How to Achieve Enlightenment Quickly

How to Achieve Enlightenment Quickly

Date of Advice:
July 2008
Date Posted:
February 2020

Rinpoche explains why Highest Yoga Tantra is the quickest way to achieve enlightenment and outlines the levels of completion stage practice. Rinpoche advises that the three higher trainings and the preliminary practices, to purify obscurations and collect merit, are the foundation of tantric practice.

Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche at Lawudo Retreat Centre, Solu Khumbu, Nepal, 1970. Photo possibly by Terry Clifford.

By discovering that our own samsara, our samsaric pleasure, is in the nature of suffering—all that we know, all the enjoyments are in the nature of suffering —by realizing that, we abandon attachment and seek ultimate happiness. In order to achieve that ultimate happiness, we need to practice the three higher trainings of morality, concentration and wisdom. That is the preliminary graduated path of the lower capable being. Therefore, for the happiness of this life and future lives, we need to take refuge and with that refuge we abandon the ten nonvirtues and practice the ten virtues. So now, on the basis of this Sutrayana path, we practice tantra.

Here I am talking about Highest Yoga Tantra, which gives us the opportunity to achieve enlightenment within a number of years, without needing to achieve immortality or having to live for many hundreds or thousands of years.1

We can achieve enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate time by practicing Highest Yoga Tantra, which is the only path offering a method to cease the gross mind and to actualize clear light, simultaneously-born great bliss, nondual emptiness. Actualizing nondual emptiness is the principal cause of the dharmakaya and achieving the illusory body is the cause of the rupakaya.

When we achieve example clear light, we achieve the isolation of body, then isolation of speech and isolation of mind. Isolation of mind is that clear light. When we achieve example clear light, we achieve the impure illusory body.

After that we achieve meaning clear light, which becomes the antidote to the disturbing-thought obscurations. When we have removed the disturbing-thought obscurations we achieve the pure illusory body.

After that we achieve the unification of clear light and illusory body. This is the learner’s union. After that comes the path of no more learning, which is enlightenment. So, beginning with the clear light and illusory body, we are able to complete this path, which, using Sutrayana methods [without tantric practice], would take three countless great eons. In Highest Yoga Tantra we can complete all those merits within a few years and we will be able to complete [the path.] That’s why practicing Highest Yoga Tantra enables us to achieve enlightenment more quickly than in the lower tantras.

The Guru Puja [LC5] says,

For the sake of all mother sentient beings

I shall quickly, quickly, in this very life,

Actualize the state of the primordial Buddha-Guru-Deity.

Regarding “quickly, quickly,” [Tib: nyur wa nyur war] the first “quickly” refers to the lower tantras, which are quicker than the Mahayana path. The second “quickly” refers to Highest Yoga Tantra. Therefore, “I must free all sentient being from all the sufferings and lead them into state of enlightenment, great bliss, therefore, I am going to practice the profound path, the yoga of the guru-deity.”

Lama Tsongkhapa asked Manjushri, “What is the quickest way to achieve the graduated path to enlightenment?” Manjushri answered, “The quick way to do that is to purify the negative karma and obscurations and to collect the necessary conditions for realization.” To remove the obstacles so we can achieve realizations, Manjushri mentioned purification practices such as Vajrasattva and so forth. We collect merit, the necessary conditions, by offering mandalas and so forth.

Then, with a one-pointed mind we make requests to the guru. To elaborate on that, it means [making requests] with the mind of great guru devotion, with all our effort, no matter how many weeks, months, years and lifetimes it takes. With all our effort, as much as possible from our own side, we must try to see the guru as a buddha, then, as a result, we will see a buddha, and with that mind we make a one-pointed request. Next is the actual meditation, training the mind in the path to enlightenment.

Lama Tsongkhapa asked Manjushri, “What is the quickest way to achieve the graduated path to enlightenment?” Manjushri answered, “The quick way to do that is to purify the negative karma and obscurations, and collect the necessary conditions for realization.” So we need to purify and collect merits and make a one-pointed request to the guru. These things are what is needed. Meditation on the path to enlightenment is the actual body [of our practice] and we need to have that in our mind all the time. That’s Manjushri’s answer.

These preliminary practices that I am going to give you are to purify the defilements, negative karma and obstacles; to collect extensive merits and the necessary conditions; and to develop guru devotion and increase the merits.

There are five paths to achieve liberation—the path of merit, the path of preparation, the right-seeing path, the path of meditation and (the unification of) no more learning. When we actualize the right-seeing path, the third path, we remove 112 delusions or obscurations. By actualizing the right-seeing path, we abandon 112 delusions or obscurations.

After achieving liberation for ourselves, we are in the state of bliss, the blissful state of peace for many eons. Our mind abides in that. Then, one day, I guess when our karma ripens, the Buddha asks us to enter into the Mahayana path, inspires us to enter into the Mahayana path. We develop compassion for sentient beings, we actualize bodhicitta by entering the Mahayana path. This is the Paramitayana or Sutra vehicle. The five Mahayana paths came from this, so we achieve enlightenment in that way for sentient beings.

What is the meaning and purpose of achieving enlightenment? It’s only for sentient beings, to free the sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering.

Now, the reason for practicing tantra is also mentioned. If we practice only the Mahayana Sutra path, we have to collect merits for three countless great eons in order to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings. That means sentient beings have to suffer for a long, long, long time. They have to suffer for three countless great eons; they have to wait for a long time and they suffer so much, which is unbearable for us. Even though there are numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas who only work for sentient beings, there are numberless sentient beings who have a connection to us. For example, in this life there are numberless beings suffering, but we have met a particular person and we help them, whether by giving food or shelter and so forth, or bringing them Dharma, meditation. It is only after the person met us that they have the opportunity for happiness, the opportunity to practice meditation, Dharma. There are so many examples, so many people, and especially [we can help them by bringing] Dharma.

You can see there are numberless sentient beings suffering for an unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable number of times. They die and are reborn in the six realms again and they suffer again. Therefore, the sentient beings need to be liberated from suffering much more quickly, they need to be brought to enlightenment much more quickly, and for that, we need to achieve enlightenment quickly. There’s the possibility, there’s the method, there’s the possibility. Why? By practicing tantra we can achieve enlightenment in one life, and in this way we are able to liberate sentient beings from the ocean of samsara suffering and bring them to enlightenment much more quickly than by practicing the Sutra path.

By practicing the lower tantras, we can first achieve immortality or a long life where we live for hundreds or thousands of years, then we achieve enlightenment. However, by practicing the fourth division of tantra, Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra, we can achieve enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate time, within a number of years, just as Milerepa, Gyalwa Ensapa and Lama Tsongkhapa’s disciples achieved enlightenment. There are also many others who achieve enlightenment in a brief lifetime in degenerate time.

Why can we achieve enlightenment by practicing Highest Yoga Tantra much more quickly than through the lower tantra practices? It’s because Highest Yoga Tantra is the only one, first of all, where the gross mind doesn’t go to enlightenment. What goes to enlightenment is only the extremely subtle mind. The mind has the gross mind, subtle mind and extremely subtle mind, and the body has the gross body, subtle body and extremely subtle body. The extremely subtle body is the wind—the extremely subtle wind. So what goes to enlightenment is that extremely subtle wind and mind. The others don’t go to enlightenment. Therefore, Highest Yoga Tantra is the only path which offers a method to cease the gross mind and body, and to actualize the extremely subtle mind, the clear light.

The cause of actualizing the extremely subtle mind, clear light, is only found in Highest Yoga Tantra, not in the lower tantras. The wind from the other channels—the right and left channels—is brought inside the central channel and abides there. Then there are twenty-five absorptions during our meditation. It also happens when we die, but that’s not part of our meditation. [When we die, we] go through natural evolution, but this absorption is happening during meditation. There are twenty-five absorptions, and then we experience the four types of bliss. We experience the kundalini [going] down, sometimes it’s also going up, and the four types of bliss: joy, supreme joy, extraordinary joy and simultaneously-born joy, which is the greatest bliss. Who experiences this great bliss? It’s the extremely subtle mind understanding emptiness—not just intellectually understanding but [directly perceiving] emptiness.


1 Lama Zopa Rinpoche often states that the lower tantras are a slower path to enlightenment that can take hundreds or thousands of years, whereas by practicing Highest Yoga Tantra we can achieve enlightenment in one lifetime or within a few years. The Sutrayana method can take three countless great eons. [Return to text]