the psychology of transformation: understanding buddhist tantra

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  • THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TRANSFORMATION:

    UNDERSTANDING BUDDHIST TANTRA

    JAMYANG BUDDHIST CENTRE

    LONDON JUNE 23, 2012

    WITH VEN ROBINA COURTIN

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    Contents TEACHINGS 1. The Psychology of Tantra 5 2. The Stages of the Path 15 3. Unravelling Negative Emotions 27 4. The Illusory Nature of Things 35 5. Unifiying Relative and Absolute 39 MEDITATIONS 6. Meditation on Buddha Tara 43 7. Purification: Vajrasattva in the Context of

    the Four Opponent Powers 47

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    Produced in London for use by the students of FPMTs Jamyang Buddhist Centre for a course with Ven. Robina Courtin, June 23, 2012. jamyang.co.uk With gratitude to Wisdom Publications for the use of Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, the editors introduction of Lama Yeshes Becoming the Compassion Buddha; and The Psychology of Tantra, an edited excerpt from various chapters of Lama Yeshes The Bliss of Inner Fire. wisdompubs.org And to Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive for The Illusory Nature of Things. lamayeshe.com Cover illustration of Buddha Vajrasattva, a statue at FPTMs Tushita Retreat Centre in Dharamsala, India, commissioned by Lama Zopa Rinpoche to be made in the aspect of Lama Thubten Yeshe.

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    The Psychology of Tantra: Lama Thubten Yeshe Lord Buddha taught his path to enlightenment at many different levels, according to the needs and capabilities of the many different sentient beings. His most advanced teachings, given in his esoteric aspect, Vajradhara, are known as Tantrayana or Vajrayana. Tantra is the quickest vehicle to Buddhahood, full enlightenment.

    According to Lord Buddhas Sutrayana teachings, the cause of human beings problems is desire, so it must be avoided. According to tantra, however, this very desire is used on the path to enlightenment. On the basis of strong renunciation, the great compassion of bodhicitta, and the right view of emptiness, practitioners take the resource of their own pleasure energy and, in the deep concentration of samadhi meditation, unify it with the wisdom realizing emptiness. Eventually this leads to simultaneously-born great blissful wisdom, which in turn leads to enlightenment.

    PLEASURE, NOT PAIN In tantra we are dealing with pleasure, not with pain, you must understand. The person who is qualified to practice tantra is someone who can cope with pleasure, who can experience pleasure without going berserk. This is the tantric personality. If a person is always miserable, tantra does not work for them because there is no resource of pleasure to be utilized.

    We are dealing with energy that we already have. The human body is the gold-mine of tantra. It is tremendously valuable, our most precious possession. From the tantric point of view, our pleasure resource is composed of the six distinctive characteristics of a human being: the four elements (earth, water, fire, and air), the

    channels of our subtle nervous system, and the blissful kundalini drops existing within them.

    What we need is a skillful method to harness this powerful energy so that we can achieve more and more satisfaction in our everyday lives, until we discover total satisfaction, the highest happiness of enlightenment.

    This bliss that we talk about is not just sentimental pleasure. It is a profound experience beyond our ordinary imagination. And it concerns the serious business of bringing the energy of the entire nervous system into the central channel.

    These techniques are really something for the Western mind, I tell you. You people like to work with material, with energy, dont you? You like to play with it, fix it, change it, manipulate it. Well, tantra helps you do exactly that but here we are talking about inner energy, your own pleasure resource.

    TANTRA IS ACTIVE Tantra is very serious, very profound, and we do need it. I tell you, we need it badly. In fact, without tantric practice, enlightenment is not possible. In this twentieth century, there is a tremendous explosion of delusion. It is our karma to have so much distraction. Good things are happening in our lives, but many bad things are happening too. We need the super-atomic energy of these techniques to lift us out of this confused, materialistic situation that we are caught up in.

    In the lam-rim, you see, we present the philosophy and methods intellectually. To some extent I can convince you intellectually, but this conviction is like clouds in the sky. When the intellectual conviction is strong, you say, Oh, yes, Im convinced. Then the clouds disappear, and you think, Oh, now I dont know any more. What can I do? You are discouraged, and your spiritual practice becomes weak.

    Tantra is active, and I like that. You act and you get something immediately. Inner

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    fire is very quick; it will surprise you. With other meditations it may be very difficult to achieve any result, but with these suddenly you feel that something is happening. You might even shock yourself. They are a sensitive, quick way to convince yourself that you are improving.

    WE HAVE SO MUCH POTENTIAL How can I meditate like this? you might think. I am not a great meditator. Ive just come to this course, and what does this monk expect from me? Suddenly Im being forced to meditate. Anyway, I have created so much negativity, how can I do advanced practices like these? You should not think this way, okay?

    I tell you, you never know what you can do. We cannot see our own potential. Maybe in a previous life you were a great meditator. You never know. Right now your mind might be completely distracted, then suddenly one day your potential opens, and you have a good meditation. This happens.

    Look at Milarepa. I dont think that you people have created more negative karma than Milarepa. How many people did he kill? Do you remember? He was a criminal, wasnt he? He admitted it. But he had strength. He created heavy negative karma, but he was also able to have perfect renunciation, perfect bodhicitta, perfect right view. He said good-bye to samsara.

    For me, Milarepa is a good example for us. Look around in the world. Sometimes those who create strong negativity, who create big samsara, have big liberation-success. And those who dont have success in samsara dont have any liberation-success either; they are just numb. You understand, dont you!

    My point is, you never know with human beings. You never know what you can do. Everybody should try as much as possible to do the inner fire meditation. Try! Be brave! Even if you are not successful, at least you get some experience, and that is good enough.

    BE INSPIRED Sometimes it is good to think about the lives of the great yogies so that you know what you have to do. Even after learning lam-rim, there are times when you are still not clear. If you look at their lifestyles, at the way they practiced, many things become clear.

    We can see from their stories that intellectual knowledge of Dharma alone is not enough we have to practice. There are many stories of learned people asking for guidance from someone who has not studied any of the vast treatises but who has really tasted the few teachings he may have studied. I remember His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche saying many times in his teachings that when it comes to practicing, many intellectuals have to go to beggars on the street and ask, Please tell me how to practice Dharma. Even though these scholars may have learned the entire sutras and tantras and may teach them to many students, still they are empty when it comes to practice. His Holiness was saying that this is happening in the Tibetan community and it is good for you people to keep in mind, too, isnt it? Can you imagine spending twenty or thirty years learning the entire Dharma and still not getting any better in yourself, not even knowing how to begin to practice Dharma? You think that is not possible, dont you? Im sure you think that sounds totally stupid, yet it is happening.

    NOT JUST PHILOSOPHICAL You understand, then? These meditations are not something philosphical. You have to act, to transform. Something has to happen. So I think it is a good idea that when you know even a little bit of something practical, as much as you can you act. Then it becomes real. Take karma, for instance. When we talk about karma, we intellectualize so much. We need to come down to earth. Karma is not something complicated or philosophical. Karma means watching your body, watching your mouth, watching your mind.

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    You try to keep these three doors as pure as possible. That is karma, isnt it?

    In Dharamsala, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama lives, there are many monks who are, perhaps, not so learned, who stay on the mountain for many years leading an ascetic life, meditating and doing retreat. On the other hand, there are those who are greatly learned, who dont want to live ascetic lives. I dont know why this is. Those who are not so learned stay there on the mountain really trying to taste something. I think they get the chocolate, while those famous learned ones dont. They miss the chocolate. It doesnt matter who you are, if you want to taste something, you have to go to the taste-place.

    It is exactly the same in the West. Many people have incredible intellectual understanding of Buddhism; this is not difficult for them. But it is dry, intellectual understanding and does not fertilize the heart. I think this is a problem, definitely. There are professors, for example, who have studied Buddhism for years. They have high degrees and have published books on the lam-rim and tantra. Yet many of them are not Buddhists at all. Im not putting them down; they admit it. They can read Lama Je Tsong Khapas lam-rim so fast and translate it using such incredible words, but they say, I am not Buddhist which means they dont actualize what they write about. For them it is just theory. To me this is shocking. I cant understand it. I am confused. True!

    On the other hand, there are those who have heard only the lam-rim lets say, heard about the negative mind and they begin to look inside themselves and begin to meditate. They begin to watch. Slowly, the lam-rim becomes part of them. But those intellectual people think that the negative mind is somewhere else, way up on Mt Everest. It doesnt refer to me, they think, so they dont care.

    Many of my students who are interested in learning more ask me, Lama, should I learn Tibetan? I say to them, If you want

    to learn Tibetan, learn it. If you dont want to learn it, dont. Theres enough information available in English and other languages. I have my reasons for answering them this way. Im sympathetic to Western students, and Ive been watching you. Many of my students have learned Tibetan, but after they have learned it, they seem to practice Dharma less. I am shocked. This doesnt make sense to me. The Tibetan language is not a holy language. In every culture you learn a language. Its part of samsara; youre learning a samsaric trip. In learning Tibetan, instead of learning a Western trip, you learn a Tibetan one. So I am not so interested in my students learning the Tibetan language. Whats important is to taste the chocolate. It does not matter how small a piece you get - as long as you taste it, you are satisfied. That is all. I think that is all Buddhism can do.

    I remember His Holiness the Dalai Lama saying one time that, when he visited some Kagyu monasteries, he saw many monks who were not so learned but who were practicing seriously, doing retreat, leading ascetic lives and experiencing many hardships. His Holiness said that these monks studied something, a small part of a commentary perhaps, then immediately put great energy and effort into meditating on it. And then there are some Gelugpa monks, for example, who are very learned but who are not putting so much energy into their practice. Im quoting the Dalai Lamas words, okay, Im not giving my own interpretation. His Holiness expressed the wish for balance between those Kagyupas who put incredible energy into practicing meditation without much learning and those Gelugpas who are incredibly learned but do very little practice. I am sure His Holiness is not joking. He has no sectarianism. He was impressed by those Kagyu retreaters.

    I will make my point again. As soon as you understand one subject clearly, put it into your heart and practice it, then you will get the chocolate. Is that clear? I want you to understand this. For example, when

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    someone has shown you exactly how to make pizza from the beginning to the end how to combine the tomatoes, the mozzarella cheese, the herbs that is enough for you to make it and eat it and enjoy it. But Western people are easily confused. If someone comes along and says, Oh, you dont know much! You cant make pizza because you dont know how to make curry, you will think, Wow! Now I cant practice at all. Of course, I am not saying that you should not learn. Learn the essential things clean-clear, then put them in your heart and integrate them.

    According to the great Sakya Pandita, someone who has not received the teachings but still tries to meditate is like a person without arms or legs trying to climb up a rocky mountain. This needs to be interpreted in the right way. It means that if you dont get the information about making pizza, trying to make pizza is a disaster. But you cannot say that people who dont know how to make curry cannot actualize pizza. That is nonsense. Many people make big mistakes in this area.

    There are other misconceptions. Lama Je Tsong Khapa has said that first you have to study extensively; next, you must understand how to practice the teachings; then you should practice day and night. When you see the words, first this, second this, third this, you may interpret them as meaning that you have to study for thirty or forty years before you even start to meditate. We do have such conceptions.

    Lets pretend that I am such a Gelugpa man. I say to one of my students, How long have you studied Buddhadharma? He answers, Ten years. Then I say to him, Ten years? You cant practice anything! Ten years study means nothing. In order to be able to practice you have to study at least thirty or forty years, because first you have to study for a long time, then you have to understand everything, then finally you

    must practice day and night. Lama Je Tsong Khapa said so. It is easy to be misled.

    Can you imagine? For twenty or thirty years you should only study; you cannot practice. You have to study! Then for another twenty years you just think about everything, checking it. Then for the next twenty years.... I mean, what is this? Misunderstanding in this way is like putting Lama Tsong Khapa in the bathroom, isnt it?

    When you understand the three negativities of body, the four negativities of speech, and the three negativities of mind, this is enough for you to learn to avoid them. To practice the ten moralities, you dont need to learn the entire sutras and ta...

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