one’s own intrinsic awareness within the “temple” of the body, it is necessary to understand the authentic condition manifesting as mind and the authentic condition manifesting as body. To reconnect with the sutras or common teachings of the Buddha and to show that there is indeed continuity between sutras and tantras, Kongtrul describes at length the authentic condition of existence in its pure state, equating it with the essence of enlightenment (tathagatagarbha). In the uncommon experiential approach of the highest tantras, that essence is defined as “intrinsic awareness, the nature of great bliss” (rang rig pa bde ba chen po’i rang bzhin]]), where awareness means awareness of mind nature itself, or, in other words, “the inseparable union of e and vam” (e vam zung ’jug). Evam (“thus”) is the first word in the phrase “evaô may› Ÿrutam” (“Thus

I have heard”), with which many of the sutras and tantras begin. In the context of the ground, when the possibilities of recognizing one’s real nature and straying from it are both present, e represents wisdom, and vam, method, indicating that, from the very beginning, the authentic condition of being is the inseparable union of the two aspects that encompass all existence, emptiness and manifestation. It is because the highest yoga tantras point out the authentic condition as the indissoluble union of wisdom (emptiness) and method (manifestation) that they are known as highest yoga (union). In the language typical of the father tantras, this union is known as the indivisibility of profound emptiness (zab) and luminosity (gsal ). In the language of the mother tantras, such a union is the inseparability of blissful pristine awareness and its glow, which in an embodied existence is present as subtle lunar and solar energies.

Evam therefore represents the individual’s fundamental condition, pure and liberated. When this condition is not recognized, from the solar energy of the glow of pristine awareness, there manifests a vision of the universe conceived of as an outer entity; and from the lunar energy of the glow of pristine awareness, there manifests a perceiver of this vision conceived of as an inner entity, or “self.”

Kongtrul provides a masterful explanation of how from non-recognition of one’s intrinsic awareness of great bliss unfolds all of conditioned existence, which, nonetheless, is nothing but the glow of such awareness. According to the father tantras, the three realms—the realm of desire (’dod khams, kamadhatu), the realm of form (gzugs khams, rápadh›tu), and the formless realm (gzugs med khams, ›rápyadh›tu)—arise from luminous clarity and the three sequential phases of light. Initially, when luminous clarity is not recognized, there arise the three lights, known as the culmination of light, increase of light, and light. T hese three lights become subject to and veiled by eighty conceptions or “natures” (rang bzhin, prak¸t¦): the seven conceptions of delusion indicative of the culmination of light; the forty of desire indicative of the increase of light; and the thirty-three of aversion indicative of light. From these lights arise the five elements and their derivatives, the five aggregates of the person. When wind, or the “mobile quality,” seizes the five sensory objects, consciousness joined with wind starts to operate in the conditioned world. According to the view of the mother tantras, conditioned existence arises from the experience of mundane bliss at the moment of emission of semen during sexual union. When the nature of innate bliss is not recognized, the three poisons—attachment, delusion, and aversion—are initiated.

When visions of the three realms are taken as real, the individual takes birth and acquires a body which, although formed through habitual tendencies, is at the same time the manifestation of luminous clarity: the fundamental manifest dimension of awakening, which, once purified, becomes the supreme manifest dimension. T he eighty conceptions, as well as the experience of innate pristine awareness, depend on the subtle physiology of the body. To clarify this relationship, Kongtrul presents condensed yet comprehensive descriptions of the inner pathways (channels), energy currents (winds), and vital essences, which is followed by a discussion on the four states, namely, deep sleep, dream, waking, and sexual union, the focuses of tantric practice. T hese sections on the “supported body” are followed by a terse definition of the innate or original body, the “support.”

Next is presented the symbolic representation of the causal continuum in the union of e and vam. First, Kongtrul explains the meaning of evam in the context of the ground, path, and result according to the Kalachakra system. H ere, the single reality of e, emptiness, and vam, bliss, is described as thirty-seven elements: thirty-six comprising the aggregates, and so forth, of the person, and the thirty-seventh, the nature that pervades them, a triad of transparency, essential identity, and indivisibility.

Following the section on evam is a discussion of the ten-letter Kalachakra mantra as a symbol for the causal continuum, pointing out how the nature of the causal continuum is endowed with the ten-letter mantra in the mode of pristine awareness and how the mantra, as the environments and inhabitants of cyclic existence, arises from consciousness, the transformation of pristine awareness.

T he section on the method continuum (chapter eleven) begins with an extensive explanation of the meaning of initiation, the types of mandalas in which the initiation is performed, and the tantras entered by means of initiation. It is here that a clear distinction between father and mother highest yoga tantra is made, along with the assertion that, by virtue of their natures, all highest yoga tantras are to be considered nondual tantras, possessed of wisdom and method. Following that (chapter twelve) is a detailed description of the initiation procedure, from the preparatory ritual of the site for the construction of the mandala up to introduction of the student into the mandala. In highest yoga tantra, the initiations are primarily four, with different subdivisions. The vase initiation is considered to be a lower initiation, and the remaining three—the secret, the pristine awareness through wisdom, and the word initiations—are higher. Included in these discussions are the particular functions and purificatory effects of the conferral of the four initiations.

A primary purpose of the initiation in highest yoga tantra is to authorize students to engage in the twofold contemplation of the phase of generation and phase of completion. T his subject of contemplation (chapter thirteen) is treated very briefly since it is not the main focus of this book. Kongtrul does, however, elucidate in some depth the phase of completion from the perspective of the Heruka Galpo Tantra. T he Galpo Tantra, an early translation tantra of the ancient school, is one of the cycle of Vishuddha, symbol of awakened mind. One might therefore wonder why Kongtrul uses this source in elucidating the phase of completion in the context of the new schools. One reason may be that the Galpo Tantra, as asserted by Dudjom Rinpoché in his History of the Nyingma School, contains a phase of completion that is actually of the precious oral teachings of the path and fruition tradition transmitted in the new school of the Sakyapa. Possibly another reason is that the Galpo Tantra’s presentation of the phase of completion, as outlined by Kongtrul, gives a remarkably clear picture of what that phase entails and its salient points, which encompass the styles of completion phase practices of both the father and mother tantras.

In this discussion, a distinction is made between one aspect of the phase of completion considered to be causal since it serves the purpose of eliciting the pristine awareness associated with bliss and one part considered resultant since it develops from that. C omprised by the causal phase of completion are practices such as self-blessing, mandala circle, and the tantric great seal (mah›mudr›). T he term “self-blessing” has different meanings depending on context; here, it denotes contemplation on the subtle mind-referent within the central channel of the body, visualized in order to give rise to various experiences of bliss.

The term “mandala circle” refers to the practice that swiftly elicits the experience of pristine awareness associated with the four joys through sexual union with a qualified consort. T he practice of the great seal in this context entails remaining in a state of contemplation of pristine awareness and bliss in order to bring about repeatedly the dissolution of mind and wind in the central channel and experience the resultant special bliss. Moreover, in the practice of the great seal that directs the mind inward, bodhichitta is channeled into the central channel, and discursive thought is caused to enter luminous clarity, whereupon, in a way greatly superior to meditation on emptiness alone, the dualistic impressions of apprehended and apprehender cease. T hese procedures can also be explained in terms of the four seals, namely, action seal, pledge seal, doctrine seal, and great seal. Kongtrul therefore lists different views that interpret the meaning of these four seals in different ways.

In the discussion of the resultant phase of completion (chapter fourteen), we find practices referred to as “emptiness side,” “appearance side,” and “union of emptiness and appearance.” If we compare these to Nagarjuna’s five stages of the Guhyasamaja phase of completion, they roughly correspond, respectively, to luminous clarity (’od gsal, prabh›svara), illusory body (sgyu lus, m›y›deha), and the state of union (zung ’jug, yuganaddha) of these two. T he first is said to be the direct experience of innate pristine awareness, bliss and emptiness; the second, the form of the deity which appears by the power of that innate awareness; and the third, the essential identity of pristine awareness and the form of the deity.

T he direct experience of innate pristine awareness arises upon dissolution of the three lights (light, increase of light, and culmination of light) and the eighty conceptions. To explain that process, Kongtrul enters into a lengthy exposition of the natures and various categories of the three lights and also points out the various states, ordinary and special, in which they occur. A list is provided of the eighty conceptions, which in groups of thirty-three, forty, and seven, manifest from and are indicative of these three lights, respectively.

These conceptions, or discursive thoughts, do not transcend the nature of bliss and pristine awareness from which they originate and into which they dissolve. When this is understood fully, the conceptions themselves become the very source of freedom. T he actual arising of pristine awareness, bliss-emptiness, is effected by the dissolution of the lights and the conceptions through skillful methods that release the “knots” of the heart channel-wheel. T hese methods include vajra recitation, inner heat, and so forth, the main method being reliance on an actual consort.

Following that exposition is a brief discussion of tantric application, which comprises activations and complementary forms of conduct. To conclude the presentation of the three continuums is a statement defining the third of the three continuums, the resultant continuum of inalienableness, the actualized purified state. Lastly, there is synopsis of the view, meditation, conduct, and result of the system of highest yoga tantra in general.

Having thus set forth the meaning of tantra, or the content itself, Kongtrul then presents the subject of tantra in terms of “the words that convey that meaning” (chapters fifteen and sixteen), beginning with an explanation of how the scriptures of the action, conduct, yoga, and highest yoga tantras are classified and a survey of the tantric topics they expound. Further, the ways of teaching the lower and higher tantras are discussed, with an emphasis placed on those of the highest yoga tantra. Special mention is made of the “seven ornaments” and their twenty-eight subdivisions, principles of knowledge that stem from the Compendium on the Indestructible Pristine Awareness Tantra. By means of these methods of exposition, listeners are able to cognize the purpose of the tantra, be introduced to its contents by means of synopsis, fathom the layers of interpretation of the root tantra, appreciate the words and meanings in accordance with their intellects, and so forth. With a short section on the special exposition method in the esoteric instructions system, Kongtrul completes his discussion of the tantras in the new tradition.

In the second major portion of the book are presented the systems of the ancient translation tradition (chapters seventeen to twenty). According to that tradition, all the ways to realization, which accommodate beings of different faculties, are included in nine ways: the way of proclaimers (Ÿr›vaka), way of solitary sages (pratyekabuddha), and way of bodhisattvas

(collectively, the way of characteristics); the three outer tantras, namely, action, conduct, and yoga; and the three inner tantras—mahayoga, anuyoga, and atiyoga.

T he first set of three is known as the “way of the sutras that leads away from the source of suffering,” since it leads to liberation by forsaking actions that are sources of suffering. T he second set is called the “way that resembles Vedic austerity,” since in this path the practitioner follows prescribed rituals of cleanliness, and so forth, emphasized in the Vedas. T he third set is known as the “way of the dominating method.” In more ancient texts of this tradition, the first is said to be the mundane way of devas and human beings, and the ways of the proclaimers and solitary sages are considered to be one. In contrast to the simple fourfold division of the tantras in the new tradition, Kongtrul begins the discussion on the ancient tradition by citing scriptures that declare the ways to realization to be indeed limitless, as limitless as the concepts of beings, while pointing out that ultimately there exist no path, no traveller, and no journey.

Although there are interesting differences between the explanations of action, conduct, and yoga tantras given in the texts of the new schools and those given in the texts of the ancient schools, these three systems are not discussed again at this point since their natures are essentially identical. Kongtrul’s treatment of the three inner tantras, mahayoga, anuyoga, and atiyoga, although very significant, is, regrettably, extremely concise.

In the ancient tradition, all highest yoga tantras are placed in the three series of inner tantras of mahayoga, anuyoga, and atiyoga. Although the tantras of mahayoga, with some exceptions such as the Guhyasamaja and Chandraguhyatilaka, differ from those of the new schools, their systems of practice, consisting of the phase of generation and the phase of completion, basically correspond to those of the new tradition’s highest yoga tantras. However, anuyoga and atiyoga are peculiar to the ancient tradition and are not found in the new schools.

Longchenpa’s statement, “Mahayoga, the father tantra... Anuyoga, the mother tantra... Atiyoga, the nature of nonduality...,” shows the correlation between the three subdivisions of the highest tantra of the new tradition and the three inner tantras of the ancient tradition. T his does not mean that they are equivalent but indicates certain resemblances: father tantra of the new tradition and mahayoga of the ancient both emphasize the phase of generation; and mother tantra of the new tradition and anuyoga of the ancient, the phase of completion. In anuyoga, however, is taught the special principle of instantaneous perfection in both the phase of generation and the phase of completion, a feature not found in mahayoga or in the tantras of the new schools, whose application of these two phases is gradual.

As for the distinctive views of the inner tantras, mahayoga asserts that all phenomena are the magical display of the simultaneity of emptiness and appearance. Anuyoga asserts that all phenomena are the creative energy of the indivisibility of essential reality and pristine awareness. Atiyoga asserts that all phenomena are the very manifestation of primordial and naturally present pristine awareness.

Kongtrul next sets forth all aspects of mahayoga or “great yoga,” beginning with its essence, name, and initiation, up to its result. T he initiation that is fundamental for entering the path of this tantra is that of the Guhyagarbha, or Essence of Secrets, the root scripture of this system. T he entrance to mahayoga through application of the three contemplations consists in the contemplation of the essential nature, whereby one remains in a state of nonconceptual contemplation, vast as the sky; the contemplation of the total vision, whereby there

arises illusory compassion for all beings who are fettered due to nescience; and the contemplation of symbols, whereby one visualizes seed-syllables, such as the syllable hum, the nature of one’s awareness, from which divine manifestations arise. Although mahayoga asserts that all things are already in the state of enlightenment, in order to understand this fully, one transforms the impure karmic view into pure divine vision by way of the three contemplations.

In the system of mahayoga, all phenomena are understood to be the indivisibility of the relative and ultimate truths. In particular, mahayoga speaks of the superior ultimate truth as the ineffable state of total presence, and the superior relative truth as the creative energy of that presence manifesting as the mandala of male and female deities. T his view is approached by way of the four understandings, namely, the axioms of the identical cause, mode of letters, empowering energy, and direct cognizance.

T he first is the understanding that all phenomena share an identical cause, or nature: all are indistinguishable in that, on the ultimate level, they have never being born, and on the relative level, they manifest like a magical illusion. T his is an explanation in common with the universal way as it uses the terminology of the two truths, ultimate and relative. T he understanding through the axiom of the mode of letters is knowing, through the system of mantra, that everything is already in a state of enlightenment. T he understanding through the axiom of empowering energy is the realization that arises from the first two understandings. T he direct cognizance is that which is based on wisdom and does not contradict the scriptures or esoteric instructions.

This approach to the view is mentioned in the Guhyagarbha and expanded upon in Padmasambhava’s Garland of Views: A Collection of Esoteric Instructions (Man ngag lta ba’i phreng ba), where the four understandings are explained in the context of understanding the view of the great perfection (rdzogs chen). In the Treasury of Key Instructions is Kongtrul’s own commentary on Padmasambhava’s text entitled Sunlight, which provides an interpretation of the basic text according to the principles of the tantras of the new schools. Rongzom’s commentary on the Garland of Views is perhaps more direct and conforms to the approach of the ancient tradition and, in particular, to that of the great perfection system.

Along with the four understandings, there are presented other approaches to the view. T he axiom of the three purities, for example, establishes that the elements, aggregates, and consciousnesses are already in a state of enlightenment in being the consorts, the buddhas of the five families, and the five pristine awarenesses.

Kongtrul then gives an overview of the meditation systems based on the tradition of the eight sadhanas, or “means of attainment,” of mahayoga, the first five of which are associated with a particular enlightened deity, and the last three associated with mundane forces. Another aspect of meditation in mahayoga is that which accords with the tantra tradition, comprising the path of method and the path of liberation. In the path of method (thabs lam), grounded in a firm understanding of the view, one performs actions that normally would bind

one to conditioned existence and applies oneself to the “upper door” (steng sgo) practice of inner heat and the “lower door” (’og sgo) practice with a real consort. T he path of liberation (sgrol lam) is differentiated according to the levels of faculties of practitioners into two, the simultaneous and the sequential. In the first, realization is gained simultaneous with the time of initiation or with an introduction to one’s original nature. In the sequential or gradual approach, a practitioner attains realization by applying the three characteristics, namely, the characteristic of knowledge or realization of the view through the four understandings mentioned above, the characteristic of application or familiarity with that view, and the characteristic of the result, actual awakening.

Anuyoga is a method taught for those who have the capacity to contemplate in the state of total presence all that is taught in the tantras, with no stages in the generation of the deity or in the completion phase. In this system, the practitioner, rather than meditating on either the nonconceptual state of ultimate reality or the mandala of the deity, contemplates these two simultaneously. T he

initiation to introduce one to this tantra is that of the All-Unifying Pure Presence (Kun ’dus rig pa’i mdo), a peculiarity of which is that it comprises the initiations empowering one in the anuyoga methods of the nine ways. T hese exceptional methods give rise to the particular experiences and certainties that come from these nine paths.

The view of anuyoga is that all phenomena are primordially perfect enlightenment, and that perfect enlightenment is the mandala of original bodhichitta, pure and perfect mind. Crucial to this view is the understanding that the original pure mind is the indivisibility of three mandalas, namely, the mandala of primordial suchness, the mandala of the spontaneously perfect nature, and the mandala of original bodhichitta. T he mandala of primordial suchness is the space of total emptiness, mind nature in which all things, pure and impure, manifest. T he mandala of the spontaneously perfect nature is pristine awareness which is unceasingly present in that dimension of emptiness. T he mandala of original bodhichitta is great bliss, the “offspring” of the indissoluble union of the ultimate dimension of phenomena and pristine awareness, the two previous mandalas.

In this tantra, we also find the path of method of the upper and lower doors, as well as the path of liberation which consists in remaining in the state of contemplation on the natures of the three mandalas. T his contemplation can be entered by three different methods: analysis, remaining in one’s natural state, and contemplation of a deity generated all at once through the simple utterance of the seed-syllable or mantra.

In the ancient tradition, atiyoga is considered to be the highest of all paths. It directly releases the individual in the very state that is primordial enlightenment. Kongtrul explains that it is called “supreme yoga” because of being the perfection or finality of the phase of generation and completion, or because it stands as the summit of all ways. T hat being the case, atiyoga can be understood as the [[final

result]] of the other paths, or as atiyoga per se, an independent way or system, also known as “great perfection” (rdzogs chen). As the final result of all paths, atiyoga is considered to be tantra, but as an independent system, it does not fit into that category since it does not incorporate the ten topics that constitute a tantric teaching. Moreover, the atiyoga system is based on the principle of self-liberation, not that of transformation, which is the underlying principle of all tantras.

T his system is entered by means of the “initiation of the creative energy of total presence” (rig pa’i rtsal dbang). T his is more of an introduction than a tantric initiation: one is introduced, right from the start, to one’s real condition. It does not need to be preceded by the first three initiations of highest yoga tantra (vase, secret, and pristine awareness through wisdom), nor does it need as its precondition the third initiation which reveals the example pristine awareness.

As for the view of atiyoga, Kongtrul presents first the general view of atiyoga, followed by its distinctions. Other systems explain that when mind is bound by illusion, there is cyclic life, while when mind is free of illusion and gains understanding, there is enlightenment. T his view is not shared by the atiyoga system, which asserts that everything that exists—all phenomena included in cyclic life and perfect peace—has always been the total sphere of naturally present pristine awareness. Since the stains of the afflictions

have never existed, there are no obstacles to clear away and no qualities to develop. All phenomena are perfect from the beginning in the state of essential identity, with no need for acceptance or rejection, prohibitions or remedies: this view of primordial enlightenment is known as the great perfection. T he specific and subtle distinctions of that general view correspond to the three divisions of atiyoga (mind, vast space, and esoteric instructions).

Kongtrul points out that meditation in atiyoga takes three forms: Meditation according to the mind division is to remain in the state of total presence and emptiness. Meditation in the vast space division is to remain in the state of one’s own true nature, with no action or effort. Meditation in the esoteric instructions division is to remain in the state of primordial freedom, beyond renunciation and acceptance. Conduct in atiyoga is explained to be spontaneous—resembling that of a madman, with no restrictions whatsoever—born from the realization that whatever is encountered arises as the expressive energy of one’s own true nature. T he result is to arrive at the place of primordial freedom, spontaneously perfect Samantabhadra, present even now.

T he final sections in the discussion of the ancient tradition include a survey of the various scriptures of the three inner tantras and the scriptures of the mind, vast space, and esoteric instructions divisions of the great perfection. T his is followed by an overview of the exposition methods used in mahayoga, both tantras and sadhanas, and anuyoga. Lastly, Kongtrul points out the way the [[great

perfection]] atiyoga tantras are expounded using five teachings on the path for which there are examples, and one teaching on the result—spontaneous perfection which needs not be sought, the original buddha—for which there is no example but can be directly pointed out as one’s natural condition.


T he present text—written by a most highly respected and authoritative teacher and covering the vast range of Buddhist tantras in both the new and ancient schools of Tibetan Buddhism—is one of the first of its kind to be translated into English. T he translation involved a number of difficulties. First, with languages as different from each other as Tibetan is from English, a mechanical translation from the words of one to the words of the other is just not possible. Grammatical differences, differences in how words are formed, and differences in idiomatic usage make such translations stilted at best, misleading at worst. Paraphrasing is necessary to ensure that the actual meaning of the Tibetan is conveyed accurately and appropriately in readable English.

Second, in Tibetan philosophical and religious texts, one word may have a range of meanings according to context and system of thought. T he educated Tibetan reader was aware of the different contexts and systems. T he English reader, however, does not have the background or reference points. Sometimes these differences are slight and the right word in English can carry the range. Other times, the differences in meaning are so great that the translator has no choice but to use different words in English if the work is to be intelligible. T he reader is, in this context, dependent on the understanding of the translator: if the translator’s understanding is accurate, no meaning is lost and the text may even be enriched.

T hird, translations and translators also evolve. As a text is translated and retranslated, later translations are informed by the work of their predecessors and produce richer results. As his or her familiarity, experience, and ability grow, a translator will find better words, phrases, and constructions to convey meaning accurately from one language to another. Such evolution is important, as to lay out the standards a priori would result in lifeless and probably inaccurate renderings. T he standards evolve spontaneously and the quality of translation improves accordingly. In keeping with this principle, we have changed the way we translated certain words and phrases in our earlier work. Our intention is to produce more clarity, not more confusion.

Fourth, Tibetan is a cryptic language. Its written form was developed explicitly as a vehicle for translating Indian Buddhism texts into Tibetan. It is an extraordinary medium for expressing profound and subtle inner teachings in a few words. Knowledge of words and grammar are often not sufficient to grasp the meaning of what is being expressed because the texts were usually supported by oral explanations and commentary. In addition, the texts do not come with explicative notes as the reader was expected to know or be able to refer to other texts. With the passage of time, however, both the tradition of oral commentary and general familiarity with other texts have declined. One of the consequences of this decline is that a well-translated English text with proper explicative notes may well be more comprehensible and useful than its Tibetan counterpart.

Fifth, Kongtrul is an extremely succinct writer. With his vast familiarity with Tibetan Buddhist literature and being able to assume familiarity in the reader, he expresses ideas with such conciseness that often only an idea of what he is saying is possible. Kongtrul’s intended meaning becomes clear only when the original text he had in mind has been identified and read. For the translator, the choice is in how cumbersome to make the translation, either expanding the text or providing explanation in endnotes. T he current translation has been augmented with copious notes so that the reader has the reference material and information that the translators used to arrive at the translation. In many cases, the reference material is not yet available in English.

Finally, Kongtrul does not always indicate his sources. In such situations, the translators have relied on Kongtrul’s own explanations in other books that he wrote, reasoning that the utilization of these resources would keep the translation as close as possible to the author’s intent. For the sections on the highest yoga tantra of the new schools, these include works such as his Commentary on the Jewel Affinity, Commentary on Rangjung Dorjé’s Profound Inner Reality, Phrase by Phrase Commentary on the Hevajra Tantra, and Topical Commentary on the Hevajra Tantra. When explanations could not be found in Kongtrul’s own work, we relied on texts that he has cited, including the tantras and their commentaries, as well as other commentaries that we have found clearer on certain points or that were simply available to us. T hese texts are listed among the reference works at the end of this book. We have checked the citations as much as possible to prevent errors in their reporting.

In preparing this translation, two editions of the text were consulted: the modern Beijing edition in three-volume book form (Beijing: rDo rje rGyal po and Thub bstan Nyi ma, 1985) and Kyabjé Bokar Rinpoché’s personal copy of the Palpung woodblock print (dPal spungs Thub bstan Chos ’khor gling). Tibetan and Sanskrit names appear in phoneticized forms in the translated text. Tibetan words—personal names, terms, text titles, and so on— transliterated in accordance with the Turrell Wylie system and Sanskrit words transliterated with diacritical marks are to be found in parentheses in the endnotes and in the Bibliography of Works Cited by Author and Reference Bibliography.


T he translation of the Treasury of Knowledge was Kyabjé Kalu Rinpoché’s most ambitious literary project. It was his intention that an English rendering of the Treasury would lay the foundation for its translation into many languages. During the winters of 1988 and 1989 Rinpoche summoned his students from several countries to gather at Bodhgaya, the site of the Buddha’s awakening, to initiate this project. He encouraged us to continue the work full time at his main seat, Samdrup Dargyé Chöling, in Sonada, West Bengal.

Following Kalu Rinpoché’s death in 1989, responsibility for the project fell to Kyabjé Bokar Rinpoché, crown ornament of the Kagyu lineage, who revitalized it by inviting individuals to choose particular sections of the Treasury and see them through to publication.

Work on the present volume, Systems of Buddhist Tantra, began nearly a decade later. Much of the research and translation was done at K alu Rinpoché’s monastery where we had access to the library’s complete editions of the Kangyur and Tengyur. We travelled regularly to nearby Bokar Ngedhon Choekhor Ling in Mirik to study the entire text with the elucidation of Kyabjé Bokar Rinpoché and Khenpo Lodrö Dönyö. Despite their numerous commitments, these teachers gave generously of their time, tirelessly sharing their knowledge as well as the written commentaries from their personal libraries. Moreover, in the fall of 1998 in the auspicious place of Tso Pema (Mandi), Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoché, one of the greatest living masters of the great perfection teachings, gave one of the translators a word-by-word explanation of the Nyingma tantra section of the text. We also received clarification on several obscure points from Dodrupchen Rinpoché in Gangtok, Sikkim and from D enma Lochö Rinpoché in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.

T he completion of this complex work would not have been possible without the help of these great masters and scholars. We would like to express our appreciation to others who contributed to this book: Adriano Clemente and Jim Valby, who offered valuable suggestions on a number of passages in the Nyingma section; Lama Karma Thinley, Ken McLeod, and Paul Fanning, who have benefited the project each in a very different and substantial way; and our editor Susan Kyser, to whom we wish to give special acknowledgment for her painstaking work on the final manuscript. Our thanks also to Sidney Piburn of Snow Lion Publications and to Eric Colombel of Tsadra Foundation for their unwavering interest in the publication of the entire Treasury series. May this work, in some small way, repay the kindness of our spiritual guide Kyabjé Kalu Rinpoché who gave us the opportunity to study this exceptional treatise, and whose commitment to its dissemination has inspired and supported our labors.



This discussion consists of two parts: a general statement; and the detailed discussion.


The meaning of this way is epitomized in these three:

The nature of tantra, forms of meditation, and the methods of exposition of tantric scriptures.

The indestructible way is of vast and profound meaning and is therefore limitless in scope. Nonetheless, this way is epitomized in three aspects: the nature of tantra; forms of meditation on its meaning; and methods of exposition of the tantric scriptures that express [the meaning].


This section has two parts: the nature of tantra; and instructions concerning exposition methods. THE NATURE OF TANTRA

This is presented in three parts: the points that form the bases for the distinctiveness of tantra in the mantra way; an analysis of the distinctions between sutra and mantra; and ascertaining the exceptional nature of the mantra system.


This has four parts: the essence of tantra; synonyms for tantra; its nature; and divisions.


Tantra denotes mantra and its procedures, as well as the means for teaching it. T he term tantra denotes the content, or the nature of the mantra [way] itself, and the procedures that constitute the methods to accomplish that [way]. In addition, tantra denotes that which expresses it, that is, the collection of the words of the Buddha that expounds the meaning of the mantra [way], referred to by the nametantra collection of teachings of the indestructible way.”


It has various names such as the mantra collection of teachings and the way of mantra. Tantras of worldly beings are not included here.

Tantra has many different names. It is called the “mantra collection of teachings” and the “way of mantra” since it yields powers through the use of mantras and mudras; and the “awareness-holder collection of teachings” since the deity, mantra, and pristine awareness of great bliss are all [of the nature of] awareness, and it is by these profound means that awareness is “grasped.” According to an alternative perspective, tantra is the “way of the awareness-holder” because its collection of mantric practices leads to the attainment of the resultant state of awareness-holder within this same life; and the “indestructible way” since the three indestructible states [of awakened body, speech, and mind] are actualized through the indestructible path of the indivisibility of method and wisdom.

Tantra uses the causes for the attainment of full enlightenment, such as the thirty-seven factors conducive to awakening,19 as means of cultivating the path. Hence, it is designated as “causal way” in terms of [the way of] characteristics. Moreover, tantra uses on the path, right from the present time, the forms of the result [[[awakening]]], such as the celestial palace, deities, and their sense enjoyments. H ence, it is designated as “resultant way” in terms of the mantra [way].

Another perspective is this: In tantra, the emptiness endowed with the supreme of all aspects serves as the cause [of immutable bliss]. T his emptiness is the principal teaching of the way of the perfections. H ence, tantra is designated as “causal way” in terms of that way. Moreover, immutable great bliss abides in the nature of the result [produced by the emptiness endowed with the supreme of all aspects]. T his immutable bliss is the principal teaching of the mantra way. H ence, tantra is designated as “resultant way” in terms of the mantra way.

Other synonyms include the “way of method” because it has greater and more numerous techniques than the way of the perfections; “secret way” since it must be hidden from proclaimers and others who are not suitable recipients; and “continuum” because it is unceasingly present throughout the ground, path, and result.

Mantras and tantras [created] by worldly beings are ordinary mantra and tantra and therefore not included here within the indestructible way, or within its collection of teachings.


Its nature is to teach principally the path of awareness mantras and its result. T he nature of the way of mantra is to teach principally the path of application of awareness mantras and the ensuing result. Therefore, if one cultivates the path through mantra, one must certainly do so relying on mantra and tantra application.


The two categories of mantra are the mundane and supramundane. They differ in that the first is nominal; the latter, authentic. The mundane mantra comprises what was created by ordinary beings;

That which leads to definite assurance, the highest states in the three realms; And the support for the mind, the paths of accumulation and preparation, along with their collection of teachings. Tantra in the mantra way may be divided into two general categories: the mundane way and the supramundane way. These differ in that the former is a nominal mantra way because its culmination is not a stable one; it does not represent definite assurance; and its time and place are ephemeral. T he latter, the supramundane mantra, is the authentic way because it is endowed with characteristics opposite to those of the mundane way.

Tantra of the mundane way category is of three types: the mundane mantra per se; the mantra that leads to definite assurance; and the mantra that is the support for the mind.

T he first, the mundane mantra way per se, was created by Maheshvara, anchorites, gods, elemental spirits, secretive yakshas,23 mantric adepts, and other ordinary beings. T his is the actual mundane way. T he second is the mundane mantra way that leads to definite assurance—that of the states of awareness-holders of the desire and form realms,24 and the formless states which are highest within the three realms—reached through application of mantras. [T his way] is derived from the awareness-holder collection of teachings. T he third is the mundane way as the support for the mind [of higher paths]25 consisting in the tantric path of accumulation and path of preparation.

T he latter two types belong also to the supramundane category, and all of the tantras that transmit these teachings belong to the collection of teachings of the supramundane category. Even tantras created by exalted beings through their own inspiration do indeed belong to the supramundane category. T hose tantras are not, however, designated [part of] the collection of teachings of the supramundane category.


There are three parts to this detailed analysis of the distinctions between sutra and tantra: the viewpoints of Indian masters and an encapsulation of those viewpoints; division into four categories based on sutra and tantra content; and the main distinction according to Tibetan scholars.


Tantra is distinct from sutra, not in its ultimate aim, which is identical, But in its clarity, abundance of methods, and lack of hardships. It is intended for one of sharp faculties. ... What distinguishes the mantra way from the way of sutra? T heir ultimate result or goal—dynamic perfect peace27—is identical. H owever, the mantra way is distinctive due to the clarity of its methods, the abundance of these methods, and the freedom from hardships in the practice of them.

To explain, the way of mantra is one of clarity in its methods, such as meditation on the deity and mantra recitation, which have been preceded by the conferral of initiation as entrance to the [[[tantric]]] path.

Mantra offers not only clear methods, but also an abundance of them, not simply one method. T his is due to there being an infinity of approaches within the different sets of tantraaction, conduct, and so forth—appropriate to the level of the practitioner’s faculties. T he sutra way as well could be considered to have numerous methods, but it is a path that necessitates undergoing hardships such as asceticism and [the observance of] vows and is therefore a difficult one. In contrast, the methods of the mantra way, when applied according to one’s own inclinations, lead to the attainment of bliss by means of bliss. T hus, [[[mantra]]] is superior in that it is a path travelled with little difficulty, free of hardship.

If tantric methods are so clear, abundant, and free from hardship, why did the Buddha not reveal [the way of mantra] to all his followers? [T he answer is that] the Buddha did not teach [simply] because he possessed the knowledge, but imparted teachings suited to [the disciples’] faculties.

Students who would be qualified to receive instructions on the mantra way are the sharpest of the sharp, while someone suited to being taught the way of the perfections is of low faculties compared to a practitioner of mantra, and thus not worthy of being a student of the mantra way. In the course of time, however, everyone without exception will qualify to be a practitioner of mantra, according to the logic expressed in the words of [[[Dharmakirti’s]]] Treatise on Valid Cognition, which states:28

Since [the inference] is indirectly related To the object....29 Similarly, Tripitakamala’s Lamp of the Three Modes states:30 Though the aim is identical, the way of mantra

Is superior by virtue of being clear, Abundant in methods, devoid of hardships, And intended for persons of sharp faculties.31 ... According to the master Jnanashri,

Tantra is distinguished by its eleven forms of skillful methods. Indrabhuti notes its seven special features; and Jnanapada, its practitioner, path, and result. Shantipa states that mantra and perfections do not differ in ultimate truth, But mantra has greater depth and vastness in relative truth.

Most believe that the distinction lies with the subject, not object. Other distinctions between mantra and sutra are specified by the master Jnanashri [in his Dispelling the Two Extremes in the Indestructible Way]:32

Tantra is superior by virtue of its eleven forms of skillful methods: the methods that rely on unsurpassable scriptures; unsurpassable practice; unsurpassable pristine awareness; and unsurpassable diligence; the power to uplift all of one’s followers; the methods to bless [[[transform]]] emotional afflictions; to swiftly impart blessing; to swiftly attain liberation; to overcome emotional afflictions; the methods of unsurpassable disposition; and unsurpassable conduct.

Indrabhuti maintains that mantra’s distinctiveness lies in seven special features: the teacher, the recipient [of the teachings], rituals, activations, pledges, views, and conduct.34 T he master Buddhajnanapada states:

The way of mantra is extraordinary in three aspects: practitioner, path, and result. Furthermore, the master Shantipa [in his Presentation of the Three Ways] states that the way of mantra and that of the perfections do not differ in terms of ultimate truth. T he two ways differ, however, in that the relative truth has comparatively greater depth and vastness in the mantra way. He explains:

Its focus is vast in that whatever appears is meditated upon as divine. Its support is vast because exceptional blessing occurs when one conscientiously upholds the pledges prescribed by the buddhas of the three times. Its conduct is vast, being modelled on the altruistic activities of buddhas and bodhisattvas and their purificatory blessing of realms.

T he ways followed by centrists and experientialists, as well as by proclaimers and solitary sages, lack these three special features of focus, support, and conduct. Therefore, centrists and experientialists can attain awakening only after three inestimably long aeons; and proclaimers and solitary sages, only after four. Because mantra does have these special features, its practitioners can attain awakening in a short time. T hus, mantra is profoundly different. On this subject, Atisha, in his Summation of Pledges, states:38 Mantra is superior to all other ways, greater than even the universal way. In answer to why this is so, the venerable Nagarjuna describes seven features that distinguish it:

Mantra bears the seal of Samantabhadra in that everything is understood to be the dimension of reality.40 It is possessed of blessing, being made the object of veneration by the oathbound great worldly gods and their host of attendants. It leads to the swift attainment of powers since the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times are aware [of the practitioner] and impart their blessings. It

provides relief and freedom from the perils of cyclic existence and the lower forms of life since its sphere of experience is identical to that of the joyful ones. It allows no hindrances whatsoever since a [[[mantric]]] practitioner possesses an indestructible mind of awakening, with body, speech, and mind being undifferentiated from those of a buddha. Its pledges are never violated due to the practitioner’s conviction in the intrinsic purity of all outer and inner phenomena. Should a violation occur, the pledge is naturally restored. These are the distinctions of the mantra way.

As to the general distinction between the two ways, the mantra and the perfections have the same object: [[[emptiness]]] which transcends concepts. T he difference lies in the subject [that apprehends emptiness]. In mantra, the subject is [the mind of] great bliss used as method. The majority [of Indian scholars] agree on this point. At the same time, there seem to be many different specifications of the distinctions between the two that have been posited by various masters.

Its distinctiveness is encapsulated in three features: the practitioner with three qualifications, A path with three distinctions in method, and the resultant state of union.

Any of the different specifications based on those perspectives is certainly acceptable. T he intrepid master Karma Trinlé42 and others, encapsulating those various viewpoints, set forth three features that distinguish mantra from the perfections: the individual who will be its practitioner; the path to be travelled; and the result or goal.

First, the practitioner of mantra is distinguished by three qualifications: sharpness of faculties in that he or she enters a path that swiftly yields its result; a mental continuum ripened by the appropriate initiation; and [[[conscientiousness]] in] safeguarding the pledges from their root and branch downfalls. A mantra practitioner must definitely possess these three qualifications, whereas this is not required of followers of other ways.

Second, the path of mantra is distinguished in three ways: its methods are abundant; they are clear; and they are free from hardships.

As to the first, its abundance of methods, mantra does not dispense with any of the different methods taught in the way of the perfections, such as the awakening mind and the six perfections. In addition to those methods, mantra sets forth techniques connected to the four sets of tantra that are far more numerous and profound than those of the perfections. These include ways to gain inconceivable powers through the various practices of an infinite [number] of deity yogas: familiarization with, and attainment of, [the state of the deity], implementation of activations, methods to elicit results if these are not forthcoming, and activities to enhance realizations.

T he second, the clarity of its methods, is due to these methods being not in the least obscure. Every aspect of practice—the object of familiarization [i.e., the deity], the practitioner of familiarization, the forms of familiarization, recitation [of mantras], food offerings, fire-offering rituals, and so forth—is explained in detail and with utmost clarity.

The third, freedom from hardships in [the practice of] the methods, is because the mantra way produces its result within one lifetime or in just a few lifetimes while practice of the sutra way leads to accomplishment only after such periods of time as three inestimably long aeons. Concerning the third feature, that of the goal or result of mantra, a direct result will be distinguished according to the particular quality of its direct cause. T he culmination of the path of training in the way of the perfections gives rise to none other than the mantric

path of training in the mind of its practitioner.44 Therefore, the ultimate direct result of the perfections is not full awakening. T he culmination of all aspects of the path of training in the mantra way directly yields the result of full awakening. That being the case, the fully awakened state is the direct result solely of the culmination of the mantric path of training since full awakening is the ultimate [[[state]]] of the path of mantra: union beyond training.

T his completes Karma Trinlé’s encapsulation of the distinctions between sutra and tantra.


Of four categories, sutra, tantra, both, and neither, The mantra collection, which uses the result in the path, is distinguished. A general classification based on sutra and tantra content yields four categories: sutra, tantra, both sutra and tantra, and neither sutra nor tantra. The sutra category largely includes such texts as the increasing-by-one scriptures class.46 T he tantra category includes the application of the garuda class of scriptures and others.47 T he both-sutra-and-tantra category comprises the mantra collection of teachings. T he neither-sutra-nor-tantra category includes [treatises on] sophistic debates, and similar works. Of these, the mantra collection of teachings, known as “that which uses the result in the path” because it applies the specialty of deity yoga, should alone be considered as endowed with the distinctive features explained above. This discussion on the four categories is an ancillary topic


Mantra is superior by virtue of its swiftness, which is due to five reasons; four sources of bliss; And its skillful methods in the three trainings and all spheres of experience.

Of all the distinctions between sutra and mantra that have been drawn by Tibetan masters, whatever their number, the main ones are described in the oral teachings of the great adept Buddhagupta.48 These are expressed by the venerable master of Jonang [[[Taranata]]] in this way:49

Due to its swiftness, bliss, and skillful methods, it is said to be superior. To expand on this, mantra is superior to sutra in swiftness. It is swift in that [through mantra], enlightenment is achieved in the time [period] of the present lifetime or within seven lifetimes, and so forth. Furthermore, it is swift by virtue of the following five reasons: the presence of merits acquired through special [[[tantric]]] rituals whereby deities actually receive and enjoy offerings made to them;50 the creation, through the power of mantras, of merits equal to the grains of sand in the Ganges River through just a single

“water-drop” [of practice]; the manifest [application of] contemplation whereby [even] beginners stop impure appearances and create pure realms; the ripening of sentient beings by means of each of the single features of mantra or contemplation (these special reasons apply even to someone who has merely embarked on the way of mantra); and the wisdom that, through the principles of both relative and ultimate truth, focuses upon the aspect of the result [of awakening], the form of which is the sphere of experience of contemplation (these are present from the beginning until the end [of the mantra way]).

Mantra is superior to sutra in bliss, which means the absence of any coarse physical or mental feelings. There are four [sources of] bliss: the attainment of a body possessed of six fortunes;51 the development of many miraculous powers and contemplations; the buddhasmanifest presence [near the practitioner] due to the power of mantras; and the fulfillment of all the wishes of beings by means of mantra and tantra application.

Mantra is superior to sutra by virtue of its skillful methods, which are applied to the three trainings [of ethics, contemplation, and wisdom], as well as to all spheres of experience. Specifically, the ethics of mantra delights the deities, being equal to that of awareness-holders. Contemplation in the mantra way is connected to a superior sphere of experience. T he wisdom of mantra is distinguished by its profundity and vastness both in common and extraordinary [aspects], as are the other two trainings. Furthermore, the skillful methods of deity and mantra are applied to all spheres of experience. H ence, mantra is said to be extraordinary.


This section has four parts: identification of the essence of mantra; the meaning of the term mantra; a general presentation of divisions within mantra and tantra; and a detailed discussion of the systems of the four sets of tantra. IDENTIFICATION OF THE ESSENCE OF MANTRA [aa] Its essence is the union of emptiness and compassion. T he essence of mantra is the union of wisdom (emptiness) and method (great compassion). T his is stated in the Kalachakra Root Tantra:

Mantra is so called because it serves as a protection For the elements of body, speech, and mind. T he term mantra denotes the immutable: T he pristine awareness of emptiness.

Mantra arising from merit and pristine awareness H as the nature of emptiness and compassion.


The meaning of mantra is to protect the mind from conceptual objectification. From an etymological perspective, the meaning of the [[[Sanskrit]]] term mantra is explained as follows: man [the first syllable] means “mind” and traya, “to protect,” hence “mantra” (sngags), since it protects the mind from conceptual objectification. T he Continuation of the Guhyasamaja Tantra states:

Whatever mind arises in dependence on T he sense powers and their objects: T hat mind is referred to as “man” And “tra” means that which protects it.

Whatever vows and pledges are considered To be completely free from worldly conduct And safeguarded by all of the vajras: T hose are referred to as “mantric conduct.”

From the perspective of a direct translation, mantra means “secret utterance” because it is accomplished with secrecy and in concealment; or, from another perspective, because it cannot be understood by those unqualified to be its practitioners. T hus, it is called “secret mantra” (gsang sngags). Accordingly, the master Shraddhakaravarman’s Short Guide to the Meaning of Highest Yoga Tantra explains:56

It is secret because its practices are accomplished with secrecy and in concealment, or because it cannot be understood by unqualified persons.


In this section, there are two parts: the forms of [practice of] mantra; and divisions of tantras.


This section has two parts: the main discussion; and an ancillary statement on the distinction between mantra and tantra.


The three forms of practice are the best, the lesser, and the secondary; In essence, great bliss, pride of being the deity, and mantra with its applications. Alternatively, the seven forms are the complete, partial, special, Initial bliss, almost complete, some measure, and slight great bliss.

T here are three forms of mantra [practice], the best, the lesser, and the secondary. T he essence of the best form is great bliss; that of the lesser, the pride of being the deity; and that of the secondary, mere mantric rituals and applications. T he first is exemplified by the phase of completion; the second, by the phase of generation; and the third, by the means for accomplishing minor activations.57 T he best and lesser forms represent the authentic mantra way because they pertain to the principles, or vows, of the mantra way and the awareness-holder. T he latter is merely nominal.

Alternatively, seven forms of mantra are explained: the complete path, the partial one, the special one, initial bliss, almost complete great bliss, some measure of great bliss, and slight great bliss. All these forms are indeed designated as great bliss, and since this great bliss is the complete path itself, these do not need to be distinguished as separate [[[forms]]].


Mantra refers to secret mantra and blissful pristine awareness. Its applications as activations and powers are considered tantra. Both the way itself and the means to express it are known as tantra. How does one differentiate between mantra and tantra? All aspects of secret mantra and the pristine awareness of great bliss are referred to as mantra.

Applications of secret mantra (the collections of [[[rituals]]] for activations and powers) are known as tantra. H owever, the tantras (continuums) of the ground, path, and result (the content of mantra), as well as the collection of teachings that express and expound [the meaning of mantra], are referred to as tantra. T hus, there are contexts in which no distinction is made between mantra and tantra.


2' The Divisions of Tantra ['] a' A General Presentation of the D ifferent D ivisions of Tantra b' A D etailed D iscussion of the Rationale for Tantra’s Division into Four Sets

[This chapter is a continuation of the discussion of the exceptional nature of the mantra system and the divisions within mantra and tantra. Presented here is] part two, the divisions of tantra. T his begins with a general presentation of the different ways tantra is divided, followed by a detailed discussion of the rationale for tantra’s division into four sets.


Tantra is divided in many ways: into two sets, outer and inner; Into three, action, conduct, and yoga; into four, five, six, and more. In answer to how many divisions exist within the tantric [system] of the secret mantra way, there are ways of dividing tantra into two sets (outer and inner) right up to a division into seven.

First, reference to the division into two sets is found in the Indestructible Essence Ornament Tantra:1 T he divisions of tantra are to be understood By knowing its distinction into outer and inner. Moreover, the master Abhayakara states:

Hold in your heart the outer and inner tantras of Vajradhara T hat have been transmitted in a successive lineage. T he Teacher expanded methods such as mandala Into two separate sets of tantra.

It is clear from his Awn of Esoteric Instructions that Abhayakara maintains that, of the two sets of tantra spoken of, outer and inner, outer tantra refers to action and conduct tantras, and inner, to the yoga and highest yoga tantras. The master Buddhaguhya presents an alternative viewpoint: the twofold division of tantra refers to action tantra and yoga tantra. Action tantra comprises the Trisamayavyuha and other tantras up to and including the Vairochanabhisambodhi; and yoga tantra, the Summation of Essential Principles and other tantras up to and including the Guhyasamaja. These two sets are also called outer and inner. Buddhaguhya states:

Two sets of tantra, the outer and the inner, are explained. Certain scholars of Tibet differentiate these two sets of tantra on the basis of six factors, namely, teacher, place [where the tantra was taught], students, articles for offering, path, and essential principles.2 T he rationale for the division into outer tantra and inner tantra is that conduct tantra and the tantra below emphasize ablution and other outer physical and verbal activities, and are therefore considered outer tantras. Yoga tantra and the tantra above emphasize contemplation and other inner (mental) practices, and are therefore included within the inner set. T his accounts for the division of tantra into two sets.

Reference to the division of tantra into three sets is found in the Indestructible Essence Ornament Tantra:

Action tantra, tantra of both, and yoga tantra Which were spoken expressly are not like that. Buddhaguhya, Lilavajra, and Anandagarbha all explain that tantra has the three divisions of action, conduct (or tantra of both), and yoga tantra. T he rationale is that yoga and great yoga tantras are alike in their emphasis on contemplation, which is an inner practice, and are therefore subsumed under yoga tantra. T his accounts for the division of tantra into three sets. Gunabhadra’s Indestructible Nectar Commentary 5 presents an alternative way to divide tantra into three sets: Action, union (or yoga tantra), and secret tantra...

Reference to the division of tantra into four sets is found in the Indestructible Tent: Action tantra is for those of lesser [[[faculties]]];

Yoga without action, for those with greater [[[faculties]]]; Yoga tantra, for superior sentient beings And highest yoga tantra, for those even greater. In addition, Shraddhakaravarman’s Short Guide to the Meaning of Highest Yoga Tantra states:7 There are four entrances to the resultant indestructible way of secret mantra. These are generally known as action tantra, conduct tantra, yoga tantra, and highest yoga tantra.

Similar statements are found in most tantras and commentaries. Essentially the same way of division occasionally appears under a number of different names. T he Samputa Tantra [for example] states:

The four [[[Wikipedia:sexual|sexual]] pleasures of] laughing, gazing, Holding hands, and union are contained in the four tantras, Compared to the way of worms [in wood].9

A similar reference is found in [[[Pundarika’s]]] Stainless Light.10 The rationale for this [[[division]]] will be discussed below. Reference to the division of tantra into five is found in the Compendium on the Indestructible Pristine Awareness [[[Tantra]]]:

O Blessed One, what is the extent of the yoga tantra, tantra of both, conduct tantra, action tantra, and skills tantra? T he rationale for this division is as follows: T he basis for the division is action tantra in general, which is split into two. Action tantras that are concerned with attainment principally of the supreme power [[[awakening]]] are collectively designated as “action tantra.” Action tantras concerned with the attainment principally of ordinary powers12 are collectively designated as “skills tantra.” Although “tantra of both” generally refers to conduct tantra, Shraddhakaravarman considers yoga tantra to be the tantra of both since, in yoga tantra, inner contemplative yoga and outer activity both serve as auxiliaries to contemplation. Accordingly, here yoga tantra is given the designation of “tantra of both,” and the nameyoga tantra” is applied to the highest yoga tantra. T his accounts for the division of tantra into five sets. T his particular way of division of tantra is the one adhered to by Nagarjuna and other masters.

T he patriarchs of the Sakya school13 place what is referred to as the “sutra skills tantra” into a set separate from action tantra. All of the sutra teachings that are concerned with retention mantras (dharani) and related rites, the Blue Beryl Light Discourse and its Dharani,14 for example, constitute this set.

An alternative way of dividing tantra into five sets has as its source the Ocean of Sky-Farers Tantra, as well as Shantipa’s Presentation of the Three

Ways,15 and other works. H ere, the five sets are action tantra, conduct tantra, yoga tantra, great yoga tantra, and highest great yoga tantra. Great yoga tantra refers to the highest father tantra; and highest great yoga tantra, the highest mother tantra. A division of tantra into six sets places the skills tantra in a set separate from action tantra, and splits yoga tantra into two, father yoga tantra and mother yoga tantra. T he basis for this way of division is the Indestructible Tent:

The yogini tantra is known as the sixth tantra.

Another way of dividing tantra into six is explained in Tripitakamala’s Lam of the Three Modes.17 T he six are action tantra, root tantra, conduct tantra, yoga tantra, high yoga tantra, and highest yoga tantra. In this system, action tantra is subdivided: tantras that emphasize outer activity are considered action tantra; and those that do not, root tantra. As in the previous [Ocean of Sky-Farers Tantra’s] way of division, the father tantra and mother tantra are considered to be high yoga tantra and highest yoga tantra, respectively. T his accounts for the division of tantra into six sets.

Reference to the division into seven sets is found in Lord Atisha’s Commentary on the Lamp for the Path:18

T he names action tantra, conduct tantra, and so on, refer to action tantra, conduct tantra, skills tantra, tantra of both, yoga tantra, great yoga tantra, and highest yoga tantra.

T he rationale for this way of dividing tantra is that the action and conduct tantras that have as their major subject-matter the minor rites performed to gain [[[powers]] of] the pills, eye-elixir, and so on, are considered to be of a separate set, skills tantra. H ence, the Compendium of Skills and other tantras are considered as skills tantra.19 Tantras that have components of both conduct tantra (and the tantra set below) and the yoga tantra, such as the Net of Magical Manifestation and the Lord of the Lotus Dancers, are considered to be the tantra of both.20 Father tantra and mother tantra are considered to be the great yoga tantra and highest yoga tantra, respectively.21 This accounts for the division of tantra into seven sets. In addition, there are many ways in which further subdivision of these sets is asserted.


The division into four sets is widely accepted because tantras were taught In consideration of four kinds of recipients of the teachings, As well as the persons to be converted, different castes, faculties, Objects of purification, purificatory means, states, times, and other factors.

Of those [different ways of division], the one well known as “the four sets of tantra” is found in the words of the majority of Indian and Tibetan tantric masters. T he rationale for the division of tantra in this way [is explained as follows]:

Four sets of tantra were taught in consideration of the four different kinds of recipients of the teachings. A person whose inclination is [the performing of] many outer actions, such as ablution, cleanliness, and so on, is the intended practitioner of action tantra. Someone who is interested in essential reality and who prefers few outer rites is the intended practitioner of conduct tantra. One who considers many outer rites to be a source of distraction and is interested solely in meditation on essential reality is the intended practitioner of yoga tantra. A person interested in enjoying everything in the state of pristine awareness wherein method and wisdom are inseparable is the intended practitioner of highest yoga tantra.

Additionally, the four sets of tantra were taught in order to convert four kinds of followers of mistaken paths. By presenting the tantric teachings in accordance with the emotional patterns particular to these four kinds, individuals would be uplifted spiritually and led to the true path. To convert the devotees of Shiva who are dominated by desire, the highest yoga tantra was taught. To convert the devotees of Vishnu who are dominated by aversion, conduct tantra was taught. To convert the devotees of Brahma who are dominated by delusion, action tantra was taught. To convert persons with uncertain emotional patterns who accept the tenets of whichever of the three [H indu religious trends] they come in contact with, yoga tantra was taught. Nagarjuna, Subhutipalita, [[[Anandagarbha]],] and other masters are known to have asserted this rationale as found in the Summation of Essential Principles.

Moreover, tantra was taught in four sets to accommodate recipients who are members of the four castes, or who share their traits: Brahmins dominated by delusion who practice the doctrine of Brahma and who delight in a path involving cleanliness, recitation [of mantras] and liturgy, fire-offering rituals, and austerity; members of the merchant caste, dominated by pride, who practice the doctrine of the demi-gods and who delight in physical, verbal, and mental disciplines; members of the royal caste, [also dominated by

pride,] who follow the doctrine of the gods and who are incapable of [leading] an austere life, indulging instead in the many pleasures of court life, and who delight in exercising dominion over their kingdoms through sealed edicts; and persons belonging to the menial caste, dominated by both anger and desire, who practice sexual union and ritual killing in the cults of Maheshvara and other deities, and delight in engaging in various base acts, such as ingesting feces and urine, without any notions of purity and impurity. T he four sets, action tantra, and so on, were taught for practitioners who are members of these four castes, respectively, principally to spiritually nurture those who among them are of superior faculties. Accordingly, the Marvellous Cemetery [Ornament] states:23

To convert the brahmin caste, the merchant caste, T he royal caste, and the menial caste or outcastes, Tantra was presented in four parts:

Action, conduct, yoga, and highest yoga.

Furthermore, tantra’s division into four sets takes into consideration the faculties [of the recipients]. Action tantra was taught for those of low faculties; conduct tantra, for the average; yoga tantra, for the sharp; and highest yoga tantra, for the very sharp. T his is stated in the Indestructible Tent.

Another consideration in tantra’s fourfold division is the object of purification, the emotional afflictions, which may be slight, moderate, strong, and exceedingly strong in intensity. Accordingly, the Bright Lamp states: Action tantra is intended for the type of person with major or average delusion; conduct tantra, minimal delusion; yoga tantra, minimal or moderate desire, aversion, and delusion; higher yoga tantra, intense desire, aversion, and delusion; and yogini tantra, the most intense desire, aversion, and delusion.

T he higher yoga tantra and yogini tantra mentioned in this citation are both highest yoga tantra, and the emotional afflictions to be purified all belong to the category of exceedingly strong afflictions. T hus, there are actually just four [sets] being referred to. Furthermore, division into four sets is based on four forms of desire to be purified. These four desires which are experienced in the desire realm are mentioned in [[[Vasubandhu’s]]] Treasury [of Phenomenology]:

Sexual satisfaction is gained through intercourse, Holding hands, laughter, and gazing [at one’s partner]. To explain, gods of the desire realm in the heaven of Mastery over Others’ Creations experience sexual desire that is satisfied by gazing at the partner; gods in Enjoying Creations, by laughing; gods in Joyful and Free from Conflict, by holding hands; gods of the H eaven of the T hirty-three and below, as well as men and animals,25 by sexual intercourse. As remedies for sexual desire, the four sets of tantra were taught, each set providing a deity yoga that uses one of these particular forms of desire in the path.

Tantra’s division is posited in a [fourfold] order that also reflects the three aspects of the path, namely, the [different types of] view, meditation, and conduct that serve as purificatory means. The views are represented by the four major trends of Buddhist philosophy [that of the analysts, traditionists, idealists, and centrists] to which the action tantras and the other [three] tantras respectively correspond.27 T he meditations comprise four deity yogas, with distinctions in the meditations on the deity [according to the tantra]: Action tantra involves meditation on an external deity only; conduct tantra, in addition, involves meditation on an inner, naturally

present deity;28 yoga tantra, meditation on a deity that is the essence of oneself [as the deity] inseparable from [the external deity] in front; and the highest yoga tantra, meditation on the deity [as for yoga tantra] based on the knowledge that oneself [as the deity] and [the external deity in] front are inseparable in every respect. T he types of conduct comprise different degrees of physical, verbal, and mental [inner] activity. C onduct involving mainly engagement in physical and verbal activity is considered

to be action tantra; equal proportions of engagement in physical and verbal activity and inner contemplation, conduct tantra; engagement principally in inner contemplation, yoga tantra; and engagement principally in pristine awareness, highest yoga tantra. As pointed out in Kalachakra, the division of tantra into four sets takes into consideration the purified aspect of the four states of waking, dream, deep sleep, and sexual union;29 the four eras, which refers to the era of completeness, the era of three quarters, the era of two quarters, and the era of turmoil; and the four periods of the day and night.30 There are yet other bases for the fourfold division.

Thus, tantra has been taught in consideration of various factors, the recipients [of the teachings], and so forth, and therefore, [the division of tantra into] the “four sets of tantra” is widely accepted. As well, the four sets represent demarcations in sequence, caliber, and subtlety. Accordingly, the tantras state:

Based on the former, the latter arises. Because of levels from inferior to superior, And from the gross to the subtle... T he statement “Based on the former, the latter arises” is explained in [[[Hevajra Tantra]]] Two Examinations: 31 Teach the student the analysts’ philosophy And then the traditionists’ philosophy. After that, teach the experientialists’.

Following that, teach the central way. Once all methods of mantra are known, Teach [the tantra of] H evajra. T hus, one should understand that just as the four philosophies are learned sequentially, the four sets of tantra which nurture followers of these philosophies are also practiced in sequence. T he nondual highest tantra should be cultivated at the end of [the training in] the two highest tantras, that of method [father] and that of wisdom [mother].

The words “inferior to superior” are explained in the Indestructible Tent: 32

Action tantra is for those of lesser [[[faculties]]]; [[[Yoga]] without action, for those with greater faculties; Yoga tantra, for superior sentient beings And highest yoga tantra, for those even greater.] T he phrase “gross to the subtle” is understood from these words of the tantra: More secret than the secret, extremely secret, supremely secret...

The distinctive features particular to each of the four sets of tantra, such as the persons who are recipients [of the teachings], the initiations that constitute the entrances to the path, and so forth, will be [discussed] in detail below. What follow are the main features in a concise form:

T he distinctive features of action tantra are principally the physical performance of mudras whereby the practitioner swiftly accomplishes an awakened body; the verbal recitation of mantras to swiftly accomplish awakened speech; and inner meditation on the deity, to swiftly accomplish awakened mind and qualities.

The distinctive features of conduct tantra are principally the viewing of one’s body as the body of a perfect buddha, whereby the blessing of awakened body swiftly enters [one’s being]; viewing one’s speech as mantra, whereby the blessing of awakened speech swiftly enters; viewing one’s own mind as pristine awareness, whereby the blessing of awakened mind is swiftly received; and other features. [These blessings are received] because, by using in the path [the practice of] imagining oneself as a

buddha, awakened qualities are easily developed, and by using the result [of awakening] in the path, the two accumulations [of merit and pristine awareness] are swiftly brought to perfection. Furthermore, while methods that [require] complex preparations such as veneration of depictions of deities on cloth do perfect the two accumulations, making offerings to oneself [as the deity] and similar methods are performed more easily, and certainly bring about the perfection of the accumulations.

T he distinctive features of yoga tantra are principally the sealing of one’s body with the great seal of the body [of the deity]; the sealing of one’s speech with the doctrine seal of the [[[deity’s]]] speech; the sealing of one’s mind with the pledge seal of the [[[deity’s]]] mind; and the sealing of one’s actions with the seal of the [[[deity’s]]] activity,33 all of which lead to the practitioner’s swift achievement of [the state of] all the transcendent ones.

T he distinctive features of highest yoga tantra are principally its clarity in the profound meaning of the phase of completion; its infinity of profound methods in the phase of generation; its absence of hardships in the achievement of awakening through the practice of these two [phases]; and its being intended for persons of exceptionally sharp faculties by virtue of these features. C onsequently, the yogas of the two phases [of generation and completion] are distinctive features of highest yoga tantra only, not to be found in the other tantra sets. T his is the case because other tantras do not set forth a path that corresponds to the complete process of birth in cyclic existence, nor do they set forth a path of training that brings to perfection the authentic luminous clarity of death.34


dd. The Systems of the Four Sets of Tantra [I.B.2.a.iii.dd] 1' The Content a' Action Tantra i' T he Meaning of the Name and the Essence of Action Tantra ii' Divisions iii' T he Entrance to Action Tantra: Initiations iv' Vows and Pledges to Be Observed v' Practice of the Path aa' Entering bb' Approaching

1 Auxiliary Elements 2 Main Elements: Four Essential Principles in the Practice of Familiarization a Oneself b T he D eity c Mantra Recitation d Meditative Absorption i D welling in Fire ii D welling in Sound iii T he Limit of Sound cc' Effecting Powers dd' Using Powers vi' Types of Powers and the Way to Effect Them vii' Stages of Awakening, Paths, and Result

[This chapter is a continuation of the discussion of the exceptional nature of the mantra system,] section four, a detailed discussion of the systems of the four sets of tantra, which has two parts: the content of tantra; and [the tantric scriptures] that express [the meaning of] tantra. The first, the content, has four parts: action tantra, conduct tantra, yoga tantra, and highest yoga tantra. T he first system, that of action tantra, is presented here in seven parts: the meaning of the nameaction tantra” and its essence; its divisions; initiations as the entrance to action tantra; vows and pledges to be observed; practice of its path; types of powers to attain to; and the stages of awakening, paths, and result.


Action tantra emphasizes outer conduct. Action tantra is so named because one engages in mantric practice based on teachings that emphasize outer conduct such as ablution, cleanliness, and purity.

The essence of action tantra is as stated in the Compendium on the Indestructible Pristine Awareness Tantra:

To view [the profound truth] with apprehension and to observe utmost cleanliness; to be without the supreme bliss of the pristine awareness being; to lack the pride of oneself as the deity; not to be a receptacle for what is sublime; and due to that shortcoming, to be conditioned by concepts about [the purity and impurity of] things; to train thoroughly [in rituals of ablution, etc.] and thereby practice [[[deity yoga]]]: these [[[elements]]] are found in action tantra.

To practice in order to develop mastery of the eight great powers—mantra, medicine, fire-offering ritual, powder, eye-salve, swiftness of foot, and so forth—this [[[element]]] is found in skills tantra.

To provide some clarification of those points, the following elements are said to apply to, or be contained within, action tantra: to view the profound truth with fear and apprehension3 due to an inferior intellect and to observe utmost cleanliness and purity, ablution, asceticism, and so forth; to not [develop] the pride of being the deity since there is no generation of oneself as the pledge deity;4 to be without the supreme bliss of the pristine awareness deity since the pristine awareness deity has not been invoked to merge into the pledge deity; not to be a receptacle for the sublime [teachings]5 since one is unqualified to receive teachings on what is sublime and extraordinary, the deep meanings that were spoken with specific intention; and due to the shortcoming of being unable to fathom the sublime, being conditioned by concepts about the purity or impurity of things, to train thoroughly in [[[rituals]] of] ablution, and so forth, and thereby to practice [[[deity yoga]]] in a subject-to-lord relationship with the deity.6

Skills tantra is to practice by means of asceticism, recitation [of mantra and liturgy], and so on, in order to develop mastery of the eight great mundane powers, such as [the power of] mantra and eye-salve. (Skills tantra is an offshoot of action tantra; thus, it is included within the category of action tantra and should be considered one with it.)


It has six families. ... Action tantra may be divided into what are known as the six families (or “six approaches”), three supramundane families and three mundane ones. T he supramundane families are the transcendent family, the lotus family, and the vajra family. T he mundane families are the jewel [wealthy] family, the family of playing with five dice [or prosperity], and the family of ordinary worldlings.

Tantras that exemplify the [three supramundane] families are the tantra of Trisamayavyuha, lord of the transcendent family, and tantras of [other] buddhas; the tantra of Avalokiteshvara, lord of the lotus family; and the tantra of Vajrapani, lord of the vajra family. Each has its own divisions of [[[tantras]] of] the lord of the family, master, mother, ushnisha [class of deities], male and female wrathful deities, male and female messengers, and male and female servants.

T he wealthy family [[[tantras]]] are those taught by the yaksha Manibhadra; the family of playing with five dice [or prosperity] [[[tantras]]], taught by the yaksha Panchika, [his wife] Mekhala, Nandikaraputra, and others; and the ordinary worldlings family [[[tantras]]], taught by Brahma, Maheshvara, Vishnu, Garuda, Sun, Moon, and countless other gods. T he six families taken collectively are contained within the categories of the three supramundane families. [[[Buddhaguhya’s]]] Commentarial


Epitomizing the Dialogue with Subahu Tantra states: T he wealthy family is contained within the lotus family. T he prosperity family is contained within the vajra family. One should know that the family of worldlings is generally included under these two. Any not included within these does not arise from the blessing of the Transcendent One and has not been born into the family of transcendent ones as have bodhisattvas who abide on stages [of awakening]. T hey are therefore designated “dependent on the transcendent family.” On this point, the [[[Subahu]]] Tantra states:10

Moreover, some do not belong here But are wanderers who depend on the Joyful One.

T hat being the case, it would seem that those who were tamed by the Buddha and who abide by pledges are included within the three [[[supramundane]]] families. The above citation implicitly points out that even the ordinary mundane families known as “wanderers” are included within the transcendent family because they are “dependent on the transcendent family.” T hus, all six families are included within the three supramundane families.

All six families are included as well in the two categories of secret mantra and awareness mantra. [[[Buddhaguhya’s]]] Commentary on the Dhyanottara Tantra states:11

Awareness mantra comprises the female deity, her shape, the utterances associated with her method, and seals [[[mudras]], insignia,] and so on. T he opposite to that, [the male deity, and so on,] is characteristic of secret mantra.


...Its entrances, the water and diadem, establish the potentials For the two dimensions, after which the pledges are observed. For specific purposes, initiation is conferred in four parts; the mandala is a colored powders one. T he Essence of Pristine Awareness states:13

It is widely known that in action tantra T here are the water and crown initiations.

This citation indicates that, as initiations serving as entrances to action tantra, the water and diadem are widely held to be the only two. T hese two initiations serve to ripen [the student’s mind] in that the water initiation establishes the potential for [the attainment of] the reality dimension of awakening, and the diadem initiation, the form dimension. C oncerning the water initiation, the Manjushri Root Tantra states:14

Each [[[student]]] should be conferred the initiation five [times] according to the desired method. Here it is specified that the water initiation is given five times: [first, with] the vase [dedicated to all beings] at the entrance outside the mandala; [second, with] the vase [dedicated] to all deities in the second mandala; [third, with] the vase [dedicated] to proclaimers and solitary sages in the third mandala; [fourth, with] the vase [dedicated] to bodhisattvas; and [fifth, with] the victory vase [dedicated] to buddhas. Such procedure is clearly mentioned in [the tantras of] all the [other] families as well.15 For the diadem initiation, [use of] a crown is not specified. It is explained, however, that the act of touching the crown of the head [of the student] with the hands clasped in the mudra [representing the diadem] is to confer the initiation.

In that way, the water and diadem initiations, which form the main part [of an action tantra initiation], are received, after which the pledges of action tantra must be observed. The actual ripening process is contained in that alone. However, when subdivided to serve specific purposes, there are four parts to the conferral of initiation, as explained in the General Tantra:16 the water and diadem initiations to gain the status of vajra master in the action tantra’s own system; [the appended] vajra student initiation to bestow transmission of the mantra (of the deity on which the flower has fallen) in order to gain power from awareness mantras; the initiation of protection through [purificatory] ablution, the activity to overcome negative influences and to pacify obstacles; and the initiation of the eight auspicious substances to increase wealth.

T he vajra master initiation in the action tantra’s own system is accomplished by the water and diadem initiations in themselves. Nevertheless, as stated in the General Tantra, the initiation is properly accomplished by conferring, in addition to those two, the authorization to draw and teach mandala. T he same tantra also states that through receiving initiation into a mandala of the transcendent family, one becomes a vajra master of all the three families; through the Avalokiteshvara initiation [of the lotus family], a vajra master of the lotus and vajra families; and through the Vajrapani initiation [of the vajra family], a vajra master of just that family. In action tantra, the mandala used for the conferral of an initiation is said to be exclusively one of colored powders.


It is said: T he root [of attainment] is to observe one’s pledges. While this point is mentioned incidentally, the way one assumes pledges is explained as follows: The occasion for assuming pledges is, as stated in the Trisamayavyuha Tantra, at the conclusion of the preparatory ritual [of an initiation]. T he procedure for assuming them is as described in the same tantra:

One begins with the supplication, “Buddhas and bodhisattvas, please heed me!” and continues, “I offer myself to you. Please bless me, guard and protect me, and bestow on me the power of the great pledges.” These words repeated three times constitute the ritual for assuming the pledges. One makes an offering of oneself in order to assume the pledges. The reason for doing so is explained in this way: A person is considered to exist on two levels, subtle and coarse. By offering body, speech, and mind—the coarse person—these three become owned by buddhas and bodhisattvas. At that point, one is possessed of the disposition of all buddhas and bodhisattvas, a disposition that is one of shunning the ten unwholesome deeds and practicing the ten wholesome ones.20 T hus, one comes to assume [the ethics of the buddhas] as the very essence of the commitment of relative awakening mind. By offering the subtle person which, as the essence of emptiness, is inseparable from the reality dimension, one comes to assume ultimate awakening mind.21 On the basis of those two, one assumes the other remaining pledges by repeating the last three phrases of the above supplication. T his explanation is that of Buddhaguhya, as found in his Commentary [Epitomizing] the Vairochanabhisambodhi Tantra. T he nature of the vows and pledges to be safeguarded in action tantra is discussed in detail in a prior [[[book]], Buddhist Ethics] of this [[[Infinite Ocean of Knowledge]]].


This section has four parts: entering; approaching; effecting powers; and using powers.


T he process of entering is as just explained: receiving the initiation and assuming the pledges associated with the chosen deity.


This has two parts: auxiliary elements; and the main elements.


The process of approaching incorporates ten auxiliary elements....

T he process of approaching [the deity] incorporates ten elements: the [qualified] mantric practitioner; the deity of the mantra practice; the helper, a most excellent companion for practice; substances such as realgar;24 diligence in practice; a region such as the central country;25 a place for dwelling, such as a mountain top; a [specific] time [for practice], the spring months, morning, and so on; a representation of the deity complete in all details, such as a painting or a metal-cast statue; and fearlessness and enduring fortitude. T he Subahu Tantra states that familiarization [with the deity] should be performed based on these ten elements.


...The main elements

Are the essential principles: that of oneself comprises six qualities; That of the deity, deity as form, as letter, and as nature; That of recitation, immersion in sound, mind, and base;

And that of meditative absorption, dwelling in fire, in sound, and at the limit of sound. Familiarization with the deity is perfected in a lord-subject manner.

Generally, what is received of the initiation’s mind-ripening process would be used in meditation on the stages of the path, and even the result attained would be a concordant one. T his is the case in all four sets of tantra. T hus, here [in action tantra] as well, this applies to the main methods in the path, the practice with signs, which uses in the path [the content of] the diadem initiation, and the practice without signs, which uses in the path [the content of] the water initiation. The method of meditation in this path may be subdivided into four essential principles: oneself, deity, recitation, and meditative absorption.26 ONESELF [a]

[The preliminary to] the meditation on the essential principle of oneself includes ablution and observing other forms of cleanliness; performing the rituals of protecting oneself and the place;27 invoking the deity to merge into a painting or a statue in front and then making offerings;28 and in the presence of the deity, remaining in the meditation posture appropriate to one’s family.29

Next, the dimension of reality is used in the path to cultivate pristine awareness: T he base to be ascertained by means of the view is the essence of enlightenment itself. T his is done by meditating on the essential principle of oneself, which is the absence of intrinsic existence of the aggregates, and so on. [This meditation] includes six qualities: the absence of concepts related to an apprehender and the apprehended; absence of appearances in the nonconceptual state; absence of forms [composed] of the most subtle particles of matter; absence of the fluctuations of conceptual characteristics; being of the nature of luminous clarity, which transcends emptiness as a mere negation due to these [four] qualities; and one’s essence having the characteristic of intrinsic self-awareness [i.e., awareness that cognizes its own nature].


For this, the manifest dimension of awakening is used in the path to cultivate merit. It comprises three deities: the deity as form, as letter, and as nature.

T he deity as form is of two kinds: deity as form complete with face and arms and distinguished by particular eyes, and so forth; and deity as seal, such as a wheel or vajra. T he deity as letter is also of two kinds: deity as the forms of letters [of the mantra], and deity as the sound [of the mantra]. T he deity as nature, also of two kinds, comprises the deity as the emptiness nature (the object) and the deity as nonconceptual pristine awareness (the subject). All of these, when used as the essence of contemplation, are included within the six characteristic deities, which are stated [in the Vajravidarana Tantra]:30

Emptiness, letter, sound, form, Seal, and sign are the six.

First, the deity as emptiness is to remain absorbed in emptiness, the essence of ultimate awakening mind, in which the essential principle of oneself and that of the deity are of an inseparability beyond concepts.

Second, the deity as letter is to meditate on the particular deity [one is practicing] in the form of the written letters of the [[[deity’s]]] mantra resting on a moon disk (representing one’s mind) visualized in space [in front]. Also considered to be the letter deity is to meditate simply on the moon [omitting the letters].

T hird, the deity as sound is to meditate on the resonant sounds of the mantra (on the moon) associated with one of the [three] deities of the three families to which the recitation practice for complete familiarization is directed. Fourth, the deity as form is to meditate on the complete form of the deity. [T he first step involves] meditating that light radiating from the letters of the mantra fulfills two aims;32 then, [as the light reconverges, the letters] transform into the deity’s complete form.

Fifth, the deity as seal is to perform the hand mudras for blessing, such as the mudra of the crown protrusion, 33 and while reciting the appropriate mantra, to touch the corresponding places of the body with the mudra. Alternatively, one makes the pledge mudra of that particular [[[family]]].

Sixth, the deity as sign is to recall, in all circumstances, the form of the deity as meditated in the state of equipoise so that the appearances of the outer world and its inhabitants are regarded as pure visions, imagined as the deity’s residence, form, and resources.

These meditations are practiced without allowing the mind to become distracted from its focuses and while holding the life [[[wind]]]34 until the branches of the recitation are completed,35 or for as long as possible. T hus, one remains single-mindedly absorbed in the experience of oneself visualized in the form of the deity: T his constitutes the essential principle of the deity.


The essential principle of mantra recitation has a number of prescriptions: the tool for recitation (the chaplet used for counting); the place of recitation; the time when one should recite; the extent of [time, number, etc., required to complete] recitation; and the rules followed during the period of recitation. These prescriptions, as set forth in the Susiddhi and other tantras,36 should be applied impeccably to [the following two forms of] recitation.

The ordinary recitation for familiarization is carried out as follows: A moon disk, [[[symbol]] of] relative awakening mind, is imagined in the heart of the particular deity of one of the three families [generated in front]. Located upon the moon disk is the mantra to be recited, with a sonorous quality of sound, arranged in its respective place.37 T he mantra is regarded as being like the secret mantra deities in actuality. T he uninterrupted mindfulness that recalls this again and again dispels mistaken bad thoughts toward one’s focus of practice [i.e., the deity], and leads to single-minded practice: T his is the recitation of the secret mantras of the masters of the three families.

T he special recitation leads to the attainment of powers. T he Dhyanottara Tantra states:

Immerse yourself in sound, mind, and base. Dwell in the immutable base of the secret mantra.

Recite the secret mantra without imperfections. When tired, rest in [the principle of] oneself. In this citation, “base” refers to the contemplation of the [[[form]] of the] deity. “Mind” refers to the visualization of the moon disk (the nature of relative awakening mind) in the heart of the deity. “Sound” refers to the contemplation of the syllables of the mantra, possessed of a sonorous quality, on the moon disk. “Immerse yourself” means that when practicing these three contemplations, while

retaining the life [[[wind]]], one focuses with undivided attention on the form of the deity in front, the moon, and [[[Wikipedia:syllables|syllables]] of] the mantra; and performs mental or whispered recitation of the mantra. Following that, when one cannot hold the breath and exhales,40 to remain in the pride of oneself as the deity, [the subjective] “base” is to “dwell in the immutable base of the secret mantra.” “Recite the secret mantra without imperfections” means that these recitations of mantras are done without such imperfections as elongating some letters or

clipping off others, reciting too quickly or too slowly, or [disregarding] the bent and curved[shaped] vowel signs.41 “When tired, rest in [the principle of] oneself” means that when recitation has led to discouragement or fatigue, to rest in a state free of any concept, which is the essential principle of oneself.

T his latter mode of recitation, the special, is one characterized by singlemindedness, through which mental quiescence is accomplished.42 Except for periods of resting [in one’s essential nature], one directs undivided attention to the deity in front, and recitation is continued until the impression of separateness of the deity in front and oneself subsides, and a vivid experience of the inseparability of the deity and oneself occurs. By this standard, the former recitation is termed ordinary; and this latter one, special. T hese two constitute the essential principle of mantra recitation.


The Dhyanottara Tantra states:43 T he secret mantra dwelling in fire grants powers. Dwelling in sound grants contemplation. The limit of sound grants liberation. These constitute the threefold essential principle.

This citation refers to three different aspects of this essential principle, or three different meditative absorptions:


In the heart of [oneself as] the deity, one imagines a very still fire, like the flame of a butter lamp, within which is a moon disk with the syllables of the mantra arranged in a string of one following the other. One visualizes this with undivided attention and, while holding the life [[[wind]]], cultivates this meditation until the experience of vivid appearance occurs. T his practice serves as the basis for the performance of all forms of activations, such as appeasement.


At the heart of oneself [as the deity] is a moon disk, inside of which is the deity as base. [In the deity’s heart] is a flame within which is a string of syllables of the mantra. Alternatively, the string of syllables is visualized on the moon disk alone. One examines the syllables closely. Once the contemplation has become perfectly vivid for at least a short while, one no longer focuses on the shape of the letters but maintains attention solely on the sonority of the spontaneously arising sounds of the mantra, resonating like the chimes of a bell.45 One focuses on this single-mindedly while holding the life [[[wind]]], and trains in this until an experience of vivid appearance occurs. T his meditation serves as the basis for the attainment of mental quiescence.


Analysis and precise examination of the mantra’s sound alone leads to the understanding that its essence is without origin, cessation, or abiding. Based on that, [the practitioner] rests in contemplation within the state of pristine awareness, which is devoid of any concepts, the essential principle of oneself. From that contemplation arises the pristine awareness of insight,46 which serves as the direct substantial cause of liberation.

The above three constitute the essential principle of meditative absorption.

To practice the various activations [of appeasement, etc.] related to special powers successfully, one must first meditate on those [four essential principles] as they have been explained. (This is not a definite requirement for the development of minor powers and activations,47 which are effected even by common recitation alone.) Accordingly, first one must perfect familiarization for which the deity generated in front is regarded as superior, like a lord, and oneself as inferior, like a subject; afterwards, one works for the attainment of powers.

On this subject, Venerable [[[Taranata]]] of Jonang and his followers assert that in action tantra, as a general rule, the practice with signs involves no generation of oneself as the deity as part of the deity yoga meditation; nor does the generation of the deity in front involve [the prior] generation of the pledge deity. [T he practice with signs] comprises only the invitation of the pristine awareness

deity, exhibition of mudras, making offerings, recitation of the mantra, and finally the request for the deity’s departure. T he second practice, without signs, is contemplation on emptiness and solely that which is in common with the sutra [[[tradition]]].48 T he explanation of the six deities and attendant points, they say, is distinctively that of the conduct tantra, and certainly not the system of action tantra.

Most of the earlier masters of Tibet adhered to the system of the six deities and the other aspects [of familiarization] as mentioned above but maintained that there is no generation of oneself as the deity. Others have established conclusively that [[[action tantra]]] does involve the generation of oneself as the deity.49 Karma Trinlé and others say that the ordinary forms of action tantra do not include generation of oneself as the deity, whereas the special forms do.50 T he class [of action tantra] that teaches generation of oneself as an action tantra deity through all the four branches of self-generation,51 they say, represents a system of practice of action tantra like that of the highest yoga tantra, not the system of action tantra itself.

In whichever way the practice of this set of tantra is done, [with or without self-generation,] it is said to require [these elements]: austerities such as ablution, cleanliness and purity, and fasting, as well as strict purity in offering articles [to the deity], which must be untouched by the flesh of animals (except on a few occasions of performing fierce activations and for a few special practices such as that of Krodha Uchusma and Mahabala); conformity to the vows of a celibate layperson or to higher monastic vows when doing familiarization or effecting powers. Apart from some subsections in the tantra, the path using desire is exclusively that of the practitioner looking at the male and female deities (generated in front) gazing at one another.


The powers effected are articles, body, and wealth, equal in fortune to that of desire realm gods. Once one has seen signs of one’s nearness to the deity through the yoga of familiarization, one begins to develop powers, the essence of which is to attain [the state of] awareness-holder or sky-farer, whose status in terms of articles, body, and wealth is equal in fortune to that of the desire realm gods.

T he articles include sword and eye elixir, which enable one to traverse celestial dimensions. T he body is one that is purified of the coarseness of the aggregates, and so forth, and manifests eight qualities of lordliness, such as subtleness and lightness, enabling one to traverse celestial dimensions.

T he wealth ranges from human wealth like that of a universal [[[Wikipedia:monarch|monarch]]] to the wealth in celestial dimensions which is equal to that of the desire realm gods.


Powers are used for provisional or ultimate goals. Powers are used for the attainment of provisional and ultimate goals. T he first, the provisional goal, has common and uncommon aspects. T he common aspect, which depends on the sky-farer status of articles, body, and wealth, is the accomplishment, without hardships, of whatever one intends, both for oneself and others. T he uncommon aspect is the attainment of the result of [the path of] proclaimers and solitary sages through having engaged in a mantric practice without the [[[Wikipedia:altruistic|altruistic]]] motivation of the universal way.

The ultimate goal, which depends on the support of awareness-holder or sky-farer status, is the actualization of awakening characterized by three dimensions as described in action tantra, accomplished through application of the perfections in the practice of the secret mantra system.


Three types of powers are effected in the appropriate manner. T he powers to be effected are categorized in this system [[[action tantra]]] according to principal considerations [of essence, family, etc.], each of which comprises three types.

T he three types of powers categorized according to essence are the highest powers, which include the attainment of awareness-holder status, supernormal cognitive powers, and perfect knowledge of treatises; the middling powers, invisibility, youthfulness, and speed-walking; and the lowest powers, ability to control, kill, and drive away [harmful beings];53 or, alternatively, as explained above, the three of articles, body, and wealth.

T he three types of powers categorized according to family are the transcendent family power, which is the power of appeasement; the enriching power of the lotus family; and the fierce power of the vajra family.

T he three types of powers categorized according to the deity [who grants them] are the power of appeasement granted by the lord of the family deity; the power of enriching, by the mother deity; and the power of the fierce activation, by the wrathful deity. T he three types of powers categorized according to the indication [of the attainment of powers] are [the powers gained when] substances [used to gain powers] blaze with fire; give off smoke; and give off heat.

T he three types of powers categorized according to the promulgator are [the powers gained from] mantras [spoken] by exalted ones [[[buddhas]] and bodhisattvas]; by gods; and by beings living above the earth [such as yakshas]. Although the bestower of a power [the deity] may be of highest rank, there are known to be cases of a low power being granted owing to the familiarization not being carried out with proper diligence on the part of the practitioner. However, if familiarization is done correctly, even a lowranking deity, having petitioned other [higher-ranking ones], may grant supreme power.

As to the way powers are effected, this is pointed out by [the words of the root verses] “effected in the appropriate manner.” To begin with, one should examine portents that indicate whether or not there will be success [in achieving powers].54 If the signs are favorable, one should apply the many methods taught [in action tantra] such as effecting powers by means of fire-offering rituals or doing so simply by recitation of the mantra and meditation. [While doing so,] three times [each day], one should make offerings [to the deity], confess [[[unwholesome deeds]]], rejoice [in virtue], make noble aspirations, read the Transcendent Wisdom scriptures, make mandalas, observe precepts, and perform rites of protection [of oneself and the place]. For each of the three times, one should be wearing a fresh change of clothes.

On these occasions, it is not sufficient to invite the deity in front; [the deity] must be newly generated. [Then, when reciting the mantra] one does whichever is appropriate of the first two of the four-branched recitation [i.e., observing the form of the letters at the heart of the deity in front or at one’s heart]. If light is seen radiating from a statue, reliquary, or other object, or a diminishment of hunger is experienced, and so forth, these are said to be indications of success in recitation and meditation and that the deity is nearly actualized.55 At that point, one abjures all the faults associated with the effecting of powers as mentioned in the Dhyanottara Tantra,56 and applies oneself with diligence. In that way, one actualizes the consummate result.


Attainment requires up to eight aeons for one of sharp faculties; or other times. The state attained is that of whichever of the three families one has perfected.

It is generally asserted that eight aeons is the time required for a person of sharp faculties to attain the result. To elaborate on [the words in the root verses] “or other times,” the Manjushri Root Tantra says that one of superior faculties will perfect the result in one lifetime; and the Indestructible Peak,57 that a mediocre person will do so in sixteen lifetimes. As for the least adept, the Venerable Rangjung Dorjé states [in his Profound Inner Reality]:

Even with simply the skillful methods of the action and conduct ways, [One will attain the result] in sixty human lifetimes. According to this, in six thousand years [considering one human lifetime to be one hundred years], a practitioner will perfect the stages and paths and attain the state of awakening of whichever of the three families he or she has practiced to effect that state. It is taught that generally when one reaches the great stage of the path of accumulation through meditation on the path of action tantra, one meets the manifest dimension of a buddha and thereby becomes an awarenessholder of either the desire or form realm.59 On that basis, one then traverses the remaining paths, thereby actualizing the state of union.60 H owever, this explanation, according to which one can reach perfection through the path of action tantra alone, is considered to be a provisional one since to actually enter the state of union it is indispensable to rely on highest yoga tantra.


 . . . .  

b' Conduct Tantra [I.B.2.a.iii.dd.1'.b'] i' T he Meaning of the Name and the Essence of Conduct Tantra ii' D ivisions iii' Entrance to Conduct Tantra: Initiations iv' Vows and Pledges to Be Observed v' Stages in the Practice of the Path aa' Entering 1 Outer Entering

2 Inner Entering a With Signs b Without Signs bb' Approaching cc' Effecting Powers vi' T he Way to Effect Powers vii' Stages of Awakening, Paths, and Result

 . . . .  

[T his chapter, a continuation of the discussion of the four sets of tantra, presents] the second system, that of conduct tantra, set forth in seven parts: the meaning of the name and its essence; divisions; initiations as the entrance to conduct tantra; vows and pledges to be observed; the practice of its path; the way of effecting powers; and the stages of awakening, paths, and result.


Conduct tantra comprises equal proportions of deeds and contemplation. T his system is called “tantra of both” or “conduct tantra” because it emphasizes conduct that involves equal proportions of outer (physical and verbal) deeds and inner (mental) contemplation, or alternatively, because it emphasizes deliberate behavior.1 The essence of conduct tantra is as stated in the Compendium [on the Indestructible Pristine Awareness Tantra]:2

To train thoroughly in a vast range of deeds related to activations— mudras and other characteristic focuses of action tantra—as one’s objects of practice, and to practice [inner contemplation]: these [[[elements]]] are found in conduct tantra.

To clarify this passage, the following elements are said to apply to, or be contained within, conduct tantra: to practice and train thoroughly in a vast range of deeds related to activations, which are sets of outer (physical and verbal) [[[actions]]] such as mudras and other characteristic focuses as taught in action tantra, and thus [to have] objects of practice that accord with that tantra; to cultivate inner (mental) contemplation that accords with yoga tantra and to practice [[[deity yoga]]] in what is like a friend-to-friend relationship with the deity.


It has three families. ... Conduct tantra is divided into three families of tantras: the family of awakened body, that of awakened speech, and that of awakened mind.3 Of the three, the family of awakened body is the principal one. T he families of deities of those [three] families are the same as the three supramundane families of action tantra [[[transcendent]], lotus, and vajra], respectively. It is said that conduct tantra may also be divided into five families without contradicting the threefold division.


...The outer entering is to receive five initiations, the water and the others. Conduct tantra consists of the three practices of entering, effecting powers, and using powers. T he entering practice is twofold, the outer and the inner. The outer practice of entering has two parts: initiations and pledges.

Concerning the initiations, the Essence of Pristine Awareness states:5 It is clearly evident that conduct tantra H as the two initiations of action tantra, As well as those of the vajra, bell, and name. As stated in this passage, conduct tantra is known to have five initiations: water, diadem, vajra, bell, and name. T he Vairochanabhisambodhi Tantra mentions only the water initiation, plus the authorizations [given with the symbols] of the chirurgical eye-spoon and the mirror and the authorization to teach.6 Even [[[Buddhaguhya’s]]] commentary on this tantra does not refer explicitly to the diadem and the other initiations. H owever, the five initiations are clearly taught in the Vajrapani Initiation, as well as in a few other [conduct tantras]. T hus, in this system, one receives the vajra master initiation of the conduct tantra upon receiving the five initiations. Taking the Vairochanabhisambodhi as example, the first initiation of the vase purifies the stains that cause lower forms of life. T he second washes away the seeds of cyclic existence. T he third creates the seeds of the two accumulations associated with the first to the tenth stage of awakening.8 T he fourth plants the seeds for becoming a regent of a buddha. T he diadem initiation plants the seeds for the [thirty-two] major and [eighty] minor marks of the body of a buddha; the bell initiation, the seeds for the sixty qualities of the melodious speech of a buddha;9 the vajra initiation, the seeds for the twofold omniscience of the mind of a buddha; and the name initiation, the seeds for having one’s name known throughout the three realms. T he authorizations of the chirurgical eye-spoon and the mirror, the authorization to teach the doctrine, and other rites grant permission to carry out awakened activity for the benefit of others. Although the five initiations of awareness [[[water]], diadem, bell, vajra, and name]10 bear the same names as [those comprised by the vase initiation of] the higher tantra sets, they differ in meaning.

The Vairochanabhisambodhi Tantra states that initiations in conduct tantra are conferred within mandalas that are elaborate, unelaborate, or extremely unelaborate. Furthermore, initiation within the elaborate mandala is of [two] types: conferral using an outer mandala made of colored powders; and conferral using the inner mandala of one’s body. T he above three mandalas may also be subsumed under elaborate and unelaborate, or inner and outer initiations.


One assumes vows such as the vow unobscured throughout the three times. How are the pledges and vows assumed in conduct tantra? According to the Vairochanabhisambodhi Tantra, the pledges and vows are assumed at three different moments of the initiation: during the preparatory ritual [of an initiation]; upon entry to the mandala; and at the conclusion of the initiation by making a promise [to maintain them].

The first, taken during the preparatory ritual, is the vow [known as] unobscured throughout the three times. To take this vow, one makes an offering of one’s own body [to the buddhas and bodhisattvas]. T hrough this act, one comes to hold the very essence of the commitment of relative awakening mind, in the way explained above in the context of the action tantra.

The second, taken upon entry to the mandala, is the formation of the ultimate awakening mind in accordance with ritual. For this, one is blessed by the mantra and hand mudra of the ultimate dimension of phenomena and meditates on [the meaning of] emptiness. Then, one is blessed with the mantra and hand mudra of the wheel of the doctrine,11 whereupon one imagines oneself in the form of Vajrasattva, which is the appearance aspect of emptiness. T his vow is thereby distinguished by virtue of its vast and profound aspects, or by the methods with signs and without signs.12 T he third, taken at the conclusion of the initiation by making a conscious promise repeated after the master, is to assume [the pledges] never to forsake the sacred doctrine, and so on, for which one guards against root downfalls and secondary infractions, as explained in conduct tantra’s own system.


This section has three parts: entering; approaching; and effecting powers.


There are two aspects of entering: the outer practice; and the inner practice.


The outer practice of entering is as just explained: [receiving initiation and assuming the pledges].


This section has two parts: with signs; and without signs.


The inner entering with signs involves the six deities.

For recitation and meditation on the two aspects of letter and base, the deity is like a sibling or friend. T he inner practice of entering has two aspects, with signs and without signs.14 Tibetan masters present a number of different perspectives on these two and ways to identify them. According to the Venerable Taranata, practice with signs consists of the meditations of the yoga of six deities with generation of oneself as the deity and generation of the deity in front. T he [[[Vajravidarana]]] Tantra states:15 T he yogin, having first bathed,

Takes his place on the vajra mat,

T hen offers, prays, and meditates on six deities. Emptiness, letter, sound, form, Seal, and sign are said to be the six. Accordingly, once the outer and inner cleansing [[[rituals]]] have been performed, a circle of protection is imagined, the pristine awareness deities invited, hand mudras exhibited, and then offerings and petitions made.16 T hat is followed by meditation on the authentic condition [of things], known as the deity as emptiness; then, in sequence, meditation on the syllables of the mantra and on the seed [[[Wikipedia:syllable|syllable]]], known as the deity as letter; meditation on the sound of the mantra along with its light, which radiates forth and reconverges, known as the deity as sound; meditation on the body of the deity, known as the deity as form; meditation on the insignia, and so forth, at the heart [of the deity], known as the deity as seal; and meditation on one’s own body, blessed by mantra, as being the body of the deity, known as the deity as sign. [These steps] represent the general meditation using the six deities.

For the special meditation, the Vairochanabhisambodhi Tantra states17 that the deity to be meditated upon comprises three deities: the deity as letter, as seal, and as form. Each is divided into two aspects. T he two aspects of the deity as letter are the deity as awakening mind and the deity as sound. T he two aspects of the deity as seal are the deity depicted in a form and shape, such as the wheel [of the doctrine]; and the deity without form or shape, emptiness, symbolized by the azure [triangular] source of phenomena.18 T he two aspects of the deity as form are the deity as utterly pure form and the deity as impure form. T he deity as utterly pure form is the very essence of realization in which all conceptual characteristics are totally pacified, a direct experience of the essence of enlightenment by one’s intrinsic self-awareness [i.e., awareness that cognizes its own nature]. T he deity as impure form is meditation on [the deity as] a form that has color, face, hands, and so forth, by means of conceptual thought.

Based on understanding [of the deity] in that way, the stages of meditation in the yoga with signs [as explained in the Vairochanabhisambodhi Tantra] are practiced. As preliminary steps, one performs [the rituals] of protecting oneself, the place, and the yoga.19 Following these is meditation on [the two aspects of] the deity as letter. For the first aspect of the deity as letter, the relative manifestation of ultimate awakening mind is visualized as a moon disk. For the second aspect of the deity as letter, [the syllables of] the mantra to be recited, which are standing on the moon disk, are imagined to be resonating with their sounds.

Next is meditation on the [[[deity]] as] base. For the first aspect, the [[[subjective]]] base, one imagines that the utterly pure nature of everything [[[Wikipedia:syllables|syllables]] and moon] is oneself as the deity, and one performs blessings with mantras, mudras, and so on. For the second aspect, the [[[objective]]] base, one visualizes the deity in front, which manifests from oneself as the deity like a reflection in a mirror. Then, one focuses on [the syllables of] the mantra on the moon disk at the heart of the deity in front and retains the life [[[wind]]]. With single-minded application, one mentally recites the mantra, training [in this way] until an experience of vivid appearance occurs. Throughout this phase, one regards [the relationship between] the deity and oneself to be simply like that of siblings or friends.

Ngorchen Dorjé Chang20 and others, taking the Vairochanabhisambodhi as an example, present [the two practices in this way]: T he practice with signs, explained in accordance with the Sadhana [of Vairochana],21 includes the generation on the ground of the mandala of the reflected form [i.e., the deity in front] along with its “life” [i.e., the moon and mantra] on the basis of an external mandala, and the imagining of the ultimate mandala [of the wisdom deities] in the sky, and so on. Practice without signs has both real and nominal [aspects]. T he real aspect consists of training in the union of emptiness (freedom from concepts) and compassion. The nominal aspect includes the generation of the deity in its two aspects as letter and the two bases, the performance of the mental recitation while retaining the life wind, and so on.


Practice without signs is cultivated in conjunction with the minds of entering, abiding, and emerging. T he common yoga without signs includes contemplation of [the deity’s] insignia and syllable at the heart of the deity; blocking the life wind; and the use in the path of [[[Wikipedia:sexual|sexual]]] desire [related to] the laughter of the male and female deities, and so on.22 T he special yoga without signs is cultivated in conjunction with three minds: the minds of entering, abiding, and emerging, the essence of which is the ultimate awakening mind itself. T he mind of entering is the realization of the unborn nature of all phenomena (the aggregates, etc.) gained by examining them in terms of the four extremes;23 the mind of abiding, the direct realization of the unborn nature as the essence of the nonconceptual state; and the mind of emerging, the ensuing great compassion directed toward suffering beings who lack such realization.

Proficiency in those two kinds of yogas, with and without signs, produces resultant powers which are also of two kinds: by means of the former are attained powers with signs [i.e., the form dimensions of awakening]; and by means of the latter, both powers with signs and without signs [i.e., the reality dimension and the form dimensions of awakening]. Accordingly, the {{Vairochanabhisambodhi[[ states:

The sublime Victor declared that [[[yoga]]] with signs Brings about powers with signs.

But persevering in the signless [[[yoga]]] Also leads to powers with signs; Since that is the case, Adhere to the signless in all ways.


The practice of approaching is to become skilled in practice with and without signs. T he common practice of approaching has two aspects: with signs and without signs. T he first has two aspects, the outer and the inner. T he outer practice with signs is to familiarize oneself with the deity by means of the four-branched recitation [as explained in the entering practice] in conjunction with the retention of the life wind, until one has completed the recitation of the requisite number [of mantras], one hundred thousand, or however many are prescribed.

T he inner practice with signs is to clearly imagine oneself as Buddha Shakyamuni, at whose heart is a moon disk on which is [the form of] Vairochana. In the heart of Vairochana on a moon disk is the arrangement [of the syllables] of the mantra. Retaining the life wind, one does the recitation [as before].

The practice without signs is to thoroughly analyze the very nature of the color and other features of the deity’s form (which is inseparable from oneself) by breaking down these imagined appearances into their most subtle particles. In accordance with what one has thereby realized, one experiences mind as simply self-awareness [i.e., awareness that cognizes its own nature], released of oneself as the form of the deity, devoid of [[[dualistic]]] appearances. T hen, one mentally recites [the mantra] as appropriate. (T his description of the practice without signs accords with that given by some learned masters.26 Essentially, it is contained in the yoga without signs explained above, and therefore many would not consider it a separate part of this topic.)


The practice to effect powers uses outer and inner mandalas for ordinary and special powers Through which one becomes an awareness-holder of the desire or form realm. ... After perfecting familiarization with the deity, one engages in practices to effect powers. By relying on outer and inner mandalas, one gains ordinary and special powers in the following ways:

For the ordinary powers, one draws the outer mandala used to effect powers, places within it a sword or other ritual object [such as noose, wheel, iron arrow, or hammer], and then recites [the given numbers of mantras]. When the object blazes [with light] and one grasps it in one’s hand, one attains the state of awareness-holder (or another power).

For the special powers, one relies on the inner mandalas of the four elements [[[visualized]] within the body]27 and thereby gains proficiency in breath control. T his effects inner powers which depend on the mind alone, the five supernormal cognitive powers such as that of performing miracles,28 and the powers to greatly effect the welfare of oneself and others, plus accompanying powers, accrued from having entered the ranks of awareness-holders.

According to this tantra, the supreme state [of awakening] can be attained through the use of articles as an awareness-holder [whose status is] equal in fortune to the gods of the realm of desire and form up to the highest gods of Unsurpassed;29 through a body purified of its coarse elements (aggregates, etc.) and endowed with the eight qualities of physical lordliness, subtle [[[form]]], and so on; through the [[[mental body]]] support in the intermediate state [between lives]; and through experience in a future life.


T he way to effect powers is included in the above discussion and will not be elaborated on separately. Regarding this, Venerable [[[Taranata]]] of Jonang speaks of four practices: the practice of entering, which is initiation and pledges; the practice of yoga, which is familiarization [with the deity] by means of the two yogas [with and without signs]; the practice to effect powers in which, having gained stability in the focus of meditation, the yogin makes offerings to a drawn representation of the deity or a constructed mandala and then practices [to attain powers], as a result of which he experiences a vision of the deity in the waking state or in dream [who confers power]; and the practice to effect great powers, which includes practices related to the sets of activations and powers as explained in the individual tantras.

While cultivating these four, a practitioner must maintain purity and cleanliness. However, except for special purposes, to undergo the rigors of asceticism is not necessary since [in conduct tantra] one is required to meditate on oneself as the deity.


... Progress on the mundane path And the supramundane depend on one’s faculties. Even hindered, full awakening is attained in three great aeons.

In this [system of] tantra, persons of the families who have entered the way of the perfections and those who have not entered that way both initially engage in mantra practice based on eight dispositions: the seed-like disposition of being motivated by faith, and the sprout-like disposition, root-like, trunk-like, branch-like, leaf-like, flower-like, and fruit-like dispositions.30 In addition to these eight is the disposition that is attended by desire, which motivates one to strive for simply the happiness of humans and gods of the desire realm; and the disposition that is free of the desire [[[characteristic]] of the desire realm], which motivates one to strive for the happiness of the higher realms. T hese [ten] dispositions, which when subdivided include one hundred and sixty dispositions, constitute what is taught as the mundane path leading to the result of higher rebirth.

On the supramundane path, a person of low faculties will take six great aeons to progress through the stages associated with the different degrees of realization of the two [aspects of] no-self 32 and enter the stage of “practice with appreciation of the universal way.” A person of sharp faculties will take one aeon to enter [the same stage]. T his stage represents the great level of the path of accumulation in this system.

Subsequent to that, by means of the three minds of entering, abiding, and emerging, in one aeon [one reaches] the stage of pristine awareness, which is the culmination of the ten stages of “practice with appreciation.”34 At that point, one receives oceans of teachings from oceans of buddhas, whereupon one realizes the pristine awareness of [the stage] “conducive to definitive separation.”35 One moves through the stages of awakening, the first, and so on, and upon reaching the end of the tenth stage, becomes a buddha by contemplating the five [seed] syllables of the great hero as the very essence of realization.36 It is said that the stage of omniscience, the great enjoyment dimension of full awakening,37 will definitely be reached by a person of low faculties in eight aeons at the most, and by one of sharp faculties, despite hindrances of any kind, in three great aeons.

T his [progression through stages] is designated by Ngorchen and others as “practice to effect [[[powers]]].” According to their view, having once attained the state of awareness-holder of the sword by means of practice to


effect powers, in that [same] body of an awareness-holder, one engages in deeds of excellence such as moving throughout oceans of buddha realms. As a result, the state of Great Vairochana is realized. 


c' Yoga Tantra [I.B.2.a.iii.dd.1'.c'] i' T he Meaning of the Name and the Essence of Yoga Tantra ii' D ivisions iii' Entrance to Yoga Tantra: Initiations iv' Vows and Pledges to Be Observed v' Stages in the Practice of the Path aa' The Familiarization Stage

1 Four Elements of the Path

2 Distinctions in the Main Yoga Practice a With Signs b Without Signs bb' T he Stage of Effecting Powers

vi' T he Process of Effecting Powers aa' Meditative Absorption bb' Mantra Recitation cc' Fire-offering Rituals vii' Stages of Awakening, Paths, and Result

 . . . .  

[T his chapter, a continuation of the discussion of the four sets of tantra, presents] the third system, that of yoga tantra, set forth in seven parts: the meaning of the name and the essence of the tantra; divisions; initiations as the entrance to yoga tantra; vows and pledges to be observed; stages in the practice of its path; powers to be effected; and the stages of awakening, paths, and result.


Yoga tantra emphasizes contemplation on the profound and the vast. Yoga tantra is so named because it emphasizes the inner yoga meditation of method and wisdom; or, alternatively, because based on knowledge and understanding of all aspects of the profound ultimate truth and the vast relative truth, it emphasizes contemplation that inseparably unites these two truths. The essence of yoga tantra is as stated in the Compendium [on the Indestructible Pristine Awareness Tantra]:1 To have an arrangement of all the awareness goddesses together in the mandala circle; and to train in the ten essential principles, such as practices, activations, and powers, based on that arrangement, and thereby to practice [[[deity yoga]]] to effect [[[powers]]]: these apply to the tantra of both [i.e., yoga tantra].

To clarify this passage, the following elements are said to apply to, or be contained within, yoga tantra: to have an arrangement within the mandala circle of all the awareness goddesses together, such as goddesses who perform the secret offering, the chief serving goddess who is the Incense Bearer, and the others;2 to train by means of the ten essential principles, which include the practices (contemplation, mantras, and seals), activations (such as those of a tantric master, leading students [into the mandala], etc.), and the gaining of powers (that of wealth, etc.) based on that arrangement [of the awareness goddesses] or, alternatively, gaining powers associated with activations, and so forth, based on that arrangement; and thereby practice [[[deity yoga]]] to effect the two powers [ordinary and supreme]. T he ten essential principles are set forth in Anandagarbha’s Illumination of the Summation of Essential Principles: 3 What are the ten essential principles? T hey are the mandala; mantra; seals; protection of oneself, the place, and so forth; the ritual of inviting the deities; recitation; meditation; fire-offering rituals (incorporating inner and outer aspects); dissolution [of the seals]; and request for departure [of the pristine awareness deities].

These ten essential principles form two divisions: the relative principles, distinguished by method (conduct); and the ultimate, distinguished by wisdom (meditation on the ultimate).4 Included in these principles are both the inner yoga of contemplation5 and outer deeds (as branch practices of the contemplation), owing to which yoga tantra is known as “tantra of both.”


It has five families. ... Division of yoga tantra according to family yields five root families; hence, there are also five tantras. T hese [five] become one hundred when split into subdivisions. The Indestructible Peak states:

Families refers to the different types, Namely, permanence, stability, precious power, Measureless light, and unfailing accomplishment. T he families are said to be of one hundred types All of which are included in five types. T he five types are the buddha, vajra, Jewel, doctrine, and action families.

T he five major families are subdivided, with each major family comprising five minor families, and each of the five minor ones split into the four divisions of heart, seal, secret mantra, and awareness mantra. This yields one hundred families. T hese families are all contained within the two [groups of tantras] of method and wisdom. T he tantras of method emphasize awakening mind; and the tantras of wisdom emphasize transcendent wisdom.


...The five initiations of the student And the six of the master are taken gradually. ...

The preliminary steps include entering the particular mandala for one of the five families; assuming the pledges and vows; the descent of the [invoked] pristine awareness deities; and determining one’s special deity8 by the tossing of a flower [into the mandala]. Subsequent to this is the conferral of the five initiations of the student.

T he first, the initiation of water, begins with ablution performed with the action vase, followed by conferral with [the water of] the vases [held by] the deities, principally the vase of the practitioner’s special deity and the victorious vase.9 T he second, the diadem initiation, is conferred with the diadems of the respective families: the diadem formed by the five buddhas in the case of the transcendent family,10 and so forth.

T he third, the vajra initiation, is conferred with the vajras of the respective families: the transcendent vajra in the case of the transcendent family,11 and so forth. The fourth, the bell initiation, is conferred with a bell, the handle of which symbolizes the particular family: [a five-pronged vajra handle] in the case of the transcendent family, and so forth. T he fifth, the initiation of the name, is conferred by the giving of a name [indicative] of the family [of the deity] on which the flower has dropped.

In addition to these is the initiation of the master which comprises six initiations: the irreversible initiation, secret initiation, authorization, prophecy, encouragement, and praise. All together, eleven initiations are to be received in the yoga tantra. On this subject of initiation, the Essence of Pristine Awareness12 states that in addition to the five initiations of the five families, T he initiation of irreversibility

Is clearly specified in yoga tantra. This initiation has six distinct parts Together known as the master’s initiation. Based on what is stated in this citation, it should be pointed out that yoga tantra has the five initiations of the student (water, etc.) and six initiations within the initiation of the master, a total of eleven. T his is evident in sources such as this tantra [just cited], as well as the Indestructible Garland and others.

With regard to these initiations, a person may merely enter the mandala [but not be initiated];13 or enter the mandala [and be initiated]. [In the latter case], the person who does not assume the vows of the five families but does assume those of the bodhisattva will be given only the student initiations; while one who assumes both vows will be given the initiations in their entirety (including those of the vajra master). T hese specifications

are made in [[[Anandagarbha’s]]] [[[Illumination]]] Commentary on the Summation of Essential Principles.

T he secret initiation in this context is unlike that of the highest yoga tantra. What is called secret initiation in yoga tantra refers to the student secretly entering the mandala, and having entered, viewing it, followed by the [[[master’s]]] revealing of the essential principles of the mandala and deity, the ten essential principles such as the mandala, and the different activations [performed by a vajra master].

Some yoga tantras also speak of a “conferral of the pristine awareness through wisdom initiation.” However, this is simply a name applied to the setting [of the student] in the training in the four seals after the transmission of mantra.


The Indestructible Peak states:15 Having taken refuge in the Three Jewels, The Buddha, his teachings, and his followers...

With this formula, the vows are proclaimed. T hen, the candidate is examined, and one deemed qualified [to receive the initiation] enters the mandala. At that point, one repeats the following words: Just as the protectors throughout the three times... up to: ...and set all beings in the state of perfect peace.16

When one has repeated this formula three times, it is said that one has assumed, according to ritual, the mantric vows to avoid the fourteen defeating transgressions and to fulfill the prescriptions of the fourteen branch pledges.17 Although this is indeed the case, for mantric vows to be complete depends upon receiving [the main part of] the initiation. Thus, as is stated in the section on the three types of ethics [in the Infinite Ocean of Knowledge], “the assuming of vows is complete at the conclusion of the initiation ritual.” T he pledges and vows that are to be safeguarded in yoga tantra have been presented previously [in the Buddhist Ethics section of the Infinite Ocean of Knowledge].


This section has two parts: the stage of familiarization [with the deity]; and the stage of effecting powers.


This is presented in two parts: a general statement on the four elements of the path; and distinctions in the main practice of yoga.


... An individual Who is free of shortcomings and possessed of four qualifications and the vows, Through the result and its fundamental cause, trains in the means of actualization: The deity yogas incorporating the four seals which serve to purify The ground-of-all, afflicted, mental, and sense consciousnesses.

T he master Anandagarbha [in his Illumination] asserts that all the stages of yoga tantra’s path are contained in these four elements: the individual qualified to enter [[[yoga tantra]]], the result to be achieved, the fundamental cause, and the means whereby the result is achieved.

T he first, the recipient [of the teachings] qualified to enter [[[yoga tantra]]] is an individual who has overcome the four shortcomings of not having engendered an awakening mind, and so on; and is endowed with [their opposites,] the four qualifications: having formed in the proper way both the aspiring and venturing aspects of an awakening mind, which is the entrance to the universal way; freedom from hesitations and doubts by virtue of one’s great confidence in tantra; following the precepts of the Buddha by virtue of one’s ability to observe the pledges as taught by the Transcendent One, inclusive of the points of training with respect to prohibitions and injunctions; and faith in the path and the teacher of the path [the Buddha], in the deity and in the master. In addition, the Indestructible Peak specifies that practitioners are required to follow the tantric path while observing either lay or monk vows.

The second, the result to be achieved, is the great enjoyment dimension of Buddha Vairochana, the embodiment of the four dimensions of awakening,18 free from all obscurations and endowed with perfect qualities.

On this subject, most yoga tantra masters speak of there being a minor Vairochana, the one who emanated as the mandala on the summit of Mount Meru and other locations and taught [[[yoga tantra]]]; and Great Vairochana, possessed of the five certainties, who dwells in the Great Unsurpassed Realm and who is the basis for [all other] emanations. Shakyamitra’s Ornament of Kosala 20 and Anandagarbha’s Illumination of the Summation of Essential Principles explain that Vairochana is a form dimension, the essence of the dimensions of the five transcendent ones,21 who resides in the Unsurpassed Realm; and Great Vairochana is the beginningless and endless ultimate dimension of phenomena, the nature of pristine awareness, free from the two obscurations.

T he third, the fundamental cause for achieving the result, is the awakening mind, Ever-Perfect (Samantabhadra), which has neither beginning nor end, in nature is luminous clarity and is characterized as one’s intrinsic selfawareness [i.e., awareness that cognizes its own nature]. It serves as the manifestation ground of all the deities, mantras, and seals, being the essential reality of one’s own mind, utterly pure from the beginning of time.

The fourth, the means whereby the result is achieved, comprises the following yogas: the yoga of the great seal of awakened body which serves to dispel the adventitious deceptions of the ground-of-all consciousness and thereby to actualize its nature, mirror-like pristine awareness; the yoga of the pledge seal of awakened mind, to dispel the adventitious deceptions of afflicted consciousness and thereby to actualize its nature, the pristine awareness of total sameness; the yoga of the doctrine seal of awakened speech, to dispel the adventitious deceptions of mental consciousness and thereby to actualize its nature, discerning pristine awareness; and the yoga of the action seal of awakened activity,23 to dispel the adventitious deceptions of the five sense consciousnesses and thereby to actualize their natures, the pristine awareness of accomplishment. T he pristine awareness of the ultimate dimension of phenomena is present in the natures of the other four.

In summation, the means whereby one achieves the result consists of both method and wisdom. Method, which effects purification of deceptions, refers to deity yoga meditation related to the four seals, plus attendant practices.26 Wisdom refers to the pristine awareness of one’s intrinsic self-awareness, which directly knows mind’s essential reality. T he latter, the wisdom aspect, is realized by a person of low faculties in a gradual way by means of study, reflection, and so on; and by one of sharp faculties instantaneously through the power of blessing and meditation.


This section has two parts: practice with signs; and practice without signs.


One of sharp faculties trains in the initial union and the two supremely triumphant contemplations; One of low faculties, by means of contemplation of the four yogas, Trains in attention on the coarse deity and the subtle insignia While applying the ten essential principles. A person of sharp faculties practices deity yoga meditation on the basis of three contemplations that conform to early events: the way the Buddha first became fully enlightened; the way the Buddha, in the interim, emanated the mandalas for the root and explanatory [[[yoga tantras]]] and set in motion the wheel of teachings of yoga tantra on the summit of Mount Meru and at other locations;27 the way the Buddha, in the end, as the allpowerful sovereign of each [[[yoga tantra]]] family,28 enacted activities such as guiding students; and related secondary events. T hese events applied as forms of yoga by later followers [of the Buddha] [constitute the three contemplations of] the initial union, supremely triumphant mandala, and supremely triumphant act.

Since a person of low faculties would be unable to practice the three contemplations, he or she should practice the meditations of the four yogas: the yoga of generating oneself as the pledge deity of one’s family; the subsequent yoga of merging the pristine awareness deity with the pledge deity and experiencing this [union] as one flavor; the all-inclusive yoga of meditation on this [union] as the very nature of the animate and inanimate world; and upon completion of the first three yogas, the supreme yoga in which the state of single-minded contemplation is attained. These contemplations are called “attention on the coarse [[[form]] of the] deity.” Once a practitioner has cultivated deity yoga by means of the three contemplations or the four yogas, whichever appropriate, he or she engages in what is called “attention on the minute insignia of the deity,” explained as follows:

With the tongue positioned against the palate, one visualizes at the navel a minute five-pronged vajra no larger than a hair’s tip or a sesame seed, the same color as the deity. One imagines that this vajra exits through the nostrils and stands erect on the tip of the nose.30 One’s mind then remains fixed on the vajra by means of both mindfulness and vigilance. When concentration has become stable, a distinct sensation of bliss will arise at the tip of the nose or in other parts of the body. As a result, one will achieve great serviceability of body and mind.

Once concentration on the features of the minute vajra has become stable, one imagines that many minute vajras emanate forth and pervade everything from the inside and surroundings of one’s body to all parts of the universe. Finally, one draws in all these emanated [[[vajras]]], from the tip of the nose and into the heart. T his meditation yields great benefits, such as achievement of the special contemplation of mental quiescence.

These forms of yoga are trained in and brought to realization through the methods of the ten essential principles [of tantric expertise]:

T he two mandalas (form and formless)... fire-offering rituals (inner and outer); dissolution; and the request for departure. T his passage refers to the following ten: the mandala, which is twofold, that of reflected images [i.e., with form] and the formless one;32 mantra, outer and inner; four seals [the great seal, pledge seal, doctrine seal, and action seal] applied to the deities; [[[rituals]] of] protection of oneself, the place, and the yoga; the invitation that gathers the pristine awareness deities; [whispered] recitation of vajra words and mental recitation of mantra; meditation comprising the three contemplations, and so forth; fire-offering rituals, both outer and inner, performed for the sake of mandala worship or other purposes; dissolution, which is the release of the seals [to interrupt the contemplation of oneself as the deity]; and request for the [[[deity’s]]] departure after making offerings.


Perfect penetrating wisdom is the view of the unborn. T he Summation of Essential Principles states:33 With an understanding of the syllable a One meditates on the forms of all syllables.

Through meditation from one’s mouth to another’s, One comes to attain the powers.

The meaning of the syllable a in this citation is understood to be the unborn [[[nature]]]. Applying that understanding, one examines all the syllables of mantras by breaking them down into parts, and meditates on their selfless nature. The meaning of “mouth” is understood to be the door [to liberation]. Applying that understanding, one penetrates [the meaning of] emptiness, the door to liberation,34 with regard to oneself [as the deity], and likewise with regard to the deities in front and the mantras. H ere, what is taught involves primarily wisdom that is conceptual. Furthermore, the same tantra states:

That which is called perfect penetrating wisdom Is known to be contemplation. T he seals should be practiced in that state: Meditation [in this way] brings rapid success.

The perfect penetrating wisdom spoken of in this citation is the view of the unborn [[[nature]]]; it denotes contemplative equanimity in a state without any concept whatsoever, based on knowledge of the lack of intrinsic nature of things. T he Indestructible Peak presents extensive teachings on the forms of signless meditations in the transcendent family, vajra family, and the other families, for which is emphasized analytical insight by means of discerning wisdom. [The signless yoga] taught in the Summation of Essential Principles, on the other hand, comprises both mental quiescence and insight. Meditation in which mental quiescence and insight are alternated depending on conditions of mental agitation, fogginess, and other [impediments] that arise in practice is taught in [Shakyamitra’s] Ornament of Kosala.


This discussion will form part of the following section.


Powers and the pristine awareness of the seals are effected Through meditative absorption, recitation, and fire-offering rituals.'

T here are three [[[methods]]] in the process of effecting powers: reliance on meditative absorption, which brings about mainly supramundane powers; recitation of the mantra, effecting both [[[mundane]] and supramundane] powers; and fire-offering rituals, effecting mainly mundane powers. T he ultimate result of all [three] is attainment of the supreme [power]: pristine awareness of the seals [of awakened body, speech, mind, and activities].


H aving completed familiarization, one applies oneself to the practice of effecting powers [with understanding] of the utter purity [[[emptiness]]] of the three spheres [[[meditator]], meditation, and object meditated upon]. Subsequently, one cultivates the seals [of awakened body, speech, mind, and activities] for the benefit of others and attends to the infinite activations associated with those [four] seals, thereby experiencing [favorable] signs and developing supernormal cognitive powers. Having succeeded in that, one effects powers through collective practice according to the procedure set out in the subsequent-practice section of the Glorious Supreme Original Being Tantra.38 If this does not lead to success, the practice must be repeated seven times. If success is still not forthcoming, one relies on the enhancement practice called “the rite of killing the deity.”39 T hese instructions are intended for the person of sharp faculties.

T he general familiarization and the special contemplation of the minute vajra are intended for someone of low faculties and for practitioners in common. Once those are mastered, one engages in the various special meditative absorptions taught [in this tantra] and thereby attains ordinary powers, such as the skill [to find] treasure [underground], walk on water, possess [the knowledge] of awareness mantras and so forth; and the supreme power [[[attainment]] of awakening].


Powers are effected through two types of recitation, vajra [[[mental]]] recitation and word [whispered] recitation. A person of sharp faculties relies on vajra recitation of two forms: the relative, for which there is a focus; and the ultimate, which is without focus.

For the relative vajra recitation with focus, one first cultivates the vivid appearance of the deity in front and oneself as the deity. H aving drawn in the wind and sense powers, one [[[mentally]]] recites the mantra while recollecting its meaning. T hen, while exhaling and right until the end of the exhalation, one continues reciting the mantra, observing the deity in front. Again, one [inhales], blocking the life wind, thoughts, and senses; focuses on the form of the deity which is undifferentiated from oneself; and continues the [[[mental]]] recitation of the mantra.

For the ultimate vajra recitation with no focus, first one meditates on the unborn [[[nature]]] of the deity in front, oneself [as the deity], and the mantra, and considers everything to be emptiness. While blocking [the movement of] the life [[[wind]]], with a mind free from grasping to anything at all, one regards the deity, oneself, and the mantra as being [[[empty]]] like the sky and mentally recites the mantra with attention on the reality dimension of the deity. When releasing the breath, one brings to mind the form [of the deity endowed] with its attributes. Again, one [inhales,] drawing in the life [[[wind]]], and so on. T hus, one continues the mental recitation, alternating between those two modes.

Persons of low faculties effect powers through the recitation of words. With one’s legs in the position particular to the deity of one’s family, one meditates on the deity in front and oneself [as the deity]. With the left hand in a fist [position appropriate to] the family, one holds the insignia of the family. With the right hand, one holds at the heart the family’s chaplet (for counting numbers of mantras). One recites the mantra for a period of four months in a style particular to the family (silently in the case of the transcendent family [of Vairochana], and so on.) When that is completed, one recites the mantra for another four months, four sessions a day, in front of a representation of one’s deity. At the conclusion [of the four months], one exerts oneself fervently in the recitation for the entirety of one night. It is taught that as a result, at daybreak, one gains powers from the representation of one’s deity.

In these ways, a practitioner effects the supreme power [[[awakening]]], as well as the mundane powers associated with external articles, [the state of] sky-farer awareness-holder, and so on. T he former (supreme) is the power [accrued] mainly through vajra recitation; the latter (mundane), the powers [accrued] mainly through word recitation. However, the powers effected by word recitation eventually lead to the supramundane power.


On the particular fire-platform appropriate for the purpose (purification of negativities, enhancement of the [[[family]] and spiritual] lineage, or other purpose), one performs the fire-offering ritual every day preceded by the deity yoga. T his is continued until signs indicating success (in, for example, purification of negativities) have manifested to oneself or to another. T hen, one performs each of the [four] activations [appeasement, enrichment, domination, and the fierce form]. [In addition to] these explanations of various procedures to effect powers, the use in the path of the bliss derived from [the male and female] holding hands is also found in this tantra.


One of sharp faculties swiftly crosses the stages and paths in one lifetime; And one of low faculties, in sixteen or less. The culmination of the five awakenings Is perfect enlightenment, in essence the five pristine awarenesses.

Once the path of this [[[tantra]]] has been entered, a person of sharp faculties is said to traverse all the stages and paths of yoga tantra within one lifetime, while one of low faculties does so in up to sixteen lifetimes. T hus, in comparison to the previous [[[tantras]]], the time one takes is extremely brief.

To expand, at the tenth stage of awakening, a practitioner, whether of sharp or low faculties, will receive the initiation of great light [from all the buddhas], and thereupon practice the contemplation that is the perfect end of the fourth meditative absorption.41 One who has attained such absorption is known as “one endowed with a mental body,”42 “a bodhisattva in the last existence,” and “a bodhisattva accomplisher of all intentions” since [at that stage] to accomplish all of one’s [intended] deeds depends merely upon one’s wish to do so.

Such an “accomplisher of all intentions” attains enlightenment in the realm of Unsurpassed [called] Richly Adorned, doing so in the following way: Dwelling in the heart of awakening, through the force of having actualized the mind of unsurpassable awakening, one remains in equanimity in the unstirring contemplation possessed of six qualities.44 At that time, all the transcendent ones of the ten directions arouse one from that contemplation and impart the instructions on the five awakenings.45 T hereupon, by contemplating these five awakenings [in sequence], one attains perfect awakening, in essence the five pristine awarenesses.

This state of enlightenment possesses the characteristics of the three dimensions of awakening: the reality dimension, in flavor identical to the four pristine awarenesses, in essence the pristine awareness of the ultimate dimension of phenomena; the enjoyment dimension in its major aspect, the manifestation in the Great Unsurpassed Realm as form endowed with five certainties, and the enjoyment dimension in its minor aspect, which, as the all-powerful sovereign, emanates the mandala, teaches [[[yoga tantra]]], and so forth, on the summit of Mount Meru and at other locations; and the manifest dimension which demonstrates the twelve deeds,47 such as dwelling in the Joyful Realm, and so forth.

Thus, although [traversing the stages and paths in] yoga tantra does take a long time, ultimate buddhahood will be achieved within one minor aeon.


d' Highest Yoga Tantra [I.B.2.a.iii.dd.1'.d'] i' The Meaning of the Name and the Essence of Highest Yoga Tantra ii' Ascertainment of the Meaning of This Tantra aa' A Concise Presentation of Its Composition

1 T he Causal Continuum 2 T he Continuum of the Ground or Method 3 T he Resultant Continuum bb' The Means of Realizing the Three Continuums

 . . . .  

[T his chapter, a continuation of the discussion of the four sets of tantra, presents] the fourth system, highest yoga tantra, which is explained in two parts: the meaning of its name and its essence; and ascertainment of the meaning of this tantra.


The highest tantra is the supreme yoga of method and wisdom. T he name of this system is “highest yoga tantra” (or “great yoga tantra”), “yoga” because it inseparably unites method and wisdom; “great,” being supreme among all tantras; and “highest” since there is no other tantra above it. T his is substantiated by the following passage from the Kalachakra Root Tantra:

Yoga is not composed of method alone, Nor is it exclusively wisdom. T he Transcendent One taught yoga As the union of method and wisdom.

and this statement in the Commentary on the Indestructible Tent:1 T hat which is known as “highest of all tantras” is the highest yoga tantra because it surpasses action, conduct, and yoga tantras. T he essence of highest yoga tantra is as described in the Compendium [on the Indestructible Pristine Awareness Tantra]:

In the midst of an entourage of queens, in the form of an all powerful sovereign, and by means of the contemplation of great bliss, to dwell perfectly in the bhaga of the queen; to train in accordance with sublime vajra words, the statements of six parameters, contrary to worldly customs; and to practice [[[deity yoga]]] to effect the objects of practice [(i.e., powers)]: these apply to great yoga tantra. To clarify this passage, the following elements are said to apply to, or be contained within, highest (great) yoga tantra: In the midst of an entourage of queens, in the form of an all-powerful sovereign such as H eruka (in mother tantra) or Vairochana (in father tantra);3 and by means of the contemplation of the great bliss of the male and female [[[deities]]’] union, to be the “king who resides in the castle” (as is said in the tantras), which means to dwell perfectly in the queen’s bhaga,4 that is, in the divine palace in the source of phenomena; to train according to the sublime vajra words,5 the statements of six parameters—interpretable, non-interpretable, provisional, definitive, standard, and coined terminology—which are contrary to worldly human customs (as is said in the tantras, “Success is rapidly achieved by relying on one’s mother, sister, or daughter”7) by performing extremely base acts; and thereby to effect ordinary and supreme powers.


This section has four parts: a concise presentation of its composition; the means of realizing the three continuums; a very detailed presentation of each of the continuums; and a synopsis of this system’s view, meditation, conduct, and result.'


The meaning of the tantra is contained in the three continuums. There seem to be a few ways of condensing the meaning of the highest yoga tantra from the perspectives of the different sets of tantra and individual masters. Of these, the main one is as found in the Continuation of the Guhyasamaja Tantra:8 Tantra denotes continuousness.

It is composed of three aspects:

Ground, nature, and inalienableness. When distinguished in this way, T he nature aspect is the cause; T he ground aspect refers to the method; And inalienableness, the result. T hese three contain tantra’s meaning.

Since [this tantra’s] composition of three continuums is widely known, it will be presented according to that format. T he term “tantra” [“continuum”] denotes the mind of awakening, EverPerfect (Samantabhadra), which has neither beginning nor end, in nature luminous clarity. It is “continuous” since, from time without beginning up to the attainment of enlightenment, it has always been present without any interruption.

Tantra has “three [aspects]”: the “nature” or causal continuum, from the perspective of being the fundamental cause [for awakening]; “ground” or continuum of method, from the perspective of being the contributory condition [for awakening]; and “inalienableness” or resultant continuum, from the perspective of being the awakening that is the perfect fulfillment of the two goals [of one’s own and others’ welfare].

The meaning of this alone is of crucial importance in understanding this tantra and will therefore be explained here in a concise form.


T he causal continuum denotes the natural condition of mind from the level of a sentient being to the state of a buddha, which abides, like the sky, without ever changing. T here are any number of expressions for this, such as “nature,” “essence of enlightenment,” and “naturally present affinity,” found in the sutras; and “essential principle of oneself,” “awakening mind,” and “mind of Ever-Perfect,” found in the lower tantras. In this system of highest yoga tantra, however, the causal continuum may be explained in conjunction with the meaning of the union of e and vam.

T he natural condition of the mind is possessed of three features: remaining unchanged from the level of a sentient being until the state of a buddha; being an inner knowing, whose characteristic nature is one’s intrinsic self awareness [i.e., awareness that cognizes its own nature];10 and being supreme immutable great bliss. T his natural condition itself, called by various names such as “reality as it is,” “causal Vajradhara,” “original buddha,” and so forth, is represented by the syllable vam.

T hat reality, owing to the crucial fact of being the mind which is the very nature of things, presents itself with form or appearance.11 In the impure state, its appearance manifests as the aggregates and other constituents of an ordinary being in cyclic existence. In the both-pure-and-impure state, it arises as the infinite visions of the contemplation of a yogin. In the utterly pure state,12 it appears in the form of a wheel of inexhaustible ornaments of the body, speech, and mind of a buddha. T hat which has the nature of these manifold forms is called “emptiness endowed with the supreme of all aspects,” or “totality of forms,” “totality of faculties,” and so forth, and is represented by the syllable e.

The union of what is represented by e and by vam is referred to as the “causal continuum,” “cause” in terms of being the fundamental stuff of awakening and “continuum,” because it exists from time without beginning as the nature of the mind and continues from the level of a sentient being until the state of a buddha. [[[Maitreya’s]]] Jewel Affinity states:13 From beginningless time, unfettered

By the shell of beingsemotions, T he nature of mind is stainless And is said to have no beginning. Another reference to “nature” is found in [[[Nagarjuna’s]]] Fundamental Verses Called Wisdom:14 The nature is pure and unmodified

And does not depend on anything else.

As stated here, the nature is not something created anew by causes and conditions or some reification but is the authentic condition of mind’s very essence.


In a broad sense, the term “ground” refers to all possible aspects of the path which allow one to progress from [first] awakening one’s affinity [for the universal way]15 until realization of the [fully] awakened state; and, in a strict sense, to the initiations which ripen one and the path which effects liberation, along with all its branches. These aspects constitute the “ground” because they serve as the support for the attaining of and abiding in the result, which is awakening, just as the earth provides the ground for the growth of new shoots. “Continuum” refers to the connectedness of all aspects of the path. T he two powers (provisional and ultimate) are connected to the two phases of the path [[[generation and completion]]]; the two phases, connected to the pledges and vows as their support; and the pledges and vows, connected to initiations, which provide the entrance [to the highest yoga tantra].

T he term “method” is used because the path itself serves as the contributory condition in the actualization of the result of awakening. Method includes both the distant method and the close. T he distant method comprises all aspects of the path, from the three ways of the perfections [i.e., the ways of the proclaimers, solitary sages, and bodhisattvas] up to and including yoga tantra; and the close method, the two phases of the path of the great yoga tantra, as well as the branches, which are practiced after having received the initiation.


T he “resultant continuum” denotes becoming the foundation for others’ welfare when the fundamental cause, freed from all adventitious stains, transforms into the state of full awakening as the dimension endowed with the two purities.16 Such a foundation would deteriorate or be lost if the result [of awakening] meant a state of temporary reversal of the obstacles caused by obscurations, or the perfect peace [that is the goal] of inferior [[[spiritual]] pursuits,] characterized as the cessation of the stream of consciousness.17 T his is not the case here, where the result means a permanent and continuous state, and is therefore referred to as “inalienableness.”

As long as space exists, there will be sentient beings, and as long as sentient beings exist, the awakened state continues without interruption. T he result is therefore called “continuum” owing to its permanent character. It is called “result” since it is the final main goal yearned for by all bodhisattvas who practice according to the method of mantra.

T he above discussion of the three continuums is based on Abhayakara’s elucidation in Awn of Esoteric Instructions. What follows now is an explanation of this subject that is very easily understood: All of the distinct appearances (such as environments, bodies, resources, [notions of] time, perceptions, mentations, and conceptual constructs) that are experienced by these [[[beings]]] widely known as “sentient beings of five classes”18 are produced by the inconceivable force of actions perpetrated by each one of them. Like falling hairs seen by someone with a cataract, these appearances are merely deceptive visions, which seem to be separate from oneself but in fact are not, arising due to the habitual tendencies of beginningless ignorance.

Even at the very moment of the exuberance of these appearances, the ground of their manifestation, the mind which is by nature luminous clarity, is present without the tarnish of the habitual tendencies [that create] deceptive visions: T his mind of luminous clarity is called the causal continuum.

By means of the esoteric instructions of an authentic master, one develops familiarity with [the understanding that] whatever appears is the very essence of luminous clarity, with nothing to be eliminated or added. Alternatively, persons incapable of that practice would cultivate the method whereby all appearances are freely enjoyed as the various displays of gods and goddesses within the limitlessly ornamented palace of the transcendent ones. Having approached the pristine awareness of luminous clarity in either of those ways, one stabilizes the practice of familiarization with this pristine awareness [so that it is] continuous like the current of a river. T his is called the continuum of the path.

One develops continuous familiarization in that way, and at some point, although one’s mind manifests freely in the form of the entire range of the knowable, since the stains of deception have then been totally exhausted, dualistic impressions are absent, and the mind [is realized] as great pristine awareness of self-awareness [i.e., awareness that cognizes its own nature], the very essence of the state of union free from all obscurations.

As this state is undefiled by even the slightest concept, construct, or subject and object duality, there manifests spontaneously the awakened activity that completely and fortuitously fulfills all aspirations of sentient beings throughout the infinity of space, without partiality and in accordance with their interests, intentions, and faculties. T his awakened activity is called the resultant continuum.


The causal continuum is to be understood by eliminating misconceptions through study and reflection. The continuum of method is to be relied upon through experience in meditation. The resultant continuum is to be realized through three accumulations. T he causal continuum is to be understood, just as it is, once misconceptions [concerning reality] have been eliminated by means of the wisdom that arises from broad and impartial study and undistorted reflection [on the teachings]. T he continuum of method is to be relied upon in such a way that the significance of one’s study and reflection does not remain as mere intellectual understanding, but becomes a personal experience based on meditation attended by intense faith and effort. T he resultant continuum is to be realized through having brought to perfection the three accumulations of merit, pristine awareness, and ethics.



cc' A D etailed Presentation of the Three Continuums in Highest Yoga Tantra [I.B.2.a.iii.dd.1'.d'.ii'.cc'] 1 T he Causal Continuum a Shantigupta’s Elucidation of the Causal Continuum i Essence ii Principal Nature iii C haracteristics iv Synonyms v Attributes vi Temporal States vii Immutability

[This chapter begins] the very detailed presentation of the three continuums in highest yoga tantra, for which there are three parts: one, the basis of purification, the causal continuum, which is the nature of the ground-ofall; two, the purificatory means, the method continuum, the foundation for the stages of the path; and three, the actualized purified state, the resultant continuum of inalienableness. Part one, the causal continuum, is presented first from the perspective of the great adept Shantigupta and his lineage.


The causal continuum is to be understood by its essence; Principal nature of luminous clarity; four characteristics; Synonyms (continuum, ground, ground-of-all, and original buddha);

Attributes of interrelated flaws and qualities, or causes and results; Five temporal states; and immutability. ... T he causal continuum has been described by Tibetan philosophers in a number of contradictory ways. H owever, the prevalent view on this subject has been mentioned above. H ere, the causal continuum will be discussed according to the elucidation of Shantigupta, a heruka in this age of conflict, and his lineage:

Essence, principal nature, characteristics,

Synonyms, attributes, temporal states, and immutability: T hese epitomize the causal continuum. Accordingly, the causal continuum is explained in seven points, the first of which is its essence:


T he essence of the causal continuum refers to its aspects that ceaselessly occur from time without beginning, namely, that which is the luminous clarity nature of the mind; mind and mental events; the nature of the environment and inhabitants; the channels, winds, vital constituents, and the ultimate dimension of phenomena.'


The luminous clarity nature of the mind is the principal of the above aspects. Thus, it is considered here as a separate point with this name [[[principal]] nature].


Four distinctive features characterize the causal continuum: its close conformity to the attributes of the result [of buddhahood], such as buddha realms, the dimensions of awakening, and pristine awareness; its nature as great bliss; its uninterrupted flow; and its presence due to the very nature of reality. SYNONYMS [iv] Its synonyms include terms such as continuum of cause, ground of purification, ground-of-all, and original buddha. Each of these has several distinctions.


“Cause” [in “continuum of cause”] comprises the following fourteen causes: the cause of emotional afflictions; the cause of karma; the cause of thorough affliction (suffering), the environment, and the inhabitants; the cause of the path; the cause of emptiness, bliss, and their union; the cause of the coarse, the subtle, and the very subtle; the cause of the two form dimensions, and the cause of the reality dimension of awakening.

“Ground” [in “ground of purification”] comprises the following fifteen grounds: the ground of the purity of the environment, the ground of the purity of the inhabitants, the ground of the purity of offerings, the ground of the purity of the transformations, and the ground of the purity of their natures; the ground of cyclic existence, the ground of perfect peace, and the ground of their natures; the ground of the partial, and the ground of the final; the ground of the relative, and the ground of the ultimate; the ground of the coarse, the ground of the subtle, and the ground of the very subtle.

T he first five, beginning with the purity of the environment, are distinctions in the basis of purification in terms of karmic actions and activities. T he next three, beginning with the ground of cyclic existence, are distinctions in terms of liberation and bondage. T he next two, the grounds of the partial and the final, are distinctions in terms of what is nominal and what is real. T he next two, the grounds of the relative and the ultimate, are distinctions in terms of substantial and designative existence. T he last three are distinctions in terms of the manner of realization.

Moreover, the ground of the coarse comprises nine [aspects], distinguished according to characteristics and types of persons. Sandalwood, utpala flower, lotus, red lotus, and jewel-like persons represent five distinctions based on characteristics.2 D ifferentiations in emotional afflictions, karma, physical traits, and family represent four distinctions based on types. T hese [last four] are conceptual designations applied to persons.

T he “ground-of-all”3 corresponds to the way it is explained in the context of the way of characteristics. T he “original buddha” is twofold: the intrinsic original buddha and the sudden original buddha.4


T he causal continuum is possessed of interrelated flaws and qualities, or causes and results, [explained as follows]: In the causal continuum are obscurations of the four states (waking, dream, deep sleep, and sexual union) present as flaws or causes, together with qualities or results, which are the four joys and the four [stages of experience of] light.5

Similarly, that which has the meaning of evam maya,6 the four channel wheels, as well as the four winds and four vital essences,7 are accompanied by stains and dispersion,8 owing to which these are reified as the “four families,” “four tantras,” “four beings,” “four qualities,” “four periods,” and so on,9 and are present as flaws or causes. At the same time, four habitual tendencies generate four notions: the notion that everything truly exists, the notion that everything is subtle particles, the notion that everything is mind only, and the notion that not even the mind has true existence. From these notions originate the views associated with the four [[[Buddhist]]] philosophies, the four [original Buddhist] schools, the four moments [of an act], the four joys, the four truths, and so on.10

These views, along with the four seals,11 serve to purify stains. When a certain degree of freedom from stains and absence of dispersion is achieved, both flaws and qualities, or causes and results, come to be present mutually related. [As the very nature of the causal continuum is] perfectly realized just as it is, a total freedom from stains and absence of dispersion is achieved. Consequently, the causal continuum manifests solely as qualities and results, such as the four dimensions of awakening or the four indestructible states.12


T here are five temporal states of the causal continuum: the state at which the [[[path]]] concordant with [the result of] liberation has not yet been entered; that state at which it has been entered; the state on the path of an ordinary person; the state on the path of training; and that on the path of no more training. These five are called, respectively, original buddha, causal continuum, path-entered, exalted, and resultant Vajradhara.


T he immutability of the causal continuum refers to its essence, which remains unaffected when passing from a former to a later state. T hus, the causal continuum is neither destroyed nor modified by birth, old age, sickness, death, migration, [twelve] links of dependent origination, logical investigation, truths, absorption in the nonconceptual state, or the resultant indestructible contemplation. T he causal continuum should be understood by means of these seven points.


b Naropa’s Exceptional Exposition on the Causal Continuum [I.B.2.a.iii.dd.1'.d'.ii'.cc'.1".b]

i Overview ii Detailed Presentation aa T he Main Topic: T he Authentic Condition of Mind (1) The Pure State: The Essence of the Authentic Condition (a) T he Common Explanation in Accordance with the Way of the Perfections (b) The Uncommon Explanation: The Special Feature inH ighest Yoga Tantra (2) The Impure State: The Manifestation of AppearancesBased on the Condition of Deception

[T his chapter, a continuation of the discussion on the causal continuum as the basis of purification and nature of the ground-of-all, presents] part two, the exceptional exposition on this subject by the learned and accomplished Naropa and his lineage.


This has two parts: an overview; and a detailed presentation.


...The exceptional system Speaks of two authentic conditions, that of body and that of mind. T his exceptional system of exposition [originates with] the lord of attainment, Tilopa, who directly received from a pristine awareness sky-farer the esoteric instructions [contained in] the tantra Perfect Words.1 T he tantra states:

T he [three] stages: the authentic condition of things, The path, and the arising of the result. Accordingly, all of the content of the path of highest yoga tantra is included in three stages: the ground or authentic condition of things; the path; and the arising of the result [of awakening]. On the first, Tilopa states:2

The authentic condition of phenomena is twofold: T hat of the body and that of the mind. To explain, “authentic condition” denotes the nature, or way of being, of all phenomena, inclusive of everything from form to omniscience. T he authentic condition is also called the “total seal at the ground stage,” “primordial reality,” “original lord,” “affinity for enlightenment,” and “essence of enlightenment.” On that basis of division, there are two authentic conditions of things, that of the body and that of the mind, when distinguished in terms of the way the authentic condition manifests.


This section has three parts: the main topic, the authentic condition of mind; the branch topic, the authentic condition of the body; and representation [of the causal continuum] in evam and other symbols.


This is presented in two parts: the pure state, the essence of the authentic condition; and the impure state, the manifestation of appearances based on the condition of deception.


The causal continuum, the essence of enlightenment, is commonly known as an “affinity.” T his affinity seems to be described in a number of different ways by philosophers. Therefore, it is important to have at least a partial understanding of their views. Analysts maintain that the mental factor of detachment with regard to worldly life and worldly possessions, with few desires and an attitude of contentment, is the affinity of an exalted person.

Traditionists consider affinity to be a mental seed, the potency that can give rise to immaculate pristine awareness. Idealists or experientialists consider affinity to be the potency that generates immaculate qualities, which has always been present in mind’s continuum from time without beginning. This potency is asserted to exist due to the very nature of reality. In the centrist tradition, there is agreement, for the most part, in asserting that the affinity is the true nature [of mind], just as it is, attended by stains. H owever, the different ways of identifying that true nature are extremely numerous. T his has given rise, here in Tibet, to arguments over the various distinct views [on the affinity], with a countless number of persons speaking only nonsense.

In the context of the indestructible way, the essence of enlightenment is defined in different ways. T he patriarchs of the magnificent Sakya [[[tradition]]] explain that [the essence of enlightenment] is mind’s nature, which is intrinsically pure. T hey state that although the qualities [of enlightenment] are not actually manifest in that essence, they are nevertheless inherently present as seeds. When the result [of enlightenment] is actualized by means of the contributory factors of the two accumulations [[[merit]] and wisdom] or practice of the two phases [[[generation and completion]]], the qualities of enlightenment are attained through a transformation of those seeds.

T he great omniscient one of Jomonang4 [distinguishes two types of affinity], the naturally present and the evolving. He maintains that the naturally present affinity endowed with the thirty-two qualities of the reality dimension of awakening is present in all sentient beings as a natural attribute and has always been since the beginning of time. T his affinity is a real buddha that is concealed in adventitious stains. T he evolving affinity, on the other hand, is acquired anew, generated through the contributory factors of propensities developed in hearing the teachings, and so forth.

T he outstanding Tibetan master Sangwé Jin [[[Bodong]] Choklé Namgyal]6 describes affinity as the most refined essence of body, speech, and mind, known as “the indestructible refined essence possessed of three features.” Lord Tsongkapa and his followers explain affinity in terms of negation only, as the “emptiness of mind being devoid of true existence.”

The magnificent [[[Third Karmapa]]] Rangjung Dorjé maintains that the essence of enlightenment is ordinary awareness itself,7 which transcends definition and conceptual characteristics. It is, in nature, the indivisibility of pristine awareness and the ultimate dimension of phenomena; like the moon’s reflection on water, it is neither true nor false.8 T he omniscient Longchenpa makes the following statement in his Commentary on the Wish-Fulfilling Treasury: T hat which is primordially uncompounded, the pristine awareness that is one’s intrinsic self-awareness [i.e., awareness that cognizes its own nature], ineffable emptiness and clarity: this is the essence of enlightenment. T he Jewel Affinity says:

As it was, so it shall be: It is the unchanging nature of reality.

Explanations on the part of followers of these masters are given solely in accordance with the above traditions, apart from minor degrees of refinement in their presentations.

This concludes an overview of the ways of defining the causal continuum. What follows now is the main discussion, which has two parts: the common explanation in accordance with the way of the perfections; and an uncommon one enhanced by a special feature in the system of highest yoga tantra.


The luminous clarity nature of mind is the naturally present affinity With three features. The evolving affinity is perfectly acquired.

As illustrated by nine examples, the essence is concealed by adventitious stains.

Mind’s nature, which is undifferentiable from the sixty-four qualities of enlightenment,10 is intrinsically pure, in itself luminous clarity, the emptiness of the ultimate dimension of phenomena. T his nature of mind, referred to as the “naturally present affinity,” is the ground of everything in both cyclic life and perfect peace. It is described as having three distinguishing features: its arisal in a continuous stream from time without beginning; its presence due to the very nature of reality; and its resemblance to the six superior sense fields.

T he first feature indicates that since this affinity has arisen continuously since beginningless time, it is not one that is acquired anew. T he second feature indicates that the affinity is present, with no distinctions, in every sentient being, as the very nature of reality.

T he third feature indicates that the affinity bears seeds that are virtually identical, and equal in fortune, to the six immaculate sense fields [of a buddha] inherent in the six sense fields of a sentient being.11

T he perfectly acquired evolving affinity, according to the omniscient one of Jonang, is one that has not existed previously, but arises anew. Rangjung D orjé describes this affinity as the mind’s nature, which is intrinsically pure, undifferentiable from the emptiness of the ultimate dimension of phenomena. Being the stainless essence of the eightfold group of consciousnesses,12 it exists as the nature of the four pristine awarenesses. [The evolving affinity is so called] because it is an affinity that serves as the base from which evolve the two form dimensions of awakening.

What this means is that as a result of having perfectly developed wholesome qualities, the stain of not recognizing the very essence of the eightfold group of consciousnesses is overcome. T he eightfold group of consciousnesses are thereby liberated as self-awareness [i.e., awareness that cognizes its own nature]. When this occurs—[a process] called “transformation of the eightfold group of consciousnesses into the four pristine awarenesses”—the pristine awarenesses appear to others’ perception as the form dimensions of awakening.

Expressed concisely, the victorious Rangjung D orjé and others [define] the nature of mind attended by stains [in this way]: Its unborn essence is the naturally present affinity, and its unimpeded nature, the evolving affinity. H ence, mind’s nature attended by stains is called the “union of the two dimensions of awakening [[[formless]] and form] attended by stains.” As for the nature of mind purified of stains, its unborn essence is the reality dimension of awakening, which serves one’s own welfare, and its unimpeded nature manifests as the form dimension, which serves others’ welfare. H ence, the nature of mind cleansed of stains is called the “union of the two dimensions of awakening devoid of stains.”

T he continuum of the ground, or essence of enlightenment, as has just been described, pervades the minds of all embodied beings. It is, however, concealed by adventitious stains (as elucidated in the Jewel Affinity using nine metaphors). As is said: Not seeing what is; seeing what is not.

Thus, there [arises] deception which misapprehends the essence. [What follows now is an explanation of] the stains that conceal the essence of enlightenment, illustrated by nine metaphors.

T he stains present in the mind of a mere sentient being who has not yet entered the path are the [[[karmic traces]] of] wholesome and unwholesome actions which serve solely as the cause of cyclic existence. T hese stains, characterized by strong or rough mental states, are of four types—attachment, aversion, delusion, and the three mixed in equal proportions—and are illustrated by four metaphors, that of a lotus, [a swarm of] honeybees, a husk, and a swamp.

T he habitual tendencies of ignorance present in the mind of an arhat, either a proclaimer or solitary sage, are the obscurations that conceal the essence of enlightenment. T he nature [of these stains] is illustrated by the metaphor of the earth covering a treasure buried below [the dwelling of] a pauper. T he stains to be forsaken on the path of seeing in the universal way which are present in the mind of an ordinary person13 who is training [on the path] are illustrated by the metaphor of [a shoot’s] skins.

T he stains to be forsaken on the [[[universal]] way’s] path of meditation which are [still] present in the mind of an exalted being [who has attained the path of seeing] are illustrated by the metaphor of an old rag.

Of the stains [to be forsaken] on the ten stages of awakening which are present in beings who dwell on those stages, stains that apply to the first seven impure stages are illustrated by the metaphor of a womb, and those that apply to the three pure stages, by the metaphor of a clay mold holding a golden image.

T he essence [of enlightenment] in each of the above cases is illustrated by the metaphors, respectively, of a buddha concealed in the hollow of a lotus; honey [guarded] by honeybees; a kernel within its husk; gold in a swamp; treasure buried in the earth; a shoot in its skins; a buddha statue wrapped in an old rag; a [[[Wikipedia:future|future]]] ruler [still] in the womb; and a golden image [still] in its clay mold.14

Its essence is unchanged throughout the three states Of the impure, both pure and impure, and utterly pure. When the essence of enlightenment is thoroughly impure due to adventitious stains, it is designated “sentient being.” When it is possessed of both the pure and the impure, it is called “bodhisattva dwelling on the path.” When it is utterly pure, it is called “transcendent one.” To explain, the impure state denotes that state of being subject to cyclic existence created by karmic actions and emotional afflictions. T he bodhisattva state denotes the state at which there is freedom from karma and emotional afflictions but not yet freedom from the level of the habitual tendencies of ignorance. T he state of a transcendent one denotes the state at which there is freedom from karma and emotional afflictions as well as freedom from the habitual tendencies of ignorance.

T hese three temporal states [of the essence of enlightenment] are asserted from the perspective of relative deception, while the essence of enlightenment itself, in being the nature of the ultimate dimension of reality, never changes. It exists from time without beginning as the source of all phenomena,

But is difficult to fathom, entwined by four paradoxes. T he [[[Mahayana]]] Phenomenology Scripture states:15

T he dimension with no beginning in time Is the abode of all phenomena. Owing to its being, cyclic life And perfect peace are experienced. Accordingly, that known as the “essence of enlightenment” has been present since time without beginning and serves as the basis upon which phenomena of cyclic life and perfect peace are conceived as deception or liberation. T his essence is extremely difficult to fathom by anyone other than a buddha. Because it is entwined by four paradoxes, it is said to be taught to bodhisattvas of exceptionally sharp faculties. T he Jewel Affinity states the four paradoxes in the following way:16 Because it is pure, yet possessed of emotional afflictions,

Because it is without thorough affliction, yet [regains] purity,

Because it has no disparity, yet [attains] qualities, Because it is spontaneous, yet without concepts.... To expand, the true nature [of the essence of enlightenment] attended by stains is, at exactly the same time, utterly pure, and yet attended by the stains of thorough affliction. T his paradox signifies its nature.

The true nature [of the essence of enlightenment] free from stains has never in the past been sullied by the stains that produce thorough affliction, and yet through the subsequent cultivation of the path, it regains its purity. T his paradox signifies its awakening.

T he essence of enlightenment is possessed of the stainless qualities of a buddha, such as the ten powers, as its very nature for which there is no disparity [even] in the state of an ordinary being; hence, it does not differ in this respect from a previous phase to a later one. Nonetheless, through the subsequent clearing away of stains, it attains these qualities anew. T his paradox signifies its qualities.

The essence of enlightenment is the activity of a buddha, effortlessly and spontaneously fulfilling the hopes and objectives of those to be guided, in accordance with their individual good fortunes. Nonetheless, it is not subject to conceptuality such as resolving to do one thing or another. T his paradox signifies its activity.

T he intrinsically pure nature of the essence of enlightenment is the source to be realized and the base to be purified. Awakening is the very essence of the realization of one’s intrinsically pure nature and the qualities that are the result arising from that realization. Awakened activity in various forms is the means through which this nature comes to be realized by others. These last three—realization, qualities, and activity—function as purificatory factors. From the base and those [three] factors arises the result, the T hree Jewels. Thus, [the Jewel Affinity] says:17

T his affinity for the T hree Jewels Is the domain of the omniscient ones. Only a buddha fully comprehends the unobscured authentic condition of the affinity; others do not. Accordingly, [the Jewel Affinity] states:18

T he inconceivable [[[essence]]] that is realized By those embodying pristine awareness, Being subtle, is not an object of study;

Being ultimate, is not an object of reflection; Being of a profound nature, is not an object Of meditation such as the mundane kind. Like form to the congenitally blind,

It has never been seen by the childish. Like the sun to a newborn still inside his home, It is seen not even by the exalted ones. Next is the uncommon explanation of the essence of enlightenment enhanced by a special feature [found] in the system of highest yoga tantra.


It is the ultimate dimension of phenomena, indivisible profundity and clarity, Abiding in the body as the pristine awareness dimension of the nature of great bliss.

T he common perspective on the authentic condition of mind [as discussed above] is enhanced in the highest system of mantra by an additional special feature. T here are several ways in which this explanation is given. H owever, the essence of enlightenment as spoken of in the way of the perfections can be considered to be the causal continuum in the system of the great yoga tantra, in which case the uncommon and special feature is what is known as self-awareness [i.e., awareness that cognizes its own nature], the nature of great bliss. An extensive discussion of this now follows. [[[Tilopa’s]]] Perfect Words states:19

Evam, the nature of method and wisdom, Abides in the center of the body

As total pristine awareness present in the body.

T he method [aspect] referred to in this verse is emphasized in the father tantra, while the wisdom [aspect] is emphasized in the mother tantra. Each has its own way of elucidating the union [of method and wisdom], the nature of evam. Simply put, the father tantra speaks of the “ultimate dimension of phenomena,” which is indivisible profundity [[[emptiness]]] and clarity [[[pristine awareness]]]. As to the way it is described, [Buddhashrijnana’s]

Liberative Essence states:

Totally free from any kind of concept, Utterly inconceivable and inexpressible, Like