Sun of Devotion, Stream of Blessings

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Leeds and London, UK (Archive #1963)

Sun of Devotion, Stream of Blessings is the record of a remarkable series of powerful and clear Dharma teachings given by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche to students in Leeds and London, United Kingdom, in 2014. This book is now available in print and digital formats.

Chapter 13. Practicing Tantra
Heruka, Guhyasamaja and Yamantaka

I have already mentioned the absolute guru, the unification of no more learning, the inseparability of the two kayas, the two bodies of a buddha. This is the goal of tantric practice, the unified state of Vajradhara that is achieved as the final result, with its seven qualities such as embracing, great bliss, completely full, unceasing and so forth; the union of clear light and illusory body, the inseparability of the holy body—the rupakaya—and the holy mind—the dharmakaya. Then the dharmakaya manifests as the sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya to benefit the numberless sentient beings until they achieve enlightenment.

Before the unification of the clear light and illusory body, we first have to achieve the clear light and illusory body separately. Although both the isolation of clear light and the isolation of illusory body are stages in any Highest Yoga Tantra practice, some tantras emphasize clear light more and some illusory body. The tantras that emphasize clear light are called mother tantras whereas those that emphasize the illusory body are called father tantras.

Even though both father and mother tantras show how to achieve the clear light and illusory body, the Guhyasamaja tantra explains how to achieve the cause of the rupakaya, the illusory body, more extensively and in more detail than any other tantra. I have heard that before Lama Tsongkhapa’s time there was no really clear, extensive explanation of this, so that is one of the benefits of Lama Tsongkhapa coming to teach. When he began studying, the Nyingma, Kagyü and Sakya traditions were already established. He and his main disciples, Gyältsab Rinpoche and Khedrub Rinpoche, were originally Sakya.

Lama Tsongkhapa had received teachings directly from Manjushri well before the time that Gyältsab Rinpoche came to meet him. At first he was not a disciple and sat on the same throne as Lama Tsongkhapa, but later, seeing the profundity of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings and their great benefit, he sat below him as a disciple.

Khedrub Rinpoche was also Sakya before he became Lama Tsongkhapa’s disciple. After that, he would debate with anybody who criticized Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, especially his right view, which was the most subtle one—the Prasangika view actualized by the Buddha, Nagarjuna and Padmasambhava. Later on, Khedrub Rinpoche even debated with famous meditators who contradicted Lama Tsongkhapa’s view in order to dispel their wrong concepts.

Having received teachings directly from Manjushri, Lama Tsongkhapa was able to explain the Buddha’s teachings on sutra and tantra in the clearest possible way, even the most difficult points, clarifying the past mistakes of the many famous meditators. We are unbelievably lucky to have met his teachings.

As Pabongka Rinpoche said in Calling the Guru from Afar,

Thinking of how the actual form of all buddhas arises in the aspect of the lama
And mercifully guides me—reminds me of you, Lama.
Thinking of how you show the excellent unmistaken path to me,
An unfortunate wretched being, abandoned by all the buddhas—reminds me of you, Lama.

Pabongka calls himself an “unfortunate wretched being.” Likewise, we too are unfortunate because we have been abandoned by all the buddhas of the past. That means all the buddhas—Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, Buddha Kashyapa109 before him and the buddhas before that. Even though during the Buddha’s time there were so many enlightened beings, we were not able to be their disciple and directly receive teachings from them either.

Thinking about this shows us the kindness of the guru, how he has revealed the unmistaken teachings, and particularly the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa, his teachings on the Prasangika right view of emptiness as well as tantra, the details of how to achieve the illusory body. With study we can recognize how precious the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa are; how they are the correct, unmistaken teachings.

As Pabongka Rinpoche said, thinking about this reminds us of the very special kindness of the guru. So we are unbelievably fortunate. However, if we don’t study Dharma, if we don’t study the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa, if we don’t meditate, we are wasting this precious life, this unbelievably precious opportunity we have.

We need to practice both father and mother tantra, therefore we need to practice both Guhyasamaja and Heruka. But there can be many obstacles, both outer and inner, to successfully actualizing these two paths of the illusory body and the clear light, therefore we also need to practice Yamantaka. Yamantaka is not just a wrathful deity but the most wrathful aspect of Manjushri, the embodiment of all the buddhas’ wisdom. By practicing that, there is no more powerful way to pacify obstacles to the two practices and achieve enlightenment. That is what Manjushri advised Lama Tsongkhapa. We need to practice these three deities without separation. This is regarded as very important.

In the past, yogis first did a Yamantaka retreat to pacify obstacles to the success to their Dharma practice and then they did their other retreats. His Holiness Zong Rinpoche also mentioned that.

Why practicing Heruka is important

There are four reasons why it is important to practice Heruka.110 One is that when Vajrapani requested Heruka teachings, Buddha Vajradhara manifested the mandala on the top of the Mount Meru and it was never absorbed, so it is still there. Because of that, if we practice Heruka we can achieve enlightenment more quickly.111

Another reason is that there are twenty-four holy places associated with Heruka. Because they are the embodiment of Heruka, we first visualize them on our body and then do our practice. Immediately we do that, we invoke the numberless dakas and dakinis of those holy places. When we invoke them, just like stretching out our arms, the dakas and dakinis come, absorb into our body and bless our drops, chakras and winds. This makes them functional so we can use them for meditations like those in the Six Yogas of Naropa, allowing the winds to enter, abide and absorb, helping to absorb the gross and subtle minds and then the extremely subtle mind so we experience the clear light, simultaneous-born bliss. From that we can achieve the dharmakaya. If we get the experience of the clear light, the great bliss non-dual with emptiness, we can achieve enlightenment in this life.

One of my gurus, Gomo Rinpoche, wrote to me from Mussoorie that he had had these experiences after he had finished a Vajrayogini or Tara Cittamani retreat. I took a chöd initiation and six-session yoga teachings from him, but I was not able to receive all the teachings, just half. I also requested many initiations from him, but when he gave them at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa I was somehow unable to get there, possibly because there was also some problem with Dolgyal at that time. 

Khejok Rinpoche, a friend from Sera Me, wrote to me that he had had a similar experience. He didn’t announce it publicly; it was his personal story. He just told close friends. I think many other meditators have such experiences of the clear light and illusory body. We can see from the way they look externally. Those who have that experience look very special. 

This is an incredible opportunity because the dakas and dakinis of the holy places in this world bless us through the body mandala practice. That is one reason why this is a quick way to achieve enlightenment. The other reasons were mentioned in the Heruka Body Mandala transmitted by Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, which I received from Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and Kyabje Zong Rinpoche.

There is a story that Heruka promised Pabongka Rinpoche that whoever practices Heruka for seven lifetimes can be born in the Dakpa Khachö pure land. Similarly, Vajrayogini promised this to Kyabje Lhatsun Rinpoche. Kyabje Denma Lochö Rinpoche received the Vajrayogini initiation from him and I took it from Denma Lochö Rinpoche several times. So, if we practice Vajrayogini for seven lifetimes, we will be guided in the pure land for up to seven lifetimes.

If we’re born in that pure land we can definitely achieve enlightenment there. That is the special benefit it has. It is very easy for common people to be born in the Amitabha pure land but, although that frees you from the lower realms forever, you don’t have this special opportunity.

Taking initiation: the samayas of the five buddha families

His Holiness the Dalai Lama does Yamantaka self-initiation every day. He has said that when he does, he keeps Geshe Kelsang112 in his heart. Geshe Kelsang is totally against His Holiness; he demonstrates and criticizes so much, but His Holiness says he keeps him in his heart. He told us this.

Sera Je Geshe Dawa was the first resident teacher at Tara House, Melbourne, and also taught at Buddha House in Adelaide and later at Vajrayana Institute in Sydney. Then he started to rebuild his old monastery in Tibet. He is now extremely old. When he heard His Holiness say that about Geshe Kelsang he said, “Oh, I wish I was that!” Geshe Dawa said he wished he were like Geshe Kelsang so that His Holiness would hold him in his heart!

That is a very good practice. When His Holiness takes the bodhisattva vows he keeps Geshe Kelsang—who complains about and criticizes him so much—in his heart. If there is somebody who criticizes you, who abuses you, who blames you, it is good to remember that and, following His Holiness’s practice, keep that person in your heart.

When you take a Highest Yoga Tantra initiation you must also take the bodhisattva and tantric vows. Taking the bodhisattva vows is like your contribution to world peace. With these vows, you dedicate your life to helping all sentient beings.

Keeping the tantric vows is the fundamental practice of a tantric practice. Even if you don’t meditate on the path, if you keep the vows purely you can become enlightened, if not in this life then within three, seven or definitely sixteen lifetimes.

There are five samayas that go with the tantric vows, the samayas of Vairochana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi. The first one, the samaya of Vairochana, represents the three types of morality: the moralities of abstaining from nonvirtue, ripening your own mind and ripening others’ minds.

The first morality is the morality of abstaining from the ten nonvirtues and so forth. That is self-explanatory. Then there is the morality of ripening your own mind, which in this context means bringing the practice of the six perfections into whatever you do. When you make charity, within that there is the practice of the six perfections. When you do a mandala offering, within that there is the practice of the six perfections. Within any activity you do, within any practice you do, there is the practice of the six perfections. The third morality is the morality of ripening others’ minds. There are about eleven different methods to help sentient beings mentioned in the lam-rim, for example, guiding, showing the path to somebody who is lost. That is one of the practices of morality you should keep.

Sentient beings are numberless; you are one. No matter how much you suffer in samsara, you are one. But sentient beings have been suffering from beginningless rebirths up to now. There are numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts, numberless animals, numberless human beings, numberless gods, numberless demigods and numberless intermediate state beings. Just like you, they have been suffering from beginningless rebirths, but they are numberless and they have the most unbelievable suffering. This is utterly unbearable. It’s as if your mother had fallen into a red-hot fire. You could not stand seeing her there for even one second. Therefore you need to become enlightened quickly in order to free sentient beings from samsaric suffering and lead them to enlightenment as soon as possible. This is your motivation for taking the tantric vows.

The samaya of Vairochana also includes taking refuge in the Three Rare Sublime Ones, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Relying on them so that you (and because of that, all others) can be saved from samsara is causal refuge. Resultant refuge is the belief that you will achieve the state of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in your mental continuum in the future and taking refuge in that. Going for refuge to the resultant refuge is the samaya of the Buddha Vairochana.

Next is the samaya of Akshobhya, which has four types: vajra, bell, mudra and guru. The samaya of the vajra is in order to remember the holy mind of transcendental wisdom of great bliss. Holding the vajra and remembering that wisdom is keeping the vajra samaya. There is the interpretive vajra—remembering emptiness only, tong-pa-nyi—and the definitive vajra, remembering the meaning of the wisdom of great bliss.

The samaya of the bell is to remember the wisdom of emptiness, which is the interpretive meaning of the bell. Holding the bell is keeping the samaya of the bell. This is why, when you are trying to practice tantra, you must always have a vajra and bell, even very small ones, like on the counter of a mala. You have to secretly keep them in order to remember and practice the definitive meaning of vajra and bell. Even a drawing of the six mudras of the father and the five of the mother that has a vajra and bell helps keep this samaya. For this reason, like statues, the vajra and the bell are holy objects.

If possible, the actual vajra and bell you use in practice should also be kept secret. Although the Kadampa geshes practiced tantra, they didn’t show it externally. When they died people would find a small vajra and bell sewed secretly into the collar of their coat or somewhere like that.

The third samaya of Akshobhya is the samaya of the mudra, where you visualize your body transforming into the Buddha Vajradhara father-mother, the desire deity. It is very important to understand the reason for this. In Highest Yoga Tantra the meaning of vajra and bell together is the transcendental wisdom of great bliss non-dual with emptiness. Like an atomic bomb, that is the quickest way to cease even the subtle obscurations, the obscurations to knowledge. That allows you to achieve enlightenment in a brief lifetime of the degenerate age without needing to prolong your life for hundreds or thousands of years, as you do with the lower tantras.

There is a method where you visualize your body in pure form as, for example, Heruka father-mother or Vajradhara father-mother. Visualizing the father-mother embracing while holding your vajra and bell helps you to develop this experience. It’s like an atomic bomb to speed you quickly to achieve enlightenment. That is why you see many statues and thangkas of male and female deities embracing.

This practice is only for those who have very high intelligence, who have the highest merit, who need such a practice in order to cease the dualistic mind and dualistic views and attain enlightenment as quickly as possible. It doesn’t suit everybody, so you are very fortunate to have met tantra at this time. 

The last samaya of Akshobhya is the samaya of the guru, which means correctly following the virtuous friend, the guru, the vajra master, who is the root of all realizations, the root of the path to enlightenment.113

Next is the samaya of Ratnasambhava, which involves practicing the four kinds of charity six times a day: miscellaneous charity, the giving of Dharma, the giving of fearlessness and the charity of giving loving kindness.

An example of miscellaneous charity is when, in Mahayana practice, you eat food and make charity of it to all the sentient beings—the worms and so forth—that are living in your body. Nagarjuna explained this in the Mahayana eating yoga practice.114 Whenever you eat food and think like that, it becomes miscellaneous charity.

You can also relate this to what you do in your daily life, such as feeding your pets. Eating meat is very common in Tibet. There are some lamas who don’t eat meat but the majority do. Kyabje Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche told me that when eating he would throw some meat from his plate to the small dogs that were in his room, and this became the practice of miscellaneous charity from the six-session guru yoga. If you are feeding birds or other animals, even ants, or giving food or other things to people, you can also make this the practice of miscellaneous charity. There are many different ways you can do it.

Next is the charity of giving Dharma. If you recite mantras or texts such as the Vajra-Cutter Sutra, the Golden Light Sutra or the Heart Sutra, either by heart or by reading, aloud you can think that you are giving Dharma to all the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, gods and demigods. Think that you have received the recitation from the Buddha, have realized the meaning and are now reciting it for all sentient beings and they are realizing it too.

In Aptos, when we go round the stupa, partly for exercise but also for purification and to collect merit, I explain to the other monks and nuns that whenever we recite prayers by reading from texts or an iPad, we should visualize that we are giving teachings like this. Reciting prayers and mantras aloud for animals or any people around, even if they have no serious interest in Dharma, is also making charity of Dharma. And again, when doing this we should think that we are giving Dharma to the numberless other sentient beings as well.

Then, there is the charity of giving fearlessness. Reciting mantras such as the mantras of Maitreya, Medicine Buddha or om mani padme hum to animals or people as they are dying stops them from being born in the lower realms. Giving advice to people who are suicidal, talking them out of killing themselves, is also the charity of fearlessness. You can think of many things like this.

The charity of giving loving kindness means causing sentient beings to have happiness. There are many actions you can do, from playing music to reciting prayers such as the four immeasurables, but when your motivation is to benefit others and bring them happiness, that is the charity of loving kindness.

When you do the practice of taking and giving, tong-len, even if you have no specific sentient being you are doing it for, it encompasses all four charities. Giving your body, possessions, materials and merit to the sentient beings of the six realms is not only miscellaneous charity but the charity of fearlessness, loving kindness and many other things as well.

Next is the samaya of Amitabha. This means following the two types of Dharma and the three yanas, or vehicles, individually. The two types of Dharma are outer Dharma and secret Dharma, which mean respectively the lower tantras—Kriya Tantra and Charya Tantra—and the higher tantras—Yoga Tantra and Highest Yoga Tantra.

The three yanas refer to the Hearer Listener Vehicle, the Solitary Realizer Vehicle, and the Mahayana Paramita Vehicle.115 These are the three yanas and you pledge to practice them without missing, which means that you actually practice the ones you are capable of following and just wish to practice those you are as yet incapable of following.

The last samaya is the samaya of Amoghasiddhi, which is to protect all the samayas that I have just explained and to do the four types of offerings—outer, inner, secret and absolute—as well.

You set up and offer the outer offerings: the two waters, argham and padyam, and the six desire objects, pushpe, dhupe, aloke, gandhe, naividya and shapta.116

Then you bless and offer the inner offering, the red bodhicitta from the female and the white bodhicitta from the male117 as well as the elements. Since we have no high tantric realizations and our mind is full of superstitions, we don’t actually take those substances but visualize doing so instead.

The third offering is the secret offering. Through meditation you generate the four blisses, the last of which is the simultaneously-born great bliss, the clear light. Having generated that, you make the offering, which is the secret offering. Again, you can only do this when your mind is at that level of realization, so now we just visualize making the offering.

Finally there is the absolute offering. The great bliss you generated in the secret offering understands emptiness and you offer that. That is the absolute offering.

Then you make a promise to generate both wishing and entering bodhicitta and to protect the nineteen samayas, the samayas of the five types of buddhas.

The hearer listener and solitary realizer arhats and the bodhisattvas who have attained the pure bhumis—the eighth, ninth and tenth—are free from the disturbing-thought obscurations but not the subtle ones. You want to free these arhats and bodhisattvas from even these subtle obscurations. And you want to liberate ordinary sentient beings, those who are neither arhats nor higher bodhisattvas living in the last three bhumis and are therefore not free from either disturbing-thought obscurations or subtle obscurations. You want to liberate them from both kinds of obscuration.

You want to “give breath” to all lower realm beings, such as those in hell, who are “unable to breathe” because of the unbelievably heavy suffering they have to experience, which means you want to free them from the suffering of the lower realms. In that way, you promise to lead all sentient beings to enlightenment, the non-abiding sorrowless state. That is the purpose of taking the tantric vows with these commitments.

Sentient beings are most kind, most precious, most dear. All your past, present and future happiness, including enlightenment, every collection of goodness, comes from every sentient being. You need to understand this deeply and also see how much they are suffering. They want happiness but they always destroy the cause of happiness. They dislike suffering but day and night they are always busy creating the cause of suffering. They are always running toward suffering. They destroy their merits because they don’t know Dharma.

Think, “I must free the numberless mother sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment, the state of the omniscient mind, by myself alone. Therefore, I must achieve the state of the omniscient mind as quickly as possible.” This is the kind of motivation you need to bring with you when you take an initiation.

Using the damaru, vajra and bell

When you use the damaru, you have to hold it in your right hand together with the vajra while holding the bell in your left hand. Then, as Kyabje Zong Rinpoche explained, you think, “In order to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all the mother sentient beings I am going to practice the two bodhicittas.” The vajra symbolizes the method of great bliss and the bell symbolizes the wisdom of emptiness, which means you are going to practice method and wisdom respectively, or, in terms of the two bodhicittas, conventional and absolute bodhicitta.

Because holding the vajra and bell symbolizes the inseparability of method, great bliss, and wisdom, emptiness, you never put either of them down in order to use the damaru. You hold them both at the same time to show the essence of tantric practice: the inseparability of method and wisdom.

Whether you can remember that every time or not, at least when you’re doing a puja try to remember this meaning at least once! (Kyabje Zong Rinpoche didn’t say that; I’m saying it!) Anyway, you need to remember to always hold the two together. People also commonly play the damaru incorrectly. You should hold the bell at your heart to actualize clear light and play the damaru at your navel.

Once when I was at a long life puja for His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, I was watching to see who did all this as His Holiness Zong Rinpoche explained. Only Samdhong Rinpoche, the previous Tibetan prime minister, was doing it correctly.

The current prime minister is Lobsang Sangay, who seems to have much more recognition and respect from the Indian government, which is very good. I think it’s important that people in the Tibetan government know Dharma well, and as a former principal of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, Samdhong Rinpoche was an expert in sutra and tantra. But of course, Lobsang Sangay is an expert in politics and other things, having a law degree from Harvard University. One of the FPMT’s major benefactors was asked by His Holiness’s Private Office to help fund his studies there and it seems that the Private Office might have planned for him to run for office for a long time, so it seems very good, excellent.

So I was watching all these lamas using the damaru at the puja and only Samdhong Rinpoche was doing it correctly, holding it at his navel. Of course he knows; the rest were holding theirs up like you do in chöd practice. So you should not do that, but play it at the navel in order to persuade, or hook or attract, the dakinis into your navel chakra to bless it.

To succeed in the tum-mo practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa in order to attain clear light and great bliss and achieve the state of Vajradhara as quickly as possible in this life for the sake of sentient beings you need to persuade the dakinis to pay attention to you, to hook them to abide in and bless your navel chakra. So this is not like playing the big chöd damaru. If you’re doing chöd, that’s different, but even then, there are various ways of playing it. I learned to do it one way; His Holiness Khalkha Rinpoche,118 who is kind of like the Dalai Lama of Mongolia, does it another. But holding the small damaru like a chöd damaru has no meaning. The bell, too, has many explanations.

My suggestion is that generally, always dedicate any practice or puja you do for sentient beings, not just yourself. I’m sorry to say this but even my Mickey Mouse gek-tor practice is done for all sentient beings. In the world there are so many sick people, so many people facing difficulties, numberless people experiencing great suffering, and they all need gek-tor done for them. So we do it here not just for those of us taking the initiation but for all sentient beings.

For example, if you are doing a Four Mandala Offerings to Tara puja, dedicate it for all sentient beings. Generate bodhicitta not only at the beginning but also, during the puja, remind yourself that you are doing it for all the sentient beings who need that Tara puja. There is so much suffering in the world. There are numberless sentient beings who are sick or who have difficulties in business or other things, so while you can dedicate the puja for whatever problems you have personally, you should also dedicate it to all the numberless sentient beings who also need it.

Whatever puja you do, dedicate it to all sentient beings. If you do a Medicine Buddha puja, dedicate it for them. Of course you can think of yourself, but there are numberless sentient beings who also need the Medicine Buddha puja. Even if you have to do a puja for a specific sick or dying person, dedicate it for all the people, all the sentient beings who need a Medicine Buddha puja, not just the one you’re doing it for. Dedicating any puja or practice you do for the numberless sentient beings who need it in this way is fantastic.

The interpretation of dreams

In major initiations that span two days, the disciples are asked to remember and interpret whatever dreams they have after the first day.

Positive dreams are ones in which you are listening to Dharma from, for example, a lama or a statue of the deity radiating light and then your own body becomes the deity’s holy body; or there are children or women who are well-dressed and adorned with ornaments; or you are able to climb without difficulty to the tops of mountains or trees; or you go into beautiful houses, put up prayer flags, blow conch shells or fly in the sky. Actually, dreaming of flying in the sky is not necessarily a good sign. It could mean you will be reborn as a bird.

I once asked Lama Yeshe how a certain monk would be reborn. At first it looked good, that he would be reborn in a pure land, but then in the monastery he was given the responsibility of running a khangtsen and at some point he dreamed he was flying in the sky. It seems that his mind had degenerated while he was running the khangtsen, because Lama said that he now had the karma to be reborn as a bird. So Lama gave him the Dorje Khadro fire puja to do to purify the pollution.

So dreaming of flying at other times is not necessarily auspicious but, in the preparation for an initiation, dreaming of flying in the sky is a good sign; it means you will succeed in your practice. Dreaming of drinking milk and eating good food are also good signs.

Bad dreams include your body being burned by fire or taken by water, falling down precipices, or riding on a donkey or a camel going toward the south. Also, walking on a sandy or dusty road or entering a dark room or a cave—where there is darkness instead of light—or having difficulty climbing something are also all inauspicious.

If you have a bad dream, there is a method to dispel the obstacles and that is to see that no phenomenon, including the bad dream, exists from its own side. Nothing is real—or whatever word you use in normal language—from its own side. The texts use terms such as existing from its own side, existing by itself or being truly existent. Phenomena do not exist from their own side. They are all empty, including your dream. When you meditate like that, meditating on Manjushri, you will see that all phenomena are empty. Then as well as meditating on emptiness you can recite OM KANDHAROHI HUM HUM PHAT and offer a burning puja. This will dispel the obstacles. 

In particular, do gek-tor—offer a torma to the interferers. Then the obstacles, the interferers who interfere with your being granted the initiation, are dispelled.

Vajrayana and emptiness

Vajrayana, the Secret Mantra vehicle, the resultant vehicle, is based on the Mahayana sutra vehicle, the causal vehicle, and that is based on the Hinayana. This is very important to understand. You should not see the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana as three separate vehicles; that there is the Mahayana and then there is the Vajrayana separate from it. Tantra is an aspect of the Mahayana. There are many people who think that tantra is a separate vehicle from the Mahayana. That is a very common belief in places like Singapore and Taiwan, but it is a big mistake. The Mahayana has two aspects, Mahayana sutra and Mahayana tantra.

If you try to practice tantra without the renunciation of samsara of the Hinayana, it fails to become the cause for the renunciation of the whole of samsara—you have to see that the entire desire realm, form realm and formless realm are in the nature of suffering. You have to understand that that is the base. Then, if you try to practice tantra without bodhicitta you cannot achieve enlightenment. Even if you were able to reach the completion stage of Highest Yoga Tantra, still you would be unable to attain enlightenment.

Of course, practicing tantra without even the renunciation of this life doesn’t become Dharma—it becomes nonvirtue, the cause of the lower realms. You have to understand that.

The other traditions—Kagyü, Nyingma and Sakya—separate renunciation into the renunciation of this life and the renunciation of future lives’ samsara, but in Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition, renunciation means renunciation of samsara, which includes renunciation of this life.

Practicing tantra without understanding emptiness does not become the remedy that cuts the root of samsara, that eliminates ignorance. It only develops more ignorance. That is unbelievably important to understand.

Therefore, without the three principal aspects of the path—renunciation, bodhicitta and wisdom—there is no correct way to practice tantra. So, while it is correct to differentiate between Paramitayana and Tantrayana within Mahayana, to think that tantra is not part of Mahayana means you practice tantra without renunciation, bodhicitta or emptiness.

Vajrayana combines method and wisdom in one mind

It is impossible to practice tantra properly without emptiness. In Highest Yoga Tantra there is the transcendental wisdom that realizes emptiness as it is empty and that experiences great bliss. That great bliss that is non-dual with emptiness generates into the deity, if possible, the result-time dharmakaya, the pure form, Heruka.

But, when you become Heruka, if you again become truly existent, the real Heruka, that is incorrect. Your understanding of emptiness must be continuous. As you focus with wisdom on the holy body of Heruka, your wisdom understands that the deity Heruka that appears to us sentient beings as a real one is not true. That real Heruka does not exist. It’s like when you recognize a dream as a dream. Even though it appears, you know it is not true. You understand that despite appearances it does not exist from its own side. As you understand that, focus simultaneously on the deity Heruka’s holy body. Meditating on emptiness is the wisdom side and focusing on the deity’s holy body is the method side. Therefore, method and wisdom are inseparably combined here in one non-dual mind.

Focus on the deity’s holy body that appears as real while at the same time understanding that what appears as real is not real, that it is nonexistent from its own side, like recognizing a dream as a dream or recognizing a mirage as being the false appearance of water. While at the same time you are focusing on the deity’s holy mind you can think that it is merely labeled by the mind, or empty. It comes to the same point: merely labeled means empty.

In the Mahayana Paramitayana, method and wisdom are practiced together but not by one mind. Each is practiced by a separate mind. What makes tantra the quick path to enlightenment in one life is practicing method and wisdom together, in one mind.

That becomes “vajra.” That is the diamond or the vajra, the thing that can cut all other things. Just as a diamond can cut glass or many other things but nothing else can cut the diamond itself, this vajra alone can cut the dualistic mind, the dualistic view, the impure appearance, the impure mind.

Practicing method and wisdom simultaneously, focusing on the deity’s holy body becomes the cause to achieve the rupakaya, a buddha’s holy body, and the awareness that it does not exist from its own side become the cause to achieve the dharmakaya, a buddha’s holy mind. If you can actualize that vajra, it takes you to enlightenment. That is why it is called a yana, or vehicle. Just as a car takes you to the place you want to go, this vehicle takes you to enlightenment. Therefore it is called the Vajrayana. This is why, in order to practice method and wisdom in one mind, inseparably, it is so important to really understand emptiness.

Tantra is the resultant vehicle

Not only does tantra become the quick path to enlightenment in one lifetime because it allows one mind to practice method and wisdom simultaneously, it also allows you to meditate on the path similar to the result, hence its other name, the resultant vehicle.

That is the reason why there is usually a commitment to recite the long, medium or short sadhana daily and to visualize the deity and the mandala. It’s not because you have nothing better to do. Like in the West, when people get old, when they are retired, they have nothing to do. They don’t recite OM MANI PADME HUM or anything worthwhile. They just garden, put flowers around their house and so forth to distract their mind but no matter whatever else they do, their life is so boring. Doing your sadhana is not like that. You don’t do it just to stop your mind from getting bored.

By doing the meditations of the resultant vehicle you achieve the four complete purities, the purities of body, place, deeds and offerings.

The final result of the path is that you become a buddha; your body becomes the deity’s pure, holy body. What you are going to attain in the future, the deity’s holy body, you visualize now. That is the practice—you visualize that you have already achieved the deity’s holy body. That is the purity of body. Because this practice purifies the mind of all obscurations, of all dualistic views and concepts, it becomes the quick path to enlightenment. You collect the most unbelievable merit and purify so much.

And in the same way, just as you become the deity, the environment appears to you in the form of the mandala—that is what you visualize now. That is the purity of place. Visualizing the mandala of the deity purifies ten million eons of negative karma. On top of that, when you enter the mandala visualized in the sadhana—this perfect environment you will achieve in the future—that also becomes the most unbelievable purification.

In the future, when you become a buddha, you will be able to do unbelievably extensive deeds. Sending even one beam of light to sentient beings will liberate them from suffering. That is what you will be able to do and so, in your sadhana, you visualize that as happening now. That is the purity of deeds.

When you become a buddha, due to your mind developing into a totally pure, holy mind, without even subtle obscurations, you are able to enjoy numberless completely pure offerings. This is what will happen when you become a buddha and this is what you visualize now. And again you collect unbelievable merit. That is the purity of offerings.

In the Paramitayana, completing the collections of the merit of transcendental wisdom and the merit of virtue, the causes of the dharmakaya and rupakaya, takes three countless great eons. But here, in tantra, especially in Highest Yoga Tantra, because of great skill, meditating on the path similar to the four complete purified results becomes a path to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime.

That is why we need to practice tantra, and especially Highest Yoga Tantra, right now, without delaying even a second. Only when we achieve full enlightenment, the state of the omniscient mind, can we free the numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment. If we achieve the omniscient mind, we can do that perfectly, without the slightest mistake. Even an arhat or a bodhisattva on the tenth bhumi cannot do that.


109 Of the thousand buddhas of this fortunate age, Buddha Kashyapa is the third and Buddha Shakyamuni the fourth, the first two being Krakucchanda and Kanakamuni. Maitreya will be the next. [Return to text]

110 See The Ecstatic Dance of Chakrasamvara, pp. 41–42, for all four reasons. [Return to text]

111 H.H. Trijang Rinpoche elaborates, “Having been requested by Vajrayogini, the Buddha manifested as Heruka and taught the root tantra of Heruka on the summit of Mt. Meru, and when requested by Vajrapani, taught the explanatory tantra.” See Various Aspects of Tantra at [Return to text]

112 Kelsang Gyatso is the head of the New Kadampa Tradition, which promotes the practice of Dolgyal. [Return to text]

113 Rinpoche’s book The Heart of the Path explains every last detail of how to do this. [Return to text]

114 See Rinpoche’s Yoga of Offering Food at [Return to text]

115 Shravakayana, Pratyekabuddhayana and Paramitayana. The first two are regarded as Hinayana; the latter, one of the two Mahayana vehicles, the other being the Vajrayana. The three yanas can also refer to the two Hinayana ones and the Mahayana in general. [Return to text]

116 Traditional offerings to the Three Rare Sublime Ones, they are: water for drinking (Skt: argham), water for  cleaning the feet ( padyam), flowers ( pushpe),  incense (dhupe), light (aloke), perfume  (gandhe), food (naivedya) and music (shabda). [Return to text]

117 “Bodhicitta” here refers to the bodhicitta drops or subtle substances that permeate the body. The white drop, which originated from the father, is said to reside in the crown chakra and the red drop, which originated from the mother, is said to reside in the navel chakra. This is according to Guhyasamaja tantra; other tantras may describe them slightly differently. [Return to text]

118 The Ninth Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa. See [Return to text]